Sunday, November 13, 2016

Autumn Life, and Otter!

It's rained, the grass is growing, and our little river runs again.  Summer turned to autumn, and the land wakes and life shows its hunger and delight.

Strange words to those of northern latitudes, where nature is slowing and preparing for rest and withdrawal, but here on the west Algarve it is a special time.   Happy beneficiaries are our (now 4) geese, here enjoying not just being out in the green green grass, but with new shelter and pond....

... their purpose is to graze the meadow among the trees in the growing season, while also supplying us with amazing eggs, about one a day.  The smallest trees do need to be protected as the spring comes, but for now the geese are only interested in the succulent new grass.

There's a lot going on around these parts recently, land being bought, more being sought, things afoot. Across the valley a Swiss couple last year bought a big plot of land, and just last week had a full clearance of the scrub "mato" vegetation done. Now it looks like this....

The trend is gathering pace, and it is easy to speculate that in a decade the ruins and abandoned land which cover most of our valley will be bought, or, even better, settled by descendants of those who left two generations ago.

This said, this is the west Algarve, and there is a slowness - in the best sense of the word - to the ways of the local government - as well as the pace of life, around here, so don't be speculating about Macdonalds opening up in the Cerca valley anytime soon.

Meanwhile, right here, right now...  in the last few weeks, I've been in my own space and element, putting trees, seedlings, and acorns (planted with leaf-mold from parent (or cousin) trees) into the soft, yielding earth.

For the last 2 weeks I have had the assistance of Chloe and Anouk, from Brittany, and here we are planting the latest of the autumn plantings, this tree being a white Guava....

So far, 70 young trees have been given a home on the varzea (meadow) land,  mostly (40) feijoa (Acca sellowiana - I like that name) and a dozen 1-y old castanhas (sweet chestnut), and different varieties of oaks, 2 guavas, and a selection of nitrogen-fixers.  Dig the hole, mix in some compost, fill and squish down, mulch with anything you can find to cover the bare earth - I use straw/manure, leaving a space around the trunk. And wish good-luck....

The deep-rooting plants which were able to keep growing through the long dry summer have been cut, right in time for the rain.

Timing is everything in the cycle of the seasons, and, as the old people around here knew almost instinctively.  It is something one learns by experience, especially in a venture such as this, where you realise after several years that doing the right things at the right time not only works, but saves enormous amounts of energy.

Image result for ungrounded lifeAnd not only energy.  Wherever one lives, having a pattern that works gives balance to our psyche and makes life enjoyable, easier and more fun.

Spend time on distractions, and stuff that really isn't grounded in our lives' true nature, and we never get a chance to be US.

Which is bad.

I tend to mention this "food-forest" quite a lot, and never used the expression until Chaym here started using it.  I much prefer to refer to it as "future food forest" - fff! - as it sure doesn't look much like a forest to me now. This is a fairly "typical" shot of a part of it, as it looks now.....

.... in another 4 years or so it will be very different.

We were privileged to have staying here, sadly only to the end of October. Ilf and Lies and family, from Belgium. I mention this here as Ilf, who has a great knowledge of bird, animal, and insect life, has had a night-vision video-camera set up by the river for a couple of weeks, and recently picked up this footage of an otter, just by our summer bathing-pool....   (ok, this is my first ever attempt to put video content on the blog, so let's hope it works.... and by the way, you only need to see the first 10 seconds)

This winter I am going for diversity, inter-planting the present selection of trees on the lowland area with a wide variety, with the 70 new trees among the 200 or so already there, but also, starting to develop the food-forest aspect more, adding herbs and shrubs and bushes on the summer-irrigation canals.  Another feature this winter will be lots of climbing plants to scale the riverside willows.

Rain gives a wake-up to the plant-life in a way that irrigation just doesn't do. Whether this is because of the extra oxygen, or electric charge of the raindrops, It makes an almost instantaneous difference to the land it touches, including the vegetable garden, which is bursting with health.

Cue the work of Chaym..   His passion and energy for all things related to the Várzea horta is true inspiration, and his scope is substantially beyond the usual conception of what running a vegetable garden involves.       I asked Chaym if he would like to put a piece here in the blog to outline his perception of his work, and here it is....

Agro-ecology is based on traditional gardening using many kinds of techniques from around the world to create intensified small scale hortas (vegetable gardens) functioning like a small managed ecosystem. 

In Várzea's horta, my emphasis as an agro-ecologist is integrating Moringa and maintaining humus-pathway-swale based beds, growing seasonal vegetables intensively on home-produced poultry manure, mixed with kitchen waste and bio-char, and anaerobic liquid fertilizer based on comfrey and dry poultry manure ..

The 1st plant section of the garden is only 400 square meters, but it provides daily for 3 families, plus volunteers, course attendents, holiday guests, chickens and geese.     Seasonally, there are 2-4 major crops, and 3-5 minor crops, medicinal herbs, fruit trees, and edible weeds..

The 2nd section, the poultry, supplies, all year, eggs and manure, which feeds the plant section:   The 3rd section is the staple-crop/green manure section growing winter onions, potatoes, carrots, rye, and  summer pumpkins, amaranth, soy, maize, millet, and sweet potatoes.

Back-tracking a month or so, but not to be forgotten, happened the Women's Natural Building Course, given by my wife Kris, with huge support and top cooking by Ana, from Aroche, Spain.  They made a brilliant dynamic team, and have plans for many such events in far-flung locations in the future.   Here they are - again - excuse repetition from last blog, but it's the only pic of the two I have....

The idea seemed a good one at the outset, and it worked extremely well.  It attracted the inevitable digs at feminism etc, but the truth is, the social dynamic works in a very natural way, and here the group of 6 gained not only knowledge, but great empowerment and positivity,.from their 12 days at the Várzea.

Fly away, new blog, through the squalls of twittering......     By the way, please feel free to send feedback, suggestions, ideas, anything!   And a big welcome to readers in Cambodia!

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