Saturday, March 10, 2018

Sense, common and crazy...

I have a semi-regular issue with my neighbour Dan, over what is meant by "common sense", the meaning of which, to me at least, is common sense..   anyhow, here's a great youtube link, courtesy of my brother John, the second section of which puts it very well.  Also 2 wise American Indians spot on the money.  Well worth a look (the first 20minutes in particular) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BXvTc-BFluw

The dry, and cold, weather continued here on the west Algarve, with the Cerca, out little river which originates in the Serra de Monchique, 30km to the east, dry in certain sections - in the middle of February.  Coming after a summer when the river and ground-water were around the lowest in living memory, is has been cause for concern.  Now, for the last week, RAIN!  Beautiful wet stuff. About 10 cm so far, with more falling as I write. Bring it on!

On the smallholding of Varzea da Goncala, pretty things under way....


....life is good and the winter work is progressing nicely.  The last few weeks we have focussed on landscaping the space around the track and chess-board, below the houses and in the kids' play area.  Many stone-missions on the hills and to the river, and jigsaw-style building low walls and steps.



As mentioned in the last blog, the atmosphere and camaraderie at the Varzea has been great this winter - positivity abides!  Daniel is now gone, but Karen and Damon remain. I have a habit of making the point that positivity of spirit comes from action, movement, and not from the plethora of "spiritual development" schemes and rituals that abound. One can accompany the other, but mind stuff on its own tends to be no more than psychobabble. To connect, get your hands dirty!

Before I go on, an honourable mention is due to our faithful Carina, that is, our old Toyota Hiace van, veteran of 10 years of wood, stone, manure, and multifarious materials missions at the Varzea.


Broken seats, broken doors and floppy mirrors, dodgy brakes, but she definitely enjoyed getting her axles dirty! 

Here, she is being taken to her final resting place...



The authorities are making a big push this year to make sure landowners clear the scrub vegetation on their terrano, and also trees too near the houses.  It's necessary stuff, after the catastrophes last September, which saw, in one weekend, the burning of 5% of the land mass of Portugal. There was a great deal of publicity about the disasterous fires in California, but it is not appreciated that what occurred in just 2 days in central Portugal burned an area 3 to 4 times the whole area of the California fires.  In line with directives, a few trees overhanging the buildings have had to be cut back drastically....


...one-handed chainsawing in bare feet - they don't tell you these helpful tricks on chainsaw courses.


On the same theme, of fire-protection, a few weeks ago now, we had Fernando with his Corta-mato machine here, creating, with a whirling chain behind a tractor with catarpillar tracks, a wide fire-break encompassing the horse-shoe of ridge and hill around Varzea da Goncala.  Addressing this force that has the power to wreck all our human schemes. 

Here he is, finding his way onto the hillsides....



The internal work is under way also, my task every second year, which means this year, cleaning the terrano of resurgent highly-flammable scrub vegetation on the established clear area.

This is an area of approximately 2 hectares (5 acres) which is slowly but steadily re-growing a forest of native trees, mostly medroneiras (Arbutus unido) and cork oak (Quercus suber).  I am slowly re-introducing the other previously co-dominant oak variety, Quercus fagineia (in Portuguese, carvalho portuguese).  The emphasis on s-l-o-w-l-y!    Swales, hand-dug ones, which now cover most of this hillside area, are a definite benefit.    The time will surely come when I bring in animals to help with the task of re-forestation, but not, probably, for another 2 or 3 years, just for logistic reasons.

The land, and particularly the hills, need animals.  A study recently published has, for example, shown the correlation between lands not grazed by animals, and the fungal parasite killing large numbers of cork oak.  

It's inspiring stuff - the underground fungal networks, (which, if you know your onions, means mycorrhizal networks working in mutually beneficial relationships with the tree roots) are stimulated in a positive way by interaction with animal manure, allowing the trees to fend off hostile attack. Or, more accurately, the oak's fungal associates fend them off.   Nature is crazy-amazing, so how come we don't realise that working with it is beneficial to us all?

When people came into the landscape and removed the wild animals, it was fine for the health of the ecosystem so long as they brought also their own domesticated animals.  But now, when the old practices disappear, this vital link to nature's health is removed.  The primary cause of fire as well, because the imflammable understorey is the fuel source of the intense distructive fires of these years.

To finish on a lighter note...

.....in case anybody was wondering (extremely unlikely), the budgies are enjoying their theme-park, are loving the current windy weather, and are getting quite interactive.  Here with Megan at breakfast....



Still some places on our April 16 to 29 Permaculture Design Course - between the spring's new and full moon....

All the best from Varzea,  back soon.


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