Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Emerald land and wild sea - autumn power 2018

It was a little late but the rain, and autumn arrived in the middle of October,and within a week or so, the land turned emerald. 

Here are scenes from the future-food-forest today.....


.... a feast for the senses!


  We're now, after a deliciously wet November, basking in calm sunny days, working with shirts off!   

Just to wind up those in the "old country" (-:






A while ago we had Hans visit us again with his tractor-driven wood-shredder (Sean here helping with the feeding)...




... a full-on 5-hour session to yield  two nice piles of creme-de-la-creme woodchips , one from coppiced and riverside willow, and one from the river-cana, the bamboo-like "invador" of the river margins (just being loaded in, in the foreground). Like most "invasive species" they only need to be used in an intelligent way, so their vigour works for us, not against.  They make wonderful mulch when shredded, or, as in previous years, can be cut and used as slow-breakdown habitats for many life-forms, and as shelter-nurseries for tree-plantings.

Most of my energy and time over the last weeks has been dedicated to first finishing Megan's yurt, and then taking down the original 6-metre one and adjusting the level and re-erecting it. A rather more involved procedure that I imagined.  The yurt was, 3 years ago, put up on a slightly sloping base (about 20 cm higher on one side to the other) and very gradually the structure leaned over, to the point where something had to be done.  A useful bit of advice there - if you're building a yurt, do it on a flat base!

Neighbour Dan did a beautiful job on the lime and sand floors for both yurts, with beeswax coat in funky colours.  Above is Megan's all-new one. Not quite finished  - just the cotton inner lining to put on....

Now, finally, I get to get myself into the earth.  First mulching with aforementioned wood-chips....

Next, planting trees!   My annual delight. I just collected my first consignment of 144 azinherias, or holm oak, Quercus ilex, which is a missing part of the ancient ecosystem, one of the native oak family that used to be plentiful in the region but now almost absent. Another 156 to come....

Another big part of the ancient forest was the sweet chestnut, castanheira, which, 150 years ago, was a dominant part of the hill and valley ecology, this information passed on in first-hand knowledge by Manuel, now 75 years old, a veteran of the Angolan colonial war in the 60's, who's grandmother lived the 95 years of her life at Várzea da Gonçala. She told Manuel how the valley and hillsides were full of these trees, until the chestnut blight all-but-destroyed their presence in the late 19th century. In those days, "bread" was made from the flour of dried sweet chestnuts, as well as of the acorns of the aforementioned azinheira oaks.  Organic, nutritious, and gluten-free!

I have about 50 seed-grown chestnuts in the future food forest - mostly pretty small, but here are a couple of may babies, grown from local nut-seeds, on their way....



.... anyway, there you have it - tree-based agriculture, practiced here way before the annual crop system.  Manuel relates how is was the demise of the chestnuts which led to the change in land use, and the associated elaborate irrigation systems, and, later, wells and bore-holes necessitated by the increasing scarcity of water which will always result from the loss of trees in this region.

Allow me to digress...

Why did the chestnuts get so decimated?  The simple reason is diversity-loss. Over several generations the make-up of the tree-based ecosystem was modified by people selecting out the oaks
for their prized wood, and neglected replanting as the chestnuts grew faster and gave a better food-yield. The cork-oak remained as they gave a constantly renewable resource - the cork, but the  balance of forest diversity was compromised. 

Why is this a problem?  Because each tree has it's own balance of associated fungi living in symbiosis with it's root system - the mycorrhizal fungi.  Now the chestnut blight was caused by a type Phytophthora, parasitic fungi.  These are always present in the soil, but in the altered circumstances of the time, they proliferated out of control, and demolished their host.  No secret - the diversity of fungi in the soil ecosystem had lost it's resilience and system of checks and balances which would normally prevent the Phyophthora from going beyond it's normal role, of weeding out the weaker chestnut individuals.

Now, the same land is more-or-less abandoned, since big agro rules the roost of supply and demand and, fueled by oil, easily out-competes small scale production for price. 

And the people? 
Gone to the cities.  
So, another step has taken us farther from natural balance, and our from this....  


...to this...

When we get further from the natural balance, we need always more energy input to maintain that separation - this was an insightful observation of the great Japanese practical philosopher, Masanobu Fukuoka,  and it seems almost an inevitable progression of the human relationship with nature.   

We get the story in our valley: first was a wholly sustainable (as in, no external inputs required) tree-based agriculture, with grazing animals, bees, and the rest of nature participating, with garden areas for vegetables.  Then came the era of annual crops, made possible by the people-power of large family units and plentiful water.  This system collapsed when external influences, economic and political, took away the local interdependence while cutting the value of land-produce.  In the outside world, people-power was substituted by oil-power, in the form of machinery, fertilisers, and pesticides.  Ever more separation...  The next step?  

Meanwhile, back in the here and recent past...

Brother John visited us again recently and one highlight was going to nearby cliffs to see some monstrous seas and blow-holes....



... it was all fantastic until one super-wave smashed me down, and necessitated a bedraggled and pretty bloody trip to Lagos hospital for stitches in my forehead. Bruised and battered but, lucky me, nothing broken. 

Respect the power of nature....









































































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