Saturday, April 14, 2018

Spring 2018, wet, green, perfect!

Rainy and windy here on the west Algarve.  A perfect day to be taking it easy in our yurt and writing the new blog.  Having contemplated a severe drought the coming summer, March finally gave us bountiful rain.  Our depleted river, dry in some places in wid-winter, is now big and shiny!...

Equinox 2018. 11 years since our inaugural equinox party of 2007,  a memorable occasion, because it was the first time really that I properly encountered the denizens of the microcosm of our small valley of the Cerca river.

It left a lasting impression, I guess because the people were so different to those I'd known before, and the atmosphere of  the place I had come to spend the second half of my life was just opening to my senses.  We had a gigantic bonfire, burning mostly huge lumps of soggy burned cork oak, victims of the big bush-fire which had destroyed the woods here 3 years previously.

My wife Kris had just found out she was pregnant (after 2 miscarriages) with our daughter Megan, now 10.  We had only closed the deal on Varzea da Goncala a few weeks before, the land was wild and the houses were awash with water running through the walls.

This Blog will focus on people.  The people here now are a kind of new generation, just 11 years on, from those whom, mostly crazy Germans, who had come to sparsely occupy the valley in the aftermath of the abandonment of the then beautiful lands by the previous generation of Portuguese, some 30 or 40 years previously.


Ravaged by fire and floods in recent years, these lands were a sad shadow of the fertile cultivated meadows and animal-grazed wooded hillsides of a half-century ago. The recovery process is painstaking and very slow, but under way.

It is only people's activity who can and will make the valley beautiful again. As I put in a previous blog, we are the new ancestors.

Allowing time to work for us, not against us, for the long term. Not to enhance next year's crop, but to make the land fertile, productive, and beautiful, for our children and grandchildren, for them to want to make it more so for their grandchildren.  That way of seeing things.

Ecosystems are functional networks, and are prime examples of many self-interested parties getting on to make the whole function.  They are not the embodiment of an idea that nature is a model of altruistic cooperation, neither is it cut-throat competitiveness, each organism for itself.  It is both, intertwined. The "balance of nature" is based on the constant striving of the myriad individual elements giving their all to thrive by being creative. The intricacies and functioning of this great network are astonishing and marvelous.

The change in the modern era is that humans now dominate the global ecosystem, and our activities are compromising the functioning of the network. Our new rational brain is a double-edged sword - it allows true interactive wisdom, and also the power of destruction.

Common responsibility? If you like that concept.  A million times better, go do something.  It is positive action that talks to the world and to the future.

The Varzea.  Our little microcosm nestling amongst the hills....

We do what we can, knowing that nature readily responds to human guidance. Everything we do here contributes to the health, diversity and functionality of the network which is the local ecosystem.  Through the fourth dimension of time, hopelessly neglected in most human thinking.

The fruit trees have had lots of attention and pruning this winter, with enormous help from our neighbour Dan. Having also been a cool winter, we are hoping for a best-ever crop of fruit and nuts.   Here is our old plum tree in blossom after a thorough pruning...          .... and the younger trees looking pretty too.
It has been a busy time cutting and clearing.  I completed my 2-yearly cut of the 3 hectares of land which is my designated Clear Area,  but as well this year we have been clearing crowded groves of willow, and 3 big trees near the houses have had to be cut back to comply with the national directive, being implemented this year after last year's catastrophic fires.  Here Kris and I are in the thick 
of the work...


...finally, all the prunings and cuttings were dragged to the open area, and just this week Hans, with his tractor and industrial-size shredder, came and turned a large area of branches into beautiful wood-chip...     Great help too from Chaym, Damon and Karen, and also Ilf, our Belgian friend and outstanding naturalist, coming with his family for just 2 weeks this spring with wife Lies and 2 daughters.

.


... so we ended up with about 7 cubic metres of soil fungi's most favourite food, for mulching, digging in, and fabricating the elixir of soil health.    If you want an inspirational book, get "Mycorrhizal Planet" by Michael Phillips, and you won't ever think of soil as boring again.  Or call it dirt!

Damon and Karen have been a wonderful help this winter, and have now finished their contribution, so many thanks to them both.  Karen is staying on to assist with our forthcoming PDC, while Damon is already planning his return next autumn....   damn, I forgot to get a good pic of them before Damon left.   

And I must mention the garden, in which Petra, deserves overdue praise for her huge contribution in making so much wholesome organic FOOD...

The future belongs to the present, which also contains the past.  We people can't comprehend time - it is one swirling interacting cosmos.

Finally (I really must get this episode off, it's just that it's been so damn busy::) .. we had a minor flood this week, to cap a beautifully wet 6 weeks, with about 35cm (14 inches) of rain - that's 350 litres on every square metre of land, or 3500 cubic metres per hectare!  Cooool...




Revel in the spring...........


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.


Friday, January 19, 2018

Finally, the autumn Blog....

Raining - the sound and smell of it is so beautiful!  Those in the cool rainy temperate zone to the north just won't understand my feelings for this liquid delight!!  My washing's out on the line, sheets dripping. Yippee!!    I have little doubt that the joy I feel is largely reflected emotion from the relief and joy from the plethora of life until now long-suffering in the dry earth.

Even some robust cork-oaks had been toiling at the end of the long summer, a good few dying from stress-related disease, this late summer. The grasses and weeds are growing a lot slower this year, still without really significant rainfall.  Here is the well-area, while the well was being dug, and now.....


Workforce from the Aljezur camara (council)  installed our new footbridge, whose predecessor rotted away and fell last spring.  A good strong bridge, first the foundations,
then the structure itself....



...pretty, eh?

I love winter here. We can DO things! Whereas in summer the ground is impossible to dig and you can't plant anything anyway, now the earth becomes pliable and seeds and trees can be planted and can grow.    The garden is looking vital, with the winter vegetables well on their way.

My volunteer helpers are here, actually good returning friends. Damon and Karen have been here several times and for quite a while on each occasion, and it's great to have them back. And from Geneva, a returning friend from last winter, Daniel (in the middle), until the end of February.  A great trio, and we get on with the things each of us enjoys doing - perfect!  I will show our works and works in progress in the next blog.


Acorns have been in abundance this year from the "Portuguese oak" (Quercus faginaea) after 3 years of scarcity. This variety of oak are rare in this region now, though a century ago they were an important part of the ecosystem.  So I am actively planting them to accompany the already-numerous cork oaks (Quercus suber).  I believe in diversity, and that one of the reasons the cork oaks seem to be struggling these years is that they miss their cousins.  For sure, oaks in general are the most social of trees, and to be isolated is not something they enjoy.

The acorns go in pots (usually recycled tetra-packs) or (mostly) directly into the ground on the hillside swales.   Long-time blog readers will recognise that this is an annual activity with low individual success rate, but time will work for us always if we use it wisely.  If only 10% succeed one year, and only 10% the next, then after 10 years we have (check my maths if you like), over 65%, or 2 thirds, success.  Time will work for us.

If your head is fixed on immediate results and your temporal horizon is mostly measured in days, you are not really inhabiting  the timescape, and will be at the whim of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. 

I have been having plenty of earfuls in recent times about "living in the moment", "the power of now" and all that.  I do know what is meant, but doubt that many understand.  I believe if we are truly in the moment, we present expands to the past and future. The past is within us as our guide, and the future is intimately connected to every action, or even thought, in which we are participating.   This being so, how can the future not be already part of the moment?   

This is a different thing to speculating, which, as an intellectual activity, can be amusing or scarifying, but it is only fantasy. We make our world through our positive action.

Loads of good projects to do these winter months.  The chickens have move to a new, neighbouring patch, with their old pecking and pooping for 2 years now a fertile ground for root vegetables.

Acutally I have to say, "the chickens" have not really been moved, as all but 2 have been eaten, to be replaced by a new, young, thrusting, egg-pooping hens from a reliable source.   Our hens were getting old and scraggy, and egg-laying diabolical.  Sorry, vegans, but eating half a dozen hens after a good life, and giving another 6 or so also a well-cared for life, is somewhat better than buying eggs to support a gross industry.  

Here is their new house, in construction, and in use - Megan's started the mural, which should be finished soon....


So what else is on the agenda for this productive winter?   The Várzea's at a formative stage in its development, and I see this winter as an important one for shaping the future.

The guiding principles, as always are:   Create Beauty, and  Bring the Land to Life.   It isn't just about production, it is about creating, or allowing nature to create for us, a place to live and enjoy, and for the children to be creative and have fun.

For this winter's meddling with nature, I intend....

Plant another 50 trees on the flood plain, to add to the 320 or so already in place growing.  This will complete the tree-plantings of the future food-forest.  I won't bore you with the make-up, but I'm sure I won't be able to resist elaborating when I actually plant them.   The idea is to make shapes in the projected landscapes, looking at future open apaces, pathways through the trees, trying to project the likely development of the living architecture.   

On the hillsides, I keep planting acorns.  Oaks are in some areas almost an endangered species with the ascendancy of eucalyptus, but they are the custodians of the wisdom of the land.  I also have a couple of new hopes for nitrogen-fixing trees, the quest with which I have not yet met with success.  We have been germinating Ziziphus spina-cristi, or christ-thorn tree, and a non-invasive Acacia, A.salicina.   Nitrogen-fixing Casuarina and Tea-tree are strong and pretty tolerant of clay.  As well as planting on the swales, all 300 or so healthy Medronheiras (Arbutus unino) bushes will be given a chance of a companion on their shady sides.  No more swale-digging this year - after 4 winters of digging, we have already covered most of the 2 hectares of cleared hillsides.

There is always more: with the trees come the birds and animal life, and the diversity of nature that we can be part of and live from and with.

Here's a truth, which is what we, as a species surviving off the earth, which we are presently depleting, need to understand:  Live with trees, and land will flourish.  Without, the earth will not sustain us.

Please accept apologies for the tardiness of this Blog, and expect a more frequent, shorter, format for the future....

Happy 2018, and drown your smart-phone....

Monday, October 16, 2017

Deep and long... summer's end 2017

It's been a long slow summer.  14th October today, and still summer, 35 degrees on the thermometer in the shade.  Drought conditions have persisted in our part of the valley, which put several wells out of use, including ours, from the middle of August, and we here at the Várzea, until the start of September, were using river-water from our tube, running 500m from the upriver pools, for all purposes.  Happily, these maintained their water, but it was a close call, and if the summer here had been hotter, it would have been disasterous.

So, at end of August I commissioned a new well to be dug.   Zé Gato wth his JCB digger, and a delivery of eleven 2 metre-wide concrete rings, each of half-meter height, arrived on the 31st August.  By the end of the day the Várzea had a spanking new well, with 1.5 metres depth of life-giving water at the bottom.  At a cost of 1750 euros, a priceless resource.

First arrived the big yellow monster....



...who then made a ramp to make a lower staring point, to....



dig the hole....




.... to five metres deep.  At  this depth, we were going through bedrock, so that was as far as was possible.  Then went in the 2 metre diameter concrete rings....


... and finally the lid.  This is necessary mostly in case of beasties falling in, or a flood inundating the well and filling it with mud....



Ze Gato is an old accomplice and tremendous excavator operator, over the last 10 years having done many works here.

Crises do tend to have positive sides, and the water-situation has served to get neighbours realising the we need to work together to do what we can to improve the retention of water for future years.
So we had a very hippy-style talking circle, to talk about these things, and what to do....





Co-operative digging of swales and terraces on the hill-slopes, planting trees, making dams on the gullies, diverting winter water onto organic-matter-rich land. Either manually, or sharing costs of a machine where the land could really use it.  It is a good example of how an issue which could, and has done in many places in many times, be divisive to a neighbourhood, can instead become a unifying cause.



Slow times and warm summer days are not conducive to work, neither to Blog-writing, as you may
have noticed.  Apart from judicious irrigation and keeping an eye on the water, drying tomatoes, and, more recently, figs, we've had plenty of beach time, and some small constructions.  Here, with Megan, a budgie cage....


... new chicken-house nearly finished...





  ... and there are the regular things, like the friday night kids film show...






The summer school holidays here in Portugal are over 3 months long and it's been good spending quality time with Megan, and with friends.
One amazing place, 50km north of Aljezur, is known as the turtle lake, a fantastic oasis arising from only a tiny stream in a not-especially-interesting little valley.  Here we were celebrating a birthday....



The turning of the seasons has its own interplay with the psyche, and the continuing learning process, which will always be happening when one is in such close connection with natural systems

I find the cycle of the year is continually instructing my outlook, the main lesson of which is to go with this flow and react to it creatively, rather than making plans and impatiently waiting tor the opportunities to carry them out.  The old folk fully realise the wisdom in this mentality, which is why they never get stressed, and yet do everything necessary with minimum energy, making it all look so easy.

So now, we have a positive prediction of rainfall for the next week!  This is so welcome.  The arrival of rain sparks a whole new start in the plans for the land, and I have many ideas and schemes just waiting for the opportunity to be carried out, land and infrastructure improvements and, of course, a lot of tree-planting again.  



From the start of November I have good help here also, with 3 friends from last winter returning each for a few months on a volunteer basis.  The tree-nursery has been refurbished ready for numerous cuttings and seedings of acorns, chestnuts, walnuts, and also more exotic nitrogen-fixing trees.

This year's long drought helped foster the Daoist mentality of an open-minded acceptance of the conditions, and with that an understanding of how to be one with the flow, or lack of it.   To a global consciousness tending always towards a more rational-based, head-based outlook these considerations aren't easy to understand.

The trend continues, global mentality being increasingly divorced from its source, the commonality of our DNA with all the natural world. 

It is the humility of the Doaist approach which allows wisdom.

"The Dao that can be told is not the eternal Dao"
"The name that can be named is not the eternal name"   

This, at a stroke, dismisses all religious and doctrinal 
"certainties" as unessessary, or at best incomplete.  

In my personal outlook, we, through our DNA, are antennae to the information and energy pervading the world around us.  Our rational mind is a tool of interpretation.  Taking the view that it is what  controls, or can control, our lives on its own, is one reason many peoples lives are plainly rediculous.

So, this is signing off the summer at last.  I hope to be woken up in the early hours tonight by the poetic patter of rain on our yurt roof..... Yaahoo!!!! will shout me, and the land...

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Blog is Back!

Whoa! Where went the months,,,   I've had something of a blogger's block since the spring, and I think I am emerging from the tunnel...  Of course this is a tunnel for you, loyal readers, though not for me, because I have been here all the time, even if from your version of quantum reality, nothing at all happened here. Kind of a Schrodinger's Cat situation.  But really, real things have been moving along as they do, spring's become summer, and....

I'll summarise.  Very dry spring followed by heat-wave in early June. Even 7-year-old walnuts suffered. Well level plummeted (actually pretty critical right now...)    San Pedro cactus flowered for the first time...



A blissfully cool 3 weeks followed, now warm again, nature works it all out, but when creating a food-forest from scratch, my role is to be the mother and nurturer of the nascient system. Like parenting, it is not so easy to know the right balance between giving a harder challenge to the trees and bushes to better equip them for their future life, or to promote their strength by giving conditions to develop their potentials?  Of course, the trees have their own strengths and strategies and natures and already know in what conditions they will thrive.  So my role, again, is to empathise. That is a worthy challenge!

The Várzea in our summer guest-house sequence. Families coming from many destinations, staying a week or two and heading back home. I am always happy when, as is nearly always the case, the families who come here for their holidays come here because they see not just a vacation in the country near the sea, but are interested in seeing and learning a little of how we live here, what it involves, and  how life in the "wild" can be creative and fulfilling.  There is without a doubt a growing movement towards re-connecting with the source, ie nature.

Doing stuff:  Diogo Ferraz...



...one of the students on Chaym's gardening course in April, returned to volunteer for most of the summer, which has been a great boost to me, helping with irrigation and planting, and development of the food-forest plan.  I have, with Diogo's help, completely re-designed the tree-watering network for the 280 or so treeson the varzea (flood-plain) area. So instead of the out-of-control branching spaghetti of tubes, we now have 2 main arteries going north and south, feeding 20-odd branches, each controlled by individual taps, and each a snaking line, without branches.  Here Diogo is helping renewing one of the canals of the channel-irrigation system.

What this new system does is supply adjustable drips to the individual trees.  The result is not just an easily operable system, but a reflected order in the brain.

 Oh man, don't get me started on the brain, or it could go anywhere....    




One good place is in that Diogo is Portuguese, and of a very pleasant disposition to helping me learn, after 10 years and more of faltering and laziness, the lingo of my adopted country.  It is perfect timing, as oft happens with things whose time has come, because the logic has recently hit me that:  I have not been back to UK in over 10 years, apart for one visit of necessity for 2 days a few years ago. I never intend going "back".   

I love this country, and really like the people, their quiet wise natures and uncomplicated mentality, so it is clear that I have a crucial need to complete the circle by knowing the language.  My daughter Megan is fluent already, having attended the local Aljezur school for 3 years, and is also well-equipped to help my learning.  Enough said.  So next summer we shall both be applying for naturalisation - ie Portuguese nationality.  For her it's easy, especially having been born here.  All I have to do is speak the native language....

Back to home...  Chaym's garden's in great shape and giving lots of GOOD FOOD!....



... and the geese have a new summer residence - they spend the green months on the north várzea, grazing fresh grass, fertilising as they go, and so reducing the summer fire-hazard. Then in the summer they come to the "badlands", where they can eat fresh re-sprouting "cana", the bamboo-like grass which taps into the water-table, as well as being fed wheat grain.




They also have a daily-replenished pond to wash and preen in, as well as shitting copious quantities into it!  So then, the richly fertilised water is run out of the high point, down irrigation canals through the (in this location) impoverishes soil.  The benefits will be apparent in the wet season, when these canals will be the planting zones of trees and perennial vegetables.

Mostly I've taken things pretty easily this summer, having had a chest problem, which is now better, and mostly irrigating and going to the beach.   I'm kind-of a single dad these days, and it is summer holidays (they last over 3 months in Portugal!).  Yes, we even do things like going to "Slide and Splash!"



Just recently I made a little pond/water-feature under the fig tree in front of the houses....



... currently making the sundial - see next blog - in a couple of WEEKS - promise!  

I am going to leave you with a favourite quote from Albert Einstein.  I realise I am fond of quoting this great man, I appreciate how he positively demonstrates that it is possible to connect scientific genius with spiritual wisdom - things that are often considered irreconcilable....

A human being is a part of the whole, called by us "The Universe", a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts, and his feelings as something separated from the rest - a kind of optical delusion of consciousness.  This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and affections of a few people nearest us.  Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison, by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.  Nobody can achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is, in itself. a part of the liberation, and a foundation for inner security.

Até já, amigos!


























































































   




Saturday, April 29, 2017

Spring action

The frogs are croaking in pond and the tree-frogs are beeping, and it's about time I got this latest blog posted!  Yes, they indeed beep, a kind of electronic-type sound, very musical.  I was a wee bit skeptical, until our friend and neighbour Dan really saw and heard a tree frog, on a tree, not so long ago. Small and green. Here's one....


Due to delays in publication, I need to backtrack to late March, when Varzea da Goncala was in PDC fever...  18 participants are here for 12 days for what is our 12th Permaculture Design Course. It's always a great occasion with shiny happy people everywhere with permaculture dreams in their heads.  Cue group-photo....



Permaculture is often laid claim to as being something new, whereas you only have to go back a couple of generations, in Portugal at least, or to traditional agriculture anywhere, to find that then everything was permaculture.  In this context, I understand the criticism of those who talk of it as a novel concept.

Sustainability simply means living without external energy input, and in the days before cheap oil or solar cells, there was no other way. Period, to use US parlance.

But the transformation of agriculture, fueled by cheap oil, leading to general abandonment of old ways and wise, sustainable practices, justifies a new way of thinking, and permaculture represents an approach based on choice rather than absolute necessity. This is what makes it interesting.     Since it is often asked, what is permaculture, I will give my best shot...

The term was coined by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in Australia in the 1980's as an amalgamation of the words permanent and agriculture.


The philosophy is based on following nature's ways, where systems are self-sustaining in the long term.  By interacting judiciously with natural systems, and intervening in ways based on observation and awareness, permaculture aims to bring out the best of nature's inherent power and productive potential.  


Permaculture can also be seen as a respecting of ways which were well-known and practiced throughout human history, simply because where external inputs were not available, the maximum output by necessity had to be made of the local natural system, in order to grow food to survive, as well as to allow interactive community relationships to flourish.  Humans used to be an integral part of nature, and permaculture is an expression of the fact that we need to recognise this as our future salvation..

We can see permaculture as a philosophy, and a call to understanding, as opposed to a set of instructions to be followed. This philosophy is thankfully grounded in the connection with the earth, so that ideas that are flawed simply don't work.  And the lasting success of permaculture is based on the fact that it works.


Its power is in how it can act as a focus for practical creativity, based on ancient wisdom and modern science, putting ideas together, to be tried and tested in our very real world.

As the late, great, Bill Mollison said, "it can get as simple or as complicated as you like".

Straight after the PDC, we had Chaym's Holistic Gardening course, with 7 students for 6 days in a very practice-based workshop.  Here are the most of the gang, on my session with them, planting in the future food forest on the irrigation channels (still then, awaiting the spring-cutting)....



A completely different type of event, with people getting their hands dirty and a few sore muscles and blisters from hefting enxadas!  To me, this is critical to learning - it can't be only mental. No connection is made without action.  

To quote Bruce Lee, a philosopher as well as legendary exponent of martial arts....  “Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough: we must do.”  And a favourite Bruce Lee contribution, his concise interpretation of "right action" from the Toaist noble eightfold path - "You must Act!"    


The issue of action, or lack of it...   It is my contention that the only real learning comes from action, and, further, that this learning tends to take place when you don't realise it's happening. All the stuff that people think they are learning, because they are filling their heads with conceptualisations and imagining possible enactments, is just brain-blah, ready to be returned to nothing it came from (then usually replaced by some other mental version of shangri-la-la). 


We have a steady stream of dreamers here (all good people, don't get me wrong) who just love to talk, and talk.... Doing, is quite something else, which, for most would-be world-changers, is a step too far.



Meanwhile, our Bridge came down - that was a great bit of action!  It had been slowly rotting away underneath, and leaning ever more, then supported by ropes. But the week before the pdc I took a good look under, and decided it had to come down to avoid this happening with people on it.  A great spectacle for all the valley kids, as a pre-friday-film-night show. Ben cut the ropes, it teetered, and then had to be pulled lightly to bring her down, after 20 years.  Over the next couple of days, Ben knocked up this replacement out of the remains....




The weather!    Warm and sunny for about 3 weeks. Not typical April weather, though "typical" isn't a very relevant word these days.   The cistus flowers are in full display....

At the Várzea, construction in the kids' area is still in progress, and the spring cutting is nearly done and early setting up of irrigation needed by the dry spring.  Every year the biomass to cut is more, and the spring cut, before the end of the rains, has multiple functions...



It blankets the ground with still mostly fleshy green growth, which has a chance to partially rot down before the summer dry, also providing a mulch (that's a term for anything which protects the top layer of the soil, keeping it moist and full of soil life).  Next, it triggers a reaction from the plants to downsize their root network, so creating a huge food recourse for the microbial systems and soil life in general, while opening up pathways for drainage and oxygen infiltration.  Finally, it also means less flammable dry biomass above ground, lowering the summer fire-risk.

Amazingly, this procedure of spring, and then end-of-summer cutting, has, over a period of 9 years, built up at least 10cm of quality topsoil in areas which were severely eroded by floods over the 20 or so years of abandonment.


And Chaym's garden's looking GOOD!...                       




and here are Chaym and Petra in the greenhouse tropical zone...



Alex and Nicky, and their boys Theo and Phoenix, have gone back to UK plc.  Mostly provoked by education choice,  I am sad to see them go, and miss them as good friends. For what it's worth, I see it as a regression, prompted by unnecessary values.

Many people are disillusioned and feel trapped by "the system", but mental escapism is rife. Head-based "solutions" are everywhere, either conjured by well-intenders or money-makers.  I just opened a link to an organisation called the "8 shields" (you may check it out, and maybe it will greatly enhance your life, as I am told it has many). I see 8 varieties of head-stuff, a clichéd mix of words like regenerative, immersive, etc - it fact more buzz-words than you can shake a stick at.  And the glaring absence of any reference to ACTION.  Oops, there I go again...

Only, please spare me the gurus, spiritual-mongers and conspiricists - if you want to connect to your spirit, you could plant a tree, bake a cake, or a bird-box, or make a anything you can relate to positively. I think you may find it works a whole lot better than meditating for an hour (you may also find it helps the meditation work too - see, you get a feedback system working then).

I really must send this blog out into the ether and synapses of the vast world wide web, and give, also, some credit to the assistance at the Várzea at the moment given by Ben and by Kevin, Lili, and Jana, all of whom have been here for both spring courses and are now helping with mulching, irrigation, chicken-husbandry, and such like.

Well, here are Lili and Kevin anyway (the dog's name escapes me)...

Enjoy a creative spring, and thanks for reading and putting up with my rantin.!