Earth Monki on September 3rd, 2015
One night, a few weeks ago, I was driving my friends Tiago and Tim home from Fornos. There was a small dark stretch where, last year, at night time also, I'd seen a little hedge hog on the road and so had stopped and picked him up and carried him across the road by hand to a place of safety. A memory that often came back to me when driving along this road. This time, in almost the identical spot I saw a white furry ball that I instantly thought was the same little creature I'd helped last time (or maybe his family?). This time however it turned out to be something different. Tiago got out of the car and went to pick the little fellow up and brought him into the car. It turned out to be a little owl, which we found out later was actually called Little Owl (Athene Noctua).


Tiago was assigned as ambulance and carer and so in the next few days the little owl found its way into the hands of the right people at CERVAS in Gouveia.

Through Tiago I was able to keep in touch with it's progress and was surprised an excited when I received a message from him saying that they were looking for a farm around Vila Ruiva where they could release her back to nature. It was a beautiful experience to see our little friend again, and especially to be gifted with the honor of setting him free again into the wild.

Ricardo from CERVAS came and did a little presentation on the various kinds of owls that exist in Portugal prior to setting it free. We were asked to give it a name and so the name Lua was chosen. The timing just so happened to coincide with a little jam we were about to have so it turned out to be a nice little ceremony during his flight to freedom. A very symbolic occasion for many of us who were present at this event.

Tim, singing songs of freedom for Lua.

Tiago looking on at our parting moments with Lua.

Bye bye guys! Thanks for the ceremony.


What to do if you find an injured wild animal?

  1. Avoid disruption as much as possible. Minimise loud/strange noises, handle the animal as little as possible and avoid contact with other people. Make the little fella feel comfortable and tranquil.
  2. Use a towel or a cloth to cover its head (with no visual stimulation it will stay calmer) and put the creature into an adequately sized cardboard box with perforations to provide adequate air for breathing/ventilation. Take care of claws and beaks that may scratch!
  3. Get in touch immediately with:

    SEPNA-GNR: 217503080 SOS
    Ambiente: 808200520
    CERVAS: 927713585
Andrea on September 1st, 2015

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Earth Monki on September 1st, 2015
It's been a while since I've written anything, on my blog regarding my Earth Neighbours project, or even anything related to my own personal project - Quinta das Moitas. The last couple of years have been a bit overwhelming for me and didn't feel that I could write anything positive with all the turmoil that was happening in my life. The disillusionment seems to have served me well in teaching me the basic and fundamental ethic of Self Care. The underlying foundation on which all the ethics of Permaculture seem to be nothing without.

Now that the sun is shining and things are looking brighter it seems that it's a good time to start writing again and so with the opportunity of writing an article for Pure Portugal I thought it would be good to write something on the Earth Neighbours Project. A project I hold close to my heart. It seems that there are some misunderstandings that arise as to what it's about and how it works and I often get the impression that people think it's limited to my project and it's surrounding land, but it's much more than that. It's about making it possible for anyone else who is in a similar position and likes the idea. I hope that this writing can help anyone who is potentially interested in the idea to get a clearer understanding of what it's about as well as invite discussion / questions about it. I originally wrote an article titled 'Reoccupy Portugal' which may have given the impression that it was about squatting land (it was just a word play with what was going on at the time - Occupy Wall St). So just to be clear, it's not about squatting land, although this kind of scenario isn't excluded so long as it's done legally or with consent of owners/locals.

The idea started shortly after I'd purchased an abandoned farm on which I intended to carry out my Permaculture regeneration project. This land which had been abandoned for so long, was surrounded by many plots of farm land that were also in a state of abandon, many of which still had ruins on them and some with good water. It seemed to be calling out for a renewal and regeneration. Having been inspired by Permaculture Design I had visions of what could become of all this land should it be reoccupied by like minded folk with similar intentions. What I saw was like a big jigsaw puzzle. Each land being a piece of the puzzle that would bring it's own colour to the bigger picture and each would be aligned with the vision of regenerating and caring for the land, as custodians and living as a sustainable community – or neighbourhood rather.

As I spent more time in Portugal I met many others who, like me, had been inspired to start a project based on a more natural way of living and were finding themselves quite isolated and at a distance from any like minded community who they could connect with, and that they too were surrounded by abandoned plots of land, that if the owners could be found would make good homes for suitable neighbours who resonated with what these projects (I call them 'nucleus projects') were already doing there. All that was required was some way of showing that these projects, each of them unique and wonderful in their own way, were out there, and to facilitate a connection to them for anyone potentially interested in becoming neighbours with them.

So, in it's essence, Earth Neighbours is a very simple idea, of building community around existing nucleus projects that have already taken the leap of establishing themselves. It is also something that seems to be happening quite naturally in some places, without any assistance, and that's great, so I just see the EN project as something there to help facilitate this. For me it also has to do with a calling, to help reconnect people back to the land. Earth Neighbours is not defined by any particular project such as my own - Quinta das Moitas (which is what is often assumed). My own project is just one of the many projects that is open to the idea of developing a neighbourhood around them as a collaborative regeneration experiment. I do see my project as a kind of test case and I am, right now potentially the most active in working towards seeing if this idea can really work. So far I have made contact with several owners of land around me and I'm in the process of negotiating with people that are interested in participating. I'm particularly interestedin attracting people who, like me, are inspired by Permaculture and wish to restore this beautiful yet challenging landscape back into an abundant and productive forest. The land around me does have certain challenges with respect to year round water availability for irrigationand because of this I see a scenario involving the building of lakes anddams. So too with respects to challenges, I imagine that eachneighbourhood project would have it's own practical challenges with respect to such things as water, terrain, climate, fire risk etc (not to mention social challenges which will always come up), and this would be part of the beauty of it also to see how these things aredealt with.

Earth Neighbours as an online platform is about providing a place where nucleus projects can post information about themselves and receive help on any of the steps involved in actually creating a neighbourhood around them. There are several preliminary steps involved and some of them are steps that members of the actual nucleus project may not feel so comfortable with, so I think it would be a good idea if the web site can provide some facilitation to outside help, and this could perhaps create some kind of trade / fair exchange with like minded people that would be willing to help with such things as making connections with the surrounding land owners, finding out details of the available land, working out legal issues etc.

At present the web site looks quite good, but in terms of it's function is still quite basic. My friend came up with the design and I then built it myself. All project submissions are submitted via email which I then receive and upload myself. So far there are about 15 or so nucleus projects that have been posted on the site. The project is receiving a really good response, but I'm looking for support with respect to developing this project further. I feel that now is the time. I'd really like to be able to develop the web site so that people can register and submit their own projects directly as well as enter and update any information about pieces of surrounding land that they know are available (description, photos, price, distance from nucleus project, etc). I could potentially do some or most of the programming by myself but it would require a good deal of focused time and energy. My thoughts were to submit the project for crowdfunding to see if I can get the necessary capital to pay for the development of this next phase but so far I've not had the confidence to do this so if there is anyone out there who has had experience at submitting a crowdfunding project or feel they could help me in any way then I'd love to hear from you.
Y3zj4v6m9n on August 11th, 2015

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Quinta do Vale on August 3rd, 2015

This content comes from Swaleage at Permaculturing in Portugal

It’s been a long time since this blog was last updated. Those keeping up with us on Facebook will have some inkling of what’s been going on at the quinta in the meantime, but I’ve failed dismally at getting to the more detailed documentation of it all. Mostly a case of too busy doing the doing to be reporting the doing …

Following the successful implementation of a swale system on the bottom terrace last year, this last Spring I put in a similar system on the terrace above it. It’s a narrow terrace with very similar problems to the one below it – soil so dry in summer it barely supported a few fruit trees (which consequently dropped most of their fruit before it got anywhere near ripe) amongst grasses and wildflowers which would be dry and dead by July. In summer, the soil turned to dust in your hand and blew away.

Mid fruit terrace

The terrace when we first saw the quinta in November 2008 – a few neglected fruit trees and a lot of encroaching bracken

Mid fruit terrace

The same terrace in May last year – a few more fruit trees, a lot less bracken, but still a largely barren terrace

A simple solution to the terrace’s immediate problems would have been to clear the grasses from around the trunks of the fruit trees, mulch heavily and install drip line irrigation to the trees, but the underlying aim of much of the work here has been to improve the water-holding capacity, life and health of the soil to a point where irrigation becomes only minimally necessary.

Grass-clearing and mulching around the trees had already been done. The next step was to address the soil.

In common with most of the terracing on the quinta, the flatter land that’s been created for growing is still far from being flat. Gradients have been reduced from between 30-45°, but average 18-22° over the terraces themselves. On this terrace, as with the one below it, contour lines run diagonally from the edge of the terrace to the slope or wall behind it. This means the terrace surface slopes in a different direction to the mountain slope it’s created from, which runs perpendicular to the line of the terrace itself.

This is ingenious. It makes for a reasonably gradual slope along the line of the terrace and directly across it (see image below), so rainwater run-off is not lost as rapidly as it would otherwise be. Flowing diagonally, it spreads and spends much longer crossing the surface of the terrace, but still drains effectively without channeling or eroding terrace walls. Surprisingly, the average annual rainfall here – 1040mm – is slightly more than where I used to live in the very wet Scottish Borders, but just about all of it falls in the winter months, so effective drainage is no less critically important as water retention is for the summer months.

Mid fruit terrace

Looking along the terrace. It’s deceptive. The gradient appears quite slight both along and across the terrace. It’s far from that, as can be seen in the following images

The existing fruit tree plantings however had been made following the line of the terrace, so the trick with the swales would be to space them in such a way as to leave no tree without a swale close enough behind it to irrigate it.

Since these swales won’t be fed by ponds like the terrace below, the idea is to fill them by hosepipe every 7-10 days through the summer drought, decreasing the frequency of irrigation as the soil improves year on year. To begin with, plantings will be limited to mulched swale berms so as not to place too much demand on water supplies through the summer, especially as the winter rains failed during the winter of 2014-15.

Mid fruit terrace swale

The first swale. This was dug wide enough to form a pathway a comfortable wheelbarrow’s width

We had worn a well-compacted pathway along the middle of the terrace simply by walking along it frequently, so the first task was to create a new pathway and decompact as much as possible of the old. The narrowest part of the terrace is simply not wide enough to have room for both swale and pathway between the trees, so the logical solution was to make the swale itself into a path. With the contour lines running diagonally, this would mean the path meeting the back slope before it reached half way along the terrace. This turned out to be less of a problem than it first seemed – it was simple enough to end the swale at the back slope, then continue the path along the back of the terrace.

Mid fruit terrace swales

The path along the back of the terrace extending from the first swale. A second narrower swale is filled with water here to check its level. From this angle, the true gradient of the terrace is much more obvious. The original pathway can still be seem along the middle of the terrace

Mid fruit terrace swales

The first two swales dug and the line of the third marked

Mid fruit terrace swale

The first swale is filled with pine bark. It’s absorbent and holds water well at the same time as providing a firm surface to walk or run a wheelbarrow along

Mid fruit terrace swales

Swales 2, 3 and 4. The fruit trees on the swale berms are interplanted with berry bushes, comfrey and self-seeding annuals like Calendula, Lupins and Brassicas. Bush beans and sweet potatoes will follow as the weather warms up

Mid fruit terrace swales

Swales 2, 3 and 4 from the other direction, again showing a better indication of the gradient of the terrace

Mid fruit terrace swales

The end of the first swale (right) and the remaining 4

Mid fruit terrace swales

The top swale pathway at the end of May

Mid fruit terrace swales

By mid July, the benefit of the swales is clear. The grass beyond their reach is dry and brown while the grass downslope of them is still green

A small amount of compost was spread along the swale berms before planting and mulching.

Mónica Barbosa on July 27th, 2015
Por cá o verão não é tão quente como o do Alentejo, mas este ano, vai seco, muito seco!

Ainda temos água para regar, mas há quem diga que não chega até ao fim de Agosto.

Entretanto, já comemos imensos kilos de amoras da linda e grande amoreira do florestado quintal, e outros tantos de framboesas.
Estas têm a particularidade de ficarem fantásticas em sorvete. Já acabaram as framboesas e os sorvetes :(
Mas vamos poder comer delas durante o inverno porque temos doces feitos com amoras, framboesas, groselhas, mirtilos e tudo misturado...
Com a seca, as amoras das silvas não estão a medrar, há algumas mas poucas.

Já comemos alperces e pêssegos, estão a chegar as ameixas e os figos, que já vamos comendo aqui e ali.

Deixámos de fazer queijo, por causa do calor e bebemos leite de cabra ao peq almoço e ao lanche.




Andamos a comer das nossas espigas de milho cozidas, barradas com manteiga.






As cabrinhas já estão "grandinhas" e está a chegar a alturas das suas mães emprenharem outra vez.

Entretanto chegou à "quinta" um porco, o Jeremias, que se tem deliciado com as batatas velhas, porque para nós já começámos a apanhar das novas.

Hoje começaram a nascer os pintainhos, já vi 2, faltam nascer 7.



Apanhámos o centeio todo, as favas (7kg) e as ervilhas (15kg) , mas ainda temos tremoço e tremocilha para apanhar.





As alfaces espigaram muito cedo, mas temos muita beterraba.
As courgettes e os pepinos já têm dado mas os pimentos e o tomate só vão começar agora a dar.

O feijão verde não foi tão forte como o ano passado, mas vai haver muito feijão seco para debulhar.

Os cogumelos já deram e já os acabámos. São bons!


 Andamos a apanhar folhas de "quase tudo" para secar e fazer chá, temos cada vez mais variedade.

 E assim vai a "quinta"!

joao pedro goncalves on July 9th, 2015














É com muito gosto que vamos inaugurar a nossa casa do mel com o nosso querido mestre e amigo Harald Hafner!

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Para mais informações e inscrições: 913776136, ou aquintadoalecrim@gmail.com https://www.facebook.com/events/1660443057533455/


Human poo & pee causes more death, malnutrition and economic problems than any other single issue; yet like animal manure, can be a source of nutrients that can build health soils, regenerate landscapes.  This is the first of a few blogs where I'll explore consequences of terrible sanitation, better treatment options some of the radical new approaches to changing habit and practices that work, and some that really don't.

When there's no toilets in a community people "go" in the open, behind bushes, buildings, wherever they can find.  If you visit lots of villages you soon get that whiff of exposed poo, and if you spend a bit of time with that community you get to understand what happens when people are in such close and regular contact with their "wastes", from the high levels of diarrhoea and a host of other water borne diseases they live with (and pay for in money for medicines and visits to distant clinics).





It's clear: dirty, unsafe water is almost always a result of contamination from faeces and sewage.  And this continues to be one of the biggest causes for under-5 mortality, especially where there are no toilets.  This has to be fixed.

This UNICEF poster I saw last week on a wall in Sindh pretty much says
it all.  Surely it's not rocket science, and yet getting people to change
these habits and practices is one of the most challenging I have come across.
In Pakistan alone, it's estimated that around 93,000 people die per year from poor sanitation and related diseases - that's more than all the civilian deaths from earthquakes and floods in the country over the last decade.

I have seen this in countless villages and urban areas across Pakistan but also Liberia and other countries. Globally the numbers are staggering: some 2.5 billion people lack access to proper sanitation; 1 billion still defecate in the open - both of these are estimated to cause almost a million unnecessary deaths a year.

Emerging evidence is also proving that lack of sanitation could be one of the leading drivers of malnutrition globally.  This powerful story in the New York Times explains it better than most, explaining how constant infection in the gut prevents children from absorbing nutrients  - regardless of how much food or money they have access to. This causes chronic stunting whereby the body and the brain fail to reach their optimal potential, a process that can't be reversed; stunted children thus  can't function academically, economically on a par with their peers. The implications this has on Governments in poor countries is staggering: address water, sanitation and hygiene or half your people will be half as productive and smart as they could be.

This gets me thinking about recent trends from donors / banks to promote cash transfers (dubbed "social protection" or social safety nets).  Billions of dollars are spent this way, and there's strong evidence to support that it works in some settings.  But if water and sanitation aren't addressed in parallel... then these underlying drivers of vulnerability will just remain in place.

Other studies have looked at the economic costs of this shitty situation. In Pakistan it is estimated that poor sanitation costs the country some $5.7 billion annually in economic losses; while in India, which has the highest numbers of malnourished children in the world the losses are equal to a dizzying $54 billion - per year!

Thinking back to my time In Liberia, during the peak of conflict in 2003 (managing health agency MERLIN's emergency response), when half a million people fleeing the rebel attack poured over to "our" side of the city, as the country's biggest cholera epidemic in years was killing far more than the bullets and bombs.  We set up a lot of cholera treatment units, water tanks, toilets, and saved many lives, for sure, but had there been adequate treatment in place already, I'm starting to think it could have reduced so much mortality.  Note to self: find out how much of cholera-endemic Liberia remains without adequate sanitation and get writing to the Government!

But it's not just OD, it's also the scourge of untreated sewerage which seeps out of semi-urban and urban communities across Pakistan (and in so much of the world).  This stinky sludge ends up contaminating our fresh water sources, killing off other plant and fish life, creating weird natural imbalances like algae blooms which when they die give off some other toxic liquid waste which is also really harmful, potentially lethal to fish, birds and humans.

So all in all, human waste is equal to untold suffering, disease, pollution and contamination for people and other forms of life.  But - this is only the case if you don't treat it properly, if your systems for treatment isn't designed with full treatment in mind, or if it's only partially complete, which seems to be the case pretty much everywhere in the world I go.

Pit Latrines and treatment options

So... what are the options?  Well first, it helps to understand the basics of the biology at play. Let's take an example of a pit latrine, it will hold the liquid and solids together in an underwater state which means that oxygen can't get in, so it's anaerobic.  A multitude of harmful bacteria live in this state, which also produces loads of methane, and uric acid (from the pee) all of which smell bad.  So if you step into one of these pit latrines you will want to get out as soon as possible.  Really not ideal, but in an emergency, better than nothing when there are thousands of people living in a small area, and open defecation would be really dangerous for public health.

The alternative in this case is a compost toilet, which prevents the waste from becoming anaerobic by adding sawdust, straw, leaves or any dry thing (rich in carbon, crunched up cardboard will do). This absorbs a lot of the liquid and allows for little bits of air (thus oxygen) to get in and around the pile, which thus remains aerobic.  A completely different, thermophyllic process kicks in whereby in heats up, pretty much like a compost heap. These are unique "heat-loving" bacteria which exist in any composting process; over time they reduce these natural processes eliminate the harmful germs and bacteria: they "treat" our wastes, making it safe.  Moreover, it transforms it into a a really rich source of nutrients for plant growth.  One of the best books, brimming with resources to understand all this is the humanure handbook.

In other words: The problem and source of so much disease and suffering has the potential to be a great resource for regenerating a denuded garden, tree planting, and so much positive growth.


Pour flush toilets and sewage treatment    

The other types of toilets are the pour flush ones that most people living in cities or richer countries use every day.  Squat plate or sit-on-top they both hold a bit of water to receive your delivery, then water is added and it disappears, through a U-bend into a septic tank where it sits in that same anaerobic environment discussed above.  Millions of naturally occurring anaerobic tolerant bacteria in the tank consume the solids, changing it over time from solid to less dense and then floating scum, which then rise and leave the tank as more waste arrives.

Now, here's the gross and deeply unsettling part: septic tanks only partially treat this sewage.  It is still highly contaminated and is known to be one of the largest sources of ground-water contamination.  Bacteria, viruses, parasites (including worms and protozoans) are the types of pathogens in sewage waste and run-off from septic tanks.  The bacteria can cause numerous diseases including typhoid, dysentery, gastroenteritis, cholera; the viruses meanwhile include such infamous horrors as polio, hepatitis A, viral gastroenteritis.

Example 1: A latrine + septic tank built by a humanitarian organisation
in a village in Sindh, Pakistan following floods. Good intentions,
but potentially dire consequences as the overflowing septic tank has
created a perfect environment for dangerous bacteria and viruses. 



Here are a few examples... 





















Example 2: raw sewerage running through a semi-urban
area of  Jacobabad, Pakistan.  These channels
are often blocked with garbage and overflow into the street.
Next stop: the nearest irrigation canal.


Example 3. Another overflowing latrine (Punjab)
another aid project, this time a good example
of the algae bloom, causing very hazardous
toxins.  Is this any better than open defecation?


















I have hundreds of examples; the point is that a septic tank alone does not treat the sewerage waste.  Most designs recommend a soak-away pit. This is basically a hole in the ground filled with some gravel where the septic water seeps into, through a perforated pipe, or just straight into the gravelly hole.  And then, into the ground, maybe into the ground-water, we don't really know.  I've heard it said that soil acts as an excellent filter, but there's little research to show what happens when hundreds of households seep their waste-water into the same soil, it eventually builds up, and leads to contamination of ground water.

Built by IDEP in Bali, this constructed wetland is only about
18 months old and is seriously flourishing.
The water at the end of it smelled fresh.
The trees were growing at a phenomenal rate
So, treatment options for septic tank waste-water? I have found nothing better than constructed wetlands that allow plants to absorb the nutrients, to literally transform the harmful pathogens into plant growth.  There are quite a few different ways of doing this, which would (and do) fill entire books, but I have seen some excellent results here, by IDEP in Bali. See picture, left.

These are gravel-filled sealed tanks, into which water-tolerant plants are set. There is no soil, only gravel.  The roots transform the nutrients from the sewage waste (nitrogen, ammonia and urea) into plant growth.  The roots oxygenate the water.

Constructed wetland by IDEP, at
Ulluwatu in Bali. 






















Ecological treatment of wastes can go up to large scale - as shown here.
 Thanks to Florence Cattin for this photo and for so much valuable advice on the theory and practice of waste water gardens. 

There are other wetland system too, like Jay and Clara Abrahams of biologic design, who build "wetland ecosystem treatment or WET systems".  These too are remarkable and I have visited many of their installations in England.  Jay points out these WET systems are not simple horizontal or vertical flow reedbeds; instead the WET systems use soil as the purification medium, not gravel as do conventional reedbed treatment systems.


A small portion of a WET system in the South of England, mid-winter.
from a quiet large institution, this treated
all sewage and grey-water wastes.  
During our visits Jay points out that the bacteria in sewage is relatively vulnerable when it leaves its septic tank and that if you have created a viable ecosystem in an un-lined wetland, studded with hundreds of grasses, bushes and trees, the proliferation of much stronger  bacteria devour these  "new kids on the block".

The waste flows from one pond to the other through the soil banks that separate each.  The extensive root networks and living soils provide a living filtration process.  Fish and ducks can be introduced.  Larger, older systems are like forests, attracting birds and enabling the return of biodiversity and health to the overall environment.  Moreover, these systems promote rapid growth of high value species which can earn the owner serious money. In this case willow is planted which is harvested and sold locally.

Lastly, there's biogas.  Human manure has less potential energy than that of cows, but it is still an organic material and will produce methane. It's such an obvious way to get energy from waste, but I doubt it would perform very well if the sewage weren't combined with other wastes, like sawdust and chopped up food waste, from kitchens or fruit markets.  We installed such a system in our home, described in this blog, but we haven't lived there enough since then to really learn from it.  But there is copious evidence already out there; we are well passed proof of concept.  Check this 2 minute video for one. Crucially, we now know that biogas digesters are very effective at treating harmful pathogens, though not completely, so care should be taken of the slurry emerging as a bi-product.  Again, not a problem if properly designed at the beginning.  

In Conclusion
It's clear that ecological systems can treat our sewage waste if we allow it to: the problem becomes an opportunity - and part of a solution for another problem.  We need to start making these links.

It need not cost much more than we are currently spending, if we adopt the right designs, for which we need more testing, experimentation and research.  Last week I joined a team from IDEP Bali who were teaching local NGOs in Pakistan how to build basic constructed wetlands - so we can start to learn from these results soon.
joao pedro goncalves on May 22nd, 2015