Vera Ripley on March 7th, 2014
michael on March 2nd, 2014
When buying land to start an eco-village in Portugal or elsewhere, it may be tempting to look far away from the inhabited world. I would advise against this in almost all cases. The only exception would be when you will be fanatic in doing everything yourself. In this case you should become self-sustainable as soon as you can. If you don’t buy an operational farm with building, gardens and energy supply included, it is quite likely that you will have a difficult period in the beginning, in which you have to improvise the basic conditions.
If you plan to buy all or part of your food, materials, tools, services etc. from the normal economy, you may be better of to be near to a town or city. The farther you are, the more dependent you will be on your car. Although you may visualize that you can go shopping just once a week, you will soon find that it is not easy to perfectly plan all your needs for the week in advance. Especially when you are building a house or installing a new garden, needs do very often appear on a daily basis. Receiving visitors is also more difficult if you are in the middle of nowhere.
The eco-village Tribodar is situated at 2.5 km from Nisa in the North of the Portuguese Alentejo. As far as I’m concerned, this distance is perfect. We are far enough of the village, not to need to worry about interference. We don’t hear Nisa, and only see it as a cute skyline with towers of the city walls and churches. The distance is perfectly walkable, which is crucial for a project that hosts lots of volunteers. Picking up new guests, do shopping or emergency purchases is easily done by car when necessary, without spending hours on the road, polluting and getting bored. Probably it is true that the small distance makes us more likely to make the trip, than if we would be far away. Still I feel this is a plus compared to being stuck in the middle of nowhere.
Another concern when you settle at a piece of land, is the possibility to have infrastructure the way you want it. Especially if you want to start from scratch and build everything yourself, you should have an idea whether this will be possible. In most countries there are tons of restrictions on whether, where and how you can build. In some countries those restrictions are not so stringent, in others they are not enforced. In Portugal the law regulates every aspect you can imagine, but it is easy to get away with not respecting it. Of course that is now, and you never know what the future brings.
Wherever you are, I think it is wise to avoid buying land in natural reserves or other special zones. Usually control is much more intense in such places, and you will get a lot less freedom to erect an eco-building, or even a teepee or a yourd. In Portugal there are many kinds of zones, such as fire prone areas, and all kinds of reserves. Every zone has it’s own rules, and it may be worth checking this with the local authorities before you buy a piece of land. Once you are there ask them what the minimal area of land is you need to possess to be allowed to build. Theoretically you can only erect farm buildings and a farm house and you have to prove a part of your income comes from agriculture. In practice that may not be necessary though. In the Alentejo the normal minimum of land they allow you to build on is 4 hectares. For some special zones that is 2 ha.
Of course you can skip all this and just start building, but that always leaves a vulnerability and uncertainty. Depending on the structures you want to build, it is worth giving this a thought still. In Portugal for example there is such a prejudice against eco-building, that in most cases, people don’t consider them to be ‘houses’ at all, and so you won’t be bothered. Of course what matters in the end, if they come to get you is the law and not the prejudice :)
To be continued
Next toppic: A good location part 3
michael on February 25th, 2014
This week we started to make the final design of our food forest. It is actually a redesign, as part of the food forest is already in place. There are mainly some trees and shrubs that we planted over the last 3 years in the garden of eco-village and learning center Tribodar.
We started working on the food forest 3 years ago, after seeing the famous Geoff Lawton video, “Establishing a Food Forest the Permaculture Way”. In that video it looks all very easy, but we found that according to your climatic and soil conditions, it may be more challenging than Geoff makes it appear in the video.
At Tribodar we face a combination of factors that complicate things. The most important are a long dry and extremely hot summer season and a very shallow soil above the bedrock. The first means you have to rely on other water sources than rain during the summer, the latter implies you have very limited storage capacity for water in the soil. This last condition is rarely discussed in Permaculture literature, and a challenge to our creativity here at Tribodar in Nisa, Portugal.
After noticing we would always have to water our plants in the food forest intensively during summer, we started experimenting with an alternative way of watering. We call it micro swales. It is little channels that are dug on contour ( along lines of the same height). The channels are approximately 25 cm deep and wide with a little berm on the down side of them. They are spaced at 2-5 meter distance of each other, according to the slope of the terrain. As they are dug on contour lines, their shape is dictated by the landscape.
In winter those channels help prevent erosion of run off rainwater and in drier seasons to refill the water table of our shallow soil. In summer is when they fulfill their most crucial function. They water the whole area below them with a minimal effort, as each micro swale overflows into the one below it. This means we can water a big area of food forest only by opening and closing one or two taps.
We used this system on a part of our food forest last year, and found our perennial plants where more beautiful than ever. We also experimented with some horticulture on the banks of the micro swales, to see if they would be humid enough for gardening. We found the banks are perfect, even for annual plants that do not have really deep roots. Further down of the banks, plants which have established during the raining season or perennials are doing very well.
As we still rely mainly on water from a borehole, and we do not want to waste underground water, we have decided that we would turn our food forest into a forest garden and plant the gross of our plants in between our trees. This way, we use the water not only for growing a food forest, but also to provide us with our daily vegetables. This allows us to have an intensively planted area, producing a lot of food from the beginning, to get the most out of every drop of water.
If you want to know more about our micro swales, come to see us at Tribodar in the Alentejo in Portugal, or keep an eye on this blog, as I will dedicate one or more articles specifically to this topic.
To be continued...
Next topic: The design process
Feel free to post your questions or comments :)
Al on February 18th, 2014
Ok. So it never rains but pours and this adage works on several levels at this moment in time! It has been a relief at least to see some sun this third week of February after the persistent — and no doubt in many way welcome — rain! But the consistent rainfall as made everything […]