Monday, May 28, 2012

Earthbag Arch

We have finished working on the practise wall.  It is very exciting how quickly it builds up.  There is quite a lot of work in the preparation, digging the foundations and filling them with gravel, not to mention the massive job of digging out the site, which RL did by hand, well, with a pickaxe and shovel... So we are now getting ready to start on the store house.
I have been playing around with string and shade netting trying to rig up shade so we can work without burning to death.  But because the landis on a hill with a windmill at the top, guess what?  It's very windy, so as soon as my back is turned my attempts are usually flattened.  The old bender is still standing and I realize how amazing that is.  I guess because it is round, the wind can just whizz by.
We have started eating the potatoes.  Very tasty.  They're not ready to harvest really, but we wanted to try some.
I walked across the big field to where the men were shearing sheep and I asked if I could buy some.  Later in the afternoon they came by with four fleeces, two black and two white, in a huge sack. €20.  Now I have enough wool to make things for years to come!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Open day at Tamera

On Saturday we went to one of Tamera's open days.  This one was focusing on their water projects and I was SO excited by their ideas and what they have done.  I share the beief they have, that Portugal has the potential to be rich and self sufficient in food and other products that you can get from the land.  They have moved earth and let the rain into their landscape and built gardens all over the place.  I visited Tamera a few years ago and saw that gardening was a bit of a struggle, but now... What a difference.  Using permaculture as a basis for their gardening experiments everthing looked green and growing.  And so lovely to have all those lakes, including the last huge project up at the top, to catch and hold rain and stop all the rivers just flooding and washing away precious topsoil down to the sea.  I really recommend a visit.  The food at lunch time was really good, too.
After lunch we went to visit their 'Solar Village'.  This is a big project where they have created different forms of capturing the sun's energy, to cook, to make electricity, to turn a big flywheel to use the power for pumping water or any other machine that would work off drive bands.  And it's all low-tech.  I liked the bio-gas collector.  Very nifty.  There were other things we could have chosen to look at, like herbs and salves and potions, or the standing stone circle.  Even just walking around the main lake is a lovely experience.
They have a dream of creating a chain of a thousand lakes in Alentejo.  So hats off to Tamera!
They have a website.  Just put in 'Tamera' and you will get it.  Well worth checking out.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Earth Bag Building has Begun!!!

First, if the photos come up on the blog, there is a typical view of the 'interior' of Alentejo.  Rolling plains with one tree in the distance. A view from our trip to mertola.
Yes, at last we are ready to build.  We are making a garden wall to start with, to get to know the techniques.  The book that we are using is SO good.  It gives step by step details and instructions.  We keep it close to hand and it's beginning to look well thumbed and earthy. It's a very easy way to build a substantial dwelling with little money and little technology.  Just earth and feed sacks and a few other bits and bobs.  It's solid, like taipa (rammed earth) but done without the wooden forms.  So watch this space!

Our land is full of flowers, as is the whole of Alentejo at the moment.  The roses that tumble along the roadsides, and now the honeysuckle is clambouring over the bramble bushes in the hedgerows.  And the birds are going bonkers.  It's like living in the jungle, listening to them sing in the tree tops. It is also very hot, suddenly.  34 degrees at times.  I have built an extension to my bender, made from iron hoops and shade netting.  I have also taken up some art materials.  Huh, fat chance that I use them!  But you never know when the urge to grab a paint brush will take me.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Other Side of Alentejo

We decided a couple of days away from the big hill would do us good and after a bit of thought we agreed that Mertola would make a good break.
The drive on Sunday morning was brilliant.  All the flowers are begining to cover the landscape.  It's difficult to keep one's eyes on the road.  We drove east to Castro Verde.  The land is big and wide.  And then , after CV there are a few big hills which just pop up out of the horizon.  Very exciting to see something different after weeks of the same views around S Luis.
We got there in time to have lunch.  All the restaurants were serving cozido de grao.  Must be the regional dish.  Very tasty, anyway.  And then we went on the museum circuit.  First stop the weaving museum.  It's a living museum, with three women sitting teasing wool.  One was quite ancient.  And they have some ancient looms too.  They showed me how they spin on a hand driven spinning wheel.  It looked hard, spinning with one hand.  All the wool they spin they weave into lovely, traditional blankets, which were so soft and all using natural colours from the sheep.  I think that was my favourite museum.  :)
It was very peaceful to just sit and watch the Guadiana flowing slowly by whilst sipping a beer and feeling on holiday.  It's such a short distance away from home, and still in Alentejo, but it feels different.  We drove to Pomerao, where the mining company used to load their cargo onto ships bound for England.  The river is deep.  There is a big Spanish dam next to it and one can drive into Spain from there.  Much shorter than going to Serpa or Faro.... But we decided that would be for another time.
We had a room with a view, and a balcony!  The big fat full moon shone on the river and the nightingale sang all night.  I know cos I couldn't sleep!  (Too much red wine usually does that...)
Mertola is very proud of its history and you really feel connected to it.  The Romans, the Moors, the Christians, and also the older peoples.  And always it's Portugal.  Grilled chicken, Stewed pig, boiled fish.
All good.  Recommended!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Golden Oriole And Other Delights

As I was weeding and checking the potaoes I heard a sound.  That beautiful watery whistle of the golden oriole  They are called 'fig parrots' here, due to there love of figs. They will have to wait a while for the fruit but it is  lovely to know that they are around.  I heard at least two.  Also, the bee eaters are about.  R called out from his swale digging as he caught a glimpse of their beautiful colours.  They too make a lovely sound as they fly overhead.
The flowers are really getting into full steam ahead mode.  The fields are frothing with blooms. yellow, white, purple, blue, red.  And the air is scented with their perfume.  God, it's lovely.
We have made bag stand to fill the earth bags.  Now we are planning on doing a small wall to practise the techniques so when we do the building we get it right first time.
We were visited by a yound dog and both of us went quite soppy over it.  If he comes back we will de-tick him and worm him and hopefully, keep him.