Thursday, 29 January 2009

Please Sir, can I have my greenhouse back?

Hopefully my automatic music file will be working by the time you reach my this blog!
I now understand why web programmers wear anoraks and don't have girlfriends - even with all the info handed on a plate it still took me 11 hours.
I just wear an anorak because:-

a) It has rained non stop now for 14 years
b) I found one on a dead programmer
c) It makes me hot, not dead sexy (which I am) but hot warm hot.

Ah yes I remember, we forgot to peg the greenhouse back down whilst building our new outside lounge. Really high Northerly winds and I woke up in the morning sans greenhouse. Two fences later, I found it in my neighbours garden.
The Scottish chill out summer lounge - with greenhouse attached

Greenhouse flew over a pergola, two fences and my palms!

I got the idea from some photos I found in flickr from a Scottish lady in France (google "la ferme de sourrou" in Flickr) and had some posts given to me by a Scottish couple nearby.
Since I am one eighth Scottish, that means that the construction is technically 1/144th Scottish.
Then again, maths never was my strong point.

What my finished "glorriette" will hopefully look like. No anoraks will be hurt in the construction of the above!!

Since the eighteenth century, we have been persuaded by laws and conscience to accept that all power, water and gas should come from a centralized source. We all expect mains water, mains electricity, telephones and gas to be plumbed to our front door. Some people even want a stronger electricity supply, better mains water pressure. How the heck can we run the sexy crome coffee machine, the microwave and the breadmaker at the same time otherwise?

It was at this point last year, after installing electric underfloor heating in my farmhouse was the point I woke up. My quest is this. If the electricity, gas and water supply tomorrow ceased, how would I survive? The answer is, I wouldn’t. But if I knew that on the 1st January 2018 the grid would crash could I survive? I believe so. I have set myself ten years (now actually just under 9) to become fully off grid and fully self sufficient in water, food, energy and shelter.Food. This winter I planted a lot of fruit trees to take advantage of the winter rains. Underneath these trees I constantly rotate a large selection of onions, tomatoes, broccoli, corgettes, peppers, beetroot, anything that is in season. Since I have to water the trees, the vegetables get watered as well, and the greater the combination (currently random!), the greater the symbiosis and the better the veg and the better the fruit. As they mature, then they will require less water and create shade for growing more diverse vegetables in the shade as the Algarve sun blasts down in the summer. My chickens are a big success, free to feed and using little water and producing fantastic eggs. My ducks and geese were a waste of time, sincemy land is too small to allow them to roam,few eggs and as a vegetarian no use!I am learning to collect some of the crop as seed but it will take a few years to get any where near sufficiency. I guess I manage to grow 10% of my food, less in winter. More than some buggers though

... and now for something completely different:-

International economic systems based on the cow currency.


 You have 2 cows.

 You give one to your neighbour.


 You have 2 cows.

 The State takes both and gives you some milk.


 You have 2 cows.

 The State takes both and sells you some milk.


 You have 2 cows.

 The State takes both and shoots you.


 You have 2 cows.

 The State takes both, shoots one, milks the other, and then throws

 the milk away...


 You have two cows.

 You sell one and buy a bull.

 Your herd multiplies, and the economy grows.

 You sell them and retire on the income.


 You have two giraffes.

 The government requires you to take harmonica lessons.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Swinging in the (Algarve) rain

The Fine art of drowning.

I love rain, it fills my water tanks and waters all my  tree
I hate rain, it fills my lungs and wellies and makes me pee
(2009 anon.) 

Happy Birthday Robbie Burns, 250 today but sadly died at only 37, father of 12 kids. Heck two are difficult enough.

The famous Almond Blossom. Signifies wet and rain to me..

They might have sworn Barak Obama in twice, but am I the only one to guess that he is really Bin Laden, his name is an exact anagram!! I leave it to the CIA and FBI to catch up with this advanced theory. To create an alibi, he has appointed Monica Lewinsky as his Secretary of States cleaner..

My latest article is out today in the Algarve resident, if you follow the links to the right.

What weather! Just as work has started to pick up, instant soup. 36mm of rain in 36 hours. My opportunity with Stephen, my first volunteer of 2008 has been really hampered. A good man, good chat and finally forgiven the fact he is a Manchester United fan (the only one West of India I am reliably told).
Stephen struggled to find a place in Portugal to accept his offer of help, I guess it is a bit too cold and sleepy at this time of the year. Other places seem to want money to allow volunteers to help... If you want a good volunteer, contact me and I will send your e mail to him.
 He had laboured away all day in the rain whilst I HAD to do some shopping somewhere deep in a warm shopping centre. I did get a chance at a warm shower at the new swimming pool in Sao Bras (my local town). Two euros, 700 metres of pain and ten minutes of hot water bliss!

Instant lake - dug two days earlier now 1 metre deep. Please stop raining, I am not a duck.

We have progressed a little, we cut the tipi poles from a wood high up above Sao Bras. At 120 euros for twenty, I think it was a reasonable deal and the seller was impressed we cut just twenty, I think he would allowed me a few more - Mr Honest as usual. I returned to his bar just as he was stripping two of the smallest rabbits I've ever seen. Well it is foraging, but I hope he had plenty of bread.

Breaking the current world record for overhanging poles by  a metre or two,
a big sigh of relief when we returned home "sem multa"

The eco bathroon / kitchen has also been rendered this week. We used a mix of two parts fine sand to one part white tile cement. Whilst I know it isn't that eco, it is a lovely soft material to work with and dries slowly. Unfortunately, some of the render fell of the wall during storms overnight, but it was fixable the next morning due to it being slow drying - try that with normal cement. It looks really organic, and having fitted a couple of bottle windows and rounded all the corners, it feels nice. I have already explained to the girlfriend that I intend to live in the tipi and cook , live and love outside. She sighed and predicts I will last a week before the comfy bed beckons. Watch this space!

Eco shower bottle window. I should have used clearer bottles, looks good though.

On one of the wet days, we took a trip to Calvin and Nadines Tipi Centre and then drove up above Monchique to look at a piece of land for sale. One hectare, sloping with a river at the bottom sounded good, but it was North facing and there were not many trees. There was a good fresh water spring, but that was on a neighbours land. It is a beautiful part of the world, rough, natural and unspoilt, like me!
I will keep looking though, I need year round abundant water, south facing, lots of trees and ideally twin Swedish blondes with a pent for naturalism living next door. See you next week (if it ever stops raining...)

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Permaculture is the future

Aghhhh...... One of the down sides of multi tasking for a living looking after a sweet little white thingthat has been barking all night as she has just come into season. Having fallen asleep with Ben Laws "Woodland Year", my thoughts turned to shooting it and preparing a grey squirrel casserole after listening to the mini cayote chorus for several hours. Good job a) I am a vegetarian b) my shotgun would have made a mess of the living room c) It might have woken the rest of the household and d) I guess we wouldn't get paid if we handed back a frozen tin foil freezer pack of Lilly -o - vin rouge, and e) I have never shot a dog before, once did a wood pidgeon when I was 12 but hey, the career stopped there.  Still felt like shooting it just to wake the family - how dare they sleep with this insane doggy disco going on.
Well, I paid the price, bad gout in my left ankle and no pills left, and a hang over (option f) which I tried was drinking with the dog. Bloody lightweight, had to finish the bottle of cooking sherry myself.

Multi layer planting in my raised bed. Espaliered Nectarines, Tall chilli peppers, lower red cabbage and strawberries in hanging baskets, as well as a bit of colour with a perrenial Chrysanthamum.  

In my small garden at the moment, I have ready to eat:-

Vine tomatoes (in greenhouse)
Potatoes (blighted by heavy frost but tasty)
Lettuce (outside!)
Nabo (Portuguese parsnip)
Leeks (by the ton, so easy to grow)
Jerusalem artichoke (can dig up all winter if I remember where they are)
Spring onions
Chilli peppers and lots of herbs
Strawberry guava

All the trees are underplanted with vegetables, I plant what the locals sell in the market. I also follow simple biodynamic timing - if you want to know, buy the "Borde de agua" in any Portuguese newsagent.

Now this is the important bit, I am really bad at growing vegetables, I blink the bugs get them, take a day off, they die of thirst and get mildew, blight and aids. But if I can produce some of my diet, then you all can.
On Sunday I got more cauliflower and brocolli seedlings and it struck me that each week I have to plant enough seed or seedlings to produce a weeks worth of food, if I don't we will starve.
I have planted about twenty five more fruit trees this winter, bringing the total to forty odd, more vines for edible fruit, and scattered seed anywhere it will take - especially against walls, at the bottom of fences. If weeds blow in and grow in these places so will my plants!

Vine tomatoes in my home made green house, Mango in the middle , onions and lettuce at ground level.

Constant soil improvement is essential. Grapefruit, Nabo, second year Broccoli and a few young onions surround the trunk. Since I have to water the Grapefruit, everything else gets watered at the same time. Symbosis my dear Watson!!

 My first volunteer of the year, Stephen arrives today. He sounds interesting, qualified architect and last year cycled across the states. New York to Portland. Lets hope he can mix some lime, build a roof, cut some coppice and design my outside kitchen. Oh yes, I wonder if he can cook a little dog as well.........

And finally folks, an ode from Mr Bush. Happy retirement Dubya

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Thirteenth night

Happy  -  Nooooo  -  Year  !!!!!!!!!!!
Perhaps I should have kept my broken gearbox as a flowerpot! My daughter Holly, pictured next to a square foot type flowerbed, made from the broken track of my excavator. I would say very green in recycling a piece of rubbish but I am still smarting from buying a new set of tracks AND a reconditioned gear box for my old Mercedes  - both on the same day just before Christmas...
Pictured behind from the left is the new eco kitchen, the compost toilet and the volunteer accomodation - now double lined with a small woodburner and lit by a 12 volt solar system.

I opened the door of the campervan on New Years morning to find:-

a) We were parked on a verge in the middle of Albufeira.

b) A young girl with one shoe in her hand was howling her head off. I think she had just finished drinking and wanted to borrow 50 cents to make a call as she had lost her bag and phone on the beach. I smiled and with my new resolution told her to run away ( NY resolution number one, stop being nice to anyone and say exactly what I feel..)

c) My girlfriend had lost her phone, presumed missing in action on the same aforesaid beach. Big search, obviously stolen, evidently part of an international ring of New Years Eve Pissed On The Beach Phone Stealing Ring. Found this amusing as it is normally me who does such stupid things.

Strangely, the phone turned up a couple of hours later in a saucepan in the campervan cupboards (can't have been me, mr safety conscious could it....) Strange how you look at things differently just because it has clicked into 2009. I have an overwhelming urge to organize, sort and tidy - and these are just the kids and girlfriend, just wait until I hit the garage!!)

At the start of 2008, probably with an equally sized double sledge hammer of a hangover, and in a dodgy hotel in Istambul (threw that in so you think I am jet set white trash when actually I am very anti planes), I decided to give myself ten years. Not lifespan or jail but ten short years to change my lifestyle so that we could support ourselves near enough self sufficiently at Quinta Stuart. Ten years to become low energy, net food producers, sharers and humble enough not to WANT to wake up in a mafia owned Istambul hotel room where even the bathroom was the colour of nicotine.

So 2008 was a very positive year and I feel happy that the clock has ticked down to only nine years to D Day. I won't comment on climate change or peak oil, there are enough blogs on these subjects - suffice to say change your lifestyle now, if only for me!

Projects achieved in 2008.

1. Compost toilet.
After travelling around, I knew that I had to build a really smart loo so that girlfriend and two daughters would use it and that it would be an inspiration to the leagues of Doubting Thomases also known as my friends.
I built the two chamber system, with a good vent, massive chambers and big enough for several hundred books, pictures , blackboard, view and solar powered light. It has surpassed all expectations and even the posh in laws and a forty strong gardening club loved it. 
The librarian hard at work...

2. Compost heap.
An easy construction of two square wooden frames against the corner of a tall stone wall. Works well and we put everything except for bones and the ash from the woodburner in it - the ash stays as solid soggy lumps. I just emptied the first chamber, it was about six months since we put anything into it. The compost is generally good but a bit woody - I had to throw a few bits away but ended up with six big wheel barrow loads to plant some new walnuts with.

3. Grey water.
I rerouted all the shower and kitchen water so it fills a seperate tank before the main septic tank. If this 800 litre tank overfills, it automatically runs into the septic tank. There is no filtering as all my land is level, but using only eco products, we pump the water straight onto trees. it whiffs a bit so I don't use it for my vegetables.

4. Chicken tractor
I had ducks and geese as well, but all they did was eat and eat, so I gave them away - very pointless keeping these guys when you are a vegetarian!! The two chickens are great, two minutes a day to feed and regular layers of fantastic eggs. Their run is on wheels so we move it to weedy area and job done. From terms of economics, a two euro bag of food lasts a month. We get around 36 eggs a month... probable worth about ten euros. We let them out now and again but they tend to hammer my seed beds and small veg. seedlings and don't lay any more for the early parole.

Chicken tractor

I will explain about all my planting in next weeks blog. Must go and sort something!