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Mountain Steep Permaculture - Permacultura em Declive de Montanha
Mountain Steep Permaculture - Permacultura em Declive de Montanha
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Chão Sobral, Aldeia das Dez - OHP - Coimbra, PT
Climate zone:
Warm Temperate

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Back to Mountain Steep Permaculture - Permacultura em Declive de Montanha

Steep slope, terraces, soil, tilling, manure, many hands

Project: Mountain Steep Permaculture - Permacultura em Declive de Montanha

Posted by João Gonçalves almost 12 years ago

The earthworks, composting, fertilization and gardening strategies for this ecosystem conditions

Pic. 1 - July - Dry season - Creek descending from the upper-right side and terraced slope facing south-west.




Pic. 2 - July - Dry season - Terraced slope facing southwest, rows of grape vines above retaining walls with a variety of crops, and very few trees, in small patches.




Pic. 3 - July - Dry season - Terraced steep slope with rows of grape vines, olivetrees, policrop of sunflower, corn, pumpkin and beans."less-ecological - brick and cement houses".




Pic. 4 - "Free-time/saturday gardeners" opening trenches to bury uncomposted biomass on 5 meters wide terrace. Nearly vertical terrace retaining wall (dry stone stacked xist - built hundreds of years ago) covered with weeds-herbs on the right. In this picture, a 3 to 7 meters wide, 10-20 meters long terrace/tiny property. In the back of the workers stand a convex ridge slope covered wit maritime pine as a natural regeneration after July 2005 big fire, a few older tall fire surviving pines standing out on the ridge crest. And blue eucaliptus on the valley-base of that ridge slope.

The tilling done by hand seen in the Pic. 4 is a specific "handmade-slow-passive" strategy to (1) compost/process big amounts of biomass - animal bedding, and at the same time (2) get the soil aerated, (3) through "disturbance", aeration and nitrogen rich animal and green manures, selecting for bacteria dominance, trigger burst of soilfoodweb microbial activity during late Wet but warmer season, (4) to compost on site/get rid of weeds and previous crop litter residue, (5) getting the soild ready for planting or seeding the nitrogen and water thirsty anual basic crops-foods like maize, potatoes, tree-cabbage, legumes. And also tomatoes, peppers, pumpkins, spinach, ...

Pic. 4 - Left : Team of friends doing manual tillage, "one trench at a time", and sheep manure half-composted scattered over the grass. Right-above: Family doing the first flood irrigation "operation" ("enleirar" in portuguese) in between mulched potatoe plants on sloped field. Right-below: In the front, flowering potatoe plants patch with gentle slope, at the back, a "rather" steep rocky slope (dark-with burnt vegetation - a few months after  2005 forest fire).

Through late February, March, April, til early May, we see groups of friends-family opening a 25-40cm deep (sometimes bedrock lies just 10 cm deep below the surface!!), 40-50 cm wide, and "one to many people long" trench with manual tools ("enchadas e garranchos" in portuguese).

Similar to the double digging proccess, in the bottom of each trench we will bury (1) the weedy grasses (those 3-6 cm deep top soil that lies over the place where we will dig the next trench) and (2) the litter biomass from the previous crop (stalks and leaves that did not ended up in the goat/sheep/rabbit shed, most do) , (3) half-composted goat-sheep-rabbit manure (loads of animal bedding - a mix of animal dung glued to the mountain shrubs Genista, Erica, Cytisus, Cistus spp, that were cut and added green to their bedding, and become dry while in the bedding), and over the previous 3 layers we will add (4) the soil dug out from where we open the next trench - part of this soil was created from last year's input -"underground" composting of (1), (2) and (3).

Machines are not used on this thin and long terraces, and walking on the soil already tilled-aerated is minimized.

Once the soil is tilled-revolved, the 10-20 cm deep, carbon rich, surface soil layer, contains last year added manure already composted: water paths are marked on the soil (using a dendritic-branching pattern, with gentle tilt-diversion drain type branching water ways, for flood irrigation).

Seeding or planting takes place, usually by opening a smaller trench in between, with a 90º angle to, the water paths marked, or as a swale, nearly parallel to the water path, if we are planting water loving palm-cabbage (that yields for 1 or more years).


Pic. 5 - Rabbits standing on "added everyday or so biomass", inside the shed, building manure and cycling nutrients (kitchen scraps).


Pic. 7 - Pumpkins hanging next to the terrace wall, about 4-5 meters tall stacked drystone.

Supported by xist dry stone stacked 1 to 5 meters tall retaining walls (it gets really steep near the bottom of the valleys where 2 convex slopes meet), the dark brown colored soil is aerated through team synchronised manual work (while the older people tell stories, jokes, discuss latest events).  In the procces the loamy soil becomes richer in humus, absorbs and retains water like a sponge - no compaction, no erosion by rain (also because most manual tilling-disturbance happens by the end of the rainny season).



Pic. - 3 types of earth/rock works.

Left: terraces on very steep slope and dry stone stacked goat shed, burnt vegetation above. Walking track and flood irrigation water channel-line, located in between the shed and the green patch below it.

Right-above: grey wall of goat/sheep shed - stacked dry stone.

Right-below: unique in Chao Sobral: Located in the center of a valley, a terrace wall, about 3-4 meters tall, has inside a tiny water catchment-dam. Water originates from a natural spring and is kept for intermittant flood irrigation, usually 3 times a day - early morning, noon, evening.



Pic. - Left: Since slopes are steep on the side of steep creek beds, our ancestors devised a way to create ground for crops. Terrace above the creek. Creek water exits the water tunnel out of the terrace retaining wall, about 4-5 meters tall. This tunnel (stacked drystone) was built by unknown uncestors, probably more than 300 years ago. This way, above the creek-tunnel we have a nice ground with gentle slope to water loving crops like potatoe and corn. Right: A xist-slate-stone bridge above the creek. Composed of overlapping big stones, standing on terrace retaining walls on each side of the creek bed, simply.


Pic. - Tiny dam, in the creek bed, only used in the Dry Season - Summer.

In the mountain ridge, with convex slopes, water is a scarce community pattern shared resource, during the dry season, that lasts from 5 to 6 months: May, June, July, August, September, October. Flood irrigation will be practiced - usually starting (as a clock like pattern) in June, through July, August and September, - depending on the soil depth, weather and type of crop.


Pic. - July - East facing slope. Old houses standing on convex slope and ridge. Crop field (climbing beans and vines)  just below the old hamlet zone. Cement block steps to the "Old Lower Fountain". Fig. olives and orange tree also in this picture.


Pictures in slideshow below.

Pic. 1 - Military map, with contour lines (10 meters apart) for our xist covex sloped region Aldeia das Dez parish - Goshawk Mountain range.

Pic. 2, 3 and 4 - Three goats at home. Layers of dry and green biomass/food are added everyday, the organic material is trampled and absorbs animal urine and dung, the bedding builds to reach 1 mt deep of manure every 5 months or so. Heating and smell in this pile is reduced given the high carbon content of most material added.

Pic. 5 - Family doing flood irrigation on slope , in between potatoe young plants, using maritime pine needles as mulch to control - slow-spread-sink-shade water. 

Cartmil Dsc00380 Dsc00406 Dsc00403 Batatal

Comments (1)

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Alexander Duncan
Alexander Duncan : Hello João Gonçalves, What kinds of equipment do you use to make your terraces? Thank you Alex
Posted over 11 years ago

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