Quinta do Vale is a family-run permaculture smallholding of around 2 hectares in the mountains of Central Portugal. It's in the early stages of transformation from a somewhat neglected traditionally-cultivated farm to a permaculture demonstration and education site to include water-retention landscaping, forest gardens, no-till raised beds, medicinal gardens, off-grid renewable power generation, waste recycling, indigenous forest restoration, natural buildings, passive solar greenhouses and various land-based crafts.
Our steeply-terraced mountainside land presents some challenging constraints to permaculture landscaping and design so our particular emphasis is on designing to the existing microclimatic variations across the site. The site has a range of different aspects and habitats to work with, natural springs and, generally, year-round running water. Many fruit and nut trees/shrubs are already established and these plantings will form the basis of forest garden-style cultivation designed to improve soil health, water retention and fire resistance as well as provide eventual self-sufficiency in food.
We are close to the reserva biogenética Mata da Margaraça, an indigenous forest reserve of various oaks, sweet chestnut, wild cherry, hazel, holly and their associated shrubs and understorey, and will be using this as the basic model for the gradual replacement of what is presently flammable, dry and impoverished pine and eucalyptus plantations above the cultivation terraces. We have enough forest land to be self-sufficient in sustainably-managed timber for building and firewood.
Various natural and traditional techniques are being used in building restoration and new construction, sourcing many of our materials on-site. Work is sympathetic to the unique traditions of the region.
In new construction we will be using a wide range of natural building techniques: roundwood timber framing, cob, straw-bale and lime and earthen plasters.
We're exploring a more distributed, decentralised concept of 'house' here. The communal/social functions of a home are grouped together in one building, but the more private spaces like bedrooms, bathrooms, studios, etc, are/will be dotted all over the land in the form of small natural buildings and more temporary/seasonal structures. Essentially the whole farm becomes part of the 'house'. The aim here is to introduce greater flexibility in our accommodation, to create synergistic relationships between rooms - like a bathroom-greenhouse combination - and to blur the conceptual separation between 'home' and 'out there' until eventually it ceases to exist. This arrangement also allows us to accommodate volunteers, interns, course and workshop participants as the quinta moves into its planned demonstration and education phase.
We use composting toilets, both dry and flush (using vermicomposting for the latter), and integrate grey water treatment into cultivation.
We will also be exploring and developing the use of homeopathy in agriculture as well as cultivating a medicinal garden.
We plan to move into demonstration and education as it becomes realistic to do so. Right now, our efforts are going into getting ourselves established on the land, clearing and remedial work on existing plantings, extending plantings and increasing species diversity, implementing various water retention strategies including digging ponds and swales, assembling our basic infrastructure, building renovation and construction, and building raised beds for food cultivation.
We're now in a position to accommodate a limited number of volunteers.
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