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Teia's Garden in Portugal

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    Burra MalucaBurra Maluca

    After the wonderful welcome you all gave me in my into I thought I’d better start a thread about the garden. Here’s the link to the intro if you want to check the background…

    First of all, meet Teia!

    She’s an eleven year old jenny who we’ve had for a year and a half. She’s been a working donkey but we don’t know her history very well. From her general behaviour and likes and dislikes we think she’s belonged to an old lady with brown goats and a big brown dog (she won’t look at white ones or small dogs) and spent her life tethered except to work in the cart, the plough and to draw water from the well. She has a life of leisure here with us, mostly, but we hope to breed from her sometime as the Portuguese donkeys are dying out. Her name is Teia, which means Cobweb, short for Teia da Vida, the Web of Life.

    Here is a picuture of our (disused) nora – a device for raising water out of a well.

    Buckets were raised on a giant bicycle chain, emptied into the channel, tipped into a funnel, passed under the donkey track and into a storage tank. When full, the tank overflowed into the raised irrigation channel (you can just see the top of it as a thin white line to the right of the funnel) and flowed along watering trees as it went. One day we’ll renovate it…

    Now, to the garden! We have 2 acres/8000 square metres of garden, but the soil is struggling and we are having to relearn everything as we are used to the UK climate. Here is the top of the garden, near the well, where the main vegetable growing area is.

    . We are experimenting with mulches, but it’s not easy to get much material to mulch with. We managed to get hold of enough straw to keep the donkey going for the winter and spared a bale for one bed. Next year when the straw lorries turn up we want to get a whole load delivered as this year they only turned up for a couple of market days and we couldn’t stock up enough… We also use pine needles as mulch. We resisted for ages as we thought they would make the soil acid, but the locals use them with great success, and the soil is already acid so it’s not going to make much difference. They are really effective – they let water through easily, stop evaporation, discourage birds from eating the seedlings, and allow young shoots to grow through easily. We need masses more mulch material though, and I’m composting like mad in an attempt to get more material to build the soil up.

    Here’s another veggie area, just planted, with the composting area in the background. The beans dissappear one by one as we have a visiting hare who is rather fond of them!! It’s a bit of a nuisance, but as most of the grazing land has been planted with pine and eucalyptus, it’s actually quite nice knowing that there is a hare still around. One side of our garden is bordered by a eucalyptus plantation and one side by pine. When the 10 acres/40000 square metre of abandoned grassland right below the farm came up for sale last year, we scraped the money together to buy it so that that too wouldn’t end up smothered in eucalyptus. Without grassland, the hared and rabbits can’t survive, and with no rabbits the lynx can never return.

    When I have enough compost, I’m going to try a lasagna type bed in front of the compost area and grow corn, beans and pumpkins together in it.

    Here’s the bottom end of the garden with some young fruit trees. I want to plant loads more trees down here! The land slopes very gently down and I also want to dig some swales to try to hold the water in the soil a little longer. One day the trees will start to cast some shade and we start interplanting them with other things, but it’s early days yet, and the soil down this part is incredibly poor!

    Here’s the bee area! The villages around here are really ‘insular’ and there is surprisingly little contact between them. When the varroa mite hit, lots of the old folk just gave up keeping bees and there are no new ones to take over. Spanish bee farmers have now swamped the area and turn up with lorry loads of hives every spring to harvest pollen, which means that the few surviving local hives can’t compete. The spanish bees rarely swarm as they need pollen to feed the larvae and most of that is removed by pollen traps as they enter the hive. The result is that in most villages, beekeeping has died out and it’s next to impossible to find a swarm to set up a hive. My husband has decided to try to breed bees to supply small scale beekeepers, but it’s slow starting up as we only hive two occupied hives and they haven’t swarmed yet. We noticed the lack of bees very early on when we started the garden – after loads of bees pollinating everything in the spring, there was a sudden dearth after the Spanish bees were moved on and there were none left to pollinate the later fruit and veg.

    And finally, this is going to be my rockery! It was covered with rock rose, which is small doses is a beautiful plant but here it is totally invasive. I’ve cut down most of it in this area and uncovered some struggling lavender plants. I probably won’t plant it up myself as in the spring loads of wild-flowers spring up here and I think I should be encouraging them instead of smothering them. I want to take the whole garden very very slowly to preserve what is left of the wildlife. It’s tempting just to shove lots of new stuff in but I think I ought to tread very softly and wait to see what nature supplies.

    OK, hope I haven’t bored you all too much.


    Wow fantastic :clap:

    Maybe scarecrows blog may help with some ideas – she lives in a pretty arrid area.

    How funny that you have eucalypts growing on your property – do you know that they are a native Australian tree.

    Most of us would have some ideas on what to plant and how to plant near them.


    Interesting little corner you’ve got there…

    Lots of challenges but still all are fun to do!

    Your jenny’s adorable. It is always best to try and breed the rare breeds rather than follow the popular breeds.

    You will be fine as long you listen to the land and see what really grows and experiment with what’s there.

    I also vouch for Scarecrow’s blog – she’s a great help when it comes to gardening… and the rest too… ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Thanks for sharing – no one’s garden progress report is boring! There is always something we learn from each other! ๐Ÿ˜€

    Cheers! :hug:


    Burra Maluca wrote:

    She has a life of leisure here with us, mostly, but we hope to breed from her sometime as the Portuguese donkeys are dying out. Her name is Teia, which means Cobweb, short for Teia da Vida, the Web of Life.

    I love that name of your jenny, Burra Maluca. The Web of Life – that’s just beautiful.

    I’ll leave others better able than myself to comment on any technical aspects of the massive job you have taken on. But how exciting it must be.

    It seems to me that you have made a really good start and I agree with your idea of waiting to see what native plants come up throughout the year and encourage their growth.

    I also love the idea of renovating the old irrigation system.

    The very best of good luck to you in your enterprise. :hug: :metal:


    Wow, that looks like quite a challenging piece of ground to garden on. How much rainfall do you get?


    mary dollmary doll

    thank you so much for your garden update. We all love looking at each others gardens…..your is far from boring

    looking forward to seeing lots more photos



    I think I would get me a really good mulcher and cut down those eucalypts and mulch them.

    Love Teia and the garden especially the bees, I hope that they do really well for you.

    Burra MalucaBurra Maluca

    Compost, raised beds and eucalyptus

    So many suggestions – thanks everyone!

    Unfortunately all those eucalyptus aren’t mine, so I can’t hack them down and use them for mulch. We do have a row of them but they cast a bit of shade over the caravans so we probably won’t cut them down for a while.

    Opinion over eucalyptus is strongly divided here. Those fortunate enough to have inherited lots of land love eucalyptus as they are a major cash crop. There is a big paper factory locally who have contracts on vast amounts of land to grow and harvest eucalyptus for paper. The landowners just get a huge cheque every ten years and never have to lift a finger – these people love eucalyptus. Everyone else can see that land planted with them becomes almost completely sterile. They are *not* native here and almost nothing grows near them. I haven’t been able to figure out if it’s because they take all the water or if they secrete some chemical that stops anything else growing near them. If there’s anyone out there who can shed a little light on the matter I’d love to know :shrug:

    Another tree that is taking over any abandoned land here is acacia/mimosa – not sure what you call it over there, but it has feathery leaves that close up at night, bunches of pretty yellow flowers and is a nitrogen fixer. It is considered a noxious weed here and we have been told to cut all ours down, but in my mind it is pretty, grows quickly, casts shade, holds the soil together and adds much needed nitrogen. It also seems to be one of the few things that will grow near the eucalyptus. Is it because it is an Australian native, too?

    On to compost! When we first moved here, we just used to throw everything in a heap and let nature get on with it, and then when we got the donkey we would put donkey poop everywhere, but the climate isn’t great for that kind of treatment as the summers are bone dry and nothing rots, and the winters alternate between dry spells and torrential rain (800mm per year, and up to 120mm of that in one day!!), sometimes for weeks on end. During rain, everything gets washed away and all the soil nutrients shift down-slope and end up on the land below us.

    This photo shows the difference in soil level at the boundary wall above our farm after decades of heavy winter rains have washed the soil downhill! We partly fixed this by buying the land below – that’s where the nutrients end up, so we graze the donkey there, pick up the poop and bring them back!! ๐Ÿ˜‰ We finally realised that we had to take the composting a bit more seriously and built a few compounds. One is for ‘humanure’, and one, completed this morning, is layers of weeds, donkey poop and sawdust, which is the one thing we can obtain in reasonably large quantities! We collect all our pee and put that on the sawdust to help it rot down and keep the whole thing nice and moist. I also tried an experiment using damp sawdust with added nitrogen fertiliser. Someone on another forum recommended it as a way to produce fast compost to get my soil built up quickly, but either my sawdust is different or the fertiliser was the wrong sort as it never really got going. The same stuff rots down wonderfully with pee and donkey poop in the compound next door, but the sawdust heap still looks just like damp sawdust…:|

    I finished filling one compost compound this morning and now I’m going to leave it alone until I’ve filled up the one next door. In the meantime we have started laying out the retaining walls for some raised beds. I had a look at Scarecrow’s blog but decided that the method might not be quite right for us because our winter rainfall is so high. The plastic lining will end up trapping too much water and the plants will get flooded, so we are going to try it like this. We are building a series of small beds edged with building blocks (they are really cheap here – 16 cents, which I think is 28 of your cents) and we can make a nice bed with 18 of them, so it’s about รขโ€šยฌ3 or $5 per bed. When the next compost heap is full, hopefully the one we’ve just filled will have rotted down nicely and we are going to line the bottom of the beds with cardboard or layers of newspaper to discourage anything growing up from underneath, and then fill them with compost topped with straw or pine-needles. Hopefully the new compost will be rich and moisture holding, but won’t wash away in the rain!

    Photos to follow when we get a few more blocks in place!

    Burra MalucaBurra Maluca

    Well, things are really starting to get moving here!

    Lots of seeds have been arriving, the fruit trees have started showing up in the market (at much lower prices than last year!!) so we have a lot of planting to do, a neighbour has pulled up a load of baby fig trees that were growing as runners around her ancient fig tree and donated them to us, my compost bins are filling nicely, the first beds are ready for filling with compost, my husband has cleared a big patch of bramble and put a cover crop of beans on the newly bared ground, my food forest and water harvesting dvds turned up, and, most exciting of all, my son and I have just signed up for Permaculture Visions online Permaculture Design Course!!

    I spent ages wondering about getting advice from a permaculture designer, but we’re a stubborn family who can never agree between ourselves about what we should do where on the farm and even if we could afford a designer I’m not sure we’d follow advice, so after much deliberating I decided that the best way was to invest in a proper course for my son, who is home-schooled, study it with him, and we can come to some sensible decisions together, as a family. Permaculture Visions gave me a special ‘home-school-mum-and-son’ rate (thankyou, April! :hug: ) and we’re all ready to start.

    And the rains have come, so it’s a good excuse to snuggle in front of the telly with the new dvds…;)


    This is all so fascinating. Thank you Burra. :hug:


    just found your thread and am loving it ,you are such a natural storyteller. the challenges you are facing in a foriegn land make some of ours seem a lot easier in comparison.I was getting a little down in the mouth with the work I have to do on my new property but reading yours has given me renewed inspiration .I guess Rome wasnt built in a day.Please keep on updating will be waiting to see how you progress


    Burra MalucaBurra Maluca

    I thought it was time for an update.

    Here’s the veggie garden as it was just over a month ago.

    And this is it today!

    The straw and pine-needle mulch has *really* helped things, and even my other half is impressed. We didn’t have enough mulch to really smother everything so we did get a few weeds come through, but they were *much* easier to pull out and keep under control. We’re also experimenting with denser plantings and that seems to help a lot, too. One day I’ll persuade my other half to give up those straight lines, but slowly does it.

    He’s been busy building me another compost bay and some raised beds so maybe by next year I’ll convert him ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Here’s the beds – we filled the first one with some of the first batch of compost, and then used the rest of the compost to mulch around the fruit trees. We’d been given some little fig trees (from the old lady whose olive trees were on fire) and I decided to plunge the pots into the fresh compost to try to stop the frost damaging the young roots. It’s not rotted down well enough yet to try to grow much in it directly, but I threw a few surplus pea seeds in and covered them with pine needles and straw swept from the stable so maybe some of them will grow.

    Here is my other half in his favourite position – kneeling over the cold-frame to see what’s hatched.

    I have some elder seeds in there – they used to grow wild in wales and I never expected them to grow here, but there’s one growing in the village and I collected some seeds from it. In the UK they are considered a magical tree and you are never supposed to pick anything from one without asking permission from the witch who lives in it. They haven’t sprouted yet, but maybe in the spring.

    This is a modronho or strawberry tree, complete with a nice new mulch and two companions of wild lavender. We didn’t plant them – they just sort of turned up, but they seem happy together so we’ve left them there. In the background you can see a row of vines, interspersed with various other plants, all sporting a dollop of precious mulch, the frame of the old poly-tunnel, which is waiting for us to put it’s shade cover back on, and in the far distance is my other half with his head still in the cold frame.

    We were clearing some of the bramble along the stone wall earlier, and unearthed this.

    We think it might be an old stone bench set into the wall. No idea what the big stone in front of it is all about though.

    And finally, the new lemon tree we planted yesterday!

    It’s just behind the cold frame (yes, I think his head was still in it, but just out of the shot). There’s an apricot tree just behind it, too, which fruited for the first time this year, and the boys have been laying more bricks out to make another raised bed for me in the space behind the cold-frame. It’s a bit triangular, and I’m trying to persuade them to round the corners off a bit and make a key-hole into it so I can reach the middle. There seems to be a pile of bricks suspiciously near the last compost bay, so hopefully they’ll build me just one more…:)



    Thanks for the update… You are doing so well in such tough conditions…. :hug:


    Great progress Burra very inspiring:tup:


    Excellent results so far, keep up the good work.

    In regards to saw dust ensure it is all natural and is not from treated timber Sawdust is also excellent for covering your humanuea pile and to cover in the bin as it is done. The urine will help it break down.

    For wicking beds do only the bottom 200mm as a reseivor and have plenty of escape holes above this line all around your bed. The holes can be covered with weed matting or shade cloth to stop the soil falling out this should allow the water to escape and not flood the bed

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