Starting a project – Observation and reading the land
So here we are. At the end of November 2013 we acquired this beautiful piece of land in Alentejo, Portugal. 132 ha. of overgrazed rolling pastures, woodland, cork oaks, valleys, a small lake, a derelict orange orchard, ruins of buildings and miles and miles of bramble. No electricity or running water and miles from the nearest amenities. This is going to be a truly off grid kind of deal, but where to start?
Observation and reading is a great way to start a new project. The buildings were very old and seemed to be standing in an awkwardly strange set up. But on the other hand, they surely weren’t build there for nothing all those years ago? So, instead of pulling the whole lot down, we decided to opt for the quicker option of repairing what we could as soon as possible.
In December we started working on the buildings, repairing roofs to create a habitable area. We brought in the solar panels for electricity and created running water out of a water well which luckily enough lies higher than the house, creating quite a water pressure. Now, 6 months later, it becomes very clear why the buildings were put there maybe 100 years ago. The climate is perfect in that spot. The sun rise and sun set views are spot on. The buildings are positioned in a way that we still get plenty of winter sun. And by being not too low down in the valley, we practically have no mosquito problems, but close enough to still enjoy a summers breeze coming through the valley from the sea.
By the time we wanted to start creating a food garden in February we had also been observing the zone 1 area around the buildings and had observed enough to find the right spot, protected from too much wind, close to the buildings yet accessible and easy for getting the irrigation in. Read more about establishing zone 1 here.
By early spring the land was telling us all sorts of information. Fast healthy growth of grass in the old overnight paddock where the cows spent a lot of time dropping poo and pee. Certain area’s of land showed particular kinds of plants, showing us where underground water is present, or where the soil is richer than in other places. And once the rains started falling we clearly saw where the water flows and what good places are to start with water retention methods.
Here Ferry talks with Doug Crouch about what we have observed about the land and what we can do;
A new start, a new adventure.