Roots and Permaculture

Varzea da Gonçala

Where I Have Been Lately

Hello! I am back from a little sojourn in the Portuguese countryside, where I have been on a fantastic Permaculture Design Course.  I intended to get a load of posts done to be posted over the time that I was away, but as usual, I was behind, and doing them on the journey. I got to the venue to discover that there was no frivolous internet access (due to the tariff system in rural Portugal) and no mobile reception, so things didn’t work out as I had planned (and not planned, in many ways). I am not sorry, it was glorious to be away from it all, and was incredibly good for the soul.

Fig tree at the Varzea, Late March 2012

The View From the Classroom

I will post those other posts over the coming days, along with a few Easter posts, which should probably come first,  but I really want to tell you all about the course and what I got up to first. Partly by way of explanation for the absence, but also because I really want to recommend a permaculture course. This was a birthday present from the Big Guy, so I knew little about it before then. Lucky me!

Me & Permanent Varzea Residents

Me & Permanent Varzea Residents

The course itself was run at Varzea da Gonçala, a lovely small holding just outside Aljezur in the Algarve, and set in a valley (hence the lack of phone reception), not too far from the Atlantic. The Varzea operates on permaculture principles, producing its own fruit, vegetables, and eggs, and they have chickens and pigs to help work and feed the land. It is important to the people who  live and work there to demonstrate that permaculture is effective for everyone, and that it really works. It is why they have called their website ‘I Can Feed Myself’, to underline the point. Chris and Kris, who run it, along with the people who work with them, are excellent hosts and teachers. We also had  amazing food for our stay.

Feast Fit for a King at the Varzea

Feast Fit for a King (Our Last Night)

We ate like kings, with everything from jacket potatoes, to lasagne, to beautiful fresh salads of rocket, mustards, chard, lettuces, fresh herbs, nasturtium leaves and flowers, borage, peppers, you name it. I may not have sown these seeds, but I definitely got my hands dirty to tend to them, so these will form part of the 52 week salad challenge for me, and I don’t feel like it is cheating. The food was fantastic, prepared with love, and was so fresh.

Peter Cow Giving a Lecture

Teacher!

Our main tutor was Peter Cow, who runs Living in Circles, and there were sessions from other permaculturalists, including the people who live on the Varzea.

The Big Guy really couldn’t have chosen a better course. We learned about the principles of permaculture, and the design method, as well as putting it to practical use. I got to play with the compost and do some gardening, and I have learned some valuable skills. Peter is also keen on applying permaculture to the wider world, as well as the personal one. I will admit that I was not really looking forward to this, but I actually found it immensely useful. I have been able to get a different perspective on a couple of things, which have been holding me back in many ways.

The group of people I was on the course with were also brilliant. I have never worked with a group that was so on track, and with no little fighting and falling out, despite being such vastly different people.  Each of them brought a lot of different knowledge to the course, and it was so great to share this with everyone. One guy also lives in the same town as me, so I hope that we can continue to meet and maybe do some digging together!

Making a Wooden Spoon

Spooning!

We even practiced some new skills – both on the course, and in the breaks. As well as learning about swale construction, and building a stackwall. I got an insight into perspective in drawing, which has inspired me to give sketching a go – something I never felt equipped to do before. I helped to teach others how to make pasta. I even know how to make a wooden spoon. I’m just putting the finishing touches to one, albeit that it was produced with a little help from my friends. I really feel like I came away a craftswoman.

Constructing a Stackwall from Cordwood

Constructing a Stackwall from Cordwood

In fact, I have been so inspired by the course, I am trying to expand my use of permaculture and permaculture design. I have some plans for friends’ balconies – and before any of those said friends start to panic, don’t worry, permaculture has a lot to do with water catchment and no-dig, so you won’t become slaves to your pot plants. I am planning to implement my own polyveg system in my own garden, and I will be blogging about it here. I had intended to start a new blog for the gardening stuff (and had a great name lined up…) but the idea of permaculture is that you should take advantage of and increase beneficial relationships, and to me there is no better relationship than that between food and food production. So I am going to capture it here, and try to expand the communities of interest that could talk to each other. I am even going to try and design myself into a new career and direction, but I need a bit more work on that.

Finished Stackwall

Look What We Made!

Peter runs and collaborates on a number of permaculture courses, all of the details of which are available on his website. He is also really in tune with group dynamics and very skilled at getting very different people to work together and gel. You might like to go along to a course, or ask him to teach at one of yours.

Drying Homemade Pasta (No Pasta Machine)

Look What Else We Made!

The Varzea also offer a range of courses, as well as holiday accommodation and camping, for groups, individuals or families. You can get hands-on experience and teaching in permaculture practice. As well as having access to delicious, organic food from the land that they work. An ideal get away from the petrochemical farming and urban landscapes we have come to know, I really cannot recommend this place enough, not to mention the hospitality and the welcome you will enjoy here.

I hope that you will also come to share my enthusiasm for permaculture, and share the fruits of my labour (and the recipes that they inspire). Thanks for coming this far.

Contacts for Varzea da Gonçala

Contacts for Peter Cow

NB: I do not represent, nor am I being paid to blog about the permaculture course,or the Varzea.  I am just so enthused by the experience, and the people I met that I wanted to blog about it.

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4 Comments

Filed under Farmed, Feast, Fed

4 responses to “Roots and Permaculture

  1. Ros Bedlow

    Mel, this is great! I don’t often go on Facebook but had to follow this one. Peter was one of my permaculture teachers as well, on a design course that Julie Allen and I went on last year on Dartmoor! I too am trying to apply permaculture principles to all kinds of things, including our local Transition initiative in Leytonstone. I’ve also signed up to do the diploma, although I’ve no idea when I’m going to find time to do it! Good luck. Ros

  2. Hello Ros! Thank you for dropping by, it’s great to hear from you.
    How funny that we both had the same tutor! I’m very seriously considering the diploma, and as I understand it you can document the things to which you are applying PC already, and use them to count towards your diploma. I hope that it’s going well for you too, I would love to hear some more about your projects!

  3. This sounds amazing, what an experience. Until very recently I knew very little about permaculture, but am developing more of an interest since starting to grow my own veg. Looking forward to learning more!

  4. Heather – you are well placed to learn more in Brighton, there are loads of initiatives there. I really think permaulture is brilliant, although it seems a little scary at first, as it pays no heed to conventional wisdom about planting spaces, and weeding, and all manner of other things. I have plans to implement it in my garden, I’m just waiting for the foundation vegetables to reach a suitable size.

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