zondag 17 juni 2018


Where it starts.
Hestel Tellus

We are Hestel Tellus; two persons running a project called 'compostfarming' in the Alentejo-Portugal. On this blog we tell about our experiences with the composting of grasses and herbs (harvested from our land), and about the vegetable garden that we provide with this compost in the local soil (the stone dust) of the Alentejo.

Hestel Tellus is a private and independent initiative; a project purely about composting and horticulture.

In the past we had a composting company in Holland, where we composted grasses from third parties. After our retirement we moved to Portugal and continued our composting technique on a smaller (personal) scale, under Portuguese conditions; primarily to set up a vegetable garden for self support. Here we found out how the compost literally brings the soil (the Portuguese stone dust) to life for growing our food.

This is how we developed a model which allows anybody (who knows and wants this) to implement a self support existence for him/her selves, the family and/or the community... anywhere on this globe where there is grass and stone dust. Without the necessity to raise cattle, but not necessarily excluding it.

Although our model is developed from a scientific basis (by ing. dr. H. Krantz, about 1935) we base all we do on a personal and purely practical level. What you see is what you get. Besides being creative, we do not include politics, religion or any form of spirituality. The latter is irrelevant to us. Our daily practice and environment inspire us adequately.

Raised beds with a mix of soil and compost, with mulch (chopped cane) on top. 
Here the result.


Important to read:

- A practical summary... About composting grasses, how I do it.

- How to start composting by immersing hay... Why immerse before composting?

This hay is great stuff for composting... Dry grasses make composting easier.

Our soil is fertile! Compost is not a fertilizer. It is a precondition for soil activity.

Old knowledge. New insights. About one of our sources of knowledge, Dr. Elaine Ingham.

The Method Krantz... history and publications; the basis of our method.

And more... to find in the sidebar of this blog.

Obviously you can do more with a grassland than only feed your animals. Make grass-compost and bring your garden to life!




May 2018

Traduzido do inglês para o português por Google.
E corrigido, tanto quanto as minhas capacidades permitem.

zaterdag 16 juni 2018

Farming underground in a fight against climate change

BBC News

Part of the BBC News series Taking the Temperature, which focuses on the battle against climate change and the people and ideas making a difference.

Growing underground to avoid drought

The Altiplano in Bolivia is one of the largest and highest plateaus in the world. To protect their crops from drought, flash floods and increasing temperatures, some farmers are building underground greenhouses, known locally as ‘Walipinis’. 
Produced by Inma Gil Rosendo and Kelvin Brown
  • 15 Jun 2018

On BBC News: Watch Video

Looking inside a Walipini, an underground greenhouse.

zondag 25 maart 2018

Bad News

A strong north wind drifted past the hills and the river. It was cold this winter. Non Portuguese cold. With night frost after night frost and during the day thick layers of clouds above the land, from which no rain would fall. Only a very few times. Very welcome, but oh so cold.

The horta:

Finally the beetroot froze also.
A hat over the heads of lettuce, during the night, does wonders...
for preservation but not for a prosperous growth.
Cabbage is strong... but not always under all circumstances.
A complete standstill in the onions... Some have survived so far.
As always, Hendrik has packed his big bags well. This year there are 8.
It came as a shock

When unpacking the big bag, set up in October (last year), almost no transformation has occurred in the hay. After the first heating, an unknown cold took over this land. Despite the fact that Hendrik has protected his big bags well, this was not enough to withstand the winter weather. The bacterial life in the big bags came to a complete standstill... We can not give another explanation of this unexpected result we see.

Now (in February) the temperature in the big bags does not exceed a 10ºC. This was also not to be expected, at this stage of composting, because it should have already happened after more than 4 months. The outside temperature is 9 degrees higher today (in the middle of the day). Fortunately, the sun is starting to gain ground, it is gradually becoming warmer... in the middle of the day... but at night?

The compost site is only lit by the sun in the middle of the day. In a normal winter that is no problem, because the overall daytime temperature is well above 15 degrees. When the heat in the big bags gets going well, that is enough to be able to defy a cold night. But... not as freezing cold as it was this winter.

Checking everything
Depressing .... this after four months!
No... no getting through with the shovel.
Good advice... after a night's sleep... we still have enough manure.
And leachate.
Graft again. A bit makeshift and in moderation.
Cover it up.
And close... not completely, so that the spring sun can do its job.
Only one large cover to catch the heat of the sun and to allow air to come in. 
Hoping for the best...
Look... that's how he's doing well.
We live in a cold place in the Alentejo

It is quite a disappointment. A real failed hay-composting is completely new to us. Could we have foreseen this cold winter? Scientists say that a cold period can be, due to a small amount of radiation from the sun...  At this moment we are in a period with little solar heat.

To speak with historian, novelist, Philipp Blom: "One degree Celsius on average per year, corresponds to 10 days of vegetation. In cold years the plants barely have time to mature, and the continent is starving..."

Our small area in the Alentejo, is in bad shape. There is very little grass for the animals. Even the roadsides do not grow. In the 8 years that we live here, and have experienced the weather here, this has not happened yet. Drought and cold... a bad combination.

And yet around us, it can also be different

10 km. further on, friends have gardens, which have given beautiful results this winter. The broccoli is ready and the cauliflower is flourishing. Also Kashi, who lives 30 km. away from us, has beautiful vegetables in her garden. A matter of location and shelter, everyone says: "Yes, you live near the river... it is cold there."

And they are not completely wrong... Because we have never been able to grow a fruit tree, of any kind, what ever. Our lemon tree freezes every winter and this year it froze definitively. At the same time, at our neighbors, the orange trees are blooming and now give nice fruit.

Well... lemon tree?

And then here... 
Kashi's beautiful winter garden... 
of today 17 February 2018:

Good News

A miracle

"It would require a miracle... that so much rain would fall, that it would be enough for the coming summer"... the minister said, in an interview in the newspaper, in February this year.

February 27: The weather forecast promises rain, but the threatening clouds do not let it fall... February 28: Is it raining? Yes, a little. Too little to cherish hope now.
March 4: It has been raining all week! And not thrifty... Battle rains with storm winds and hail. The river is filling up.
March 7: To the market in Castro Verde. Buying plants for the garden and honey for tea... and a beautiful sunny morning. The first since last week! Specially designed for the market...? Incredible. 
March 8: World Women's Day and again rain. Also not thrifty. Continuously, with strong showers, fine rain streaks through the hills like fog, alternated with rumbling thunderstorms and pouring rain.
March 9: It has been raining since February 28, and the predictions show a low pressure area, which continues circling the Atlantic near the Portuguese coast, promising another week with rain! In any case, this means that we will have enough water for the garden next summer. Because in the rocks under our house there are cavities in which the water is collected and where it is kept for a long time. And not only under our house, but in the whole region. Meanwhile, the lakes are full and the ditches are flowing.
It IS a miracle! A happy circumstance in a turbulent world.

What could be better than a full river with lots of water in a dry country?

Today March 25: Rain the whole weekend... and more or less continuing from the last day of February... 4 weeks of rain in the Alentejo? Since when?


Update April 8, 2018

Meanwhile we already had seen that the composting process was progressing, because the level in the big bags decreased. And yet it remains exciting...

The color is good!
Look, there the shovel goes...
... like butter :)
And it neatly falls apart in layers.
Okay... here it can ripen further. In a trough under a layer of agricultural plastic.
This ripening will take some time, but the most important thing (the heat) is done.
So, patience does the rest and in a month we will see again.


donderdag 8 februari 2018

Sexy Compost

On Saturday, February 2nd, we went to an annual 'seed exchange market', in São Martinho das Amoreiras - Odemira, a village in the Alentejo, to tell about our composting project. We did not know where we would end up, so we went at random. The initiative started from Kashi and her mother. Mother Magda is already back in the Netherlands to babysit her little grandson. But yet she also had a lot of input to take this initiative and to make it into something special.

Our stall with Kashi's 'mini compost production line'
and also my paintings had to come along, because it is fun
and because they are landscapes... And that says it all?
Kashi's 'mini compost production line'
Kashi´s story

During the construction there were already some curious people. It is always exciting whether there is enthusiasm for what you have been committed yourself to. Especially if the topic is not really 'sexy'. So this gave good courage. Well I already was convinced and enthusiastic about this method of composting, so there was not so much to loose.

All other stalls built up something to sell, we just wanted to share our enthusiasm. And this sharing sure happened! The origin of the market is the exchanging of seeds, 'Festa das Sementes'. And all these seeds end up into the soil, so of course there is no better place to talk about the soil than this! And that was noticeable to the people, the attention, the unbelief, the questions, the stories...

Here where people who are also busy with gardens, growing vegetables, composting, communes, living consciously, green, ecological, organic, sustainable, etc. And what was especially nice is that things are DONE. People have dirty and big hands on which you can see that they are used for working. With enthusiasm, love and attention for what they do, and therefore what others do. To try out things, to experiment with methods and techniques, to search for things that work. But there are also a lot of people who have bought a piece of land and actually have no idea what to do with it, who mess around some, and don't know what works and what doesn't.

What strikes me is that during the exchange of ideas it is not so much about 'what is right or wrong', but it is mainly about the possibilities. People are also open, although it always takes a while to be able to understand something new. Especially when there are already so many conditions in our heads, so that our perception already has formed a picture.

It seems that the simplicity of our composting method exceeds complex thinking

We think in fertilizing, we think in layering, turning over and watering, in shortages. Then it takes some time to penetrate concepts such as 'immersing', 'grasses', 'bacteria' and 'minerals' into the perception of composting. Though I think this has really worked out here and there. People often said 'thank you', asked for more information and sometimes came back to go deeper into the matter. I think that the appearance of our stall certainly contributed to the interest. People really wanted to know; 'what is  this all about and what is happening here?!' I really liked to bring something and present what has become so personal to me and what makes me so happy.

I also like to present Hestel Tellus as a kind of Wikipedia of the compost. And I hope I can share you (Hendrik and Stella) more with many others!

Stall Talk in the 'Composting Production Line'

We have just bought a piece of land and would also like to build a garden.
So we first have to make compost before building a garden? Yes, that actually sounds logical too. This way you keep a healthy balance between 'taking and bringing' from the beginning. And you can also determine how big your garden can be.

A healthy garden consists of 10% of digested organic material (compost).
So this compost is only grass and a little bit of manure ??? Unbelievable! Yes, really, and in relation to other methods where you always have to scoop and pour water to keep it wet, we also use very little water.

Can you also use that compost starter as food/compost-tea for the plants?
Forget about fertilizing! Our soil here is full of rocks and therefore full of minerals! This IS your nutrition! It only needs active organic matter, so that the plants can actually absorb these minerals. You can make a tea from the compost, there are the bacteria that bring the soil to life.

At least you have something left over! My vegetable-garden-waste compost disappears as well as completely.
This is because vegetable-garden-waste compost, for the most part, consists of water. During the heating this evaporates. And during this heating the organic matter is converted into CO2 and disappears into the atmosphere. The more the materials are scooped and aerated, the more it is exposed to oxygen, the more CO2 development takes place. What remains are some minerals, which have only little mass. This is also the reason why this compost mostly is called 'too salt'.

Oh, I just mowed the field, so I can now use it all!
Yes good, but let it dry first!

This compost does not stink at all! Is it also possible to compost straw in this way?
The answer on the market was 'no', because straw has too little nitrogen in it, to do the digestion of the material smoothly. The C/N ratio of hay is often much more favorable; 19/1. Of straw that usually is 65/1. This means that straw contains 65 parts of carbon against 1 part of nitrogen and hay contains 19 parts of carbon against 1 nitrogen, which shows that hay contains relatively more nitrogen. This also sais the same about fresh hay compared to old hay, which also consists less nitrogen compared to fresh hay. Here we talk about nitrogen (in terms of food for microbes), which also is protein (in terms of food for animals).

Now Hendrik says: "I have just kept an eye on the books, but I should have said that he could try it out and keep us informed. And also... If he brings me a few packs of straw, I will get to work on it. I am also curious whether my newly acquired theories are correct. I am convinced that nature always has inscrutable ways to break down organic matter. So, in fact every organic matter can be composted. The only difference lays in the way of working."

Must the grass be dry? Must it be hay?
Yes, that is very important because the moisture in wet grass is very clean and we want to bring a lot of bacteria into the grass to start the composting. In addition, hay digests much better than wet or fresh grass. The drier the grass, the better the composting.

We are vegan and prefer not to do anything with animals. Can we also use stinging nettles instead of manure?
Unfortunately no. We need the bacteria from the stomachs of the animals to start the composting process. Especially the many stomachs of a cow make very nice usable bacteria. However, very little manure is required with this method of composting.

Did you know that your Karma is determined by the amount of fertile soil that you leave behind?
No, we did not know that. But Hendrik is gilded with it.

Words of thanks

Thanks to Hendrik and Stella who encouraged me to this initiative and have complemented and decorated the layout so beautifully. Thank you for your generosity, your knowledge and expertise, revealing all your commitment and your untouched feedback. It is a pleasure that you have come into my life and that I am able to participate in your lives also. Thank you, of course, to Mariana who entrusted us with a place on this beautiful market. Thanks also to mum Magda who always, whether or not on the spot, provides us with entertaining sauces and her pioneering passion. Thanks also to the beautiful cauliflower and broccoli that stood out in front of our stall. Thanks to my Guru in whose eyes I have immersed myself, even though we talk about compost :)



(with in green additions by Hendrik)


One important thing we want you all to know: Hendrik and I have never met Kashi's Guru. We had the chance the moment he visited the market, but we did not take the opportunity... Kashi's word of thanks to him is therefore personal. He is her Guru and not ours. It is our choice not to be included in a movement, sect, religion, spiritual organization, political party etc. We ourselves are also no movement, sect, religion, spiritual organization, political party etc. We only try looking into the biological happenings in the soil and the organics... and of this, on this blog, we report on our experiences. Simply curious.
Everyone is free to join with whom or whatever. We respect this highly, but at the same time we distance ourselves from it when it concerns us. Kashi and her mother Magda are our 'big compost and garden friends'. We ourselves therefore owe our thanks to them... Kashi and Magda, thank you both, with pleasure :)



woensdag 31 januari 2018

It looks like war

... We call it 'fertilizing', but in fact we talk about 'biological activity', 
     either 'soil activity'

In fact compost is the energy for the bacterium in the soil, it is the food for the bacterium. And that action of the bacteria... this 'breaking open' of the soil... this releasing of minerals from the soil, is the actual food for the plant.

Our soil contains many stones... A tremendous supply of minerals.
An interplay

The bacteria use the compost (the freely accessible carbon) in order to release the minerals from the soil to build up their own bacterial body. These bacteria are then eaten by other bacteria. And those again by other bacteria (from 'higher ranks') The plant itself also plays an important role (in dissolving the minerals) by means of the enzymes from its plant root extraction. This process takes place very close to the roots. And the plant itself determines what it does, so what it uses from the available supply of food in the soil.
This is how the plant gets its minerals... and there now are 12... 24... 42+ essential minerals known. The most well-known minerals are N.P.K .; Nitrate, Phosphate and Potassium. Nitrate (N) for the leaf. Phosphate (P) for the root and the flower and Potassium (K) for the firmness of the plant.
We often notice that organic vegetables naturally taste more salty than non-organic. There may be more (types of) minerals inside the plant, of which potassium salt (K) is the best known. 
The plant also extracts nitrogen (N) from the air, which the plant converts into sugars (mainly), which also feeds bacteria (in an interaction with enzymes). Basically it is an interplay, an activity of plant and compost together, where the soil supplies the food (the minerals). This is biological activity, or soil activity.

The more activity, the more food will be available from the soil to the plant. We ourselves determine what will grow in that soil. Here we are the boss. Making use of the cultivation of leguminous crops (beans and peas) is a well known example of bringing nitrogen into the soil. Smart crop sequences have not been invented for nothing. But primarily we have to take care of soil activity.

It looks like war

To illustrate: First of all, there is that large group of bacteria that are the first to start the breakdown (the release) of minerals and are numerically large in number... and therefore have a lot of power, but are not aware of it (just like people). The bacteriophages then eat a large number of them... just because they are bigger, stronger and/or smarter (just like people). It should be noted that people should not eat other people, but you will understand :)
When the temperature rises or falls,  or with drought, for example... the next group of bacteria will die... (the weather is the same for people as for bacteria). So there is a huge war going on down there. And that is where our plants live from. 

We have a strong tendency to call this 'fertilizing'. But mostly, with 'fertilizing' we mean animal manure, or artificial fertilizer and that is something totally different. In fact, the soil is your fertilizer. After all, soil consists of mineral. It IS mineral.

Take the soil in your hand... What are you holding? What material is it? Right... minerals! AND if everything is okay... lots of organic matter!

As a human being we are so good at warfare... With that knowledge we would be able to understand the well-being of the bacteria in the soil. Maybe we should leave warfare to the bacteria...? Let us play with the bacteria... in our own vegetable garden... exciting! Play the 'Minerals Game'!



Watch the video by Elaine Ingham, 'The Roots of Your Profits'