vrijdag 24 januari 2014

On an Alentejo Monte in 2011.

2011 April.
We live on a typical Alentejo Monte. Here we rent a small house, surrounded by a few acres of land. It is situated along a river and this enabled the former inhabitants to use it for viticulture and grain. But times are changing. And nowadays, the course of the water in the river is diverted for the copper mine of the Alentejo. This ensures that there is no water in the river anymore during the summer, in the dry season. This makes growing crops difficult, if not impossible. We ourselves had considered to lead water to the land, because the quality of the soil seemed good to us. But the land lies 10 meters below the house. And there are all kinds of animals that waylay a garden. This was not wine we wanted to grow. We wanted to start a garden with vegetables.

The previous occupants had grown potatoes and beans closer to the house. This gave us the idea that making a garden on the Monte was possible.

So I took the initiative to start a vegetable garden. Beside the house, on the north, is a beautiful hillside with a pond in the valley. It was overgrown with prickly bushes and high grass and herbs.

November 2011. Starting a garden on the northern slope.
Gradually I began to cultivate the terrain. First, the seemingly most fertile parts. The parts where the grass was best. Reckoning with the shade of the trees and the daily course of the sun. The most beautiful places with the seemingly most fertile ground for the seed beds. And with the stones present as support and marking. And then of course the paths and stairs, to get access to all this. It was a gigantic task. But that did not bother me so much. Making good things, big or small, that's generally my inspiration. Also good things can arise from a sore back. But sometimes things ultimately do not appear to work as they where scheduled.
We had no idea about the fertility of the soil. And we did not know how much water this garden would need to survive a hot summer. But we found out. Later...
And later we also found out that compost was the only thing that could have been of benefit.
Read more about this garden in the valley on 'An horta in the Alentjo'.

2012 July. Hot!
Although Hendrik already started to make compost, he worked out that we needed more compost and manure, then we possibly could make and or buy at that moment. And that it would take at least three years to create a good vegetable garden on this soil. Obviously, we could use artificial fertilizer. But that does not improve the soil. And then there was the sun, which shines relentlessly in the summer. What to do?

May 2011. Hendriks first compost setup.
Hendrik already had some compost ready for the garden. But because of the totally different conditions in the Alentejo, he also had to find out the right way of composting. He bought some bins that he could close off. And started experimenting with grafting fluid, grasses and kitchen waste.
But he also felt the need for results. With the little compost, that he could make in a short time, we filled up some pots. And we also could build a raised bed. Preferably on a location that we could cover up with a green cloth to make some shade in the summer.

We found out that wood is expensive in Portugal, or it is not available. And most local wood often does nothing else but turn and twist. What we could make with wood in the Netherlands, here we can certainly not find easily. Here one makes everything with stone: 'Something out of stone means something. Something out of wood just burns'.

We could get some sheep manure from our neighbor (the shepherd who we call 'pastor'). We were very happy with this. The many stones, that the Alentejo soil contains, we had for free. So we sifted everything. Gravel and stones to gravel and stones for the path, and soil to soil for the bed.

October 2012. A good spot for beans. Our first raised bed.

In the course of the summer Hendrik produced more and more compost. We decided for the time being to continue growing in pots, as much as possible. The large open space in front of the house, which was initially intended as a playground, was sacrificed for this noble purpose.
Well, actually we asked ourselves, why would we want to do this? Maybe it did not make so much sense... this starting of a garden. Especially now it had been proved to be so difficult. Why should we strain ourselves in these circumstances?
But still, growing in pots was proved to be very successful. We got fun in this. And thereby, not unimportant, the distance from our Monte to the first grocery store is quite large. At least 15 kilometers (this we find large). It takes time, fuel and it produces no better vegetables. What we grew in pots tasted much better. And our produce of compost, which made this possible, progressed steadily.
This heat, this drought and the unexpected nights with frost have pushed us to face the facts. This first garden on the northern slope has changed us. We decided to focus on what we can do right. And that is to profit from the grasses that grow lushly every year and compost them. We mow the grass and hay make our land by the river. In particular, this hay is a great stuff to compost. There is a lot of it. It dries while it is still on the land. It has a lot of volume, contains large amounts of organic matter and has sufficient nutrients to make composting a success. However, it is not easy to compost. It is not soft and accessible. So we have to make it accessible.
This blog is the how to do...
And you can also read: 'Why immerse materials before composting?'

Guitar in this video: Nortbert Langensiepen (1956-2005) with his song 'Easy Fly'.



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