Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Check dams




It's been raining for days on end. But in a kind of divine, falling from above, gently way. And it's warm(ish) outside. "what fine weather", i declare in bastardised Portuguese to the lady in the fish shop. "Ha" she scowls, "it hasn't stopped for weeks. Much worse than usual. Nothing dries properly". OK, she's not wrong there, but hey "warmer now before is then, not is?" (is probably what she heard), and nodding she agrees, giving me a frowning smile that says "poor fool". I am used to this linguistic self abuse, it doesn't seem to dent their willingness to engage, and listen to my mistakes, encouragingly.

So there I am lying in bed telling myself that today is the start of a whole new take on this speaking in toungues affair, when, ahoy: a distraction. It's cloudy and raining. Wow. Something really important other than looking at that really boring language book. Rain. But really - it's pouring and our land is covered in holes. Water is pouring away and we need to be keeping it in place.

Here's how it works: our land is a set of terrace carved out of a fairly steep hill, way back in the days when vast amount of human labour could be extorted for a bag of salt, a huge quantity of stone was brought in to create level terraces - facing the sun. Actually, I haven't a clue how they made those terraces, but they just long to tell you "I am a wall holding up a hill. I am a shit load of work. Don't even think about it". "punk". Humbled thus on a daily basis, I enjoy the fact that they are there, and done already. But alas, some of them were put together in haste, with really small rocks with some quite sloppy earth paste, and eventually they fall apart (bit like us really). It's not like major 'quake damage we're talking about here, take a chill. But there is the odd slippage, where terrace upper slowly becomes part of lower.

Paulo had a point a wee while ago "make a damn" he would say together with another 25 bits of advice and ideas, most of which were lost on me. After a while it has dawned: either I spend forever rebuilding walls with myself as the slave in this labour racket. Or I build a damn above the hole, and stop water, earth and other goodies that need to stay high, from coming low.

Happy for a distraction on this fine dreachy day (anything but more verbs) I decide it's time to go and "observe" the land. Observing is another favourite permaculture nut pastime, we are told. Yes, observe you must, says Paulo in his Yodaesque cackle. Listen to the land you should. Yeh right. it's raining, it's winter and there's a bit of wind around. Waddya want? Eventually, through the cracks in the cynisism I seem to have preprogrammed with at birth, I see a chink of reason in it.

Back to the holes. I don't actually 'observe' anything happening. Like water flooding over the breach in the terrace. Neh. Nor essential minerals flooding away from our juicy land. But I gather stakes and sticks nonetheless and start sticking them in the ground, a foot or so apart. Nice 'n' deep now laddy.

Then i find a long 'un and weave it horizontal to these stakes and then another and another. Soon we have a rather pleasing bit of plattage coming along. It's mildy satisfying, so I do more. Soon it's absorbing, and then wholly therapeutic. This is no worries at all. I should observe more. I think of the Portuguese word for stick. It is pau. Kira had it for one of her homework games. So I've learned my word for the day too. This was getting better and better.



I look back on the terrace. It's only about eight foot wide, but about as long as a bus. Being south facing it's ready to bake in the forthcoming months of dry weather, unless one is fooled into complacency by the current bogginess.

So this damming thing makes sense. Keep the water high for as long as possible, Paulo will chant merrily for hours. He has a point and I am finally ready to take up this mantra. It is actually just really obvious, and that is the pleasant thing about this permaculture religeon (I mean approach, of course): it's mostly common sense. Get it level so water can't flow downhill so quickly. Further, it occured, if I built up a small mound right along the edge of the terrace, of sticks and earth and stuff, then plant it with things that grow fast, then we have shade, more moisture is captured, less water evaporates in zone of hot, more stuff grows, so more shade, more fruits too. Nice.



Now I want to put check damns everywhere. I have started to run out of paus though, need to cut some more somewhere. Now I need to go and figure out when and how you plant, and what to plant. Uh oh. Master Paulo, help! I am ready to concentrate...

1 comment:

Romanian blogger said...

Inspiring article, so much better than what one reads in the papers. Interesting point about terraces, which should be promoted more for their intrinsic value, and supported by the state (I have my "PR hat" on right now). And there is a lot to be said for observation too. We make "observational documentaries" when we can get the money.