Friday, 27 February 2009

Gaza: war and renewable reconstruction

Farid is a professor of architecture at the Islamic University of Gaza, in fact he’s the Director of the architecture faculty. He completed his PhD in sustainable urban design at the University of Nottingham in the UK. We’ve been in touch over the last couple of years about potential training modules in sustainable community design. He had already started to introduce passive design and environmental construction concepts into his faculty.

I had just helped launch RESET – an NGO with grand plans to increase awareness and skills about environmental building, renewable energy and local food production in the international humanitarian and development sector.

I had worked with international NGOs in a fair few war zones and post-disaster recovery areas since 1990, doing shelter, water, health care; recovery and reconstruction. Later with the UN advising Governments and UN agencies on issues of internal displacement (people displaced within their own country, not quite refugees).

Then, in 2006 I launched into a Masters degree on energy and environment studies in Wales, at the Centre for Alternative Technology, to learn about the alternative energy and “sustainable building” sector, properly. I had become so frustrated with the aid industry’s complete lack of understanding and knowledge about the opportunities renewable systems offered, and the potential disaster we would face if peak oil kicked in (I had watched End of Suburbia and The Power of Community so I felt at least partially informed).

In my last mission, in the Maldives, I was part of an international cocktail of UN, Red Cross/Crescent agencies and local NGOs helping local people and the Government rebuild a few thousand homes, on islands that were utterly dependent on diesel for generated electricity, desalinated water supply and transport. Our efforts were part of a region wide tsunami recovery programme which received ample funding.

With such funding, we could facilitate a reconstruction process that could incorporate better building standards. Indeed, a recovery motto used then was “build back better”, but, on the contstruction side at least, it did little to trickle down to the actual construction process, which just applied the same old industrial world mistakes: disregard for passive design (solar shade, max ventilation in humid climates), ‘sustainable’ sewage treatment (don’t even talk about biogas – already hugely popular across Asia – offering both cooking gas and a much needed natural fertiliser for the sandy and salinated island soils), solar, wind and tidal energy, solar hot water, lighting, and so on.

None of these were applied. The British Red Cross at least paid for some Ozzy consultants to advise them on the solar potential for their new builds. Nice guys, we went surfing together a few times. But they actually advised that solar alone could not cover the needs. Now I know they were wrong: of course the energy needs could be covered by renewable sources. Through a combination of reducing demand, increasing efficiency and diversifying energy sources, any community, anywhere, can go renewable if it really wants.

I explained all this in a lecture in the green of Wales and we decided to launch RESET to do something about this knowledge vacuum that exists in the world of post-disaster recovery.

So when Farid contacted from the architectural faculty of Gaza, I was excited: here we may get a chance to work with a kindred spirit – someone from the construction industry who has had his own green-building enlightenment, and was already working from the inside to change attitudes and practices.

We were in touch throughout 2007 and 2008 about training programmes we could potentially run together in renewable energy, permaculture in the built environment and natural materials in construction – building on what he has already initiated at the faculty.

In brief, we proposed to expand his department for research and testing, then do a town based study on actual energy consumption, equivalent CO2 emissions and possible income from carbon removed from the atmosphere, and the various renewable systems that could be built, theoretically at first, to meet those energy demands. Involve as many local people and relevant agencies as possible. It was all security dependent, of course.

Then the security situation went from bad to worse, late last year. Then, from worse to outrageously bad. Driven to extreme measures by their estranged Israeli neighbours, elements within the local community decided to fight back at their ongoing oppression and fire a few rockets. Probably not the best idea, but I wasn’t there and don’t know what really started it off. What happened next is well known: multiple rocket attacks, by fighter plane, helicopter, tank, mortar, sniper fire upon the peopled communities of Gaza.

The destruction was phenomenal. It was a real hell on earth” Farid wrote to me recently, after weeks of silence, during which I heard nothing and was seriously concerned.

Nobody could image that such barbaric and drastic war can be waged in the 21st century. The shelling and bombardment did not stop any moment, day and night, the sound of blasts and explosions and the noise of F16 jet attacks was extremely distressing, especially for my kids”.

What a nightmare. I have experienced my fair share of shelling in Bosnia and West Africa, but nothing like this. A smallish mortar shell exploding nearby shakes you to your bones. It’s like a train has collided with your house. The apartment-block crunching explosions they had to endure is beyond description, and nobody should have to endure that. Especially not a city full of civilians. This is just wrong. How can we – modern society – have sunk so low?

Luckily Farid and his family survived, and despite his admission that “Gaza is the largest prison on Earth, no one is allowed in or out” he is still able to talk about the possibilities for reconstruction and recovery.

These are already underway, planned to begin in Cairo on the 2nd March. It is usual, that alongside ceasefire negotiations a reconstruction plan sketched out, a donor conference organised and inevitably, connections between rehabilitation and lasting peace manifested. In the case of Gaza today emergency shelter and basic services are needed given the level of destruction, but full recovery goes far deeper than that.

For now, however, Farid says that no building materials have been allowed in. Nothing is moving; huge piles of rubble stand where dozens of people once lived, their owners either dead or homeless.

Nathaniel, another friend now working with UNICEF in the West Bank, says that masses of workers are waiting for permission to enter Gaza, to help rebuild. They too are disallowed.

Meanwhile, Sultan Barakat, head of the Post War Reconstruction and Development Unit ( my former faculty) and colleagues published The Reconstruction of Gaza: a guidance note for Palestinian and International Stakeholders.

In a rousing forward by Jordan’s Crown Prince, HRH Prince El Hassan bin Talal, who also represents the intriguingly named Arab Thought Forum and the World Conference for Religions for Peace suggests that “the politics of fear must give way to the politics of peace, and the reconstruction of Gaza, which this document addresses, possesses immediate potential to initiate this transition”

This is not uncommon in post war recovery strategies: use the reconstruction funds and the opportunities they offer to undermine the divisive and corrupt resource-grabbing thiefdoms that so often caused conflict in the first place. Gaza, however, has got to be one of the most complex conflicts to hope to resolve through reconstruction. Nevertheless, Sultan, et al, have a go, proposing, among other things, that:

  • A War crimes tribunal be established,
  • A Forward base for reconstruction be in Egypt, not Israel
  • Depoliticise the reconstruction , to the extent possible
  • Launch a Gaza reconstruction commission: technical not political focus. To include multiple Palestinian actors. Which may also contribute towards Palestinian reconciliation. And better coordination.
  • Put forward an international focal point, to remove external political impediments, to pursue coordination of donor investments, to make sure funds follow priorities laid out by the local Gaza reconstruction commission
  • International agencies should offer to partner with local institutions that fall within their mandate, and help them to apply for the large grants, and, where necessary, second selected professionals for short periods to deliver training and capacity building.

They add, towards the end that inevitable, hope that this upcoming reconstruction presents an immense opportunity to get Gaza back on the track to development, to ensure that reconstruction supports peace and Palestinian unity and to, more fundamentally, tackle the suffering which has afflicted the Gazan population”.

This is a report about process, rather than any specific sector, such as energy and as such it does well by calling for an inclusive process – that ensures all local representatives are involved – including Hamas. It refers to the mistakes made in Lebanon and Afghanistan when Western donors insisted that Hezbollah and the Taliban, respectively, be excluded from the planning and implementation of projects. Surely this is obvious, right? Clearly not, and it shows how much politics has a hand in deciding how recovery money is spent.

Getting back to Farid and the reconstruction of Gaza: let us assume that the ceasefire is maintained, that George Mitchell (Obama’s envoy) has some restraining influence over the warring factions, Israel in particular, and that the reconstruction fund now under discussion can be mobilised.

Sultan’s report describes some 17,000 damaged houses, a further 4,000 completely destroyed, not to mention the 25 schools and health facilities flattened or 1,500 shops and other small industries. This alone represents a massive building and repair process, with associated water, sewerage and power supply infrastructure needs.

So the people of Gaza sit on the ruins of their former community, but also on the threshold of an enormous opportunity to build-in local, decentralised, renewable and clean building, energy and waste systems. I have often thought that it would be easier to incorporate clean energy systems in new builds, rather than retrofit the old. Could Gaza be such a case?

In terms of power supply, the existing system could not be more inappropriate. According to a UN report in 2008, Gaza’s electricity demand is around 240MW. 75% of this comes from a diesel fed generator based in Isreal, which it can turn up or down as it sees fit, to the distress of local residents. (The remaining 25% comes from Jordan and Egypt, it seems there is almost no local capacity).

So, power demand is 240MW. One big wind turbine these days has around 2MW capacity, so Gaza’s power demand is equivalent to 120 big turbines.

Portugal recently started work on one of the world’s largest solar PV (electric) array at 62 MW(peak) – at a cost of around 250m euros, on approx 130 hectars of land. Of course these are not constant power supplies, one relies on a windy day, the other on daylight and sun. But options for massive energy storage exist, such as huge flow batteries, electrified vehicles which store power and feed it back to grid when they are not being used, pumped storage, to name just a few.

But massive progress has also been made in the field of concentrated solar power: (parabolic mirrors reflecting solar heat onto a container of oil that produces steam to turn a turbine, or a Stirling engine). These are now being built in Spain, USA and elsewhere at prices that are competitive to the capital investment of diesel or coal power plants.

Recent advances have include systems that produce both electricity and thermal energy (heat) that can be used for hot tap water, heating, heat-powered air conditioning (cooling) and… desalination for drinking water.

The key here being the running costs: fossil fuels are finite and prices are vulnerable to geological limits, geopolitics and other little known but hugely influential and powerful interests. In short, it is extremely unwise to invest your community’s future on systems that depend on oil and other fossil fuels that rely on the cheap prices enjoyed for much of the past 100 years. Even the conservative International Energy Agency accept that the “time of cheap oil is over” (latest World Energy Outlook).

But I have come to understand that a holistic approach to community design is needed – that incorporates environmental building systems and as much food production as possible within the built environment.

None of this is rocket science, in fact it has been developed over many years across different continents. Although what works in one place is not necessarily suited to another: it is hugely climate dependent, and Gaza sits in a hot-dry climate zone. So passive building design (as shown by the vernacular architecture) in such settings needs heavy thermal mass to maintain a comfortable indoor temperature without the need for mechanised cooling, and small window spaces to reduce solar gain. Thermal mass can be massive concrete blocks, or, shock-horror, earth from the ground we are standing on, for smaller dwellings at least. Environmental science in building is a massive field of study and experience – which is available and willing to lend its collective hand to advise any reconstruction process, to work with local counterparts such as Farid and to be involved, but they need to be asked in.

How plants and agricultural production is incorporated is another fascinating and well developed field. Permaculture design concepts have revolutionalised how we think of home, town and community planning. Geoff Lawton of the Permaculture Research Institute has proven in neighbouring Jordan that enormous productivity can take place in bone-dry desert settings, as shown in the popular Greening the desert video.

But how plants and the shade and food they offer can be incorporated into building design is something that is often overlooked by zealous concrete-loving modern architects and engineers.

Biogas is a good example of how energy, buildings and biodiversity come together. While we live, we need the toilet. You eat, you shit. This human manure contains enormous energy potential, and for decades the Chinese, Indians and others have built biogas (anaerobic) digesters into their homes. In one simple technological sweep, it deals with local sewerage (and public health) issues, collects gas that can be used for cooking or electricity production, and delivers an odourless effluent waste product that can help fertilise depleted soils, hold moisture in the ground and stimulate productive plant growth. It can also help reduce waste by consuming all organic waste: food scraps, butcher or fish waste, the lot. Tied into a municipal plan for integrated energy systems, it can create jobs that are by their very nature, long term and reliable.

How feasible is any of this in a region torn apart by conflict? Farid would be a good one to ask, as well as the architects of the reconstruction plan. Prince El Hassan bin Talal believes that “reconstruction must be viewed as only a first step towards the long-term aim of improving conditions on the ground through attention to issues such as water and energy, arms control and, above all, economic development”.

So surely, if addressing these issues in a way that delivers decentralised, reliable, sustainable energy and food supply systems, it should be incorporated if at all possible into the recovery process. And it may even help remove some of the sources of frustration and conflict.

Meanwhile, Farid writes about the reality on the ground:

Fortunately, we have survived this all and our responsibility now is very critical to rebuild and reconstruct the Gaza Strip. As you know, the Israeli offensive has also destroyed some of [university] buildings and facilities. If the truce is started, which may happen any moment, and the entry of construction material has been allowed, major building efforts will begin

So, the challenge is thus: how to rapidly increase local capacity and awareness of integrated sustainable community design, while maintaining the urgency to rebuild the basic infrastructure people there need just to get along.

In our humble and largely insignificant way, I have offered Farid the option of a “training break” for some of his students. To come and work with us on our reconstruction project in the mellow Minho of Portugal, to learn about building a biogas plant and testing the performance of earth compared with cement in 40 degree heat, and all the rest.

How visas and travel would be arranged is another matter, indeed we look forward to suggestions from people who are more familiar with such things to help us.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Question on Olive tree pruning

Hello people

I’ve been pruning our ten old and young olive trees for a few days, and am not sure if I need to cut them all down to the 3m stumps that a few places recommend. Or if I can leave some bits tall and bushy for shade, and cut others down to 2 or 3 m height?

I had read somewhere that “a bird should be able to fly through it” once pruned, so I pretty much stuck to that. And a local gardener had told me to get rid of branches with lichen growing on them, and dead bits. So I did that too. But it leaves the trees looking a bit strange: tall high bits beside short cropped ones.

Is there a rule of thumb? Like, if you crop back some branches you have to crop them all?

Few photos here.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

The revolution will not be electrified

Perched high above the rolling hills of Vigo lies an expansive university complex. It’s a stunning location, an inspired choice by people who must have realised what a special setting they have: a bay that forms a natural port, protected from the ravages of Atlantic winters, surrounded by hills on all sides, a city built on gentle, wave-like undulations.

The only other place it reminds me of is Sarajevo, with its beautiful streets and house-dappled views from one hill to another. Of course, Vigo hasn’t been used for sniper practice in quite the same way as Sarajevo, nor is it adorned with towers to three fundamentally different religions – once co-existing happily. But it does have another buzz, a panache, a promise of great creations.

After several visits as a family that showed us little, except a second hand shop (because they don’t seem to exist in Portugal) and a seriously styling beach front with sunset views to die for, I finally had a meeting lined up, with César.

César runs the Galician straw bale building network, and runs, or works within, a local NGO called ARBORE that buys local produce and sells it through a shop in Vigo. But they also have been asked to look after an old water mill in an old residential area, hence our gathering.
So between straw and watermills we knew we had enough in common to get together, even if we didn’t speak each others language. Portuguese and Galego are so similar it’s our lingua franca.

We met at the hill top university complex and piled into his chip-fat fuelled runaround. I liked him already: a car with books and interesting things strewn about, plants ready to go in the ground stuffed in the boot. I had overdressed thinking I was meeting some professor dude. César was not dressed for a job in a bank, lets say, had huge square glasses over intelligent, sincere, pensive eyes, and a two day beard.

We drove down to the watermill. I’ve seen so many now it was just another one. In good order because the local community council got it renovated to prevent it falling to rack and ruin. But the channel was full of silt and leaves, the tailrace equally blocked. (Tailrace: a techie term to describe channel from mill / turbine back to river course, with enormous comical potential. Hard not to picture some Tom and Jerry antics involved).

I was more interested in the people that showed up. An ARBORE Commission, César informed me, to decide what to do with this mill. And if I wanted I could join (me? What do I know?). Honoured, I would be, I assured him. I was to look at the energy options and get back to them. I was panicking already. I haven’t even been able to build one of our own site yet. But the offer is good and I will be willing to share whatever I can.

I found myself chatting away, having to pinch myself. I can’t speak Spanish. What’s going on? This hybrid Galician Creole seemed almost easier to understand than Portuguese.

Moreover, we talked the same idioma, the language of transition: the horrors of modern architecture, town planners who must be either mad on the pockets of property developers, the sorry state of food supply to the region, the thermal properties of a straw bale wall; why some King decided back in 1580 that ALL the olive trees across Galicia should be cut down to avoid competition with a neighbouring state (!), and so on.

We took the conversation to coffee – in a local casa de cultura, music school. The lady in charge greeted us with outrageous gusto. Did she know us? Me not, surely. We ordered café con leches. César had an elven tea.

They were talking about something to do with economic chaos. It seems that Spain is suffering deeply: 1 million unemployed in the last 3 months alone. There are some 900,000 families with not one single breadwinner, struggling to survive. How do these people get by?

We talked about biogas, biomass, solar heating and other innovative but all really quite obvious solutions to people’s energy needs. Why, I asked, doesn’t the city take on as many of these that it can. Its swimming pools, schools, public buildings. After all, these systems exist and are proven to save oodles of cash, carbon and foreign fossil fuels – so what’s the issue here?

The big quiet guy was getting heated up to this: “They would never listen. There’s no profit there, the massive multi-laterals are not getting their cut, and they run everything”. I know this line of thinking, and he’s not wrong. I came across the same resistance in Edinburgh trying to get a primary school to change its 1970s electric heating for anything else that used hot water and radiators instead. The council, on the one hand saying all the right things, and PR drivel such as “northern Europe’s fastest greening city”, producing a stream of reports, guidelines and so on. On the other hand, when it came to a real individual project, they were terrified of the change and all that it implied. Even when we showed them the tens of thousands of pounds saving within 5 years.

Change, Monica tells me from her recent bit of inspired post-peak oil state of communities book (Sharon Astic, 2008, Depletion and Abundance) does not come from the leaders, but from the people. Our leaders, Astic apparently writes, will follow when a groundswell of public opinion sways one way. (Did Obama come in that way? Hope/Change: is that what the people wanted or did they just kinda dig the message, and the guy?).

But when, in this super modern world of multi media messages do the people, the masses, get to articulate something that’s not already beamed to them through so many televisions and commercials?
I suppose this did happen recently: in the global protests against the invasion of Iraq. That was something, but as we know was roundly ignored.

And Monica has just suggested that perhaps that’s what an open democracy is all about: politics representing the views of the people, our representatives gathering our opinions and aspirations; our collective vision. But is this really happening?

I found myself scribbling down a flow diagram of sorts for my Galician hosts; attempting to articulate that now it could be different because the language used by global, regional and local “leaders” presents real opportunities to develop zero carbon communities. Look at Europe’s 20-20-20 message (by 2020, 20% of Europe’s energy will come from renewable sources while it will reduce it’s CO2 emissions by the same amount). Portugal has similar objectives, and the UK goes further in its recent climate bill with 80% CO2 cuts by 2050 and 3% per year (or thereabouts).

Surely, I argued, if we use this language, extract objectives from their very own policies we can draft some serious proposals for dramatic shifts in the way we design our communities – that facilitate these very goals.

The discussion continued. I looked over to César at some point suggesting we need nothing short of a social revolution to take all this forward. He concurred, though in his own way is already sowing the seeds for such a movement.

Revolution it is then, though this is a term too bundled up with bloodied streets and misinterpreted ambitions. Instead we need a new vision – of communities that are capable of living within their means, that find their entire energy sources (from power to food, heat and transport) from their local area. Sources that won’t drive us further into planetary climate chaos, nor survival on the backs of impoverished and maltreated workforces in forgotten sweat shops in Tropical far-far-away lands.

So it is up to us then to present to Vigo’s High Council – and representatives wherever we live – viable strategies and models for innovative and radically different ways of running things.

The alternative will be akin to Nero’s fiddling while Rome burns, referred to as “heedless and irresponsible behaviour in the midst of a crises”. There can be little doubt now that we sit on the downward slide towards economic, climate and energy crises, all unfolding more or less simultaneously.

Now would be a good time to start outlining that new vision.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Watermills research proposal

This is a short summary of what I'm attempting to look at( with the watermills of Monção.

In this concelho (county) alone, there are over 650 watermills in the old Cadastro (register) from the 1940s. Even if 70% are still there in ruins, it represents an enormous opportunity.

Portuguese version below is slightly different, for the local municipality / camera.

Research Proposal

Water mills of the Minho region –

Feasibility of their rehabilitation as generators of renewable energy.

Specific Research Questions

  • Determine approximate energy potential (KW hours per year) from a selection of different mills along the Gadanha and Mouro rivers of Monção municipality.

  • Research different micro-hydro turbines that would be best suited to the “low head – high flow” characteristics found in the former water mills. Consider cost, efficiency and environmental impact.

  • Analyse local socio-economic factors: rural unemployment, economic migration, cultural heritage restoration (of centuries-old mill buildings) rural tourism potential and regulations relating to the use of water courses.

  • Assess existing Portuguese renewable energy incentive schemes and regulations to determine the best mechanism that individuals or small communities could use to sell their “green electricity”.

Context of climate and energy challenges

This study seeks local solutions to meet unprecedented global energy and environmental challenges. Climate scientists warn of dire global warming scenarios far more severe than presented in IPCC’s latest report in 2007, if we continue to use current levels of fossil fuels for our energy needs. Meanwhile, as European oil and gas field pass peak production and enter irreversible decline, demand from industrialising nations soars. With negligible reserves of fossil fuels, Portugal is vulnerable to supply interruptions to oil, gas and coal which are foreseen to meet around 80% of its energy needs for at least another decade.

Wherever possible, local communities need to assess their capacity for sustainable energy sources – that reduce both carbon emissions and supply vulnerabilities. This research project endeavours to provide that for the municipality of Monção of the Minho region, looking specifically at local electricity generation potential.

Consultant and Institution

Magnus Wolfe Murray is an energy and environment consultant from Scotland, recently arrived in Monção with his wife and two children. This research proposal would conclude a MSc in Advanced Environmental & Energy Studies from the University of East London / Graduate School of the Environment (Wales).




Moinhos de Monção – viabilidade da sua reabilitação como geradores de energia renovável

(Setembro de 2008 a janeiro de 2009)

Questões especificas

Ø Determinar o potencial de energia aproximado (horas em kW por ano) a partir de uma selecção de moinhos ao longo dos rios Gadanha e Mouro.

Ø Avaliar a viabilidade técnica e económica em utilizar tecnologia hidráulica Alemã desenvolvida recentemente apropriada para sistemas de alta e baixa pressão – encontrada em todos os moinhos.

Ø Comparar os diferentes sistemas micro-hidráulicos com alguns critérios incluindo: custos, eficácia, impacto ecológico, estética (enquadrar-se nas orientações de restauro do património cultural).

Ø Avaliar o regime de incentivos das normas energéticas Portuguesas existentes e da energia renovável de modo a determinar de que forma a electricidade micro-hidráulica poderia ser vendida e se a aquisição de moinhos por particulares ou pela comunidade seria encorajada.

Consultor e Institutição

Magnus Wolfe Murray é consultor energético e ambiental da Escócia. Chegou recentemente a Monção e tem dois filhos. Está a restaurar uma casa antiga e um moinho em Troporiz. Esta proposta iria concluir um Mestrado em Estudos Ambientais & Energia realizado na East London University / Graduate School of the Environment (País de Gales).

Pedido à Câmara de Monção

v Aprovação para levar a cabo a pesquisa supra-mencionada.

v Apoio no que se refere a informações como:

§ População e Sociologia (características da comunidade);

§ Mapa da região e mapas de moinhos;

§ Acesso a informação de arquivo relacionada com moinhos antigos: informação técnica sobre a sua funcionalidade, socio-económica das comunidades durante o período em que os moinhos estavam a funcionar, etc.

§ Informação sobre outros estudos / pesquisas levados a cabo em moinhos reconstruídos e produção de hidro-electricidade utilizando moinhos antigos;

§ Aconselhamento sobre garantias / ajuda financeira que poderá estar disponível para o restauro do património cultural (moinhos antigos) e / ou sistemas de energia renováveis;

§ Informação sobre o Município ou projectos de regeneração socio-económica regional que poderiam ser relevantes para uma comunidade detentora de sistemas de energia.

§ Permitir a apresentação dos resultados da pesquisa no Município no final do período da pesquisa (Fevereiro 2009).

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Battling triffids

Our land was left to nature for 25 years or so. Lots of things grew, but the bramble was King, invading anywhere that wasn’t already thornified by something else. We cut it back between summer and autumn and since then have enjoyed a full view of the land in all its potential.

A local guy-who-knows-about-growing things came round to talk about trees. He took one look at our eager budders planted around last October, surrounded by roots of the evil thorn master and declared “these trees would be dead by in a year or two”. An awkward silence followed. “No way they can survive when the brambles and bracken roots start running in Spring and Summer” he advised sagely, digging into his pocket for another camel and lighting it despite the drizzle. I felt like asking him for one but I wasn’t ready to smoke in camaraderie with this harbinger of doom.

He went on to tale horror stories about the voracious nature of the swine-bramble: they grow up to 10cm a day apparently (he recounted this with a knowing grimace, as if talking about the ogres that used to terrorize the village).

The solution, he lectured, amounts to an agricultural equivalent of shock and awe tactics: plough the ground up with a machine of some kind, poison the roots with herbicide, plough it up again the next year. He was sounding like a gardening version of Radovan Karadic: “cleanse the lot of them”. Start afresh a new society of pure breeds, unmolested by those wild, races…

I had to know if there was another way; an green lobby on the soil debate. I went back to my permaculture friends: Paulo, and well, that’s it really. But I also have a book by Patrick Whitefield solemnly called “The Earth Care Manual”.

“Soil”, Whitefield points out “is the meeting place of Earth, Air, Water and Life… (OK, that’s almost too cosmic for me already). “It’s the mother of all plants, and through them the animals, ourselves and our civilisations”. He goes on to talk about how much is going on down there, worms aerating it, fungi feeding off it, feeding it, elements extracting heavy metals and a thousand other processes we hardly understand, but really vital to all life on earth.

When it comes to whether to till or not to till (ploughing or digging, even in the kitchen garden) he points out that some 80% of soil microbes live in the top 5cm the soil. Digging and ploughing kills most of them. These microbes, he adds, are the “powerhouse of soil fertility. By continually knocking them back we are weakening the soil’s own ability to generate its own fertility”.

I am intrigued, easily convinced by this stuff I probably already knew inherently.

He goes on to talk about how tilling can lead to soil erosion, impairs soil structure, freaks out the worms who are the good guys down there… Oh, and there’s the whole labour saving point. Permaculturalists talk about no dig gardens… More work up front, less in the long term.

I sent Paulo news of Mr Grim’s predictions for bramble chaos and the likelihood that we would be consumed by an invasion of zombie brambles marching across the countryside.

“Ploughing and spraying is the conventional orchard way to do it”, he replies.

If we do this, he warns it will “cause more work in the long run - fertilising dead soil, dealing with sick and diseased trees etc. The process of succession has been going on - the brambles basically getting it ready to turn back into forest. Brambles are a response to bare soil and lots of light coming in. Think of them like a scab that nature bleeds over a cut. They are bastard spiky to keep out grazing animals and allow trees to grow - remember all the young quince and bay trees we found growing inside the brambles? That is a forest in the process of coming back.

Hmm. Wonder what Mr Normal nursery would have to say about that. Paulo goes on to add “brambles don’t grow under tree canopy, so what we are going to do is fill that space with other things and shade them out, sheet mulch (that’s cardboard and other stuff by the way) around the bottoms and they will die off after a few years. There will be a bit of work to do cutting off/pullling out the ones that come back, but this will be less and less each year”.

The battle then, is only just beginning. Not just with the spikey weeds (thinking of them as former guardians of the land gives me a whole different attitude) but with local attitudes and practices. We’ll have to work with Paulo and the perma-way for a year or two and then compare. Why not?

There are bigger picture issues at play here as well: agricultural fertiliser and herbicide runoff killing fish and other life in rivers, causing huge “dead spots” in the sea, and gradually leading to infertile soils that need years to recover.

What about the millions of people eeking out a living on arid or polluted soils? There are so many now unable to survive without humanitarian assistance, yet, these common sense approaches that adopt nature’s own systems to restoring soil fertility, could change that.

Also, surely we should be repairing the land around us, not hacking into it further. Come to think of it, maybe we have a lesson or two to learn from the bramble, about how to be the lands’ guardian and protector.

Brambleberry wine toast to that!

Na batalha com ervas daninhas

Nossa terra foi deixada para a natureza de 25 anos ou mais. Muitas coisas cresceu, mas o Rei foi os silvas, invadir qualquer lugar que não fosse já thornified por outra coisa. Cortamos de volta entre o Verão eo Outono e, desde então, tivemos uma vista completa da terra em todas as suas potencialidades.

Um local cara-que-sabe-sobre-crescimento coisas vieram volta a falar de árvores. Ele tomou uma olhada em nossos ansiosos budders plantadas cerca de outubro passado, rodeado por raízes do mal espinho mestre e declarada "essas árvores seria morto por um ano ou em dois". Um silêncio embaraçoso seguido. "De maneira nenhuma eles podem sobreviver quando o Brambles samambaia raízes e começam a correr na Primavera e no Verão" ele aconselhou sagely, cavando em seu bolso para outro camelo e iluminação que, apesar da garoa. Apeteceu-me perguntar-lhe por um, mas eu não estava pronto para fumar na camaradagem com este prenúncio do castigo.

Ele passou a conto histórias de horror sobre a natureza da voraz suína-espinheiro: eles crescem até 10 centímetros por dia aparentemente (ele recounted este conhecimento com uma careta, como se a falar sobre o que ogres usado para aterrorizar a aldeia).

A solução, ele proferiu palestras, eleva-se a uma agricultura equivalente temor de choque e táticas: arar a terra com uma máquina de certa forma, as raízes com veneno herbicida, lavrar-lo novamente no próximo ano. Ele era soar como uma versão de jardinagem Radovan Karadic: "limpar o lote deles". Começar de novo uma nova sociedade de raças puras, unmolested por aqueles selvagens, raças ...

Eu tinha de saber se existe alguma outra forma; um lobby verde sobre o solo debate. Voltei para o meu permacultura amigos: Paulo, e bem, é isso mesmo. Mas também tenho um livro por Patrick Whitefield solenemente chamado "A Terra Care Manual".

"Solo", Whitefield salienta "é o encontro da Terra, Ar, Água e Vida ... (OK, isso é quase demasiado para mim já cósmicos). "É a mãe de todas as plantas, os animais e, através deles, nós e nossas civilizações". Ele vai falar sobre a quantidade que está acontecendo lá embaixo, worms arejando-lo, fungos alimentação fora dela, alimentando-o, elementos extração de metais pesados e milhares de outros processos que decerto não compreendo, mas realmente vital para toda a vida na terra.

Quando se trata de saber se ou não até a até a (lavouras ou escavação, até mesmo no quintal), ele lembra que cerca de 80% do solo micróbios vivem no topo 5 centímetros do solo. Escavar lavouras e mata a maioria deles. Estes micróbios, acrescenta ele, são a "força motriz da fertilidade do solo. Por continuamente estamos a bater-los de volta enfraquecimento do solo da própria capacidade de gerar sua própria fertilidade ".

Estou intrigado, já convenceu.

Ele vai falar sobre a forma como tilling pode levar à erosão dos solos, prejudica estrutura do solo, freaks as minhocas, que são os bons lá ... Ah, e há todo o trabalho de poupança ponto. Permaculturalists falar não cavar jardins ... mais trabalho à frente, menos a longo prazo.

Enviei Paulo notícias do Sr. Grim da espinheiro caos e previsões para a probabilidade de que seria consumido por uma invasão de zumbi Brambles marchando toda a paisagem.

"Lavra e aspersão convencional pomar é o caminho para fazê-lo", ele responde.

Se fizermos isso, ele avisa que vai "causar mais trabalho a longo prazo - fecundantes morta do solo, lidar com doentes e doentes árvores etc O processo de sucessão está em curso - a Brambles basicamente é ficar pronto para voltar em floresta . Brambles são uma resposta ao solo descoberto e muita luz proveniente pol Pense deles como uma crosta que sangra natureza, ao longo de um corte. Eles são bastardo picos para impedir a entrada de animais e árvores para permitir crescer - se lembrar de todos os jovens e marmeleiro Loureiros encontramos crescente dentro da Brambles? Esta é uma floresta em processo de voltar.

Humm. O que tem a dizer O Senhor Agricultora convencional sobre isso. Paulo passa a acrescentar "Silves não crescem sob copa, portanto o que vamos fazer é preencher esse espaço com outras coisas e sombra-los, folha de cobertura morta (que é de cartão e outras coisas pelo caminho) ao redor do bottoms e eles vão morrer depois de alguns anos. Haverá um pouco de trabalho para fazer o corte / pullling fora os que voltar, mas isso será cada vez menos cada ano. "

A batalha então, está apenas no começo. Não apenas com o infestantes que piqan (pensamento deles antigos como guardiões da terra dá-me toda uma atitude diferente), mas com as atitudes e práticas. Teremos que trabalhar com o Paulo e perma-caminho para um ano ou dois e depois comparar. Porque não?

Há questões maiores foto aqui em jogo também: fertilizante agrícola e herbicida enxurrada matando peixes e outra vida nos rios, causando enormes "spots mortos" no mar, e, progressivamente, levando a solos inférteis que necessitam de anos para se recuperar.

E sobre os milhões de pessoas quem moram fora áridas ou solos poluídos? Há tantos agora incapaz de sobreviver sem a ajuda humanitária, no entanto, estas abordagens do senso comum que adoptará natureza do próprio sistema para restaurar a fertilidade do solo, que poderia mudar.

Além disso, é claro que deve ser o reparo da terra em torno de nós, não hacking em ainda mais. Venha para pensar sobre isso, talvez nós temos uma ou duas aulas para aprender a partir da espinheiro, sobre como devem ser as terras' tutor e protetor.

Vinho de frutas das silvas brinde a isso!

How do you prune and olive tree – and why?

(Em Portuguese em baixo)

I asked folks from a local tree nursery to come and have a look at our trees. We’d heard it was time to prune everything (before the sap starts running again when it gets warm).

So he came on Thursday despite the rain. It’s rained here most of the last month, but mostly downwards – not horizontally as I remember from Scottish parts.

We started with the olives – we have 6 or 7 of these, all completely overgrown, covered in lichen and devoid of olives in season. These are all signs, I am told, of a tree left to its own devices. Their shoots take up all their energy and too much leafage on top means shade and humidity in the lower sections, leading to mould and lichen and moss, which hardly help out.

The solution Mr Nursery and others have told me: chop down almost everything to about 3m high (now they’re double that height). Paulo says when you cut them back they go into mass growth and reproduction mode in defence – which gives you a bumper crop of the oily stuff. A site I found on the internet said “a bird should be able to fly through it” once you’ve done the pruning.
OK so that’s straightforward enough. In some cases we’ll loose a lot of shade if we give them a military crew cut, so we’re holding back. Probably blowing it by partially cutting.

Anyway, I asked, how many olives do you need to make oil? Turns out the ratio is a whopping 500 kilos of olives will squeeze down into 20 litres of virgino puro… Each tree can produce up to 100kg. (I think I got these number right).

So hang on let’s get this straight: 500 kgs which is probably hours of picking and hauling onto wheelbarrows then to vans or tractors, to a mill (possibly our own, as part of the watermill?) is a meagre 20 litres?? We could go through that in a few months. Jeeez. Can this be worth the hassle ?

Need to find out more.

Photos: Kira testing the climability of an olive. Nikita and me cutting some others back a bit, albeit a bit pathetically.

Como ameixa e oliveira - e vale la pena?

Perguntei a gente a partir de um local viveiro para entrar e dar uma olhada em nossas árvores. Gostaríamos ouvido que era hora de ameixa tudo (antes de a seiva começa a correr novamente quando fica quente).

Então, ele veio na quinta-feira, apesar da chuva. Está chovendo aqui mais do último mês, mas principalmente para baixo - e não horizontalmente como eu me lembro dos partes Escosais.

Nós começamos com as oliveiras - temos 6 ou 7 destes, todos completamente cheio, coberto de liquens e desprovida de azeitonas na temporada. Estes são todos os sinais, segundo me disseram, de uma árvore da esquerda para a sua própria sorte. Sua turiões assumir toda a sua energia e muito folhagens em cima significa sombra e umidade nas seções inferiores, levando a fungos e liquens e musgos, o que não ajuda.

A solução Senhor Berçário e outros já disseram-me: quase tudo corta estabelece a cerca de 3m alta (agora eles são o dobro dessa altura). Paulo diz que quando você retira-los de volta eles vão em massa crescimento e reprodução em modo de defesa - o que lhe dá uma super safra do material oleoso. Um site que encontrei na Internet disse que "um pássaro deve ser capaz de voar por ela" uma vez que você tenha feito a poda.

OK tão simples que é o suficiente. Em alguns casos nós solta um monte de sombra se nós dar-lhes uma corte militar da tripulação, assim que estamos a atrasar. Provavelmente ele sopra por corte parcial.

Enfim, eu perguntei, quantas azeitonas que você precisa para fazer petróleo? Acontece que o rácio é de uma gritante 500 quilos de azeitonas vai apertar-se em 20 litros de virgino puro ... Cada árvore pode produzir até 100 kg. (Acho que eu tenho essas número direita).

Então vamos enforcar em ver se entendi: 500 kg, que provavelmente é hora de escolher e, em seguida, a puxar para wheelbarrows camionetas ou tractores, para uma usina (possivelmente a nossa própria, como parte da azenha?) É um magro 20 litros? Poderíamos ir por que, em poucos meses. Jeeez. Pode este, vale a pena o aborrecimento?

Necessidade de saber mais.