Zone 1 Garden Establishment- Herdade de Lage, Casteloa, Portugal

TreeYo Permaculture

Zone 1 Garden Establishment

Having had the good fortune of being contracted out to create a Permaculture landscape at Herdade de Lage, a 130 HA (325 acre) ranch in Alentejo near Odmeria, Portugal, a small group of permies banded together to meet the clients needs and the landscapes wishes. Our first task there at the ranch was to establish zone 1 gardens out in front of the taipa ruin that is being renovated. Work started in the late winter that seemed to drag on this year in Portugal with cold temperatures and near constant rains.

Zone 1 Space next to the building on the terrace Zone 1 Space next to the building on the terrace

Observation and interpretation

Upon arrival and examination of the space we saw a previously terraced space that was near level but still gently sloping to the south-south east. The space is an irregular shape being nearly triangular but more of a rhombus shape. The eastern…

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Greening the desert

Loss plateau, China

We all know that there is a lot of land erosion going on in the world. Forests are being cleared for agriculture and wood profits, poorly managed agricultural land is degraded with the usage of poisons and machinery. Resulting in erosion slowly turning the land into an ever growing desert. Northern Africa was once lush and green until the Romans used it to grow their wheat and other crops. Now, there is only a desert left to show for it. I never imagined that a desert once would have been a lush green paradise.

Thankfully, how destructive we humans can be, we can also do something to stop this desertification. And that is simply done by correct land management and water retention methods. It’s all so easy, it makes you wonder why it’s not practiced on a large scale! Just by making an effort.

Loss Plateau in 1995

Loss Plateau in September 1995

Loss Plateau in 2009

Loss Plateau in September 2009

These images suggest there’s some image manipulation going on. But actually, these photos are real and show what was accomplished in China in 15 years time. True greening of the desert. Camera man John Liu made a documentary about this project in the Löss Plateau, which is the size of Belgium. ‘Hope in a changing climate‘ shows how eroded land becomes fertile again through permaculture methods and cooperation with the local people and now China uses these principles in more parts of the country to the benefit of local farmers and villages. ‘Lessons of Löss Plateau‘ is a different documentary with more detail about the project.

Now the same practices are used in parts of Africa. Even in desert countries like Jordan, where permaculturist Geoff Lawton is greening the desert bit by bit trying to spread the word by educating young children at the local schools. Geoff Lawton uses swales for water retention, permaculture design and ground coverage to stop the dehydration of the land.

Other methods like Holistic Animal Management by Allan Savory are also addressing these problems of land erosion, using correct animal management along with water retention methods to regenerate landscapes on an even faster scale. Nearly the exact opposite of prevailing theories that blame desertification on overgrazing, Allan Savory’s solution centers on dramatically increased livestock numbers to reverse desertification.

Holistic Animal Management

Holistic Animal Management

For hundreds of years the 6,500 acres you see pictured here in Africa were barren, dry fields until 1992 when Savory increased the livestock by 400% and managed them through holistic, planned grazing. Over a short time, the barren fields were transformed. The concept is formed around the idea that large herds of animals concentrated by predators — which have reduced in numbers over the years — were an essential part of the grasslands ecosystems. The herds have diminished in concentration, spread out and thus ecosystems are faltering.
Savory has developed an approach that uses livestock to replace the once ever present herds of grazing animals in order to reboot the ecosystem into green grass and open water, full of water lilies and fish. The dense livestock’s hooves break up the ground so water can seep through and new plants have room in the soil to grow, as old growth has been eaten and trampled. The concentrated amount of manure fertilises the ground and increases vegetation. The livestock graze on the vegetation for a very short period of time and keep the grasses at a healthy length and density.

These are just a few methods which can be introduced to make a huge difference. All realised by a change of perspective and a holistic vision. By observation of the land and making the correct adjustments to reverse erosion. This is something we can all work on. There are also products like Groasis which aid in greening of the desert. Very simple and effective growboxes to help young trees make a healthy start.  But I believe you can accomplish just as much with holistic land management and permaculture methods.

If you’d like to learn more about these ideas you can watch documentaries here;

On your bike

The thing I like most about the Netherlands, is their bicycle culture. I know, Holland should be about windmills and clogs, and you will find one occasionally. But bicycles? Yes, now that is a true dutch culture. Anyone who has ever been to Holland will have noticed the large amounts of bikes. They are simply everywhere. And not any old bikes. No, we’re talking complete works of art here.

Obviously being a small, compact and, most importantly, a flat country, there’s no better way of getting around than on your bike. The old cities don’t leave much room for parking many cars. Making the parking problem far less frustrating is by simple going by bike. In fact, you will find that most cities have bikes available at the central station, or bike rentals all over the city.

Most children are brought up with this culture by cycling to school from a young age. Which is a great way for children to get around, learn to deal with traffic and to get their much needed daily exercise. Many mums also have a ‘delivery bike’ (bakfiets) to rush their (smaller) children around in.

..or dog of course… 🙂

..0r to go shopping, as it’s like having a small car. We have one ourselves for the same reasons. Not only is it a lot of fun to see and do, it is also a totally eco friendly way of traveling around and free exercise as well. I can highly recommend it.

The brilliance of simplicity

Sometimes a creation or an invention can be so brilliant, yet so simple, you wonder why you never thought of it yourself.  Young children are excellent at this. They still have the ability to think ‘outside the box’, which is something we really should nurture. It reminds me of years ago, when I was backpacking through Indonesia, I would see many happy poor children playing with anything they could find on the streets. I can still picture that big smile on a child’s face, running back and forth on bare feet, holding a plastic bag high in the air like a kite.

building with kapla

It’s the simple things that make us so creative. And that’s why I like Kapla so much. It’s so simple, little light weighted wooden blocks of the same size, which inspires to build the most complex buildings. The creator, French based dutchman Tom Van Der Bruggen, was clearly thinking outside the box when he created Kapla.


We all know that there are a lot of building blocks out there. But there are none quite like Kapla. Made of pine from renewable French forests, each plank is exactly the same size, shape and weight. The uniformity of the planks lets you build truly amazing structures using only gravity and balance to hold them in place. No snaps, clips, glue or interlocking parts necessary. All you need is a little ingenuity and hand-eye coordination, which you will soon learn when building.  Experts say that it can actually help children who are learning to read. Out of experience I can tell you, you can never have enough of the stuff, as the projects grow bigger and bigger.

And you know what? This brilliance in simplicity is all around us. Everywhere. In cooking, building, writing, creating, learning. You name it. In nature as well. That is exactly what permaculture is all about. Sometimes solutions are so simple and so logical.

The next time I need a solution, I must remind my self to ask the boys to help me think outside the box.

Power shake

fruit for shakeWeekday mornings are pretty hectic in our household. Well, for me at least. The boys have to go to school (attending school is compulsory in the Netherlands) and it’s my job to get them there in time. It’s the Queens wishes, I try to explain to them..

nutsBoth being early risers you’d think that it wouldn’t be much of a problem. The thing is that we are all a creative bunch, and once we get going it’s pretty difficult to stop us in our momentum. So, here we have two boys who get up around 7am head to their lego/kapla/puzzle/or other projects and start working. Well, then I enter into the equation to feed them breakfast, before going to school. My challenge is to invite them to leave their projects for what they are – and they are fantastic!, of course – and lure them to the table to have breakfast. What ever that may be; fresh fruit, spelt bread with cheese, oatmeal porridge with raisins and raw honey, juice. Whatever. Once I have succeeded that challenge, they will eat and then it’s time to rush off to school.

shakeThat obviously brings its own challenges, like getting dressed before they engage into a sword fight. Getting their bikes out of the shed, while finding the need to feed the fish along the way. Cycling to school leaving enough time to stop along the way to help a lady bird off the ground. Or to pick up that very special stick they found. Or like the time we had to stop half way to school as Jim felt something wiggling near his toes. After taking off his shoe it turned out to be a mouse! The poor little thing was probably hiding in his shoe from our cat Sushi, who must have lost him at some point.  And still managed to walk away after all that!


So, I need something fast and furious in my own belly. And this is where the power smoothie comes in! It’s so easy to make, nutritious, and keeps me going for a few hours. Packed with loads of natural protein, healthy fats, minerals and vitamins.

Ingredients: (for 2 glasses…, or one big one!)
1 chopped ripe banana
1 chopped kiwi and/or other fruit
a tablespoon or 2 of coconut oil
1 tablespoon of almond paste or grounded almonds
1 tablespoon of protein powder/algae/spirulina, I use Dr Schulze Superfood powder
1 tablespoon of raw cacao powder
a third of a tin of coconut milk (make sure you buy the brands with real coconut milk, and not just water with additives)
a glass of fruitjuice

Throw all of it into a blender and blend until smooth. Enjoy!

Dragon Dreaming

dragon dreaming quadrant

This week I attended a very inspirational workshop about Dragon Dreaming which I’d like to share. Dragon Dreaming is a way of putting creativity and inspiration into projects to make them successful. That can be any kind of project, a small one, like a household recipe or a big project like building an eco community. It’s about turning dreams into reality with a group of inspired people, and making it into a success.

Weaving the indigenous wisdom of the Aboriginal peoples of Western Australia with Joanna Macy’s Deep Ecology and his own unique life experience and style, John Croft reinvented a way to find the path between a dream and an outrageously successful project. In today’s world, we grow up being told that we’re ridiculous when we’re sharing our dreams – “wishful thinking, illusions, impossible”. But the Aboriginals believe, like many other spiritual groups, that knowing and accepting our dreams, we actually know what will happen in the future; in telling our dreams we’re creating our future.

Dragon DreamingThere is a lot to Dragon Dreaming. Too much to go into detail, but I will explain my impession of it in short. There is the Dreaming part, with someone’s dream/idea which starts it all off. Then when the dream is completed, it moves into the Planning stage, where plans are made to realise the dream. The third part is the Doing stage, where the dream is brought into reality and the last phase, and by no means the least, is the Celebration stage.

The process of Dragon Dreaming starts with an individual and his/her dream, which is the first phase. This is my favourite part. It is when the dreamer, the one who comes up with the project idea or vision calls in a Dreaming Circle. The dreamer tells his/her dream to a group of selected people.  The Dream Circle starts when he/she has told his dream, lets go of it into the circle and from here, the talking stick moves around and everybody is invited to speak and express what the project should include for them to be involved in it. (Inviting a child is also a great idea, as children often think way outside the box.) As the process goes on, people get inspired by each others dreams/ideas and start to dream together and an enormous amount of creativity starts spinning into the air.  By letting go of the dream into the group, the dream ultimately becomes bigger and more interesting. And because each member feels inspired and thus attached to the dream, it becomes every ones dream to make it into a success.

dreaming circle

The planning starts in the second phase (‘Projects never plan to fail, they fail to plan’). So the group starts feeding into the project/dream and the project feeds back into the individual. Research has shown that 90 % of all our dreams, never become theory; 90 % of the theory is never really planned; 90 % of the plans are never put into practise; and 90 % of our projects never get older than 3 years. From there the process moves into the third phase, the doing. The theory developed feeds into practise. A lot of projects, especially in our modern culture tend to spend all of their time in planning and doing, never really feeding back into the dreams of the individuals involved, therefore not really being satisfying to anybody and unsustainable. To make the cycle complete, we therefore find a fourth stage: the celebration. The celebration is the phase where the project feeds back into the individual, where there is time for reflection, adjustments, reconsideration of wants and needs, new dreams and visions to start the cycle anew and let it expand like a spiral, starting small and adding experience as it’s moving forward.

I found it very inspiring to see a dream/idea transform into something even bigger and better, to which all the participants could relate and feel a motivation to make it succeed. To let the dream flow. This is important, as nothing in life is static. Everything changes and flows, and a certain degree of chaos is needed to keep it alive and adjustable. Another interesting part is that there is no general leader. As each phase requires a different kind of person to lead the project. The dreamer is usually the leader in the dreaming phase, but often not so good in planning/doing/celebrating. In a natural way someone else tends to take over the leading role when going into the planning phase, and again in the doing phase and celebration phase. This way each person in the whole group has an important equal role, feels responsible and motivated. Which leads to each person experiencing personal growth along with a successfull project.

A few wise one-liners to end this entry:

  • Analysis leads to paralysis.  (Analysing too much leads to stagnation)
  • Perfection is the enemy of all good.   (Perfection confines and restricts creativity. You forget to enjoy the whole process)

Some food for thought. 🙂

The little captain

little captain book

I never would have guessed that I would enjoy reading to children.  Years ago, before having my own children, I would observe people reading bedtime stories to children and would think to my self that I would never be able to bring up the patience to do something like that! And then you grow into motherhood as your first child is born and I must have gone through some metamorphose or something, because for as long as I can remember I have been reading books to them! Now I must admit, that I only read books to them which I enjoy myself as well.

small captain

I started off reading fairytale books, but soon came to the realisation that those stories are pretty horrid really… the big bad wolf eating everyone and having his belly sliced open, filled with stones so that he can go and drown himself?  Poor little Hansel and Gretel being left in the woods by their selfish parents, because they want to keep all the bread for themselves?? No wonder Jim worries sometimes that’ll I leave him behind somewhere!  Not to mention Gretel stuffing the witch into a hot oven! I mean come on, and these are childrens stories??

little captain

Ok, so we still read all the classic fairy tales, it’s part of our culture, no matter how redicilous they are, but still. Then I bought books with fairytales from different cultures, which was more of a success. For me, anyway. I love to tell them about other cultures in the world. Although, sometimes they look at me all dazed, as obviously they can’t comprehend all that information of somewhere they’ve never been, seen or heard of. Sometimes I can definitely be a little too enthousiastic, when the fact is they are just too young for that kind of input!

nooitlek And then I discovered the Little Captain by Paul Biegel. Of which there are three books; The little Captain, The little Captain and the Seven Towers and The little Captain and the Pirate Treasure.

The story is about a very cool (mature) young captain who has no parents and lives on the top of a dune where a big wave threw down his boat, the Neverleak. He and three children from the nearby village, Marinka, Timid Tony and Tubby that escape their parents strict instructions to keep away from the boy with his ship, start out on an adventure when the boat is thrown back into the ocean by another big wave. Their goal is to reach the Island of Great and Growing where you become an adult in one day. The story is a bit similar to Odysssues travels, full of mythical and magical creatures and adventures. Dragons, pirates, giants fill the many short chapters of this book.


At the moment we are in the third part. We read in it every day, as we all (!) can’t wait to see what happens next. The boys are enjoying it immensely and I can imagine that adventurous girls, like myself 🙂 would really enjoy it as well. Highly recommended!

And while I’m at it, I’d also like to recommend; The dwarfs of Nosegay by the same writer (Paul Biegel), for younger children (4 yrs+).