It’s a wonderful world

By STUART MERELIE [email protected]

Stuart Merelie, Landscaper, Ecological researcher and Permaculture fanatic, shares his passion for correct and sustainable landscaping in the Algarve and is the Algarve Resident’s permanent garden and landscaping correspondent. This is part in a series of 24, exploring Permaculture and its importance and uses in today’s world.

Regular readers may recall that I have given myself ten years to become self sufficient, to reduce my reliance on mains services, on supermarkets, and to establish myself as a new world super power – the power to exist happily and healthily without destroying this planet and to promote permaculture and sustainable living. I have just completed year one.

A friend of mine, Rod, helped me enormously once. He gave me the best piece of encouragement on this world with the simple words ‘You are only limited by your imagination – think outside of the box’. Visitors to Quinta Stuart are often bewildered by an array of inventions and soon to be inventions (often described by my friends as piles of scrap but what do they know!).

I can bake my own bread using my recycled aluminium foil lined satellite dish. I managed to bake a loaf easily on November 23, using a bread tin wrapped in an oven proof plastic bag – in fact I burnt it a little! I can boil my washing up water, cook a mighty stew and even make toast on it. Maybe I should repeat that. From start to finish, I cooked a loaf of bread on a used satellite dish, no preheating, no oven, no electricity or gas. Not difficult.

The rain water harvesting has been increased to include a big shade terrace. All the used shower and kitchen water is collected in a separate tank and pumped onto the fruit trees, this has taken a few redesigns and a new filter system but works well. The rain was not enough – even as we approach a wetter than average year here near Estoi (as of December 2, 540mms for the year against an average of 450mms), we ended up buying in a few tankers of water. Hopefully this won’t be too often as the fruit trees become drought resistant and create more shade for the vegetables beneath.

We have increased the variety and diversity of fruit trees and bushes in the garden. It is important to ignore trees which grow well further north in Portugal (such as Cherry and Chestnut) and expand on semi tropicals such as Pecan and Feijoa, as well as planting later or earlier varieties of sure fire winners such as December fruiting Pears and March fruiting Apricots – to extend the natural season to as many months as possible.

Underneath all the fruit trees are onions, leeks, beetroot, turnips, cabbages and broccoli. My new green house is made from abandoned curtain rods and a roll of cling film. Inside the vine tomatoes and lettuce are ripening, all kept warm by a good layer of horse manure mulch, swapped for a few eggs and a few hours of help.

The hot water is generated using a generic brand of solar water heater that was under half the cost of the competition. I have no electrical or gas back up so on a cloudy day it is a little lukewarm, but it has no running costs.

My compost toilet is so successful that even the two biggest critics in my life (my daughters) are happy to subscribe. The first of my twin compost bins has rotted down beautifully and has been emptied onto a swale awaiting the planting of three American Walnut trees and a few artichoke seedlings. The compost toilet, the recycled bathroom and guest room next to it now all run on solar power – enough to run several lights, a stereo and a small horrible television.

All the heating for the house is by wood. Every day I pass fallen trees, old pallets, burnable rubbish. Collect it, cut it, people sometimes stop – just to stare or be friendly. Is electricity that cheap for everybody else? I have sold all the electric heaters and have also added insulation to our false roof, this is where having a small house is really handy – 60 square metres is a good snug winter hibernation zone – why heat more? Come summer, I have the whole world!

All this leads to a very conducive environment that has led to good people coming to stay and help – woofers, volunteers, kindred spirits, inventors and so many new friends. Little did I know that in an attempt to reduce my negative effect on this planet, that I would be helped by so many good simple people. It might not be the good life but it is the right life. We are unfortunately the most useless generation that has ever existed. Instead of being able to dig a well, we are only capable of designing it, or creating a website to show this.

I have learnt one important thing this year and I will share it to all of you. Keep it simple.

With over 23 years experience in garden design and construction, Stuart is available for design, consultation and construction of all types of landscaping. He lives near Estoi and is developing a low energy farm which will soon be open as a hostel for likeminded souls with residential courses in low carbon construction and lifestyle. For enquiries, please contact Stuart on (00351) 917 814 261 or send an email to [email protected]