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Life on the ‘green’ farm

By: STUART MERELIE

[email protected]

Stuart Merelie, owner of QM Crazy Golf, Garden and Leisure Centre, shares his passion for correct and sustainable landscaping in the Algarve and is The Resident’s permanent garden and landscaping correspondent. This week is the fifth in a series of six entitled Stunning gardens without water.

FINALLY, I am installed in my recycled mess of a farm, and I love it! There are a few more species of wildlife than I would have preferred (rats, bats and roaches) but the regained sound of silence is worth it. To really justify the direction I want to take, I am addressing all aspects of day to day living.

My first move was to change my existing supply to a renewable source. All still EDP, of course, but they offer a tariff called 5D Verde, where they guarantee to match all my electricity used by a renewable source. The tariff is about five per cent more expensive but

My daughter, Holly, enjoys the quiet!
My daughter, Holly, enjoys the quiet!

it also funds an EDP based team researching sustainable fuels.

Of course, it takes more than changing my electricity supply to reduce my carbon footprint. All the bulbs are low energy, which take a week or two to get used to. All the standby lights on the dreaded TV and stereo get switched off and all my outside lights are solar power based. My water pump is a highly efficient submersible pump, which will be replaced by a solar pump feeding a header tank and gravity feed to the house as funds allow.

As a landscaper, I tend to get paid to collect my own firewood. A definite bonus but you have to get used to enormous piles of trees sitting in the back garden. A show garden it will not be! One of the most important aspects of permaculture is the non use of fossil fuels. More and more of my friends have bought diesel power boilers and few of them believe that with the onset of peak oil, the price of fuel will be five times higher within 10 years.

As well as a wood burning stove, my house is well insulated and importantly…small! Less room takes less heat. My temporary gas water heater is currently being replaced by a modern solar system – which costs less now than 10 years ago.

The gas hob is a little bit of a sticking point. Although I have a wood fired stove and BBQ, I still have to perfect or find an acceptable indoor cooking source. I am working

There should be moisture in a compost heap
There should be moisture in a compost heap

on a solar cooker care of an old turnable satellite dish and a black crock pot. The answer, as Professor Rod Levitt told me on my permaculture course, is only limited by your imagination.

When I bought Quinta Stuart, I spoke to the locals and spent a few months observing the countryside. Up in Guilhim, where I am based, is a dry hillside, full of dead trees and dusty tracks. The few neighbours I know have deep poorly performing bore holes 400 metres deep and only capable of running for 10 minutes a time. So the high cost of a bore hole and absence of mains water made for quite a challenge.

I decided to build an enormous water tank and connect it to all available roof areas with guttering. I made one not so minor mistake. The ideal size of a water tank can be calculated as follows:

Total average rainfall multiplied by the roof area in square metres equals the highest amount of water you can trap.

I built a tank of 150,000 litres. The cost was probably the same as putting in a bore hole. I have one big advantage. It needs energy to put the water in the tank but unless I increase my roof size by 200 per cent, I will never really fill my water tank, and I quite like a small house.

All my dish water gets put onto my herbs and fruit trees around the house. I use only Ecover ecological products to wash with. Using say Super Pop washing up liquid will water these plants but the harsh chemicals will gradually reduce the number of nutrients and beneficial trace elements these plants need. All the bath, shower and hand basin water is routed into a separate tank where we can pump this on to the rest of the garden.

All organic waste is put on my compost heap. If it attracts a few flies or wasps, I cover with a thin layer of organic material, shredded paper or grass cuttings (It’s handy being a landscaper). After one box is full, cover with a bit of old damp carpet and start a new box. Compost is a big subject that I will cover later in this series but suffice it to say, most compost heaps in the Algarve fail due to lack of moisture (fixed by having your compost heap in a more shady spot and urinating on it) or because of anaerobic inactivity – i.e. being smothered by too thick a layer of rotting grass.

Bottles are a bit of a bain. I opt to buy reusable beer bottles even though they are more expensive and I buy my wine from Olhão in reused plastic bottles.

Well, we moved from the centre of São Brás to near enough the middle of nowhere, so I am playing taxi driver more than ever for the kids. This is more than compensated for by our animals; Sooty, Saddam, Kate, Gerry, Owl, Pavarotti, Domingo, Carreras, and the Jackson Five having space to chase each other, the arrival of the Black Pearl and even better, the beautiful sound of silence.

Stuart is continuing to grow his ecologically viable landscape construction company and to study for a diploma in Permaculture design. He has just moved to his low carbon footprint farm and his ambition is to live “off the grid” being self sufficient in water, light and heating systems. QM Garden Centre is located on the road in between Sta Bárbara de Nexe and Estoi. For visitors further away, leave the Algarve motorway at Junction 14 (signposted São Brás\Faro) and turn left immediately. Turn left again after 500m in the direction MARF. Pass this and continue straight on. QM is open from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday and 10am to 3pm Saturday. Telephone 289 999 613. Stuart is available for design, consultation and construction of all types of landscaping. For inquiries please contact Stuart on 917 814 261.