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South of the music

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.

Sometimes it takes a couple of weeks off and a change of scene to get enlightened. The dipping sun over green corn fields in the Alentejo and frantic flamenco in Almeria shook off the winter and financial blues. Heck, no more tapas please!

Enough bad news has been written about fat banks, toxic loans and rock and roll. Could I just add that I thought that the world was about industry and creation and looking forward to fish and chips on a Friday night after a hard weeks work?

A couple of my friends are in their seventies, have had fantastic lives, travelled to all corners of the world, owned big cars, fast wives and both have said how glad they are to have been part of the end of an easy era of post second world war to pre global warming peak oil credit crunch tomorrow.

They may be right, but I want to disagree. I like a challenge. I think the credit crunch could be the best thing that has happened to this soft fat life we live.

In lean times, people get thinner, fitter, wiser, and bad luck apart, healthier. Tough that it is, we really should match the energy we need to the energy we can afford. The first step is to figure out how much we spend on electricity and where we waste it, then surely we can start to make savings or changes.

Prawn curry.
Prawn curry.

One of my best purchases this month is an energy monitor. Fitted to the incoming cables before your fuse box, it transmits a reading to a clock-like read out that I put on my kitchen table. Easy to look at and it virtually stabs you when the figure doubles!

While not an energy saving device, it accurately reads all the energy being used at that moment in our house. Very quickly I discovered my computer on standby uses 48 watts an hour and my children’s televisions in bedrooms on standby, clocks on stereos, transformers on table lamps and so on racked up nearly 200 watts an hour ALL THE TIME! Calculated as a yearly expense that works out on my EDP 5 verde tariff as 210 euros per year. Fitting extension cables with off switches, unplugging unwanted transformers and shouting at the kids is saving me at least three quarters of that. Having the display looking at me all the time reminds me not to re-boil the kettle (2077 watts!) and to increase my use of passive heating sources. Goodbye toaster.

Kettle boiling.
Kettle boiling.

Last weekend we had friends over for dinner. I was determined to cook the dinner of prawn curry, curried chick peas and homemade naan bread all on my solar cookers outside. On this sunny day, the pots boiled rapidly and when I needed to simmer, I moved the dish slightly out of the sun’s focus. Slower than a normal cooker, but cost free.

I have constructed a solar slow oven from wooden pallets, an old tin sheet, a pane of glass and bits and pieces from dumpsters and building sites. Total cost zero – except for the oven thermometer. My solar slow oven has already reached temperatures of over 100 Celsius. I point it towards the afternoon peak of the sun’s heat, pop in a stew and go to work. If I return a little later than expected, the sun has done its job of moving out of the heating zone and left a warm cast iron dinner – un-burnt and free of gas or electricity use. I really can’t stress how easy this all is.

All these ideas / devices are passive, they need no solar panels or deep battery storage or big investment. Simply make use of the sun, the day, the knowledge or the neighbours and the internet. Spend carefully, ask questions and praise answers.

With my chickens laying every day, cabbages, onions, beans, tomatoes all ready to pick, 50 fruit trees in blossom, seedlings growing daily, I’m not facing the music, I’m in the beautiful Algarve, way south of the music. Bring on the future!

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]