quarta-feira, 23 de junho de 2010

And We're Off - For Real This Time!

It’s been a long while since last writing anything related to our big project – that’s mainly because I felt like I’d jinx the last one by getting too excited about it. So instead, we just moved on with determination and lips sealed until we finally found what we were looking for – AND WE DID, *woohoo*!

Papers signed and hands shaken, and we are now the proud owners of 48 000m² of land (plus lake-thing formed by the river that runs through, which is going to be soooo beautiful once we pull out the dead trees etc and grow some of those huge lily pads)! Jeez it is a lot of land, the majority of which is forest – hurray, masses of forest to save and spend days wondering through admiring how beautiful it all is. In the future I’d love to look into a concept that’s called Forest Gardening, which basically involves planting perennial plants (those that last for years and years, bearing fruit each year and thus being superbly sustainable) in certain (generally height) orders in a forest so that they all look after each other, never needing much if any attention except when you’d like something to eat.

Check out these vids for more:

Robert Hart’s Forest Gardening (the creator of the concept)

Urban Forest Gardens (a few very pretty and inspiring pics)

A Forest Garden Year (the first part)

Apart from that, we’re about to move out to live on a nearby plot where we’re renting a house for a few months while we build our first communal place. After that we’ll have a better idea of how to build and the next few houses shouldn’t take too long to get under way.

Here’s a vid of the rented place and its AMAZING view!, but beware of the manic sound of a vacuum cleaner in the background (we were cleaning up the house at the time).



1. Cut lawn and knock down current mud houses to reveal flat terrain properly – this is luckily less than the first property and thus should take much less time to complete.


2. Draw up plans and figure out costs of materials, etc., for our first building – communal kitchen, living room and a couple of bedrooms that will later be converted into offices or storage rooms, etc. – just somewhere to live in the beginning so that we don’t have to live in the rented place until all the houses are done.

The great thing is that there are a number of shops, albeit not particularly nearby, that sell absolutely everything in a sustainable form, down to recycled-plastic pipes and fixtures! Hurray! Really and truly ecological houses!


3. Prepare soil for planting, based on Permaculture systems (anyone yet realized that I’m in love with Permaculture?)

Watch these vids to know why:

Quick Intro

What is Permaculture (just push past some of the singing bits)

Greening the Desert (just amazing!)

The Permaculture Concept – Part One (from its creator)

For more visit the Permaculture Planet

And look for more on youtube.com, there’s loads and loads to learn!

And check out how many Permaculture sites there are around the world! There's definitely one near you (check out how many there are in Africa!)


4. Order organic seeds and begin seedlings during these months of winter – the nice thing about living in Brazil is that winter is pretty mild (though for us it’s terrible, having spent months basking in hot Brazilian sunshine), so things keep growing even when they’re not supposed to – I had a few onions begin sprouting in my cupboard so stuck them in a few pots and they’re going like a boeing. My two tomato plants are also making a mad scramble for the ceiling despite the chilliness that’s been upon us recently – maybe because they’re inside and each night I close the door and then the curtain so that they don’t go into shock as the cold seeps through the glass.

Tomatoes Going Bananas in Winter Onion Surprise!

Who knows, but it’s great news for planting because we won’t have to wait for the end of frost or snow – as we get near-ish the end of winter I’m sure we’ll be able to plant loads of seedlings, and in any case we’ll have constructed our greenhouses by then (plastic versions that can be completely opened during the day to allow for some nice direct sun and pest control by birds and beneficial insects coming in to land) so the seedlings will bask during the day and be protected at night. I really can’t wait to get it all started!


5. Figure out and build a small water wheel to generate electricity from the little waterfall we have on our property, which will in turn be used by the pump that we need in order to get the fresh water from the river up to our homes for drinking.

The mini waterfall and river on our property


6. Buy and install catchment systems for water to use on the garden or in basins and toilets so that we don’t need to suck on too much of the river water.


Obviously there are loads more ideas that we need to muddle over and organize (many of which I mentioned in some of the first entries) but that’s it for now.

Excitement is in the air! Only 3 days to go!!!

sábado, 5 de junho de 2010

A bit of a broken heart

My little heart has been (temporarily) broken. And my mind has been reminded of the fact that rather-less-than-nice people roam the planet, and for some unfathomable reason, seem to be allowed to go along their merry ways with what seems like not a moment’s worry about the consequences of their actions. Even in such a religious country as this, where you’d think people would quake under the continuous reminder of potential Catholic hell. Yes, I know that Karma will eventually dole out what’s due to each person based on how they treat other people, but it can seem slow in coming for those that have been effected.

Here’s why things are a little sad at the mo: after having seen what was for sure the most ideal spot for starting our dream, we were told by the middle-man who was liaising between the property agent and the owner of the land, that everything was ok with regards to the offered and accepted price of the land. Over the next week or so we went back and forth, even getting hold of some documentation, but were constantly asked for varying amounts of money ‘to connect something’, or ‘to fix something’ or simply as a show of good faith (the amount starting at R$10 000 to fix the house, R$5 000 to connect the electricity, and eventually just R$1 000 for … well, nothing really). We, thankfully, declined the offer of doling out random cash. A few days later the property agent called the owner to confirm that everything was still A-OK, and discovered the staggering truth: Mr Middle-Man had not in fact spoken to the owner, the owner had not in fact agreed to the price, and it turns out that he has some strange plan to build an office in the bush, for … who the hell knows!

If you’ve looked at the pics in earlier entries, you’ll see that there’s bugger-all around the site, so who in the world would make any effort to drive along what is often an impassable road due to how wet and mushy it is most of the time, to sit out there (with no electricity, phone or internet) in the middle of nowhere every day before trundling off home, potentially getting stuck in the mud along the way? And right on top of a piece of land (the part in the front of the property) that surrounds the start of a big river system, which means that he probably won’t actually get the permit to build and he’ll be stuck at the end of the day with property he could have sold but wasn’t clever enough to when the opportunity arose.

*Sigh* so we’re back to square one. Last weekend we went back to the same area and were shown, in order, 1) had a huge pond in the middle of it, requiring a bridge to be built across it in order to get to the forest, 2) an entire property built on a slope, and 3) another spot 1/6 the size of what we’re looking for L. Not quite what we were hoping for, and rather disappointing.

The up side is that I finally drove on the other side of the road! – the ‘other side’ coz here we drive on the right, whereas back home it was all on the left and I got pretty used to the same thing in the UK - *teehee* seriously almost got my head smashed in during the first year here by super-sonic buses hurtling down the steep hill outside my apartment while I gaily looked in the other direction J So that was pretty cool and surprisingly not that difficult to get my head around.

Anyway, holding thumbs that there’s some good news regarding other options to go and see this weekend… Think happy thoughts for us!

segunda-feira, 31 de maio de 2010

How cool is this!!!

Just the most fabulous shower idea I´ve ever seen!

quinta-feira, 27 de maio de 2010

I forgot about the moon!

Today I received a great email from an old friend (well, she´s not old, but it´s been a good few years that we´ve known each other) who has been missioning around SA working on organic farms and learning all about permaculture and living in harmony with the earth.

Our emails are always looong and full of exciting news about getting out of the rat-race and getting back to doing what humans were always meant to do - live consciously and harmoniously with the plants, insects and animals to which, if we´re perfectly honest, we owe our lives.

Amidst loads of helpful tips and advice about organic farming, she reminded me of an important factor that keeps appearing in the back of my mind, but seems to slip away whenever I get down to doing some research - planting with the phases of the moon!

Now, many people may be a bit sceptical about the importance of the moon and the associated astrological implications, but there is actually a science to it.

Basically, plants (being full of water) react to the gravitational pull of the moon, just as the sea´s tides do, and grow differently during each moon phase because of the amount of water that is being pulled up through the earth. This effects not only when we should plant but also when we should harvest. Goodness, so much to know about plants!

Ok, so here are a few things I´ve just read:

  • The new moon ushers in the best time for good leaf and root growth, especially for those plants that produce their seeds above the ground (cauliflower, broccoli, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, celery, etc) - so, plant these during the first and second quarters of the moon.

  • The second quarter of the moon is also a good time for growing plants whose seeds grow inside the plant (peppers, tomatoes, beans, peas, squash) - and if you want your lawn to grow well, this is apparently a good time to mow it (who knew!)

  • When it´s full moon, the ground contains the greatest amount of water - when seeds absorb the most water.

  • After the full moon, along with the high water content in the soil, comes a period during which roots start to grow a lot more, so it´s a good time to grow root veges like peanuts, potatoes, carrots, onions, etc.

  • It´s apparently also a good idea to grow perrenials (the long-lasting plants, as opposed to the annuals that bare fruit and then die *sniff* every year) and for transplanting plants.

  • During the third quarter the water content in plants is a lot less, so it is a good time to prune plants and harvest your veges

  • If you´d like your lawn to stay mowed for longer, mow it during the moon´s fourth quarter.

Ok, that´s all I´ve got time for today on that subject. I´ll list a few relevant sites soon, which will give a lot more details on the above bits of info - even the zodiac is meant to play a part in plants´ growth!

segunda-feira, 24 de maio de 2010

This weekend´s mission was meant to be to visit an organic/eco house (the vid´s in Portuguese but you get the picture) that was built in a small city about 2h from Sao Paulo, and was modeled on an eco house that was built in Brighton, UK (the vid´s also in Portuguese, but there are loads of links to others detailing the same concepts in various parts of the world).

The idea is that the house is made of used tyres which are filled with earth to make them weigh about 100kg each, then piled on top of each other to form walls. The gaps between the tyres are then filled with old cans and a combination of mud, cement and straw, and the floor is sealed with a shredded-tyred and concrete combo. Even the wood that´s used as moulds to make the pillars and beams is then used as furniture, so everything is either made from recycled goods or is then recycled to be reused in the house. FAB idea!!!

Unfortunately, no one was around this weekend to give us a tour and offer some tips on building houses in that way (yes we called first, no we didn't drive all that way to discover this fact), so we'll have to wait until next weekend to quench our curiosity.

In the meantime, we're a bit like caged dogs in our eagerness (and frustration, to be honest, given that we know what awaits but are stuck here in the city for another month!) to get onto the property and get started preparing the ground, building greenhouses, and planning the future layout of the land.

Guess we just have to be patient.

sábado, 22 de maio de 2010

The following needs to be done in the very near future:

  1. Buy a 2nd-hand pick-up so that we don’t spend a fortune paying companies to bring various bits of furniture and gardening/building material that we´ll soon need.
  2. Use said pick-up (which will be sold within a year to make way for a diesel version whose engine will be converted to run off of old cooking oil, after which we will be able to collect the nearby town´s used oil instead of having them throw it away, which is usually damaging to the environment) to collect building rubble from the millions of building sites that litter SP, to be used to ´pave´ the current road to the property, which is a little impassable at times due to the amount of water that the surrounding trees hold in the ground.
  3. Fix up the two small houses currently situated on the property (at present they are uninhabitable) with the help of a local who knows how to fit a toilet etc, and our own sweat as we scrub down the walls, fend off the wasps and give everything various coats of fab coloured paint - it´s not just the girls who are excited to decorate, we´re all feeling the imminent joy of finally having a place of our very own that we can spruce up any way we want.
  4. Map out the growth cycles of the various fruits and vegetables we´d like to plant, and then begin growing their seedlings, in time for them to be transplanted when spring arrives. Amongst other things, we’ll plant seeds in the middle of toilet rolls and transplant everything at the right time so that the cardboard acts as compost for each seedling. The property already boasts 2 lemon trees, a number of banana plants, and something vine-y.
  5. Mow the massive amount of over-grown grass that is currently trying to protect the area that was cleared who-knows-how-many years ago.
  6. Begin a compost heap so that we can soon begin to ´treat´ the soil in the area where we would like to plant our vege garden.
  7. Plant 'sansao do campo' (a super fast growing hedge that's so full of thorns it's impossible to penetrate without a machete) along the front of the property so that, within a year, we will be obscured from the view of potential burglars (the property being rather isolated - actually, it´s just us for miles and miles! Imagine the stars at night!)
  8. Buy two semi-puppies as a first means of protection - and because we all just loooove dogs (and every animal we can think of, but slowly but surely is the best idea for now).

Our long-term goals are as such

  1. Learn as much as possible about permaculture and, as far as is possible given our climate and terrain etc, create a permaculture system, both for our plants and our homes (toilet waste being used to generate heat / energy / compost, and other such practices)
  2. Build a greenhouse for future seedlings and winter greens so that we will eventually become completely independent with regards to our vegetable etc. in-take.
  3. Establish various thriving fruit trees for future generations.
  4. Provide a safe home for animals who will be allowed to live humanely and the way that they were designed to do - for example, be allowed to roam and have families.
  5. Convert all energy dependence into sustainable energy - for example, water catchment for irrigation and washing etc., so that we have almost zero impact on the property´s river system; solar / wind / kinetic energy (like bicycles) for electricity; innovations using bottles to heat shower water and provide light during the day; cooking oil for motor vehicles of all types; compost and fertilizer from our own property.
  6. Build various ecological houses over time, experimenting with the many ecological concepts that exist at the moment: houses made from tyres and beer cans; eco-friendly bricks; bricks that are actually bags of rubbish; straw houses; and loads more
  7. Sell the above homes to like-minded people looking to live in a sustainable community.

Most importantly, we want to live the most sustainably and harmoniously as possible.

We just had to have it! Not least because the forest is home to a family (if not more) of small black monkeys with little white faces! Who knows what else has been given the chance to live a free and happy existence in such a pristine spot, but we’re super excited to give them the chance to continue doing so forever, invite their friends and know that all we want to do it provide them with a sanctuary against the habitat encroachment that is the norm in most of the rest of the country and the world.

If all goes well (the owner has accepted our offer, but we need to check for any legal issues, etc.), this is going to be a dream come true for us. We’re so eager to get started on living sustainably and creating a community where people can not only live, but also just visit and learn how to do the same wherever they might be in the world – spread the love that is an appreciation for the planet and the millions of plants, insects and other living creatures that all live in harmony with each other, asking no more and no less than they need, and giving back in their gratitude.

This blog is a means of sharing our experience of starting our own eco community. We hope that by describing it here we might be able to inspire others to do the same, or at least integrate some of the things that we discover relating to sustainability and healthier, more harmonious living, into their daily lives. In the face of a world in crisis in every single way, the time is now to start making a massive change to the way we see and interact with the earth around us. And to finally be truly happy.