When I arrived in Tamera, Portugal, a week ago, the Austrian permaculture farmer Sepp Holzer happened to be here too. I had the opportunity to speak with him about his methodology of the agroforestry & water landscape, as well as work together. Topics were:
- Establishing a multi-species edible vegetation on bare, disturbed soil;
- Working with pigs for soil & vegetation recovery;
- Principles & benefits of building a lake;
- The added effects of scale: creating a water landscape with many lakes;
- Developing a natural, mixed, edible forest on eroded hillsides.
Sepp Holzer is a man with a message: We have the responsibility to help restore nature, in order to provide water and food, for us and the next generations.
Establishing a multi-species edible vegetation on bare, disturbed soil. Step 1: Spreading seeds & mulch
Sepp Holzer demonstrated one morning how to start regreening an open, disturbed soil, in this case the terrace slopes and the dam around the newly created “South Lake”. The first step is to spread a seed mixture of old varieties of carrots and salads, then covering the soil with mulch. This is a seemingly simple task, and well-known practise in permaculture, and still, it turns out there is so much to learn about, when you look at it in more depth. What seeds do you use? How to spread them evenly, not too thick or too thin, over the area? Why is it a good thing to have a soil that is rough and uneven, instead of making it flat and even and sowing all seeds at the same depth? This action is a first step towards a multi-species system, that will in time balance and reproduce itself. What to do to help this establish, to get it going? What are the functions of the mulch, and how thick to spread it?
Pigs as coworkers
Holzer pointed out the possibilities to reforest the hills with a mixed, edible, natural forest, working with pigs. The pigs are at home in the forest, and they can very well be used as natural ploughs and dung spreaders. (More about this approach in this blog post) When I see Holzer sketch this image, my heart totally resonates. I can already see the forest-covered hills and I can well imagine to support or be involved in this work for the coming years. Later this week I spoke with Heike Kessler, who is responsible for the work with pigs in Tamera. It is a big question how to deal with animal husbandry in a new way, that fits with the overall community goal: building a model for a society without war or violence. This also means true co-operation with animals, take care that they have a life that fully fits to their nature, and no killing (slaughtering). Then you come to questions like: Who are these animals? How do they want to live, what is their nature? How to give them a meaningful ‘task’ in the whole system? When you have a group of pigs, they will (want to) reproduce. How to deal with this? How is the relation between domesticated animals and wild animals, in this case the wild bores that also live in this area? This and many more questions are topics of study in the Tamera community.
The water landscape – the how, what & why about creating water retention lakes
Sepp Holzer also gave a wonderful more in-depth explanation about the method of building lakes to restore the landscape. During the 8 months I spent in Tamera last year, I was much involved in the building of the new South Lake and the land management around it, as well as open days & courses by Sepp Holzer and the Tamera ecology team. So I already have some understanding of the basic ideas of the function & purpose of the lakes, as well as the technical knowledge how to shape these water basins. This time Holzer answered questions like: How to determine the size and volume of the water retention lakes? What is the added benefit of creating lakes, instead of just working on restoring the soil & vegetation on the hills? And: It is one thing to have one lake, or three. Then the effects on soil and ground water will be very local. But what are the effects of the water landscape on a larger, landscape scale? It will positively affect the entire water household in the region, as well as balancing temperature and climate. It will reduce or even eliminate risks of floods, droughts and fires, three great threats in many-many regions on this planet.
Sepp Holzer – a man with a message: We need to help restore nature in order to provide water and food, for us and the next generations
This man is a true treasure of knowledge and experience, and with a great heart for nature and humanity. He says: “Nature itself has time enough to recover. When we stop with our destructive practises like overgrazing, drainage or overexploitation, then in 100 years, the degraded naked pasture land will turn into a pioneer forest again. And after another 100 years or more, the natural diversity and maturity will grow further. But we cannot afford that it takes so long. We have a responsibility towards the coming generations, to actively help nature to restore the mistakes that our ancestors have made. We have to speed up the process of landscape healing, so that we can harvest food and have healthy drinking water. So many people on this earth are starving today or dying because they have no access to water! This is all a result of human ignorance and mismanagement. There are no sites that are by nature unproductive and useless. It is up to us to design systems in such a way, that we let nature work for us. Water & soil are our true capital: we have to take care to harvest the water when it falls and to allow it to sink into the Earth body, not to let it flow away straight from the land into the sea.”