Main Land Features
Our focus is spreading abundance, starting with our own land--a certified Permaculture site that's part of the Global Ecovillage Network. We use regenerative techniques such as water harvesting earthworks, soil biology stimulation, and plantings, as well as intuition from our deeper sense of place to develop the land. We make leaps and bounds every year through the giant pulses of energy that come from Permaculture courses. Our intention is to continue pursuing our goal of off the grid living as much as possible while continuing to provide a high standard of permaculture education.
As with any land regeneration project, soil fertility is of the utmost importance as everything else hinges on the health of the soil, namely the cultivation of conscious people and food. When we began regenerating the land in 2010, our first step was clearing the land using an organic mulcher which simultaneously reintroduces organic material and prevents weeds from growing.
We use two different composting techniques, hot composting and vermicomposting (using worms). Building a massive compost pile is a featured project of each PDC. After three or four turns and about a month’s wait, the hot composting process begins to wind down. We let the worms do the rest once the pile cools down. We also make compost teas and do a massive sheet mulch most years to create soil.
In 2019 we implemented a Keyhole Garden to bring Terra Alta's composting system directly into our kitchen garden beds. It features a vermicompost system, companion planting, lasagna garden beds and ollas.
We refer to Terra Alta as teacher, as a permaculture site, for the most part. At the same time, it’s also home. We use a regenerative design approach in our building projects which means adhering to low impact and energy efficient building, involving people from the local community in building projects to inspire an alternative building approach in our bioregion, and building with local resources such as reclaimed wood from old Lisbon farmhouses and upcycling furniture from local industries.
Because, ultimately, the building experience itself is as important as the resulting shelter, we make sure the experience is fun, educational, and that the building serves to enhance the relationships between people and the surrounding natural systems over time.Our outdoor lounge area, centred around our kitchen (completed 2019), has gone through several phases of implementation. We’ve just completed a beautiful new cob oven right next to the kitchen, replacing our old cob oven of 10 years that’s further away. This is a good example of designing for adaptability and co-evolution.
In our design course, you will be introduced to different natural building techniques and given a tour of our structures which are very diverse in their building approach. Cob, lightly strawed clay, plastering and timber framing are among some of our features.
BIO-INTENSIVE KITCHEN GARDEN
In-line with our vision, the small scale bio-intensive system we use to farm is both regenerative, as it increases the biodiversity and fertility of the soil through intensive planting spacing, and sustainable, because fewer resources are used (small scale) to produce a maximum output (intensive).
Our abundant yield feeds both the members of our community and course participants--literally, as the food we eat, and as knowledge, where through the educational programs students learn the production techniques and economics behind running a market garden. We serve approximately 3,000 meals a year with a majority of the ingredients from our gardens. As for the surplus our garden produces, we ferment or give away. It is our mission to have access to clean and vital food and have our gardens serve as an initiation to gardening.
Most of our 2 hectares comprises an old cork oak forest. Over time, we have been clearing select spots in the forest to enhance the magic of the place. In 2018 we cleared a path to the highest point of our land so as to be able to enjoy the rolling hills and ocean view. Our forest management pays respect to the trees, the ancient people that were the forest’s custodians before us, and all life within the canopies. We added more outdoor sit spots in 2019 in the form of cob benches and stone walls to encourage nature connection among visitors. We plan to create more rest areas in the coming year for more opportunities to be among the old cork trees.
An example of how students make an impact during their two weeks at Terra Alta - our projects with mushrooms were born out of a PDC final design project. We have installed mycofiltration in two areas of the land - one, downstream, as an extra filter for our vermicompost discharge, and the other, a mushroom garden patch. We’ve also inoculated several logs with oyster and stropharia types and are waiting to see and taste them in two years’ time!
Terra Alta is enclosed in a magical forest of cork and fruit trees, the original inhabitants of the ancient land. The involvement of the local environment is equally as important as human involvement for co-evolution.
Like our Moorish forebears, our earthworks center around accessibility and fertility. We focus on perennial crops to improve water-use efficiency, making sure water and nutrients are able to infiltrate, and on biodiversity, with tons of variety in edible plants and a baseline of abundance.
In keeping with our vision of being off the grid, community-centered, and sustainable, we seek alternative energy to fuel our site. The appropriate technology movement, centered around small-scale and locally autonomous solutions, is what we employ at Terra Alta in order to meet our energy needs in a creative way.
For creating electricity, we harvest sunlight through our solar power station to charge phones among other devices. For heating spaces, we use a rocket stove mass heater bench. To cook food, we use biogas and a fire cob oven.
We also use passive solar food dehydrators and worm compost flushing toilets.
Our social spaces are dynamic and constantly evolving regenerative designs involving PDC students. The goal of each space is to create a relaxing environment befitting its purpose, using natural curves, textures, and colors.
Our main communal structure is the bamboo stardome, the classroom for PDCs. This cozily insulated dome shelters from the cold Sintra nights and is the site of many educational movie nights and greening the desert dances. Outdoors, we have a fire circle--a favourite gathering spot after a day of classes, where music circles often are born, and eating and study areas, comprising different levels and sizes of tables, the community kitchen, and book library.
For relaxation, visitors will find hammocks among the camping area terraces for an afternoon nap under the shade of the protective oak trees. We have also recently built glasshouses (enclosing formerly exposed spaces) using upcycled doors and windows.
Portuguese wine...it’s nothing new, but that’s precisely why we’re doing it. We want to preserve the native knowledge of the Portuguese people by starting our own small scale wine production on our land by the ocean. Salty winds and clay soil are challenging in our climate though we are using a combination of permaculture principles, knowledge of biodynamic farming taught to us by our partners Aphros Wine, and the legacy of famous Colares winegrowers who have been growing on coastal terrain for centuries to grow healthy and tasty grapes. No machines will be involved in our production and we will ferment in clay pots (anphors) like the Romans. We can’t wait to share a bottle with you at one of our farm to table events!