A Quinta land restoration Project South Western Portugal

Located 8km inland from the Atlantic on the west coast of Portugal and within a national park A Quinta is a young and ambitious land restoration project of some 132 hectares of rolling hilly grasslands, forests and lakes. It is run by Ferry Elsinga and Francine  Burghoorn who are in the process of moving here from Holland having run a successful seed business there.


Tea in the mulched veg garden


The dirt track in.


The van in the landscape

The big idea with this project is to regenerate the land using  keyline and rotational grazing. Keyline is a method developed by PA Yeomans in Australia and is use for retaining water within the soil thus allowing increased biological activity, fertility and increased soil depths over time .It is used especially in dryer climates not so steeply sloped so as to use terracing and is an alternative to swales ( ditch on contour) but where retention of water in the soil is critical to prevent erosion and degredation. Yeomans and his sons developed a special type of subsoiler plough with a very flat shank of 8% which is used at the depth of the hardpan created by conventional plowing methods over the years. The keyline is done on contour creating a series of underground channel which penetrate the pan and allow the water to penetrate. This greatly slows down the rate of rainwater run off after a downpour. The keyline channels can be flooded using sluices and channels when needed. Francine showed us where  water can be seen pissing out of the soil profile above the level of the hardpan. They will have to repeat the process twice for it to be effective. The soil is not turned as such so the soil structure is maintained. Its like lots and lots of mini underground swales.


Soil profile at La Quinta

The second part of the plan is to use rotational grazing as developed by Allan savory. Animals are bunched and moved in a controlled manner as they do in a natural migration. They intensly feed on a small area ,intensly shit in a small area then they move on to look for fresh grass. The grass is then given a chance to regrow after being fertilised by the herd. While we were at the farm one of the jobs we did was moving a mixed herd of sheep and goats to new patches of ground that were being converted to pasture. The goats will eat young thistles and brambles and all manner of herbs. Over time these plants will give way to the grasses.We were using light weight portable electric fences to quickly make new enclosures. Below the sheep and goats are grazing below some orange trees.


Francine is a fantastic host, we were well fed with the wwoofers taking turns to cook. She was very generous with her time and allows you to choose what you feel inspired to contibute. We spent the first afternoon walking the land to look at the ponds, springs, pastures and woodlands and discussing what they are trying to do and how they are in the process of testing ideas for how to inplement keyline and rotational grazing here. Their main business is going to rely on the sale of beef.

The land is fortunate to have a large water catchment area and there are a series of existing ponds. There is running water throughout the year and a natural spring also.


Below is a picture of one of the grassland valleys that has been over grazed and suffers from compaction and hardpan. Dock and Ragwort were growing here. It has a gentle bowl shape. Keyline will be used here.


Grassland valley

They have recently dug a large pond at a keypoint high up on the farm. This is lined with clay and fills after heavy rains.The man on the digger (who worked in Dubai on the palms) being creative made a palm shaped edge!


To help keep the house cool in summer they have made a water channel in the floor.


There were 7 wwoofers, the family and a few builders knocking about with all manner of projects happening. One of the things needed was a small pond in the garden that could be emptied and used for irrigation. A dug pond wouldn’t work as this would then be lower than the vegetable beds so I came up with a daft idea of building it above the surrounding  ground level made from stones collected from the land. This could then be covered with soil and lined with clay taken from the upper pond. A 38mm pipe was put in place which would be kept above the waterline to prevent silting. This could be lowered when it needed draining. Our backup plan was to use a liner but we wanted to try it without that first. They were looking into getting ducks for slugging in the garden and the pond would be for them to splash around in. There was a more natural place for a pond just below the vegetable garden where water was collecting with rushes growing but this area was earmarked as the site for a geodesic aquaponics setup.


Other projects included a large multi level tree house and a 20 bird mobile chicken house.


The tree house up a cork tree

The tree house was a fairly fancy job designed in such a way that there were no fixings to the tree,it had evolved into a multi-level place where one of the wwoofers slept.



A nice detail where the cork and roof meet.  Below a pic taken from the balcony.


The house is off grid with compost toilets, pv and solar to generate power and hot water.


A traditional rammed earth cottage awaiting restoration

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We were very fortunate to have come to this young project.



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