Sunday, February 9, 2014

Summer doldrums (sort of)


Would you like to spend a few months in Brazil this year? Even if you’re not a soccer fan, 2014 promises to be an exciting year to visit the land of Pele, samba, Rio, the old capital with its lovely beaches, and Brasilia, the new capital in the tropical central highlands – which is where we are.

We’re looking for one or two people to live with us for a while and work alongside us on a variety of projects - permaculture, gardening, bio-construction, advanced composting, and working with bamboo. We offer room and board in exchange for a few hours of work a day. You pay your own round trip fare to Brasilia, we pick you up at the airport, show you around, assist you with practical matters, help you learn Portuguese if you wish. If you’d like to know more, please email me at   


February 8, 2014

This entry is long overdue – it’s been two months since my last post. The holidays, health issues, an ongoing video project in Brasilia and the sense that nothing very important was happening here – all contributed to the long silence on the Cerrado Permaculture Blog.

However there is evidence that a lot was going on underground. Trees and vines that seemed to be dormant have sprouted new leaves, branches and tendrils. When I dig down in the garden I find big fat worms.

Passion fruit vine stretching up
New foliage on an orange tree

Loofah plant sending out its tendrils

And the activists’ hunger for justice, here in Brazil, that seemed to have fallen back asleep after a few huge demonstrations last May and June, also shows signs of life, sprouting up here and there, as in the streets of Rio this week to protest a public transportation fare increase. We’re watching anxiously to see whether the anger that is simmering – against endless corruption in the public administration, huge inequalities in the distribution of wealth, and the violence that comes with poverty and the vested interests that feel threatened – we’re watching to see if the simmering will turn to boiling as the World Cup draws closer.

Wasn’t the idea of Olympic Games and other international sporting events to encourage friendship and cultural exchange between nations? To channel the competitive spirit into sports and away from war? What is happening? I won’t try to answer such a momentous issue in this space, but I raise the question because abundance and fairness versus poverty and vested interests give a sense of urgency to our permaculture efforts. We are a part of the world-wide movement seeking for better ways to live – more sustainable, more local, in greater harmony with nature.

A fresh batch of compost
Mustard greens and other veggies planted directly in manure

Loquat tree (front left), castor plant (center), two coffee trees (back)

A hot dry spell here on the Planalto – the Central Brazilian Highlands, where it usually rains steadily from November through March – raises another issue – climate change. The city of  São Paulo – on the Tropic of Capricorn five hundred miles south of us, and at an altitude of 2600 feet versus our 3600 - endured one of the hottest Januaries on the books. News commentary linked the very hot temperatures here in the southern hemisphere with the very cold temps in the northern hemisphere, due to the way the cold air currents from the melting Artic ice cover push the air over the US and to the south in new patterns.

At our higher altitude we haven’t felt the heat as much, daytime highs stay mostly in the 80’s year round, but I know that vast parts of Brazil to the north and east of us are threatened with drought and desertification. To the south and west more rains are forecast for years to come. We’re in between, right smack on the continental divide between the watersheds of the Amazon to the North and the Plata to the South.

Mist rising from the hay in the morning sun

It rained as I wrote, an unexpected and very welcome rain – just over ¼ inch at once. Without the rain the earth bakes in the sun where it’s exposed. But the green of woods, pasture and fruit trees surrounds us. Flowers bloom and fruit ripens. We're still counting our success in very small numbers - a flower here, a ripe tomato there, three green oranges, a dozen green lemons.

Today Sofia and I harvested one of the manioc plants we planted fourteen months ago.
This is the first agroforesty area we planted, on Dec 1, 2012. 

Manioc (cassava, yuca) sauteed with onion, garlic and tumeric