green blue world

Abundant landscapes for people and nature


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Fish farm waste-water treatment plantation

Dave Charley runs a fish farm in Mozambique and got the idea of using the high nutrient run-off to grow a fruit plantation. This is needed because the area doesn’t produce a great variety or volume of fresh produce, and there is a fresh-water lake below the system that needs to be protected from any enriched run-off.

Together we took Dave’s plans for expanding his fish (and cray fish) tanks, and developed a system to grow primarily banana pits along with coconut and date palms (which are hardy to slightly below this latitude).

Each banana pit will have four banana plants and four papayas around the edge.  The mulch pit will be filled with mulch from the nitrogen-fixing hedges we will establish by multiplying out some of the shrubs already on the land, as well from pollarded moringa alleys.  Along the N-fixing hedges will be regular emergent nitrogen fixing trees such as local alibizias and the almost ubiquitously used african Faidherbia albidia (a great acacia often used in agroforestry). If we find the plantation needs more shade, some of these could be interspersed in the banana pit area. They can also be pollarded for mulch. The mulch pit will be planted up with sweet potatoes, and possibly tarot.

Introducing the dragon-fruit banana pit

As a twist on the banana pit, we’re going to experiment with having the bananas and the papayas slightly outside of a cage structure planted up to support dragon fruit – a high value fruit which does well here when it gets a moist and shady spot. We’ll see if we can take the classic banana pit up a notch!

Plastic versus organic mulch

The ‘soil’ is pure sand.  Therefore, we need to increase its nutrient holding capacity.  We’ll plastic-line half the mulch pits (on the left hand half of Trial 1 area) to start with, and leave the other half (on the right hand side of Trial 1 area) relying on thick organic mulches (e.g. coconut husks as well as hedge clippings). When clay can be brought in (there is a supply nearby although the soils are mainly sand), some of the pits can be trialled with clay amendment/lining. It’s our hope that because the pits are getting generously watered with high nutrient fish-waste, and the plantings will be dense, we may be able to stimulate the soil biology enough to transform the sand into something more loamy without needing to line with plastic. If that’s the case, the plastic may in the long run be sub-optimal as it would interrupt the rooting and sub-surface water flows.

Other yields

As well as existing coconut palms there are also mature cashew and marula trees, the latter of which are regenerating in the lower area and can be encouraged as a marula / food-forest / zone 5.

So, it has begun, and the fish waste will soon be fruit.

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Sustainable Tejo Bioregion, Portugal (2014)

Lower reaches of the Tejo catchment (see the creation of lagoons for the EVOA sanctuary, left)

Lower reaches of the Tejo catchment (see the creation of lagoons for the EVOA sanctuary, left)

The Tejo (or Tagus, in English) is Portugal’s biggest river (with its source over the border in Spain). It flows magnificently past the capital, Lisboa, and is in my opinion the reason why Lisbon is ‘the city of light’ – because of the sun reflecting off the river. You hear about the Tejo in many of the area’s traditional fado songs. But biologically, and therefore culturally, the river is a shadow of its former self, as are the lands alongside it.

The Portuguese roads company, BRISA, asked New Next Futures (partners of Green Blue World) and ourselves, to advise upon their existing biodiversity strategy. The company has been funding the creation and management of the Evoa bird sanctuary that is located within the Special Protected Area of the Tejo estuary (near Lisbon). They’ve also been funding projects seeking to demonstrate how agriculture can benefit economically from increased biodiversity: specifically supporting Portuguese NGO, Quercus, in the running of the Tejo International Natural Park, as well as an area managed by Companias das Lazerias, in the Charneca cork-oak savannahs in the Ribatejo.

We spotted the potential to extend these projects into a multi-stakeholder collaboration taking the river Tejo and its catchment hills as the defining aspect of a bioregion. BRISA and its existing partners, as well as collaborators with New Next Futures and Green Blue World, can form the incubating nucleus that welcomes more and more contributors. The opportunity is to demonstrate truly integrated land use that maximises ecosystem services (food production, biodiversity provision, eco-tourism, water capture, carbon sequestration, flood alleviation, etc) throughout the Tejo region, re-wilding the river and its landscapes and re-wilding its people and visitors. ‘Sustainable Tejo’ could become a premium brand identifying sustainable produce (and services) from the area, speeding the transformation from harmful (and struggling) economic activities to activities that look after everything.


Ben and Philo’s water retention landscape, North Portugal (2014)

Benjamim and Philo Fontes have been doing a great job repairing the land on their small farm in Santa Maria da Feira, north Portugal.  Thanks to planting a diversity of trees and allowing others to grow naturally, the land is already recovering from the barren state it was in prior to Ben and Philo taking it on.  They have bigger dreams, though!  The site is blessed with two all-year water inputs (a stream, and a spring emerging in a broken water tank), and one winter only input (a stream occasionally contaminated by a neighbour’s herbicides). We designed a water system for this small quinta to ensure these water inputs do not cause erosion damage but instead provide constant hydration for  Benjamim’s vegetables and Philo’s fruit trees. The design includes the establishment of a permanent water course and development of valuable riparian habitat; distribution of water by swales running off water retention spaces (controllable with swivel pipes); a drip irrigation system; a chicken/crop rotation system with swales; and new yields from ducks/geese, cranberry, vaccinium species, fish, firewood (willow, alder), extended fruit and nut trees, and marsh ledges for rice! The potentially contaminated stream input is treated by a swale planted with wetland plants, and kept separate from the tank which is to be restored and converted into a fish pond (and source of irrigation water).

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Sketches for the Almaa, 2014

In the magical, palace-clad hills of Sintra, The Almaa Sintra Hostel is one of Portugal’s most special places to stay. It’s a creative place, beautifully converting used materials into hand crafted beds, bedding, furniture, sinks – you name it. Owner, Joao Mello, means it when he says they’re an eco-hostel: now they’re restoring a greenhouse in which to propagate local endangered species, and working with Green Blue World on productive and recreational garden spaces.  One area we’re beginning with is next to (and surrounding) the greenhouse; cool and shady it’s more like working in England than Portugal. Almaa staff’s dreams of home-grown tomatoes may be a bit challenged by lack of sun, so we’re putting together some initial options to consider, including: a ‘mirror garden’ from salvaged materials to reflect in maximum sunlight (picture indian mirror mosaics!), or a shade-happy space with climbers festooning the walls (sweet tea vine, hops, hardy kiwi, chocolate vine, caucasian spinach…). We’ll be discussing which to go with!…

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Mirror garden, or shady enclave?

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Work in progress!


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Portugal – Mountain farm (2014)

Advisory trip to a mixed acreage spread over several sites including vegetable gardens, livestock, vineyard, mixed orchard and forestry (pine and eucalyptus).  Initial client focus on vineyard and mixed orchard.  Vineyard has potential to build on existing rotation of vegetables and chickens between high-vine rows, by including rabbits (in tractors if necessary) to improve their welfare and quality.  Mixed orchard has potential to improve condition of soil and trees by altering the acequia irrigation to run on contour and avoid erosion, going organic, introduction of compost tea foliage sprays, tree guilds and alley cropping (e.g. with nitrogen fixers, comfrey, etc) with periodic animal inclusion (i.e. sheep, not goats).

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Portugal – Geres eco-house (2014)

Edible landscaping for an eco-tourism house in the Geres Mountains, including three gardens.  The design pictured (for the back garden) integrates existing trees (citrus, olive, apple, pear, peach) with new plantings (mulberry as centre-piece, wind-breaks, nitrogen fixers, etc) in a food forest structure, with water capture and passive irrigation provided by swales connected to a tap drawing on perpetually available stream water. This garden provides a secluded and protected place to relax (with an outdoor bed!), in contrast to the sun-maximising swimming pool area.

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Portugal – private quinta, nr Sintra (2014, ongoing)

Practical implementation of owner’s plans for soil development and food production on a challenging site based on inland coastal sands.  Key recommendations to enhance the existing system: simple measures to capture and make more efficient use of rainwater (e.g. brush berms, rough mulches, contoured landscaping), production of high quality fungal and bacterial composts for food forest and vegetable production, compost teas, increased presence of nitrogen fixing trees and windbreak species, and avoidance of pollution from recycled construction materials.

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