Tuesday, 29 January 2013

The Levada walk!



When we walked the mountain slopes of Funchal we were able to inspect terraced vegetable plots. With the reduced economic climate here, many overgrown or abandoned plots are being reclaimed. Some of the terraces are on very precarious slopes! 
By no means non-diggers, the local gardeners and growers continuously grow plants, albeit most of them weeds. With the soil so minimally disturbed to sow seeds or plant vegetables, it is seen to be black with organic matter and has naturally-aggregated crumbs. 


Complete ground cover of sweet potatoes interplanted with brassicas

...Two days later
Today we have been on a bus ride around the island. We have examined the true nature of the vegetable plots and small farms (there is barely any difference between them). Every manner of cultivation technique can be seen, some good, some bad! There is even evidence of ample use of that wretched soil destructor, the rotavator. I think it must have been the wine and the poncha that made me sentimental about the rural idyl described above! What I took as inspired soil management was just a lazy gardener.

In just this last week, there has been greatly increased activity on the vegetable plots here. Sowing and planting is in full swing. The only difference to us at home is that here you can more readily take multiple crops of exotic vegetables, such as sweet potatoes and yams, and grow them all year round. They also have a very interesting water supply…



…Levada walks
Almost unique to Madeira, levada canals criss-cross the island to distribute water from the mountains and wetter places. Introduced by the Portuguese in the sixteenth century, the ones used today are concrete channels that cling to the hillsides as they bring water down to ground level. Usually the gradient is small and the paths alongside them have created beautiful walks through the mountain countryside. The island boasts 250 levadas, total length 1350 miles, of which 23 miles tunnel under the mountains. Some run alongside perilous slopes! Apparently the levada-man is a very important figure in local society. You have to be very nice to him to ensure your year-round water supply! A typical ‘deal’ for a larger grower or a hotel, is to take water to their private tank every two weeks for a period of perhaps 15 minutes. I am not sure about small local gardeners, perhaps they just dunk out water in their watering can? (I think not!).


We are home now






14 comments:

  1. What fantastic photos and unusual. Thanks for stopping by. I actually answered you on my blog because my email notification of your post didn't give me an address to email but I'll tell you hear. Yes most likely my mulch hides slugs. :) When out late at night I have a vinegar water bottle that I use to spray any I can find. Following you also.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

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    1. Thanks Cher-please excuse us everyone for a private conversation- I asked Cher on her blog how she managed slugs on her fantastic hosta

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  2. Oops - we use a tiller. No doubt you'll disagree but before we started to use in we couldn't sow seeds direct or plant into clay soil that we either too soggy of rock hard.

    With five plots it would be difficult to mulch everywhere but last year we have sown green manure in some beds.

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    1. I tend to be rather dogmatic about my belief in minimal cultivations!
      You come from the same school as my brother in law, Dave, who has disagreed with me for the past thirty years. He recently bought another of the wretched things for his clay. I hope to persuade you in due course that clay soils benefit the most from minimum cultivations. Go to some organic sites like Charles Dowding and see how his followers enthuse about not digging!
      The beauty of gardening is many different methods all work!

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  3. It's interesting to note that the only other place I know of that has evidence (mostly in ruins now) of very similar levadas, is on the Zimbabwe/Mozambique border. That highland area is called Nyanga and is very mountainous and wet. Perhaps with Mozambique being an ex Portuguese colony, these levadas are not so surprising.

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  4. Thats fascinating Cathi. I love reading the supplementary information folk add to the blog.

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  5. I think I've been to most of the places in your photos Roger.I'm always fascinated by what they grow on Madeira and how/where they grow it.There seems to be lots of companion planting.
    It's good to witness some of the older folk using traditional hand tools such as the azada ( or more correctly "enxada" in Portuguese) digging hoe on the many plots which the rotavator can't access.
    While they presumably practice some form of crop rotation, they seem to grow brassica around the edge of the same plots every year.

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    1. That IS interesting Shinny. In Zimbabwe they have a tool, the exact same wide bladed digging hoe, called a Badza in the local language. It can only have come from the Portuguese!

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    2. Hi Shinny. We had a guide on our first walk, he was quite a character and he retuned home with a large bag of sprouting shoots from a friend's brassica plants.(we assumed a friend!) They really looked delicious! The brassicas all looked very healthy despite lack of rotation. I cannot find any reliable references on the net whether clubroot is found on the island. We learnt that the rocks of Madeira are volcanic basalts which tend to give acid soils which we do not associate with brassicas.

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  6. Hi, If you went to the Sultanate of Oman you would find similar water channels called 'Falaj' bringing water from water sources to the palm plantations and villages. Some of the water is from springs or wadis, and some of it comes from very ancient channels dug deep under the surface where ground water accumulates. No-one seems to know how old they are. Here too the system is overseen by a 'warden' and time of water allowance is very strict. The channels are often blocked with just a ball of cloth. I'm not sure how they divide it up, but it depends on family and land I think. Interestingly, in all the heat there, you find tadpoles and weeny frogs in the falaj, which seems completely incongruous. I find it fascinating how methods in agriculture are mirrored in different parts of the world. It really makes you think about the history of mankind and his progress!

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    1. I've heard of these Jane - apparently they irrigate over half of Oman's farmland and many run underground for miles. It's fascinating that they are so old, I read somewhere that they are even recorded as early as 700BC and that, today, it is still part of a traditional Omani greeting to ask after the aflaj.

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    2. Thanks Cathi and Jane for all this. I am glad I qualified myself when I described Madeira levadas as almost unique!

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    3. @Roger - I thought Oman was unique, so we're in the same boat! I can only repeat that things seem to replicate themselves in the strangest places. Another shocker in Oman was seeing a dancing group at the Muscat Festival, who had a 'mascot' man riding a papier mache horse. My brother is a Morris Man and his side have a badger mascot. Perhaps the legend of 'Morris' coming from 'Moorish' is not so far-fetched after all? The world is a wonderful place.

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  7. A really nice gardening blog! - Keep us up to date on what is happening on your Garden Blog
    It would be great to see you over at the Blooming Gardening Blogs Community.
    http://www.bloomingblogs.com/apply-to-join-blooming-blogs/

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