Home | BotGarden | Nº 134 – Something that’s more important than money.
A first-hand report by Uwe Heitkamp

Nº 134 – Something that’s more important than money.
A first-hand report by Uwe Heitkamp

A first-hand report by Uwe Heitkamp

Saturday 17th September 2022.

Less is more. The particular, the fact of having less water available presumably spells more thirst.

In times of climate crisis, living with this and managing this resource is turning in to an art form and an exercise in humility. All summer long, every evening I’d provide hundreds of trees with water. There is a deeper meaning behind this. The regreening of my little world is something close to my heart. Now the source of the brook on my property fell dry in the early summer. If it wasn’t for the municipal water I could say goodbye to the Forest Garden. We are in Year Four following the latest forest fire. It’s high time that we humans develop methods to manage water more mindfully and to seed water in the soil, matched with an unbending determination to prevent forest fires.

News from the forest universe: for the past twelve years I’ve been producing electricity using 40 solar panels and two tracking systems standing on a clearing. The money I earn with my clean energy I now use to buy water from the municipality to water my trees and gardens. This is a vital help, every evening, for all trees in times of drought and heat. For when it rains less and following more irregular patterns, summers become ever hotter and longer, winters get shorter, and groundwater levels keep sinking, the trees have less and less water. The heatwaves are accompanied by rising temperatures. We need to break this vicious circle.

The challenge we face is a future with a lot less water and higher temperatures. Water is everything and without water there is nothing. And the forest is my ally here. Water evaporating above any forest creates clouds. The tree needs my CO2 and I need its oxygen, and its water of course too, which I’ll give back to it in times of crisis. It’s an eternal give and take. How will the situation pan out? This is something we have to prepare for, in a sustainable way, and take a good hard look at a life with ever less water. Unless we turn things around, planting mixed forests once again, greening the universe of the burnt and destroyed soils. We will make it if we replant the burnt surfaces with forests that retain the water long-term in the soil (acting like sponges), allowing the groundwater reserves to rise again, slowly. Trees able to regulate the hydrological balance are autochthonous trees, humid forests with a wealth of different native trees, instead of monocultures and invasive species of trees. Here in Portugal these are plants we meet every day: any kind of oak, depending on soil quality umbrella pines, too, depending on the (micro)climate chestnuts und walnut trees, and anything with leaves for photosynthesis: elms, elders and ash trees lining the brooks, mulberry trees, fig, olive and carob cultures anywhere in southern Portugal. So we’d like to prevent desertification? For this we’ll have to be agile, mentally, but most of all bodily.

It’s mid-September now. Thank God it’s raining for the first time after so many months of drought. It’s not only the risk of forest fires that is diminished by this rain. We mustn’t allow this rainwater to run off, we have to retain it. This starts with gutters on the houses to let the water flowing from there fill a cistern, and once that one is full an overflow system guides the rainwater into a second cistern, and from there into a third, and so on. Most houses in Portugal have no gutter system. The rainwater from the roofs serves the nature of our gardens in the dry hot summers. The water in my three cisterns is sacred to me. I use very little of it for irrigation of the young Botanic Garden of Caldas de Monchique – no, I will use most of it to diminish the risk during the next forest fire to avoid all young trees burning once more. So I use this water for the prevention of forest fires, and my newly installed sprinkler system should in principle moisten all trees and shrubs before a fire can destroy them again.

What we also have to consider, and actively support. is for the rainwater to replenish the groundwater reserves, trickling into the soil. Which is why I’m restoring terraces, building terraces the way our ancestors did in the Monchique mountains. This is a difficult and hard task, but has the advantage that he rainwater no longer runs off down the slope to the nearest brook and from there into the sea eventually, but instead percolates into the terrace. And it’s into this very soil that I’m planting trees that can withstand the hot climate. Yesterday a permaculture teacher gifted me five drought-resistant casuarina trees that won’t need irrigating all summer long. Alongside those I’m planting figs, medronheiro wild tree strawberry and olive trees – plants that also need very little water in times of drought, but retain humidity in the soil thanks to their roots. Often, these kind of trees are fire-resistant even.

ECO 123 and the Botanic Forest Garden are looked after by Esgravatadouro – Cooperativa do Ambiente CRL. Should you be interested in sponsoring a tree or in becoming a member of the cooperative talk to us directly: editor@eco123.info. We will help you weather the climate crisis, with information and plenty of inspiring tips on sustainability. Consider registering today for our weekend workshop „How to build a sprinkler system to secure my house and woodland from forest fires“… This workshop will take place across two days in November in Caldas de Monchique.

Uwe Heitkamp (62)

trained TV journalist, book author and hobby botanist, father of two grown-up children, knows Portugal for 30 years, founder of ECO123. Translations Dina Adão, John Elliot, Rudolfo Martins, Kathleen Becker
Photos:Uwe Heitkamp

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