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Old Technology, New Life

We are very happy to have an article published in Permaculture magazine about the miraculous ram pump that is the heartbeat of our Quinta da Mizarela. However, the last two paragraphs, that describe the wider context of our Project (and in our opinion were the most interesting part!) were edited out. So here is the full version if you would like to read it…

If you are in Portugal and want to buy a ram pump contact a very nice fellow called Manuel at Servindus

Our permaculture adventure in the mountains of Central Portugal began when we entered a magical secluded valley above a gorge of breathtaking waterfalls and came upon the slate ruins of the abandoned farm of Quinta da Mizarela…

The Quinta as we first saw it

The Quinta as we first saw it

Rapt in silent awe, my wife Cynthia and I were both overwhelmed for we both knew that we had found the place to manifest our vision of a permaculture project dedicated to sustainability and conscious evolution. The stream sang with the sound of clean water, seven slate ruins of various sizes peered from the overgrowth, a flat valley floor covered in a sea of brambles promised a perfect garden area, plus there were several terraces with vines, olive trees and ample woodland.

We then spent a few months getting to know the very friendly owners and other local folk in the local village café and finally, one miraculous day with a handshake and tears in their eyes, they agreed to sell it to us. They were very happy that we wanted to revive the farm that had been long abandoned since the exodus to the cities decimated the rural economy. They told us stories of working the fields in their youth and the depth of their love for the land was profoundly moving to behold. We felt privileged to be taking over custodianship of the quinta and so happy to be doing that while being so welcomed and embraced by the local people

So we soon ensconced ourselves in a Mongolian yurt and set about clearing the land and renovating our house-to-be. Our house-to-be and all the other buildings were perched above the terraces on the mountainside. The inhabitants of long ago did not have running water in their buildings but had to retrieve water from a system of irrigation channels on the terraces below. So our first big challenge was figuring out how to get the fresh clean water from the stream in the valley floor up to a tank we were building up above so that we could gravity feed the buildings and provide irrigation for the gardens in the hot summer months. First of all we thought that a solar pump would be the answer but when we looked at the location of the stream a bit more closely it became clear that there would not be enough hours of sunlight to make this a reliable option. We were determined not to use a fossil fuel guzzling pump and were not sure what to do next…

Cynthia & Pete in true pioneering spirit!

Cynthia & Pete in true pioneering spirit!

Then a friend of ours called Glen, on hearing our predicament, told us about a truly amazing invention, which we had never heard of, called a ram pump. Invented in 1776, the original cast iron ram pump was, he told us, still being manufactured by the original company named Green & Carter. We visited their headquarters in an obscure Somerset hamlet to find out more. There we met Charles, a tall gentleman with an irrepressible passion for ram pumps, who explained to us how they could pump water uphill non-stop fuelled only the pressure of the water. We learned that the ram is ideal for remote locations and due to having no metal moving parts it requires very little maintenance and can cope with some degree of debris in the water. This all sounded too good to be true but the moment we were really sold was when he showed us rams on his property that had been diligently pumping away for over a 150 years and told us that Green & Carter guaranteed them literally forever!

The ram from above with valve taken off

The ram from above with valve taken off

Knowing that the ram pump was to be the piece of infrastructure that was going to make our whole adventure in sustainable living possible we eagerly headed back to the quinta to investigate the terrain more carefully. First of all we had to figure out if we had enough of a head of water to drive the pump. We ran a pipe from upstream and found a spot where we had a drop of 6 metres to a flat area next to the downstream below. This looked like the perfect place for the pump as the excess water could be channeled right back into the stream. But would the head of water be enough to enable the ram to pump water up 70 metres over a distance of 250 metres? After a few emails back and forth Charles told us it should work perfectly with the smallest one they produced.

Catchpit to collect water piped from upstream

Catchpit to collect water piped from upstream

So a few weeks later myself and a more muscle bound friend carried the 40 kilos of cast iron ram pump down into the valley. Following detailed instructions from Green & Carter, a catch pit was built and a steel drive pipe installed from the catch pit to the pump. The water being piped from the stream would enter the catch pit and provide the necessary head to the drive pipe to power the valve action in the pump. Then we installed 200m of tubing for the “rising main” to carry the water to the header tank above the buildings on the mountainside.

Ram with drivepipe and rising main connected

Ram with drivepipe and rising main connected

With all these components in place the time came to turn on the water and start the pump. After a few failed attempts and a few adjustments, the valve action of the ram eventually kicked in and, lo and behold, it thudded into perpetual motion! I shouted a triumphant and ecstatic YES! and headed up to the 10,000 litre tank above and gleefully watched water filling it from the rising main. The next morning the tank was full and overflowing, now the project had a functioning water cycle and a beating heart!

YES! Water filling our 10,000 litre tank from the rising main

YES! Water filling our 10,000 litre tank from the rising main

The biggest beneficiaries of the ram pump besides us are the gardens and fruit trees. Over the last two years we have created beautiful abundant vegetable gardens using permaculture principles and planted over 50 fruit trees from apples and pears to almonds and persimmons. Last spring, Mim one of the 4 other people who have joined us on the project over the last year, researched and installed a wonderful drip irrigation system which provides a steady consistent flow of water that is essential for optimum growing during the very hot summer months. The consistent action of the ram pump means that we can use over half a tank of water (5000 litres) everyday to irrigate and the tank will be topped up again by the next morning. The considerable drop into the valley from the tank above provides ample water pressure to irrigate many raised beds and fruit trees on the lower terraces and valley floor. So although the water yield from the ram pump is relatively low compared to a fossil fuel pump it works perfectly with the drip system which is most efficient form of irrigation for this climate. We are looking forward to an even more abundant harvest this year.

Drip irrigation fed by the ram pump

Drip irrigation fed by the ram pump

As the Awakened Life Project flourishes it is striking a chord with many people who discover us. We have so many volunteers wanting to come that we cannot yet accommodate them all and so now we are focusing on ways to raise funds to renovate another building. Some who came fell in love with the place, the vision, and the depth of trust, communion and purpose they have discovered here, and so Adam, Mim, Laura, Annelieke and Glen are now co-creating the project along with us…and the chickens, donkeys, dogs and cats and bees!

Our shared commitment to living a perma – culture in the widest and deepest sense gives the project its depth and vitality and sense of ongoing discovery. We recognize that external sustainable solutions and living in harmony with nature are not enough and that we have to evolve our interiors to truly create a sustainable human culture that addresses the cause, and not just the symptoms, of our current crisis. So we embrace the evolutionary challenge of our moment by endeavoring to live in alignment with the truth of unity and by reaching for the highest creative expression we are capable of. This brings us together in a powerful shared cultural context that transcends and includes our individuality. We find ourselves living with such trust, wonder and positive inspiration that we have been moved to create courses and events to share our adventure, and so now we are connecting with many Portuguese who are inspired by our vision and ideals. There is a growing interest in new sustainable pathways amongst young people here in a culture that still has a strong rural tradition and community spirit, and it is so fulfilling to be giving back to this beautiful country in which we have chosen to live.

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As the Awakened Life Project gathers energy in elemental embrace above the gorge of cascading waterfalls and under the mountain peak, we feel the echoing presence of the past and the surging pull of the future shaping our shared adventure. We are forever humbled by the awe-inspiring labour of past generations who patiently laid slate stone upon stone to create the contours of the Quinta we have inherited, and we feel the uncontainable call of a bright post-industrial, post-post-modern future – a future in which we embrace earth, come together as one and reach for the stars…and a remarkable piece of technology built back in 1776 is making it all possible!

The Quinta today with white water tank on top right

The Quinta today with white water tank on top right

4 Comments

  1. Manuel Poças says:

    Good article,

    Hope to continue helping you to keep the ram alive, and your great project.

    Best regards,

    Manuel Poças

  2. Keira says:

    Hi Awakened People,

    Just want to say what an inspiration it is to follow the progress from every angle over all these years.

    Blessings!

  3. Sean Stodel says:

    An amazing PUMP.We have recently aquired a farm in the Tankwa Karoo region in South Africa with roughly 12km of river frontage and have the same kind of vision with regards to sustainability.The difference is that there is absolutely no infrastructure and the land has been owned by the same family since 1876! We have just had a 6km road built and asolar pump installed on one of our 3 boreholes.We will now definately look into a ram pump down at the river.It is a distance of 180m with a head of about 50m.Great project and will be following more closely from now on.
    Greetings from
    Sean and family

  4. Joanna says:

    Great to hear tales of your triumphant and practical success’s, in this case, now, the abundant agua from the ram pump at La Quinta onto the flourishing garden. Lovely to see the pictures – ahhh, those beautiful waterfalls!

    Joanna 🙂

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