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Learning Permaculture – Perceiving the Dream of the Landscape and Healing the Earth on the basis of the practical example of Tamera

Two-Year-Training with Sepp Holzer

The Austrian Mountain Farmer Sepp Holzer has incomparable knowledge in creating and designing healthy, self-sustainable biotopes in cooperation with nature. His talent is based on knowledge that he has been acquiring ever since he was a child through observation, through daily experience, through and trial and error. Is there a way to learn from such a “natural talent“?

Yes, there is: We learn from him by accompanying him, listening to him and above all working with him in the daily challenges of nature.. This opportunity is offered by Tamera's Holzer´s Permaculture seminars. 

Water is life. The truth that lies in this statement has become visible in the daily life of Tamera during the last two years. Ever since the ecology team started to built the water landscape in cooperation with Sepp Holzer, life has been coming back. Animals and plants are growing well in the new biotopes around and in the water and people perk up. Bare, over-grazed pastures, erosion, burned forests,dying trees, agricultural mono-cultures and abandoned villages bear witness of the process of devastation of the landscape. In Tamera, however, the dream of the landscape, almost completely lostin Portugal, is coming back to life. 

The Permaculture-water landscape of Tamera is the conscious attempt to reactivate the original dream of the landscape and to start a new cooperation with nature: The goal is a landscape which produces a large variety and abundance of fresh and healthy food for humans and animals, richness of species, an intact water household and a variety of self-sustainable biotopes. 

For two and a half years the ecology team of Tamera has been working on this project, supported by the continuous advice and instruction of Sepp Holzer. At the same time the project is and has been an opportunity for seminar participants from all over the world to learn the practical approach and the way of thinking of Sepp Holzer in the course of the different seasons based on the practical example of Tamera. With the skills they acquire they become capable of designing fertile biotopes and healing nature in their own surroundings. What allies the participants is not only the wish to create an ecologically healthy surrounding and an economic base for themselves; beyond that they also follow the plan to contribute to the healing of the earth by building Permaculture models all over the planet. Such models and bases of a renewed friendship and cooperation between humans and nature are capable ofsending an impulse for the healing and the regeneration of the whole planet.


The cooperation between Sepp Holzer and Tamera started in spring 2007. It was during his first visit that the vision for the water landscape arose. For Sepp Holzer drought is not a phenomenon of nature but the result of years-long wrong action. According to his experience every place is capable of producing enough and healthy food for its inhabitants. 

In a region where all the annual rainfall comes down in less than six months, the water must be retained for a longer time – by building water retention spaces. “But no brown holes or concrete basins“, as Holzer emphasises, but lakes and ponds that look natural, with flat and steep, and sunny and shady shore areas, with varying depths and terraces where plants and animals find their optimal living conditions. Sepp Holzer: “When it looks natural it is done well.”

Learning in Ordinary Time – Reading the book of Nature 

Constructing Tamara’s water landscape includes the most various jobs for the building of biotopes, starting with the preparation of the ground, working the soil, seeding, and planting of vegetables and trees in mixed cultures, seed production etc., extending to how to deal with domestic and wild animals. 

The water retention spaces constitute the foundation for further biotope building. All the decisive construction phases were and are scheduled to take place during the seminars in a way that seminar participants can study all elements/issues directly in practice: The new design of the so-called valley-garden, the development of water and shore landscapes, the aqua culture, terrace and mountain bed building destined to produce food for several hundred people.

In summer 2008 the planning for the valley garden started. The space had been dedicated to cultivating vegetables and was considered a problem area: The actually very fertile marsh/wetland, frequently used to be so wet and heavy until late spring that working the soil was hardly possible. The appproximately two hectares surface had been waiting for an all-over new design which would rectify the water household and make use of the good soil in appropriate manner.

Planning a complex formation like a water landscape involves all levels and all of our senses. First and foremost we need to perceive the dream of the landscape. Then this dream wants to be brought into harmony with the dream of the people. To “read the book of Nature” as Sepp Holzer says, intuition, dreaming, exchange in conversations and many walks through nature were necessary. Form finding sketches and technical drawings were elaborated which took all the known data into consideration: The expected amount of water, wind direction(s), sun radiation, the machine-workable necessary width of the terraces, the paths or ways, as well as the irrigation system for the beds.

Preparing a Terrain for Biotope Building

After the planing phase the preparation of the site began. In Tamera this includes informing the world of the animals: There are rituals and ceremonies being used to tell the animals what is going to happen. This way, they have the chance to move on to new homes or living spaces in time. All living beings do have a soul, which is why informing the animals that live in a biotope is part of our peace work with nature. When they get the complete information they are usually very receptive and willing to cooperate and support the projects of the human beings. 

Before the excavator comes the existing vegetation – blackberry bushes and trees – are taken away or moved to other places. The layers of the soil being dug out cannot be mixed. The fertile top layer/soil is thoroughly put aside and used to cover the latter cultivation areas. The wet loam layer can be used for building, in this case also for the dam building. In the kernel of the dam a layer of wet loam, up to five metres thick, is in-built, ensuring that no water will seep through.

To cover the bottom of the water retention with foil or concrete are methods which are not only dispensable but even harmful as in the course of the years the water is meant to seep in through the comprised/densified soil very slowly thus recreating the fertility of an ever wider surrounding area.

A natural/nature-like shaping of the water basins supports the water in its natural way of movement, and thus its self-cleansing activity. Varying deep zones serve as home spaces of different kinds of fish and plants. Big rocks at the shore and in the water are not only an element of design, they are also a useful heat storage and increase the effect of the warm-cold water-exchange movement. All this requires the attentive eye and the empathy of the gardener as each biotope has its own answers, and each problem its specific solution.

Planting, Seeding, Building Beds


Once the dam is built the shaping of the terraces and the construction of the mountain beds starts. Raised beds combine several big advantages: Being a an element of design in a vegetable garden they offer a bigger surface with varying micro climate zones. When the organic material they are built of rots, heat is produced, as well as natural fertiliser and oxygen, and particularly during the wet and cold seasons the cultivation period, and the productivity can be considerably extended with these beds. A raised bed belongs to the “basic equipment” of Holzer's Permaculture, as it is a fundamental element for the cultivation of all kinds of vegetable in almost any climate. Negative experience that some people may have had with raised beds are almost always caused by mistakes that were made when building them. Due to this it has been beneficialfor all participants to build mountain or raised beds together with Sepp Holzer.

Planting and seeding of fruit and vegetables is part of all seminars in all seasons. We installed a fruit tree nursery with species from which seeds were grown: This way, naturally resistant and vital Unterlagen for trees are grown. As such kind of Unterlagen for grafted fruit trees are hardly available in the market any more the installation of an appropriate tree nursery is an important part of a comprehensive Permaculture project.

One whole seminar was dedicated to the issue of seed production – in this time of globalisation an extremely crucial political issue. In time where one can almost only buy the patented seeds of multinational companies, which grow only when using chemical fertiliser and pesticides, seed production autonomy is an alternative to the industrialisation of agriculture. Producing one’s own seeds is a work of art which is definitely worthwhile: From such seeds resistant plants grow which are well adjusted to the regional climate and soil, while the diversity of old crop and other plants is maintained as well.

“The strongest plants from the poorest soil produce the most valuable seeds”, says Sepp Holzer. During the seminars participants learn to collect, treat, dry and store the seeds in the right way.

“Better together than alone.” This saying of Sepp Holzer shows us the right direction: Mixed cultures are the basis of his cultivation. Composing the right, mutually supporting mixes requires a huge knowledge. Seeding itself can become a piece of active vision building: Those who see the future mixed cultures with their inner eye already when seeding automatically seed right.

Balance and Variety in and around the Water

Aquacultures are an ecologically necessary and economically rewarding expansion of “normal” gardening. Fish, crab, water and shore plants are an essential part of the ecological equilibrium, and many of them are a marketable, interesting and exceptional merchandise, such as the water lilies – or else they directly serve as food for humans or animals.

What does that mean – creating a balance? Fish, for example, are an important part of a water biotope also when you don't fish. The goal is to create a balance between predatory and non-predatory fish. Shore plants and the varying water depth offer shelter where the non-predatory fish can protect some of their breed from the predatory fish.

The water landscape creates the preconditions for the upcoming tasks of Permaculture – the development of forest, and seminar attendants will also have the opportunity to fully participate and learn here. In the Alentejo region, where cork oaks are dying, the forestthat will be built will not be a monoculture but a mixed culture. In Permaculture, forests too include the possibilityoffood production: Fruit, mushrooms, even potatoes and grain. 

Soon, almost indispensable “co-workers” for the reforestation will be “employed”: pigs. Their natural task is to do what they love to do most: to dig through the ground of the forest and to open the soil while fertilising it at the same time. A huge variety of seeds can be seeded into the loosened soil – helper plants, trees, and others.

The most important “co-workers” of the farmer in the world of insects are the bees, and this not only for the honey they produce, but also for their cooperation in fruit building: As opposed to other insects they fly to individual flowers until all the nectar is harvested and the flowers are pollenised. 

In Sepp Holzer's seminars, people regularly also learn through the situations that nature brings about. Thus the abundance of snails and snakes did not result in an ever more intensive elimination. Instead, people reflected on what was still missing for the balance of the biotope. In this case ducks and geese were added. Balance-building in a biotope is an open experiment of investigation and research including also wild and domestic animals. This kind of work will be continued during the seminars of the coming year. One thing one can be sure of: In the way of thinking of Holzer's Permaculture there will always appear novel and creative answers that enrich the biotope, thus stabilising it. For it is always diversity that makes a biotope stable.

If you are interested in participating, you are warmly welcome in the individual seminars as well as the whole one-year-training-cycle with Sepp Holzer. We also offer guided tours several times each year where you can get an impression of water landscape directly.


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