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Six weeks since the new year and our last post and we have been as busy as ever. Last year, I built a new wood shed in the courtyard and flushed with success decided to make another one next to it. This was earmarked to store a few items from the barn to open up a bit of space there. I also got some more gravel to make the courtyard a bit more attractive. Possibly the only advantage of living close to a quarry is that gravel is very cheap – where else could I have got 2 tonnes for 8 Euros?

We’ve also done something we have been planning to do for the last 8 years – we went skiing in the Serra da Estrela! It’s just over 2 hours drive from us and despite there not being much snow, there was enough and the added bonus was that the slopes were almost completely empty.

One of the reasons we love living here is that the countryside is stunning and the misty mornings have made it even more beautiful.

In the photo above you can see a few willows. Jackie has started pruning the one in our garden and made some bird feeders out of the branches. Here is a Great Tit perched on one,  enjoying a treat. Other birds have also been out in force including one of our favourites, the Robin.

As well as pruning the willow, Jackie has been hard at it pruning the plane tree in the courtyard and getting sage advice from one of the hairy ones. The other hairy one, meanwhile, has been hard at it under the orange tree. This is the tree that keeps on giving. I must have made gallons of orange juice so far this winter and there is still more to come.

I’ve also got myself a new toy. I’m not sure what it’s called – a rasper? It’s an attachment to my small angle grinder and acts like a turbo sander. Anyway, it made short work of a piece of olive wood turning it into a small bowl. Watch this space to see how this new hobby develops!

before and after

Although we have had daffodils for a quite a few weeks now it is always great to see the first fruit blossom – and the winner this year is the apricot (I wonder if any of the fruit will manage to reach maturity this time?) and although there have already been some wild irises in the countryside, this is the first one to appear in our garden. Roll on Spring!!


From fires to frosts

From fires to frosts

This year, perhaps even more than most, has been all about the weather. The long, hot, dry spring and summer that caused the horrendous wildfires, the briefest of warm dry autumns and now, in early December, Jack Frost is already nipping at our toes. We’ve had a week of sub zero temperatures and as is usual here, if it’s cold, it means bright blue skies during the day and clear dark skies at night. And no rain. And it makes my daily morning walk with the dogs all the more pleasant.


And especially because the autumn colours are fantastic.

I’ve also been busy with my saw and nails. As soon as I finished the new wood store, I knocked this coffee table together. I’ve also been to a friend’s house and used his wood turning lathe. Maybe something to think about in the future?

They say the hardest part is the waiting, well it was with the cider (4 months in fact) but it’s now ready and it tastes pretty good.


Meanwhile the harvests keep on coming. We’ve still got plenty of quinces on the tree but I have to say both me and Jackie aren’t that keen to make any more quince jellies or crumbles. Especially as the oranges are also now ready for marmalade making. Because we have had so little rain, although there are plenty of them, they are very small and so not really worth juicing.

Latest update: As I type, it seems the drought has been broken – to a certain extent. Storm Ana has passed by and dropped 57mm of rain over the last 24 hours. It’s also taken the leaves off the plane tree in the courtyard. Below is a photo taken a couple of weeks ago and then another taken this morning (with hailstones). We still need plenty more rain though.

So all in all another busy but thoroughly enjoyable year at Casa Azul and plenty of projects planned for next year too. We hope you like the ‘new look’ blog and all there is to do is to wish all our readers a very happy festive season and may your gardens and lives be bountiful in 2018!

Happy solstice and all that stuff!

Happy solstice and all that stuff!

Screen shot 2015-12-22 at 09.38.37As we are both a bit Bah, humbug! about Christmas we like to celebrate the solstice, especially as here we are so much more aware of the sun and her powers. That the days will slowly lengthen lifts our spirits although a sun filled winter so far means we have been far from gloomy. And once again the 21st was a warm, bright day, a nice one to share with friends.

As always it was a home made affair starting with the fruit infused vodka. We had to have one of our chickens of course as Richard has now killed all 14 of the last lot of roasties (although we had a mini ‘cheeky charlie‘ saga as the last one escaped and spent the night in the bramble bushes) so chicken liver pâté was followed by chicken and leek pies. The tree was also a joint effort, Richard dismantling and cutting up an old pallet and me re assembling it into some kind of arboreal shape. Festooned with flashing lights, knitted trees and tinsel it’s certainly something different!

The main activity in the veg patch has been the endless digging over the beds. I’ve been determined to make them as weed free as possible over the winter and then to mulch them so that, come the spring, I’m not doing it all again. So a variety of organic mulches have been used: straw, grass cuttings, cardboard and newspaper as well as our own compost of course. It’s been quite a tiring task (and my back is suffering as a result) but I’m really hoping they’ll be less weedy (ha!), more enriched and better prepared for the scorching summer ahead. There is one main job to be done and that’s sowing the garlic but that, as they say, is for another day.


So it’s just left for us to wish all our readers a happy festive season and of course a peaceful 2016.


Winter arrives at year’s end

Winter arrives at year’s end

We’ve had a much drier and sunnier winter than last year and long may it continue. However the 29th December brought our first frost, followed by another on the 30th resulting in a frozen pond. As you can see it also almost finished off the few remaining leaves of our plane tree which looks transformed from the photos of our last post.tree

Anyway, we hope you had a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all our readers!!


Carnivorous chickens

Carnivorous chickens

Posts have been rather few and far between recently, not because we have been too busy sipping G and Ts on the manicured lawns of Casa Azul but simply because we have been too busy doing other things. One of them, for me was going back to the UK for a couple of weeks. This meant Jackie had to shoulder the burden at home on her own. And now I’m back, my list of things to do has grown exponentially.

So what’s been happening? Well after the wettest winter on record, we’ve had no rain at all in April. This has meant the watering system had to be dusted off, repaired and put back in action. We seem to have bought more trees and shrubs over winter so this means even more watering. The previous rain and the present sun has meant the grass has also taken off, which of course means strim, strim, strim.

Most of the fruit blossom has come and gone but I’m not sure how much fruit we will get. The plum blossom came in the middle of a lot of rain, so I’m not hopeful about that, however the last of the blossom, the apples and pears, was only in the last few weeks during a hot dry spell so hopefully the bees have done their job and fertilised all the flowers. Not our bees of course as they had disappeared (again). However, before they left, they had been very busy, even in winter, and had left loads of honey stores for us. I took the empty hives and left them in the barn over the winter with the honey still in the capped frames. I took the frames back out recently and the honey seemed to be fine so I made use of the hot weather to extract it. We haven’t got any more bees this year but we are hoping to try them again but in a very different place next year to see what happens.

Of course we are still gorging on our home grown pork. We’re going to have a rest from pig rearing this year but I’ve modified the pig house and field for more roasties. As you can see from the before and after pictures below, I needed to rescue the house from the elephant grass first.


We got 11 chicks from the market and they will be ready for the chop in a couple of months. Interestingly the brown ones are supposed to be tastier but the white ones grow huge and fat quicker.


And talking of chickens, what about the title of this blog post? Well last week I heard a load of squawking and clucking from the hen run with the three of them running hither and thither in a frenzy of feathers. One had got a mouse and they were tearing it to pieces!!! Not satisfied with the the occasional snail, they seem to have developed a taste for bigger prey. Jackie is already a bit nervous about entering the run because of the attentions of the well-named ‘Pecky’. What next?

Carnivorous chicken
Carnivorous chicken on the look out for suitable prey


More garden furniture

More garden furniture

No posts for three weeks but we’ve still been busy. Jackie on the veg patch (she will post when she’s finished bottling the tomatoes!) and me with more woodworking projects.

One of these projects was a garden chair. I picked up some tongue and groove floorboards from the local sawmills and this is the result:

I’ve also made a table for the courtyard (the purple colour is Jackie’s idea in order to match the colour scheme of the courtyard which is… purple and blue).

It’s not been all work and no play however. Our Spanish friends Scott and Delia visited and one of the things we did was go swimming in a local river. Of course the hairy ones loved this and Betty learned how to swim!

Mr. Chippy

Mr. Chippy

Fences and gates done, I now moved onto a more demanding task – making a garden bench. I chose the simplest looking design off the web and so it proved not too demanding, although I must admit the measurements I followed made it rather chunky to say the least. It’s certainly not going to collapse but it may need an army of helpers to move it. It’s in the courtyard at the moment which suits us for now as it’s a real suntrap.

I don’t have a proper workbench so the back of the truck had to suffice.


…and here it is – ready to be sanded and painted.


I did need to get a couple of extra toys to complete the job – a sander and also as the wood was so so chunky, an extra long drill bit (seen below).

We’ve had daffodils in the garden for a couple of weeks now and they are being joined by crocuses. Can’t wait for a bit of rain then the rest of the spring flowers.

I had time to renovate the chicken run gates as well!

Bom Ano Novo

Bom Ano Novo

First post of the New Year and we have our first proper frost of the winter. The hens aren’t bothered. In fact after a number of weeks of only three eggs a day, number four hen is back in action and it’s four a day again.

The hairy one is also not bothered about the cold and here she is ears a flappin’!

hairy one at full speed

I’ve been less active however as I started the new year full of a cold. It didn’t stop me from knocking up a couple of birdboxes though.


And also I’m putting a plane tree in the courtyard – it will look good in about 20 years!

Big project for 2012? Operation Porco. Watch this space!

Isso é verão, não é? part 2

Isso é verão, não é? part 2

Well, that’s July come and gone – and what a strange month weather wise: cold sometimes, and grey and then some of those hot, hot days you think should be here all the time. We’ve done very little swimming (a trip to the beach the other day saw us don more clothes as we sat in the sea mist, the crashing waves only just visible) and we had more breakfasts outside in April and May.

And the veg patch? Plodding along slowly, we did manage to sun-dry some more toms in July, and our stanley plums from the tree we planted in 2009, but in fact there’s not a great deal to do now. No sowing, or potting on, or even weeding, just harvesting which is good. But there are fewer squash this year, I think because of the hot spring, and only 4 (but really delicious) melons. The second crop of french beans are doing well but, like last year, not as tasty as the first crop. At the end of the season I’m going to sit down and see what I have learnt from 2 summers here now, and plan for the year ahead.

Richard is doing wonderfully with the roasties, just two left from the original eight. Another roast chicken tonight (with all the trimmings again of course), and what a lot has been learnt from that. Not just raising them, but the killing, plucking, guttering, boning… and now we must find some more chicken recipes too.

Meanwhile, the photo looks a little dull, doesn’t it? Well, today is the 1 August – and it’s raining!


The proof of the pudding…

The proof of the pudding…

…is in the eating. That goes for the chickens too!

From this to this…

And we were particularly smug that everything from the oil, onion and garlic, through all the veg (carrots, parsnips, beetroot, potatoes and sprouts) and of course the chicken itself were all home produce. Just the salt, pepper and cornflour for the gravy were not our own.

We even celebrated with the posh crockery and cutlery

And how did it taste? Well, sitting outside in the sun and stuffing ourselves with this feast was just perfect, and that includes the taste. To be honest I wasn’t sure how I would react to actually eating the chicken having seen it killed, plucked and gutted, but in fact it wasn’t a problem. And as you can see Richard couldn’t wait to tuck in. Pudding also included our own greengages (although we bought the ice-cream!) Mmm