It’s been one of our busiest months, not just in the garden or veg patch but around the house too. I’m sure we thought that, once we had been in the house for seven years, we wouldn’t have much to do. But with the new wall this has meant painting, re-organising the rooms, moving stuff from one place to another (my old office is now Richard’s ‘man cave’), putting up shelves, painting, putting up new lighting, buying a new sofa and, yes, painting. I still need a desk of some sort for the main computer. I’m perched on a stool under the stairs at the mo.
The courtyard too has had a face lift. We had painted the lower part of the walls a solid blue which faded, so we did it again and that faded. Last year we went to a paint shop and asked for advice: this meant us buying special fixative first which is applied to a cleaned wall. And then expensive exterior paint, two coats. So yet more cleaning and painting. Urrgh. I have to say I don’t want to see another paint brush again for a long time. Alas all the walls, I am reluctant to say, need their second coat and I have lost enthusiasm. Anyway, it all looks a lot nicer and pics are to follow.
Meanwhile April has not been behaving itself. The nightingales are here, the colourful orchids and wild flowers are appearing but the showers, or any real rain, have yet to come. It’s been very dry. Dry and hot. The lack of rain has meant watering the garden and veg patch (we haven’t had the wood burning stove on all month). Despite the drought we are drowning in peas and broad beans and have just had the last of the asparagus and beetroot. The veg patch has seen far too many bugs already, especially aphids. There are ladybirds (didn’t see a single one last year) but these are too few and too late. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the slugs and snails have kept away; they love the wet weather (and our many frogs have very beady eyes). Strong winds and ants have meant most of the broccoli and cauliflower have failed. On a more positive note three different kinds of runner beans are running up their poles, gherkins and cucumbers are showing signs of flowers, and there are courgettes in too. The sweetcorn are doing well. All the other seedlings have now been potted on and these will all be planted over the next few weeks of May; the game of putting all the plants away at night into the polytunnel and then back out again in the morning has begun.
We have a new set of ‘roasties’, this time 3 ducks, 5 white chickens and 2 brown ones. Which reminds me: the highlight of Richard’s month has been the purchase of a chicken plucker. Expensive? Yes. Worth the money? You bet. Half an hour of plucking has been reduced to a cool 10 seconds. One happy Richard.
We say in our introduction that Casa Azul is now restored. Well, although the major restoration was done some time ago now, there are still things here and there being fiddled with. After a freezing January we were reminded yet again that the living room could be cozier. It’s definitely a summer house, lovely and cool during those blistering temperatures. We’re fairly hardy, have to be I suppose with the dogs trooping in and out leaving all the doors open, (and we firmly believe in putting on an extra jumper if it’s chilly) but there is often a draught when the fire’s blazing caused by the spiral staircase and its hole in the ceiling. So we have at last done something about that and now we have a new wall which divides half of the living room, effectively separating Richard’s study area and the sofa bit. It looks a bit dark now but once plastered and painted will be warm and snug. Someone hasn’t even noticed the workmen plodding in and out:
Meanwhile, it’s been a mild February. Plenty of weeding has been done in the veg patch and lots of little flowers have germinated, been transplanted and are now ready for the garden. Most of the beds are ready for busiest time of the year although I must get out and do some more mulching…
The almond tree won this year’s Who’s going to Blossom First award. There are now flowers too on the ornamental cherry, blackthorn, peach and the rosemary is alive with appreciative bees. Fingers crossed we don’t have any downpours like last year that knocked all the flowers off. The first of the orchids have also been spotted in the village.
Finally, we are more of a little farm again with the arrival of 3 ducks and 5 roasties. I was a bit anxious about the cold nights and the possibility of avian flu heading this way but both seem to be less of a concern now. I have peeked at them at night and they are all huddled together in their cardboard box.
So March is marching towards us; seeds have been bought, tools are ready and beds are waiting. Bring on the spring!
Last summer some friends of ours recommended us to a film company who was looking for people who had renovated an old farmhouse in central Portugal. They emailed us asking us if we were interested in appearing and then the producer and director came round to the house for a look round and to ask us about our project.
The premise of the show was that a couple from the UK wanted to buy a similar place to ours and renovate it. The people at the film company then showed the couple three or four suitable properties. They also wanted a short segment showing a couple who had already done it – that was our bit. So the producer returned again later that week with the film crew and spent two hours interviewing us and filming at the house.
Last October our moment of glory arrived and the show was broadcast on UK TV’s Channel 4. Two hours filming reduced to… one and a half minutes! Ah the price of fame. Anyway here is our bit.
This year we are hoping to spend more time at River Cottage, our little ‘project’ by the lake. The walls and roof are pretty much done so next up are the woodworking projects – doors, a veranda, and places to sit and admire the view. So here are my newest Adirondack chairs – version 3. They’ve actually changed so much they are not really Adirondack chairs at all. Made out of old pallets, of course, they are comfy and a welcome addition to the collection.
I ended up with a few extra bits of pallets so I also made a frame for our bathroom mirror.
Of course we keep all our food scraps for the compost so I’ve also been busy in the kitchen making this ‘sort of’ cupboard which keeps everything out of the way. It hinges at the bottom which makes it easy to use and it doesn’t take up any room. It’s also home to our bottles for recycling. A neat idea which I have to admit Jackie found on one of her favourite websites: pinterest.com
A week, they say, is a long time in politics. Well, that’s certainly the case at Casa Azul too. From miserable rain and even the wood burning stove roaring of an evening (in June – it’s true!) to mindblowingly hot temperatures. The sun has certainly got its hat on: 37+ of an evening. It’s meant getting as much done in the morning as possible and then retreating to the cool of the interior, thanks to almost metre thick walls.
So despite a poor potato harvest (I’m assuming, I haven’t unearthed the dwarf plants yet) and other feebleness (see previous post) it’s with some delight that I can say that now the toms, peppers, aubergines, squash, cucumbers and the ever faithful courgettes are full steam ahead.
However, this post is actually about the courtyard. I’d said to Richard before buying a place that it was a) a must to have a window above the kitchen sink and b) desirable to have a courtyard. Well, we got both and now, almost 4 years here, the courtyard is looking just lovely. It’s alive with flowers and bees and, as I look out of the window above the kitchen sink, it seems the rain was a long, long time ago…
I was just looking back at our blog entries for this time last year. What a difference! This time last year we were having lunch outside and actually bemoaning (slightly) the lack of rain but certainly not the wonderful blue skies. This year we’ve had plenty of rain and not even contemplated eating outside although we have had the odd cuppa and slice of cake in the courtyard – I used up the last of this year’s and indeed last year’s(!) walnuts in a walnut cake this week.
As I mentioned in the last blog post, our oranges are looking good and here is the proof:
Our plane tree, which we planted in January, has also done rather well. Autumn of course comes later in Portugal than the UK and so it has only just lost its leaves as these pictures show, the leafy photo only taken three weeks ago.
Meanwhile, our Christmas booze is coming along nicely as Jackie has just decanted off the fruit from the sloe gin, and cherry and damson vodkas. I have to say they taste delicious! The elderflower wine is also nearing maturation.
The big hairy one continues to improve and here she is rehabilitating on the sofa…
Way back in March we picked up a pile of old tiles (azulejos). We used some of them around the tree we put in the courtyard (see Tiles) but we had plenty left. In the traditional Portuguese style we decided to cover a wall, or at least part of it behind the orange tree in the courtyard.
Everyone round these parts has a brick barbeque. And they are all identical. Only problem is that we think they are very ugly and also very expensive. As can be seen below. PS the bricks are actually fake so it looks even worse in the flesh.
Solution? Build one myself! Jackie is already in position to direct operations.
I’m ready! Where are the pork chops?
Done! Meanwhile the rest of the gang are resting up…
Portugal is justifiably famous for its ‘azulejos’. Originating in Arabic times these are (usually) blue and white polished and decorative tiles which cover everything from churches to train stations and on and in many large and small houses. To give our courtyard a bit of local colour, we had long planned to add some of our own. We had bought a few second hand ones at bric a brac markets but then we found a warehouse with hundreds of old ones and the lady there was giving them away for free. Never looking a gift horse we carted a load away and my next job was to incorporate them. And here they are.
Hairy one senior has obviously already schooled hairy one junior into the art of getting into the photo shot.
I just happened to see an old photo of me enjoying lunch in the ‘old’ courtyard not long after we arrived on 20 September 2009. I think I was having a rest having cleaned the whole place up as it was in a right state then. Funnily enough I have another photo taken exactly two years later from about the same spot.