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Author: richard

The heat is on (still)

The heat is on (still)

We’re now into July and the heat is still relentless. In the aftermath of the fires, the controversy regarding the growing of eucalyptus has intensified. In fact a number of villages have decided to not wait for government (in)action and are taking matters into their own hands and have decided to chop all the eucalypts down within a certain radius of the village.  Lets hope it makes a difference. After the fires we actually had some rain. Well not much more than a shower but it was enough to coat the truck in ash. Although we’ve had it for a few years I had to give it a wash for the first time!

In garden news, I forgot to mention previously that for the first time we had a decent harvest of loquats. We did what we do with all the fruits – made jam and crumble.

We’ve also had the yellow and red plums and are currently waiting for the huge amounts of greengages to ripen. Despite the heat and little rain, the apples have done really well as have the pears which should be next up. Jackie will be reporting on the veg patch later this month (hopefully it hasn’t completely frazzled by then), but I wanted to say that the corn on the cobs were as delicious as ever. They are probably my favourite product of the veg patch.

 

In June we also had Jackie’s dad over so we’ve been doing that most Portuguese of traditions – throwing sardines on the barbie!

another barbie
Hens back on track

Hens back on track

After the disappointment of our Orpingtons, we happened to meet an old friend who told us that she bought her chickens from Miranda do Corvo market (not far from us) and that they had a wide variety on sale. We had not been to this market before so we decided to give it a go and picked up some more chickens. A couple of weeks later we are really pleased. Although the seller wasn’t sure what breed he sold us, after a search on the internet we are fairly sure they are crosses between Rhode Island Reds and French Marans. Two of them are Bluebells – the Bluebell sisters and the other is now known as Rocky. We still have one Orpington – Bright eyes. And one of them has already been laying eggs for a few days – beautiful brown ones.

A bluebell sister

Rocky

Meanwhile our two original hens have officially fully retired from laying duties.

And in the third pen the roasties and ducks are about ready for the chop. Once they can eat from the feeder while sitting on the ground definitely means they are ready!

roasties and ducks

Bloomin’ spring

Bloomin’ spring

Just three weeks ago Jackie mentioned that the almond was the first tree to blossom, followed by the blackthorn and peach. Well since then the cherry, plums, apricots and now the pears have joined the party. And in fact the almond and the apricot have already set fruit. Last year we had 2 almonds and we are yet to get any apricots, so lets hope this year is a bumper crop!

apricot
almond

Last year we really hacked back a number of greengages and more grew up from water shoots in the hen run. These have borne flowers for the first time this year, so it’s looking good so far. In addition, the grape vines have sprung into life and also the kiwis which were newly planted in the autumn. We won’t have fruit this year but we are hoping for a good show.

grape vine

The other trees are not holding back either. The plane trees in the courtyard and the garden are showing signs of life. The courtyard plane has been great. It lets all the sun shine through in the winter and then provides plenty of dappled shade in the summer. Just what we wanted.

plane tree

Also in the courtyard, we haven’t mentioned the orange trees for a while. These guys fruit in the winter of course and have provided plenty of oranges. Only a few days ago, I picked bucket loads of them and got 8 litres of juice but there are still dozens left on the trees!

oranges

Still in the courtyard, the quince is in full flower. That never disappoints with plenty of quince jam and quince crumbles to come.

quince

Last year we had daffodils in December, or should I say, December 2015. This year they have been late but are now putting on a show for us, as is our Forsythia which is in full bloom.

forsythia

Last but not least, even the figs have burst into life – last year was a bumper crop. More of the same again please!

fig
Good news and bad news

Good news and bad news

Last month I noted that the hens were feeling the heat and one had molted quite significantly and was being picked on by the others. Well, it grew back its feathers and is now back to normal. It has also cooled down a bit now, it is October after all! and we have bought some frangos or roasties as we like to call them (chickens that we grow to eat). All was well for a few days then one became ill and died and then another two became ill. We thought they had coccidiosis which is a very nasty disease and highly contagious, so we quickly separated the two ill ones and later had to put them out of their misery. Thankfully since then a week or more has passed and the rest of the bunch seem happy. We also have four ducks and they all seem to get along well together. It is interesting that when we bought them, the ducks were much smaller than the chickens but they just grow so much quicker and are already bigger.

ducks2-1

It’s also been good and bad news with the fruit. We have had very few apples this year – so no cider :-(. And the grape harvest has been a poor one, so I’m not making any wine. We are however, drinking the stuff I made last year and although it’s not as full bodied as it could be, it’s very light, fruity and very palatable.

The really hot summer has meant that we have got loads of prickly pears. You have to be very careful picking them, but once skinned they are delicious. And the fig harvest has been fantastic. I’m amazed at how many varieties there are growing wild around here. We have green ones and purple ones and some with honey coloured insides and some bright red. Anyway, I’ve been busy making fig jam, fig crumble and fig rolls (Thanks for the recipe Pam).

pps

figs-1

We love having guests over the summer and this year has been a very busy one. We’ve had 8 sets in all and as well as enjoying plenty of meals at Casa Azul, we’ve also enjoyed eating out, as the photos below show – especially seafood!

Jackie, Robert and Caldeira
Jackie, Robert and Caldeira
Jim and crab
Jim and crab
Richard and squid
Richard and squid

We’ve also had one uninvited but very welcome guest. Ron Weasley. I hope he feasted on all the voles and mice in the garden so they don’t eat the veggies!

ron

ron1

 

Wild harvest

Wild harvest

The baking heat continues. We have a thermometer we keep in the shade in the garden and on 8th August it peaked at 45.6 degrees! In fact over a third of the days in August so far have registered 40 degrees or higher. Of course these are not official readings – if they were we would be the hottest place in Portugal. Anyway, searingly hot! Not surprisingly most of Portugal has been hit with devastating wild fires but fortunately for us none of them are near here. At least over the last few days the heat has relented enough for me to enter the garden to find that the blackberries are ready and looking very plump.
blackb
I guess they must have stored up much of the rain we received in May. I have to admit they are not as tasty as British blackberries nor as juicy – no stained purple fingers that were typical of blackberry picking sessions of years ago. In any case it is a welcome harvest given that the plums let us down so much. Having said that, the one plum tree we planted (and therefore the only one we water), the Stanley plum, has outdone itself. We had a few fruits last year but this year its tiny branches are straining under the weight. As I type, Jackie is collecting and bottling some of the fruit and no doubt has plans for the rest as well.

Stanley plum
Stanley plum
The heat, however, is affecting our apples as they are even tinier than usual and there are not so many on the wild trees in the area either. I’m not sure I’ll have enough for any cider this year.
We have three pear trees. There is an old one which is covered with tiny, hard fruit and no use to anyone. We have a slightly younger tree right at the back of the garden which almost dies every year but struggles on. This actually has half a dozen fruit which may turn out all right and we have a very young tree which we planted a few years ago and this one also has about half a dozen decent sized pears. OK so not exactly a bumper crop but beggars can’t be choosers.
pear from young tree
pear from young tree

pears from old tree
pears from old tree
We planted some grape vines around our pergola which are quite frankly pathetic but there is a wild vine growing along a wall. It produces very small grapes, not good for eating but the right sort for wine and last year I had enough for 12 bottles of very passable red wine. This year, it’s not looking great but fingers crossed.

grapes
We also have three large mature walnut trees and these always produce a great crop – in actual fact we still have nuts from last year waiting to be shelled, so that won’t be a problem. And I think the figs will be OK as well but we won’t be getting those for a while.

Meanwhile, the hens are also feeling the heat. As usual, they don’t lay so many eggs in summer but one of them has molted quite drastically. In our experience if one hen shows any sign of weakness or sickness, the other hens pick on it mercilessly. It’s very sad to see but fortunately our pen is big enough for the baldy one to stay out of trouble and I am pleased to report that it is slowly regrowing more feathers.
hen
We also had a strange snake event. I found a large Montpelier snake attacking a much smaller Ladder snake. They were caught in a deadly embrace for quite a few minutes until finally the Montpelier snake decided to bail out and slunk away. It was only then that I saw how large it was – it was well over a metre long, which is large for round here. The Ladder snake looked a bit dazed but also managed to slither off. I saw the Montpelier snake again the following day. This time it had eaten something as it was very lethargic and I could see its belly was distended presumably with its favoured prey, a lizard, of which there have been loads in the garden this year.
snakes
So that’s it for the wild crops (and animals), Jackie will be back next time to update on the trials and tribulations of the veg patch. Let’s hope by then we will have had some rain and cooler weather…

Harvest season begins in earnest

Harvest season begins in earnest

It’s now mid July and we are well into the summer. Every day for the last 2 weeks has been well over 30 degrees with a scorching hot sun. I’m amazed that there are still some green patches of grass about but they won’t last long I’m sure. Many of the soft fruits have already come and gone – we had plenty of strawberries, a few gooseberries and plenty of the summer raspberries, but mid July brings the plums. Last year we didn’t have many yellow plums but the red ones and the greengages made up for them. This year we’ve got a few yellow ones but hardly any greengages and we had only 3 or 4 red ones! So not great news.

plum

However, the only plum tree we planted, the Stanley plum, goes from strength to strength. Although still only a small tree, it produces quite a few fruit and as opposed to most of our other varieties, it is great for cooking with and the stewed plums are divine. Here’s a recent photo which shows they won’t be ready for a few weeks yet.

Stanley plums
Stanley plums

Meanwhile, our two almonds are just about hanging in…

almond
almond

Of the other trees, it’s still early days for the apples and pears, although as there are plenty of wild apple trees about, which are doing very well, I’m sure I’ll have enough for another batch of cider which went really well last year. Talking of which, I recently made another batch of home brew and I have to say it just gets better and better. And I much prefer my own home brewed bitter to the generic lager which is usually the only thing available in Portugal (although this is changing rapidly with a number of micro-breweries popping up locally).

beer

But back to the garden. I’m not sure why but the mixture of a wet spring followed by a boiling summer seems to have induced a growth spurt in the prickly pears. We had a number of yellow flowers a while ago and it looks like we’ll have quite a few fruit. Careful of those spines though!

prickly pear
prickly pear

And of course the sun has brought out the lavender and the bees. We lost a few lavender plants to the frosts this year but I replaced them with an ancient wheelbarrow.

lav

Last month I showed this pic of a new project.

obbo

Well, it developed a bit further into this:
obbo3

and finally this, undergoing its final inspection:
obbo2

It’s my new observatory. I’m quite pleased with it, especially the sliding roof. It’s been christened the “Star shed”
obbo4

The heat is on

The heat is on

After a very damp winter and spring, summer has finally arrived. The second half of June has been a scorcher and the well, which was still full a week or so ago is going down rapidly with the veg patch watering in full flow.

It seems to have been a mixed spring for the birdlife. We had a family of blue tits fledge from a nest box but a couple of serins aborted their nest on the pergola leaving a solitary egg uncared for. We presume one or both of the parents met a sticky end. We also noticed a chaffinch nest near the house and were pleased to see the 3 eggs hatch. Unfortunately, upon returning one day the nest was bare, far too early for any off the littl’uns to have fledged.

In better news, Jackie has been constantly filling up the bird feeder as new families of tits and sparrows have been devouring the seed. Every day now we see great tit parents feeding their young nearby.

great_tits
Great tits

We’ve not noticed so many bees this year yet, but we have seen a number of carpenter bees, identifiable as they are enormous and black. We’ve been watching them feed on the nectar of the sweet peas by the pergola but also they have been boring holes in the same pergola, where presumably they laid their eggs. However, a few days ago I heard the familiar tap, tap, tapping of a woodpecker. He had found the bee grubs and was making more holes in the pergola to get at them.

Great spotted woodpecker
Great spotted woodpecker

And there’s plenty of other wildlife about as well. We have seen loads of lizards recently and a baby horseshoe whipsnake made an appearance in the courtyard. In fact we only ever seem to see either whipsnakes or laddersnakes around here, I’m sure there must be others. Anyway, these two are pretty harmless. They don’t even seem to bother the frogs when they have a drink in the pond.

Horseshoe whipsnake
Horseshoe whipsnake

liz

To round off the wildlife, plenty of these little critters have been seen around here lately as well. absolutely delicious.
sardines

Meanwhile I have been busy on a new woodworking project. More news on this next month hopefully:

obbo

And to round off, a bit of colour. Here is the above mentioned pergola, where all the action seems to happen.

perg

Wild bounty

Wild bounty

Despite all the doom and gloom of Jackie’s last post, plenty of plants have in fact done very well this summer, many of them without any help from us. Our little plot of land doesn’t have a fence to keep the wild things at bay but we are completely surrounded by a wall of brambles. And, despite this summer’s heat we have had another bumper harvest of blackberries. It’s the one thing Jackie hasn’t made a preserve of but I love to make my favourite dessert – blackberry and apple crumble. We get the apples from our own tree but there are also loads of apple trees around here on the dog walk. So I managed to scrump many more, enough to make some cider. Last year it was pretty good so fingers crossed.

blackberries
blackberries

Despite the grape vines on the pergola not doing so well, there is an old vine growing over one of the walls. As opposed to the ones we planted which produce large grapes for eating, this one has produced loads of small grapes.

Most of the locals only grow two things, grape vines for wine and olive trees for olive oil. Their grapes are all small so I guess the one we have must be of the same variety and also good for wine, so I’m having a go. In essence wine making is extremely simple (certainly as practised by our nearest neighbour Luis). Just crush the grapes, filter out the gunk and just let it do it’s stuff. There is enough wild yeast on the surface of the grape to ferment the juice. You just need to keep the fruit flies out or you will end up with vinegar. As you might expect, some people take a bit more care than Luis and I am being guided by an excellent little book: “First steps in wine making” by C.J.J. Berry. The price on the back is 6 shillings but as they have been making wine for centuries, I’m sure not that much has changed since this little gem was published. If nothing else, it is an interesting read. As opposed to Jackie’s elderberry wine, which is ready now, after a year in the bottle, the grape wine should be ready in weeks. Again, fingers crossed.

grapes
legs
Probably the biggest surprise has been the peaches. We’ve got three peach trees on our land, all of which have just grown on their own and although peaches have always made a start they have never come to fruition, until now. There is quite a large tree next to the well and every day a load more fruit fall off it. I have to say that 99% of the peaches have worms inside, so it’s taking a bit of a chance to eat one straight away but it’s no problem to cut out the bad bits and be left with plenty of good flesh.

This time, I decided to get involved in the dark arts of chutney making and I’ve made three jars of peach and pepper chutney (with our own red peppers). Jackie couldn’t resist of course and has also made some chutney – peach and chilli (with our own chillis). We will find out in a few months who is the peach chutney king or queen. And there are still more peaches left, so as well as bottling a few, I’m making an experimental peach and blackberry crumble this afternoon and no doubt a few more will make their way into a peach cordial.

peaches
peaches

chutney
Fig trees grow wild round here and have had another good season. So far we’ve only had them fresh off the tree or in fig tarts. We’ve got loads of jams of various flavours already and I think Jackie is preserved out at the moment but we’ll have to see what else we can do with them.
figs
So never mind being busy with the veg patch, there is plenty of wild fruit to be collected as well. I cast an eye over the garden and note that next up, it’s the walnuts…

Up to our necks in plums – again

Up to our necks in plums – again

Regular readers may remember a post of the same name from this time last year. A slightly different scenario this time around however. Last year we were overwhelmed with yellow plums. They have come and gone already, in much smaller numbers than before. However, this year, the greengages have taken up the slack. Jackie is especially pleased as these are her all time favourites.

greengages
greengages
Following up closely behind the greengages are the damsons which are just ripening now – so more damson vodka for Christmas,
damsons
damsons

…and just behind them are the Stanleys.

stanley plums
stanley plums
It should be interesting as we’ve got a proper crop for the first time this year. In previous years we have only had one or two and they didn’t taste that great. They come from a plum tree we bought and planted in November 2009. Here are two photos taken from almost the same spot. The plum tree is still in the black plastic bucket. The Christmas tree is just behind a large rock. You can see the same Christmas tree in the recent photo, but look how the cypresses have grown!
November '09
November ’09

July '15
July ’15

..and after the plums will be the sloes. More Christmas sloe gin!

So of course, we’ve been eating lots of plums in various guises, mainly in desserts – plum crumbles and plum tarts
tart
…and Jackie’s recent favourite – plum leather. It doesn’t look great but it’s an excellent little snack to take on walks.

plum leather
plum leather

Meanwhile Jackie has been playing with her new toy (Thanks Sue, Jim and Dick) and taken some great photos of pond life:

frog

tadpole
tadpole

You can never have too many seating areas in the garden and here is the pergola I recently made for a corner of the threshing square. I only made it in May but already we have a mature grape vine crawling all over it and providing much-needed shade. Also notice that the apples are coming along nicely as well, but that’s for another post.
new pergola
new pergola

The fruits of our labours

The fruits of our labours

Although the fields round here are still crammed with spring flowers, summer is just around the corner. We had a downpour in the first week of May but since then it has been unrelenting sun with most days peaking at over 30 degrees. But never mind summer we also have half an eye on Autumn and the coming harvest.

The cherries are the first to arrive and have in fact already done so. We bought a young cherry tree a few years ago and it has always been a bit odd and remained very small but it has produced its first cherry. And second cherry. But that was it! Meanwhile our old tree is full of little gems which should be ready very soon. Around the time we bought the cherry tree we also got an apricot tree. Unlike the cherry, this tree is magnificent. Last year it produced its first fruit but none stayed the distance. This year we have two. Lets hope they will hang on and grow to maturity. Our garden is full of plum trees and fingers crossed it will be another good year for these fruit of many hues. Also it looks like a good year for the walnuts and the apples but we will not have a single pear. We also have a number of peach trees. They start off with loads of fruit but they either fall off too soon or if they ripen they are full of worms and/or are inedible. It’s strange how these things work out. The first of the soft fruit, the raspberries, are also ready but I’ll leave Jackie to fill you in on veg patch news next time.

Cherry number 1 and first of the yellow plums
Cherry number 1 and first of the yellow plums
walnuts and apricot
walnuts and apricot
apple
apple

At the moment, whenever we walk through the garden or indeed wander the village, with the gentlest of breezes we are engulfed in snowdrifts of confetti. The olive trees are now in flower and after last year’s disaster we are hoping for a good crop this time around.

On to another type of harvest. I can’t believe two years after we killed the pigs they keep on giving. Last week I found a liver at the bottom of the chest freezer and that means pâté. According to supermarket practice the liver may have been well beyond its sell-by-date but I can assure you the pâté was delicious. I’ve also killed this year’s first crop of roasties and so made some more pâté out of the chicken livers. Much smoother than the pig liver pâté but just as delicious.

pig liver and chicken liver pate
pig liver and chicken liver pâté

Soon we will be getting to the end of the spring flowers but the orchids keep on coming. Here are a few more found within metres of our house.

Broad leaved Helleborine and the Bug Orchid
Broad leaved Helleborine and the Bug Orchid

woodcock orchids
woodcock orchids
The orchid on the left is a hypochromatic form of the woodcock orchid (normal one seen on the right). This is a genetic abnormality and there is much discussion in the orchid world about why it happens!
mirror orchids
mirror orchids
More controversy! The flower on the right is a Mirror Orchid. We thought the one on the left was also a Mirror Orchid but recently it has been identified as a species in its own right – the Iberian Ophrys. It is quite rare and only found in Portugal and some parts of Spain.
Ophrys Lutea
Ophrys Lutea
And our final orchid is Ophrys Lutea. Very pretty.

roseAnd finally a photo of Jussi – sporting her socks in an attempt to stop her licking her paws!