Being British we go on about the weather far too much, so, of course, that’s what I’m going to do now. Summer, what summer? while the UK seems to be enjoying their best summer in ages, ours is yet to start. OK we’ve had a few warm days and we’ve had our first swim but it’s been pretty dreary so far and all the fruits are at least a month behind. We are about to enter July and still no plums and it looks like we’re not going to get many anyway. Having said all that, there are lots of positives. The garden looks lovely. We don’t have a lawn but we do have a sea of dandelions.And many of the plants are thriving with a bit more moisture than normal. Especially the new trees that we planted late last year. Their test will come when high summer eventually kicks in. Also it has been a bumper time for the birds. We’ve had blue tits nesting in both our bird boxes and we’ve now got our third serin nest. The latest is in the plane tree right outside the kitchen. Eggs have been laid but they are yet to hatch. Meanwhile the four chicks in the nest above the front door fledged safely. Here they are just before they left home.
Meanwhile, spring is when we often see snakes. Here’s a ladder snake having a look in the kitchen window!
The birds haven’t been bothered by snakes, however, two of our roasties went missing and so we put a camera up in the roastie run and this is what we saw: a sparrow hawk!
Of course I have been busy with my little projects. I made a very simple incense stick holder and an even simpler bench made from a few pallets.
I’ve also been busy brewing more of my own beer. The latest have included a deliciously dark Irish stout and a sparkling red ale.
We haven’t just stayed at home either. We had a great little trip down to Sintra at the beginning of June and more lately had our first swim of the year in the Barragem de Cabril, not far from our house.
No doubt by the next post we will be moaning about how hot it is. We shall see!
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.
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!
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.
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).
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
To round off the wildlife, plenty of these little critters have been seen around here lately as well. absolutely delicious.
Meanwhile I have been busy on a new woodworking project. More news on this next month hopefully:
And to round off, a bit of colour. Here is the above mentioned pergola, where all the action seems to happen.
March is upon us and we are starting to feel the warmth on our faces and the shorts have made their first appearance of the year (the legs won’t be shown on the blog for a while yet mind, thankfully). However, one of the gang hates the warmer weather and is always looking for an opportunity to cool off…
However, in addition to Betty, she has a new companion on our daily walks. Teddy II, who lives in the village has decided to join us. He’s always waiting for us when we set off and then after the walk he goes back home! Here he is doing one of his favourite activities.
On the walk last week we spotted a Giant Orchid, a telltale sign that spring is finally here.
Meanwhile in the garden, although we have had daffodils for ages, more are popping up every day and they are now being joined by the irises. Most pleasing of all, however, is the appearance of the tree blossom – blackthorn, peach, apricot, almond and here is the ornamental plum.
The courtyard has a new member. Jackie planted an avocado stone in a pot a few years ago and we kept it in the bathroom. It grew and grew and grew. And despite constant pruning to limit its size, it has simply outgrown its surroundings and so now has to survive outside. It should be OK for the summer but I can’t see it lasting the winter. We shall see.
The orange trees in the courtyard are still going strong and despite me making litres and litres of juice, the oranges keep coming!
Finally a few more shots of the hairy ones.
Admittedly the locals call Jussi “el gordo”, the fat one, however, I don’t know why she looks quite so lardy in this shot – she’s not that bad! It’s just her thick coat she says.
We’ve had the ducklings a month now, although ducklings they no longer are. They’ve shed most of their fuzziness and have matured into rather large, and tasty looking, birds overtaking their fellow fowl in size. The pig drinking trough has become a mini-pond cum bath for them and with the good weather they’ve been able supplement their chicken chow with an array of grasses and plants, not to mention the slugs, snails and puppy dog tails. Well, they would probably not take to the latter but Betty has certainly taken to them, standing and staring but I think she’s met her match this time.
The ducks and chooks seem to be getting along well. The ducks are always together and less uneasy now when a chicken comes along for a cuddle up in the afternoon sun; they seem to be more aware that they’re different. I think they’ve been a good influence on the chickens. The ducks love wandering around the whole plot and the chickens become brave enough to follow rather than staying near their house. And then at night it’s vice-versa. Apparently ducks don’t put themselves to bed like chickens do but our three are happy to return to the house in the evening along with their feathered friends.
So it’s been plain sailing so far. Ducks are meant to be less disease prone than chickens, and able to cope with extreme temperatures better. They cannot fly (never knew that) so no CHeeky Charlie escapades. Our three have been a doddle, or should that be a waddle? Of course the next excitement will be Richard doing his bit with the sharp knife…
…or should I say Cheeky Charlotte. But more of that later. It all started in May. We had bought a dozen roasties which we keep until they are about 11 weeks old, then they are given the chop. Usually they are pretty easy to catch so I end up killing two a day, plucking, hanging and freezing until they are all gone.
Unbeknown to me, Cheeky Charlie had managed to avoid my grasp until the last day and when it was his turn, he escaped. Not just just from me but also out of the chicken run and into a patch of impenetrable brambles.
Jackie thought that would be it, he would either get taken by a fox or by a mongoose. However he managed to survive for many weeks and then he started visiting the runs of the other chickens. Not a good move as they picked on him and viciously pecked him. It then became apparent that the reason for his ventures into the other chicken runs was because he, or rather she, wanted to lay an egg and this is exactly what she did in the nest box of the young hens! She was, after all, now 20 weeks old. Added to that she now wanted to roost on top of the young hens’ run.
I’m afraid that was the last straw and so she went the way of a normal roastie. I’ll spare the details but I was interested to find loads of eggs in varying states of development inside her. Anyway, she’s now in the freezer and we’ll have to look for Coq au Vin recipes as although she’ll be very tasty, she’ll probably need quite some cooking in order to tenderize.
Meanwhile, Jackie has been down the market and rather than coming back with a dozen young roasties, she came home with 9 roasties and 3 ducks! I wasn’t keen on getting ducks as we don’t have a pond but I’m sure they will taste good!
Way back in mid May we bought our last crop of roasties. We got 12 of them aged 2 weeks. By mid July they were about 11 weeks old and ready for the chop. They were a bit different from our usual roasties. The big difference was that they were brown rather than white. I’m not sure of their exact breed but the white ones really put on weight fast and when I kill them at about 7 or 8 weeks they can be 3kgs after plucking and dressing. However, they are quite ugly and often can only stagger about because they are so fat. Actually not fat but their legs are just enormous. Therefore this time we decided to go for the more aesthetically appealing brown ones, still heftier than the egg laying chickens but much cleaner and seemingly fitter than the whities. They’re happy to walk and scratch about unlike the white ones who are reluctant to stand, even for a drink. I can also confirm they are just as tasty. As per usual with this latest batch when they were ready for killing, I grabbed two per day, killed, plucked and hung them in the barn. However when it got down to the last few they seemed to know what was coming and were a little bit more difficult to catch. And now we get to the point of this story. The very last chicken, Cheeky Charlie as he has become known, savoured his freedom and life a bit more than the rest and escaped! He managed to get out of the chicken paddock and escaped into the bramble patch. However, that was not the end of it. A few hours later he thought it was safe to come out but he hadn’t reckoned on Betty who lay in wait. With a quick lunge, she had Cheeky Charlie and was soon to be seen strutting through the garden with her prize hanging limp between her jaws. Eventually Betty let go of Charlie who sprang into life and headed back to the safety of the brambles. A few feathers missing but apparently none the worse for the experience. But there’s more! A few days before the Cheeky Charlie incident, we were having breakfast in the garden when we heard a huge furore coming from the laying hens. I ran to their paddock to find a mongoose in the chicken run! It was then a case of the Keystone cops with me chasing the mongoose, the chickens running with feathers flying everywhere, the dogs barking and Jackie yelling on the other side of the fence. Eventually the mongoose managed to escape over the wall. As the hens were unharmed, we thought that the mongoose had only come for their eggs – this time. And that is how we leave it – Cheeky Charlie still ‘free’, Betty on the prowl and a mongoose on the lookout for any opportunity.
Yes, the wild boar are back, this time with some youngsters. How do we know? Because we managed to capture some of them on our wildlife camera and you can clearly see their stripes. There’s no sound but we’re sure you can add your own David Attenborough commentary and audio effects over the top. These shots are from last night so ignore the date and times. We won’t be giving up the day jobs (whatever those are) but it’s fun capturing the wild nightlife.
And Richard was really excited when, a few nights ago, he was out looking at the stars and the barn owl came and stood right next to him and was staring at him for some moments before flying off. We can hear the young screeching and rasping in the night – now that would be something to film!