Browsed by
Category: Keeping chickens

Good riddance, 2020

Good riddance, 2020

Richard was looking back at previous posts and noted two things. The first was my reference to a cough in February: I have had a cough for what seems like weeks now which I just can’t shift... we then remembered that it really did continue for a long time, when I returned to the chemist to get yet more cough medicine all the perspex shields had been put up, and one night he even slept in the spare room to get some sleep. I also recall saying, well into spring, that I still wasn’t feeling 100%. Of course nowadays it would mean a trip to the Covid test centre but presumably it was just another virus…

The second thing that Richard noted was I had given the broad beans Plant of the Year award for 2019! Well, they deserve to have it two years on the trot. Highly recommended. We had some for our Chrimbo meal and will have more this weekend. The latest crop are doing well, along with the beetroot:

The sun came out for the 25th, certainly warm enough to enjoy some homemade sloe gin and chicken liver pâté for starters, but as last year the wind was a tad chilly and we ate inside.

The cake and (pallet) tree are usually decorated with knitted trees. However, the moths got to most of them while in store in the attic so I had to make some more decorations. This year I chose a woodland / wildlife theme:

The hens are all fine. Interesting that Hazelnut, now that all her feathers have grown back, has actually changed colour. She was nearly all brown before but is distinctly piebald now. This is her and Momo:

Lacey and Hattie are the biggest, but Hattie is the boss:

We’ve just noticed that Preta has started to lose some feathers again on her back; earlier in the year this happened to them all (except Lacey) and some of you will remember we separated Skittle for a while until they grew back. Branca is the smallest and is the only one to lay white eggs. Yesterday we got six. Well done, Laydeez.

Skittle meanwhile has found his tail but some of the longest, most colourful feathers are still to regrow. We found the saddle made for Branca earlier in the year which fell off overnight, I don’t think we put it on properly. We have now put it on Preta, it doesn’t quite fit, she must be quite narrow across the back, but it serves its purpose. Skittle has started rearing up and flapping his wings over his back in anticipation of spring fun so we do hope Preta is fully feathered by then.

In the spring, we often spend time looking for nests. They are always difficult to find (unless they belong to the blackbirds) and we’ve only discovered this little one in the Acer now all the leaves have fallen.

We had a bee in the kitchen the other day. The only flowers we have are on the viburnum. We have a number now and they definitely deserve some recognition. They blossom three times a year, and are then covered in black berries so great for the bees and the birds. Despite the scorching summers they need little water and just grow with the minimum of care. Perfect for lazy gardeners like myself.

The bird feeder is always occupied by squabbling greenfinches and sparrows, the goldfinches prefer the seeds in the meadow next door:

So good riddance indeed to a horrid 12 months. 2021 must surely be a brighter, less turbulent year. We wish joy to all our readers and a Happier New Year.

Bean feast

Bean feast

I have at last cleared the three main raised beds, a task which is now so much easier to do than when the beds were just on the ground. There were hardly any weeds, the boards keeping them at bay, and the soil was just so crumbly that any gatecrashers were dealt with swiftly. I’ve always quite enjoyed preparing the beds, getting the trowel or rake out and sowing seeds or plugs, it was the back breaking weeding that was so dispiriting. The longer I put it off, the worse the situation became and so when I eventually forced myself to tackle the beds my back complained bitterly for a week. Now it seems there is science behind the enjoyment: the benign soil bacteria mycobacterium vaccae can trigger a release of serotonin in the brain and that makes you feel happier. Which is why gardeners enjoy pottering, the close contact with the soil is a real feel-good factor.

Two of the beds are now covered in a thick mulch of cut grass. Richard has strimmed the whole garden and I have raked up what I needed. It wasn’t an easy task for him, I gave the impression in the last post that we have not had much rain but this isn’t true. Between the lovely days of sunshine we’ve certainly had our share of heavy showers and finding a window to strim has been difficult. It also meant the grass had grown exceedingly tall. It’s all done now but will need doing again soon.

The third bed has been planted with beetroot plugs from the market, it has also been planted with broad bean seeds. I went to find last year’s packet only to discover the box was not with my other seed packets but had been left in the potting shed. The shed gets boiling hot in the summer, not ideal conditions for seeds. Anyway, rather reluctant to buy more (there are loads in a box) I went ahead and sowed a whole load, two to a hole (on their sides to prevent rotting) and would you believe it – they have all come up! Already, within two weeks! They survive the frosts and provide a great spring / early summer veg. We froze a few packets of them which we will have for our Christmas meals. So a great success and therefore how can I not give them the Plant of the Year Award 2020?

And clearing the beds also meant removing the dead plants from the summer, including the runner beans. Once we’d had our fill, and also frozen some too, the rest of the pods were left to dry on the plant. Many of the beans collected from these have already been used in a casserole. Next year I’ll have another go with the dwarf purple ones. Definitely a plant to recommend on any veg patch: easy to grow, reliable, hardy and tasty too. Well done, the beans.

Another bed tackled was the asparagus. The ferns turn the most beautiful golden colour but these have been cut down and mulched ready for the first crop in March.

We have a new batch of roasties. Unfortunately, we no longer have the same number as we first bought; one disappeared. Regular readers will know we have lost hens or roasties to three different animals: fox, mongoose and sparrowhawk. I set the camera up to see which was the predator this time, but this is all I caught:

It came a few times, and was clearly interested in the roasties (in their cage temporarily) but it does seem rather far fetched that a cat killed, and carried away, a (admittedly the smallest which had a limp) roastie… anyway, they are all bigger now and have been let out again to enjoy the grass. This one looks like a contender for our Christmas dinner.

Some of you will also remember that 2 years ago we bought a whole load of saplings. The ones that have survived erratic summer watering (and Richard’s strimmer) have done very well. These are all now taller than me, and the liquidamber and red oak, while not as tall, are putting on a fine winter show:

I am embarrassed to admit that in the barn are a number of dye experiments that have been forgotten about. So one sunny day I had a go with some lichen, evernia prunastri, that had been sitting in its concoction since November 2018, another 2 years ago. I couldn’t remember what the VSU on the label meant until it was cooking in the kitchen and Richard wanted to know what the ‘very strange smell’ was, and then I remembered: very stale urine!! A sort of pale lilac colour was the reward (not as peachy as it seems here).

The dogs are getting on but are fine. Betty has lost some of her colouring, she used to have brown patches on her face, and Jussi is plodding along.

Richard has also made yet more beer and got his wood working tools out again for various projects. We have both enjoyed getting out and doing some walking.

Our concelho has now joined the “very elevated risk” areas re Covid, there are new State of Emergency procedures in place so excursions for the mo are restricted to the local countryside. We can’t even drive out of the area. Fortunately, we have stocked up on both wine and wood and continue to be more than appreciative of our personal situation. We do hope our readers are safe and well too.

S is for…

S is for…

September, of course. And the month has produced its usual harvest of figs which has meant, yet again, being in the kitchen and wondering what on earth to do with those left over from jam making and bottling. Nigel Slater’s fig and mascarpone tart has been baked numerous times, fig clafoutis, fig tartlets with goats’ cheese, figs in salads… luckily the chickens like them too.

Summer. Ha, well the temperatures shot up earlier this month, the first 16 days saw highs of over 30C. So we were able to watch the delayed Tour de France with the heat we usually associate with the sport. On 12 September it reached 37.9C.

Spring. Well, sometimes it feels like that too. First of all we’ve had a bit of rain, actually it thundered down one night as a tropical storm went over the house almost blowing over some of our young trees we planted a few years ago (they are now propped up with breeze blocks), and this has meant everything is slowly going green with little shoots everywhere. There’s a new emergence of wild flowers particularly autumn crocuses Colchicum autumnale (see top pic) and autumn snowflakes Leucojum autumnale. We need to look out for the lovely ladies tresses Spiranthes spiralis which also appear this time of the year. It’s the tiniest of orchids and we had some in the garden last year.

The birds have also started singing once more and our dog walks have become a musical affair. The robins, in particular, are trilling everywhere, a real delight.

Stinger. We have some water outside the house for the birds, always so nice to look up and see the splashing of a bird bathing, but we noticed that it wasn’t just our feathered friends appreciating the water. Asian hornets were also arriving and having a sip or two. Hmmm. They seemed to be arriving and leaving in the same direction which we decided to follow. Just around the corner the sound of insistent buzzing could clearly be heard from the middle of our willow tree. Rather nervously we got as close as we dared and sure enough the tree was swarming with a whole variety of flying insects including wasps and hornets, Asian hornets. So we took some photos and have reported them on a site dedicated to dealing with them. Quercus, the environmentalist group, has admitted though it has “lost count of the number of Asian hornets’ nests found in Portugal, but the number is already in the many thousands.” Which explains why they haven’t got back to us… we tried to find the nest but no luck. The hornets are causing 5 million euros a year in losses to the honey industry.

Skittle. On a more positive note we have let Skittle out to join his lady friends. We are so pleased that all their feathers have grown back and they all look healthy. Skittle was certainly pleased to start frolicking once more.

One slight downside is that Lacey, rather annoyingly, has decided to become broody again, for a second time this year. Not only does it mean she hogs the nest box (although there are two she is in the favoured one) it also means that Skittle only has five hens instead of six, and she is the only one (being the biggest) not to have lost any feathers. She makes the most appalling noise when you pick her up and collect the eggs.

Something brewing in the barn. Richard has no fewer than three types of concoctions bubbling away. First, another batch of beer. Apparently it’s a Brown Porter (whatever that is). Secondly, he went off scrumping and came back with a whole load of apples from the nearby fields and is having another go at making cider. He knows a lot more about the fermentation process now so we’re hoping for an even better batch this year. And thirdly, he’s collected all our grapes and yes, stood on them, and is making Vinho Tinto de Casa Azul, probably not a vintage. With all these percolating away it means he’s always darting in and out of the barn taking readings, making notes, stirring and goodness knows what else.

Singsong. Not to be outdone by Richard on the crafty front this is the name of my latest knitting pattern I’ve designed (on the left). It’s being tested now but I’m also working on yet another one, I have done well over 20 now.

Stalling. Sadly we have heard nothing at all from the Ponte de Lima council about our application for the house plans. Nada. They keep telling our architect they’ll be in touch but what with Covid… etc etc. A bit frustrating but we recognise how lucky we are being here. We continue to live in a sort of bubble really but today we ventured into Coimbra for a little shopping and lunch. We were very surprised by what we saw: the streets and cafés and squares were bustling with people and there was a nice atmosphere. There was an obvious lack of coach tourists walking up the main drag but despite that shops seemed fairly full, we think there were quite a few Spanish tourists making their own way across the border and of course the Portuguese are holidaying at home too. Most people were wearing masks, definitely in the shops (which is the law) but also in the street. We had a nice meal sitting outside, all the tables were taken by the time we had finished our café pingados. In fact they didn’t charge us for the coffees, I think restaurants are just so pleased people are frequenting them.

Sunsets, which come earlier and earlier. I put the chooks away around 9.15 in the summer but now, at 7.30, it’s time to lock them away. We hope everyone else is well too.

August already?

August already?

Oh, what happened to July? It was the very first time, in our ten years of blogging, that we missed a monthly post. Perhaps it was significant…

Meanwhile, summer is here. The duvet has been put away, the fan is on and I’m shouting at all the other household members to shut the doors to keep both the heat and the horseflies out. We call it Tour de France weather but we missed watching one of our favourite sporting events this year while the temperatures soared. So no yellow jersey but plenty of yellowing fields.

Richard bought some champagne last month. Actually, not champagne but Portuguese bubbly which is very good. A few years ago we went on an excellent tour to one of the wineries that make it, not so far from us, which has received many awards and some praise from the French (they make it using the champagne method). The reason? Perhaps to celebrate ten years of living at Casa Azul? We moved in on 17 July, 2010. Nope. Perhaps to celebrate Skittle’s second birthday or, even better, Jussi’s 12th? Neither. A bumper harvest? Hardly. No, the reason was to celebrate Liverpool winning the Premier League after 30 years, the highlight of July! 🙂

Celebrations for the 10 year event were more muted, just another delicious meal sitting in the garden.

Actually, poor old Skittle wasn’t celebrating at all. We had noticed that the feathered backs of the hens were wearing a bit thin, and then it wasn’t long before it seemed a bit serious and there were large bald patches. This didn’t happen last year but I suppose he’s more of a man now than a boy… I made a chicken saddle, a padded cotton covering for the back which you slip around the wings, and we put that on Branca one evening. Come the morning it was on the coop floor… we obviously hadn’t put it on properly. We put plan B in action: keeping Skittle separate from his ladies. So now he is in the cage part of the coop and the hens come in and out from the back door. He’s not really on his own as the others are all around him in the field but he doesn’t have the opportunity to mount them. We are really glad to say it has made a huge difference. The timing was perfect as the hens were beginning their summer molt, and now the feathers on their back are coming through. Once they’re all back we’ll let Skittle out again for further fun and frolicking.

Keeping with the feathered theme, the nest in the courtyard turned out to be serins. I’d like to say they all fledged successfully but for some strange reason one kept coming out of the nest. First it would hang over the side (the nest was just above head height, so it was easy to see them), then it fell out onto a branch but we popped it back. Then Richard actually saw it fall on the ground, he picked it up and again put it back. Alas, one morning we found it dead under the tree on the ground. I’m sure it was the same one each time. However, four were fine and fledged, never to be seen again. The bird feeder is constantly in use; the amount we spend on birdseed is ridiculous!

Meanwhile, Richard has been busy in the woodworking department. He has bought another attachment for his angle grinder and made some candle holders from some of the old olive wood we have. He has also taken the original two Adirondack chairs apart, the pallet wood was slowly disintegrating and it was becoming a tad nervy to sit on them. They have been rejuvenated and painted blue.

Two of the ‘roasties’ we bought from the chicken lady back in late June he has already dispatched, how they can grow so fast is beyond me.

Veg wise the best crop so far has been the toms, an early glut meant making my favourite soup: gazpacho. Now the maskotka tomatoes are ready. I bought the seeds for these many years ago and just keep a few from fresh toms every year, so no need to buy more. They are a bush variety and taste divine, highly recommended. We have also had the first of the pimientos de Padrón and there are many more to come, real summer food.

I mentioned in a previous blog how disappointed I was with the Sicilian seed experiment. The broccoli went to seed and the purple cauliflower just had leaves. The latter I kept in the raised bed so that the leaves (which we have been eating) could keep the sun off the soil for the cucumbers. I then saw that one of them had a small, purple head appearing. It grew and grew into…? Not a cauliflower, more like purple sprouting broccoli. It was roasted and actually tasted very nice. And a month never goes by without Richard and his brewing, I think this one was a type of lager.

So what of the missing blog? Well, we have been a tad distracted by trips up north to Ponte de Lima. It’s a charming town, considered the oldest in Portugal, the river Lima runs alongside with an old Roman bridge and it’s generally greener than further south thanks to the increased rainfall it receives. We liked it a lot the very first time we visited, back in 2013, and the fact that Galicia, our favourite part of Spain, is a short drive away adds to the attraction. So… it is to become our new home.

Yep, for some bizarre reason we have started again with the saga of builders and architects and council planning permission and packing up and moving. Not, of course, in the foreseeable future. Not only because of the Covid situation but because we seem to have bought another ruin, and the amount of work needed is a lot more than Casa Azul. The granite walls are thick and solid but inside, including the flooring, all needs replacing, and the roof is to be raised. The reason for moving, despite loving living here, were numerous: we both began to get itchy feet and wanted a new area to explore, my back problem meant gardening was becoming more difficult and for both of us keeping on top of the land (things grow all the time!) was tiring. So we have a smaller house, with less land, but space enough for dogs and chooks and some kind of veg patch. We will of course be having a blog about that but in the meantime here is Casa Lima:

Boas Festas!

Boas Festas!

The rain stopped just before Christmas, hurrah. We were tempted to have lunch outside on the day but decided it was just a tad too chilly, but very nice to enjoy a little pre-prandial glass of homemade something sitting in the sun.

We had a nice day despite my back suddenly giving me jip, a tooth falling out, the postie being even slower than usual so half the pressies weren’t delivered, and then choosing Ad Astra for our Christmas evening movie… but otherwise it was great! Richard had earmarked the biggest of the roasties he’d killed earlier in the year and there’s still plenty of chicken left. He’d also made a whole batch of orange juice so we could have Buck’s Fizz with our traditional Eggs Benedict (with smoked salmon not bacon) in the morning.

The lovely sunshine we’re having now has meant the strimming could no longer be put off, the grass really was incredibly tall, and now the garden and veg patch look presentable again. It has also meant the first of the frosts; we’ve been greeted by a blanket of white these past few mornings.

The hens have been given a special treat too and now have access to the meadow from the other side of their coop which is lush and green. Here is Skittle with Momo and Hattie:

He’s been a bit off colour recently; he’d lost his crow (very silly of him) and wasn’t perching at night. And, to some relief from the hens, had lost his mojo too but he’s back on form now. Here’s Lacey and Preta:

And this is Hazelnut and Branca:

Just poor old Rocky is still on her own but she can see through the fence to the others but is well protected from Skittle, the back of her neck never recovered completely (although it looks fine from this angle) from the accident back in May. She’s rather shocked by the daffodils, as Richard was when he discovered them while strimming:

A Portuguese friend we know, on hearing about our summer trip to Galicia, said: “The Spanish and Portuguese are neighbours, but they are not brothers”. It made me think of Jussi and Betty: our dogs live in the same house, but they are not sisters.

Despite their differences I am sure they would join us in wishing our readers the very best for 2020 and the adventures that lie ahead. See you then.

The Somme

The Somme

The meteorologist-in-residence says that it rained every day in November. Sometimes just constant, gentle ‘Tet’ rain as we call it (anyone who has been to Hanoi in February will know exactly what that is) or chucking it down, hammering on the roof and creating enormous red puddles. Combined with mild temperatures it means that the garden is disappearing under knee deep grass so that even going out when the sun does shine means coming back soaking wet.

It means that the hen run really is a huge mud bath and great precaution is needed when putting Skittle and his harem away at night. Fortunately the field next door, which they can have access to from the back entrance of the coop, is on the way to being a lovely lush meadow and they’ll be able to appreciate that soon. We are still getting eggs every day.

It means that there are flowers as well as berries on some of the bushes; here the medronho (strawberry tree) and the hawthorn think it’s both autumn and spring:

It means too that we are having a particularly colourful autumn. The leaves have remained on the trees for much longer both in the garden and out in the countryside. The acer campestre we planted almost 5 years ago has put on a stunning show for the first time:

Meanwhile in the veg patch I was astounded to see red peppers as well as green on the plants. The hens appreciated the last of the toms, a little manky from the wet. I’m pleased to say the garlic which I’d planted earlier in the month are already sprouting, the broad beans are in as well as the leeks. The asparagus has been chopped down and mulched.

Also a certain event next month has not been forgotten. Both the cake and pud have been made, and the sloes decanted. Richard has also mended the pallet tree so we’ll be decorating that tomorrow. Which reminds me: the real Christmas tree we planted in the garden will be celebrating its tenth festive season this December; I must take a photo of that, it looks marvellous.

Alas, the olives have still to be picked but December seems set for blue skies so a combination of warm afternoons and frosty mornings ahead. Perfect picking weather.

Happy anniversary

Happy anniversary

A typical September which saw us pottering about plus a short jaunt across the border for an over indulgence in seafood. However, the big day was September 11th, the day we landed in sunny Portugal 10 years ago. We celebrated with a family photo and some of Richard’s home made beer, of course. They do say never to work with children or animals, this was our fourth attempt… Jussi really did not want to look at the camera despite a dog biscuit perched on top.

September is typically one of the harvest months and we enjoyed, for the first time, not exactly a bumper crop but really a fair number of almonds from the tree we planted. This is just a few of them that Richard spent an afternoon shelling.

We certainly do have a huge crop of prickly pears. I shall have another attempt at making some syrup from them, otherwise the birds are in luck again.

The dyeing pots and pans have been out again. First up, the blackthorn berries which, despite being shrivelled up, made a marvellous green:

Plus, more excitingly, I had a go at using the woad plants I had sown back in the spring. It’s a rather long and complicated process but seeing the yarn turning blue as it oxidizes once taken out of the pot is amazing. I shall, I keep saying, write up all these experiments one day…

We always knew, with a cockerel and 7 different hens, we would collect a colourful clutch of eggs most days (although Skittle has nothing to do with the egg making) but sometimes that is just too many… These are to be given away. Oh, and more soap-making done this month too.

We have been appalled at the reduction in insects every year. This moth was rescued from the deckchair and placed far more appropriately on some lichen. The camouflage was so good you couldn’t see it in the photo. Compassion now for the giant grasshoppers and locusts, they are left to munch on the leaves of the bay tree rather than getting flicked off and eaten by Jussi.

Finally, the garden is crisp and dry. The rain we have had was welcomed, and there’s more to come. The summer may be over but the new seedlings that have all shot up are already giving everything a green sheen, and a fresh, springlike look. Yesterday, we had all three meals outside; I suspect that’s the last time. It does seem strange that the autumn mists and fallen figs are here when only last month we said summer had arrived at last.

Please tell us if you want some eggs!

Progress?

Progress?

Ever since we moved in (over 9 years ago!) we’ve had problems with the water supply. Almost every month there would be a burst water main. Although it would be fixed promptly we always had to have spare water on hand if needed. So in September 2017 we were pleased to hear the Camara (local council) had decided to replace it. However, in their infinite wisdom they had also decided to not only replace the water main but also to give us a new and wider road. The fact that our lane sees only a trickle of traffic every day didn’t seem important. We were really dismayed to hear this because it meant that they were going to tear down the lovely old dry stone walls and also many olive trees which lined the lane. Why oh why? They were true to their word and in October the olive trees and walls came down. Of course, true to form, nothing was then done for almost 2 years. But then the diggers and road machinery trundled into the village in June this year and the job was done. An improvement? You be the judge.

And from the other side…

In better news, the plum harvest has been amazing this year. The yellow plums were first as ever. They usually put on a good show but we had so many more than we could ever use. The reds are usually the tastiest but also we never get that many. This time loads! Then we went back the UK for two weeks and came back to the greengages. So many we had a number of branch breakages! Next up are the damsons. Now we are left with lots of rotting fruit on the ground but litres and litres of cordial and plenty of plum jam in the larder.

yellow and red plums

Meanwhile the apples and pears are coming along but we will have a bit of respite before they are ready. We’ve also got a new intake of roasties. Following on from the success of the “Pallet palace” for the hens we now have “Fort Frango” for the roasties.

time to say goodbye to the pigpen
…and hello to Fort Frango!

We picked up our first batch from Penela market on Thursday and they are already settling in nicely.

And finally for this month. As always we have plenty of birds nesting in our garden and courtyard. This year we’ve seen blackbirds in the plane tree in the courtyard and the usual serins in the rose above the front door and of course every year we get blue tits in the nest box. It’s a bit late as these little guys fledged in May but I realised we hadn’t included any pictures on the blog. Interestingly there are two broods in one box. The bigger brood at the bottom of the picture fledged and then four more (you can just see two of them at the top of the picture) fledged a week later. We think that a second blue tit had secretly laid the second batch and let the parents of the first brood feed her little ones as well. This apparently is not uncommon.

The B word(s)

The B word(s)

Bracing Just as we thought summer had kicked in the clouds came over, the wind picked up and temperatures fell.  It’s a max of 18 today and it’s barely gone much over 20 since the start of the month.  So what are the other B words (and no, not that one)?

Birds Since the first week of April we have been welcomed every morning by the nightingales. There is always one singing in the olive trees at the end of the garden, we never get to see it until it dives for cover when we get too close.  The number of nightingales in the UK has fallen dramatically, and a lot of research has been done to find out why. Loss of habitat seems to be a major culprit. The British Trust for Ornithology states: “…the ideal habitat is probably a dome of increasing vegetation heights, with a crown of vegetation dense enough at the centre to create bare ground underneath, and a gradient of ground-cover towards the edges where the species can nest…” and that is exactly what we have here. Many of the fig trees have grown very tall and are surrounded by smaller bushes including blackthorn and hawthorn, all favoured by the nightingale. This group is in the neighbouring meadow, you can’t see the thick ring of brambles around the base, it’s impossible to enter:

Interestingly, it’s the increasing deer population in the UK which takes some blame, they are simply browsing on the shrubs and bushes where the birds want to nest.

In the courtyard we have had three sets of birds nesting this season (not counting the wrens which made a nest in February but didn’t use it). Firstly, serins built a nest in the rose bush above the door in exactly the same spot as one last year. We would love to know if it was the same pair, or perhaps their offspring. Secondly, goldfinches built a nest in the top of one of the orange trees and lastly, in our plane tree, there are blackbirds. We are surrounded by countryside, there are bushes and trees galore everywhere and yet again our courtyard is chosen. (I think this now makes 6 or 7 different kinds of birds.)

Bugs It would be nice to say that we also have lots of insects but, like the UK, these are definitely on the decrease. We have two buddleias in bloom, their scent is heavenly, but very few butterflies are seen. The lavender has been a magnet for bumblebees in the past but again there are far fewer this year. We really hope the cooler weather has been the main cause and that once the temperatures rise they’ll come out to play.

Broccoli I planted 12 broccoli plants in one of the new raised beds and they grew amazingly well. So much so that most of them had to be frozen, even half was too much for us for one meal. I did find a great pasta dish (I remembered Inspector Montalbano loved pasta and broccoli) and we had that a few times. So for a first crop with the new system that is a happy success.

Baking The first of the fruits are coming now. The cherry season sees me making one of my favourite desserts: clafoutis. The cherry version I do as the French and leave the pips in, and then, as we have had an abundance of gooseberries, I made it with those and that worked really well too. Fingers crossed for a good raspberry crop because those make the best clafoutis of all.

Branca We tried to introduce Rocky back into the flock but the attentions of Skittle were too much for her. Not only did he make her neck a little red she cowered for the rest of the day under the bramble bushes. So we decided that she really did need more time for the feathers to grow back and she also needed company. Welcome, Branca. From day one they have become the best of friends. The plan is that once Rocky is completely ready, Branca will be old enough to meet Skittle too. And with two new hens he’ll, with luck, be less obsessed with Rocky. We’ll see! On the left Branca and Rocky sharing some quinces, and little Hazlenut:

Lacey with Mo and Preta, and the ruler of the roost, Skittle:

Just bossy boots Hattie not shown here. So one cockerel and seven hens – what on earth are we going to do with all those eggs?!

 

A hoo-ha in the hen house

A hoo-ha in the hen house

May 9, today, is a Thursday. Back in 2009 it fell on a Saturday.  I remember it clearly because it’s my birthday and back then we were trying to find somewhere to have lunch, and with limited success. It seemed we were driving around the Portuguese countryside for ages before we eventually found a place. We had been looking for somewhere to live, and again with limited success. For a variety of reasons we decided to abandon the idea. However, we had already booked the following Monday with an estate agent so thought we might as well look at the properties that had been picked for us. The rest, as they say, is history. Yes, it was ten years ago we found Casa Azul. So a warning that for many of the posts to come we will be comparing then with now – and what a difference!

But this post is about today, and the saga with the hens. It started with the visit from Foxy, three ‘roasties’ were killed one night earlier in the year (it had burrowed its way into the old pig pen where they sleep) and a realisation that the two chicken coops we have for the hens were past it. The first one was given to us by my dad in 2010 and then a second one we got in 2011.  For me, having chickens was one of the very special things about living here.

Already roofs and doors have been replaced, they really are rather rickety. So big project for Richard was to build a bigger and more secure place. Somewhere for Skittle and his harem to be safe and sound, and also one that could be walked into – easier for cleaning and collecting the eggs.

But then alas, at the beginning of April, only a few short weeks after getting Cagney and Lacey, Foxy came in the night and somehow opened the metal cage door (a flap which is pulled outwards), squeezed into the cage and tore open the door to the actual coop. It took Cagney away. We were just devastated, and it was awful telling the nice people who had entrusted them to us (in fact who gave us Skittle as an egg too).

The others were in the second coop, they’re too small to have more than four hens in and Skittle is enormous now! So it was full speed ahead for Richard to continue what has become known as the pallet palace:

Lots of sunny days in April meant he could crack on at top speed. We had a few interesting ‘discussions’ doing it but it’s marvellous. There’s also a side flap which can be opened to let some fresh air in if need be. The caged area has lots of perches and the food and water hangs from the roof so everything is well protected. The water from the roof is also being collected, just in a large black bucket for now, but we’ll get a proper system set up for that. The plum tree, grown up since we have been here, will also give extra shade once the heat of summer comes.

Skittle was delighted with his new home and the hens seemed pleased too. The only thing now was to get more hens. Skittle had Rocky, Hattie and Lacey, but three hens for an amorous cock is not enough 😉 So we went to the market and got three more: Preta, Mo (after Salah of course) and Hazelnut. Photos to follow. We went to bed feeling chuffed; the three new hens were settled in the old coop nearby where they could see and be seen by the others, ready to be let once they were sort of used to each other. But come the second night, Rocky was nowhere to be found. It was too early for Foxy to come, and there were no feathers anywhere. Plus Skittle would have made a real fuss. For some reason the pop-hole (the little flap door that leads into the coop) had also fallen down. We had almost given up looking for her when she made a little noise; she was hiding under the plastic wrapping that protects the food bucket. We thought no more, put her away and locked everyone up.

The next morning it was clear what had happened. Skittle and Rocky must have had some sort of scuffle, the pop-hole had fallen down and, alarmingly, cut Rocky very badly on the back of the head. She had been hiding for two reasons. Skittle, when in full love mode, bites the back of the hens’ necks (they don’t seem very keen about it at all it has to be said). Plus other hens are notorious for bothering those with wounds. We put Rocky in the second old coop, which is just in a small field with grass next door, because she seemed a little frightened of Skittle. And then she got out of the field, for some bizarre reason, and was found cowering and covered in blood. Oh dear. So the latest is that Skittle is with 5 ladies, who are sort of getting on well together now (Lacey pleased she is no longer bottom of the pecking order) and Rocky remains in her own coop and area. They can see each other through the fence so she’s not totally isolated but there’s no way she can return to the others until she’s completely healed. Hens, eh? Who’d have ’em?

PS These are our first four hens with the first coop in 2010. It’s incredible to think that this is the same field, the trees and hedgerows have grown up so much. They were the only batch that were always inquisitive and flying out. I don’t remember another lot standing on the coop as these lot did, or trying to roost in the overhanging walnut tree.