There is a lot going on at Casa Azul but I mustn’t let another month go by without saying a fond farewell to my dear friend and neighbour, Dona Helena (affectionately known as the goat lady before we knew her real name). She used to bring her goats and sheep to the fields near our house and one of the first winters here I went out and gave her some mince pies. We became friends after that, swapping food, recipes, plants and cuttings; she was full of information about the local plants and loved talking about the history of the village. Because of her I know the state of the roads (not tarmacked of course) were during the rainy season, many of the residents kept oxen and donkeys which made it impossible to pass sometimes. She showed me the house in the village (long empty) where she had classes, the teacher came by bicycle but not when it was too muddy. She hated the fact that, unlike the boys, she couldn’t then go to proper school as it was considered inappropriate for her to travel too far away. She talked about how hard it was living there without water and electricity. There are some large flat stones in the pond on the hill on our dog walk, those she said, were what they had used to wash the clothes.
One day she, her daughter-in-law and I walked up to Ateanha, a village on the hill above ours. Her mother came from there. We walked around meeting and greeting friends and relatives of hers. And then she took us up to the highest point in a clearing in the woods and produced a simple picnic for us to share. She didn’t speak a word of English and it really was thanks to her that I made any progress at all in Portuguese and passed the language test to become a Portuguese citizen.
One day I got up extra early and helped her milk the sheep for her cheese. She made batches of the stuff which she sold to those who knew. She used a simple, traditional recipe and the cheese dried on a plank under the eaves. The video is one from our website again and I’m really pleased we have that as a fond memory of her. She gave up the sheep and goats a few years back, it just became too much for her.
Now she has gone her house is shuttered up, just like the house of Luis and Laurinda opposite. They were my main friends in the village and it is so very sad that none of them are here any more but we are both so happy to have met them, been invited to their homes, and shared the easy companionship of the Portuguese.
Oh and if there is an old man or woman who lives alone where you live, someone you are on nodding terms with only, go and visit them. Take a cake. Share it with a cup of tea or coffee. Learn about life before the Internet. “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” Find out what that was and make a new friend.
The seasons are traditionally thought of as lasting 3 months each, however we have often noted that Spring and Autumn at Casa Azul, although in many ways our favourites, seem to slide by very fast. October is often warm and sunny, almost summery, but as soon as November begins we get the fire on and prepare for the frosts. This year was slightly different in that we lit the first fire on 28th October but we are yet to have a frost. I think that is the reason for the leaves on all the trees hanging on for longer than usual and providing a great show of colour. This is especially true of the grape vines.
Even the small vine at the front of our house has put on a bit of a show.
We’ve also had our first rain of winter and so mushrooms are popping up all over the place. Here is a parasol from the garden…
… and a particularly impressive Omphalotus olearius. There are many of these around here as they like to grow at the base of olive trees. This mushroom is very similar to the Jack o’ Lantern, famous for being bioluminescent.
Talking of olives, we’ve also completed our olive harvest. Very late indeed for us but actually we were amongst the first round here to harvest. In fact the local olive presses are only just opening up for the season and we managed to get ours done very quickly. It was a very good season as the olives have plumped up nicely from the recent rain and they were really good quality or so we thought. We got 200 kgs which is pretty good for us. This didn’t, however, impress the bloke at our local press who only gave us 7 litres per 100kg as opposed to the normal 8 litres. It’s a bit of a complicated story but if you have 300kgs or more you pay to have your olives pressed and then you get your oil. If under (like us) you have to swap your olives for oil at the going rate but don’t pay anything. As it happens our olives went into a batch with someone else and that was the oil we got anyway. I suppose I’ve saved our biggest news until last. Every year around this time we get nightime visitations from wild boar (javeli as they are called here). We’ve got a thick bramble hedge around our property so they usually only root around the fields outside but this year they managed to find a hole in the hedge and one morning we woke up to find our garden had been ploughed! Fortunately they didn’t dig up any plants.
And they came back night after night despite us frantically trying to block up any holes. Of course, we never see them by day and wonder where on earth they go. We have a night camera and have often caught them on this but we have been a bit lazy this year and not set it up. However here is a video of a big porker from a previous visitation:
And finally another video. Although it’s November, as I said we haven’t had a frost and it’s been very mild. So mild in fact that we still have wasps (and a few bees). Here’s a video I took of a very active nest in the ground. They were very busy but not aggressive at all. (PS I’m not sure what they don’t do!)
A long, hot September which saw us travel to Galicia and northern Portugal for 10 days of mostly camping. The dogs, chooks and house were all looked after by a marvellous couple and meant a stress free trip. However, there’s rather a shadow at the end of this month as we have just said goodbye to our neighbour and friend Luis. He was taken to hospital on Friday but didn’t make it. The funeral was today. We also learnt that his wife, Laurinda, will not be staying on alone in the house and that it will be sold. It is all incredibly sad news for us. Nicer neighbours you could not wish for, Luis was always ready to help us, and to see their house lie empty will be heartbreaking. So here, in memory, are a couple of photos of just some of the many times when they were there to give a willing hand:
Our first olive harvest was a great success thanks to Luis. He kindly sold us his machine last year as he was no longer able to pick his olives.
And Laurinda was there to help for our first killing of the roasties. Goodbye, dear friends.
Six weeks since the new year and our last post and we have been as busy as ever. Last year, I built a new wood shed in the courtyard and flushed with success decided to make another one next to it. This was earmarked to store a few items from the barn to open up a bit of space there. I also got some more gravel to make the courtyard a bit more attractive. Possibly the only advantage of living close to a quarry is that gravel is very cheap – where else could I have got 2 tonnes for 8 Euros?
We’ve also done something we have been planning to do for the last 8 years – we went skiing in the Serra da Estrela! It’s just over 2 hours drive from us and despite there not being much snow, there was enough and the added bonus was that the slopes were almost completely empty.
One of the reasons we love living here is that the countryside is stunning and the misty mornings have made it even more beautiful.
In the photo above you can see a few willows. Jackie has started pruning the one in our garden and made some bird feeders out of the branches. Here is a Great Tit perched on one, enjoying a treat. Other birds have also been out in force including one of our favourites, the Robin.
As well as pruning the willow, Jackie has been hard at it pruning the plane tree in the courtyard and getting sage advice from one of the hairy ones. The other hairy one, meanwhile, has been hard at it under the orange tree. This is the tree that keeps on giving. I must have made gallons of orange juice so far this winter and there is still more to come.
I’ve also got myself a new toy. I’m not sure what it’s called – a rasper? It’s an attachment to my small angle grinder and acts like a turbo sander. Anyway, it made short work of a piece of olive wood turning it into a small bowl. Watch this space to see how this new hobby develops!
Although we have had daffodils for a quite a few weeks now it is always great to see the first fruit blossom – and the winner this year is the apricot (I wonder if any of the fruit will manage to reach maturity this time?) and although there have already been some wild irises in the countryside, this is the first one to appear in our garden. Roll on Spring!!
This year, perhaps even more than most, has been all about the weather. The long, hot, dry spring and summer that caused the horrendous wildfires, the briefest of warm dry autumns and now, in early December, Jack Frost is already nipping at our toes. We’ve had a week of sub zero temperatures and as is usual here, if it’s cold, it means bright blue skies during the day and clear dark skies at night. And no rain. And it makes my daily morning walk with the dogs all the more pleasant.
And especially because the autumn colours are fantastic.
I’ve also been busy with my saw and nails. As soon as I finished the new wood store, I knocked this coffee table together. I’ve also been to a friend’s house and used his wood turning lathe. Maybe something to think about in the future?
They say the hardest part is the waiting, well it was with the cider (4 months in fact) but it’s now ready and it tastes pretty good.
Meanwhile the harvests keep on coming. We’ve still got plenty of quinces on the tree but I have to say both me and Jackie aren’t that keen to make any more quince jellies or crumbles. Especially as the oranges are also now ready for marmalade making. Because we have had so little rain, although there are plenty of them, they are very small and so not really worth juicing.
Latest update: As I type, it seems the drought has been broken – to a certain extent. Storm Ana has passed by and dropped 57mm of rain over the last 24 hours. It’s also taken the leaves off the plane tree in the courtyard. Below is a photo taken a couple of weeks ago and then another taken this morning (with hailstones). We still need plenty more rain though.
So all in all another busy but thoroughly enjoyable year at Casa Azul and plenty of projects planned for next year too. We hope you like the ‘new look’ blog and all there is to do is to wish all our readers a very happy festive season and may your gardens and lives be bountiful in 2018!
As we are both a bit Bah, humbug! about Christmas we like to celebrate the solstice, especially as here we are so much more aware of the sun and her powers. That the days will slowly lengthen lifts our spirits although a sun filled winter so far means we have been far from gloomy. And once again the 21st was a warm, bright day, a nice one to share with friends.
As always it was a home made affair starting with the fruit infused vodka. We had to have one of our chickens of course as Richard has now killed all 14 of the last lot of roasties (although we had a mini ‘cheeky charlie‘ saga as the last one escaped and spent the night in the bramble bushes) so chicken liver pâté was followed by chicken and leek pies. The tree was also a joint effort, Richard dismantling and cutting up an old pallet and me re assembling it into some kind of arboreal shape. Festooned with flashing lights, knitted trees and tinsel it’s certainly something different!
The main activity in the veg patch has been the endless digging over the beds. I’ve been determined to make them as weed free as possible over the winter and then to mulch them so that, come the spring, I’m not doing it all again. So a variety of organic mulches have been used: straw, grass cuttings, cardboard and newspaper as well as our own compost of course. It’s been quite a tiring task (and my back is suffering as a result) but I’m really hoping they’ll be less weedy (ha!), more enriched and better prepared for the scorching summer ahead. There is one main job to be done and that’s sowing the garlic but that, as they say, is for another day.
So it’s just left for us to wish all our readers a happy festive season and of course a peaceful 2016.
We’ve had a much drier and sunnier winter than last year and long may it continue. However the 29th December brought our first frost, followed by another on the 30th resulting in a frozen pond. As you can see it also almost finished off the few remaining leaves of our plane tree which looks transformed from the photos of our last post.
Anyway, we hope you had a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all our readers!!
Posts have been rather few and far between recently, not because we have been too busy sipping G and Ts on the manicured lawns of Casa Azul but simply because we have been too busy doing other things. One of them, for me was going back to the UK for a couple of weeks. This meant Jackie had to shoulder the burden at home on her own. And now I’m back, my list of things to do has grown exponentially.
So what’s been happening? Well after the wettest winter on record, we’ve had no rain at all in April. This has meant the watering system had to be dusted off, repaired and put back in action. We seem to have bought more trees and shrubs over winter so this means even more watering. The previous rain and the present sun has meant the grass has also taken off, which of course means strim, strim, strim.
Most of the fruit blossom has come and gone but I’m not sure how much fruit we will get. The plum blossom came in the middle of a lot of rain, so I’m not hopeful about that, however the last of the blossom, the apples and pears, was only in the last few weeks during a hot dry spell so hopefully the bees have done their job and fertilised all the flowers. Not our bees of course as they had disappeared (again). However, before they left, they had been very busy, even in winter, and had left loads of honey stores for us. I took the empty hives and left them in the barn over the winter with the honey still in the capped frames. I took the frames back out recently and the honey seemed to be fine so I made use of the hot weather to extract it. We haven’t got any more bees this year but we are hoping to try them again but in a very different place next year to see what happens.
Of course we are still gorging on our home grown pork. We’re going to have a rest from pig rearing this year but I’ve modified the pig house and field for more roasties. As you can see from the before and after pictures below, I needed to rescue the house from the elephant grass first.
We got 11 chicks from the market and they will be ready for the chop in a couple of months. Interestingly the brown ones are supposed to be tastier but the white ones grow huge and fat quicker.
And talking of chickens, what about the title of this blog post? Well last week I heard a load of squawking and clucking from the hen run with the three of them running hither and thither in a frenzy of feathers. One had got a mouse and they were tearing it to pieces!!! Not satisfied with the the occasional snail, they seem to have developed a taste for bigger prey. Jackie is already a bit nervous about entering the run because of the attentions of the well-named ‘Pecky’. What next?
No posts for three weeks but we’ve still been busy. Jackie on the veg patch (she will post when she’s finished bottling the tomatoes!) and me with more woodworking projects.
One of these projects was a garden chair. I picked up some tongue and groove floorboards from the local sawmills and this is the result:
I’ve also made a table for the courtyard (the purple colour is Jackie’s idea in order to match the colour scheme of the courtyard which is… purple and blue).
It’s not been all work and no play however. Our Spanish friends Scott and Delia visited and one of the things we did was go swimming in a local river. Of course the hairy ones loved this and Betty learned how to swim!
Fences and gates done, I now moved onto a more demanding task – making a garden bench. I chose the simplest looking design off the web and so it proved not too demanding, although I must admit the measurements I followed made it rather chunky to say the least. It’s certainly not going to collapse but it may need an army of helpers to move it. It’s in the courtyard at the moment which suits us for now as it’s a real suntrap.
I don’t have a proper workbench so the back of the truck had to suffice.
…and here it is – ready to be sanded and painted.
I did need to get a couple of extra toys to complete the job – a sander and also as the wood was so so chunky, an extra long drill bit (seen below).
We’ve had daffodils in the garden for a couple of weeks now and they are being joined by crocuses. Can’t wait for a bit of rain then the rest of the spring flowers.
I had time to renovate the chicken run gates as well!