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.
At long last the rain has come, although it does seem like it won’t go away anytime soon. The garden is turning a lush green, the hens a dirty brown and the sky is a heavy grey. We feel though we did make the most of a mostly sunny month with walks in the countryside and trips to the seaside but the olive harvest was started only just before the rain and then abandoned. With luck the one measly bin I filled will at some point have others added to it but neither of us enjoy picking olives and getting wet.
We have been able to do some hobby stuff. Richard disappeared under the trees for a few days to make a (rather belated) wedding present for my niece who got married in the summer. Olive has the most beautiful grain and it’s so nice to use the wood from our own trees.
I also managed to get some sock knitting done with some hand dyed yarn. These are a combination of buckthorn berries, wild madder root and comfrey leaves all taken from the garden.
And then I put the woad to good use (I mentioned my efforts of dyeing with this in last month’s blog) by designing and knitting a little cardi for my nephew’s son – yes! I am a great aunt!
And I’m delighted to say I did use the prickly pears to make jelly; let’s hope all the prickles got taken out…
Finally, we are noticing the mushrooms coming up. Huge boletus line the wood paths along with a new white mushroom we have never seen before. We saw them first in the raised beds, and then were surprised to see them in the forest too. They are all white, with white gills and spores, and we assume they belong to the amanita family (which includes the death cap) but at easily 20cm in width we are completely unable to identify them.
The clocks have gone back, the wind is cold, some potted plants have been moved to frost free areas and all the outside cushions and paraphernalia have been brought under shelter: autumn is well on its way. This blog post has ‘change’ as its theme.
First up is Leslie. Now, I don’t know about you but there’s something strange about calling a hurricane ‘Leslie’. It just doesn’t sound right. According to Wikipedia, ‘Hurricane Leslie was the strongest cyclone to strike the Iberian Peninsula since 1842. A large, long-lived, and erratic tropical cyclone, Leslie was the twelfth named storm and sixth hurricane of the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season.’ Well, funny name or not, we were all waiting for the tempest of a lifetime (remembering the storm of January 2013 when we lost power and water for three days, an olive tree and the local bus stop) but in the end we managed to escape lightly. We were, however, on the fringe as Coimbra district was in fact the worst hit.
One casualty was the pergola on the threshing square. Firmly cemented into rocks and built of sturdy beams it took off, the vines acting as a sail. Luckily the plum tree stopped it from falling out of the square. We think it’s repairable. On the right shows the structure a year ago, on the left is what it look like now:
Our neighbour’s peach tree was blown in half (and we got such lovely peaches from it last year!) and on our various walks in the local countryside there is evidence of some of the strong gusts.
Elsewhere Little Chick is no more. No, not in a pot. She (fingers crossed) is just not little anymore. And sadly, less loved by her step mother. One day Hattie was by her side, making sure she got the best of the raspberries, clucking if she went too far, and sleeping together. Now, Skittle (new name!) is bottom of the pecking order, bullied a little in fact. She must feel quite confused going from fussed over to pecked at. Anyway, she will grow larger than her fellow feathered friends and no doubt will get her own back in time.
Change too refers to the new dye colours I’m seeing as the lichens turn green to dusty pink. I have decided to write about my dyeing experiences separate from this blog (hurrah, says Richard). For those interested just follow the Natural dyeing link on the right under Pages (or if you really interested check out my Etsy shop ).
And our courtyard has a new addition, many thanks to my friend Sue for bringing one of her wonderful ceramics for us on a recent visit:
Otherwise, some things never change.
The sun still has its hat on in October which means continuing to have lunch outside. We’ve been busy with typical October tasks: figs have been made into chutney, made into jam, bottled and stolen by Jussi; walnuts have been gathered (we still have loads from last year!) and stolen by Jussi; the pond has been cleared and the leaves swept up. There are still cherry tomatoes to be had but otherwise the veg patch is a sorry sight. The three hen paddocks have been cleared, the brambles hacked away as much as possible and all the debris burned. We have yet to light our first fire but Richard has been doing things with the wood pile.
So that’s it for another month. Rain and almost freezing temperatures are set for the days ahead. Leccy blanket time.
The poor old veg patch, suffering in the heat and drought. Then, even though we only got a bit, last month’s rain perked a few things up, mainly the brassicas which I have just been keeping alive in the hope that, when the rain did come, they would recuperate. That indeed seems to have happened: the sprouts, purple sprouting broccoli, calabrese and cavolo nero all took a turn for the better and revived my enthusiasm too.
In fact, the never ending sunny days have meant there’s been little pressure getting things done before the weather takes a turn for the worse so, slowly but surely, I have been turning the overgrown mess into something that resembles beds once more. 60 garlic in here now:
Along with the dreaded weeding I have now planted a bed of leeks and sown a bed each of broad beans and peas, just some onions to go in and then the winter crops will have been sorted. There are still some crops left, the aubergines and courgettes need to be pulled up, and the asparagus chopped down, but there are some tomatoes, peppers and chillies growing so they’ll be left for a bit. The fact that the grass is growing again has also lifted my spirits.
I have also, a major achievement this, sorted out the potting shed – hurrah! Loads of stuff has got thrown away, tools cleaned and hung up, shelves tidied and cobwebs swept. The little rosemary hedge around the front has grown amazingly and has been pruned. It looks great inside again now. I couldn’t find a photo of when I first planted the rosemary cuttings but you can just see a tiny one here, and the weigela, the last time I sorted out the shed in June 2014:
Look how everything has grown in the last 3 or so years:
You can see that the polytunnel has at last got a new covering, but only the top half. It’s now called the demi-poly. And, since starting this post, you’ll notice the weather has turned. At long last it feels like autumn, it’s mild but misty, and the smell of wood smoke means that bonfires are being lit rather than the forest is on fire. Perfect gardening weather at last. (Is it really December, and winter, next week?!)
Meanwhile, on the feathered front, all the roasties, ducks and the guinea fowl are now in the freezer. We also only have three hens now as Barbara, and her pendulous crop, couldn’t cope any more. So we have Rocky, Barbara’s sister Hatty (centre), and the gentle giant Bright Eyes (background), the only one of the Orpingtons to have made it. She gets bullied terribly by the other two, despite being twice their size, and has yet to lay an egg.
I’ll finish with a pic only gardeners will appreciate: the very first broad bean poking through. Despite the digging, weeding and compost turning the sight of a little seedling makes it all worthwhile :-).
Where to start? Well, we took the first 2 weeks of September off, another camping trip to the French Pyrenees plus some super stopovers in Spain. Faithful hounds, house and hens were all looked after by a fabulous couple which gave us a real break.
Now of course it doesn’t feel as if we have been away at all. Our first task on return was Operation Pergola. We put up this wooden structure in 2010, before we’d even moved in.
The idea was to grow vines over it for a lovely shady spot to eat under in the summer. The first year went to plan, three vines grew quickly up and over. The second year was okay but come the third the vines just didn’t seem to be doing very well, and then alas they seem to have died. Such a disappointment. I blamed it on the location: too high up, windy and exposed. But then Richard built another structure, even more exposed, on the threshing square. The vines grew and flourished and soon became exactly what we wanted:
The vines, or rather the dead woody branches, were cut down and onto plan B: kiwis. They grow so well around here and the fruit would be an added bonus. Again, they started well but it soon became apparent that these were a failure too. Digging them out, with a heavy heart, we found the problem, or rather the culprits: voles. There were enormous holes under each plant and the roots had all been eaten away.
So plan C was activated on our return. This was to lower the top, it was always proportionately too high, and cover it with bamboo sheets. Somehow we ended up buying the reed version but it has been covered. Then we’re going to plant climbers in large pots around the structure, it will look nice one day… but look how the plants around it have grown!
Meanwhile the veg patch has sort of been abandoned. The heat has just been too much for most things, although we have had tomatoes, cucumbers, some celeriac and courgettes on our return.
The real survivors though are the peppers, both sweet and hot. The forecast is for temperatures to remain high so perhaps the aubergine flowers will bear fruit.
Another victim of the heat has been the polytunnel. Such a great idea but in reality, with these Portuguese long and oh so hot summers, not very practical. There were days when it rained (I vaguely remember what that means…) or overcast when the polytunnel was great. However, seedlings, if left in there even on a sunny March day, would soon shrivel up. I tried to grow tomatoes in a small bed but these too suffered in the heat. Rocket bolted and lettuce shrivelled. I was forever taking trays in and out, and then I lost a couple of sweet potatoes over the winter as it didn’t even keep the frost away. So, all the plastic has been pulled off and I’m considering just covering the top half so that it can still be some sort of shelter and storage area.
One success story has been the prickly pears, loads this year, and we seem to have a bumper harvest of walnuts too.
Finally, Richard has asked me to put up this photo of his cider factory. (Faithful followers will remember the last post when we picked barrel loads of apples). We’re hoping it’s going to be ready for Christmas:
That’s it! The chicken story will have to wait, as will the saga of the dual carriageway being built though the village…
It’s been a lovely November really. We’ve had some rain, some frost and some wind. But mostly we’ve had sunny days and quite mild nights. The wood burning stove went on for the first night on the 5th, appropriately, and always heralds the start of the chilly season and cozy evenings. But we’ve still been having lunch outside and the garden still feels a welcome place to spend some time.
Both in the countryside and the garden the autumnal colours are on full display, this robin (we have loads here) was checking up on me one afternoon:
Pomegranate and vines ablaze:
We’ve both been busy chopping, pruning, bonfire making, last of the jam-making, and planting. Another lot of daffodils and irises went in recently although previously planted bulbs are already peeking through. We just have three kiwis waiting to go in. It’s been great weather for pottering about in wellies. On one lovely countryside walk we managed to get the last of the medronhos (left), strawberry fruit, for some jam. I think these on the right are wild pistachios:
But frosts we have had. The veg patch had a silver sheen on it one morning:
I’m amazed how things survive. The broad beans had become frozen favas and only the smallest of the pea sprouts had been protected overnight, but neither have been affected by the frost.
Meanwhile the old broccoli from the spring planting, from which I’d only cut off the main heads, are giving us a second crop (left), slightly smaller but just as good. And the September plants have the first of their heads appearing:
So we’re eating these as well as leeks, jersualem artichokes (what the voles haven’t had), peppers (yes!), and different kinds of squash. I’m hoping the sprouts will be big enough for our Christmas dinner. The purple sprouting broccoli meanwhile is the best yet (ready in the spring) and the oranges are almost ready:
The main task for me this month has been dealing with the asparagus. Why oh why don’t the books tell you it will grow into a huge hedge where no light can penetrate. I really would have put them in a different place. First task then was to cut the plants down and clear the bed of weeds:
I started to remove the soil around the plants carefully, using just a small and large fork but it soon became evident that the ‘simple’ task of edging them out, despite the recent rain, would be no such thing. I scraped and levered and tugged and coaxed the plants out. Nothing. I spent another thirty minutes doing the same thing. Nada. Eventually, I got one plant out; it had taken almost an hour. This was not going to work. In the end I got the spade and hacked at the plants and their enormous, tough, penetrating roots. I broke my favourite spade 🙁
Anyway, I got three out and placed them in their new bed. If they don’t work never mind as I still have another healthy, productive bed. But what a bother.
The garlic is in. In the last post I talked about mulching the beds. I just couldn’t face any weeding at all, there wasn’t a great deal as the bed for the garlic had already been mulched over the year (I decided to let that bed be fallow) but there were certainly some grasses and bindweed (my nemesis) that should’ve been pulled out. But no, I simply covered it with chicken feed paper sacks, made some holes and plonked the garlic in and then covered it with the grass Richard had strimmed and fallen leaves. I have no idea if this will be all right, time will tell but a task that normally took a few hours was less than one. Green fingers crossed.
The main task for Richard this month (apart from the strimming) has been reducing the number of our roasties and ducks. All the ducks are now dead and there remain four, increasingly nervous, roasties.
A new thing for us, inspired by our road trip to France in May, was to make confitdecanard. It was surprisingly easy to make and we’re looking forward to having that with some home grown veg.
While we’re on the fowl front the hens have been slow at laying. The one which moulted over the summer is looking fine and dandy, but the other two now seemed to have mistimed their feather dropping and are looking rather sorry for themselves and one has lost its tail. They bullied the third one horribly so it serves them right. But none of them are producing eggs so it looks like we’ll have to get replacements in the spring… are you listening chooks?
So as we hunker down in front of the fire, chestnuts roasting, we hope that December will be as pleasant – well for us, less so for the roasties 🙂
We have a saying in the UK: where there’s muck, there’s brass. This basically means you can make a lot of money from work that most people don’t want to do because they think it’s dirty or unpleasant. Well, the muck from our compost heap doesn’t make us a lot of money but certainly helps with producing the veg. This whole year I have been mulching the beds with compost, paper, straw, cut grass, leaves, and chicken bedding… you name it, it has been put on the beds. The idea is to keep the weeds down, keep the soil moist and, as it’s organic, slowly turn the soil into a great substance for growing things. And as it’s not dug in, just laid on top, the worms do the work for you. Well, that’s the idea! It’s not really hard work, although quite tiring, but so much better than weeding (and for my back).
Here’s some examples:
First up is a combination of freshly cut grass and straw on the beds which produced the peppers and cucumbers. This was laid on top of magazines and newspapers. I tried to do it each time after some rain so that the moisture in the beds was kept in.
We had the best cucumbers ever, from June to October, but although the peppers did well they put their brakes on over the scorching summer so the flowers and subsequent fruit were too late really.
We’ve had the same problem with the tomatoes and aubergines: a smaller, later crop than usual as they too hated the heat.
Next up are the sprouts, planted early July (seeds sown in May) in a lovely bed of straw. Each plant also had a protective tube of card around it. The irregular size of growth is in proportion to the amount of sunlight they get. Behind them is one of the asparagus beds, they grow thick and hedge-like every summer creating a dark shadow. This year it’s going to be dug up and moved elsewhere, I’m hoping to do that in time for the smaller sprouts to still catch up and give us a winter crop.
And here the leeks, also put in early July, with a combination of paper and straw and loo rolls:
We’ve had the first of those already. What was very obvious with the leek bed is that those that were planted where the broad beans had been were much bigger. They all get the same amount of sunshine so for me it’s proof of the benefit of crop rotation and also of leaving the beans to die in the beds rather than pulling them up for the compost heap. They really did leave lots of nitrogen in the soil.
Meanwhile there is still the joy of seeing things grow, the mild autumn has been great for the beets…
Less said about the artichokes the better. We’ve had some but it seems the voles have taken a fancy to them too and munched through most of the crop!
And the mulching still continues of course. The squash and courgettes (the latter just pathetic this year) have all been pulled up and lots of muck put on where the brassicas will go next year.
The onions (both red and white) are in, so are the broad beans and peas (both sprouting already). The August planting of cauliflower and calabrese has been a success with large plants already. Just the garlic is left for this year’s planting. And we’re still enjoying some late fruit too: strawberries, figs (both kinds), and melon.
Now we’re just waiting for the rain. It’s been an amazingly warm month with temperatures of 30 a couple of days. The forecast rain never seems to appear, and I’ve actually been watering the veg patch – in October! It feels more like late summer than autumn, perhaps we’ll get some more peppers and aubergines after all.
I think I’m right in saying that we have updated this blog every single month since starting and this month, for the first time, we almost didn’t make it. Which would have been a shame as it’s been a wonderful month, a perfect autumn misty morning cum glorious sunshine cum parky evening kind of month. Great for walking, gardening, lunching outside and then enjoying a roaring fire. It’s been alive with colour, not the pretty, pretty colours of spring but vibrant green pastures, rich red and gold vineyards, bronze foliage and clear blue skies.
Jack Frost has visited us a few times adding a sharpness and crunch, red noses and iced waters; a taste of winter. So goodbye November and the season of mellow fruitfulness, and hello to the wrapped-up season.
It’s been a surprisingly busy month, this October. Where to start? Well, with mostly sunny days we’ve been able to do lots of gardening, walking and harvesting. So into the veg patch first and, hurrah, things are definitely looking up. The cauliflowers and broccoli which I’d said had failed have in fact done very well. After cutting off the rather pathetic broccoli heads there have been loads of side shoots which will keep coming over the weeks ahead. And the cauliflower has, after months and months, decided it will grow after all.
So at the moment we have those two crops, plus squash, sprouts and the last of the runner beans. We will start on the leeks now and we’re looking forward to trying the jerusalem artichokes, a first for us in the veg patch. Slightly worried about their side effects and their nickname fartichokes… The horseradish which I’d said had gone rotten has also completely come back to life so that’ll be dug up soon too.
Meanwhile the chooks have kept us busy. We moved the hens from one patch to another, where we have a spare coop, as they’d scratched up all the grass. They are still giving us 3 or so eggs a day. And we bought some more ‘roasties’. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get any more ducklings. The man in the market didn’t have any and as far as I could understand he wasn’t going to get any more because there wasn’t the demand. Hoping I’m wrong about that but if not will have to look elsewhere, the duck we had for Christmas last year was great. Instead of ducklings we got 6 white chicks which I’m not a big fan of, they grow much fatter more quickly than the brown ones (we got 8 of those) but become quite pathetic as they put on weight and struggle to walk. They seem to be enjoying the green grass in the meantime.
We are lucky to have a quince tree in the garden, for some reason there are no others in the village. It was a good harvest for them and we have made loads of quince jelly, quince cordial, quince crumble (made with star anise this has become Richard’s fave dessert) and frozen some batches as well. The chillies too have been made into jam, oil or just dried.
The springlike weather has also been great for the wild flowers. We discovered this tiny little orchid on a walk and then were delighted to find it growing near the house. The common name is autumn lady’s-tresses (Spiranthes spiralis) so that’ll have to go on our orchids page. We also have autumn crocuses in the garden too.
The hedgerows have been fooled by the temperatures. The blackthorn, where we get our sloes from, is in flower and in the veg patch the autumn raspberries are half a metre tall when they should be dormant.
However, the big task of the month has been the olive harvest so it’s been lovely having the springlike sunshine for that. The garden seems to be full of robins who sing while we work. The dogs too always join us and are happy to supervise, although after a while slink off to the sofa or in search of walnuts.
Last year’s spring deluge meant we had no olives at all in 2014 but this year’s bumper harvest meant it was fairly easy to get enough for the year ahead. After a few days we’d collected 188kg of olives and we got 15 litres of oil for that (the going rate is 8 litres per 100kg). We could have got a lot more. Our neighbour spends weeks collecting his olives, he loves it, but we are rather lazy! He has built this amazing structure which sits on the shovel part of his tractor so that he can be raised up and reach the topmost parts of the trees, it’s a frightening sight as he’s well into his 70s! (While driving to the olive oil factory we lost count of the number of people in their olive trees brandishing loppers or saws.)
He very generously lends us his cleaning machine every year. It separates the leaves and twigs from the olives and despite making a racket does the job quickly and efficiently:
So that was October, I haven’t even mentioned all the strimming Richard’s had to do (and will need to do again soon), the baking, breadmaking etc etc. What have you done this month?
Yes, Richard has been brandishing his sharp knife and, making the most of a sunny morning, did the deed. D-day for the ducks. One we have had already, friends from Paris popped by last weekend and we enjoyed roast duck and some of our buttercup squash. The other two are in the freezer and one will be on the table for Christmas. Richard has also dispatched two of the fat ‘roasties’, one which we had last night. Seven to go and then that’ll be it until next year. The duck experiment was definitely a success and we will get more now.
Meanwhile the rain, most days, is with us. Faithful readers may well remember that this time of the year we talk about the olive harvest. Well, if there’s one sure thing about living here it’s that there is no such thing as a sure thing. Our olive trees have no olives, nada. Either they fell off during the summer storms or, if they survived that, they rotted on their branches. Not just us of course, most of our neighbours have the same problem so the familiar sound of olive branches being bashed, the familiar sight of those large green nets on the ground and precarious ladders, and the familiar smell from the oil factories is not with us this year. We still have a little oil left over from last year but, for the first time since we arrived here 5 years ago, we’re going to have to buy some oil. Unthinkable! The vineyards roundabout have suffered the same fate so no vino for the locals to drown their sorrows either.
But, talking of roundabouts, there are swings too. The rain has come with mild temperatures which has fooled, yet again, nature. The bulbs are up and the wild iris have flowered. Our buddleia is looking lovelier than it ever has, and the bottle brush is blooming. There is blossom on some of the fruit trees. There is green, green grass.
Our new hens are no longer allowed on the patch of land where their hut is to allow the grass to grow. Richard has set up a tunnel system whereby they go into the next door field. That’s worked well. One has been moulting quite badly and lost its tail, it got very offended when we laughed at it.
We end on a slightly sad note though. This photo was taken exactly 4 years ago, our very first hens. Our new hens have no names but the first lot soon became known as Nervy, Pecky, Blind Betty and Brownie. They have all gone now, the last two this week. So the new hens are now just the hens. Long live the hens.