The good: it’s been raining. In fact we have had rain every day in March except 13th. This means the grass is green, the well is full and there are puddles galore for Jussi on her walks. The saplings we put in are beginning to show the very first signs of life.
The seed sowing has been slightly delayed this year until it’s a tad warmer, but those on the kitchen windowsill are coming through. Each of the sweetcorn has just germinated, I can taste those already. The purple sprouting broccoli is out and being eaten (by us!) and the lettuce, radishes, rocket (and some nettles) are thriving in the demipoly:
The bad: it’s been raining. In fact we have had rain every day in March except 13th. This means the hens and roasties, and even the ducks, spend more time sheltering despite so much lush grass to eat. The broad beans are up and flowering but the flowers look rather soggy and there doesn’t seem to have been many insects about, I’m waiting for the first pod to appear. The peas are bedraggled. The raised beds in the veg patch, it seems not that long ago, were looking great but the weeds love this weather and are slowly taking over:
The beautiful: but we have had some sunny intervals, enough for the spring flowers to appear:
And the blackthorn at the end of the garden has put on a marvellous snowy, showy spectacle:
We have left it too late to clean out the bird boxes as the blue tits are already making themselves at home. And on the morning walks nothing is nicer than hearing the Song Thrush echo down the valley. They have normally gone by now, being winter visitors, but it seems they have decided to stay this year. How nice:
The birds 1 First up the chooks. Well, we are really pleased that at least one of the new hens we bought back in September is now laying. Not the biggest of eggs but small and perfectly formed. The remaining hens (now called the old hens) are trying to make amends for their past poor performance and recently we’ve had 3 eggs a day from them.
They’re a little miffed at the mo. The new hens have been taken from their original patch and put in a new one, full of luscious green grass. The old ones are left to dig around in the dirt having eaten every blade and scratched up every root.
The birds 2 January is always a good month for bird watching from our living room windows. It’s not uncommon to see 15 different kinds of birds at one time, mostly the various finches on and under the feeder, but also warblers, pipits and wrens. For some reason the tits have turned their beaks up at the fat balls we put out but the great tits are happy with the seed.
A first for us here at Casa Azul was a short-toed tree creeper doing it’s thing around the olive trunks. And we were really surprised to see a hoopoe preening itself in the plum trees, they’re summer visitors and shouldn’t be here until April.
Foxy We treated ourselves recently to a wildlife camera, one of those that takes photos and videos when something walks past. I’d chosen what I thought was a good spot, opposite some kind of underground nest, but nothing. So after a few weeks chose a different spot where it looked like animals had passed. Success! One night the shot of a passing tail and then a short film of a curious fox. Just keep away from the chooks, foxy!
Aside from all the veggies we’ve planted and the animals we’ve introduced (bees and chickens), there are plenty of things growing around here that we inherited, some that have sprung up like weeds and some that are growing wild in the lanes around here.
I suppose the dreaded brambles are the main things that spring to mind. I spent months and months trying to eradicate them from the main part of the garden but they have still thrived around the edges. Last year the blackberries were dry and shrivelled but the cool summer we have ‘enjoyed’ this year has been a boon for them and plenty have ended up in various deserts. The common accompanyment to blackberries is of course apples. We do have an old apple tree in the garden which has been here for years. It produces plenty of apples (there are plenty on the ground that’s for sure) but they are all tiny and mostly inedible. Fortunately there are plenty growing wild in the lanes around here, as well as pears, and often on my daily walk with the hairy one I manage to snaffle a few for my knapsack.
Two of the trees that were also here before us are the orange trees in the courtyard. Fortunately they seem to be doing very well and have plenty of fruit which should be ready at the turn of the year. We also have our fingers crossed for our small lemon tree which has two lemons and our new lime tree which has quite a few microscopic fruits clinging on for dear life.
I suppose quite naturally for these parts we have grapevines sprouting all over the place. Most have had a poor summer with few grapes but we have an enormous bush in the lane by the house. Although the grapes are only small at the moment and not of high quality I am hopeful for at least a few glasses of grape juice for next month.
Aside from the flora, the fauna still continues to thrive. I took another frame off the bees which they seem to be fine with. This gave another two and a half jars which is just as well as we seem to be giving plenty of the stuff away. I won’t be taking any more so let’s hope that we’ve got enough for ourselves over the winter (I’m sure the bees will be thinking the same). Other fauna is also doing well. The collared doves must like it here as they’ve had a second brood and the fledgelings have just left the nest but are staying close to home for now. I wonder how long parents and kids will stay for?
While we were looking up at the collared dove nest in the old olive tree right by the house there was a tremendous twittering and fluttering. Along the electricity wire 5 baby barn swallows wobbled, wings flapping to keep them from falling. We’re sure they had just fledged. The parents seem to take it in turns either to feed or stay with them as they struggled on the tightrope. They certainly weren’t afraid of us, but perhaps they were too scared to look down…
Meanwhile the collared dove chicks have slowly left home. They first started to sit on the branch next to their nest and then, a few days later, moved to a lower branch on the same olive tree; I’ve yet to see them fly. The nest can be seen from the upstairs window although we never saw it being built.
Amazingly, they are not shy either and yesterday, while working on the veg patch, there were two pairs of eyes on me. I’d like to think they were giving me encouragement but can’t help feeling they were eyeing up future suppers.
As for the roasties… well, they have a new name: the lollies, because that’s all they do all day long. Loll, loll, loll. I realise now that we haven’t really made too many right decisions about keeping them. First of all, the patch of land they are on was chosen in the early spring. One hot day, after the new fence for them was put up, it was obvious there wasn’t enough shade. Once the house and run was installed Richard made a shelter for them which is great but it can still get very hot, nothing beats the shade of a tree. We also made some decisions based on the ‘egg chickens’. One was that they are hardly in their house, they’re always out and about pecking and scratching and in fact have been since they were brave enough to leave the run. The ‘roast chickens’ on the other hand aren’t that fussed about looking for food. On hot days they stay in the house which gets dirty very quickly. The ‘egg chickens’ perched straight away, these are not keen. I’m sure because they don’t want to make the effort to jump up, they’re so lazy. The run door is propped open but they prefer lolling in the run, and that gets dirty too. This morning some were pecking at the grass – but they were sitting down still! They’ll come out and sit on the logs but that’s about it. Some of them sit right by the feeder so that, with the minimum of effort, they can just lean forward and have more food! So in fact the house and run is a little small for 8 ever growing chickens. And their water needs filling every day… I suppose they’re bred to be lolly birds so that they get as fat as possible and that is certainly happening. They seem content enough eating and lolling all day but I think the ‘egg chickens’ are a touch scornful of their slothy neighbours.
Double meaning for this post. Jackie mentioned in the last one that June was rather unseasonable. Well next week the forecast is for it to go to 37 degrees (that’s in the shade). And also although it’s not been too hot, it has still been very dry, meaning that quite suddenly everything has taken on a golden hue. Or if you are less romantic, everything is drying up and going brown. We don’t have much water here so we let the grass die. Many of the flowers and blossoms have come and gone but we still have the roses and the lavender which look great and provide much needed colour.
The other roastie of the title is ‘the roasties’ – the chicks we bought just over a week ago. Well, they are certainly meant for the table because they are eating like trojans and putting on plenty of meat. Only a few weeks to go till chop time! As it is heating up they even have a little shade – what luxury!
But they are not the only birds around. Remember I mentioned the collared doves? Well I found their nest – it’s at the top of an old olive tree. A bit difficult to observe (and to photograph) but we have seen two chicks. Also the parents have become quite tame and despite my dishevelled appearance will even accept a few crumbs from my outstretched arm.
Of course the harvesting is now in full flow. Not least the plums. the yellow ones and the red ones have come at the same time this year so we are frantically using them up before they all fall and go off. I have made a number of plum crumbles and Jackie has been busy bottling plum cordial.
Of course we are still getting 4 eggs from our hens every day regular as clockwork and are managing to barter them for our neighbour’s meat pies now!
And we are still managing to get out and about a bit so here is a pic of my two girls and the beautiful Portuguese countryside.
We wrote some time ago about the numerous birds that come down to the pond in the summer and promised photos. We haven’t managed that yet but here are a few spotted outside the living room window this afternoon. We hadn’t taken many of the olives off the nearest tree to the house and as a result many of the ripe fruits have fallen to the ground, much to the delight of the birds. There are often tens of birds and many different varieties. The ones I didn’t photograph today include blackcaps, long tailed tits, a sardinian warbler and black redstarts.
goldfinch and greenfinch:
chaffinch and blue tit:
serin and robin:
wagtail and siskin:
We’ve had a great Christmas here at Casa Azul. Christmas Day lunch was shared with old friends (Jo and Nigel up from Lisbon) and new ones (Helen and Peter down from Pera), and it was particularly great (well, for me!) that three of the four veg on our plates (namely the sprouts, carrots and swede) were from the veg patch. And I’m not sure if anything was bought ready made – the mince pies including the pastry (thanks Jo) and mincemeat, the stuffing (thanks H and P for the chestnuts), the cakes (thanks Jo again), the pudding (thanks sis), the custard, the decorations (thanks Peter) were all home made! Even the Buck’s Fizz Richard made came from our oranges! Perhaps next year he’ll be ringing the neck of our own goose… Feliz Natal!
The pond has been abandoned a little but despite a somewhat murky appearance seems to be doing well. We had made it to attract the frogs and this has yet to happen but as there seems to be so few slugs that’s no big deal. What has happened though is that it has become a magnet for the birds who like nothing more than a big splashy bath to start the day. There can be up to five different kinds battling for a place on ‘the beach’ including tits, (blue and great), goldfinches, robins, serins, blackbirds, greenfinches, sparrows and black redstarts plus their scruffy young. Pictures to follow. My favourite at the moment is the linnet although not a common sight. A hoopoe flew by the other day, and there are jays too.
There are quite a few plants growing well and the lily has produced its second yellow flower – very pretty:
But nowhere near as pretty as the red dragonflies:
They look bizarre close up with a giant bobbing head and filigree wings, kind of fascinating but creepy at the same time!
NB Have a butchers on the video page as there’s a new one with the (pretty much) finished house.
The two blokes on site have continued to work hard over the last few weeks and they have now been joined by the electrician/plumber. Together they’ve managed to do some more demolition work. This time inside the house, digging up the ground and chiselling away at the walls finding gaps to put the electric cabling in. Next up will be the plumbing. Although the house was lived in up until a few years ago there is hardly any electric cabling or water supply in the place so everything has been done from scratch.
Meanwhile Jackie’s veggies are sprouting everywhere, led by the spuds. Every day now she is replanting the youngsters from the kindergarten (the cloches and cold frames) into senior school (the raised beds). Also more and more trees are sprouting, including this one to the left of the pond (see photos below). It’s a fruit tree but we have no idea which. There are about 4 or 5 others we are not sure of either – can’t wait to see if they fruit.
There have also been plenty of birds around including some big predators – black kites, buzzards and harriers. Here I snapped a couple of marsh harriers – not over our land but over some marshland not too far from where we live.
The euphoria surrounding last week’s concrete pour on the roofs has quickly dissipated. After getting the roof done, the builder said that we had to leave it for four or five days to set. Fair enough. But now a week later he has told us he won’t be back for another week as he has to finish another job! So two weeks of inaction on the house has left us non plussed to say the least.
However, work continues on the garden and the raised beds are perfectly manicured, ready and waiting. In fact, Jackie has planted our first veggies. Jersey Royal potatoes specially flown in from Jersey (actually posted here from her sister). They should be ready in about three months. And the strawberries are also bedded in and raring to go.
Jackie has also been busy in the kitchen. We rediscovered a huge pile of walnuts the other day which we had picked in November and she made a delicious walnut cake. So delicious in fact that Furface, the local moggie who has adopted us, sneaked in and snaffled up half of it while we weren’t watching.
I’ve also been busy utilising my great strengths – brute force and ignorance. I’ve finally removed all trace of the former pigsty. In its place we’re going to build a little outdoor dining area with a trellis which will be dripping with vines. That (hopefully) will be going up next week, so look out for the pics.
Finally, a good sign that spring must be on its way is that a tiny wren is building a nest on our balcony. Here’s a pic of the wren and a blackcap who came for a butcher’s.