Browsed by
Tag: fruit

The heat and the dust

The heat and the dust

So let’s start with the bad news: 61 dead, so far, in the worst forest fires in Portugal for many years. Fires continue to blaze since Saturday in some places and new ones pop up all the time. The firefighters are exhausted, their heroism is extraordinary. I’m sure you’ve seen the pictures and videos yourselves. Despite this we count ourselves as exceedingly lucky. We have the smoke, the ash, the drone of the helicopters, the intense heat of a 40° sun but we are safe and sound. Until the weekend I was lamenting the fact that the temperatures were affecting the vegetables but now I realise losing some of this year’s crop is nothing compared to those who have lost all.

It’s been very hot, of course, for the chickens, all three batches. The ‘roasties’ seem to suffer the most, sitting panting on the ground dipping the beaks into the water. Ah well, Richard is sharpening his knife so they won’t be suffering for much longer! The new hens, we are really pleased to say, are continuing to grow well. The eldest black one laid her first egg 27 May and has since been laying every day; perfect, nut brown eggs.

Many years ago, we saw that one of the fields allocated to the hens had little shade midday so we planted a couple of lime trees. It gives me great joy to see our new hens sitting under them, exactly as planned!

The veg patch is bursting with growth, somewhat curtailed by the heat, but battling it out. Far too many crops to mention here but we are eating the cucumbers, a little celery, the parsley, the runner beans and I’ve already pickled a jar of gherkins. Oh, and the courgettes of course.

The sweetcorn should be ready soon and some of the many tomatoes too.

Fruitwise we are eating the raspberries, strawberries and gooseberries. Having our own eggs again means ice cream is back on the menu so we’ve had some delicious gooseberry and elderflower ice cream. The neighbours’s peach tree put on a good show again for us too.

We are really hoping for a bumper crop of plums. Alas, our Stanley plum tree has died – such a shame when we had so many last year and they were just so delicious. The redcurrant almost died, a few twigs left only, and the blackcurrant also died. At the end of the day some things can cope with the freezing temps (remember it went down to -6° quite a few nights over the winter) and blistering heat, and others can’t. The red and yellow plums, damsons and greengages will make up for that we’re sure.

Meanwhile, back in the courtyard, it’s looking lovely since being painted and the pink against the blue is surprisingly striking. Just a shame it’s too hot to sit outside and enjoy it – ha!

Finally, the most important things in our lives are also fine. Less lively in the heat…

…but thankful for the cool of the outdoor ponds.

Richard has just come in from watering the garden. He says there are more helicopters over the valley from us and a new fire has broken out. With the summer just starting these are certainly unsettling times.

Long, hot summer

Long, hot summer


Of course we wanted to live in a country which had a proper summer but I didn’t expect to live in Death Valley. Oh, stop complaining I can hear you say as the rain hammers against your window, but I can assure you being outside when the temperatures go over 40C really isn’t pleasant. May, June and July were hot too, with no rain to speak of, and the average maximum temperature for this month has been 35C, the highest being 44C. Today it’s 40C. It’s eerily quiet when it’s that hot. The village dogs are all asleep, the tractors, strimmers and chainsaws are put away and the birds are hidden deep in the bushes. The gentle breeze feels like a hot hair drier and, bizarrely, there’s a sense of claustrophobia as the heat engulfs you. We appreciate every day the thick walls of the house, no need for air conditioning, just a cooling glass of grape juice and to collapse, arms akimbo, on the sofa.

peppersThis has, of course, affected the veg patch. The heat has just been too much for so many things. Nothing from the cauliflowers, broccoli or buttercup squash. A poor show (after a good start) from the first batch of beans, aubergines, tomatoes and butternut squash. But mustn’t grumble! We have had loads of cucumbers, enough courgettes, sweetcorn from the second batch just as nice as the first lot, melons, runner beans and, for star prize, the peppers have been amazing. Red, green or yellow, Spanish padròn or chillies – they’ve all been fab. Three cheers for the peppers! (Richard has made three lots of delicious harissa.)

Meanwhile the leeks will be okay for the autumn and, fingers crossed, the sprouts too so not the end of the world. My biggest disappointment though is the tomatoes and aubergines, I really would’ve thought they would cope with the heat. I have managed to make a few batches of ratatouille and tomato passata for the months to come but not the amount as from previous years. I have a sneaky feeling that the lack of mulch hasn’t helped. I resisted doing that this sproutsyear because of the vole problem, they like nothing more than sneaking around the plants unseen (and then eating the roots) but once I’d realised they’d gone I didn’t add any. Live and learn.

On a more positive note the figs are going to be great again, we’ve already had many honey-flavoured fruit. We’ve also picked loads of blackberries and grapes, I think Richard is planning on making some country wine. Soon we’ll be opening the elderberry wine from last year that has been silently waiting under the stone stairs. The sloes have also been picked to make our favourite winter tipple.

Meanwhile I’m off to perfect my rain dance, it really isn’t good enough yet…


Up to our necks in plums

Up to our necks in plums

After last year’s dearth, the plums are something of a mixed blessing this time round. The yellow plum tree has gone mad. We’ve made plum crumbles, plum jam, plum jelly, plum cordial, frozen whole plums, frozen stewed plums, bottled plums, plum chutney and even dried some for prunes.


Oh, and a new one for us – plum leather! To make plum jelly you only need the juice so the remaining pulp we laid out in a thin layer on a baking sheet which dried in the sun – 3 days later you’re left with plum leather. It’s basically just a healthy snack. Not bad to chew on. Has anyone else tried this?


We are exhausted but they are still falling from the tree and rotting on the ground faster than we can put them on the compost pile. Even the chickens and dogs have had enough – and that’s just the yellow plums! plum_hens

The red plums have also finished but there weren’t too many of those. Next up is the greengages. There aren’t quite so many of those which is a bit of a shame as they are Jackie’s favourite. She’s already made a greengage and vanilla tart from those. There are also quite a few damson trees around here – a number on the plot of land next to ours. So we’ll be grabbing those shortly as well.

plums1 plum2 Above are greengages and damsons, left are the Stanleys – they are still pretty hard and will be the last to come on line. They’ll used for the plum liqueurs which’ll be ready for Christmas.

Meanwhile, I’ve also been busy on the woodworking front and have made a new bench and table (left, below). Perfect for breakfast outside in the morning sun.

a set of plums
a set of plums


Highs and lows…

Highs and lows…

…ups and downs, swings and roundabouts. Whatever way you look at it the first of the ‘summer’ months has been erratic: from over 30C and then down to single figures at night, glorious baking hot sunshine  (too hot for breakfast outside) and then cold, drizzly days with autumn mists. There are field mushrooms popping up! The well is full! Tomorrow is July and the forecast is 19C and rain! Climate change? Who knows but it’s certainly meant losses and gains in the veg patch.

Starting with the positive it’s been great for the soft fruit. Our red currants, gooseberries, black currants and raspberries have given us bumper crops. The gooseberries, along with the elderflower cordial, were turned into jam and ice cream. The rest have been flash frozen (or are being, the raspberries and black currants are still coming) and then packed into bags for future jellies, jams and cakes.


I’m sure the blueberries tasted nice but only the birds can tell. The plums, that we moaned about last year (not one!), are dripping from the trees. The first of the yellow plum jams have been made, with a dash of vanilla this year, and there’s a weekend of bottling ahead. The cucumbers, sweetcorn and green peppers have been unaffected, and there are plenty of onions and garlic again. This year I decided to have a go at flash freezing the garlic as last years crop lasted well into the spring but then started to sprout. So this year only half are being dried and the rest, as an experiment, are in the freezer.

All sounds tip top. But then the potatoes… in fact they did ok but I chose, perhaps not unreasonably, a warm morning to dig them up. Which then turned into a boiler and I left them out to dry in the sun. The next day many had turned black, we tried to use them up as quickly as possible (freezer is now also full of potato cakes) but alas many were destined for the compost bin having got rotten before we could use them. Well, you learn by your mistakes.


The brassicas loved the rain. Huge great cauliflowers, enormous cabbages and giant calabrese started to appear. But then the leaves got bigger and bigger and, as the song goes, “if I only had a heart”. I peered in through the foliage hoping for a glimpse of something not leaflike – nothing.

collarEventually, we did get some cauliflowers and calabrese but really quite small which was so disappointing. Especially as this year I remembered to put plastic collars around the base of them all to keep egg-laying moths away (which worked brilliantly, I didn’t lose a single plant). I’m still hoping that the sprouts, which form later in the year, and the purple sprouting broccoli, which we get next year, will be ok. Not sure how much more patience to have with the cabbages, and I really wanted some of those mammoth lombardy heads like we’ve seen others growing. At least the smaller cauliflower heads were put to good use, as along with some of our beans, courgettes, onions etc there are now 4 jars of piccalilli in the pantry too.


And it seems crazy that July is tomorrow and we haven’t had any toms yet. Last month all the plants were doing well, especially the roma ones sown in January, and by mid June there were loads of green toms. And there are still loads of green toms. Only green. And perhaps most worrying is that many of the new flowers above have fallen off unfertilised. We have both noticed the lack of insects in general this year. In fact, amazingly, the purple sprouting broccoli from early spring came and went without a single, horrid grey aphid in sight. We haven’t put the fly curtains on the doors yet. As for honey bees: nada. The bumble bees are happy with the buddleia and lavender but really very few flying creatures to marvel at and be bothered by. Perhaps when summer really does arrive…

Meanwhile, the countryside is still lovely and green and full of wild flowers. Even the field next door which was sprayed has bounced back with poppies and chicory. So the toms and peppers can wait, there’s plenty of courgettes and chard and beans to keep us going. And it’s perfect walking weather too 🙂


Hooray for May

Hooray for May

Well, hardly a mention of the veg patch and growing things so far this year but rest assured it’s been a busy time sowing, transplanting, mulching, planting, weeding etc etc over the last few months. This morning the first courgette flower was out and that for me is a sign that the growing season has really kicked in and the munching season is not far behind. I’d taken a photo of the beds on the 29 April and already, just over two weeks later, there’s a big difference:


And here you can see how the sweetcorn, chard and sprouts have enjoyed the sunshine:


The asparagus, leeks and purple sprouting broccoli have all gone (plus most of the artichokes) but waiting in the wings now are more brassica (loads of cabbage for some reason,  calabrese, cauliflower) plus beans, onions and garlic. The potatoes have pale purple flowers. There’s aubergines, buttercup squash and melons planted too. Oh, and some carrots.

Along with the baby courgettes there are tiny toms appearing (the comfrey fertilizer should be ready for them soon), weeny cucumbers and minuscule peppers. And for dessert they’ll be gooseberries, plums, raspberries and red currants before long:


It’s always a nice time, it’s still sort of green, the heat hasn’t become too oppressive and there’s the excitement of a good crop of nourishing things to eat. I was feeling rather pleased with myself as I looked over the beds today until I saw what a mess the potting shed is but I just can’t face sorting that out now. I’d failed to clear it out at the end of last summer because of a huge wasp nest. They tried loads of times to make a new one this season but I put an end to that.


A little pat on the back for me too as I won a couple of prizes at an agricultural show. Not a good time of the year for showing veg but the lemon cake with borage flowers, and a trio of preserves did well:


So it’s all coming up roses, or rather dandelions, at the mo 🙂


Veggie roundup

Veggie roundup

I have been very remiss at blogging recently, but the intention has been there while snapping the veg patch. I took these photos 15/16 July when I pulled up the last of

the potatoes and replaced them with a second batch of courgettes and some buttercup squash. Then, amazed how fast everything had grown in just 3 weeks, I took another pic and today a shot of one of the squashes, almost ready to eat.

Needless to say we’re eating the courgettes now, the first batch took 13 weeks from sowing to harvest – this lot 6! In fact that’s something I still have to get the hang of – trying to get a succession of produce. Either the second lot grow much faster and we end up with more than we need, or it’s too hot / cold and nothing much happens. And if it worked one year it didn’t the next, and why one melon plant has given us 7 fruit and yet the other is fading fast with just one I have no idea. It all still feels a little hit or miss at times!

I think the purple sprouting broccoli, sprouts, leeks, onions, sweetcorn, garlic, cucumber (the round, yellow ones) rainbow chard and all the solanaceae group fall into the ‘do well every year’ group. Perhaps the toms a touch disappointing compared to last year but the aubergines and peppers are fab, and the potatoes a great success.

Then in the ‘do well one year but not the next’ go the remaining brassicas including swede and turnips, (and what happened to the cauliflowers this year?!), squash, roots (well, the carrots and parsnips – the beetroot do well) and the beans.

And in the ‘why am I even bothering’ category fall the peas (alas) and broad beans. Am still determined to give these a go this autumn though, last winter we had a frost most nights which took their toll so with a slightly milder winter they may be fine. They are definitely not being sown in the spring though, that has never worked.

And always willing to experiment there are some new crops in the veg patch this year. The celeriac, flageolets beans (grown from a packet of dried beans my dad bought over), beefsteak toms have all done well, whereas the red cabbage became pig fodder.

Talking of pigs – they have certainly made a large and significant contribution to the veg patch:

Unfortunately, the weeding, digging and sh*t shovelling has done little to reduce my ever expanding waistline. The plethora of plums, abundance of apples, bucketfuls of blackberries and now (fistfuls?) of figs have seen me baking cakes, tarts and pies galore. Oh, and there goes the oven bell…

Food for free

Food for free

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.

oranges and apples

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.

grapes and blackberries

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?

another baby dove

Isso é verão, não é?

Isso é verão, não é?

It’s been a strange start to the summer. April and May were lovely (if you didn’t worry about the lack of rainfall) and saw us eating outside most evenings. Now, with the first of the summer months, the wind is cool, the clouds grey and it’s been showery – nothing substantial though and the grass yellows every day.

It’s a good time for the veg patch. The courgettes, surprise surprise, won the race for which veg we would be eating first from this year’s sowing, followed by the colourful chard. We’re either eating the produce or knowing we’ll be eating it very soon.

The extra four beds (there are now 13 of various sizes) have made a difference, both in terms of having more veg but also in the extra time looking after it all. We won’t be adding any more for the time being, what with the soft fruit and fruit trees as well there’s a lot to do if nothing is to be wasted. So at the mo we are eating our potatoes (the bed replaced with 44 leeks), onions, garlic, two kinds of French beans (the dwarf purple ones are recommended – always aphid free and prolific), broad beans, calabrese, cauliflower, courgettes, carrots, beetroot, chard, a few parsnips and turnips here and there, lettuce, raspberries and rhubarb. We’ve had one cucumber too.

The peas haven’t done very well, as last year; I really must remember to sow those and the broad beans in the autumn. We have also started to eat the tomatoes – hurrah! We’re growing more of these this year, and different varieties too.

The organic cherries are the first up – not surprising. What is surprising though is that these are not the ones in the polytunnel. The sunny spring has meant the ones outdoors have done very well and grown better than those under plastic. (It’s the aubergines and peppers which are appreciating the polytunnel more, both are flowering.) One of the new kinds we’re trying this year is the Roma kind – San Marzano. I’m really hoping to be able to freeze these for sauces throughout the year.

Yesterday I picked a mixture of veg for something I’m going to make, can you guess what?

My parents came last month and as always we try to make the most of my father’s woodworking skills. Last year he made a wooden support for the grapes in the courtyard and these are now doing very well so we hope to have a better harvest this year. As Richard said this time he was put to work making a new chicken run – I hope he didn’t think he was here on holiday! They bought with them a buddleia and this is now flowering, and it has attracted a very interesting butterfly (or is it something else?). Update: it’s a Broad-bordered Bee Hawk-Moth Hemaris fuciformis apparently. How nice!

So waiting in the wings are the sweetcorn, winter squash and melon, fennel, aubergine and peppers, perhaps some peas plus all the wonderful plums.

Here’s another pic of the veg I picked, all chopped and ready for the next stage… You’ll have to wait for the next update if you can’t guess.

Finally, away from the fruit’n’veg, we have bought 8 new chickens. Like last time they are about a month old, there are 4 white and 4 brown ones. To put us in the right frame of mind we differentiate them from the ‘egg chickens’ by calling them the ‘roast chickens’ – no room for sentimentality! Today they ventured out of their hut and into the run. We bought them, as the previous ones, from the market in Ansião. The man said the white ones would be ready in 3 – 4 weeks and the brown ones a couple more weeks after that! I suspect we’ll let these live a little longer, and get a little fatter. We also need to pluck up enough courage for D Day!

Back to the veggies

Back to the veggies

Although we’ve been focussing lately on chickens and relatives, the veggies have kept on coming. Only now are things coming to an end – we’ve had our last cucumber, the final tomatoes are hanging on and turning red (or yellow) and the courgette production has eventually slowed down to a trickle. However, we have made the best use of our bounty and Jackie has been busy roasting and freezing, pickling and drying a lot of the veggies ready for winter. Even the very few raspberries that we have carefully nurtured have now been picked and frozen one by one and we shall have enough for one final end of summer treat.

It is interesting that the cycle of fruit and veg has come round again from when we first arrived just over a year ago. I remember then, the first fruits we sampled were the pears and this year they have come and gone in a period of weeks and in a flurry of delicious pear crumbles. Also the quinces. Unfortunately our quince tree has had a torrid time but there have been plenty by the sides of various lanes that we have been able to purloin and process into quince jelly and quince cheese. Now the walnuts are coming into season. Despite eating my own weight in walnut cakes over the year we still haven’t finished last year’s crop. Likewise the olives which will be ready in a few short weeks.

It never stops down on the farm…

last of the melons and pears, first of the walnuts
dried chillies
what to do with sunflower seeds?
the oranges are on their way
Feelin’ hot hot hot

Feelin’ hot hot hot

The summer heat is here – the plants are wilting, helicopters hover overhead laden with water for forest fires and the wind feels like a giant hair dryer. Just the kind of heat that makes you crave a dip in a cool river beach. Hurrah! then for the numerous river beaches in central Portugal – another fantastic one we were taken to the other day. No salt, no chlorine, just clear, fresh water and some amazing scenery:

The heat has meant all garden work is done early in the morning after a spot of bird watching. The birds haven’t always been welcome visitors though and CDs and aluminium foil have been hung up around the runner beans whose flowers are all disappearing. The swedes and turnips will have to be sown again having been eaten by flea beetles and a cat has dug up the chard seedlings. However, more carrots have come through, more onions are in the ground and, in lots of little pots, cabbage, calabrese and cauliflower are waiting to go in the old legume bed (rotation, rotation). We’re now eating the dwarf french beans – from seed to stomach in seven weeks – so I’m hoping that this ignoring the seed packet sowing dates will work for everything else as well.

One buttercup squash refuses to die which is great as we’ve already eaten quite a few of them already. The flowers are always open in the morning to greet me and the bees:

It’s been great collecting the day’s produce. The courgettes plants have come alive again and so we had courgette fritters for lunch (which were fantastic) and the courgette cake was a success too. We were also really pleased with our second melon. The first one wasn’t quite ripe and so we waited a week and had another go. Looks like melon for pud for the next few weeks…

Our chillies are eventually turning red (but, stubbornly, not the sweet peppers). Initially I’d put them in a metal dish (as recommended on a UK website) to dry in the sun only to discover that they’d cooked! Hanging them up in the hot air seems to be working much better:

Richard has been making a great som tam salad using courgettes instead of papaya although the chillies so far haven’t been quite as hot as he’d like. The barbecued aubergines make a great moutabal too, I’m hoping the tahini we brought over with us from Jordan is ok still! Oh yes, we’re eating quite a few of the sprouts. Here’s hoping there’s enough growing for Christmas!