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Marching on

Marching on

The nicest thing about March is that it’s the month with the biggest difference in terms of moving on from winter. There’ll be some cold weather ahead, the cloudless days still give us mild frosts, but there’s a real change in the air. Although much of the blossom in the garden has gone the new leaves and greenness are more than welcome. The plane tree in the courtyard has begun to sprout and the garden is alive with noisy birds, emptying the feeder every day and building their nests. The sun has been really warm so lunch outside has been the norm.

The constant sunshine has also meant we’ve been able to get on top of lots of outside jobs. Some of these have not been planned. The dozen ‘roasties’ were happily enjoying the spring and so far no sighting of the sparrowhawk:

Until Foxy came along and dug a hole under their hut (the old pig pen) in the middle of the night and then there were nine.

So we’ve had to have an emergency plan until there’s time for Richard to rebuild that shed. A layer of chicken wire has been placed flat around the edges and held in place with heavy breeze blocks. We’ve caught it on our night camera having a good sniff around a few times since but so far this set up has worked as it hasn’t been able to dig again. A new shed is a bit more of a priority now, not just because the fox can dig under it, but because the wood is completely rotten and termite infested, one good shove and it’ll collapse.

Meanwhile Richard is getting on with building the Pallet Palace. At the moment we have two chicken coops and these too, along with the pig pen, are past it really. So a single, bigger one is in the making, one that I can walk into. Up until recently Skittle was in his coop and Hattie and Rocky in theirs, and he was allowed to ‘play’ with them in the afternoon. We always knew that if we kept Skittle he’d need a few more hens and if we had more hens we’d need another coop.

So Skittle was put in with Hattie and Rocky and then we got Cagney and Lacey!

These are a cross between a Brahma (like Skittle) and Wyandotte hens, and beautiful they are too. They were given to us by friends, and we’re delighted with them.

They stayed a few days in their own coop and field until they felt it was home, and then we let all the chooks get together. Hattie is sometimes a bit pecky (she is the top of the pecking order after all) but in fact we think they are so pleased that Skittle is sharing his amorous advances they are actually quite relieved. We’ll get two more and so in the end Skittle will have six ladies. What we’ll do with all the eggs is another matter…

As the name suggests the new coop is made of pallets mainly, Richard can add more about this in the next post. It’s already been painted front and back and the door added. Then he’s going to add a caged area, again tall enough to walk into, and this will all be covered. You can just see Hattie and Rocky giving their advice.

Otherwise it’s been seed sowing season for me. I’m always trying different techniques. This year I decided to avoid the seed tray / pricking out stage.  The tomato seeds were all from last year, I’d chosen the seeds from some nice fruit, cleaned and then dried them on kitchen paper. Then I simply cut out the paper with seeds on and put them straight into paper pots with a thin layer of soil on top. I did these on the 19 March:

Here’s what they looked like on 25, less than a week later:

Each paper pot was then plonked in a bigger pot and all but the strongest seedling cut, leaving a single one to grow. It was so much easier and quicker than pricking out individual seedlings and transplanting them. Alongside the toms there are now pots of gherkins, various types of squash, broccoli, sweetcorn and goodness knows what else. There is only one slight problem: I have no idea where these will all go as the raised beds are already filling up and the original beds are still abandoned.

March has not only seen changes in the garden but the village too but these again (some more sad news unfortunately, along with the latest on the roadworks) will be for another post. I’ll leave you with yet another video of the javali who, we hope, we have managed to keep out of the garden at long last. Here is one enjoying a good scratch in the field next door. I love their wagging tails!



Yes, the wild boar are back, this time with some youngsters. How do we know? Because we managed to capture some of them on our wildlife camera and you can clearly see their stripes. There’s no sound but we’re sure you can add your own David Attenborough commentary and audio effects over the top. These shots are from last night so ignore the date and times. We won’t be giving up the day jobs (whatever those are) but it’s fun capturing the wild nightlife.

And Richard was really excited when, a few nights ago, he was out looking at the stars and the barn owl came and stood right next to him and was staring at him for some moments before flying off. We can hear the young screeching and rasping in the night – now that would be something to film!

November newsround

November newsround

A mild, if not rather wet, autumn so far. Everything’s getter greener and taller, a bit like spring really without the flowers. Some evenings there has been a beautiful light and pink or yellowy grey clouds depending if it’s going to be sunny or rainy the next day. Richard’s away in the Isle of Man so I’m here defending the fort, or rather the farm, alone. Meanwhile, here’s a round up of casa azul news.

Veg etc
I have to admit to being a rather fairweather gardener, although I don’t mind digging in the frost on a cold but sunny day I really don’t like working in the wet – who does? So I’ve only just pulled up and cleared the last of the tom beds, this included removing the nasturtiums which we’re growing well but I’ve now got masses of enormous nasturtium buds which will be turned into poor man’s capers. The asparagus have turned a beautiful bronzey yellow, these are soon to be cut back and mulched along with the raspberries.

In the polytunnel there are lots of wild flowers coming up (from seed collected throughout the year) plus yet more edibles – mainly brassicas. These will go in soon, and tomorrow more onions are being planted and, at long last, I’ve got the garlic.

I’ve also got plenty of rocket growing, this has just never worked in the heat so it’s fingers crossed for a winter attempt. Lettuce seems to thrive in the cold, and isn’t affected by the frost, so I’m hoping rocket will too.

Elsewhere in the garden mushrooms are supplementing our diet. I don’t know if you read the account of Nicholas Evans and his mushroom fiasco in the guardian but it makes fascinating and sobering reading.

The ones on the left have opened and are now huge, tempting grub but am definitely sticking to the field mushrooms.

I don’t know if it was beginner’s luck but last year the sprouts grew without any bother, I hardly did anything with them. This year, alas, they’ve been plagued with grey aphids and some of the heads didn’t open properly, and a few of the stalks are massive with enormous leaves but few sprouts. I also spotted the other day that one of the stalks was completely inundated with caterpillars – how come I never saw them before? I counted at least 30 chomping caterpillars, and the one on the left was found the french tarragon.

So what to do with a box of bugs? The hens love snails and giant slugs so decided it would be an early Christmas present…

The chickens
The hens aren’t quite up to their full laying capacity, 2 or 3 a day but that’s fine. They’re slightly sulking now because our plan to keep them off the growing grass, well weeds, is working well and their plot (which looks like something from the WW1)  is surrounded by green. Once the roasties are dispatched the hens will go over there, and their mud bath of a plot can have a chance to regrow.

Along with the fact they they realise that the grass is greener on the other side one of them is moulting and looks very funny without a tail.

So I was hoping that my gift of grubs would cheer them up. I tossed the caterpillars on the ground, the hens came dashing forward and then stopped in their tracks and squawked loudly. They eyed the crawling mass with trepidation and then, with beaks in the air, walked off. They weren’t interested at all! I covered the caterpillars with corn but the hens simply ate the corn and left the caterpillars. As these were all now gallivanting off in different directions I ended up having to stand on them all. So much for good intentions. At least the lettuce and purple sprouting broccoli leaves keeps them happy.

Meanwhile the roasties have been let out and are enjoying the grass and opportunity to stretch their wings. They are the biggest, fattest birds I have ever seen and Richard’s number one task on returning is to sharpen the knife. I swear when they walk the earth trembles.

The wild boar
One of the nice things about being in the countryside of course is that we are surrounded by nature. In this part of Portugal that includes the javali – wild boar. Up until recently I have enjoyed the fact that they come to the neighbours’ fields but now the beggars have trotted into our garden. Before Richard left we were given loads of prickly pears and agaves to plant in our garden and I wasn’t best pleased to see that most of these had either been knocked over, dug up (some dragged into bushes), and, it seems, eaten. After the second visit I’ve had to block the entrances to our garden with cut down olive branches, a temporary measure. Richard’s number two task on returning is to get the saw and hammer out.

Before and after replanting, can you see the teeth marks?!

So that’s it for now. The bees are still buzzing, I think they were disappointed that the nasturtiums were cut down. And, of course, I’m not really alone. The hairy one continues to prove she’s Portuguese, having eaten many of the olives she delights in munching walnuts and looks longingly at the roasting chestnuts on the fire. Which reminds me, time to get the wood burning stove going and have a glass of something. Cheers!