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Second spring?

Second spring?


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?


Azeitonas e oliveiras

Azeitonas e oliveiras

olives2We have 24 olive trees on our land. Tall, old and gnarled, they are covered in ivy and moss, their roots providing hiding holes for mice and other burrowing creatures. Having been neglected for many years we get olives from less than half of these, the others are just too tall or non-productive. But we get enough olives for our yearly olive oil consumption and this year they are plump and juicy. We could have got more than the five buckets we need but, if truth be told, we are a little on the lazy side. So for three days of the year we scrambled over branches, climbed ladders, tugged, sawed, bashed and plucked. We also splashed out on our own net this year. Our neighbour’s magic machine separated the olives from the debris and then we headed off to the lagar de azeite feeling like old hands, it was our fifth harvest.

Our over confidence was soon blown away. In previous years we were able to book a time a few days ahead to join the queue of turning our olives into oil. Not this year. The first factory told us there was a two week wait, the second had a notice pinned outside the office door: no dates free until 9 December. It seems it was a bumper harvest for everyone, outside the factories there were lines of trucks and pickups laden with mammoth mounts of olives. It meant one thing, we were not going to be able to have our own oil but do a swop instead. Reluctantly we handed over our five buckets which were weighed and then the factory oil was given to us straight away. No cost involved and still very nice but not quite the same.


One thing we are trying to do is get our heads around the pruning of the trees. The first year we were a little heavy handed and one tree was almost cut down completely. We kept doing a little bit more on each branch and then realised there wasn’t much left. However, the following year the stump had disappeared behind a curtain of new growth and a sizeable bush had grown. This we really liked, it was thick and tall and looked great. So over the following four years we have chopped down one tree at a time. The first one is no longer a bush but almost a proper tree so our studying of what everyone else does seems to be paying off.


And today Richard took the plunge and chainsaw and chopped down one of the biggest trees right at the end of the garden which was straggly with dead branches. Already there is new growth around the base which we’d pruned last year so we know that the empty space left will be replaced within a few years with a healthier, more productive tree.


Finally, the olives looked so good we have picked a load of green, and then black, olives for eating. They’ve been in brine for over a month now and so have been put in jars with either olive oil and orange peel or wild thyme. And of course the cut down olives trees make excellent logs for the fire, and with temperatures set to plummet that’s just what we need!


Olive disaster!

Olive disaster!

There are no two ways about it – this year’s olive harvest has been by far our worst since we’ve been here. I think the main problem is the rain that we have had. It must have knocked most of the olives off. Also, although many of our neighbours are still harvesting now, I can’t help but think that we have been too late and should have picked them weeks ago. Alas, this wasn’t possible as I was in the UK.

Anyway, earlier this week, we took advantage of some dry weather and picked what we had. It took us just as long as usual, as we did the same amount of trees – they just had fewer olives on them. After three days we only had just over three barrels (about 80kgs) to show for our hard work. This was about half of what we got last year which in itself wasn’t a great year. More bad news was to come when I went to the lagar (cooperative olive press). If you have a ‘normal’ amount you can see your olives through the press and out the other side as oil. However for small amounts it is not worth their while to do it separately, so they just weigh what you’ve got and give you an equivalent amount of their own oil. So, I knew I would have to swap it but when the bloke only offered me six litres, it was disappointing to say the least. I bought another four litres from them and as we still have plenty from last year, that should see us through the year.

One harvest which should be better is the oranges. There are plenty of them and they are already turning orange. No shortage of marmalade then.

Meanwhile with all the rain and a bit of sun, the grass has shot up – yes, it’s time to fire up the strimmer again. Because of last year’s drought, I think I only cut the grass once last Autumn. With more rain this year I think I am going to be very busy. Betty was disappearing in the long grass but now it’s done it looks great. Just as well I did it today as there is more rain forecast this weekend.

There has also been better news with the big hairy one. She was really ill just a week or so ago and even had to stay overnight at the vets attached to a drip. However, she has made an amazing recovery and here she is to prove it.

Of course Betty is still up to her usual tricks – she often disappears for hours on her own but also likes nothing better than her regular walk on the lead!

among the vines

… and the hens are also fine. We have now put them in the pig field and they are enjoying the fresh grass.

Blind Betty and Brownie
2010 olive harvest

2010 olive harvest

This year’s olive harvest has broken all records! Ok, it’s only our second time, but we are up from 5 bins last year to nearly 8 this year. We are off to the lagar tomorrow for the pressing so we are hoping for well in excess of 15 litres of liquid gold.

Here’s the ever present Luis and his amazing machine for the olive version of sorting the wheat from the chaff – sorting the olives from the assorted branches and leaves.

Someone has made herself very much at home in just over a week…

…and the chickens are growing amazingly. Not surprising considering the amount of grain they eat.