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Just around the corner…

Just around the corner…

It may be the longest day of the year but it’s also the shortest summer. We have gone from spring to autumn. It’s grey, wet and a bit miz. We are wearing jumpers. The idea that ‘the nights are drawing in’ seems a tad depressing. There have been some bright days but the barbie is covered up again. Unsurprisingly, we have been watching the footie: all those games in the sunshine! With cooling water breaks! Anyway, the resident meteorologist assures me, yet again, that summer is around the corner…

So let’s go outside and see what’s there. The strawberry pot, planted up in February, is doing well. We just have to move it out of Jussi’s way before she gobbles this lot up. The raspberries have come and gone (the blackbirds won) as have the gooseberries (having been turned into 2 clafoutis, 2 large bottled jars for winter pud and 4 pots of jam).

The plums, at least the yellow ones, are going to give us a bumper harvest. And the two linden trees were amazing with their flowers this year. Picking those for herbal teas was a sense sensation: the sweet, honey-like smell was quite overpowering, and the bees overhead buzzed incessantly. I managed to get, between downpours, a good few baskets for drying.

We have a pomegranate tree, or rather bush. It looks stunning now with its bright scarlet red flowers; we only get one or two fruit, they just drop off before maturing, but it looks lovely.

In the veg patch the runner beans are doing well, we have 6 plants and manage to get plenty for a meal every day. The aubergines, melons and peppers have shot up in the wet weather so hoping for a good year for those. The courgettes are also delivering the goods now: courgette fritters, stuffed courgette, courgette pasta… when they work they are fabulous. The salad toms, the ones that escaped the blight, have fruit although those are still green. We really need some heat and sunshine to get them going.

Meanwhile the rewilding of the garden has taken a different turn. It did look lovely last year but it’s a tad scruffier now with loads of grasses and brambles coming though.

It’s all great for the wildlife though. We mentioned in the last post that the hunting ban meant seeing more animals, and we continue to see deer on many of the dog walks. Richard came across a dead one unfortunately but he took the head and he now has a rather impressive skull to add to his collection. It belongs (belonged?) to a roe deer. The moth is a passenger moth apparently.

Meanwhile we can hear baby barn owls, always very pleasing, late at night. We were also excited that, after 10 years, we had an apricot harvest. Well, we got three! The joy of small things.

Here comes the summer – at last!

Here comes the summer – at last!

So it’s the fourth week of August and finally the summer has come. What do we mean by summer, then? Well, it means not feeling chilly on the morning dog walk, it means not being able to have lunch outside because it’s too hot, it means Jussi panting inside all day, it means the drone of helicopters overhead collecting water, it means the roasties roasting and hiding under the large olive tree in their field, it means supper outside and being thankful when the sun dips behind the buckthorn and then not being chilly when it sets. It means the steering wheel of the car being too hot to touch, it means being able to do three wash loads in a day and it means not going anywhere near the veg patch as all the plants will look like they have died. It means the pond needs topping up yet again. It means an eerie silence in the afternoon: not a tweet, cluck, bark or tractor sound. We had a brief spell earlier in the year which got us braced for a long, hot summer and then nothing happened. In July the temperatures didn’t reach 30, let alone the scorching 40s we have become used to.

So we can now confidently respond, when asked what the weather in Portugal is like, that every season and every year is different. (One constant is that Betty, as every summer, delights in terrorising the neighbours’ visitors on their early evening stroll around the village).

Meanwhile the residents of Casa Azul have been going about their business. Richard mentioned in the last post about the plums. They have continued to produce an embarrassing amount and so the kitchen is back in factory mode with bottling, roasting, jam and leather making galore. Red plum leather is our favourite for long, autumn walks.

The freezer is also full of whole plums for winter crumbles, and bottles of cordial. The damsons in particular have been great, we’ve never had so many.

We always have a splendid show of blackthorn flowers in February. This year, I think for the first time, we have more sloes than we know what to do with, apart from the two bottles of gin in the pantry that is…

The raised beds have been a great success in terms of the toms, these too have been piling up in various bowls around the kitchen waiting their turn, the plum versions are roasted and moulied for delicious passata. At the end of the day the summer tasks are very similar every year.

Richard, meanwhile, has been doing some sort of alchemy in his quest for liquid gold.

Yep, one big change is that the barn and courtyard have been turned into a brewery. Cheers!

ETA: well, that was short lived. Three days later and the temperatures have dropped, not going above 30 for the next 10 days. Oh and it rained this morning…

Plant of the year award 2016

Plant of the year award 2016

We have had the pleasant December we were hoping for: little rain, a few cold nights yes but mostly glorious sunny days.  It’s been the kind of December that reminds us why we moved here. Richard (whose middle name is now ‘master chef’) cooked one of our ducks for Christmas which we had with many of our homegrown veg plus, for a starter, his famous chicken liver pâté and some of our sloe gin.

This was followed by traditional pud but the stanley plums we bottled in the summer are just lovely now:

Now, as the days start to get longer again, it’s time to check over the seed packets, plan the veg patch and prepare the beds for the year ahead. But before that it’s (drum roll, please) time to announce the plant of the year award. Hurrah! What a hot summer it was, many of the stalwart plants were disappointing, reluctant to flower in temperatures well over 40 many days. The broad beans were great at the start of the season, and the broccoli and leeks are feeding us now but the plants which not only survived the heat but actually kept on going until October were… the cucumbers!

Yep, they were just fab this year. Prolific, tasty (never bitter) and a welcome addition to all our lunchtime meals, they never let us down. We have grown them every year, including some round yellow ‘lemon’ ones, and overall they do well but this year was special.

The award should be shared in fact with their cucurbit cousins, the gherkins. These were a first for us this year and, perhaps not surprisingly, they also did well. Both can be pickled successfully, the cucumbers are sliced thinly to make a kind of relish whereas the gherkins were either pickled whole or in chunks, some with a few of our chillies thrown in too. Either way they are just perfect with cheese.

Will just leave you with a pic of the garlic. I mentioned in the last post how I’d just covered their bed (previously mulched) with paper and cut grass and hoped for the best. Well, you can see for yourselves:

Wishing all our readers a great festive season and a wonderful time in the veg patch for 2017!

Harvest season begins in earnest

Harvest season begins in earnest

It’s now mid July and we are well into the summer. Every day for the last 2 weeks has been well over 30 degrees with a scorching hot sun. I’m amazed that there are still some green patches of grass about but they won’t last long I’m sure. Many of the soft fruits have already come and gone – we had plenty of strawberries, a few gooseberries and plenty of the summer raspberries, but mid July brings the plums. Last year we didn’t have many yellow plums but the red ones and the greengages made up for them. This year we’ve got a few yellow ones but hardly any greengages and we had only 3 or 4 red ones! So not great news.


However, the only plum tree we planted, the Stanley plum, goes from strength to strength. Although still only a small tree, it produces quite a few fruit and as opposed to most of our other varieties, it is great for cooking with and the stewed plums are divine. Here’s a recent photo which shows they won’t be ready for a few weeks yet.

Stanley plums
Stanley plums

Meanwhile, our two almonds are just about hanging in…


Of the other trees, it’s still early days for the apples and pears, although as there are plenty of wild apple trees about, which are doing very well, I’m sure I’ll have enough for another batch of cider which went really well last year. Talking of which, I recently made another batch of home brew and I have to say it just gets better and better. And I much prefer my own home brewed bitter to the generic lager which is usually the only thing available in Portugal (although this is changing rapidly with a number of micro-breweries popping up locally).


But back to the garden. I’m not sure why but the mixture of a wet spring followed by a boiling summer seems to have induced a growth spurt in the prickly pears. We had a number of yellow flowers a while ago and it looks like we’ll have quite a few fruit. Careful of those spines though!

prickly pear
prickly pear

And of course the sun has brought out the lavender and the bees. We lost a few lavender plants to the frosts this year but I replaced them with an ancient wheelbarrow.


Last month I showed this pic of a new project.


Well, it developed a bit further into this:

and finally this, undergoing its final inspection:

It’s my new observatory. I’m quite pleased with it, especially the sliding roof. It’s been christened the “Star shed”

The colour of straw

The colour of straw


Crunchy underfoot, alive with insects and pollen, the land is slowly but surely turning a lovely shade of straw. Pale and interesting, hot and dry. It seems almost novel to us after last year’s green and pleasant land, but with no rain and scorching temperatures it’s a different story this summer. Most of the wild flowers have disappeared but hardy souls linger on including this yellow thistle, called a Spanish oyster it seems, and the fragrant, golden sweet yarrow that borders all the country lanes around us.


Many of the meadows have been cut, leaving unruly hay bales, reminiscent of autumns from yesteryear in the UK. Only the other day an old boy and his donkey cart tottered by. Meanwhile, the veg patch is also sporting the colour of straw. The first of the plums is always the yellow ones, not such a bumper harvest this year alas but we have put them to good use.


The courgettes as always put on a golden display, such a nice way to be greeted in the morning.  Peaches and plums have been bottled.


My sister gave me some seeds for climbing yellow courgettes, these are doing well, as are the round lemon flavoured cucumbers. We’ve also been eating one of Richard’s favourite crops, the oh so delicious sweetcorn. It’s always a success and this year I have planted a second crop which should be ready in late August or September.


The final word goes to our faithful labrador, who is blending in nicely with the colour scheme:




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


A plum job

A plum job

I’ve been away for a couple of weeks and can’t quite believe the change to the garden. Despite Jackie telling me the weather has been ordinary and un-summer-like to say the least (Jackie’s last post, ‘Here comes the summer’ seems to have been a false dawn), we have still had very little rain and so the garden, especially the grass, is looking very parched. However, the lavender, oleander and roses are thriving, so it’s great to have some colour.

Jackie has also been extremely busy coping with the annual glut of plums. This time the red ones were first and so we have plenty of plum crumble, plum cordial, plum vodka and plum jam. However, that’s just one red plum tree. Now the yellow plums are coming on stream, which will be shortly followed by the green plums and greengages.

yellow plums

Talking of fruit trees, after a few barren years we will finally get some apples.

Things are moving fast in the veg plot. We have had our first tomatoes, corn on the cobs and courgettes and as I type, Jackie is busy making green tomato chutney – horror of horrors we have exhausted last year’s stock of all types of chutney.

On the livestock front, the pigs are doing well – they love the excess plums, and are fattening up nicely, I dispatched the last of the roasties yesterday and I can hear the bees busy about their work. The hens are also fine, despite the fact that Jackie recently caught Betty with one of them in her mouth! It was rather shaken but resumed egg laying duty the following day. I suppose that will teach her for flying out of the chicken run. Meanwhile, the dogs are taking it easy. Enjoying the cool weather while it lasts. Betty looking like ‘butter wouldn’t melt’. If only…




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.

roses and lavender

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.

Até logo!

What rot!

What rot!

What has happened to the weather?! I don’t think it’s just us, an email from a friend in Spain has written: I hope the weather is better there than here because we have come back to winter time! We had a few scorching days in May and I thought oh-oh, it’s going to get really uncomfortable. But then June came – with the rain. Lots of it, and then some more. When that went we returned to the sunny days (with a cooling north wind) and the bbq was dusted off (or rather dried off). But today I went to check up on the veg patch and wore my fleece – it was misty and quite cool! And alas this weather has affected the crops. Some of the toms have got buckeye rot (well, I hope it’s that and not the dreaded blight) and the dwarf peas are covered in powdery mildew:

On a more positive note the veg patch in general is doing well, particularly the cucurbits (the squash shoots are metres long and have completely covered the paths) and the greengages [update: we think they’re yellow plums now] are almost ready, can’t wait.

Finally, from that to this in nine months (facing west):

And this in six (east):