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Tag: raised beds

Sow and sew

Sow and sew

For Christmas I treated myself to a new cookery book: Made in Sicily by Giorgio Locatelli. With over 400 pages it’s a wonderful recipe book as well as a travel guide, full of information about the island, its people and its food. And with only 12 recipes for meat it’s packed full of scrumptious vegetarian and fish dishes. I bought it to remind us of the lovely holiday we had there, but also to renew my enthusiasm for cooking which has waned a touch. There are lots of recipes for broccoli, cauliflower, aubergine and courgettes… but while reading I noticed there was a recurring theme: the broccoli from Sicily was different to what we know, ditto the cauliflower. He reckoned their varieties all tasted nicer.

So a number of hours were spent on the Internet trying to find seeds for these amazingly delicious vegetables. With the help of google translate I tried in vain to find where to buy the seeds. I eventually found a blogger who also enthused about these particular Sicilian vegetables and I wrote to him (he was called Salvo – we are Montalbano fans too!). He put me in touch with someone who sells the seeds and hurrah, a few weeks later I get 2 tiny packets of seeds in the post: sparacello di sicilia and cavolfiore violetto di sicili. The broccoli are in one of the raised beds now (with protective plastic squares to keep the moth away that lays eggs at the base of brassicas) , and the cauliflower, which promises to be a lovely shade of purple, will go in soon. So a renewed interest in both cooking and gardening.

The latter just as well, what with The Crisis I was worried at one time that we would be relying on what we grew ourselves and lamented that it was all happening during what is called The Hungry Gap ie when nothing much was available. Broad beans aside there’s not much to be picked now that the early purple broccoli and asparagus is finished.

Here in Portugal the State of Emergency is coming to an end, two months on, and we’ll be entering the State of Calamity which to me sounds just as bad. We have to admit that for the most part we have been unaffected. With over an acre of land, and the heart of the Portuguese countryside on our doorstep, we have not been in lockdown in any way. In addition we have honed our social distancing skills (friends? What friends?) and have been working from home for the last 10 years. So, to assuage some guilt, I volunteered to make some masks for a local organisation. The old Bernina was dusted off, perhaps 50 years old now, and the kitchen table taken over in the manufacture of PPE.

Other than that we appreciate more than ever the birds and the bees, the flowers and the shrubs, and the sheer pleasure of being outside. We know we have friends and family who are going through a tough time now and we don’t forget them while spotting the orchids or taking the dogs through the meadows. Never more have we looked forward to greeting visitors here at Casa Azul and enjoying a home cooked meal and sharing a bottle of local wine. x

Raising the beds

Raising the beds

A fairly quiet month at Casa Azul. Slowly but surely the raised beds are taking shape, although it has been quite a procedure. Getting the wood and Richard knocking it all together seems to have been the easiest part.

First up was to line the bases with empty paper bags of chicken feed. Then each of the interior sides were stapled with plastic. The former is to keep the weeds down, the latter to prevent the beds from drying up too much in the sweltering summer heat.

Then, as Richard had strimmed the grass, two wheelbarrow fulls were raked up (one of my least favourite jobs) and used as the next layer for each of the three beds (there are four but we’re only filling up three to begin with).

Then the beds were filled with soil. I got this from the field next door. The javali (wild boar) had very kindly dug over a lot of the ground to leave large patches of loose, and weedless, earth. Each bed got two wheelbarrow loads.

Then each got two wheelbarrow loads of chicken straw compost. And then these layers of soil and compost were repeated. (Are you counting how many times I have filled and tipped the wheelbarrow into the beds?!) It did seem a bit ironic that one of the reasons for doing this was because my back starts to complain bitterly after bending over and weeding and having the beds raised quite high was to limit this.

I am embarrassed to admit that this bed here below, on the left, is what most of the original beds look like. The right half has been cleared to put the garlic in, and there are onions and leeks elsewhere, but the rest is slowly being overgrown. It has just become too tiring so really hoping the boards will stop the weeds taking over.

So taller beds, filled with wonderful weedless soil, and with vegetables planted closer together is the plan. Fingers crossed.

Meanwhile we are delighted with our new wood burning stove, finally installed. And tonight, along with the purple sprouting broccoli, we had the first of the asparagus harvest.

The fruit trees are all in blossom, the blackthorn at the end of the garden looks simply splendid. I think a small glass of sloe gin is needed to celebrate ­čÖé

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┬áwaiting in the wings now are more brassica (loads of cabbage for some reason, ┬ácalabrese, 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┬áface 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 ­čÖé


From Jersey to Portugal

From Jersey to Portugal

This morning I made a list of things to do in the garden which was basically to decide where the rhubarb, melons, asparagus and leeks were going to go and prepare / make some beds for these. My dad had written that he’d posted the asparagus on Friday from Jersey and although it was only Monday I┬á decided to go for that first as it seemed the most work and despite the sunshine it felt quite cool so perfect working weather. My first choice of position had to be abandoned – the sunny days have made our clayish soil rock hard already so there was no way I could start another bed. The only bed available was earmarked for the leeks but it was weed free and workable so I set about making an asparagus raised bed. The edging bricks are rather ugly but I’m planning to put some herbs and flowers in their holes. I’d just put in the manure and taken a photo when blow me down the postie pulled up with a large bag of asparagus crowns! I covered the manure, plonked the spiderlike plants on top and covered them with soil and lots of water. The compost they were in was still slightly damp so I’m hoping they’ll be fine, will let you know in two years’ time!

Meanwhile I was getting a bit concerned about the Jersey Royals. The potato plants that Luis had given us were now twice as tall and covered in flowers even though they’d been planted weeks later. After some googling last night I discovered that flowers aren’t always present, and it doesn’t mean there aren’t any tatties down there. It also seemed that if you leave the Royals in the ground too long they start to lose their waxiness and become floury. So with some trepidation, and excitement, I rummaged under one of the plants that had looked rather sorry for itself last week (although it was now looking much better with loads of new leaves) and found a potato – a perfect looking good sized potato. So I pulled enough out to have for lunch and picked some mint too:

To be honest I wasn’t sure how they’d taste. They hadn’t had the seaweed mulch they get in Jersey, and other websites I’d been on said they’d failed. Well, I’m happy to say that with some butter and mint they were lovely, perhaps not as fantastic as the ones I’ve had in Jersey but delicious never the less and well worth the effort. Thank you, sis! And sorry, Richard (again!) For those wondering why I’m not sharing these first harvests with Richard – he’s back home and I’m sure enjoying some Manx kippers. Back to the garden…

The reassuring sound of drilling

The reassuring sound of drilling

The reassuring sound of drilling has resumed at the house. Yes, the builders have returned. We’ve also got the plumber on site and together they are knocking out holes, drilling through walls and digging up floors to lay various pipes for the electricity and plumbing. This will also include central heating and solar powered water heating. The solar heated water is certainly not for economic reasons as it won┬┤t pay for itself for many years but it is something which we always wanted to do.

Of course, work continues on the garden. In addition to the spuds, carrots, onions, leeks etc, Jackie has now planted out beans, peas, cucumbers, courgettes, squash, tomatoes, turnips, broccoli and goodness knows what else. I must say apart from a minor slug attack on the baby rhubarb the whole crop has been remarkably pest free and looks extremely healthy. I wonder how long that will continue for. We are also preparing for our first crop which will be ┬┤oriental leaves┬┤. I┬┤m not sure where we got them from but they are varieties of lettuce as far as I can see. We plan on having them at a barbie at the weekend. Let┬┤s hope the weather is OK.

spuds leading the way top right, peas and bean top left

The weather has actually been perfect for growing things – plenty of sun and rain. In fact despite some friendly joshing from Luis who thought our water tank (see previous post) would take forever to fill, after some pretty heavy rain in the last week (thankfully mostly overnight) we have already collected over 300 litres.

While Jackie has been busy on the veggies, I have turned my attention to rescuing more of the olive trees from ivy and brambles and also some strimming (yet again) – perfect weather for veggies is the same perfect weather for weeds and grass. However, I have also been able to do some landscaping and by using quite a few discarded rocks from the house, I have created the ┬┤peninsula┬┤, a raised area in front of the threshing square. We’ve already planted a few decorative plants in and around it but I think it will take quite some time before it starts to look anywhere near attractive. It’s a start anyway.

┬┤The peninsula┬┤
┬┤The peninsula┬┤

In addition to all this, I’ve also made another video (it’s not surprisingly on the video page of the blog). A little update on how the place is coming along. Check it out.

P.S. plums and cherries already starting to appear!! yum yum.



The raised beds are finally finished – they just need green things to start sprouting from them. Here’s one photo we took not long after we arrived in September and another this week after putting some gravel down.

raised beds before and after

And here is the pergola, which is where the pig pen once was.


Still no sight of the builders. Hopefully they will be starting again next week…

Not happy bunnies

Not happy bunnies

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.

raised beds ready and waiting
raised beds ready and waiting

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.

wren and blackcap
wren and blackcap