I take full responsibility. Having described the winter as mild in the previous post we had the most amazing snow storm at the end of last month. Not faint fluttering flakes but real big blizzardy blobs of the stuff, it was quite exciting! We hadn’t seen snow since living in Jordan, perhaps 10 years ago now. The dogs were still demanding their morning walk but by the time I had donned hat, gloves, scarf, wellies and waterproofs the sun had come out. It didn’t settle at all near us but on the hill behind our house, and further in the distance, it did – at least until the afternoon. Friends living towards the mountains had more dramatic scenery. So a fun climax to the end of winter.
Now spring is here and we walk around the garden realising there’s a million and one things to do, and so our first reaction is to sit outside and have a cup of tea and a piece of cake. But progress has been made. We bought some more ‘roasties’ and they’ve had their first taste of green grass and fresh air.
We’ve moved the hens again to a new meadow and coop, it’s amazing how much damage they do to the ground with their long sharp toenails, and we like them to have as much grass as possible. If only they ate the weeds too. We have had one mishap. One of the hens became egg bound and despite warm baths, massaging and olive oil (applied both ends) she didn’t recover. It’s the second time this has happened. One of our first lot of hens also suffered but she did get to lay and make a full recovery. So just the three layers for the moment.
Meanwhile, Richard has been strimming and attacking the bramble bushes and ivy while I’ve been pruning so the garden looks quite neat and tidy for a change. We have the beginnings of blossom on the fruit trees and the hint of buds on the irises and forsythia. All the cuttings taken last year of various shrubs seem to have survived the winter and making new growth.
The countryside too is slowly changing, many of the trees have a faint green glow as the buds begin to open. There are birds everywhere. And in the fields the orchids are returning, we now have the early purple (Orchis mascula) and sawfly orchids (Ophrys tenthredinifera) as the giant orchids begin to fade.
And the daisies! This is Jussi’s favourite time of the year: plenty of puddles still (and therefore towel rubs too), and not too hot. It’s probably best not to mention Betty and what she did when she met the little wildboar piglet…
It’s also the time of year to rummage through the seed box and decide what’s needed, but perhaps a cup of tea and a slice of cake first…
It’s my favourite month of the year here. Not too hot, not too cold. Not too wet, not too dry. And the flowers, oh the flowers. Some of you will remember my lament a year ago when the old boy who has the olive grove at the end of our garden sprayed it with some horrid stuff. Well, it was a poor year for the olives and we haven’t seen him since and, remarkably, the flowers have made a wonderful recovery and thanks to equal measures of rain and sun have literally blossomed.
In fact since taking this photo I’ve had to go out and cut a swathe through it, the path had all but disappeared. I’m not sure the dogs, however, appreciate the pastoral beauty…
It’s orchid time again and on a recent walk three more were discovered near us, making a total of thirteen orchids round and about. Along with the Man orchid we have spotted this beauty, the Sombre bee orchid. There were quite a few of them in a small clearing just up above the path we take most days with the dogs, it makes me wonder how many other orchids are just out of sight. They have a lovely rich, dark velvety lip. The Bee orchid itself remains elusive.
And this lovely white one caught my eye. I spent ages trying to find out what it was and now it seems to be an albino of the Early-purple. For those of you interested we have added an orchid section to our wild flowers page.
So March is here along with the showers, sunshine and birdsong. Looking back it really hasn’t been a bad winter, for a winter. There wasn’t too much frost, or rain, or wind or cold for that matter. There was some flooding, some blown over trees and red noses but all in all an unremarkable winter. Which means that we have blossom, green grass and colour in the garden and courtyard.
We have asparagus in the veg patch and the purple sprouting broccoli coming along nicely, thanks.
We are also really pleased the trees we planted on arrival are at last rewarding us with signs of fruit and nuts. There are tiny apricots and almonds appearing, and the quince, pear, cherry and plum trees are also in full bloom. But while sniffing the blossom we got a less attractive smell followed by a whiff of anxiety, yes: the pong of poison was in the air. We have no neighbours on our side of the road and both fields on either side of our house are occasionally sprayed with something nasty and then planted with kale or turnips. But now alas the meadow beyond our garden was getting the treatment. The meadow which has thigh high wild flowers in the early summer, the meadow our dogs run through every morning, the meadow where D. Elena grazes her sheep and goats. The meadow which is also an olive grove. That meadow.
Two old boys, one the owner and the other his mate, were spraying the grass with some kind of herbicide. Richard tries to intervene but is shooed off with reassuring noises – it’s not bad, they say. But now the grass has wilted and yellowed.
The only comfort I get is that I know it all grows back. Last year we were disappointed that another villager had sprayed a field near us including the wild irises growing there. I dug some up and put them in our garden where they disappeared not only to come up this spring but also to flower. If someone could explain why the grasses around the olive trees are sprayed I’d appreciate that. It’s the first time in 5 years it’s been done on that plot, the farmer usually gets it all strimmed and occasionally dug over. We can see it in many places this spring, a kind of scorched earth policy, and in this beautiful, healthy, wildlife abundant Portuguese countryside it’s sad to see.
Thursday morning, 11 April, it thundered down with rain; great sheets of it squashing the irises. Come the afternoon sunny intervals and since then not a drop. It’s got sunnier and warmer each day, as I glance up now there’s not a cloud in the sky and it still feels strange after such a wet, wet spring. But of course every cloud has a silver lining and we now seem to be living in the Emerald City, the grass is sooo gorgeously green!
And it’s also meant that all systems are go in the garden and veg patch. There are now a million and one tasks that need to be done (including strimming and weeding of course) and prioritising them can be difficult. Loads of seedlings have been potted on, and I’m especially pleased that the leeks have done their trick. Having saved a few flower heads from plants last year, and kept them in the potting shed, there were plenty of tiny black seeds to sow. These have all germinated and there are now 50 leeklings (?) which is wonderful, no need to buy leek seeds from now on (I hope).
We have also been able to enjoy one of our favourite past times, ie the lunchtime barbie! Purple sprouting broccoli is up but I’m most excited about the abundant crop of asparagus.
Loads more to tell but back to the jobs and the evening sunshine now…
It’s almost impossible to realise that this time a year ago forest fires were rampant. Without any rain over the winter months the land was tinder dry and most days palls of smoke rose up over the hills, somewhere something was burning. My gardening diary for the month has a list of jobs to do, last year this included watering the veg patch!
Today yet another day with rain forecast, temperatures remain quite low at night and it all feels damp. Nevertheless, the polytunnel is slowly filling up with seedlings. Good use is being made of toilet rolls, yoghurt pots, crème fraîche tubs, meat trays and, I’m pleased to discover, the clear plastic pão de chocolate boxes make perfect mini propagators (we’ll have to buy more of those).
I’m also pleased to say that the polytunnel is still standing. We’ve had incredible winds, one morning the back had flown off but, newly patched, it’s coping with the recent gusts. Whether or not the latest structure in the veg patch will last long is another thing. Having cut down the willow and made a few baskets I was left with some very large, long poles. It’s amazing how much grows in a year. So, always willing to try something new, I’ve made a kind of tunnel come bean support:
The idea is that the beans grow up and over and are much easier to pick than the wigwam efforts of previous years. I may make a smaller one for the cucumbers. Meanwhile one of our chickens became very lethargic, not wanting to eat, drink or move around much. As a precaution she was separated from the other two but we soon realised that my goodwill to provide lots of grass cuttings from Richard’s strimming was the cause. Doses of Eno, activia mashed with powdered pellets and the world’s longest grass poo later (Richard pulled it out!) she was much better.
At least someone is still enjoying the wet weather.
Finally a bit of rain has made an appearance. Not much I’m afraid but I suppose you can only expect showers in April. At least it has put a temporary halt to the fires. We went for a drive last week and saw the full extent. Vast swathes of forest turned black. Here’s a photo taken from our house. Originally the hills in the distance were all green, covered in pine and eucalyptus trees. They had started cutting down some (after all much of it was managed plantations) but now all that remains is a small green patch visible on the far right, next to the village (a small white splodge on the photo) which was fortunately untouched.
However, the welcome rain has had an effect on our veggies and even the rhubarb has come through.
And we’ve been eating plenty of onions and purple sprouting broccoli.
The courtyard is also doing pretty well. Here is a bit of the herb garden and our lime tree which is about to burst into flower, as are the orange and lemon trees.
Even the plane tree which was nothing more than a stick a few weeks ago has plenty of leaves.
The animals are also doing well – the roasties are putting on weight and enjoying the grass which has started sprouting everywhere.
And of course the two hairy ones enjoy it whatever the weather.
We’ve been a bit quiet on the posts for the last few weeks as we’ve had some guests. First Jackie’s sister Jemma and husband Simon were here and more recently we’ve just said goodbye to Matt, whom we hadn’t seen for ten years when we were teachers in Vietnam.
However, the garden doesn’t stop and in the last few weeks everything has burst into life. We’ve eaten all the oranges and now the trees are full of small white blossoms about to burst open – as is the lime. The plum and peach blossoms have come and gone, and actually we have quite a few peaches growing already – let’s hope the harvest is better than last year. It should be as we now have four trees, mainly older ones which we renovated last year. Also the quinces, apples and pears are in flower. So fingers crossed we get some rain and our fruit harvest will be a bumper one.
We also planted some cacti and agaves in the winter – not surprisingly, they seem to be doing alright with the lack of rain and will go great guns this summer. And the fig tree has actually started sprouting figs!
We’ve also got some more fauna to go with the flora – two bee hives (let’s hope they hang around for more than one season this time) and also seven more little roasties which will be ready for the oven in a couple of months.
Meanwhile our other recent addition, Betty, is doing rather well and continues to be a joy and terror in equal proportions – a terror while awake and a joy while asleep!
I had a quick look back at last year’s February posts and it was all storms and rain. How different this February. It’s been starry nights and blue skies every day, which has meant icy frosts followed by sunburny days. Frosts and no rain is the worst possible combination for the plants and many have struggled.
Spring is now definitely on the way with warmer nights and hopefully some rain in the near future. The trees are emerging from hibernation and the blossoms are already out on the apricot and the plums are not far behind.
The daffodils have been up for a while as have these crocuses.
The wild spring flowers are also on their way and we even saw some orchids on a recent walk. We planted quite a few bulbs this winter so hopefully a bit of rain will set them off.
The biggest news of the week, however, has been the new addition to the family. Betty was rescued as a tiny puppy by some friends of friends but she didn’t get on with their other dogs so we decided to take her on. Despite her naughty puppy habits – chewing, yapping and occasional loss of bladder control, she has been fantastic. The big hairy one has already taken to her and no doubt they will soon be inseparable. Here is the new addition modelling the bench, now sanded and painted.
As it happens we were sitting on the bench the other day and saw a hoopoe in the garden, which is quite a rarity especially as it is only ever a summer visitor, and blue tits checking out the birdbox. We’ve also seen a wren looking for nesting sites near the barn, so hopefully we’ll have some more wildlife in the garden.
As the bench has now moved out of the courtyard, there is more room for another product of my recently acquired woodworking skills – a small table. And Jackie has been honing her skills by painting it blue and another small table of ours purple. Time for yet another alfresco lunch?