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Highs and lows…

Highs and lows…

…ups and downs, swings and roundabouts. Whatever way you look at it the first of the ‘summer’ months has been erratic: from over 30C and then down to single figures at night, glorious baking hot sunshine  (too hot for breakfast outside) and then cold, drizzly days with autumn mists. There are field mushrooms popping up! The well is full! Tomorrow is July and the forecast is 19C and rain! Climate change? Who knows but it’s certainly meant losses and gains in the veg patch.

Starting with the positive it’s been great for the soft fruit. Our red currants, gooseberries, black currants and raspberries have given us bumper crops. The gooseberries, along with the elderflower cordial, were turned into jam and ice cream. The rest have been flash frozen (or are being, the raspberries and black currants are still coming) and then packed into bags for future jellies, jams and cakes.


I’m sure the blueberries tasted nice but only the birds can tell. The plums, that we moaned about last year (not one!), are dripping from the trees. The first of the yellow plum jams have been made, with a dash of vanilla this year, and there’s a weekend of bottling ahead. The cucumbers, sweetcorn and green peppers have been unaffected, and there are plenty of onions and garlic again. This year I decided to have a go at flash freezing the garlic as last years crop lasted well into the spring but then started to sprout. So this year only half are being dried and the rest, as an experiment, are in the freezer.

All sounds tip top. But then the potatoes… in fact they did ok but I chose, perhaps not unreasonably, a warm morning to dig them up. Which then turned into a boiler and I left them out to dry in the sun. The next day many had turned black, we tried to use them up as quickly as possible (freezer is now also full of potato cakes) but alas many were destined for the compost bin having got rotten before we could use them. Well, you learn by your mistakes.


The brassicas loved the rain. Huge great cauliflowers, enormous cabbages and giant calabrese started to appear. But then the leaves got bigger and bigger and, as the song goes, “if I only had a heart”. I peered in through the foliage hoping for a glimpse of something not leaflike – nothing.

collarEventually, we did get some cauliflowers and calabrese but really quite small which was so disappointing. Especially as this year I remembered to put plastic collars around the base of them all to keep egg-laying moths away (which worked brilliantly, I didn’t lose a single plant). I’m still hoping that the sprouts, which form later in the year, and the purple sprouting broccoli, which we get next year, will be ok. Not sure how much more patience to have with the cabbages, and I really wanted some of those mammoth lombardy heads like we’ve seen others growing. At least the smaller cauliflower heads were put to good use, as along with some of our beans, courgettes, onions etc there are now 4 jars of piccalilli in the pantry too.


And it seems crazy that July is tomorrow and we haven’t had any toms yet. Last month all the plants were doing well, especially the roma ones sown in January, and by mid June there were loads of green toms. And there are still loads of green toms. Only green. And perhaps most worrying is that many of the new flowers above have fallen off unfertilised. We have both noticed the lack of insects in general this year. In fact, amazingly, the purple sprouting broccoli from early spring came and went without a single, horrid grey aphid in sight. We haven’t put the fly curtains on the doors yet. As for honey bees: nada. The bumble bees are happy with the buddleia and lavender but really very few flying creatures to marvel at and be bothered by. Perhaps when summer really does arrive…

Meanwhile, the countryside is still lovely and green and full of wild flowers. Even the field next door which was sprayed has bounced back with poppies and chicory. So the toms and peppers can wait, there’s plenty of courgettes and chard and beans to keep us going. And it’s perfect walking weather too 🙂


A is for…

A is for…

swimming2…August. The month is drawing to a close and the weather forecast is already showing lower temperatures for the month ahead. We’ve survived the summer heat quite well this year, mainly by being active outside in the mornings and then retreating inside as the mercury tops 40. The days always start with an early morning dog walk and then the first of the watering. Richard makes breakfast which is always eaten outside. Then more watering (thanks to the incessant rains our well has only just run dry) and getting into the veg patch to do some chores: tying up, pruning, digging up, weeding, taking cuttings etc etc. From the kitchen Richard can be heard sharpening the knife as the roasties hide nervously in the bushes. They’ve all been killed now and some tasty meals we’ve had too.

avocado…Afternoon delights. Afternoons vary, there’s always plenty of baking and preserving of produce to do. We’ve also lazed on the sofa and watched some summer sport. But the best thing to do, and the dogs are with me on this, is to drive to the lake for a swim. Betty is chuffed she can swim now and is by far the fastest in the water.

…Apples and aubergines. There seem to be even more apples this year than ever before. Richard has made some wicked apple and blackberry crumbles, and tried his hand at making cider. I’ll leave him to say how well that’s going… Our never ending crop of aubergines gets the summer star award, and there are still lovely purple flowers on display.

…Avocado. Finally, a word on the avocado plant started not long after moving in. Three years later it has almost taken over the bathroom with one branch hanging out the window. It’s going from strength to strength, it’ll be touching the ceiling soon. Guacamole, anyone?

Reasons to be cheerful…

Reasons to be cheerful…

…one: we have potatoes! Okay, not such an abundant harvest as previous years but potatoes we have; most have been dug up, dried in the sun and then packed into boxes. There are still some plants to go but with the earth dried hard it’s a slow task. Not only potatoes but a wonderful crop of aubergines, plus courgettes, peppers and now the toms. Also lettuce, cucumbers (both long, green ones and round, yellow ones) and sweetcorn. There are some good-sized melons.


…two: and so we are eating a lot of our own food. It seems to have taken a long time for the summer crop this year but now we sit down regularly to a plate of home-grown, home-made food. There’s plenty of pork left and now chicken too, Richard has killed all the fat, white ones so only the nervous brown ones left.


Barbecued pork with oven roasted potatoes and aubergines followed by foraged crumble (we may not have any plums but there are apples and blackberries in the fields), mmmmm. And the chicken paella was very good too. There’s something about cooking outside that makes it all tastier.


…three: we are a buzzin’. If the high temperatures are not enough we are reminded that it’s summer by the constant hum and buzz of the bugs. Butterflies and bees and wasps (we have a couple of nests so entering the polytunnel and shed is with some trepidation) and creatures we have no idea what they are called fly around from dawn to dusk. The bumblebees are tireless. I thought they were wearing themselves out as they started to die on the lavender, we would awake to see a number of corpses clinging to the flowers or crumpled on the floor. This seemed a bit strange. Then I noticed a tiny white crab spider lurking which apparently kills wasps and bees, but not this one anymore.




This miniature shredded wheat turns out to be the nest of a praying mantid. Meanwhile the big task today is to make the annual batch of ratatouille. Richard is making mead, but that’s another story…

Flaming June – at last

Flaming June – at last

A week, they say, is a long time in politics. Well, that’s certainly the case at Casa Azul too. From miserable rain and even the wood burning stove roaring of an evening (in June – it’s true!) to mindblowingly hot temperatures. The sun has certainly got its hat on: 37+ of an evening. It’s meant getting as much done in the morning as possible and then retreating to the cool of the interior, thanks to almost metre thick walls.

So despite a poor potato harvest (I’m assuming, I haven’t unearthed the dwarf plants yet) and other feebleness (see previous post) it’s with some delight that I can say that now the toms, peppers, aubergines, squash, cucumbers and the ever faithful courgettes are full steam ahead.

However, this post is actually about the courtyard. I’d said to Richard before buying a place that it was a) a must to have a window above the kitchen sink and b) desirable to have a courtyard. Well, we got both and now, almost 4 years here, the courtyard is looking just lovely. It’s alive with flowers and bees and, as I look out of the window above the kitchen sink, it seems the rain was a long, long time ago…

View from the kitchen sink
View from the kitchen sink
Gloomy June

Gloomy June

chickenThere’s an air of despondency here at the Casa Azul horta. It’s the middle of June and everything should be about to burst into fruitfulness but, alas, everything is rather soggy and, like me, feeling sorry for itself. For this morning’s early morning walk I donned waterproofs and wellies. Call this summer?

So what’s the state of play now? Well, most of the onions and all the garlic have now been pulled up. The garlic survived the wet winter and spring better than expected but the onions are rather small. They were all hanging out to dry but are now back in the barn where it’s dry. The potatoes have all sprouted into bushes but they are so small too, have no idea what kind of crop we’ll get. Our neighbour said that those he knew who’d planted their potatoes before the rain have nothing, those who waited have got half. I also waited and it seems likely that it’ll be half a crop for us too. The delay has meant that they won’t be pulled up until next month this year, I had worried that this’ll be too late for the leeks who go in the bed next but I have to admit that they too look rather feeble.

This time two years ago we were sun drying the first lot of tomatoes! Ha ha they may have flowers on them now but they have a long way to go yet.


Tiny toms and tatties…

The corn is up, their tassels are out and hoping to be germinated, again not as tall as last year. And the courgettes too are putting on a brave face, we’ve had a few this year already.


Meanwhile the asparagus, artichokes and purple sprouting broccoli have all come and gone. I have sown some more artichoke plants, these ones are now 4 years old and will need replacing soon.

So any good news from the horta? Well, we have raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries and red currants. But veg wise? There are also aubergines, peppers, beans, cucumbers, melons and squash growing but nothing to eat from them yet. The chard bolted. The cauliflower and calabrese are also on the pathetic list. So not really. However, ever the great optimist, I’m sure we’ll have a wonderful July and we’ll be swamped with vegetables galore.

Meanwhile, we are enjoying the green grass and flowers, both in the garden and in the countryside. It’s just a shame the mornings are a touch damp for breakfast outside… roll on July!


Here comes the summer!

Here comes the summer!

Walking into the courtyard the heat hits you and there’s no relief to be found under our shelter – it’s reading 35C in the shade. The hens have disappeared deep into the brambles (you can just hear the occasional moaning cluck), the roasties are inside their hut with their beaks permanently resting in their drinking water (which has been put inside for the mo) and the dogs are not even bothering me for a run; they have collapsed on the tiled floor, legs akimbo and slightly snoring. Our bees like drinking from the pond’s edge (careful where you stand while looking for the frog!) and there are now bricks in the dogs’ outside bowl as mice and shrew keep drowning in it overnight. The wild birds are also grateful for the pond and start their morning with a splash.

And the pigs? Well, they love their mid-afternoon bathing session:

Meanwhile the raspberries are giving us a bumper harvest, a perfect afternoon for making ice cream!

S is for September…

S is for September…

…and at last s is for the summer too. Hot, sunny days without a cloud in the sky so of course s is also for swimming. We have returned recently to one of our favourite spots and, because it’s September, we had the place mostly to ourselves. We took our friend Ana-Louisa with us plus a picnic. The water was bitterly cold at the start but this didn’t bother the dog who thought she had gone to heaven.

S is also for seedlings. There’s plenty to be done in the veg patch as the second round of crops are sown; so far cabbage, calabrese, cauliflower, chard, sweet peas and broad beans have all germinated. I need to get rid of the pesky mouse that’s making holes in the beds before I plant them though.

Meanwhile the courgettes are just about still going, the tomatoes too, and we have peppers and aubergines ready. Yesterday we had the last of our potatoes though (how I hate having to buy them now!) but the first of our leeks which made up for that, they’re great this year.

Finally, S is for Spain as we plan another camping trip this time a couple of days in Salamanca. Super!



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!

Isso é verão, não é?

Isso é verão, não é?

It’s been a strange start to the summer. April and May were lovely (if you didn’t worry about the lack of rainfall) and saw us eating outside most evenings. Now, with the first of the summer months, the wind is cool, the clouds grey and it’s been showery – nothing substantial though and the grass yellows every day.

It’s a good time for the veg patch. The courgettes, surprise surprise, won the race for which veg we would be eating first from this year’s sowing, followed by the colourful chard. We’re either eating the produce or knowing we’ll be eating it very soon.

The extra four beds (there are now 13 of various sizes) have made a difference, both in terms of having more veg but also in the extra time looking after it all. We won’t be adding any more for the time being, what with the soft fruit and fruit trees as well there’s a lot to do if nothing is to be wasted. So at the mo we are eating our potatoes (the bed replaced with 44 leeks), onions, garlic, two kinds of French beans (the dwarf purple ones are recommended – always aphid free and prolific), broad beans, calabrese, cauliflower, courgettes, carrots, beetroot, chard, a few parsnips and turnips here and there, lettuce, raspberries and rhubarb. We’ve had one cucumber too.

The peas haven’t done very well, as last year; I really must remember to sow those and the broad beans in the autumn. We have also started to eat the tomatoes – hurrah! We’re growing more of these this year, and different varieties too.

The organic cherries are the first up – not surprising. What is surprising though is that these are not the ones in the polytunnel. The sunny spring has meant the ones outdoors have done very well and grown better than those under plastic. (It’s the aubergines and peppers which are appreciating the polytunnel more, both are flowering.) One of the new kinds we’re trying this year is the Roma kind – San Marzano. I’m really hoping to be able to freeze these for sauces throughout the year.

Yesterday I picked a mixture of veg for something I’m going to make, can you guess what?

My parents came last month and as always we try to make the most of my father’s woodworking skills. Last year he made a wooden support for the grapes in the courtyard and these are now doing very well so we hope to have a better harvest this year. As Richard said this time he was put to work making a new chicken run – I hope he didn’t think he was here on holiday! They bought with them a buddleia and this is now flowering, and it has attracted a very interesting butterfly (or is it something else?). Update: it’s a Broad-bordered Bee Hawk-Moth Hemaris fuciformis apparently. How nice!

So waiting in the wings are the sweetcorn, winter squash and melon, fennel, aubergine and peppers, perhaps some peas plus all the wonderful plums.

Here’s another pic of the veg I picked, all chopped and ready for the next stage… You’ll have to wait for the next update if you can’t guess.

Finally, away from the fruit’n’veg, we have bought 8 new chickens. Like last time they are about a month old, there are 4 white and 4 brown ones. To put us in the right frame of mind we differentiate them from the ‘egg chickens’ by calling them the ‘roast chickens’ – no room for sentimentality! Today they ventured out of their hut and into the run. We bought them, as the previous ones, from the market in Ansião. The man said the white ones would be ready in 3 – 4 weeks and the brown ones a couple more weeks after that! I suspect we’ll let these live a little longer, and get a little fatter. We also need to pluck up enough courage for D Day!

Happy anniversary

Happy anniversary

We’ve been so busy this week we haven’t had time to put up an anniversary blog entry. We flew into Portugal on September 11, 2009 (an easy date to remember) to begin our new life and here we are a year later in our wonderful home. The reason for the lack of postings? Well, we’ve been enjoying ourselves! We’ve had my sister, Sue and brother-in-law, Kevin over to stay. While they were here we swam in the sea at Figueira da Foz and in the river at Zezere and went for walks in the countryside including one with a new bunch of Portugal friends near the beautiful village of Dornes. We also returned to the ancient town and castle at Tomar. I usually keep these non Casa Azul activities to my regular Portugal blog but I thought I’d slip these photos in here anyway.

Kevin, Sue and Richard on the beach at Figueira da foz
Jackie and Sue in the Rio Zezere
"Portugal friends" above the village of Dornes

All this of course doesn’t stop activity in the garden and kitchen and Jackie has been as busy as ever tart making. Although our tiny fig tree is not yet ready to start producing there are loads of fig trees near our house to plunder and right now they are all in fruit. Here is a delicious fig tart Jackie made recently. She has also been making Courgette cakes which are the business. When she is next out of the kitchen, I’ll make sure she puts finger to keyboard and gets the recipe on our recipe page.

fig tart

Other news: Well the hot chillies are finally going red as are the sweet peppers. We will have a final flush of tomatoes before they finish and sadly we have had our last fresh cucumber (pickled ones will be ready soon). But as we have now been here for a year we can look forward to the crops we first harvested last year – the walnuts will soon be ready and then we are into the olive harvest. Can’t wait!