Archive for the ‘Animals’ Category

About time!

Sunday, March 16th, 2014

tempAfter a fairly miserable winter, signs of spring started appearing at the end of February and now March has been glorious – in fact we’ve even had to start watering the garden! Most of the early fruit blossom has come and gone but now the plums are in full bloom and there is plum blossom confetti drifting around the garden. We’ve got quite a few peach trees but they never seem to do very much. However, the blossom comes out every year and the pink contrasts well with the white of the plums. Cherries up next.

plum tree

plum tree

peach blossom

peach blossom

Flowerwise, the daffs are still going but the irises (which grow wild around here) are now coming through as are the first of the orchids.

wild iris

wild iris

With the warm sunny weather, I’ve been making some more garden furniture. Here is an adirondack chair upcycled from an old pallet.

pallet adirondack chair

pallet adirondack chair

We’ve also got a new (temporary) addition to the family. A local animal sanctuary has had to close down so we are looking after Teddy for a month until he goes off to his new family. The main residents weren’t too happy at first but they seem to have accepted the young scamp now.

Betty and Teddy

Betty and Teddy

Jussi and Teddy

Jussi and Teddy

 

Blossom

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

Despite all the rain (which is showing signs of slackening off), things are finally looking up and spring is round the corner. As well as the daffs which have been with us for quite a while, the yellow crocuses have followed the purple ones and are now in flower.

crocus

However, the real harbingers of spring are the fruit blossoms. Like last year the apricot was first followed by the almond. We won’t have any fruit from either again this year because although we did buy another apricot for cross pollination, it is still too young as is the almond.

apricot
The plums are showing no sign of flowering, which is not necessarily a bad thing as we hope they flower when there is less chance of the rain knocking the flowers off.

Meanwhile we are back to full egg production. The old hens are still in semi retirement only laying one or two between them per day but the youngsters have filled the void. We get 3 every day, which is a little strange as there are 4 of them. Maybe one is a dud? As you can see the eggs are quite a bit smaller than the ones from the oldies.

eggs
The oldies have completely destroyed their run which looks rather devastated but we have adopted a new strategy with the youngsters. As you can see they are constrained in their run. We move this every few days so they get fresh grass and the grass where they have been gets a chance to recuperate. We also did it because they are ‘at that age’ where they want to stretch their wings and can quite easily fly/jump over the fence. It’s a bit of a faff. I wonder how long we will keep it up.

oldsters
youngsters

After a number of trips to the vet with the big hairy one, the vet reckons she has got atopy – it’s an allergic skin reaction which makes her lick her paws and is probably the cause of her often infected ears. It’s not too bad at the moment – the scratching and licking is usually just in the mornings for some reason and we are now used to cleaning her ears every day. And she is still full of life and obviously happy so we are not worried that much. The (slightly) smaller hairy one is still up to her tricks and recently she has presented us with a rabbit’s foot (for luck?) and a pig’s trotter (??!).

jj

Winter?

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013

Why the question mark? Well it definitely is winter, with our first frosts and temps going well below freezing. But as you can see from the thermometer in the polytunnel, crazily it has still got into the 30s during the day and we’ve had some cracking sunny days: Lunches al fresco and runarounds on the beach.

polytunnel thermometer

polytunnel thermometer

First thing in the morning, it’s a Christmas scene.

jussifrost

frostgarden

But we still have quite a few flowers. Above are chrysanthemums and below, one of many roses.

rose

The sudden sharp frost that we had yesterday meant that finally the Plane tree in the courtyard has started to lose its leaves.

tree

But the days are still sunny and warm and perfect for a runaround on the beach followed by lunch at one of our favourite beach side restaurants.

bettybeach

jussibeachMeanwhile, back at the house a project which I have wanted to get going for ages has lurched into action. By the threshing square is a pile of rubble, rather grandly termed ‘the rockery’ although all that grows there are a few hardy weeds. Well this winter I intend to get it sorted. At least I’ve made a start…

'the rockery'

‘the rockery’

stage 1 - clear out some of the rubble

stage 1 – clear out some of the rubble

Betty is supervising. In her own way.

betty

As we know this is when she is at her sweetest – when she’s asleep. When she’s awake she gets up to all sorts. One day last week during a walk, she managed to grab a wild bird. It was something like a grouse but as she refused to come anywhere near with it (hence the blurry photo taken from distance), we can only speculate. It is now buried somewhere for future retrieval no doubt!

bettybird

Crumble

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

One measly crumble! Last year we had plums, plums, plums. Yellow ones, red ones, purple ones and green ones. Mirabelles, Victorias, Greengages and Damsons. We had loads of crumbles and litres of cordial. This year I picked enough to make one plum crumble. It was still delicious though and I’m looking forward to making plenty of apple crumbles to partly make up for the plum disaster.

The summer bush fruits weren’t too bad – redcurrants, raspberries, gooseberries, blackcurrants. And the strawberries keep coming. Meanwhile the summer veggies are now coming through – we’ve had cucumbers, plenty of courgettes (of course), and our first batch of aubergines. And the toms are not too far behind. The corn on the cobs were variable but overall not quite as bad as we thought and the later ones are looking good.

corn

In animal news, we’ve seen a few snakes recently, including this rather brazen metre long ladder snake cooling in the pond (its rear half out of shot was in the pond). We were a bit worried about our resident frog but apparently ladder snakes feed almost exclusively on rodents (thankfully sorting out our temporary mouse problem). However a week later froggie was found floating face down in the pond anyway. :-(

ladder snake

ladder snake

We’ve also had a roastie death. A few have been making unpleasant gurgling noises – they seem to have some sort of a cold and one has succumbed so far. Although there are still a few sniffles about they don’t seem too bothered by the heat and have been growing quite nicely. The hens take everything in their stride as usual and only recently have gone on summer laying schedule (ie. have the odd day off) but we did have one surprise the other day finding a monster egg.  In the UK a large egg is classified as between 63 and 73g. The small egg in this picture is 70g. The large one is 126g! It was indeed a double yoker.

eggs

eggs

In Jackie’s last post she described our courtyard which is looking really good. In the picture you can see some hollyhocks. They are over 3.5 metres tall. I don’t know much about these flowers but I think that is pretty tall for a season’s growth. The lavender is also doing well and is attracting huge numbers of bumble bees from dawn until dusk.

So now we are well into July and the garden itself has been transformed, the lush green of early June is a distant memory and now all the grass is burnt away not to be seen again until November.

garden

 

 

Pigs to pork

Friday, October 19th, 2012

The deed has finally been done. They had escaped just once too often – instead of jumping over the fence they had now started burrowing under. At 115kgs and 8 months old, they were also ready. Yes, the pigs are now pork. As I now look at the empty pig field, I feel a twinge of sadness. It was quite funny to see them scurrying around their paddock but we got them to eat and they weren’t pets. It was just as well we didn’t even get to like them that much, what with their escaping and grunting and ear-splitting squealing. That made the end much easier.

In short, they were killed one day, hung up overnight and then butchered the next. The butchering was the most traumatic as the butcher was producing cuts of meat at a hectic pace and me and Jackie were feverishly trying to label and bag various bits and put them in the freezer. We very quickly realised that Portuguese butchery is very different to British. If we hadn’t stepped in to change things, the two pigs would have been completely converted into costelletas (chops), febras (steaks), entremeadas (bellies) and entrecostos (ribs) as that is the way it’s done here. As it was, we managed to save various larger pieces which we deemed ‘roasts’, some of which will also become sausages and a leg which is now resting in brine and shall become ham. We also have a few other bits and pieces such as liver, kidneys, trotters etc.

I have to say the butcher was very surprised but happy to receive the heads and a few more unsavoury bits and pieces. Making brawn was just one step too far at this juncture.

All in all we now have two freezers, packed with 135 kgs of prime pork. Financially, it is difficult to put a price on it as we would certainly say our pork is far more valuable than the stuff we would ordinarily buy in the supermarket. But even based on supermarket prices we could say that we have broken even (not taking the pigpen construction costs into account), but this was not the point.

Looking at the sheer volume of meat from these two beast was almost enough to turn Jackie back into a vegetarian. Not quite though, as could be gauged from the satisfied smile on her face as she wiped the plate from the first of many roast dinners. Delish!

Prickly issues

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

I remember (almost fondly!) of the time we first arrived at Casa Azul and the weeks of bramble bashing I had to do to clear the land. Well, three years down the track I’m at it again. This time, it’s clearing the roastie run for a new intake. It’s amazing how quickly brambles can take over. I’ve not even gone right up to the wall as I want to provide a bit of shade for the little darlings.

before


after

We do have some more beneficial prickly customers though. Our neighbours gave us some prickly pears last November. We reckoned they would be good for us as they need little water. We were right as they have thrived in our arid conditions and we have been rewarded with quite a bit of fruit. Here’s a photo of one. Unfortunately the prickly pear with the most fruit was stripped clean before I got the camera out!

prickly pears

It’s not the end of the fruit though, or fruit processing. Most of our neighbours are busy taking in the grape harvest. We only have a few vines, so Jackie’s dad, who thought he was here on holiday rather than being employed as a ‘woofer’, has been taking in our meagre harvest and we have been making some grape juice. We decided that as the local wine is so good and cheap we wouldn’t bother trying to make any grape wine.

However, it’s not the last fruit to ripen. That falls to the quinces which are also now ready. And that means Jackie springs back into action to make Quince jelly. No rest for the wicked!

Can’t sign off without a mention of the pigs. They escaped again! This time one managed to lift the gate off its hinges and then headed off towards the veggie patch. Fortunately not much damage was done and after their little adventure we managed to get them back in their paddock. It was just after this that Jackie happened upon an article in the Guardian where a pig farmer was eaten by his little babies. and apparently it has happened before! At 105kgs each, I think it’s time for the chop. Watch this space.

Rain at last

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

…but it’s the perennial complaint – not enough! Our UK readers will decry me for this comment but we had been looking forward to thunderstorms and heavy rain which had been forecast for last night. This morning however we were greeted by nothing more than a damp squib. We are now well and truly scraping the bottom of the barrel or rather in our case, the well, which will be bone dry very soon.

The pigs were happy though, as their dustbowl of a field is at least damp. They also continue to grow. they are now 90kgs each and getting ever closer to the chop!

The bees have also done well. Or at least one hive has. I took a further 4 frames last week which means we’ve had a total of 14kgs of honey from this one hive and absolutely nothing from the other hive. At least the bees from the second hive have produced some honey which should see them through the winter. As I have no honey extractor, I cut the honeycomb off the frames and then strain the honey out. With the remainder, I can then extract the wax by heating it and then straining it through a pair of tights.

So we’ve now got almost a kilogramme of wax so once we get some wicks we’ll be able to make some candles.

I’ve also been busy doing more woodworking and made another chair:

Although there is plenty to eat from the garden, we’ve also been doing a lot of foraging hereabouts. There are a number of ruined houses in our village and a lot of them have mature fruit trees. Therefore we’ve been enjoying fresh peaches, apples and especially damsons. Jackie has made damson jam and a most delicious damson ice cream. We’ve also collected some sloes, so the sloe gin should be ready by Christmas.

Breakout!

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

It’s a little strange when you see the same thing every day, you just don’t notice it changing. This is especially true of nature which is constantly changing but usually too slowly to notice. This seemed to be the case for the pigs.

Actually, the changes should have been obvious, as they have been going through over 2kgs of pig food in addition to food scraps every day. Anyway, I measured them recently. I’m sure it would be nigh on impossible to put them on scales but you can get a rough approximation by measuring their length and girth. My rough calculations came out at over 60kgs each. Boy have they grown!

So now the 60kg beasts have decided they are big enough to flex a bit of muscle, especially if their carers are a bit late with dinner. And that is what happened the other day. Dinner was late and so they decided to go after it themselves. The fence stood no chance and Jackie was soon screaming, “The pigs are out! the pigs are out!” Fortunately I had the food bucket to hand and they were soon chasing me back into their field. While they chowed down I made the necessary repairs (fingers crossed).

We won’t be late with dinner time again I can assure you.

Meanwhile, they still enjoy a bathe and as temperatures have risen into the thirties recently, here they are enjoying life.

pigs in heaven

Got some grub for us?

Not just the pigs, but other things have been sprouting and after a few years of famine, last year’s pruning seems to have done the job with the apples and very soon, the peaches. So we are presently enjoying quite a few apple crumbles and apple and sultana cakes (recipe to follow as it is seriously delicious).

Following on from the last post, I got 7kgs of honey (that’s 14 jars) from just 4 frames in one hive. I can take another 4 full frames out of the same hive but I think I’ll leave that for a few weeks to enable them to recover a bit. I think I’ll leave hive number 2 this time around – they should make enough honey to last themselves over the winter but I won’t take any.

As I don’t have an extractor, as I described in the last post, I had to cut up the comb to let the honey drip out (a proper extractor just takes the honey and leaves the comb intact). But this had the advantage that I could use all the wax myself and after a bit of  reheating and filtering (through a pair of tights), I managed to get over 500g of pure beeswax. We just need to decide what to do with it now. We’re going to try and make candles but need to do a bit of research first.

wax

Here comes the summer!

Monday, June 25th, 2012

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!

Blooming

Sunday, June 3rd, 2012

End of May, beginning of June is the most colourful time of year at Casa Azul. The flowers are having a last hurrah before the heat of the summer kills everything. Strangely enough roses are really popular round these parts and everyone seems to have at least one in their garden. We are no different and they look great at the moment.

We have also been cultivating some wonderful bright yellow flowers – I believe they are called dandelions. Here they are in all their glory before they were strimmed to death.

The long hot summer is great for lavender though and we have plenty of it. We had a bit of a worry with piggy number one recently – she had a nasty abscess on her neck. When it burst it was even worse. I’ll spare you the details. I had to rub in some cream and attempt to keep it relatively clean which wasn’t the easiest of things to do but it seems to have healed remarkably quickly. Apparently they are quite common but I don’t fancy nursing the pigs through any more.

On the roastie front, the last lot have met their maker and we’ve already had the first for supper. Needless to say it was really delicious. I look forward to the rest of them. We don’t hang about though. No sooner had one lot been dispatched than we got another lot. They’ll be ready in a couple of months.