Archive for the ‘Garden’ Category

Some September stuff

Thursday, September 28th, 2017

Where to start? Well, we took the first 2 weeks of September off, another camping trip to the French Pyrenees plus some super stopovers in Spain. Faithful hounds, house and hens were all looked after by a fabulous couple which gave us a real break.

Now of course it doesn’t feel as if we have been away at all.  Our first task on return was Operation Pergola. We put up this wooden structure in 2010, before we’d even moved in.

The idea was to grow vines over it for a lovely shady spot to eat under in the summer. The first year went to plan, three vines grew quickly up and over. The second year was okay but come the third the vines just didn’t seem to be doing very well, and then alas they seem to have died. Such a disappointment. I blamed it on the location: too high up, windy and exposed. But then Richard built another structure, even more exposed, on the threshing square. The vines grew and flourished and soon became exactly what we wanted:

The vines, or rather the dead woody branches, were cut down and onto plan B: kiwis. They grow so well around here and the fruit would be an added bonus. Again, they started well but it soon became apparent that these were a failure too. Digging them out, with a heavy heart, we found the problem, or rather the culprits: voles. There were enormous holes under each plant and the roots had all been eaten away.

So plan C was activated on our return. This was to lower the top, it was always proportionately too high, and cover it with bamboo sheets. Somehow we ended up buying the reed version but it has been covered. Then we’re going to plant climbers in large pots around the structure, it will look nice one day… but look how the plants around it have grown!

Meanwhile the veg patch has sort of been abandoned. The heat has just been too much for most things, although we have had tomatoes, cucumbers, some celeriac and courgettes on our return.

The real survivors though are the peppers, both sweet and hot. The forecast is for temperatures to remain high so perhaps the aubergine flowers will bear fruit.

Another victim of the heat has been the polytunnel. Such a great idea but in reality, with these Portuguese long and oh so hot summers, not very practical. There were days when it rained (I vaguely remember what that means…) or overcast when the polytunnel was great. However, seedlings, if left in there even on a sunny March day, would soon shrivel up. I tried to grow tomatoes in a small bed but these too suffered in the heat.  Rocket bolted and lettuce shrivelled. I was forever taking trays in and out, and then I lost a couple of sweet potatoes over the winter as it didn’t even keep the frost away. So, all the plastic has been pulled off and I’m considering just covering the top half so that it can still be some sort of shelter and storage area.

One success story has been the prickly pears, loads this year, and we seem to have a bumper harvest of walnuts too.

Finally, Richard has asked me to put up this photo of his cider factory. (Faithful followers will remember the last post when we picked barrel loads of apples). We’re hoping it’s going to be ready for Christmas:

That’s it! The chicken story will have to wait, as will the saga of the dual carriageway being built though the village…

 

The heat is on (still)

Tuesday, July 4th, 2017

We’re now into July and the heat is still relentless. In the aftermath of the fires, the controversy regarding the growing of eucalyptus has intensified. In fact a number of villages have decided to not wait for government (in)action and are taking matters into their own hands and have decided to chop all the eucalypts down within a certain radius of the village.  Lets hope it makes a difference. After the fires we actually had some rain. Well not much more than a shower but it was enough to coat the truck in ash. Although we’ve had it for a few years I had to give it a wash for the first time!

In garden news, I forgot to mention previously that for the first time we had a decent harvest of loquats. We did what we do with all the fruits – made jam and crumble.

We’ve also had the yellow and red plums and are currently waiting for the huge amounts of greengages to ripen. Despite the heat and little rain, the apples have done really well as have the pears which should be next up. Jackie will be reporting on the veg patch later this month (hopefully it hasn’t completely frazzled by then), but I wanted to say that the corn on the cobs were as delicious as ever. They are probably my favourite product of the veg patch.

 

In June we also had Jackie’s dad over so we’ve been doing that most Portuguese of traditions – throwing sardines on the barbie!

another barbie

Bloomin’ spring

Tuesday, March 21st, 2017

Just three weeks ago Jackie mentioned that the almond was the first tree to blossom, followed by the blackthorn and peach. Well since then the cherry, plums, apricots and now the pears have joined the party. And in fact the almond and the apricot have already set fruit. Last year we had 2 almonds and we are yet to get any apricots, so lets hope this year is a bumper crop!

apricot

almond

Last year we really hacked back a number of greengages and more grew up from water shoots in the hen run. These have borne flowers for the first time this year, so it’s looking good so far. In addition, the grape vines have sprung into life and also the kiwis which were newly planted in the autumn. We won’t have fruit this year but we are hoping for a good show.

grape vine

The other trees are not holding back either. The plane trees in the courtyard and the garden are showing signs of life. The courtyard plane has been great. It lets all the sun shine through in the winter and then provides plenty of dappled shade in the summer. Just what we wanted.

plane tree

Also in the courtyard, we haven’t mentioned the orange trees for a while. These guys fruit in the winter of course and have provided plenty of oranges. Only a few days ago, I picked bucket loads of them and got 8 litres of juice but there are still dozens left on the trees!

oranges

Still in the courtyard, the quince is in full flower. That never disappoints with plenty of quince jam and quince crumbles to come.

quince

Last year we had daffodils in December, or should I say, December 2015. This year they have been late but are now putting on a show for us, as is our Forsythia which is in full bloom.

forsythia

Last but not least, even the figs have burst into life – last year was a bumper crop. More of the same again please!

fig

The big freeze

Monday, January 23rd, 2017

It has been cold. Finger-numbing, shoulder-hunching, teeth-chatteringly cold. Freezing cold. We have woken up (it seems like for weeks) to heavy frosts and winter wonderlands. One night we recorded a minimum of -6.3C, now that is cold!  Many of the garden plants are now wrapped in plastic bags, fleece or bubble wrap. There will be some trepidation when they are unwrapped to see how they have survived.

The first victims have been the prickly pears. Every morning they have drooped lower and lower, and their recovery less noticeable. Alas, some have now snapped although this just means replanting the fallen leaves, and we’ll have a lot more come the summer.

The pond has regularly turned to ice and its plants blackened. We did remember to make sure that it was full before the big freeze came, somehow the leaves of the lilies and water hyacinths suffer more by being exposed to the frost rather than being frozen in the water.

This little, actually rather large, salamander was caught with its mate during a clear up. I do hope they, and the resident frogs, will be okay come the spring.

We have also been making sure there is plenty of extra seed for the garden birds, the usual suspects come and work their way through vast quantities every day.

One bitterly cold morning a little robin was completely still in the courtyard, almost like it had been frozen to the ground. I was able to gently pick it up and place it in a nest we’d kept. The next time I looked it had flown away.

Along with a certain beauty the cold has, there is also the reward of clear blue skies and sunny days. When the wind drops it’s still warm enough to eat outside for lunch, and has meant there is no excuse for not tackling the winter jobs. Pruning continues with the plane tree having its annual pollarding, the vines all being cut back and the willow too being pruned.

Like the summer afternoons, when the temperatures go well over 40, the veg patch has been a sorry sight these winter mornings. At first the broad beans would have collapsed and then bravely ‘pulled themselves together’ come mid-day but now most of them lay on the ground in a sorry state. The smaller ones planted later seem okay but we’ll be lucky to have another bumper crop.

Having said that we, amazingly, have had loads of broccoli and tonight we’re having the first of the cauliflowers. Somehow the leaves have provided enough protection, full marks to them.

We’ve also just had the last of the Jerusalem artichokes, the ones the voles kindly left for us, and there are still some leeks to be had. We’ve just had the first of our beetroots too, so really we can’t complain!

And with a roaring fire every evening the dogs aren’t complaining either. There is also some welcome rain on the horizon too; it seems incredible that we have actually watered some of the plants and smaller shrubs, in January! Let’s see if I can finish knitting that jumper for Richard before it’s no longer needed…

 

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Prune, the verb

Friday, September 2nd, 2016

I have a love / hate feeling towards pruning. I love the idea of doing it, tidying up a tree or bush knowing that it’ll look nicer and, with luck, more bountiful. Today I stood in front of our apricot tree, armed with a two kinds of loppers (the saw kind and the snipping kind), a pair of secateurs, a ladder and a copy of the RHS’ Pruning and Training book.  This book is full of amazing photos, diagrams, instructions and advice. It makes pruning look a doddle. I read the book and look at the tree. I do this a few times. Reading the book I know what to do, looking at the tree I am completely fazed. So I start by cutting away the weak branches, the overlapping ones, the downward ones and the inward growing ones. The tree now needs the proper prune. I read the book and look at the tree. Hmmm. Part of the problem is I didn’t prune it last year. Anyway, I brave the wobbly ladder and 30 minutes later, with only minor cuts to one wrist and a little saga when a wasp flew up my skirt, there is a huge pile of branches and leaves on the ground. One pruned tree.

prune

I have no idea if I have done the right thing. Time to tackle the others…

Wild harvest

Friday, August 26th, 2016

The baking heat continues. We have a thermometer we keep in the shade in the garden and on 8th August it peaked at 45.6 degrees! In fact over a third of the days in August so far have registered 40 degrees or higher. Of course these are not official readings – if they were we would be the hottest place in Portugal. Anyway, searingly hot! Not surprisingly most of Portugal has been hit with devastating wild fires but fortunately for us none of them are near here. At least over the last few days the heat has relented enough for me to enter the garden to find that the blackberries are ready and looking very plump.
blackb
I guess they must have stored up much of the rain we received in May. I have to admit they are not as tasty as British blackberries nor as juicy – no stained purple fingers that were typical of blackberry picking sessions of years ago. In any case it is a welcome harvest given that the plums let us down so much. Having said that, the one plum tree we planted (and therefore the only one we water), the Stanley plum, has outdone itself. We had a few fruits last year but this year its tiny branches are straining under the weight. As I type, Jackie is collecting and bottling some of the fruit and no doubt has plans for the rest as well.

Stanley plum

Stanley plum

The heat, however, is affecting our apples as they are even tinier than usual and there are not so many on the wild trees in the area either. I’m not sure I’ll have enough for any cider this year.
We have three pear trees. There is an old one which is covered with tiny, hard fruit and no use to anyone. We have a slightly younger tree right at the back of the garden which almost dies every year but struggles on. This actually has half a dozen fruit which may turn out all right and we have a very young tree which we planted a few years ago and this one also has about half a dozen decent sized pears. OK so not exactly a bumper crop but beggars can’t be choosers.
pear from young tree

pear from young tree


pears from old tree

pears from old tree

We planted some grape vines around our pergola which are quite frankly pathetic but there is a wild vine growing along a wall. It produces very small grapes, not good for eating but the right sort for wine and last year I had enough for 12 bottles of very passable red wine. This year, it’s not looking great but fingers crossed.

grapes
We also have three large mature walnut trees and these always produce a great crop – in actual fact we still have nuts from last year waiting to be shelled, so that won’t be a problem. And I think the figs will be OK as well but we won’t be getting those for a while.

Meanwhile, the hens are also feeling the heat. As usual, they don’t lay so many eggs in summer but one of them has molted quite drastically. In our experience if one hen shows any sign of weakness or sickness, the other hens pick on it mercilessly. It’s very sad to see but fortunately our pen is big enough for the baldy one to stay out of trouble and I am pleased to report that it is slowly regrowing more feathers.
hen
We also had a strange snake event. I found a large Montpelier snake attacking a much smaller Ladder snake. They were caught in a deadly embrace for quite a few minutes until finally the Montpelier snake decided to bail out and slunk away. It was only then that I saw how large it was – it was well over a metre long, which is large for round here. The Ladder snake looked a bit dazed but also managed to slither off. I saw the Montpelier snake again the following day. This time it had eaten something as it was very lethargic and I could see its belly was distended presumably with its favoured prey, a lizard, of which there have been loads in the garden this year.
snakes
So that’s it for the wild crops (and animals), Jackie will be back next time to update on the trials and tribulations of the veg patch. Let’s hope by then we will have had some rain and cooler weather…

The heat is on

Tuesday, June 28th, 2016

After a very damp winter and spring, summer has finally arrived. The second half of June has been a scorcher and the well, which was still full a week or so ago is going down rapidly with the veg patch watering in full flow.

It seems to have been a mixed spring for the birdlife. We had a family of blue tits fledge from a nest box but a couple of serins aborted their nest on the pergola leaving a solitary egg uncared for. We presume one or both of the parents met a sticky end. We also noticed a chaffinch nest near the house and were pleased to see the 3 eggs hatch. Unfortunately, upon returning one day the nest was bare, far too early for any off the littl’uns to have fledged.

In better news, Jackie has been constantly filling up the bird feeder as new families of tits and sparrows have been devouring the seed. Every day now we see great tit parents feeding their young nearby.

great_tits

Great tits

We’ve not noticed so many bees this year yet, but we have seen a number of carpenter bees, identifiable as they are enormous and black. We’ve been watching them feed on the nectar of the sweet peas by the pergola but also they have been boring holes in the same pergola, where presumably they laid their eggs. However, a few days ago I heard the familiar tap, tap, tapping of a woodpecker. He had found the bee grubs and was making more holes in the pergola to get at them.

Great spotted woodpecker

Great spotted woodpecker

And there’s plenty of other wildlife about as well. We have seen loads of lizards recently and a baby horseshoe whipsnake made an appearance in the courtyard. In fact we only ever seem to see either whipsnakes or laddersnakes around here, I’m sure there must be others. Anyway, these two are pretty harmless. They don’t even seem to bother the frogs when they have a drink in the pond.

Horseshoe whipsnake

Horseshoe whipsnake

liz

To round off the wildlife, plenty of these little critters have been seen around here lately as well. absolutely delicious.
sardines

Meanwhile I have been busy on a new woodworking project. More news on this next month hopefully:

obbo

And to round off, a bit of colour. Here is the above mentioned pergola, where all the action seems to happen.

perg

Away with May

Tuesday, May 31st, 2016

I mentioned in the previous post that most of the beds would have been filled with little plants by now, but this year I was waiting. The reason for that was because we had decided to take a two week break in May for the first time, rather than in September. I didn’t want the (wonderful!) people looking after the house, dogs and hens to also have responsibility for the veg patch. So the plan was to put in as much as possible before leaving, and then to buy little plugs as soon as we got back. Well, the rain put an end to that. I did put in some plants: courgettes, gherkins and some buttercup squash. But it was far too cold and wet to risk anything else. Already planted were the broad beans, peas (we were just starting to eat those) plus runner beans and broccoli (calabrese) and we were just finishing the asparagus.

may-garden

Coming back we discovered it’d rained like mad in our absence, so much for May bringing sunnier weather. The garden looked like a jungle: the weeds had grown and flourished; the bushes, trees and flowering plants had also burst forth in a frenzy of leaves and blossom. It looked rather charming in an unkempt, shabby chic kind of way. So we spent the next two days doing exactly what we did before leaving. Richard donned overalls, earmuffs and glasses and got started with the strimming, and I raked and mulched.

The hens weren’t too sure about their new botanical garden, they’ve started jumping out again despite being caught by Betty and so we’ve had to add reinforcements to their fencing and gate.

may-hens

Then the horrid weather returned, what a rotten spring. We discovered the honesty plants by the pond were completely covered with caterpillars, the great white butterflies had been busy. There were dozens of long stripey green creatures all over the leaves and stems. These were pulled off and thrown to the frogs in the pond, lucky frogs.

may-frog

Meanwhile, down in the veg patch, there were mixed results. The rain meant that the broad beans and peas continued growing and despite a tangled mass of pods and stems we’ve managed to have quite a few meals from them. There are even broad beans in the freezer. Next year I shall sow fewer of those, more of the peas, and stake them all up. Really pleased too that none of the plants suffered from any pests or diseases, and not a single maggot in any of the pods!

may-calabrese

The broccoli too has grown amazingly and hurrah! no problems with either the ants or the moths’ larvae from last year, just ten huge plants. Just as well as I’d molly coddled them all spring. They’d been planted with plastic rings around each stalk (to keep the moths from laying eggs at the base of each plant) and a handful of oyster shells to keep the slugs off. They’d also been planted in a bed I’d started mulching with compost from last year and which, when I put them in, was also covered with newspaper and more grass cuttings. Whether it’s luck or all these things have paid off I don’t know but they are the healthiest plants I have grown.

may-strawbs

The strawberries are doing well too. Some of them have been eaten, I think by the voles, but there are plenty for all of us. The runner beans are climbing and have little yellow flowers on but otherwise the rest could do with a good dose of sunshine, the courgettes in particular still look rather pathetic.

Today was spent pulling up the garlic and red onions. I think we got about 80% of the onions, and perhaps just a third of the garlic. A real shame as we’ve never lost anything before but those winter rains really didn’t help. Those that have survived look good, so that’s something. They have been replaced with tomatoes, aubergine, peppers and chillies. In today loads of squash too, buttercup and butternut, plus some melons. Must just remember to sow some brussel sprouts.

Tomorrow though is summer, it has never been more welcomed.

Glad for the garden

Friday, March 18th, 2016

snow

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.

roasties

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.

orchids

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…

jussi

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…

Up to our necks in plums – again

Monday, July 20th, 2015

Regular readers may remember a post of the same name from this time last year. A slightly different scenario this time around however. Last year we were overwhelmed with yellow plums. They have come and gone already, in much smaller numbers than before. However, this year, the greengages have taken up the slack. Jackie is especially pleased as these are her all time favourites.

greengages

greengages

Following up closely behind the greengages are the damsons which are just ripening now – so more damson vodka for Christmas,
damsons

damsons

…and just behind them are the Stanleys.

stanley plums

stanley plums

It should be interesting as we’ve got a proper crop for the first time this year. In previous years we have only had one or two and they didn’t taste that great. They come from a plum tree we bought and planted in November 2009. Here are two photos taken from almost the same spot. The plum tree is still in the black plastic bucket. The Christmas tree is just behind a large rock. You can see the same Christmas tree in the recent photo, but look how the cypresses have grown!
November '09

November ’09


July '15

July ’15

..and after the plums will be the sloes. More Christmas sloe gin!

So of course, we’ve been eating lots of plums in various guises, mainly in desserts – plum crumbles and plum tarts
tart
…and Jackie’s recent favourite – plum leather. It doesn’t look great but it’s an excellent little snack to take on walks.

plum leather

plum leather

Meanwhile Jackie has been playing with her new toy (Thanks Sue, Jim and Dick) and taken some great photos of pond life:

frog

tadpole

tadpole


You can never have too many seating areas in the garden and here is the pergola I recently made for a corner of the threshing square. I only made it in May but already we have a mature grape vine crawling all over it and providing much-needed shade. Also notice that the apples are coming along nicely as well, but that’s for another post.
new pergola

new pergola