Posts Tagged ‘spring’

Busy bees

Sunday, April 30th, 2017

It’s been one of our busiest months, not just in the garden or veg patch but around the house too.  I’m sure we thought that, once we had been in the house for seven years, we wouldn’t have much to do. But with the new wall this has meant painting, re-organising the rooms, moving stuff from one place to another (my old office is now Richard’s ‘man cave’), putting up shelves, painting, putting up new lighting, buying a new sofa and, yes, painting. I still need a desk of some sort for the main computer. I’m perched on a stool under the stairs at the mo.

The courtyard too has had a face lift. We had painted the lower part of the walls a solid blue which faded, so we did it again and that faded. Last year we went to a paint shop and asked for advice: this meant us buying special fixative first which is applied to a cleaned wall. And then expensive exterior paint, two coats. So yet more cleaning and painting. Urrgh. I have to say I don’t want to see another paint brush again for a long time. Alas all the walls, I am reluctant to say, need their second coat and I have lost enthusiasm. Anyway, it all looks a lot nicer and pics are to follow.

Meanwhile April has not been behaving itself. The nightingales are here, the colourful orchids and wild flowers are appearing but the showers, or any real rain, have yet to come. It’s been very dry. Dry and hot. The lack of rain has meant watering the garden and veg patch (we haven’t had the wood burning stove on all month). Despite the drought we are drowning in peas and broad beans and have just had the last of the asparagus and beetroot. The veg patch has seen far too many bugs already, especially aphids. There are ladybirds (didn’t see a single one last year) but these are too few and too late. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the slugs and snails have kept away; they love the wet weather (and our many frogs have very beady eyes). Strong winds and ants have meant most of the broccoli and cauliflower have failed. On a more positive note three different kinds of runner beans are running up their poles, gherkins and cucumbers are showing signs of flowers, and there are courgettes in too. The sweetcorn are doing well. All the other seedlings have now been potted on and these will all be planted over the next few weeks of May; the game of putting all the plants away at night into the polytunnel and then back out again in the morning has begun.

We have a new set of ‘roasties’, this time 3 ducks, 5 white chickens and 2 brown ones. Which reminds me: the highlight of Richard’s month has been the purchase of a chicken plucker. Expensive? Yes. Worth the money? You bet. Half and hour of plucking has been reduced to a cool 10 seconds. One happy Richard.

Cooling off time for the dogs, two happy hounds:

Four seasons in one month

Friday, March 31st, 2017

Spring is here, hurrah! I decided to sow most of the seeds for the veg patch at the start of the month and this year, instead of putting them in either the potting shed or polytunnel, chose to keep them on the window sill. The temperatures, especially in the polytunnel, can fluctuate widely and I thought I would try, as many books suggest, a sunny south facing spot inside. Well, it worked a treat with everything coming through very quickly, and a load of old seeds I almost threw away too. I think the sun and the even temperature really did the trick.

So with spring in the air and in my step I planted a whole load of sprouts, cauliflowers and broccoli. And some beans. Beans which, for the last two years, have always been killed off by the frost as I have been too eager to plant them out. Then it got hotter and hotter, summer barbecue weather arrived, and everything needed to be watered. Then autumn mists greeted us in the mornings. Then it got colder and colder, winter glove wearing weather arrived, and yep, the beans all got killed off by the frost. Ah well, I did have some spares and they are now thriving that the spring has sprung back.

Despite the set back all is well in the veg patch really. Remember this?

Well, both the broad beans and peas survived the freezing temperatures and are well on their way:

We are eating the asparagus and purple sprouting broccoli:

And the onions are monsters (Betty guards the seedlings):

I should add that the seedlings, those that haven’t yet been planted out, are brought in every night and we share the kitchen table with them when we eat. There are 6 different kinds of tomatoes, gherkins, 2 kinds of cucumbers, aubergines, peppers of various types and all sorts of squash. Oh, and some sweetcorn. So looking forward to some April showers, sunny spells and proper spring weather all month.

 

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.

The waiting game

Thursday, April 14th, 2016

bud

We are waiting. We are waiting for the buds to open, for the leaves to unfold, for the blossom to burst forth and for the clouds to disappear. We are waiting for the meadows to be blanketed with wildflowers. What a wet spring! A real damp squib of a season. Drizzles, downpours and drenches. Enough, no more. ‘Tis not so sweet now as it was before. The tulips have failed to become a mini Keukenhof in a pot, the forsythia (which was a huge flaming bush of gold last year) has only a smattering of flowers and the pond has almost overflowed, at least the frogs are happy. So don your wellies and come down to the veg patch and see what’s happening there.

Actually, not a lot! There are beds of yellow and red onions, not looking toooo bad but the garlic has suffered terribly and I fear has rotted in the mud despite being in raised beds. There are things growing though and we are eating some home grown stuff, including the purple sprouting broccoli:

psb

We are also eating the asparagus on a daily basis. Other crops are growing, some peas have somehow come through the wet weather and have pods on.

asparagus_peas

But the most dramatic crop is the fava, or broad beans. They’ve gone mad! They have never been too successful and I put the blame on buying English seeds. So, having had a good trial run last year, I sowed a whole load of seeds bought locally. The packet suggested putting 3 in a hole. Well, perhaps I should’ve thinned them because everything germinated and grew and grew. The wind and hailstones from the winter knocked everything over but they simply grew again with twisted stems. Onwards and upwards. They are taller than me, really. Should you have staked them, Richard asks. Imagine!

fava

They have fallen over the paths and carried on growing, it’s impossible to walk past them. The triffid bean.  We’ve picked a few of the pods but they need to grow more as the beans were rather small inside but I have no doubt, once the sun does come out properly, that we will have fava beans until the cows come home.

Which is just as well as there is only one bed that has been planted this year. That’s where you can find the runner beans and the calabrese.  The former is very slow indeed, struggling to climb up the poles but the latter are doing well, hurrah.

mulch

Otherwise most of the empty beds have been dug over and remulched with cardboard, grass,  straw and or compost. I’m determined to keep both the moisture and the goodness in. (I am ignoring the fact that the voles have returned). Previous years these have been full of little plants but this year I’m waiting. There are a few things in pots in the polytunnel also waiting, including courgettes and, a first for me, some gherkins.

Anyway, ending on a positive note the wait for the nightingales is over, they arrived a few days ago. Let’s hope their song brings spring as well as a mate.

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…

The merry month of May

Thursday, May 14th, 2015

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.

meadow

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…

jussi_orchid

The colour purple

Sunday, March 22nd, 2015

From the veg patch we have the first of the purple sprouting broccoli joining the asparagus:

purple1

In the countryside the early purple orchids (orchis mascula) are out and, if you look in the dappled light along walkways, tiny dog-violets (viola riviniana) are hiding:

purple2

Black and white

Saturday, April 5th, 2014

ophrys_fusca2It’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.

white_orchidAnd 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.

 

 

The fly in the ointment

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

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.

flowers

We have asparagus in the veg patch and the purple sprouting broccoli coming along nicely, thanks.

asparagus

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.

poison

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.

poison2The 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.

The green, green grass of home

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

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!

jussi_green2

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).

leek_seeds

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.

asparagus

Loads more to tell but back to the jobs and the evening sunshine now…