Posts Tagged ‘summer’

Harvest season begins in earnest

Sunday, July 17th, 2016

It’s now mid July and we are well into the summer. Every day for the last 2 weeks has been well over 30 degrees with a scorching hot sun. I’m amazed that there are still some green patches of grass about but they won’t last long I’m sure. Many of the soft fruits have already come and gone – we had plenty of strawberries, a few gooseberries and plenty of the summer raspberries, but mid July brings the plums. Last year we didn’t have many yellow plums but the red ones and the greengages made up for them. This year we’ve got a few yellow ones but hardly any greengages and we had only 3 or 4 red ones! So not great news.

plum

However, the only plum tree we planted, the Stanley plum, goes from strength to strength. Although still only a small tree, it produces quite a few fruit and as opposed to most of our other varieties, it is great for cooking with and the stewed plums are divine. Here’s a recent photo which shows they won’t be ready for a few weeks yet.

Stanley plums

Stanley plums

Meanwhile, our two almonds are just about hanging in…

almond

almond

Of the other trees, it’s still early days for the apples and pears, although as there are plenty of wild apple trees about, which are doing very well, I’m sure I’ll have enough for another batch of cider which went really well last year. Talking of which, I recently made another batch of home brew and I have to say it just gets better and better. And I much prefer my own home brewed bitter to the generic lager which is usually the only thing available in Portugal (although this is changing rapidly with a number of micro-breweries popping up locally).

beer

But back to the garden. I’m not sure why but the mixture of a wet spring followed by a boiling summer seems to have induced a growth spurt in the prickly pears. We had a number of yellow flowers a while ago and it looks like we’ll have quite a few fruit. Careful of those spines though!

prickly pear

prickly pear

And of course the sun has brought out the lavender and the bees. We lost a few lavender plants to the frosts this year but I replaced them with an ancient wheelbarrow.

lav

Last month I showed this pic of a new project.

obbo

Well, it developed a bit further into this:
obbo3

and finally this, undergoing its final inspection:
obbo2

It’s my new observatory. I’m quite pleased with it, especially the sliding roof. It’s been christened the “Star shed”
obbo4

Long, hot summer

Saturday, August 29th, 2015

house

Of course we wanted to live in a country which had a proper summer but I didn’t expect to live in Death Valley. Oh, stop complaining I can hear you say as the rain hammers against your window, but I can assure you being outside when the temperatures go over 40C really isn’t pleasant. May, June and July were hot too, with no rain to speak of, and the average maximum temperature for this month has been 35C, the highest being 44C. Today it’s 40C. It’s eerily quiet when it’s that hot. The village dogs are all asleep, the tractors, strimmers and chainsaws are put away and the birds are hidden deep in the bushes. The gentle breeze feels like a hot hair drier and, bizarrely, there’s a sense of claustrophobia as the heat engulfs you. We appreciate every day the thick walls of the house, no need for air conditioning, just a cooling glass of grape juice and to collapse, arms akimbo, on the sofa.

peppersThis has, of course, affected the veg patch. The heat has just been too much for so many things. Nothing from the cauliflowers, broccoli or buttercup squash. A poor show (after a good start) from the first batch of beans, aubergines, tomatoes and butternut squash. But mustn’t grumble! We have had loads of cucumbers, enough courgettes, sweetcorn from the second batch just as nice as the first lot, melons, runner beans and, for star prize, the peppers have been amazing. Red, green or yellow, Spanish padròn or chillies – they’ve all been fab. Three cheers for the peppers! (Richard has made three lots of delicious harissa.)

Meanwhile the leeks will be okay for the autumn and, fingers crossed, the sprouts too so not the end of the world. My biggest disappointment though is the tomatoes and aubergines, I really would’ve thought they would cope with the heat. I have managed to make a few batches of ratatouille and tomato passata for the months to come but not the amount as from previous years. I have a sneaky feeling that the lack of mulch hasn’t helped. I resisted doing that this sproutsyear because of the vole problem, they like nothing more than sneaking around the plants unseen (and then eating the roots) but once I’d realised they’d gone I didn’t add any. Live and learn.

On a more positive note the figs are going to be great again, we’ve already had many honey-flavoured fruit. We’ve also picked loads of blackberries and grapes, I think Richard is planning on making some country wine. Soon we’ll be opening the elderberry wine from last year that has been silently waiting under the stone stairs. The sloes have also been picked to make our favourite winter tipple.

Meanwhile I’m off to perfect my rain dance, it really isn’t good enough yet…

trees

The colour of straw

Tuesday, June 30th, 2015

straw1

Crunchy underfoot, alive with insects and pollen, the land is slowly but surely turning a lovely shade of straw. Pale and interesting, hot and dry. It seems almost novel to us after last year’s green and pleasant land, but with no rain and scorching temperatures it’s a different story this summer. Most of the wild flowers have disappeared but hardy souls linger on including this yellow thistle, called a Spanish oyster it seems, and the fragrant, golden sweet yarrow that borders all the country lanes around us.

straw5

Many of the meadows have been cut, leaving unruly hay bales, reminiscent of autumns from yesteryear in the UK. Only the other day an old boy and his donkey cart tottered by. Meanwhile, the veg patch is also sporting the colour of straw. The first of the plums is always the yellow ones, not such a bumper harvest this year alas but we have put them to good use.

straw6

The courgettes as always put on a golden display, such a nice way to be greeted in the morning.  Peaches and plums have been bottled.

straw3

My sister gave me some seeds for climbing yellow courgettes, these are doing well, as are the round lemon flavoured cucumbers. We’ve also been eating one of Richard’s favourite crops, the oh so delicious sweetcorn. It’s always a success and this year I have planted a second crop which should be ready in late August or September.

straw4

The final word goes to our faithful labrador, who is blending in nicely with the colour scheme:

straw7

 

 

Highs and lows…

Monday, June 30th, 2014

…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.

fruit

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.

pots_cabbage

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.

picalilli

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 🙂

feild

A is for…

Saturday, August 31st, 2013

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…

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

…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.

tatties

…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.

meals

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.

paella

…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.

bugs2

bugs

bugs3

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

Monday, July 1st, 2013

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

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

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.

toms_pots

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.

corn_corg

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!

bench

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!

S is for September…

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

…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!