We’ve indulged ourselves lately by watching old episodes of The Good Life which was aired on BBC TV in the 1970’s. For anyone who is not old enough to remember this, it stars Tom Briers and Felicity Kendal and is set in Surbiton, south-western Greater London. The storyline centres around a draughtsman who decides on his 40th birthday, to give up his job and try his hand at self-sufficiency, with the support of his wife.
Well, we’re not living in Surbiton and we are not in our 40’s, but we do want to live that simple lifestyle where we are working in harmony with the land, appreciating the beauty of nature and learning how to work with it to produce bountiful crops. There is a very long way to go, it will be a very steep learning curve and we know that we are only at the first step of our journey, but we are up for the challenge and raring to go.
The past couple of days have given us glorious sunshine from dawn to dusk and the opportunity to continue with cutting and trimming back our vines and olive trees. We have done a bit of research (where would we be without Google!) and learnt a little from what we’ve read. We also remember what we learnt during our first trip to Portugal visiting Linda and Andy and helping out with their Quinta. So, with loppers, secateurs, hand saws and couple of Marks stepladders packed into the trailer of our ride-on tractor, we made our way down to the middle plots.
Fortunately, we have already cut the long grass so it was easy to see the task in hand. Although very overgrown, the vines were fairly straightforward to cut back. Some of the vines had climbed up into the trees and had to be pulled out with quite a force to get them out. It is really quite astonishing how far they will creep up and how steadfastly they attach themselves to the branches. We used the theory of “2 buds and cut” and quickly saw that things were taking on a new look. So many little bunches of dried up grapes from last years harvest. Not liking to waste anything, we’re already planning what we will do with our grapes and think that our champion juicer may be brought off the bench and in to play.
It’s so difficult to understand the current pandemic, never mind try and pre-empt what may happen in the next few months but I do know that if my niece, Melia, is able to visit she will munch her way through a fair share of our grape harvest.
The Olive trees were a little more tricky. Some of them are so overgrown they look more like a bush than a tree, with dozens of suckers shooting up. Keeping my feet firmly on the ground, it was my job to take out the suckers and the lower branches. Mark was working up the ladder removing the tree’s central branches to allow the sunlight to penetrate.
Mid-afternoon saw a visit from the Hipwell’s. They had been in the area and wanted to have a peek at what we’ve been up to. They came laden with goodies – some biscuits from the baker, a couple of bay trees, a Polonia and an Australian Jacaranda. Although quite small at the moment, the Jacaranda will grow to around 40 feet tall and its span will be even wider so we will need to find a sunny spot where it can be free to shoot up. Checking with Linda it should be fine to plant on the boundary so I’m thinking perhaps on the top plot so it can be seen as we are to-ing and fro-ing. I’m not sure just how long it will take to give a presentation of its beautiful purple flowers but we will be watching and waiting in anticipation.
Andy went off with Mark to check out the progress of the new roof. Antonio had been here this morning with a couple of his team adding some batons on to the kitchen roof and then this afternoon they were cutting and hammering in the area where the shuttering had been removed. We heard from Raphael that a couple of his team have tested positive to Covid and although they wear their masks when on site, we didn’t see any sense at all in venturing up to see what they are up to whilst they were still about.
I took the opportunity of showing Linda the vines that we had been trimming and was quite pleased that it seemed we had been doing these ok. Our vines are much different to those at Lourical as they are spread quite randomly around the different terraces propped up on blocks of tijola. Linda and Andy’s vines stand uniformly in straight lines, trained to grow up the wires for ease of picking, trimming and grass cutting in between them. For now we think our rambling terraces and random vines suite the character of our Quinta, living quite well up to its name – Vinha Das Almas, Soul of the Vines.
It would appear that we hadn’t been quite as bold cutting back the olive trees as we had first thought and with a permanent marker in hand Linda made herself busy putting little crosses on the bits that need to be taken out. Referring to Google yet again, we have learnt that the olive trees need to be cut into the shape of a wine glass, with the main trunk being the stem and the branches being the sides of the glass. The glass needs to be empty, so the branches in the middle need to go. I’ve looked around as we’ve been driving along and can see that the Portuguese don’t always adopt this approach, but it seems to be more common than not so will be the system that we take.
It seems quite brutal removing so many branches, but they do look much happier once they’ve had their haircuts. We’re also very mindful that we need to get this done as quickly as possible as fires are no longer permitted after June so disposing of the cuttings would be a big problem. Despite having had a number of fires last weekend, our bonfires are already quite a height so we need to telephone and schedule a slot for the weekend.
With the pending lockdown, we decided to make a dash to Soalheria to fill up the petrol cans and then pop off at the post office to top up our Portuguese phone and check if we have had any parcels delivered. Mark was really pleased that some clips he had ordered for his walking boots while we were still in the UK had finally arrived, taking 8 weeks to complete their journey.
By 6.30 we were both in our Pj’s – feeling weary but also feeling that this really is the good life. Each day is a new page and we look forward to seeing our story unfold.