It’s hard to believe that already another week has flown by and we have been in Portugal for 3 months now. There is such a lot to do and we’re finding that we’re jumping from one thing to another, depending on the weather and what is most needed at the time.
Mark is spending quite a bit of his time mending the fences and repairing the holes where our night-time visitors get in. We have around a dozen entry/exit points varying in size from something quite small to something very big and decided that it was time that we got these fixed. Fortunately, when sorting out one of the old stores we came across a full roll of the fencing wire. We’d also noticed a number of metal rods lying around the farm. They were quite substantial in size, approximately 4 metres long and varying in thicknesses and perfect for mending fences. Mark had made sure his angle grinder was packed on the van when moving from the UK and soon put this to good use cutting the rods to size.
The repairs were pretty straight forward to do, but at the same time very time consuming. A patch for the repair first had to be measured and cut to size before attaching it to the fence with some thin metal ligatures. Once in place, the metal rod was weaved through the fencing and sunk into the ground about 6 inches deep. The fencing was also curled over under the ground so that if anything wanted to dig underneath the fence, it would first have to dig down before being able to get to the other side. Hopefully this will be enough of a deterrent but something that we will be keeping a close eye on over the coming weeks.
We’ve been really busy working hard on the land and finally feel that it is starting to take shape. Out of curiosity we wanted to take count of the trees and vines on the farm and find out what we actually have growing. We have 3 quince trees, 15 fig trees, 18 orange trees, 81 olive trees, 379 vines, 1 pear tree, 28 pine trees and 22 cork oaks. We have a few willows, several poplars and a few others that at the moment we’re not too sure about.
When saying that it is starting to take shape, we are under no illusion that there is an awful lot of hard work still to do, but for now feel quite pleased with ourselves that the land (apart from the wooded copse) has been cleared. The boundaries are not exactly pretty but they are tidy and we’re not creating a lawn, we’re living on a farm. The olive trees have all been pruned and the vines have all been trimmed. It’s a very satisfying feeling.
Linda and Andy have given us several trees, shrubs and plants and it has been a joy to get these planted out. After clearing the land near the pine trees, we found that there was quite an area that was pretty sparsely planted. The idea of extending the wooded copse to include other non fruit bearing trees, with wild flowers and grasses appeals to us and we plan to make this an area that attracts birds and insects to it. There is quite a lot of lavender and some grasses already growing there although to be honest, not much in the way of colour. Back in the UK when I used to make the hour long drive into work, I used to drive past several long grass verges that the council had filled with a huge assortment of lovely colourful flowers – poppies, cornflowers, daisies, chamomile and loads of others. They looked so lovely and always made me smile. I’ve always loved fresh flowers, I have a particular liking for yellow roses, but love all flowers and creating our own meadow for bees and butterflies would be so lovely.
This part of the farm is very uneven underfoot and it seems as though it has previously been used as a dumping area for pruned branches, cut vines and straw. The pine trees have dropped their needles over the years and although it will eventually mulch down, it is going to take quite some time. At the moment it is very springy to walk on and difficult to do anything with. Another lesson in being patient!
As we’ve been clearing the land it has been necessary to take out a number of trees – sometimes because they were growing too close to another tree and fighting for space, other times because they were too close to the house and posing a risk to the structure of the building. We felt sad that they had to come out especially as many were strong and healthy, but planting trees near the copse went someway to compensating for this. We all know that trees are so incredibly important. They give us oxygen, take in carbon, stabilise soil and provide homes for wildlife. Trees also provide us with building materials and tools to do the building so we wanted to make sure that we not only replaced what we’d taken out, but that we added to their number, planting trees that are small, so that we could see them grow as we ourselves grow in our new life.
As well as relocating as many as we could of the ones we’d dug up, we also planted out our new additions – two paulownias, an Australian jacaranda, six hydrangeas and several rose bushes. We’d found a number of terracotta urns when clearing out the old store so decided that these would make perfect planters and ideal for the geranium that we’d been given by the Hipwells. The urns needed a bit of a jet wash first, but all in all came up quite well.
It had been three weeks since we’d stocked up with lockdown essentials and our supplies were getting very low. As we prefer to shop when the stores are less busy we set off early one morning to buy enough to keep us going for three more weeks. Our Portuguese language is definitely not progressing as quickly as we had hoped. We’d planned to take lessons to help us communicate in the national language of this beautiful country. Covid-19 has put a halt to that idea so until that once again becomes an option, we are looking for other ways in which to learn.
We’ve always written ourselves a list when we go shopping so we don’t forget anything – we’ve now started to write the list in both English and Portuguese so that we can remember at least some of the basics and hopefully as the weeks go by we will increase our vocabulary.
Having made up our minds some time ago to buy an unfamiliar item each time we shopped, this weeks purchase was an Annona, a heart shaped fruit with a pitted pale green skin. As it was ripe, we didn’t have to wait to eat it, but we read that if these are not quite ready to eat when bought they can be kept for 2-3 days in the fridge.
We cut it in half, scooped out the creamy flesh and discarded the skin and the black seeds from the centre.
It’s reported to be very high in fibre, vitamins and minerals so comes with added health benefits. There are quite a lot of recipes suggesting ways in which this can be used ….. fruit salads, smoothies, mixed in yoghurt or even salad dressings. We ate it chilled with a spoon – it was sweet, smooth and really did taste like custard, which is why it is also aptly known as a custard apple.
Would we buy it again? it’s quite expensive but definitely a yes from us. We collected the seeds and will have a go at propagating them. Apparently they are also well liked by slugs and mealey worm so will see how we get on – watch this space …..
While we were out shopping, we also took the opportunity to call in at a garden shop to pick up some things that we needed. We bought some seedling trays, a propagator, some pots, compost, copper bactericide and strimming chord.
I’d been given an assortment of seeds as a Christmas present and now is the perfect time to get these planted. There are seeds for salads, fruit and vegetables so once the propagator was packed in the car I was really excited to get it home and set up. Mark put the framework together and I turned our kitchen table into a potting shed.
Learning from the mistakes we made last year which resulted in about 200 lettuce plants all being ready at the same time, we split the packets and will be doing our sowing in batches. First up was a selection of herbs – coriander, parsley, dill, basil and chives and a variety of vegetables including broccoli, aubergine, cherry tomatoes and cabbage. These were suitably labelled, watered and placed into position on the shelves. I had a facetime call with my friend, Nadene, who is also a keen gardener. She’d been listening to a programme with Alan Titchmarsh and learnt that potatoes seed very well if placed in an egg carton in the dark. In the absence of seed potatoes, I did just that and will be carefully watching for signs of shoots in my little cardboard container.
This week has brought with it a few rainy days and the Ecositana team reviewed their plan of work so that they could maximise the dry weather, working inside at the factory when it was wet outdoors and outside on the farm when it was brighter. Raphael has once again been a font of knowledge, sending information about the options for insulating the property as well as sharing his network of contacts so that we can start getting quotes for electrical work and replacement windows.
The big question facing us related to the fly screens on the new doors as the openings will be 4 metres wide and 2 metres high. We wanted to check these out for ourselves at the factory so headed off into Castelo Branco to Ruivo Carrega Barata on the zona industrial to meet with a lovely and extremely helpful man called Orlando. He took the time to explain in great detail the profile options of the windows and doors and demonstrated the thermo properties of the double glazing units that he has quoted for as opposed to a standard unit. Lots to think about, but we’re moving forward in the right direction. Apparently, once we have made our decision we can take delivery in 2-3 weeks.
Back on the farm, the building work has moved forwards at quite a pace, despite the poor weather conditions. The barn now has a fully tiled roof and we are extremely happy with the way in which this is in keeping with a more rustic look. The old store is now no more having been removed and work on the foundations for the new lounge has begun.
In addition to the external works, Antonio has generously created for us an internal partition framework separating the bathroom, walk-in wardrobe and bedroom. These rooms are much bigger than we first though they would be. We are delighted with the outcome and looking forward to the day we can move in!