2 years on……

Maisy

Skippy dressed up for Xmas

Maisy looking feisty
Louise farrowing
Pippa with 3 day old piglets, Skippy I centre of photo before we realised she was injured

Wow, how time flies, almost 2 years since the last update in which I promised to blog every monthπŸ™„.

The farm is doing very well, last year we dedicated a lot of time to planting, growing, improving the land. We’ve been converting the vegetable garden to no-dig, and it’s working well. Our biggest successes last year were definitely the pumpkins, squashes and melons, they were prolific. We had 3 crops of watermelons from the same plants, some weighing as much as 7kgs! Tons of Petite Gris de Rennes canteloupe, which tasted like honey or brown sugar, delicious and definitely worth growing if you can find the seeds. The rabbits loved them too, so we had to over them with plastic olive crates as they ripened. We grew about 10 different varieties of pumpkin and squash, including spaghetti squash and oil seed pumpkins. We were inundated with courgettes and cucumbers and grew a lovely yellow tomato called lemon tree, which was good eaten both fresh and cooked.

We planted more trees, lemon, lime, grapefruit and avocado. Had our first (small) crop of apricots and nectarines – had a much bigger crop of apricots already this year – and the June berries produced abundantly for the first time. The apples and pears have improved every year since we’ve been here, we harvested at least 60 kg from one pear tree last year, and that was after thinning out the crop in June, and feeding loads to the pigs as we were picking. We canned a lot of pears, made pear butter and pear wine – which was actually delicious.

The grape harvest was ok, we made 60 litres of wine, but unfortunately, like all the wine produced in our village, it has an after-taste of cheese and onion crisps πŸ˜–

The figs were great again, and I dried many kilos, froze a few kilos and made about 30 jars of fig chutney. That fig chutney has become legendary around here, and I’ve given loads away, and even had chutney making sessions with friends!

Animals….

Maisy had her calf in October 17, a bull we called Bo, for various reasons we still didn’t get round to milking her. Bo grew into a strapping beef steer, and is now in the freezer. Maisy is due to calf again any day now, and she will be milked!

We still have Georgia and Hazel, and they are producing 1.5 litres a day, which is enough for us. I make feta, mozzarella, halloumi, chevre and paneer. Gave up on the cheddar as it was too sharp.

We’ve been unlucky with our sheep this year, one ewe died (We think pregnancy toxaemia) in the New Year, she was pregnant with twin lambs; one of our first time mum’s wouldn’t feed her lamb, so we bottle-fed her, she’s now fine. Another first-timer had a lamb that died after 3 or 4 days, during a cold snap, either the mum wasn’t feeding enough, or not keeping the lamb warm, so very sad.

Pippa, the spotty pig, had a litter of 12 piglets in September, unfortunately one was ill and had to be dispatched, and the next day Pippa crushed one of her piglets and sat on another, breaking both its legs! That piglet was struggling to survive, as it couldn’t get to it’s mum to feed, so after a few days of bottle feeding her, we decided to bring her into the house. We called her Skippy, as she could only hop around, rather than walk. An X-ray confirmed that she had 2 broken femurs and the vet said she was unlikely to walk again. Skippy lived in the house with us for a couple of months (which was interesting) and then when she was 2 months old, we built her a house in the garden, where she lived, and ran around, until she was 6 months old. There came a time, as we knew it would, when she would get too heavy to be able to get around easily, and when that time came, we dispatched her humanely, through floods of tears, and into the freezer she went!

In September we acquired another sow, Louise, a British Berkshire. She came to us for our boar to ‘service’ her, and decided to stay with us 😁. She had 16 piglets on 30th December, not a great birth, as piglet no. 3 was stuck inside her. Our daughter, Holly, being the less squimish, and having the smallest hands, went in at the business end and pulled that piglet out! Piglet 15 was still-born and piglet 16, the runt, was nowhere to be found next morning, either it wandered outside the run and Louise was too exhausted to stop it, or she ate it, knowing it was unlikely to survive. Anyway, Louise was just the best mother, never getting upset when they constantly tried to feed from her, exceptionally gentle when she laid down near them, and all 14 survived. We still have 2 of her daughter’s.

We did little to the house last year, but we did build a log cabin for guests. This year we plan to finish the house, and are having a new roof put on the main part of the house at the end of this month

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The Best Fig Chutney in the World……ever!


We have approximately 15 fig trees of various types, white, black, yellow, bright green ( even when fully ripe) and one that has green and yellow stripes. This year they have been prolific. I’ve processed over 30 kgs so far, mostly drying them halved or whole. I’ve made fig and orange jam, which is so-so (and definitely not as good as the cherry or apricot jams I’ve made this year, or the marmalade). I made figs in balsamic vinegar (lovely) and took that a step further by making figs in homemade blackberry vinegar (heavenly) and then came across this recipe from A Mother in France blog site. Not only is this the best fig chutney ever, it’s about as close to Branston Pickle as you could get!

For any Brits living overseas who crave Branston but can’t find it this is the recipe to try – and believe me, I’ve tried every Branston copy cat recipe on the internet, none have come close.

 

Source: The Best Fig Chutney in the World……ever!

Oranges are not the only fruit!

Another fruit that is abundant at this time of year in Portugal is the lemon. We don’t have any trees producing fruit yet but our neighbour, Augusto, has 2 huge trees and he stops by once a week with a bag of lemons for us. Last week the bag weighed at least 5 kilos, and we still had loads left from the previous week.
So today I zested and juiced half of them. The zest is in the freezer, to be used in cakes and desserts when needed. The juice has been made into a simple lemon sorbet, really easy to make, 1.5 cups of water, 2 cups of sugar, 2 tablespoon of zest, 2 cups of lemon juice. Boil the sugar, water and zest until the sugar has dissolved (takes a couple of minutes). Wait for that to cool and pour in the lemon juice.

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If you have an ice-cream maker, pour the mixture into that and follow the makers instructions, if not, put it into a large plastic or metal container that has a lid and put it in the freezer. Stir the mixture every 30 minutes till it’s completely frozen, or if you’re away from the house, Wait for it to freeze and then whizz it up in the food processor for a couple of minutes and put it back in the freezer until you want to eat it, simple!

I also sliced a few lemons to freeze for popping into drinks, just freeze on an open tray and store in a ziplock bag

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Tomorrow, lemon curd!

More on Oranges

I’m glad to say that the oranges are still going strong. The tangerines were the first to ripen back in December, and the navel oranges in the part of the garden that gets sun all day long, even in winter, were also ready to eat in December. We have a particularly bountiful tree that smells like chocolate when the leaves are brushed against, it’s wonderful.

We have orange trees growing in small clusters around each of our 4 wells, our farm was once 5 individual pieces of land, and each owner had obviously planted enough for their own family’s use. One piece of the land is shaded from the winter sun for most of the day by the tall rocks in the middle of our farm, and the oranges have only just started to ripen. They are lovely and juicy whereas the ones on all the other trees, whilst still edible, are dry in comparison ( similar to the ones you buy in the shops in the uk. Β πŸ™‚ )

So I shall be picking and eating fresh oranges for 6 months of the year – yum!

 

Quinta update 2

Having been at the quinta now for a few months it transpires that we have many more trees than we first thought.

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Antonio, our vendor, told us that we have 260 olive trees. That’s a lot of trees, but unfortunately we didn’t get any oil this year. The olive harvest was bad all over our region, and our local press didn’t even bother to open. By the time we arrived on 28th November, all the trees were bare, and the olives on the ground. Hey ho – I’m sure next year we’ll have a bumper crop.

We have 4 mulberry trees, double what we originally thought, which is very good news, mulberries are nutritious and delicious, and chickens, ducks and pigs love them. I’ll make mulberry jam and the animals can eat the rest.

We have 15 fig trees, both white and purple varieties, 20 orange trees, mostly navel type, and they have no pips, which is great, and a few bright yellow ones ( no, they’re not lemons!). Additionally we have 12 tangerine type trees, mandarins, clementines, tangerines etc, not sure how to tell the difference. Some are really sweet and some are horrendously sour. 32 orange trees is probably double what we need as they are all heavily cropping, as you can see in the photo, so the plan is to chop down any that don’t taste good or keep well, and replant with other fruit.

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We also have one peach tree and one apple tree that fruited last year, and 3 fairly immature trees that appear to be cherry, and probably have grown from seeds dropped by birds, as they are in improbable harvesting positions. We’ll move those to the orchard when we know whether they are worth keeping.

Additionally, we’ve also planted some trees in December – 2 lemons, a lime, another peach, an apricot, 2 nectarines, 2 red plums and 2 dark/damson type plums. We intend to plant cherry, persimmon, pear, apple, avocado, elder, hazel, sweet chestnut, almond, kiwi and soft fruit bushes next autumn.

We have about 50 grape vines, and this years prunings have been stuck in the ground to create about 100 new plants. They will take about 3 years to started producing in useful quantities.

My wonderful nephew, Chris, bought me moringa seeds and ash seeds for Xmas, and I’ve sown some in cloches. The moringa for food and medicine, the ash to be coppiced for firewood.

I’ve counted around 5 hawthorn trees in the hedgerow, so will take cuttings of those. Hawthorn is good for hedging and the prunings make excellent firewood. The Haws are a great source of food for wild birds over winter, and apparently makes good jam. I hope it doesn’t taste like the Chinese haw sweets my girls loved when they were younger, they taste like putty

We have at least 30 oak trees at different ages and sizes, and a small coppice of mimosa, which I expected to be a problem, it’s incredibly invasive, but actually is great for firewood, one large mimosa log will burn all night, so they can stay and we’ll harvest the larger trunks for firewood and the smaller saplings for pea and bean supports.

Summer Fruits

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Pomelo, mangoes, star fruit and guavas – all picked this morning, unfortunately not from our garden but a gift from a neighbour.

I’m amazed at the types of fruit and veg that grow in this extreme summer heat, it’s still in the 40’s during the day. Our papayas and sweet limes are still going strong, as are the sweet potatoes.

Quinta da Bem Paz (or the Farm of Wellness and Peace)

So we’ve finally found and bought our smallholding in Portugal!

After several visits and dozens of viewings we came across the most charming small farm, with an outstanding view. The land is just perfect, it has everything we need (almost). Gently sloping, south facing, walled in granite all round, and although it needs repairing in places, is basically in very good condition. Lot’s of fresh water from 3 wells, strategically placed around the land, and best of all, a fresh water spring situated at the top of the land so that we can gravity feed fresh water to the house. A large pond, also at the top of the land, for rain-water catchment, which we may convert to a natural swimming pool in future, or maybe use to feed a series of smaller ponds and rice paddy down hill.

There are approximately 220 olive trees, so we’ll have a LOT of olive oil (guess what everyone’s getting for Xmas!), lots of grape vines, about 20 orange trees (why anyone would want that many oranges is beyond me) 3 fig trees, a couple of peach trees and best of all, 2 mulberry trees, one black, one white.

Wild blackberries are growing all around the perimeter wall, some of which we’ll keep, and some of which we’ll set the goats to clear. I spotted at least 2 hawthorn trees, and there are several cork oaks at various stages of maturity.

The house is very old and made from local granite stone, and whilst it’s basically habitable ( well one room is) it needs a lot of work. We intend to renovate in natural materials, and are very fortunate that there are 3 tumble-down animal houses on the land built from the same granite as the house, so we have some of the materials already to hand.

Here is a photo taken from the top of the land looking down towards the house

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We intend to plant more fruit trees this autumn – cherries, plums, nectarines, pomegranate, apples, pears, lemons and limes; kiwi fruit vines; almond and hazelnut trees; raspberry, blueberry, gooseberry and currant bushes. Apart from olive prunings, there’s no firewood on the land, so a priority this year will be to plant a woodland of ash to coppice to provide firewood in the future (about 7 years in the future). The lovely people we’ve bought the farm from are leaving us all their firewood, about 3 cords, so that will see us through this winter, and as most of the farms around us are abandoned, we may be able to ‘scrump’ some fallen trees in the spring.

So very excited to be starting yet another adventure! Tom will move to Portugal with the dogs in November, and I’ll continue living and working in Abu Dhabi for some time ( or until the building work is finished :))