Feeling hot,hot,hot!

This has got to be the hottest year since we first started coming to Portugal in 2012. It’s been in the mid 30’s for several weeks, and 40 degrees for the past few days. We’ve had very little rain over the winter, the wells didn’t fill up at all (we have 2 that are overflowing by end of December usually), and I’ve been watering the vegetable beds since January! Fortunately we have a natural spring that never runs dry. The forest fires have started in earnest, 12 in our county today already, and a huge fire near Coimbra last night in which 25 people died and another 20 were injured, very sad. I’m hearing the fire-fighter planes going over us constantly this weekend 😢

On a brighter note, our female pig came into season within a couple of weeks of being here (I’m assuming for the first time as she’d been in with the boar for several months before coming to us) and after lots of piggy activity, she was pregnant. Gave birth to seven gorgeous piglets on 1st April and all survived. She’s a really good mum and fell in love with her babies the minute she had them. However, it was so hot when they were born that we had to stop free-ranging them and bring them in under cover, as they became sunburned on their very first day! We still have 2 of the boys, which we’ll raise for meat, the rest have gone to new homes. We gave one to a neighbour who has been incredibly generous to us since we arrived here, 2 were bartered for 2 truck loads of manure (black gold and costs a fortune here) and 2 were bartered for 2 days work (which will be tiling the kitchen floor).

Lucky, our boar turned out to be not-so-Lucky, and we dispatched him on a (rare) miserable day at the beginning of May, with the help of our friends Brett and Sandra. We didn’t weigh the carcass, but at a guess I’d say he weighed 200kgs dead weight. We shared the spoils with B & S, and when they do their boar, we’ll help in return for  half the meat.

Keeping the ‘anti-money’ theme going, we have 2 milking goats on permanent loan from Brett and Sandra (ours wasn’t pregnant, despite my wishful thinking in my previous post). They have too many goats in milk at the moment, and as we have none, they have very kindly made this offer. Our 2 loan goats, Georgia and Hazel, are giving us just over a litre of milk between them from once a day milking, but we really need to start milking twice a day as they are uncomfortably full in the mornings. So far I’ve made  feta cheese, yogurt and ice-cream, and have restarted my milk kefir culture.

And the reason we didn’t have any of our own milk was because we stopped milking Cindy, our lactating ewe (first lamb born on our Quinta, as mentioned in the previous post) as we’d bought a cow! Maisy, a seven year old Dexter who’s calf was being weaned (by virtue of Maisy coming to our Quinta) so that Maisy would be in full milk production. With an anticipated 5 -10 litres of fresh cow’s milk everyday, we’d give Cindy a rest. However, Maisy was having none of it. Any attempt to get near those, extremely full, udders was met with a full-on, aim to maim, kick! And for such a small cow she can really kick high – backwards, forwards, side-ways, any-ways. She hadn’t been milked in years, if ever, by humans, and she wasn’t about to start now! We tried the age-old trick of tying a rope around her belly, and whilst that stopped her kicking (traps a nerve apparently that prevents kicking until they get used to being milked), she wouldn’t let-down at all. Maybe moving house, losing a calf, new people, just stressed her out too much, because outside of the milking shed, she’s lovely, and getting friendlier by the day.

The good news is, Maisy is very obviously pregnant again, and must have been so when she came to us ( unless she’s sneaking out at night to party with the cows across the lane😳), so we’ll give her another go when she’s delivered, letting the calf drink first so that she lets down, and then Tom and I diving in, she’ll never know the difference…..

 

 

 

 

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The Year in Review

It’s been over a year since I last updated this blog, where does the time go? So much has happened in that time so I’ll attempt a recap before posting individual items or recipes – and a resolution to update the blog at least once per month.

So I moved here full time last November, after commuting between Portugal and Abu Dhabi for almost a year, which was exhausting, and got stuck in to improving the land and continuing the renovations. We went from living in one room, without running water or electricity, when I arrived, to having a full solar electricity system set up in December and plumbing to (what would become) the kitchen and bathroom in January. By February we had the bones of a house, even if the kitchen floor was still mud!

We lime mortared and lime-washed the kitchen walls, laid a kitchen floor and installed a granite kitchen in the summer – in 40 degree heat, just in time to host our daughter’s wedding in September. Built a bathroom, although that’s still a long way from being finished, however, the house is now cosy and comfortable so we can make improvements as time and money allow.

The land is improving in leaps and bounds as it hadn’t been ploughed now for 2 years and we’ve had our animals grazing and fertilising it. The difference in 2 years is just amazing. We’ve rotated the sheep and goats around the land and we bought 4 pigs in March to root out the brambles and add more manure, more on those later. The olives, figs and oranges have been great this year, and the land is 80% grass now – it was 80% weeds/wild flowers 2 years ago.

We are currently digging berms and swales on the driest hills to plant an orchard/food forest and a woodland.

The vegetable garden got off to a bad start early in the year, it was cold and rained continuously until Mid May and the seedlings I’d started off in trays/pots barely grew. I planted everything out end of May and it became intensely hot very quickly. I planted pumpkins, melons, butternut squash and spaghetti squash. Got one musk melon, one watermelon and one spaghetti squash – it was just too hot for them to be pollinated. However, the aubergines, tomatoes, peppers and chillies did exceptionally well. We’d made a hugelkulture bed the previous Autumn and planted it up with in May. It was the bed that we watered least but it produced the most. We were still picking peppers and aubergines in November! And of course, we were inundated with courgettes.

We planted tobacco, and it did really well, easy to germinate and grow, and more or less left to get on with it with minimal care – and then Tom gave up smoking in September juse as it was ripening, so now we have no need for it 😏 I’ll use it as a mulch/insecticide instead!

We gave the goats away in 2015 as they were a nightmare to keep. They ate everything in the vegetable garden, destroyed trees and were impossible to contain. The last straw was when they got into our neighbours farm and ate his newly planted fruit trees! However they went to a good home and they are doing very well. Our ewe gave birth to twin lambs but only one of them survived and now is a fully grown ewe expecting her first lamb(s) in February. We had another lamb born in February, who is also now a fully grown ram who we’ll keep for breeding. We got 2 goats from a friend,who are lovely and well behaved ( in comparison to the first lot), and we are hoping that the female is one pregnant.

Our Muscovy ducks have been prolific breeders this year, we had 40 ducklings survive from 4 hatches. We’ve given some to friends and neighbours, dispatched some with about 20 more destined for the freezer, and one of the females is already sitting again! We have a breeding pair of geese, who we hope will start breeding soon! We’ve grown from 6 hens and a cockerel last year, to 9 hens, a new cockerel and 10 chicks now.

We bought 4 pigs in March, they were tiny, although 3 months old when we got them. I thought they were Kune Kune pigs, but now I think they were micropigs gone wrong. We slaughtered them at 6 months and the biggest was only 30kgs, compared to 100 kgs for our Gloucestershire old spots in the uk. On the plus side, we were able to put a whole pig in the freezer and then in the oven for a hog roast for the wedding. We now have 2 ‘proper’ pigs, the Portuguese Bisaro breed, which look remarkably like Gloucestershire Old Spots!

We made our own wine, jeropiga and aguadente (local firewater) and lots of different liqueurs, foraged and preserved….getting closer to our goal of being (almost) self-sufficient.

 

 

Flystrike!

I mentioned in my previous post that one of our goats seemed to stay away from the herd and was being picked on, we soon discovered why.

When Luis bought the goats up to us, two of them were hobbled – a nasty practice of tying one back leg to a rope around the neck. This prevents the goat from raising their head without losing balance, so that jumping, and therefore escape, is impossible  – it does not however prevent them from running and she easily dodged our attempts to catch her and remove the hobble. So for 2 days we observed that she kept herself to herself and spent a lot of time lying down in the shade. Not too worrying, after all it was hot and the hobble was obviously causing her some distress. But we also noticed that she wasn’t eating or drinking much, so we eventually corralled all the goats into a tiny pen so that we could just lean in and grab her rope, we cut off the hobble and let them out, however her behaviour didn’t change.

I had to fly back to Abu Dhabi that night, and next day got a panicked message from Tom saying that goat had flystrike, he’d manually scraped thousands of maggots out of her rear end, but she was obviously very ill and was still full of them. Flystrike is a horrible thing, blue or green bottle flies lay thousands of eggs in the skin or wool of an animal, and once they hatch the maggots feed vorociously on the flesh of the host animal, literally eating it alive. Once the animal has flystrike it gives off a certain smell that attracts other flies who also lay their eggs on the animal, so speedy treatment is essential otherwise the animal suffers the most horrendous death.

We didn’t have any medication and the vet couldn’t come for another 2 days! So a quick search on the internet came up with a few solutions, wash the area out with soapy water and bicarbonate of soda, apply an antibacterial spray, cover the area in vaseline so the maggots can’t breathe etc, but the general consensus was that this was not overly effective and a specialist flystrike treatment was the way to go.

Tom did all of the above, and additionally squirted neat betadine into the wound, and next morning she was more perky and eating and drinking normally. That day Tom bought some flystrike wash and squired it into the wound a few times. He kicked the guinea fowl out of their house so that we could keep the goat contained and separate whilst we treated her daily with the wash (the guinea fowl happily went to bed in the chicken run that night, and every night since). The vet came as agreed 2 days later and was very impressed with her progress, said there was nothing additional she could do and Tom had undoubtedly saved that young goat’s life. She also gave our Billy goat an antibiotic injection as he’d cut his foot and it was showing early signs of infection, and she charged us just €20. A call out from a vet in Wales to give our pig an antibiotic injection for an abscess cost us £120!

So the young goat is now back in the field with the others and all looking well. We’ll be keeping a close eye on her to make sure she doesn’t get it again, some animals are just more prone than others. We are also going to spray all our animals with a 1% tea tree oil solution, which has shown to be effective at preventing flystrike in Australia. Fingers crossed we don’t have to deal with this again.

Sheep and Goats

Our land is predominantly an olive farm, and the previous owner ploughed the land over a couple of times a year to reduce fire risk (possibly as a condition to claim the European Single Farm Payment). Consequently, the land is rutted, so water run off is an issue, and the soil is in very poor condition, fortunately he took very good care of the vegetable garden and one field where he grew potatoes, and the soil in both of those is excellent, but I digress….

We want to improve the land in as natural a way as possible, so of course grazing animals to control the vegetation and fertilise the land was the obvious choice, followed by pigs turning over the soil and further fertilising. We thought a couple of sheep to start and then maybe a couple of goats in the future, all with added benefit of producing milk. Pigs possibly next year. We already have chickens (eggs and meat), muscovy ducks (meat) and guinea fowl (mainly to keep the tick population down).

We’d enquired in the village about the possibility go getting a couple of sheep and about 3 weeks ago our local sheep farmer, Luis, turned up at the house and asked Tom if he’d like to come up and see his sheep. Long story short, a hurried make-shift enclosure was erected for the 2 ewes and ram lamb that were delivered that afternoon!

But there’s more, Luis had a small herd of goats at his quinta, and Tom mentioned that we’d like goats eventually, to which Luis’ eyes lit up. He explained that he was looking after these goats for an old couple who couldn’t take care of them anymore and didn’t want them himself, so after a call to the owners and a very reasonable price agreed upon, we took possession of 7 goats- one billy (extremely friendly and affectionate), one nanny who is still lactating, one nanny who has 2 kids still feeding (one of each sex) and a female kid from a previous kidding who still hangs around her, and another young female, who was always on her own and gets picked on a bit (separate post to follow on this).

Needless to say, we were not set up for goats, and it didn’t take them long to break through the makeshift fence and head straight to the cornfield, where they proceeded to eat the tops off all the corn! We improved the fence, and it generally lasts a few days before they decide to just jump over it and look for fresh pasture. We’ve invested several hundred Euros in Electric fencing, so that we can strip graze them, and they walk straight through it. It was a kit supposedly designed specifically for goats – mmmm!

The sheep were thoroughly unimpressed with their new pen-pals and when the fence was broken down by the billy goat climbing over it, they took themselves back home to Luis’ farm ( who knew sheep had homing instincts 🙂 ). Fortunately the goats seem to like us and even when they do get free, they wander all over our farm but don’t go outside the boundary, which they could easily do as there are plenty of gaps in the wall.

On the plus side, they are eating the brambles and the long grass/weeds, and we are getting a few cups of milk a day (we’re novice milkers, and not very good at it yet).

Here are the sheep, and I’m trying (and failing) to upload a video of the goats. It took them literally one day to graze down that 200m sq.  enclosure.

Before the goats arrived
Before the goats arrived

One of the ewes is still lactating, and Luis can get about a litre from her in 5 minutes, we can get about 200mls in 20 mins! The goat is a little easier to milk, and she loves the attention, unfortunately my aim isn’t so good so only every other squirt goes into the bucket. Duke positions himself behind me to catch the stray squirts and usually ends up with milk in his eyes, his ears and all over his face, I really should video it 🙂

 

The Renovations Begin!

So, after waiting months for 3 different builders to quote for our renovations, and none of them understanding what we wanted, and quoting a small fortune – we happened across a house in the village being renovated by a local builder (in fact the husband of the local shopkeeper) that looked fantastic, and we could see that he was using natural materials and doing a really thorough job. We asked him to quote for our work, which he did within a week, at a very reasonable price, and today, just 2 weeks later, the work began.

The original roof is off, and the rotten central beams replaced by reclaimed chestnut beams from a local demolition. The window openings have been knocked out, no small feat as the walls are 2 foot thick granite stone, and the lintels are going in.

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The lintels have been made from the large granite pillars that used to hold up the donkey- driven water wheels on our wells. Tom dug them out of the ground himself, with a little help from Duke

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Ella, being the lady that she is, preferred to watch from the comfort of the car

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The Eco-friendly timber preservative that we ordered from the uk arrived today in the nick of time, so Tom will be applying that to the cross beams and wooden sheathing when it gets a bit cooler today, ready for those to be installed next week after the walls have been rebuilt.

So excited to finally be making progress!

 

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.

Quinta update

I can’t believe it’s been almost 5 months since I posted on the blog! A lot has happened since then. Tom and the dogs moved to Portugal at the end of November, I was there for almost half of December, and now going there every three weeks.

The people who sold us the house took nothing with them, so we had about 70 years worth of junk to remove, and it’s taken almost 3 months to fully clear out the place and clean up the land, which was strewn with broken glass, rusty metal and half-burnt wellies (you’d think that after the first 10 pairs didn’t burn, they’d have given up, but no! I cleared 2 wheel barrows full of charred wellies and the remains of other shoes).

On the plus side, they also left all the wine making equipment, including some fabulous antique wine jars still in their original carrying baskets, loads of barrels, olive nets etc.

Tom has spent his first couple of months making the house liveable, or at least one room, fencing where the perimeter wall is in a bad state, covering over the wells ( even though both dogs fell in a well on their first day – both whilst being supervised by me 😦 fortunately the wells were full to the top so they climbed out easily), moving massive granite stones away from the house, and preparing the land for planting, pruning the grape vines and olive trees and generally clearing up the place.

We had 3 builders survey to quote for the renovations, so hope to get started on those this spring. Tom will do a lot of the work, but some of the structural work needs to be done by a professional.

I’ll post some before and after photos when it’s done.