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 🙂

 

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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!

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!

 

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.  🙂 )

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

 

Blackberry and Hibiscus Jam

This has to be one of the nicest jams I’ve ever made, and so simple. It is tangy and fruity and not too sweet, I don’t like sweet jams, which is why I don’t buy commercially prepared ones!

1 500ml jug full of blackberries
1 500ml jug of strong hibiscus infusion
1/2 a 500ml jug of sugar ( preferably raw organic)
Couple of teaspoons of lemon juice.

Throw it all in the pan on a medium heat until the sugar has dissolved, and then turn up the heat to a rolling boil until it starts to thicken, about 30 minutes.

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The hibiscus infusion gives it a lovely deep red colour.

I also added in a handful of black currants that I’d had left over from breakfast, so the final colour came out quite dark, but lovely.

Blackberry jam can quickly go beyond setting point, and becomes as hard as rock. You think it hasn’t reached setting point, and the minute you’re convinced it has, it’s too late. I know this from bitter experience. I once made about a dozen jars of the stuff and it was inedible. Great flavour, just couldn’t get it out of the jars!

The trick is, when it’s reduced to the point that it’s spitting out of the pan, do the frozen plate test. Leave the jam to cool on the frozen plate for about a minute and then run your finger through the splodge, if the two halves don’t join back together it’s done. If it has already formed a crinkly skin when you try to push your finger through, it may be too late 😦

The above recipe made 2 x 250ml jars, with a little bit left over for eating immediately with some warm crusty bread, nom nom!

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Psoriasis and the Paleo Auto-immune diet

Last year I posted about diet and psoriasis and the benefits of black seed oil. For a while it helped reduce the plaques, but quite frankly, the stuff is revolting, so for me unsustainable as a treatment.

I’d been following a mostly Paleo diet for a couple of months, and had seen a marked improvement, but not enough-  then in June decided to go all hog and try the paleo auto-immune diet, which basically involved cutting out all grains and seeds (so no nuts, which was difficult for me), no diary, sugar, alcohol, nightshades or eggs and very limited amounts of fruit 20gms of fructose max per day.

The diet was surprisingly easy to follow, meat and veg mainly, which was a bit weird for breakfast, but I got into the habit of making a bit extra for dinner and having the leftovers for breakfast, quick and easy! The thing I missed most was a cup of Marks and Sparks extra strong tea in the morning, but tea and coffee also not allowed. I played with green tea (boring) and fruit teas (generally insipid) and then discovered hibiscus tea. Actually it’s not sold as a tea, but rather sold as loose hibiscus calyces ( the bit that’s left on the stalk after the flower has wilted and fallen off) in all the supermarkets here, and it’s delicious. Strong and tart, and bright crimson, not only does it taste great it has medicinal qualities. It’s used to reduce high blood pressure and also ward off winter colds and flu…..anyway, I digress!

At around this time I also started taking a probiotic supplement, as I’d read a article about all auto-immune diseases being a result of leaky gut, which I thought was a bit far fetched, but thought I’d give it a try.

I did this diet for about 6 weeks and followed it strictly, overall in 3 months I lost about 5 kilos in weight and my psoriasis was all but gone. Then we went to Portugal to buy our quinta, and the diet was out of the window within days – I just can’t resist the wonderful portuguese food, the wonderful bread, potatoes with everything, fantastic wine and so what do you think happened to my psoriasis?

Nothing!

No plaques popping up, no patches of dry skin, nothing. We came back from Portugal after 2 weeks, the proud and happy owners of Quinta da Bem Paz and I didn’t return to the diet, and still no psoriasis. I have kept up with the probiotics and I still take the fish oil supplements.

In December last year I did get one small plaque on my left leg, probably due to the stress of moving our stuff , Tom and the dogs to Portugal and me to a small flat here in Abu Dhabi, but it didn’t spread and cleared up quickly, it’s now at the ‘faint graze’ stage after less than 3 months – my plaques generally take 6 months minimum to get to this level of healing.

So why is my psoriasis getting better? I don’t know. It may be because I’m taking probiotics, it may be that my body needed to detox completely to reverse whatever triggered my psoriasis 3 years ago. I suspect it is a combination of those 2 things, together with the immense relief of finding our dream home and knowing that I’m only going to be here for a short while longer 🙂 🙂 🙂 , just as I suspect it was a combination of adverse things that triggered the onset in the first place. In any event, I’m happy that I no longer feel that psoriasis is a big part of my life, it’s just a tiny spot on my leg, nothing more……

UPDATE 3rd July 2015

4 months later, still have the faint graze-like plaque on my leg, but no new plaques at all. My nails are getting better by the day, they are strong again, rather than crumbly, although don’t look good still so I wear nail varnish everyday ( bit of a pain). I’m still taking probiotic supplements daily, but not restricting my diet. I’m aware that most psoriasis sufferers can have periods of remission, and this may be just that, but I have to give some credit to the theory that psoriasis ( and other autoimmune diseases) are linked to gut problems
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tangerine Marmalade

32 orange/tangerine trees is a lot of citrus – there are hundreds of fruits on each tree! Oranges  keep fairly well in the fridge, possibly up to a month, tangerines not so well. I will need to come up with lots of ingenious ways to preserve all this fruit but my first thought was to make some marmalade. The tangerines were the first to ripen in early December so time to experiment with tangerine marmalade.

I’m a lazy marmalade maker, just slicing the whole fruit thinly and throwing them in a pan, but even that takes a lot of time! I used about 5 kilos of tangerines.

image I simmered the fruit in a little water for about an hour to soften the peels, you can just go away and leave it to do it’s thing, just checking on it every so often to make sure the water hasn’t boiled away. Some people soak their peels overnight in water to help the softening process, but that would require being organised, so I don’t do that…

When the peels were softer (not mushy, al dente – I want to taste those rinds in my marmalade) I added in 2kgs of raw sugar –  because that’s all I had (refer to note above about not being organised!) and the juice of half a lemon, and once the sugar had dissolved, turned it up to a rapid boil. On reflection, I should have made a smaller batch because it took blooming ages to reduce and set- about 90 minutes. I poured into sterilised jars and left it overnight to cool.

When I checked the next morning, it hadn’t actually set, it must have been wishful thinking on my part the previous night as I was thoroughly bored with the process by them time I’d jarred up.

That evening after work, it all went back in the pan for another 30 minutes, all the jars had to be washed and sterilised again, thereby doubling up the workload (and washing up!)

However, the end result was worth it, a tangy thick marmalade and the rinds have just enough bite to them, a great result. For my next batch I’ll add cardamon pods to the tangerines, taking them out before I add the sugar.