Archive | June 2014

Gardening in Portugal- Chicken Coop Capers

 

Lady Henrietta looks on

Lady Henrietta looks on

It’s been an interesting week in our garden, mostly punctuated by engineering and logistical problems relating to the law of physics. It’s also been a week where our marriage of 33 years has been seriously tested, along with the realisation that we are approaching 60 and we have our limits. The fact is, we had to move a new chicken coop from the garage to the bottom of the garden. And the chicken shed was very heavy, heavier than we could possibly carry, even though we are both still quite strong.

Señor Faztudo built me the chicken shed in the garage for my birthday.  It’s hard to find a suitable building here. Chickens usually sleep in barns or old paint buckets, but I wanted a state of the art des-res. My marido was down there for days, banging and swearing and his CSE  woodwork skills (Grade 1 mind you) were all coming into play. It was a very romantic birthday present and much better than a bunch of flowers or a bottle of perfume, to my mind. When the chickens first came, he made a chicken coop that was really only meant to house the cockerel, who came first. We had to build in a hurry and the old coop is groaning at the seams now as we have five hens in addition to our very fine and now very large, gallo. The new coop is a beautiful feat of engineering,  with perches and egg boxes and all sort, but it had one design fault. It was built on legs, with no wheels and had to travel  150 metres across the garage, down a very steep slope and across rough terrain before it was installed in its final position. Muitas Problemas. Muitas rubbing of chins.

The new Chicken coop on its journey

The new Chicken coop on its journey

But we like a challenge. It was like the great egg race. I kept thinking of the line in the song “Just what makes that silly old ant, think he can do just what he can’t, anyone knows an ant can’t, move a big rubber plant, but he’s got higghhhhhh hopes” Well we did have high hopes. To begin with anyway. Until we got stuck.

It started out well enough. We couldn’t lift the thing, so we put an aluminium ladder underneath it, put one end on a sack trolley that we bought a while ago and put some wheels onto a makeshift axle and duck taped it to the ladder. It wheeled out of the garage like a dream. Great!  But that was going straight on a flat surface, now we needed to turn it around the corner on a sloping path and then somehow get it down the drive, which is very steep and bumpy.  With much heaving and shoving we got it around the corner facing downhill, then I had the brain wave to use the car. I don’t recommend you do this at home, gentle reader. It’s very hairy. But we took the ladder, opened the back doors of our little red van and used the sack trolley on the back. Because of the incline it worked and before we knew it we were at the bottom of the hill, near the car tuning circle.  Elated (we are nearly 60 you know) and clapping each other on the back, we retired for a celebratory glass of Alentejo red.

 

On its way out of the garage

On its way out of the garage

 

 

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Off down the drive with the help of the car

 

We celebrated too soon. The next day we struggled again with a Heath Robinson idea of sliding the coop along a ladder, propped up on paving stones, but we had to keep heaving the paving stones about and in the hot sun this was exhausting us. We had a big row, Señor Faztudo said he might as well do it himself, I slammed down a paving stone and broke it and we didn’t  talk to each other for several hours. Come to think of it, we were both too tired to talk anyway.  We got too big for our boots and nearly injured ourselves (I still can’t walk straight) . I think we were both chastened by how close we came to permanent damage, so we decided we had to ask for help, something neither of us are very good at.

I was doubtful anyone could carry the heavy weight, so emailed a neighbour with a tractor (my brother has a tractor and offered to pop round,  but he lives in Wales unfortunately.) However, I was sure you would need a poky thing like you have on a stacker truck and I wasnt sure our neighbour had one.

We also have a younger friend (most of our friends are as old as us and many, although willing to help have back and knee problems) and he was kind enough to come round after a hard day’s work. I was doubtful two men could lift the coop, but using the ladder underneath it, Señor Faztudo and our young Tarzan made light of it, with me steadying it on the ladder. As we set it on the hippy shed base ready for it to go into its final spot our neighbour arrived with the tractor. We felt very blessed to have people we can call on for help after a year and a half of life in the village. The chickens are very curious about their new lodgings and eyed it supiciously making those lovely Oooerrr noises to each other that signify curiousity. Being creatures of habit, it will be a while before I can get them all settled in, but I am very happy with their beautiful new edifice and hope they will enjoy it for many years to come. I have dubbed the new building “Cluckingham Palace”  Long may King Nando and his wives reign in it.

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Gardening in Portugal – Can you hear what I hear?

Only to him who stands where the barley stands and listens well will it speak, and tell, for his sake, what man is.
~ Masanobu Fukuoka

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I realise I have started to listen to my garden. I’ve never thought about it this way before, but today I went out to look at my tomato plants and I could hear they weren’t happy. In fact they were really complaining. The problem is they’re planted in one of the hottest parts of the garden, in clay soil, on a slope. They’ve done their best, but it just won’t do. They need more shade and they need any water I give them to soak more deeply into their roots. I sighed. I had intended to try and do some washing and tidying in the house today, but the tomatoes would not let up. “It’s sooo hot” they whined,“You never give us enough to drink.” I’ve rigged up some shade, lugged some timber onto the bank and made some makeshift terraces and mulched the tomatoes and the aubergines with some fallen olive leaves. I could almost hear them sigh with relief. It doesn’t look as aesthetically pleasing as I would like, but at least the plants have what they want.

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Happy plants in pots at The Generalife

Before you think I’ve lost my marbles, I think the whole idea of listening to your plants is a good one. It seems to me ther’s often a tension between what I want for the garden and and what it actually wants for itself. Since I’ve  time on my hands nowadays I’m  learning that an hour just sitting and listening to an individual plant or the garden as a whole can be worth several hours in unproductive labour. I am beginning to take the process slowly, in little steps, with listening spaces in between. The garden is teaching me patience. We have heard much about talking to plants, but little about listening to them. We look at them and try to decide what is the matter with them when they are sick, we ask advice from others, but it seems to me that we very rarely ask the plants themselves. .

I’ve  never thought about how a garden should be designed or developed really. I have never been on any course and my knowledge of plants and their needs is minimal. I am a newbie when it comes to making a garden of this size. But as we work on this garden, it is definitely telling us what is needed. For one thing, it’s on a slope and terraces and pockets where water can be contained in the dry months are a must. But drainage is also important as all the water flows to the bottom terrace which can become a quagmire when the heavy rains fall in the winter. The bottom part is obviously crying out for trees and we have planted many fruit trees here. But the citrus are problematical. They are always on the edge of disaster. Too little water, the leaves drop off, too much water the leaves drop off. They are tricky customers and have to be listened to on a daily basis. Or perhaps it’s just that me and citrus trees don’t get on. I have tried to listen, but they tax my patience. They love manure, that’s for sure and have flourished with the sheep poo we put on them last Autumn, but the watering system, which uses grey water from the house, can sometimes give them too much water so they become chlorotic and the leaves go yellow. This makes me sad. I wonder really if I should stop listening to them quite so much, perhaps a little healthy neglect would work better! Or maybe they just don’t like growing here and would rather be in Morocco or something. The avocado tree is happy, so why can’t they be?

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A young lemon tree in my garden

As for the bougainvillea, well she’s a right little tease! One minute she’s looking all green and happy and the next she’s gone into a sulk and threatens to leave me. I have already killed several of her sisters and she reminds me of this often. I just want her to survive one year really. We don’t have any frost here and I have planted her in a sheltered spot, to grow over a low wall. I keep her well watered, but well drained. I feed her. I have planted it in a very sunny spot, facing south. I talk to her. But she isn’t really saying yet if she will live or die. I am not counting my chickens, but I have given her every chance. We will see.

I bought a Japanese Holly Fern in a local market the other day. It’s supposed to be a drought resistant fern. Great I thought.

http://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/ornamentals/holly-fern.html

He was so resplendent in his pot. I thought he would like it if I planted him in the shade beneath an olive tree, but he quickly began to wither and ail. What was the matter I enquired ? He wanted to go back in his pot she told me, rather crossly. I obliged him and he began to thrive again.

Today, as well as shading the tomatoes, I repotted some Pennisetums, the Red Button variety, who were scolding me for leaving me with four plants in a small pot. They are tyrants, these plants. However, once I give them what they want, a pot of their own in some fresh compost, a little food, a careful watering, they repay me for my labours by springing up anew. I suppose that’s what keeps the gardener going, the joy of seeing a plant respond to your response to its direction.

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A rainbow over the garden

 

But the greatest joy is listening to the old olive and carob trees in the garden, because they are the wisest and complain the least. The wind sighs through them and the birds nest in them and the olives ripen and apart from pruning them every eight years or so as many have done before us they just exist. I listen for their stories of time gone by, of love trysts and violent encounters, of the hands that have pruned them and the troubles they have heard about from the farmers who have picked their fruit for generations, but they know better than to reveal their secrets. They just dream and sigh, their leaves dropping as the sun dries them.

By now you will think I have been spending too much time in my garden alone and have probably lost it. Well, you may be right, but there you go. I am old but I’m happy.

 

 

Gardening in Portugal – If you had three wishes!

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The other day as I was snoozing under the carob tree, the Carob fairy, who lives in one of the boles of the old tree and has done for many years, flew down and whispered in my ear. “As you have worked so hard over the past year, I will grant you three wishes for your garden. What will they be?”

I was ecstatic. Three wishes? What  could I ask for? I had so many!

My first wish would be that my hippy shed, which I have been dreaming of for the last thirty years, but never had the room for, will appear at the wave of her magic carob pod. This one below is not the one, but a fisherman’s shed I spotted on Faro beach.

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“But what kind of hippy shed do you want, really? ” said the fairy. I didn’t like her tone much. A bit up herself I thought.

I pondered. My hippy shed will be a place where I can relive my 60’s youth. In my mind, it will have mirrored Indian cushions, Moroccan lanterns and a comfortable chair for me to sit and read. It will smell wonderful and I will entertain my nieces and nephews and if I’m lucky, my grandchildren in it, and they will indulge me as I get old and listen to my silly stories.  It will be an anachronism and rather twee, but I don’t care. The trouble is though, I’m not really a hippy anymore. And the house and garden aren’t particularly hippyish, if you see what I mean. So the question is a difficult one as I want my glamorous  retreat to fit in with the rest of the garden. So I suppose I want a reasonably smart shed on the outside, which is a hippy haven on the inside.

I looked through the sheds on this wonderful site, which actually has a competition for The Shed of The Year. http://www.readersheds.co.uk/share.cfm Browsing through the hundreds of sheds, I found The One.
It’s a Caribbean  Moroccan retreat, built from a budget shed and transformed. The very jobbie! I hope it wins the competition.
http://www.readersheds.co.uk/share.cfm?SHARESHED=4789

The Carob Fairy humphed and said I might have to wait a bit longer as she had to order the shell from the DIY store and search Ebay for bits and bobs and she couldn’t get that exact colour paint right now,  but hopefully I will wake up one morning and there it will be.

So that was the first wish taken care of. The second wish was easy. I want the hard landscaping finished please. I am fed up with not having the bones of the garden completed yet. I can’t push a wheelbarrow all the way around the garden and I keep getting rye grass stuck in my sandalled feet. I also want some more gravelled areas as doing the last bit nearly killed us both.  So I asked the Carob fairy if she could just move a ton or so of rocks from the fields around, the more attractive ones if possible, and arrange them as a terraced rockery on the bank, bung in a few more calcada paths and sort out some terracing in my vegetable garden and just finish off the gravelling in the corner please.   She gave me a very hard look. “The  landscaping fairy has hurt her back at the moment,” she said “You will have to wait a little longer, I’m afraid!” .

“Fine fairy she is!” I thought!  “You’d think she could have at least made one of my wishes come true instantaneously”.

So we came to my last wish. I didn’t want to waste it.

I took a deep breath. I want more water please. “What?  she said, “More water than you had this winter? Surely not! You’d need an ark!”.
“No”, I said “I want more water right now, when I need it. And I dont want to have to use electricity to pump it anywhere”

“Oh, I see, you want a reservoir on the hill behind the house”, she said ” I think your neighbours would have something to say about that. Other than that I’d have to put solar panels all over your garden with huge batteries in the garage to pump the water up from a borehole and I don’t think you’d like that either. I know how fussy you are about the way things look . Anyway, this is supposed to be a waterwise garden. What do you need more water for?”

I sighed. “I suppose you’re right” I said, “Could I just have a few extra water butts then, up there by the vegetable garden?”

So she waved her carob wand and they appeared in a puff of smoke and fairy dust. Two enormous green butts. I was  rather taken aback.  So I went off to water the tomatoes. And that is the end of the story. Except, I want to know your story. What would your three wishes be for your garden right now?

 

 

 

 

Gardening in Portugal – Eat your garden!

 

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My edible London garden


The idea of eating a whole garden tickles me. I once tried to grow a garden where everything in it was both edible and beautiful. It was in a tiny space back garden of a terraced house in Crystal Palace. See here. It flourished, more or less. We munched our way through it throughout the year and eventually ate the whole garden. It was quite hard work, though (making it, not eating it) After all most vegetables are annuals and need constant attention. It didn’t look great in Winter either, but that didn’t matter too much as out of the five winters we lived in the house, there was some considerable snowfall and it took on a special beauty of its own.

 

 

I have an area in this very different garden devoted to growing vegetables. It takes a great deal of water and Señor Faztudo reckons each cabbage costs us at least 10 euros. But I think if I am going to use water in any part of the garden , we might as well eat what it produces to cut the costs of a pleasurable and delightful hobby.

In earlier posts I showed how I was developing a lasagna bed on one of the terraces behind the house. In the first year I grew cabbages of all sorts reasonably successfully in the clay soil off this terrace, but this year I wanted to plant courgettes, tomatoes and salad vegetables in the space. I threw everything at the bed in the autumn, lots of horse manure and straw which a friend kindly donated, coffee grinds by the shopping trolley full, collected by my Portuguese teacher, along with the newspapers from a local cafe, all the cuttings from the 15 foot high weeds in the orchard to be and eggshells, tea bags and a load of old carob pods I found rotting from a large tree in the back lane. I also used the bedding from the chicken shed, wood shavings mixed in with chicken droppings. I wondered if it would all rot down, but the rain came down in bucketfuls night after night, sometimes for a week and the earthworms did the rest. It became a friable planting medium.

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The lasagna bed with beans and Jerusalem artichokes

 

I dug it over a bit to include some of the clay underneath for better water holding capacity and planted some tomato seedlings, as well as some courgette and cucumber seeds directly into the soil. Last year I made the mistake if growing courgettes in pots and then planting them, but this checked their growth for too long and airy the time the courgettes flowered it was too hot. This year I am already harvesting courgettes.

I am finding it hard to get to grips with the seasons, which are very different to England. This is especially tricky with vegetables and I have found the book” Mediterranean Kitchen Garden-growing organic fruit and vegetables in a hot dry climate” by Mariano Bueno a great help. You can get it on Amazon.

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This year’s courgette plants



So what have we eaten from my very new garden? Not much, I have to say, here is the list, don’t laugh!

Two large servings of fava beans
Two small servings of peas
Two globe artichokes (indescribably yummy!)
A large turnip (three more went woody)
A handful of green beans (most of the flowers dropped off)
Some lovely yellow podded mangetout from The Real Seed Company
Four skinny leeks (the rest look so beautiful going to seed I can hardly bear to eat them)
Seven deformed carrots grown in a pot
Several heads of garlic (there are more somewhere but I’ve lost them underground)
Lots of Portuguese cabbage and kale,shared with the chickens
Four eggs a day mostly, as long as we don’t have any serious hen incidents
Six courgettes
Alexander stalks (foraged from a “weed” growing wild in my garden)
Three little limes
Parsley, Sage Rosemary and Thyme, oh and Basil of course!

I was going to say a partridge in a pear tree, but it was actually a pigeon and the cat ate it.

 

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Globe artichokes, planted from seed

 

Not a bad start, but this year I’m hoping for some tomatoes and peppers. They all grew very promisingly last year until it got too hot and they frizzled and fried.
I look at the hortas (vegetable gardens) hereabouts with envy. Whole fields of favas, enormous cabbages and lettuces the size of serving plates. Growing here is a serious business and much love and care goes into it. But farmers anywhere don’t always have the luxury of growing organically, If they did their livelihoods would be at stake and times here are very hard for people, believe me.
As I am only feeding the two of us, I have time to rub caterpillar eggs off plants, capture the locusts I encounter and spray my vegetable with milk against mildew. My learning is trial and error, mostly error at the moment, with the main stumbling block being temperature and rainfall, either too hot, too cold or too much rain or too little. If I was relying on this garden for food at the moment, we would definitely starve. So it’s lucky we aren’t.
My planting isn’t very organised. I don’t like rows. I know I should have the planting under better control for increased production but I can’t manage it. I was the naughty member of the allotment management committee, always pleading that my nettles were certainly edible and that dandelions were a great salad vegetable. I always used to think if you showed me someone’s vegetable plot, I could tell you a lot about the person. My personality is obviously fairly chaotic with hidden turnips!

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Watercress growing in an old pan

I went with some friends recently to visit a small gardening enterprise run by an old Portuguese agriculturist, now in his 70’s. We met him coming up the road, peeling an orange from one of his trees as he walked. He told us sadly that his gardening days was coming to an end, both his age and European bureaucracy had meant it wasn’t viable any more. He took us to see the last of his trees, rows of beautifully kept olives, figs, pomegranates , amongst others, all grafted onto a strong rootstock by his own capable hands. They will be his legacy, living and producing fruit long after he goes to the great garden in the sky. He invited us to choose a tree and I chose a quince, or Marmelo. They are used here to make a special jam paste called Marmelada, which I have hitherto only eaten in posh restaurants with cheese. I wish I could have spoken better Portuguese to tap some of his wonderful knowledge. I have planted the quince in my orchard and named it after him, Señor M’s Marmeleiro, I am sure it will grow beautifully for many years to come, a tribute to him and the skills learnt in a lifetime gardening.

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A quince tree

Along the valleys near here, huge areas are being cleared for orange groves, likewise the hillsides for carob plantations, the old ways are making way for the new ones. There are threats of golf courses on areas where almond trees have thrived since Roman times. Times must change and so will the farming practices.

The Algarve has  been cultivated for generations and all of its landscape has been affected by human intervention from time immemorial. And so it will continue. We can only hope the young ones have learnt from their grandparents and the rich knowledge and understanding of the trees and plants here, probably handed down from Roman times and the Moors won’t be lost forever.

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Donna Galinha, or Mrs Chicken, who’s decided she’s better things to do than sit on eggs!

I like the way you grow it!

I came across this on YouTube today and couldn’t resist posting it here to share with you. I am now dancing round the garden in my rubber slippers and a floppy hat singing “I like the way you grow it” and invite you all to do the same!