It’s been a little while since I’ve written my garden “diary,” I blame the fact that it hasn’t rained. If it would only rain, I could stop working in the garden and catch up writing about it, but then I thought “What if it never rains?” If it never rains, obviously I won’t have anything to write about anyway, because the garden will dry up forever. What an awful thought! Actually, the lack of rain is becoming a preoccupation, as we are watering the winter vegetables already. We’re not just watering them against drought though, but also against frost! Irrigation makes both the vegetables and the ground around warmer and many local busy are irrigating their potato crops. It seems a very funny thing to do and in the UK, I’m sure you wouldn’t think of it.
For the first time ever, we have had frost on our hill. I have seen it in the valley below, withering the leaves on the fig trees overnight on colder winter nights. But this year we have had some very cold weather and it’s crept upwards towards us. I fear for my avocado trees. I have covered the bougainvillea, which are still young and vulnerable. Watching the Portuguese news tonight, there’s snow on the hills of Madeira and it’s been so cold here, I could imagine we might even get a dusting! The chickens go into their coop early and cuddle up tightly together; the four new young ones aka “The Vandals” are accepted onto the top shelf for their warmth. They have begun to lay in the past week, beautiful little pullets eggs. I feel proud of having raised them from week old chicks to maturity and have granted myself a ” Chicken Keeper Girl Guide’s Badge”
Sadly, we had to cull one. Poor Yoko lived up to her name and kept laying shell-less eggs. I should have called her Shelly! In the end she succumbed to an infection and we had to do the kindest thing. I won’t go into detail, but we have found a very efficient way of killing a chicken. I thanked her for her life and the good eggs she had managed to lay intact and with a sorry heart,we did the deed. To my horror, once beheaded, she blinked at me one last time. I shed a few tears I can tell you!
Nobody I’ve spoken to around here likes killing their chickens, but it’s part of being a chicken keeper. There’s a sort of gallows humour about it. The Portuguese, when they see my magnificient cockerel Nando, joke that he would be very good “com batatas” or “with potatoes” but a lot of the joshing is due to the uncomfortable position you yourself inwhen you care for your animals, knowing eventually you will eat them. I feel I owe it to my chickens to kill them myself, as efficiently and compassionately as I can. I haven’t eaten a chicken yet, as both chickens we’ve culled have been ill. But we do intend to try and breed a flock both for meat, as well as eggs, so it’s something we need to come to terms with.
Anyway, on a more cheerful note, for the past weeks, with the help of a younger, stronger companion, we have been building paths. We have built them with flat rocks and calςada stones. The area we live in has millions of rocks, however, all the rocks in our garden have been used to build the walls surrounding the house and so we need to import some. So we’ve been “scrumping” rocks, scouring the hillsides in my little van for rocks the right shape and flatness. You’d think this an easy task, but it isn’t really. Every rock belongs to someone and there is a strict code about taking anything in a country where there are no fences or laws against trespass. It is a very strong unwritten law that you don’t take what isn’t yours. Not even an orange. People will give you buckets full,but you don’t take without asking. So we have been plundering laybys where people have dumped stones they don’t want or finding them on the side of agricultural roads where nobody minds. Or at least, we hope they don’t. I still feel very guilty loading them into the back of the van…like a naughty child scrumping apples. I envision ended up in court accused of the grand felony of rock stealing.
The other thing about the rocks is they’re terribly heavy. As we heave them into the boot, I know that what we are doing now, in our 60th year, we won’t be able to do for much longer. The sooner we get this heavy bit of the garden finished, the sooner I can just enjoy tiddling about. The paths look beautiful and I’m delighted with them. They aren’t even finished yet and I am already hopping up and down them with delight, because they are making the garden look more like a garden. Their boundaries create sections which seem more manageable.
It seems amazing to me that we have been in Portugal for two years now. We have finally completely settled in and I have even found a great part time job I can do from home, so I can spend a bit more money on the garden. My hippy shed has a base, but is waiting for funds, so I am saving my pocket money for the wood to build it. And there’s pots to buy and plants to dream about. And beaches like this one below, empty of tourists, to visit at the weeknds. How lucky am I?