Sunday, December 30, 2012

Capoeiro in Alentejo!

We moved out to our 'monte' four weeks ago, when R came back from his apple picking in Gloucestershire and we are so happy to be living on the land. The weather has been beautiful (between storms) and we can sit out on the patio and let our eyes wander to the far away horizon. I love to be able to spit apple pips. Or cut my nails, and just let things fly out into the long grass and Bermuda buttercup which is growing everywhere at the moment.

Here is a huge caterpillar I found the other day.

We bought five young hens and a galo from the market last weekend. I had spent the previous day building a cosy capoeira (hen house) out of scrap wood. It looks hideous but it will keep them safe from foxes and dry and warm. I'm quite proud of it. I was shocked to discover that all the bought food for chickens is GM!!! Which makes me realize that probably all the meat we eat is grown with GM feedstuffs... Oh dear. I intend to wean them off it as soon as possible. Rob has been grinding wheat for them. Much nicer.

On Christmas day I got in the mood to build the patio a bit. I went up to the old windmill, which is being done up to be a holiday house. They don't need the old mill stones, which they had to break in order to get them out of the mill room upstairs, so I took some in the wheelbarrow and they are now on the ground outside the front door. So I spent Christmas morning doing that and then Rob cooked up the food and put on music and we had a lovely simple, peaceful day.

Every morning when I wake up I look out the windows to see what it's like. Sometimes the whole world is a sea of mist and we are the only visible things. Sometimes all the surrounding hills are only visible from near the top upwards. I rush out and take a photo.

We don't have broadband internet up at the land, yet. No 'facebook', no emails to check, no radio 4, just the sound of the fire in the stove and the wind roaring around the house. We come into 'town' (Sao Luis) to wash our clothes and our bodies occasionally, as I haven't got the washing machine up here, nor the hot water for the shower, but everything else works beautifully. In the evenings I have been knitting fingerless gloves, using homespun wool and handmade knitting needles. As I finished a pair this evening I thought : These could have been made five hundred years ago. I'm not sure why that idea pleases me but it does.

Monday, November 26, 2012


A rather blurry picture of the new tin roof, shining like an alien has landed!

I haven't been doing very much on the land this month, except getting the ruin habitable.  It is no longer a ruin.  We can now call it a shack!  But really, Nuno has done a great job of putting on the roof and rebuilding the walls and redering it all.  We managed to do it  before the rain got too heavy, and now it is cosy inside with a woodburner and blankets for internal doors.

Today I decided to plant beans and peas, since it is the season and also the right phase in the moon's cycle to do that.  I still have this difficulty with the no dig method... mostly because I'm not prepared, I guess.  Digging has been so much a part of gardening for me.  So, I dug a couple of beds... but only very shallowly, after having taken out the weeds, and made lines to put the peas in.  For the beans, I just weeded the bed and then with a dibber, I put the seed in individual holes.  We shall see what happens.  I need more horse manure.

The dome, now that it is rendered with cal hidraulica, sand and earth, is dry inside, but there is aproblem with ventilation.  It's strange, because there is a window and an air hole in the top, so why is it still stuffy?  Hmmm, will need to do a bit more research.

I stuck some cuttings of  roemary in a row as it will make a good hedge, and I intend to do more along the paths.  It's a sturdy plant that requires very little attention.

I have been helping Laura to get her collection ready for the Christmas markets which are coming up soon.  Sewing used to be my profession and I can still make the machine hum, but these days I prefer to work outdoors or at least be more physical. But it is nice to be able tokeep my hand in, as they say.

R will be back tomorrow, finally, after three months of fruit picking and processing.  He will see some progress, and we can continue with our permaculture project. Yes, more swale digging and tree planting and water colecting tanks. Yippee!

Friday, November 9, 2012

There and Back Again

I went away. I went off in a coach to Lisbon, and then an aeroplane to Bristol.  It's not my favourite form of transport, the aeroplane.... I am an Earth person, but I survived. I had a brilliant time in Great Britain. I drove up with my sister, Baba, to the Isle of Mull and for the whole six days the sun shone and the sea was a brilliant blue and the autumn tints were gorgeous.  I saw my mum and hung out with my sis so that was lovely.

In England I hung out with my boys for a few days. I also went to Gloucestershire to see R and helped him make perry, which is a kind of pear cider.

So I came home feeling refreshed.  It was a different Alentejo to come home to.  When I left it hadn't rained for months but while I was away it poured! Hooray! So now it is all green and wet and MUDDY. The only spoiler was that a herd of goats had wandered through my vegetable garden and eaten every single edible leaf :(

So, it's back to work on the house. Nuno has managed to put a chimney into the tin roof and Tiago is doing wonders with some plumbing tools over the kitchen sink. I have swept the floors and stared out the window, thanking my lucky stars to be here, now.

 this is a tree on the Isle of Mull, bent with the prevailing wind.

It is time to start thinking about fruit trees...

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Feast Your Eyes

I've given this post the title 'Feast Your Eyes' because it feels like an abundance of good things that are going on for me at the moment! :)
 First, here's a photo of the kitchen I have built. Small but functional.  The shower and washstand at the back , that's the bathroom.
 I found  a huge CENTIPEDE in the sink, this morning...

I've picked some more olives and put them in brine.

It is the season for the local indiginous grape, 'morangeira' which is irrisistable in fruit form and in wine... and also the time for diaspeiro... which must be the fruit of the Gods... what is it in English? Persimmon? perhaps. But that name does not express the sheer slurpy pleasure one gets when just biting into the flesh and sucking in that sweet gluey stuff. YUM!


To round off the week, here is a view from the top of our land.  That is a feast for your eyes.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Another week in Sunny Alentejo

I had a few days of feeling 'constipado', which is the Portuguese for having a cold, but am now in fine form once more.

This week I have Nuno and Tiago helping me finish the dome.  It got caught in the rain and some of the mud had been washed off, so I covered it in a tarp and then it started to get really wet inside... So I was feeling a bit anti-dome... but since it's been hot again, 25+ degrees, the mud has dried, and now with the help of Nuno's cement mixer, we have recovered it and have begun rendering it, using a lime/earth/sand mix.

I have also been putting up shelves and tidying the building site, and painting the bedroom floor with a mixture of linseed oil, turps and red pigment. A lot cheaper and a lot less chemical than the floor paint that one usually uses, which is so noxious.

The beaches are empty but the sea is warmer than in the summer so it is really nice to go and hang out and watch the surfers.  Yes, this is the season for the dolphin-boys and girls, in their sleek wetsuits, riding the waves. I'm a bit of a seal: I prefer to loll on the shore and get washed by the waves as they sweep over the sand. There are a lot of huge pebbles, all beautifully rounded by the fierce Atlantic, and I like to take a few back with me, to put in the garden or in the house. I don't take the huge ones.  Too heavy and rather embarrassing to be caught lugging one into the car!  Maybe on a dark and stormy night...

The brambles are coming back. They look like nice green grass untill you go close up and see... Soon they will have to be slashed once more.

Here's our little beach babe.

The olives are turning black and I have started to pick and pickle them. A quiet, peaceful job.  The small, wild olive trees have small olives, but without any bugs. I wonder why that is? The bigger trees are not too badly bugged, but still, each olive has one, which distorts the shape a bit.  They're ok and I'd rather have the bugs than put toxic chemicals on the trees.

I'm going to Britain next week, for three weeks. Really looking forward to seeing everyone!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Fungi and fun days

It looks like a Spanoish Flamenco dress, but it's a fungi that grows on eucalyptus stumps, especially after rain in the Autumn.  I was driving to Odemira and had to stop and take a picture of one.  They are beautiful.

Her is a pic of the kitchen I have installed. Doesn't look like much, but I put it in myself so I'm rather proud.  I made sure that the sink slopes a little because I am so sick of draining boards that don't drain.  I have whitewashed the walls since then so it looks more domestic...

I had a girls' day out during the week.  We went to Sines,  I always forget how pretty the old town is.  The winding road lined with palm trees that goes down to the bay and harbour, which is also lined with palm trees. There is a good cafe by the castle which does good patisserie and of course, there's the adega with so friendly people and darn good barbequeued chicken and pork. We managed to get wool for weaving, and I bought a stove for the 'ruin'.  On our way back to the car I spotted these hands and thought they were worth recording.

Laura came up to the land one day, to take photos of her latest things... Bunting!  They are beautifully made and fun to see hanging from the olive trees.  It was rather overcast but look at those lovely clouds.  Then on Saturday we, Laura, Isabella and myself, went to the beach at Milfontes and ended up doing a photo shoot there, too, as the light was much better.  The beach was almost deserted and the tide was high. We hadn't planned to swim, but eventually we ended up stripping off and diving in!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Equinox and time of change

The equinox and time of change.  Now the night starts before eight in the evening.  But the days are still intensely hot after a fresh start.

Today I went to Furnas with Simone for an early dip.  The beach was nearly empty of people and full of high tide.  Lovely big swell which we plunged into and swam over and then swam along the edge of the beach, rising and falling over the big waves.  It was so lovely.  I'm glad Simone was there as I probably wouldn't have had the nerve to do it alone.  After that we sat in the warming sun to dry and decided to go to the market at Brunheiras to see if Simone could find some good deals in clothes for her trip.  The smell of barbequeued chicken was very tempting but we resisted and found some good bargains, before I dropped her off and went back to Sao Luis for lunch.

I have been insulating the roof of the new house with the sheep's wool I bought from a neighbour in the spring.  I've stapled it up with calico and it looks ok but smells.... Apparently the smell diminishes over time.  Nuno knocked a hole in the wall for a window, which eased the stink a little.  It's not so bad, but quite funky.  I need more wool.  I will have to ask around or wait til next spring.  When I got the first lot I thought I should buy more, but didn't.

I've also whitwashed the walls and wow! so brilliant and white and clean the place looks.  It needs another coat or two, but it's a start.  Now it's really beginning to look almost habitable.

The water from the sink and the shower will drain into a bed of water-loving plants. More digging required. But now I'm taking a couple of days off as my brain is over working and I've got so many ideas that I can't sleep, and meditation is difficult. Weekends are important.

Laura and Isabella come home tomorrow. :)

Friday, September 14, 2012

seasonal adjustment

It's been a bit of a strange time of adjustment, with R going to England for the Autumn and Laura and Isabella off to Bristol for two weeks, and Nuno working on making the ruin habitable and me whirling around having days off, days out and yoga and a women's group meeting.

First day out, I went and had lunch with Simone.  Deliscious sardines at Choupanas.

Second day out Monica and I went to Santa Clara to have lunch with Carol.  Home baked brown bread and salad from the garden and vinho verde.  Later we went down to the barragem and swam to an old oak tree that must have been growing before the barragem was built.  Huge, dead, sculpture in the water.

 This is one of Carol's views.  Cool.  It was actually so hot that we were indoors until four, when it started to cool.

These are some knitting needles I whittled from olive tree prunings.  They make lovely needles.  Smooth, light and strong.

This is what I've been doing during the days of work (as opposed to network).  Using builder;s cling fim and feed sack to insulate the roof. Then today I covered it in split cane. Begining to look better, even if I look worse, covered in dust and sweat.  It is so hot and the sun is lower down so it always seems to find a way into your eyes.

I went to an old abandoned farm that I used to pass often, and picked some sweet white grapes, and got some cuttings of vine, pomegranite and Swiss cheese plant (Monstera?). The wild red grapes are hanging out of the hedgerows.  They are so good.  They are called morangeiras due to there strawberry flavour.  They are good to eat and good to drink later :)

The women's group is a new thing.  I went there, dirty and tired, but curious and was happy I went. They usually bring food and share a meal after having a session. I didn't stay for that as I was dying to get home and shower.

Now it's friday night and something is biting my legs.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Picnic Sunday

We went to Pega das Pias on Sunday and spent the day lolling in the shade and swimming in the beautiful fresh water. It was a very hot day so it was the best place to be. Isabella and Nuno went upstream with a shrimping net and a bucket and came back with a crayfish.  We put it back so it could be with it's friends, after we had all had a look.

Here is a picture of the chair R has made for me. It's really comfortable and can be used on slopes.  Orders taken!

And here is a chair I found thrown away.  It was disgusting, covered in worm casts and other stuff, an old leather cover, but I saw it had potential, so I stripped it down and have given it a temporary cover. I will make a smart denim cover for it in the next few days.  It's good to do indoor stuff when it's too hot to be busy outside.

The cherry tomatoes continue in abundance.  I have dried some and also dried some plum tomates. Very satisfying to preserve stuff only using the sun, especially since we have so much of it at the moment.

Finally, here is a photo of a cork oak that has been peeled this year.  You can see it goes a lovely pink colour to start with.  They are beautiful trees, full of grace and movement.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

And Now For Something Completely Different...

This evening I joined four other women of a certain age and sang as a backing group for Heike Floy who is a great blues and soul singer.  We had a blast!  It was a brilliant experiance, to be doowa doowa-ing in the sunset on the terrace at the Hotel Social with friends family and guests all enjoying caiperinhos and even getting up and dancing to the groove!  We jokingly called ourselves the Jealous Bitches, but I'm not sure I want to keep that name.  But I definately want to do it again!

Life on the land is slow. I have run out of mud and inspiration for the moment. The heat has not abated, though the mornings are fresher and the evenings are lovely.  Weeds are beginning to pop up their heads and I can feel a good gardening session brewing.  I feel I'm getting the hang of the sheet mulching and raised beds.  I get sacks of straw and horse manure and make a bed at a time, then plant it with something and wait and see.  The great thing is it really cuts down the watering from daily to every three or four days.  That is a big saving, of time and water.

Here's a view from the top of the hill in the late afternoon, with the dome catching the last of the rays.

The big full moon, which is called a 'blue' moon as it has been full twice in the same month, is still nearly full and I went for a walk along the beach after the show was over.  The tide was out and you could hear the water rushing down the estuary, glinting silver. Now I'm at home alone wondering what tomorrow will bring.  More heat, no doubt.  I found an old armchair by the rubbish and have renovated it, so I may make a new loose cover for it.  It is too hot to work outside during the day.

So that is how it is for the moment.  

Friday, August 24, 2012

Mud, Glorious Mud

I know, It just looks like a heap of mud.  Well, it is!  Now I'm building a gutter around it, near the top, to take rainwater away from the back of the building.  It is so nice to work with.  Also doing the finishing touches, to smooth out the dips and humps a bit.  Then, the lime render.  More mixing in the wheel barrow.  Sigh.

I have been to the beach, with Laura, Isabella and Monica and Simone.  Had a lovely morning
swimming and playing in the cool air down by the sea.  When we left at one-ish we could feel the heat as we left the beach.  Phew.  It is very relaxing just to be at sea level and watch people and tide lines.

R has gone to UK. He left this morning.

It was Laura's birthday today.  She came in to my house wearing the dress Isabella and Nuno had bought for her, and her new shoes, looking like a fashion model.  Later we all went out to eat in the local restaurant and I brought the cake I'd made earlier (peaches and cream) which we shared with the folk at the other table and the family in the kitchen. Happy birthday, darling daughter. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

I slept with a tree frog

.  The other night I stayed in the new, improved, bender, with Ginger (my dear old dog).  As I was getting ready to tuck myself into the mosquito net I found a sweet green tree frog sitting on the curtain.  They are so beautiful.  The way their legs tuck into the sides of their body. It jumped onto a frying pan hanging by the cooker and stayed there while I took flash photos of it.  Didn't even blink.  What a cool character.  Who needs a prince when you can have this for company?
  I also found a huge rubbery spider, but I chose to put him out, although I'm sure he made his way back in later.
  I have had a few days off the cobbing as I am getting a bit sick of it.  Well, not the putting on, but the mixing of the stuff.  It is hard work!  And in this heat.  No fun.  But I am very nearly finished.  Next is to cover the dome in a lime render.
 Me being a builder

 My frog prince
 A typical country view

  Laura and Nuno and Isabella had a great party to celebrate their engagement.  We could hear music and drumming after we went home, across the road, late into the night!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Most sensible folk take August Off!

Yup, it's just too darn hot.  We got up early this morning and it was delightfully cool and fresh for an hour.  Then the blazing heat made us sweat our shirts off.  The mud is going on well.  Nearly done.  It's too hot for me to go and get the camera to upload some photos.  Sorry.  But believe me it looks great - Like some weird lumpy haystack!
It's even too hot on the beach, but in the late afternoon it is deliscious.  The other day we went and watched the moon rise on Malhao beach.  Just ourselves on the big stretch of sand.  The tide was so low it was scary.  We drank a beer and listened to the sea as it began to make it's way up the beach.  Cool .
Here's the weird and wonderful spider bender I'm building.. using rebar, chickenwire and cob.  It needs reinforcement so I've put it on hold until I've finished the earthbag dome.
Last weekend we had 'Tasquinas' in Sao Luis.  This is an annual three day event up by the junta, where restaurants and bars set up outdoor kitchens and the whole area is laid out with long tables and chairs and the people from all over come and eat and drink and talk and dance in the cool night air.  A lovely atmosphere and good food and yummy sangria.
 Here are Lura and Isabella making a tree trunk for Isa's ballet show.
Yoga... I need to get back into yoga.  I've been telling myself that I work so physically at the moment that I don't need it, but I do.  I miss it so.  It's more than a physical thing.  

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Cob. marvelous Cob!

It really is marvelous.  It dries to a hard surface and looks and feels like a luscious biscuit.  I think it's great.  It feels lovely to work with, also.  I have covered half of the earthbag dome.  The hard work is in digging up the earth and sieving it, as the earth is very stoney.  Schist-like stones that cut the hand when you smooth the stuff over the dome. Ouch! Oh, and also mixing it in the wheel barrow with the enxada (hoe-type tool used for everything).  I'm not mixing it with my feet cos I'm doing it in small batches.  Maybe I should have a go, though...
The intense heat has abated somewhat. Now it is a balmy 30 degrees with a fresh breeze. Very pleasant to work most of the time.  The interior of the dome stays cool during the day.  Now it is beginning to look like a strange haystack.  The builders who are doing up the windmill above us are very curious as to what it is we are making???
Some sheep have been making night raids to the garden.  The swiss chard and the cabbages and the sweetcorn have been muched down to the ground.  Grrr.  Looks like we may have to fence in the garden area, but I'm reluctant to do so because ... well, because I guess I don't want to feel that that's just where the garden is. 
So I hope to finish the dome soon and I will post pictures of it soon.
 The lovely Laura on the beach

 beginning the cob

This is my failed cob bender.  It is beautiful, like a bouncy spider with a crusty cob top!

Meanwhile, we enjoy the lovely warm summer evenings, with children playing in the street and windows open wide and chilled fizzy white wine... Ah, the good life.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

,The Dome is built!

Yes! the good news is that we finished building the earth bag dome today.  Nuno came with Isabella and he filled buckets with earth and passed them up to me and we finished it by midday.  Yipee.  Now I just have to cover it in more earth.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Slow progress - Patience required

 Monica's gravel garden.

A nice cool dip in the water... In my dreams...

It's been too hot to work during the day.  It feels as though the sun is melting my bones.... But today we went up at six in the evening and did three hours of earth bagging and got a row done in the blissful coolness of evening.  The sunset on the horizon and just a hint of mosquito near the end.

I have been trying to learn more about permaculture via the internet.  Rather addictive.  Some good videos on Utube.  I realize that I must do more mulching and even make shade for the plants as it is very windy and sunny on the hill.  I do not want to be a slave to the hose pipe (nor have to pay big water bills) and after reading Soloman's book on low irrigation gardening, I know it is possible to grow stuff like he describes.  Just have to get out of the habit of planting eveything so close together  and give them some ground cover.  Also, a good drenching every few days or weeks is better than dribbles every day.

Meanwhile, back in the village, Laura and Nuno have got engaged and we are all thrilled.  Laura and Isabella are getting very excited,  planning the dress and the do.  They're going to get married next June, so there will be no excuse for anyone saying that they can't come over from UK, or any other part of the globe.

Last weekend we (Laura, Isabella and I) went to Monica and Carlos' Open day and had fun making stick dollies and I did a bit of spinning.  Monica has made the garden beautiful and Carlos has made the house beautiful.  Good job.