Saturday, December 20, 2014

Nearly Done

 Finding the level and tamping like a zombie. Barrow loads of gravel then weed barrier, then replace the earth that was dug out. It's nearly finished and beginning to look very nice.
 Out for a walk with the girls. Splashing in puddles is good fun.

A huge rainbow over our patch of paradise.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Digging, Planting, Dreaming

R has been digging. Seriously digging. New project. On the steepest part of the land.
 Favas are coming up on the terraces I made last year. Small pepper tree beside a bucket.
 I have dug some new terraces  and Isabella helped me plant the garlic. Hopefully there will be enough to last the year. The system of using black plastic over the brambles and other tough weeds works a treat. After nine months the weeds are dead and the ground is soft and crumbly. A treat to work the ground. No chemicals needed.
Portuguese saying 'No dia do Natal, os bicos do perdal', which means on Christmas day little partridge beaks (garlic) will appear.

The holy trinity. An enxada, a fork and a rake. I call my enxada a one-woman plough. When you get the hang of it, it is a very useful tool. At the moment I am using it to dig out the floor of the studio in order to put down gravel and then more mud tamped on top. That's proving to be not so nice and crumbly, more rocks and the occasional root.
Look how green everywhere is!
 Isabella demonstrating how to sit next to the fireplace on the bench with your back tucked into the warm cob. (It takes a while to warm up, but once warm it lasts)
I like the way the sunlight is reflected onto the other side of window and thrown into the room.
I love my studio. Whenever I open the door and come in it smells nice. Almost perfumed. The earth, the wood, the cane. I am looking forward to the floor being finished and to have my sewing machine, spinning wheel, easel, etc ready for creative activities.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Winter Time

The days are short and the nights are spent cosy by the stove, knitting, cruising the 'net, watching the puppy play fight with Bonnie. I might even get the spinning wheel out.
We had a lot of rain and our big water tank is now full. Everywhere is very green and parasol mushrooms are popping up all over the place. And the sun has come back. So nice to sit on the step and feel the winter warmth.

R is back and he has cut down (severely pruned back) the olive that blocked the view and the sun. He has also dug holes for the new fruit trees and nut trees that we bought from Agroforestry Research Trust. Such good quality trees and service. It might seem mad to order trees from England, but we are really pleased with the ones we got last year. Well worth it.
During the really foul weather, when we had strong southerly winds bringing a lot of rain, I was worried about the studio. Every morning I would look down the hill to check it was still there and not melted into the ground. I can't believe how sturdy that building is. It's completely dry inside, and warm. I love to go down there and just sit in the winter sun and tell myself I did this!

The Studio

Cosy and Dry Inside
We had Billy and Geena over for a brief visit. So lovely to see my boy and his lovely girlfriend. We had lunch on the patio and all took turns to hold the puppy.

Puppy Love!
Bonnie and ?
I hope there is someone who is looking for a delightful little dog to come and live with them as he is getting to be the right age for giving away.

Still short of feathers for the Christmas presents.... I found the evidence of a fox taking a neighbour's duck up by the windmill. Lots of feathers! 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Cob meltdown and singing in the rain.

It's been a busy couple of weeks. Rain has stopped the building for a while. It got rather disasterous. The walls of the little compost loo, next to the studio, dissolved in the rain. I hadn't covered them up well enough and the wind whipped off the plastic. Never mind. The wwoofers learnt how to build with cob and also how to dismantle wet mud and save it for another day!

Helen and Steve discovered an old church, in Odemira, that is empty and begging to be sung in, so Helen organised us all to come along on Saturday and sing, sing, sing. We were a human organ, our harmonics rising to the roof. A lovely feeling in a lovely space. We all brought some food to share and Helen guided us through some African songs that soon came together and sounded heavenly!.

I had Isabella come to stay the night and in the morning we went for a walk. Puddles are always fun.

No photos, yet, of the puppy that Bonnie has. It is four weeks old and looks quite sweet and hilarious as it tries to walk. It's very black and I have called it 'Blackberry' for the moment. Bobby is not allowed to go near it. Bonnie is being a very good mother.

And the good news is that R will be home by the end of the week.

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Hard-working Wwoofers' Work

Ignasi finally pulls out the 'madre'

Sheet mulch

My Sunny Studio

Spinning on the Patio

Look! No brambles.

Weeding and Feeding the compost heap

Ahh. A visit to the beach for a swim

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Mini-Spring? More Like Summer's Return!

It's been boiling hot. The evenings have been balmy and beautiful. I have had the help of three lovely people who have come to wwoof. We sit in the evenings, on the patio and look at the stars and play the guitar and tell tales. So cool.
Oh, and we've been doing some work, too!

Brambles and weeds have been hacked back and plucked out. We did an experimental 'sheet mulch' to learn how it is prepared. (With loads of weeds, compost and straw lasagna-ed onto the bed and then covered with some large bits of cardboard.) Later, on a 'leaf' day, we will plant some cabbage seedlings.

We have also done some plastering. It is so much quicker with three or four people, all eager to have a go at each step of the process. It is good experience for me, showing them how and letting them discover the joy of mud!

Last weekend we went to Malhoa and enjoyed a dose of ozone. Huge waves and a dangerous sea but lovely sun and sand and that horizon - the only straight line in Alentejo!

Intrepid Francesca, from Wales, sits on a rock. Oops, just noticed the horizon is slopping down to the right...

I must go wwoofing one day, it looks fun!

At Pego das Pias

Today we went to Pego das Pias to enjoy the sunshine and dive into the (quite cold) water. What a treat. We ate figs and almonds, and goats cheese and bread, looking into the dark water from the warm rocks.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Autumn Showers

The rain keeps on coming and the hills are greening up. The farmers are tilling their fields, turning them dark red-brown.

The chestnut trees are dropping huge quantities of nuts.

I made a cake using cooked chestnuts whizzed up with three eggs and some honey and butter. It's more like a sweet bread than a cake. Nice with butter spread on it.
I have put some cooked and peeled chestnuts in the freezer as it is not drying weather, but today, since it is so wet and gloomy I have lit the stove (for the first time since... March?), so it would be possible to dry them on the stove.

I have continued working on the studio, but slowly. Now that it is safe from the rain I can relax. I go down there and just sit in the room and feel good. The fire works very well and it is nice to hear the wood burning and see the flames. The clay steams as it dries out.

I still have to finish the plastering, inside and out, but thought to try doing a bit of floor, just to see how much work it could be... I dug out around the west side, where it is much lower than the rest of the floor, and put in gravel and stones, then covered it in weed barrier, then put the earth back and tamped it. Worked very well, raising the floor level closer to the final height, but oh boy, it's intense work! I think I will carry on with the plastering, and do a bit of floor at a time. Can't wait to put linseed/turps on to finish the floor surface. Also looking forward to lime washing the walls so that they are dust free. If you lean against them you end up with big marks on your back!

A View from the top, looking NW.  
I went for a short walk this morning and took these shots from the hill top.

View looking SW, with Monchique in the distance.

Monday, September 29, 2014

So Far

Soon I will be able to light the fire! This fireplace has taken up a lot of my time, not so much in work but in waiting and watching and undoing and being a bit humble... Learning to listen to others and myself.

I made a bench next to the stove and put lots of squishy cob on the side of the stove and leaned into it to make the perfect back rest. I can imagine sitting with my feet up and looking out the window, cup of tea on the mantlepiece, heat seeping through the cob.... Maybe a couple of dogs basking in the heat.

We had a lot of rain. Huge thunder storms and heavy showers which filled up the swales. The building is as dry as a bone! I have been digging a trench around the outside of the studio to take away the water.

The nights are drawing in. It's still not cold. The guitar has come out of hiding and I've been practising, entertaining the dogs.

A few vegetable beds have been dug over and sown with carrots and onions. Soon the olives will be ready... but we still have jars of them from last year. Unfortunately they have gone a bit soggy. Laura reminded me that her father-in-law uses a couple of acorns in the brine which is supposed to help them keep firm. I wonder if that is the tannin in them.
 The fig trees are losing their leaves and figs drop onto the dry litter.

The neglected garden...

The back of the house and the view

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The roof is blooming!

 I got the urge to make a fireplace. I used a drawing from 'The Hand Sculpted House' book and thought like a 3D printer, starting at the bottom and working my way up. I used some fire bricks for the base and the first bit, the rest is mud mixed with sand. It seems to be behaving very well. No serious cracks.
 I used rabbit wire to form the curved throat, and rebar to keep it straight-ish. I can only do a bit at a time or else it all collapses. A good exercise in patience. I sit on a chair and just look... then go and pull a few weeds out of the garden. There are plenty.
 My drawing. I felt very professional having a diagram to work from. (Heh heh)
 It's an ugly looking thing at the moment. I hope I can embellish it and turn it into a thing of beauty. I will put on another layer of cob with straw in the mix, on top of the sand/clay mix.
I decided to use tins from cooked beans and pineapple slices. They are a good size and they slot together, and they are made from steel. They will be covered in mud. I will get tubing for the outside bit.
 I burned some paper in it and watched the smoke curl up the chimney and into the smoke chamber. Exciting! There is a tube in the wall beside it for draught. I could get it to be right in front of the fire...
There were huge navy blue clouds hanging about bumping and bullying, rumbling and threatening on the hills nearby. I noticed a section of rainbow tucked in there... strange. Must have been a spot of sun (shining on Tamera!)
The garden is appreciating this rain, except for the figs which are soggy and fit for wasps and flies only.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

 The roof is beginning to take shape. The old roof tiles accommodate the irregular curves very kindly. I have put two layers of plastic and then some shade netting to stop it being so slippery up there. The plastic is nailed down at the ends with small lath along the posts and then trimmed. I managed to get the plastic on while a storm was brewing. Got it secure before a huge rainstorm came and filled the swales. So the house was dry and I had done the thing that felt hardest to do.

 I went for an early morning stroll (to let out a mouse in the mouse trap) and watched the huge harvest moon setting in the morning mist.  The air smells lovely now that there is a bit of humidity in the air. Cobwebs in the corn stubble glitter with dew.

The view in the morning as the sun rises
is always worth a photo. I tried to get the
rays that shine through the trees on the
 And here is how the roof looks at the moment. Half the straw is up and spread about and some fine bean netting lain over it to stop it blowing away. I can't wait to plant the seedlings I have prepared. Mostly rubbery creeping plants of the ice plant variety, and things that need little attention and have shallow roots that spread.

Isabella said that the way the roof beams are looked like a leaf. I love that.

In the garden the huge black figs are dropping to the ground and the golden orioles are feasting on the green figs. The rain has stymied my attempts  at drying them, but I have made some fig and ginger jam. The okra plants are doing well and keep producing one or two a day. Just enough for me since I am home alone now as R has gone to do his apple picking.