Tuesday, December 13, 2016

December update

The winter days whizz by. I have been busy organizing and doing other stuff so the garden has been sadly neglected, but the other day I managed to dig over a couple of terraces and plant garlic, beans, potatoes and peas. Today I dug over the old strawberry bed and put the plants back in, with weed barrier and irrigation tubes hidden under the stuff. Looks very organized. Let's hope they like it. They were really tasty this year.

The artichoke is huge already.

The bees love this blue flowering bush. It was humming today.

The house being renovated in Sao Luis is very nearly ready. James is doing a fantastic job of building a kitchen.

I have started to paint the front door a dark orange-red.

The computer is not charging so I will have to stop now. The man is back and we are looking forward to the festive season. All is well.

Oh, and I'm knitting rabbits using handspun wool and olive wood knitting needles.

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Pumpkin that got Away

It's a bit annoying, but normal, for pigs to wander free at this time of year. Their diet is supplemented by the acorns from the many oak trees that grow in abundance on the hills here. They got into my garden and I was very sad to notice that the one and only HUGE pumpkin, that was almost too big to lift, had gone.
I've been closing the gates to the garden now. While I was digging over a new bed for onions I noticed a big round thing lurking in the brambles by the fence.
Pumpkin! It's a beauty.
The cob workshop was a huge success. The workshopees were lovely and it was  great fun to show how and to join in and to listen to the group as they became experts, themselves. Building with mud is such a peaceful occupation. Very tactile. In fact it includes all the senses in such a gentle way. There are no noisy engines, just the noise of wellies stomping mud!
The workshop was for four days, but we have continued and after about 15 days of work we are nearly at the top. I say 'we' but I have not been doing so much. It has been so great to see cob builders bloom and grow, and see walls get higher, windows and bottles in, roof plans beginning to become reality. The weather has been very kind, too.

Now we are nearing the end of November and I have been neglecting my garden, so I intend to turn some ground and get in peas, beans, garlic, onions and potatoes. There's a nice big pile of sheep shit waiting for me to haul down the hill.
 Oh an R is returning from his Northern sojourn, so we can cosy up by the fire and share stories.
And finally, I hear rain pitter-pattering. We need it

Sunday, October 16, 2016

What Happened to the Golden Oriole?

What happened to the golden oriole? It came in the spring, filled the valley with song, then disappeared. I heard it in the village but not a sighting nor sounding have I heard here, since. A mystery. There are plenty of figs...

There are also quite a lot of grapes, considering the plants are young, less than three years old. The Cabernet sauvignan growing by the studio is looking lush. It enjoys the irrigation system and the shelter.

The guava bush is falling over, laden with fruit. I will have to figure out how to prune it. I think I can treat it like a hedge. The other fruit tree which has red fruit that look like guavas and I've forgotten it's name, is also laden with yummy fruit. I just picked a lot to ease the young branches.

Today I managed to stay at home and do very little. I sat in the morning sun and did some spinning, then I wandered through the garden with the secateurs
looking for olive branches which I sat on the doorstep and peeled. Very relaxing.

And this is what I will be working on tomorrow. It is already lovely. I will wax it with home made wax polish (beeswax, linseed oil, turps) til it shines enough to slip when wearing woolly socks!

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Muddy Stuff and a Whiff of the Sea

It feels like an age since I last wrote here. This is the time of change. R has gone to UK to work and I have long quiet times, but I have also been manically busy working on the renovation job in the village. My latest excitement is mud floor making.

Look at those earthen plaster walls

Almost edible

I did the first bit by myself and the next day when my young assistant came I thought why not let him have a go? He was a natural! I am so pleased with his skill (which he didn't know he had) that I have decided to do the hall and the kitchen/living area too! Now it is drying and then I will oil it and do other stuff to it to make it look even better.

The garden is quietly slipping into autumn mode. No more tomatoes, but the occasional courgette. The figs ripen and fall, with drunken wasps hanging to their sticky skins.

I am off to Bristol for a week, and then it will be nearly time for the cob workshop. That is exciting.

Sometimes you have to eat sardines by the sea just to remember what a lovely life it is!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Sweat, Oh, Sweet September

Just when you think it will get better, it gets worse. Now the sun shines in at a slant and singes everything and shows up the dust and cobwebs of wherever one can find to lurk and wait for the heat to pass. Record-breaking temperatures, nearly everyday gets up to 40. Sh, but sometimes the evenings are cool and even a tiny bit of dew... There is hope.

Monday, August 8, 2016

August... It is a kind of Hell

Every tiny thing is hot. Every tiny action costs a lot
Is this global warming or just summer.
It is very hard to keep cool in a tin-roofed shack!
So I won't write much, just to say that some tomatoes and aubergines are surviving the heat. I am not completely convinced by the drip irrigation but probably need more muck and more spacing between plants. The fruit trees LOVE it and are growing. Phew! Something works

I am so glad the cob workshop has been postponed to October. Far too hot.

Red wine with a slice of lemon and a few ice cubes...

Some parties by the dam.

See them grow without water.

My first attempt at tadelakt (Moroccan plaster)
 What else can one do?

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Very Hot News From Alentejo

The cob workshop I was going to be leading was cancelled due to heat. And it has been hot. The temperature has reached 40 most days. Inside our tin-roofed shack it has been mildly unpleasant in the afternoons, when the bricks just give up keeping us cool. Luckily there is the neighbours' pool and Rob likes to use his tank. It does make a difference when you can cool your body down to below the outside temperature!

I have been working in the new house in the village. It is indoor work. Plastering the walls of the bathroom with cob. I had the pleasure of Michelli for company and help some of the time. How nice it is to have the mixes ready to throw at those walls.

I am also going to do the basic electrics. The boxes and the tubes for the cables can be embedded in cob.

I think I will build a low wall for the shower area. I am also considering doing tadelakt (Moroccan waewrproof plaster) around the shower, but there is very little info out there about how, so I am going to experiment.

Sometimes, when it's too hot to do anything, I just go and sit in this house and think. It is a very good idea to spend time on a project doing nothing. Ideas come.

It's not all work. In the summer it makes sense to go down to the water. On Friday we all met up for a birthday party by the barragem de Campilhas. The water is warm and yet refreshing. The cork trees give precious shade. Bliss.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

To A Wedding in the Western Isles

I have been away, visiting Scotland. I had the pleasure of my oldest grand daughter for company. How lovely it is to travel with an eight-year-old. We drove to Lisbon in the early morning, got the plane to Edinburgh and then caught a train to Inverness. We spent the time on the train looking for rabbits (lots), sheep (quite a lot) and deer (some). There was even some patches of snow on the mountains. Arrived at my family's home around 9pm.

It is so green in Scotland, and the sheep are so white due to the constant washing from the rain! Not the dusty clay-red beasties we have in Alentejo.

We travelled over to the west coast for an Island wedding. Kilts and Scottish dancing, bagpipes and fiddles. Isabella was danced by her glorious big cousins. There was no darkness. We went home after midnight in the pale night light.

Now we are back in hot, sunny, dry Alentejo. I love Scotland, but this is my home.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

And she's at it again!

I've been asked to help build a little writer's retreat for friends. I love mud and the chance to work with it. They are organizing a ten day workshop and I will be showing how to cob.

But first we had to get the site leveled and earth piled up and the trenches dug.

I was allowed to have a go! It's not that easy for people who get their left and right mixed up. Those two wee knobs do a lot of different movements.

The trench that the digger dug is rather rough and not in the right place, so some of it will have to be dug by hand anyway.

It's a very pretty site.

Meanwhile, on the hill at home it has got very hot, suddenly. 33 degrees. I have done a bit more mud plaster in the loo, but the wren (what an exquisite little bird it is) gets rather anxious if I stay in there too long.

The artichoke is even bigger, but the flowers are disappointingly small. Not worth picking to eat. Perhaps they need poorer soil.

The strawberries are loving the drip irrigation. Every morning I pick a handful. I've made some sorbet ice lollies using strawberries, lemon juice and honey. Yum. For the grandchildren... if they come soon.

The fields are being cut and hay made. I love the sounds and smells of haymaking.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Rather a wet start to the Merry Month of May

This is an orchid. They are everywhere. So sexy and strange.

We are having a very strange start to May. Heavy rain comes, almost without warning, from navy blue skies. The sound is tremendous on the tin roof. Bonnie gets up and barks at the ceiling and then cuddles up to me for reassurance. R dashes out between downpours to bale out various holes in the ground, which are then filled by the time he has returned to the house. In the village people are beginning to look a bit grim. 'Chega' (enough) is what I hear and I agree.

The garden is sodden. The grass grows long and lush. Beans sown last week have emerged and look happy enough , but the strawberries, although huge, are going rotten.  I have to pick them before they are ripe.  The fig tree has huge figs on it. I wonder if they will burst when the sun finally comes out in full strength?

There is a riot of red sweet peas trying to smother the fig tree. and the artichoke is towering over the garden like a triffid.  The grape growing in front of the house is laden with baby grapes. I reckon it will bring down the (rather flimsy) structure I put up last year for it to grow up and finally give us some shade.

Today I have lit the fire and am spinning and knitting. I give up...

These photos look sunny because when it does clear (and it does sometimes) it is hot and balmy and beautiful. Last week it was 29 degrees one day. 

There is a bit of a lawn!

Olivia dressing up in old beads and baubles.

The amazing garden Sophie and I went to visit near Cercal 'Lugar do Olhar'. Feliz'. It is well worth a visit if you are interested in serious gardening. They have bushes and trees and climbers from all over the world, all of which either produce fruit, scent or taste, including ginger, guava, tea and an enormous collection of citrus trees. The small guava bushes I have, started off as fruit given to me from this garden. I love that.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Nightingale on the Roof

The birds. They are so wonderful. A strange call and a clumping on the tin roof, then the sweet chant of a nightingale the other morning. The golden orioles are beginning to swoop and whoop and whistle in the trees.

And the good news is that I am now a grandmother for the third time. Sarah was born on Sunday.

We have had a cool showery spring. Stuff grows. Fast. Beans and strawberries, peas and lettuce, carrots and celery.... Potatoes are ready for earthing up.

And in the fields are full of flowers, chamomile, vetch, bugloss, cornflower, buttercup, daisy, gladioli, and others that I don't know the names of.

New wider terraces  
 We had a wwoofer, Jan, who dug over the old terraces and made some new ones. Thank you Jan!

And then there were five :)

Thursday, March 31, 2016

A Loo with a View

Now I am plastering it on the inside. When the wind blows across the bottle end they howl and it's quite noisy. A bird made a nest in under the roof but I think I scared her away. It is a beautiful construction of grass and moss.

The cuckoo calls and I heard the hoopoo in the Algarve last weekend. The wild pink gladioli are coming up in the wheat fields and of course, the calendula and chamomile is rampant. Who could not love spring?

Monday, March 14, 2016

A Blog Post about a Bog, and Other Stuff

We had some very strong winds during February. So strong that the umbrella that was keeping the rain out of the compost loo blew down. The whole structure was very flimsy. I had made it as a temporary thing three years ago. So I decided to build one out of cob. I told myself I could do it in a week.

So I dug out a flat space and took down a few barrow loads of big rocks and some small ones and began to fiddle. Not bad for day one.

Day two had me trying to mix the cob on the hillside. I was going crazy with annoyance. It is very hard working at a slant.

So I demolished the old one, leaving me with the perfect place to work.

It goes quite quickly. I used beer bottles to keep the vertical levels and as infill.

It has been taking much longer than a week to do as I got ill, and I also have other things to do, but I have been counting the days that I've been working on the bog. Here is day four -

Day five

I've got as far as day six. I went to bed in the afternoon and spent 24 hours there.

I am using lots of bottles by now as we have lots and it means less clay. It was quite strange to hear the wind whistling over the bottle necks. I have started to plaster around the bottom using the mud left over from each mix which is left on the plastic. It is lovely and smooth.

So that is as far as I've got. Tomorrow will see me at it again.  The weather has improved one hundred percent so it will be much more enjoyable (not that I don't enjoy it anyway!).

The studio is looking good, and the garden flourishing.

Now we are waiting for Laura and Nuno to have their third baby, due the beginning of April. Rob has made a lovely rocking cradle which will hold the Moses basket. (Photo later)