June 2015


May and early June is the time of year when the olive trees are flowering. Their pollination is not done by insects but carried in the air because the flowers are tiny, so each tree makes thousands of them. The pollen is a common cause of an allergic reaction with symptoms like a bad common cold – sneezing, runny eyes, lack of energy and so on. Janet has developed this allergy so for about six weeks she tries to stay in and can’t do much; she is fine in the morning but deteriorates until in the evening she really suffers.

mowing 1

I have to mow the grass in our olive groves because it dries out to become a fire hazard. When I do it the pollen and grass dust fill the air – I can only cope with it for a couple of hours before I have to quit, come indoors, sneeze and have a shower to wash off the dust. I have mown only half our fields and groves up to now, because other jobs have become more urgent.

The weather here becomes seriously hot and dry, and I have to be out early to get in four hours work before lunchtime. It is very easy to become dehydrated so I come up to the house and drink half a litre of diluted fruit juice every hour.

P1040617 C hair abefore

P1040617 C hair afterNow I know how the vines feel – I spend a month at this time of the year watering them and giving them a haircut – removing excess shoots and tying the good growth to the wires installed over the past two years. The pictures here are of the vines beside our house, bordering the veg plot, before and after trimming.

Last year half of my vines were on wires and the vindima took only three days compared to well over a week in previous years; it was much easier as the grapes were more accessible.

vines after cropLast summer I had two men put a hundred posts in the vines abefore croplarger of our vineyards to make twelve more lines of wiring. The large vineyard is now all wired so this year all the vines are tied to the wires, getting them off the ground, making pruning and watering easier. Watering used to take at least two hours a day under the hot sunshine, lugging around seventy metres of hosepipe, from May until September.

irrig 1 tubingDrip irrigation is the way forward, which is what I’ve been installing for the last couple of weeks. This is what a hundred metres of irrigation tube looks like, and I’ve used quite a few of these!

irrig 3It required digging a trench in the hard baked earth and laying a heavy supply tube into it. Then I had to drill holes into it, fit connectors and a fifty-metre drip tube for each line, clip each 16mm tube to the bottom wire, and finally put in a dripper above every vine.

For over a hundred vines it took many hours, and there are two blank lines ready for planting more vines in the autumn.. The system had to be tested once the pipework seemed finished – a third of a mile in total – before refilling the trench. All this would be only a few days’ work if I didn’t have my basic jobs to do first – making the irrigation is what I do when I’ve finished watering those same vines with a hose! Now it is all done, watering the vines is almost as easy as turning on a few taps, and the pump is solar-powered and silent. It is lovely to work slowly in the vineyards, carefully pruning each vine, tying the best growth to wires to train and support it, listening to the water dripping and knowing the vine will use it to give us lots of lovely wine!

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In January a black cat found its way to our house and decided to stay. We already have Harry the Dog who only eats and sleeps now he’s old, and can’t walk more than five metres from the house, but as he’s our dependent dog and our responsibility we are tied down and unable to go away together for more than twelve hours. The idea of allowing another animal to become our responsibility was unappealing so we only fed it a little in the morning to keep it hungry enough to hunt mice and so on for itself, and make it independent. It seemed pretty intelligent. It wanted to live on our patio table and I didn’t want it there, so I made it a box to sleep in on the floor.

a cat boxIt liked that, was happy and put on weight, then during March it inexplicably went away and we breathed a sigh of relief.

I went to England for three weeks and Janet stayed to look after doggo. After my return the now rather scrawny cat paid us a visit, and did the same for a few mornings, always leaving after breakfast. Then it went away again.

We discussed what we would do if the cat decided to stay here, against our wishes, knowing eventually it would have kittens. We decided we would put it in a box and take it away to somewhere distant, then release it near a village – goodbye and farewell ! – but didn’t do it.

cat 4kitsLast week the cat was waiting at our front door for breakfast with four definitely starving kittens, all small black copies of their mum. Oh. We could not leave them hungry so we had to feed them; Janet made them a three-egg omelette like Harry the Dog has for breakfast. They made it vanish like magic! They were really thirsty too.

They settled outdoors on the living room windowsill and patio table, and have lived there now for a week.

P1040611 cats patio With their meals of raw meat, fish, omelette and dried cat food all five cats are much healthier and bigger now. Every morning they are outside the window mewing for food, following Janet like the Pied Piper and getting under our feet every time we open the door. But, we don’t really want them. There are plenty of cats in the village so no-one wants them there. Our nearest cats home is over thirty miles away, but they don’t answer the phone or emails. Ideas anyone?

Well, after a week and countless attempts by the cats to move into our house, we took them to the council animal pound in Fundão. They re-home cats and dogs and do not put them to sleep, so that was an acceptable solution to the problem. They also spey female cats before re-homing them, which we thought is a good policy -at €90 a time we were not prepared to do that to the stray cat and two of her kittens!

P1040614 pile of cats

kitten prowl