. . . has been derelict for
years and looks more like a compact tip with potential for improvement. One wall has caved in.

On Monday 27th June Jorge the builder called round to ask if we needed any work done. As it happens, the granite house does need a couple of minor repairs, and we discussed these.
One of his workers, Pedro, likes working with stone. He said the pigsty wall needs pulling down then rebuilding. He asked about our plans for the sty and I explained that it will one day be a roofed barbecue area. He suggested adding a curved stone wall beside the sty around an old mountain oak which is next to it and making a shady sitting place there – I agreed it would be nice.

On Tuesday Jorge returned to tell us he could start next Monday, maybe even on Friday. “Good,” we said. “Start when you can, but there’s no hurry.”

Thursday morning at 9.30 a van, a lorry and four men arrived with Jorge. They unloaded a cement mixer, piles of building blocks and metal flashing, and Jorge had a level chalk line pinged in the north wall ready to dig a yard-drainage channel. Then he put in string lines for the excavations for steps descending an earth slope beside the house on the east wall. A ladder was raised on the south wall ready for the installation of a line of flashing.

Pedro eyed up our overgrown wreck of a pigsty disapprovingly. We wrote a list of what is included in the estimate, and Jorge went away. Pedro and I talked a little about the pigsty again. He called over the workers and had the overgrowth cleared, fallen stones moved away and a trench dug around the sty.  

Getting into the swing of it now, he ignored the repairs listed on the estimate and set a big stone step beside the sty, then had Daniel prune the oak tree. The step became an entrance and continued into a wall, with all four workers sweating in the hot sun and with the shade temperature at 36°C.
Mário made cement and took soil away. Jorge returned in the late afternoon and admired the progress on the sty. He commented that he didn’t know about the wall and it isn’t in the estimate. I admitted it is something of a surprise to me too, and was totally unplanned. However, Pedro clearly knows what he’s doing so I’m prepared to pay for him to do it.

Left: Pedro working on the wall.  Above: Mario.
The team of four worked on the wall for three more days, clearing the rocks from inside the sty on Monday.

Below: Daniel positioning heavy stones for Pedro. They also started on the original plan, making a flight of five steps along the side of the granite house, which will make the walk to the apartment safer.

However,  after five days on site two delays occurred; one over delivery of the stone flooring for the sty/barbecue, and the other over step heights. The builders went elsewhere after Tuesday 5th July and are due back “soon”. That was over two weeks ago . . .


 Update:  1st August and still waiting . . .

Advertisements

We sleep on top of the bedclothes because it’s too hot. In the coolest part of the night, pre-dawn, it’s 25°C. The day quickly heats up. By 2pm it is often over 40° (104°F) in the shade; add 5° to this in the sun.  It is unwise to work in the afternoon, even in the shade. The temperature doesn’t drop below 35° until an hour before sunset, so our working day in August is fairly short.

All our fruit is exposed to the full sun, so it’s hotter than we are when we pick it – tomatoes, melons, sweet peppers, pears, cucumber, all hot.

With our steady supply of tomatoes, peppers and cucumber Janet makes gazpacho (a Spanish soup) and has to add ice cubes in the blender – a bit different from simmering a soup!

We love melon, and have the wonderful privilege of eating it chilled and very fresh, floral aromatic and sooo refreshing in hot dry evenings. They are just coming into their own and we will soon be eating half a melon a day! We have four varieties so we hope to avoid getting bored of them. Janet makes great fruit smoothies so melon juice will probably appear in those for a while.

The first larger-scale crop came from our pear trees. After finding a promising recipe for preserving pears on the internet, I picked twenty “Seckel” and carefully peeled them. Some had a worm in, so I saved what was good and picked a dozen more, peeled and recovered what I could then weighed them – only three pounds and the recipe specified four, no less. So I did twenty more, keeping the peeled pears in brine so they wouldn’t oxidise. It was now lunchtime, and it had taken two hours just to prepare the pears! Cut a long story short, at 9pm (!) I had three 1lb jars of Belgian pears – delicious, but taking a whole day . . . ? !

The next day I started much earlier, with thirty Bartlett pears. They were tastier but less intact, and I needed thirty more. Again, it was after lunch before I could start cooking them. This time I produced four jars of delicious conserve, and under half of our pears used.

Butternut squashes are supposed to be harvested in September but ours looked ready. I tried one, roasted; it was delicious! Janet gathered the ripe ones – thirty of them weighing 22Kg, which are now in the adega (wine cellar), with more to come. If we eat one roasted every week we’ll eat the last ones next May!

A fair proportion of the figs were ready to pick and we spent most of a morning climbing up and down a ladder, gathering twelve kilos.

Janet arranged them to sun-dry on a trestle table made from one of the former metal doors of the house. There are several pleasures in this job, apart from the satisfaction of having lots of “stored sunshine” for the winter. One is munching the live green figs straight from the tree – yummy! The second is known only to fig-pickers.

A few figs, when absolutely ripe, exude a drop of honey-like sap from their base. This evaporates to a glassy droplet of natural mildly fig-like caramel which tastes gorgeous. This droplet dries off in under one day, so it can’t be saved – it has to be savoured when it is found. This slows my harvesting down but I work in a blissed-out leisurely manner in the hot sun. Three days later many more figs were ripe so we harvested another thirteen kilos. There are probably twenty kilos more to ripen and pick, so another day is set aside for them.

Many bunches of grapes look ripe to me, which may mean it’s a vindima (grape harvest) soon. This is one of the highlights of the year. Our tractor mechanic, Sr Antonio, asked us if we would help him with his harvest – he has over four acres of productive vines to do. There will be lots of other folk helping too, working all one weekend. It will be interesting to work in a gang and to learn how the locals do it.

There are some pleasures in life which require one to endure hardship in order to appreciate them. They are earned. Two of these pleasures follow having to mow tinder-dry grass in the blazing hot sun. The tractor changes colour to light brown. I get covered in dust which sticks to the sweat soaking my skin, my t-shirt and the top of my shorts; even my hair becomes a dense straw-like thatch. I return from the forty-degree heat to the apartment feeling dirty and scratchy, looking much like a man made from dust, overheated and absolutely parched. Then come the pleasures!

Dusty tractor

.

After extracting my feet from the dusty farm boots, I empty a whole tray of ice cubes into a half-litre glass and stir in quarter of a litre of apple juice. When it’s chilled, top up with cold water and drink it all. Then do it again, topping up the ice! And again – the pleasure is astounding, when your body is too hot and has lost so much moisture.

Next, the cool shower – I just peel off my rammy clothes and stand under a torrent of tepid water. Then turn it off, shampoo my thatched hair and use shower gel scrub all over. Turn the water on and drench myself, watching all that dirt go swirling down the plughole as I cool down and get clean. Then it’s clean clothes and lunch time – chilled fresh tomato and cucumber soup! These pleasures are called Refreshment and on a hot dusty farm, Refreshment is where it’s at! We eat lunch where we spend most of our free time, under the shade of the new veranda. We’ve hardly been inside the new house yet because it is breezy outdoors.

JJ the JCB man came and removed all the piles of rubble from our building work, leaving just three tons of granite boulders for me to use in building walls next year. Not cheap, but what an improvement it has made to the environment beside the veranda. The Alumínios (aluminium doors and windows) business have now installed all our windows and shutters, made in cream-lacquered aluminium to complement the granite and pointing of the house.

They have enclosed our conservatory with a triple sliding door at one end and all windows can slide to keep it cool in summer yet warm in winter.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

July has seen the departure of the swallows from our study, and a doubling of the number of bee-eaters in the flock which live near the apartment. The flock is now nearly thirty strong, and each morning we are awoken by their lovely calls which sound like muted referee’s whistles.

We have had to learn how to deal with fresh food gluts, as the veg garden is now in full production. Throughout July, Janet harvested over a pound of tomatoes a day and three cucumbers a week. Now (first week of August) she gets half that, but she continues to bring in far more courgettes than we can eat. The sweet peppers are steadily giving us the balance of ingredients we need to have garden-fresh gazpacho (chilled raw veg soup) for lunch most days, and she sun-dries the surplus tomatoes which shrink to a tenth of their original size.

I’ve used our steady supply of aubergines to make Greek moussaka every week, and the surplus became an Indian pickle. Now that the accumulated heat is cooking most plants on the ground, our supplies are smaller. Only the melons, the onions and butternut squash are still going strong. My automatic irrigation is working well, providing the veg with moisture morning and night, but we have to supplement that with a good watering by hand.

It was not easy to obtain butternut squash seedlings, so when we found them we bought ten, not realizing that each plant may give four fruits and ours look set to do just that. So, what can we do with the likely glut? We’ve thought of roasting them, making soup from them, maybe there’s a dessert pie, perhaps chicken in mushroom sauce with mashed butternut topping. We are open to suggestions / recipes / ways to preserve them . . .

Back to our Lands in Portugal. April ’10

The car was fully loaded – a six-inch reflector (astronomical telescope a metre long) with its tripod and equatorial mount, twelve pounds of tea, the same weight of cheese, a large box of assorted tins and bottles of Indian and Chinese food, English shower gel and soaps, a large mirror, a painting on canvas, a Bramley apple tree and 24 plants in trays, our travel bags of clothes and some new ones, and of course Harry the Dog in his new bigger bed in the boot. T complete our eighteen days in our native land we stayed overnight in a lovely hotel at Selsey near Portsmouth which allowed doggo to stay in our room. It was a very windy night with blasts of rain.

We both ate a full fried English breakfast the next morning, ready for our 24-hour ferry trip. The man at the check-in was surprised that Brittany Ferries were allowing this crossing – over the Bay of Biscay, notorious for poor weather – to sail; they cancelled their short crossings. Once out of Portsmouth the slow big waves pitched and rolled the huge car ferry. As the bows of the ship carved into the waves they smashed water up and out, sending dense sheets of rain-like spray sluicing over the viewing windows twenty feet above the waterline. We sat in one of the interior passenger decks to “people-watch” and read for a while – the outside decks were closed off. Walking in a straight line became a trial, resulting in a sloping curved weaving path. The normally busy ambience in the boat became subdued, and appetites evaporated. We went to our cabin mid-afternoon and slept for a few hours before having a snack tea. We slept overnight whilst the ship passed through the storm outside, arriving in the calm waters of Santander in sunny Spain mid-morning.

Arenas de Iguña, snow on the backdrop Picos de Europa .

An hour’s drive on quiet roads took us to lunch at a nice little restaurant in the pretty and mountainous Basque region.  We met an old couple who told us that a tornado passed by their village yesterday, the first they had ever seen or heard. Everywhere we go we hear the same – the weather has certainly changed. The drive back to Portugal was swift and easy, taking ten hours. We stopped overnight to unload our astronomical telescope at the quinta, where Jacinto said that March had been measured by Portugal Meteo Service as the coldest and wettest in this region for thirty years.

We drove on to our house near Lousã, where the land was drying out and the humidity and warmth was causing the grass to grow rapidly. I mowed the lawn, which was as high as my short wellies. In the orchard it was already thigh-high, and I mowed that too, with an ingenious two-wheeled strimmer we originally used at the French house – it took twelve hours spread over three days. The plug lobelias and fuchsias we brought from England needed potting. By now the lawn had grown another two inches and needed mowing again! When we left for the quinta the Bramley apple tree we had also brought over was bursting into leaf whilst still bare-rooted, and the plantlets were bushing out.

At the quinta the sun was bright, 26°C in the shade. The builders, who had not worked on our house during our time in England, had returned and were pointing the external stonework. There was no urgent decision to be made, so we ate a late lunch and started to deal with the overgrown vegetable garden. Had I not removed all the irrigation tubes in March it would now be impossible, as the grass and weeds were dense and knee-high. I had to mow it with the tractor a day before rotovating the central part, then Janet forked the weeds from the borders.

The citrus vineyard was now dry enough to walk in, so I checked on the vines which Ian and I planted two months ago, thirty of the 35 have put out new buds. All four plum trees have established themselves, so I confidently planted a sparse-looking whip of a walnut tree; as so often happens, the potted tree turns out to be bare-rooted, not an established plant.

The old and once-neglected apple and pear trees in the orchard are growing nicely after their second severe pruning in three years. They now have good shapes and very little dead wood. I planted the second Bramley, a Reinette and a Golden Delicious for pollination. The weather is variable, with some days too sunny and hot to work in the afternoon, so most jobs must be done in the morning and the land cleaned of prunings by bonfire in the evening. Other days are wet and on one of those I planted two nectarine (Venus) and two early cherry (Burlat) trees in the Citrus vineyard, to join the plum trees. On the second rainy day we planted twenty Trincadeira vines, four were replacements of vines which didn’t survive the wet winter.

Spring has clearly sprung and the birds are active. A woodpecker has his breakfast as we eat ours, only he is more noisy about it – “drrrrrrrr” every seven seconds for a couple of hours. We have a colony of fifteen or so birds which look similar to jays, about a foot long, with a black head, white throat, salmon pink breast and sky-blue wings and tail (any i/d’s? Roller family, I think). They eat from the ground and fly low collecting materials for their nests. There are hoopoes too, and in the late evening the cuckoo’s call echoes through the woods beside the house.

The builders  rendered and tiled the internal walls they have built, varnished the lovely wooden ceilings and tiled the new floors in what used to be the barn.

.

.

Next came a second run at the other half or the house, making an arch in our new bedroom, chipping the cement off the walls (that’s Mario), rendering the new walls.

They asked if I would use my tractor to clear their rubble into their lorry so they could take it away; I obliged. Meanwhile Janet was telling me every couple of hours that we should not try to repair the original tiled floor in that part of the house, but put down a new floor. José asked if we want a step or a ramp between the two parts of the house, then Jacinto remarked that we have enough tiles to do part of the floor in the old house. He did a quick estimate of the material needed to tile throughout with the same tiles as in the old barn, and after a phone call to the suppliers all was arranged – Janet would get the same rustic tiles throughout. So much for decision-making!

Now is the peak period for olive grove maintenance; all the olives must have been pruned and the pruning cleared. I discovered that we didn’t clear the prunings from the top olival, which means I have an extra six hours work! The olivais have to be scarified to prevent weeds and grasses forming deep roots and establishing themselves, and manure or fertiliser spread around the trees. The weather is variable at present, so I can only do a couple of hours work before rain or a thunderstorm arrives and I have to return to base for a few hours; progress is slow, and the weeds can grow quickly in the wet and warm weather.

Jose tiling the bathroom

A week later it is now the end of April and the birds are nesting everywhere. Even during the night we have birds singing. At two in the morning I heard three birds singing in the woods beside our bedroom, two different kinds of song echoing through the still night. During the builders’ absence last weekend a bird tried to make a nest under the eaves of our new conservatory, and house martins succeeded in making half a nest on top of the central light bulb in our future study! In kindness Janet removed it because we will be using the light!

On Sunday I was working in the veg garden, preparing the irrigation whilst Janet was on the phone to Laura, when a white van arrived and three visitors alighted. They looked vaguely familiar to me, so I gave them a cheery welcome and chatted to them although I couldn’t remember where I’d seen them or who they are. They equally didn’t use my name although they had taken the trouble to come and find our quinta. After over half an hour they made to leave – me still not knowing who they were. I went to get Janet to say ‘bye, as she hadn’t seen them. I hoped she would know who they were! She recognised the couple as people who we’d invited to share our table at lunch in a restaurant nearly three years ago, and met again a year ago at Fundão market. They live about twenty miles away and wanted to find us!

On Monday we went to Fundão and bought five dozen plants and four more fruit trees, together with a quarter of a cubic metre of peat and fifty kilos of fertiliser. We always buy fresh veg from that part of the market where the little old ladies sell their home-grown produce. We have blue eyes (theirs are brown) and look foreign, so we are potential rip-off targets. They don’t note the fact that we speak Portuguese. I wanted to buy a lettuce ; how much? “One euro.” I looked surprised, and asked her to weigh it- half a kilo, It was a little expensive, so I asked her to add another, please. A kilo now. “One euro.” and she put them in a bag. I looked satisfied. She smiled and put in a third,  “One euro.” I smiled and paid.

Feb/March 2010

Ian’s departure coincided with the end of good weather; the temperature plummeted and snow arrived as we left the farm on Sunday. In this area it is unusual for snow to settle and we saw the rare sight of countless pruned olive trees plastered with snow as we crossed the mountains.

Clearly the builders could not work outdoors in snow and icy winds on Monday, and Tuesday was a public holiday, Carnaval.  We could relax for a week. However, our “down time” only lasted a short while because on that Friday afternoon Jacinto rang us to ask if we could come back as some decisions needed to be made. We went to bed early that night and started out at dawn the next day, arriving mid-morning on Saturday 20th.

We had a shock – the granite pillars were in place, and they were not what I’d expected. My intention was for rustic 20cm rough-faced square pillars but what I got was modern 30cm deeply chamfered, with 35cm square tops and bottoms, each weighing over half a ton. They had rolled them from the delivery lorry to the extension and lifted just the tops into place, finally levering in the bottoms. Smart! The scaffolding had gone, the roof of the extension was done, the interior of the barn was clear of Acro props and most of the boulders cleared out. They were removing the old patio and levelling it as a new internal floor. What height should the conservatory walls be? On Monday they would open a doorway between the former barn and the tiled half of the house and they needed to know exactly where it should it be.

As promised, on Monday the new doorway was hacked out, leaving Ian’s former abode covered in boulders and dust, with ample fresh air. Rain was being driven across the farm by a cold wind, and with five window holes in three walls, even indoors was cold and windy. Jacinto, who at some time in the past has run a restaurant, lit a fire in the hearth and by lunchtime had used it to cook BBQ beef (marinated in red wine overnight) for his men! They welcomed his attempt to make the place warm too, as they settled beside the blaze for a few minutes before working right through until six in the evening re-pointing the barn walls.

New walls were built in the next two days, to create a kitchen/living room, a bathroom and a large entrance hall. Mário dug out the debris ready for the arrival of the canalisador (electrician cum plumber). He arrived on Friday with two young men, and with Mário labouring they put in all the water pipes and boxes and channels ready to do the wiring on Monday.

And what of farming? The picture above shows the view of our waterlogged west vineyard from the overflowing storage tank beside our house. Rainfall in the last ten days of February was very high reaching a record nine inches (22cm). Over the last ten years the month’s average for February was 7cm so we’ve had three times the normal amount. I have not taken the tractor from its garage because the the tyres would leave deep tracks in the cereal fields, compacting the land. I have stripped out the irrigation from the veg garden ready to rotovate it, and am waiting for a dry spell now.

March. The rain caused the builders to realise that since the back of the house is interred a metre deep it would be wise to separate the earth from the stone wall with a thick plastic sheet and a drainage pipe. Once again JJ the JCB man was summoned. He arrived on the first dry day in three weeks which was sunny and spring-like, everyone on site whistling their own tune whilst the birds did the same.

He started to dig a trench for a gas pipe to connect the gas cylinders beside the barracão to the house. As he took out the third bucketful, the cement mixer stopped, the lights went out, the hammer drill stopped, all went silent. The builders had laid the electricity cable to the house only four inches deep, exactly where JJ was putting the gas pipe and he had cut the earth line and tripped out the power – oops!

JJ’s other excavations were a wide trench around the back and side of the house and a narrow trench for me to install a drainage pipe from the barracão gutter to a soakaway in some trees near to the house.  A good length of drainage tube was required so the next day we bought nine metres (30 feet) in Fundão. However it rained again and contrary to my hopes, the soil became very soggy, very quickly.

The tubing had to be laid and the hole covered over so I donned a “waterproof” (which I discovered was not) and got on with the job. My wellies had been stored in the barn and mice seem to like snacking on Dunlop boots so I had to wear my work boots. The mud in my trench was above ankle depth so I soon had wet feet in addition to a wet back. I looked for a rain hat but found only a cotton peaked cap. When I wore it right way round I was unable to see up to where the piles of earth were so I had to wear it back-to-front after the style of Eminem. It did not keep off the rain for long; my gloves quickly became sodden, then my trouser legs. I used my tractor to cover the tube with earth and had to keep getting on and off to check the tube was in place. The rain collects in the seat so when you sit down again, the cold rainwater soaks in and you get “tractor bum”, which is rather unpleasant.

Just as I finished at 4.30 in the low light and rain, the gas man arrived a day late. Full of energy he greeted us; Janet was definitely frosty and when he saw the moat that was his workplace he asked if I have any wellies. In my wet state I clearly had not. Janet reminded him that, had he arrived yesterday as he said he would, he would have worked in the sunshine. Nevertheless he vigorously drilled through the two-foot stone wall and got on with laying the pipe. Unperturbed by the electrical supply to the house looping over the gas pipe,  he brazed the new pipe to the connection (which he had left available a year ago), finished off in the house and drove away before dark, leaving me to close the trench with my puddle-seated tractor.

The gas line hung like a sad bridge over the moat whose purpose is to keep the house dry.  Three days later the rain cleared and two days after that, the plastic sheet and tubing were laid around half of the house. The old garage still occupies the other half of the plastic-clad wall and it is full of the builders’ materials. When we demolish it the job can be finished but for now there is much to do in the house.

The UK was paralysed with snow in the first half of January, while Portugal had lots of rain. Our quinta occupies fourteen hectares on the south-facing slope of a hillside, and the lower half of the quinta was waterlogged, so when our friend Ian arrived in late January for an extended working holiday we began pruning the olive trees in the upper olival, which is set in a shallow valley near the top of our land.  I have not pruned this olival until now because it is well out of sight therefore of low priority and there is an uphill walk along a winding path to get there. It has over eighty trees in it which have been neglected for at least seven years. It takes an hour to prune a tree, so it is a big undertaking when there are two hundred other olive trees to maintain and five hundred vines to clip.

Ian in tree, Clive on ground.

We made a flying start and the weather improved every day, with plenty of sunshine. The work is time-consuming but satisfying, and that little valley is a lovely environment, secluded and pretty, surrounded by scrubby broom, pine trees and short mountain oaks. Its upper sunlit boundary has large granite boulders, which lend a semblance of wilderness to the place. It is home to tens of songbirds, rabbits and a family of wild boar, who leave prints all over the ground but are timid; they can smell a human from 400yards. Hunting is legal on all farmland and hunters seem to love ours, judging from the tens of spent cartridges I find around. Every Sunday we are woken by the sound of shotguns, which are the modern blunderbuss. Sadly, a shotgun sprays out a cloud of hundreds of small lead balls and even a hunter’s bad aim may well include the unlucky target. Ian reckons it would be much fairer if the birds had guns too.

Ian under olive tree, January 2010

On Friday 22nd January our builders arrived with a revised lower estimate for making window holes and a conservatory roof on our granite farmhouse; we asked them to go ahead with the work. They started on the following Monday, which was very sunny and warm, and cooked a barbecue at lunchtime for us all. They were clearly glad to be back!

Ian, Jacinto, José, Jorge, Mário, Adelino, Janet.

For the next week Ian needed no alarm clock because the builders started at 8am, hammering into the stone walls, removing huge boulders and shoring up the holes with planks and Acro props.

Adelino making a window

The window opening half-done. The stone in the centre runs the full 60cm (2 feet) thickness of the wall. The boulders securing the roof are held up with Acro props. Some of these stones were too heavy for three men to support, and had to be broken in order to take them out of the house.

.

.

.

.

Meanwhile, we were able to work for most of every day in warm sunshine, enjoying the spring birdsong.

Top olival after pruning, looking south.

After five days we had completely deep-pruned the entire upper olival. There were big piles of prunings between each group of three or four trees, containing our harvest of poles and stakes for transplanting trees and thick sticks for row markers in the vegetable garden. Pics:  The windowless barn (composite pic) with its earth floor and manger across the back; the black hoses are for irrigation, they fit onto a pump and were stored in the barn. The house  changed as the builders altered the sheep barn, casting a concrete beam to support a new ceiling, making a reinforced ring-beam for the new conservatory and covered dining area, and opening five new window holes. Eventually it will become a kitchen/sitting room, a bathroom and an entrance hall. Then the builders moved off to another job in the village, leaving us in peace whilst their concrete set.

Janet & Clive in front of the veranda

.

Moving in . . .   May/June 2009

. . . to the apartment.

One takes it for granted that a dwelling will have windows and doors, but when you are having a “new build” they are one of the jobs which have to be arranged. We chose sliding windows and hinged shutters in white aluminium as it is the most resistant to changes in humidity and temperature; we learned that wood is susceptible to contraction and scorching, and uPVC to warping from the heat.

our kitchen assembled at the carpenter's

In the UK, if you want a new kitchen, you go to IKEA or a DiY store. However, ready made kitchen units are a rarity in central Portugal, so we visited two carpenters’ workshops last November whilst we were on the olive harvest runs around the lagars. It turns out that a bespoke kitchen costs little more than an MFI installation.

Granite is used for worktops here rather than laminates because the humidity drops so low that we are told there is a risk of delamination. Both our carpenter and the builders recommended the same stonemason opposite Gonçalo’s tractor shop in Fundão. We went to look at samples and concluded that most granite has black granules in it and looks dark. We wanted a light colour and decided on a rock from India.

two slabs of the worktop

The huge block is imported via Spain where it is cut to a “manageable” 3x2x1 metres hunk, weighing around forty tons. Our man then cuts it into 3cm slabs for making gravestones, tombs and worktops. On his way over to fit our worktops he rang to ask if we have a tape measure – not inspiring confidence after our difficulties with builders making the foundations of the barracão ! Nevertheless when he fitted them they were absolutely right – well done to him!

I constructed pine beds to match the wall-mounted headboard that José made for us, in the same chevron style as the pine panelling on the ceiling. They fit together to make one king-size bed which seems huge in the bedroom. The mattresses were delivered by the salesman from the supermarket; he sells and delivers.

The rural electric supply is of low power, typically only 15amps per house; in England the supply is 45-80 amps. To have a thirty amp supply the standing charge and cost per unit is higher. For any more than a 30Amp supply we would have to have a three-phase supply, like an English farm or factory unit. Because an electric immersion would use about twelve amps, we heat our hot water with an instant gas heater. The gas is delivered in three-foot-high cylinders and are housed in a little lean-to at the back of the barracão. We have a system that detects when a cylinder is empty, and switches to the second cylinder automatically. We just ring the gas man who brings a new one and swaps them over.  We can now cook and eat, take a shower and sleep, all in comfort!

. . . to the farm.

We bought twenty five grafted vines (Toureiga Nacional variety) in early May, which is late to be planting. The guy on the market said that the twelve-inch-long roots needed trimming, so we asked him to do it for us. He cut off all but two inches! Apparently this stimulates them to seng out new roots in abundance. Needless to say, a few days after planting them, they looked pretty dead. Two weeks of hot sun was unhelpful to them and with diligent watering they may survive.  However only thirteen have grown new leaves.

We were in the UK in April (ploughing time) and, as the land was too hard to plough in early May, I only rotavated one field near to the house and scattered maize and sunflower seeds in it, burying them with the scarifier. We hoped for some unseasonal rain to soften the ground, leaving it moist enough for the seeds and a planned green mulch of black-eyed beans to germinate. Surprisingly, in mid May, it rained for three days so I was able to plough a additional half an acre of neglected rocky land. This was the first time I’d really farmed and, trying to sit in the tractor at 20° slope with one wheel in the furrow, it felt as though the tractor would overturn at any moment if it encountered another big rock buried in the way.

Once ploughed, the field had to be rotovated before JJ could demonstrate how to scatter beans as a crop. Well under half a bucket was needed, really only enough for a French family’s Sunday cassoulet. He said the soil was too dry for germination so I should go over the whole area twice with the rotovator to bring up any moisture. This is a very dusty job, with the tractor and its driver embedded in a slow-moving dust cloud, ending with the driver matching the soil, parched and brown. Consequently, taking a shower in the barracão is an absolute pleasure . . . as are several pints of iced shandy! After the planting we have had rain on three consecutive Sundays and all seems to be growing as it should.

. . . to the garden. I rotavated the veg garden (12’x80’) for the second time ready to start planting, having studied drip-tape irrigation on the internet before buying all the components.  It took over twenty hours to choose, buy and assemble the automatic control (27 joints, each needing over a metre of ptfe tape) and distribution system. It took a further twenty hours digging in full sun (30-36°C in the shade) to connect and bury 110 metres of drip tape to water our veg patch.

burying the perforated tubes

Fundão is an agricultural town with very few tourists. It has a huge Monday market where the locals sell their produce and buy seeds and plants. You can buy a walnut tree, a chainsaw, clothes, shoes, a box of live ducklings, a chicken feeder, a beaten copper still (used to make aguardente or moonshine) a mattress, fruit, veg, sheep’s cheese, cooked food,  . . .

In May we intended to buy seedling tomatoes, sweet peppers and aubergines, all of which grow in the open.  In early June we established that the irrigation system worked properly in automatic mode which is important because we leave the quinta for several days whilst we return to the villa and do our emails etc. Then we went crazy buying plantlets on the next three Mondays.

Aubergine flowers with marigolds,  bean and tomato plants,   and lettuces with vines.

We spent many hours putting in: 18 tomato plants, 5 cucumber, 5 courgette, 10 aubergine, over 100 onions, 10 bean, 5 broccoli, 6 Brussels sprouts, 20 sweet peppers, 5 chilli, 5 spinach, lots of lettuce, 2 dozen carrots, 2 dozen beetroots, 2 dozen caulis (rabbits have eaten most of these), 6 white and 12 red cabbages, 12 melon, 5 pumpkin, and 12 oca (an Inca crop, rather like a high-protein potato). The sweet corn, Jerusalem artichokes, peas and bean seeds failed to germinate because we sowed them far too late.

To support the climbers, I cut down some of the jungle bordering the orchard at the villa. Beside the stream which borders our land we have loads of bamboos growing at a rate of about three metres a year. Ours were all between four and six metres high before trimming them to get the straightest canes. Next year they will be younger and straighter (ie more useful).

Looking north along the veg garden, barracão on far right.

Looking to the south.

So now we have a real chance of achieving another goal; becoming more self sufficient in vegetables. The garden looks set to do well !