Aug 08-Feb 2009

In June 2008 the builders had excavated some of the site, and put foundations in the wrong place (they said it looked OK). Next they dug out more earth (two feet deeper, as agreed with our architect) and put the foundations in the right place . The original sketch had been for a 5m by 16m structure to include a single bedroom apartment, an adega (a room for making and storing wine) and a garage for the tractor. But when I drew detailed plans it quickly became clear that any apartment needed to be bigger than I’d allowed, so we made the building longer. In discussing the roof structure with José, I pointed out that a pillar inside the car port would not be convenient; he agreed to make the building longer and suggested enclosing the car port, requiring even longer foundations. They started building in late July, then promptly stopped as August is a month’s holiday.

The building method here is different from that in the UK; they make a timber mould of the whole structure, put steel reinforcements in the mould, then fill it with concrete and leave it a few days. After removing the mould, they lay breeze blocks to fill the gaps. If you (the bricklayer) don’t look carefully at the plans, you end up with a concrete pillar where the bedroom window should be, so you make the window where it will fit. Then the boss (me) comes and points out that the built-in wardrobe has to go there, so you have to brick up the hole and make another where he will accept a window. And so on.


We sometimes ate a barbecue lunch on the patio with the builders – in close-up Adelino, José and Mario. Happy days!  They would bring a five-litre carafe of wine made by a friend or relative, and we would all drink some and rate it. On the left is the boss of the business, Jacinto (Hyacinth)! Not really, a jacint is a hard semi-precious stone.


Delivery of polystyrene roof insulation.

What started as a tractor shed became a building with a double-slope roof, double garage, and double-insulated apartment.

The bathroom materials were easy to choose – we went into Spain and in a town called Valverde del Fresno (green vale of the Ash tree) we ordered lovely warm beige kitchen tiles, beige and green for the bathroom, and an ivory bathroom suite; Luís took us out for coffee at a café with a green shaded terrace.  All was tiled by the end of November, but the bath wasn’t delivered until January.

The kitchen corner in mid October, late November, and end of Jan09.

José made beautiful ceilings in all three rooms of the apartment.

Unlike in the UK, water doesn’t just arrive in the house. Ours comes from the dual boreholes system that we installed over a period of six months last year. It is soft water, untreated, straight from the rock. It is stored in a 1000ℓ (220 gallons, one metric ton) tank in the loft. It has to be, as the supply is only 80ℓ per hour. However, when we first tried the bathroom tap the flow rate was too low; the pvc pipes used are less than 1/2” internal diameter, so we had to go and buy a pump to increase the pressure. Off to Fundão where we discovered a shop where a man would come out to advise us.

The choice was a €200 basic pump where the pressure would vary a lot, or a €660 stainless pump with five turbines. In due course the man arrived at the quinta in a brand new BMW. Janet rang the builder (as we arranged) so he could come over and discuss what would be best. The guy made it clear that we needed the expensive pump, and if it were his place he would extend our system with an extra tank in the roof and a split irrigation tank for the garden, and so on. He would do an estimate for us, to include the extra materials and labour. Then the builder arrived to discuss our needs. The water man spent two minutes saying it was all in hand and ten minutes admiring the builders new lorry before zooming away in a cloud of dust. José said “I don’t like him.” and advised us to look around and get other prices. The next day we visited one of our tractor shops and they helped us choose a good system – total price €200 complete, and José’s man installed it.

So there we leave the apartment, lacking windows and doors, unfurnished but looking promising, and bearing little resemblance to the tractor shed and simple bedroom and bathroom that was planned. You’ll see in the next blog how it looks when its done J

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June 2008

We arrived at the quinta last week to find that our builders had started working for us; JJ the JCB man had excavated the area where we intend to build a barracão (apartment and garages).  However, the levels were not low enough, and a metre out of position. I rang them, and they came over straight away. They agreed to dig the site a foot deeper and put the foundations where I want the building !

In early January there had been a week of bitterly low temperature, which killed most of the orange trees in our area. It seemed to me a good idea to discover which of ours had survived, then to prune them back hard and reshape them.  The orange is a very rewarding tree, being evergreen, with edible pretty fruits in winter, and having fragrant creamy white flowers in spring. Sometimes the fruits and flowers are on the tree together, a feast for the senses!

First two pics show a “before” and “after” pruning a surviving orange tree.

We spent several days digging and planting the veg garden, including aubergine plants from the market, and giving some olive trees a long-overdue treat.

Pic: manuring olive trees

The farm always sounds lovely, with the noise of frogs all night (many live in our water storage tank and others in our charcas nearby), birdsong all day, and insects chirping all the time. We have visitors -the praying mantis was an unwelcome guest in our kitchen, and a holidaymaking   “wild turtle” (a mystery how it arrived) cruises around on a cork raft in the tank, sunbathing !

We have two beehives, but have yet to contact the local beekeeper . . .

The wildflowers are very pretty at the moment, and they are different every month; in April we had acres of purple wild lavender near the woods, this month the fields and olivals are carpeted in yellow and white flowers, with pink foxgloves in the granite rocks.

As for using the fields for crops, I missed the early growing season because of pruning olive trees – now 150 are done (thanks to our friend Ian for help, encouragement, company and being SO adaptable !). The late growing season starts soon, and I think I’ll be able to catch that. I have to learn to plough. The question is, what to grow? And why are we growing it? Although we have no farm animals yet, we made first enquiries about ducks last week. They need a raft with a house on it, floating in the centre of a charca, so they can sleep in safety from any foxes!

We are back at the villa now the weather is wet, and will stay here for a week before our next wave of visitors arrives.  Showers are forecast all week, most unseasonal but great for our seedlings.

As for the barracão and the veg garden, both are unfinished “work in progress” . . .