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.

November 2008.

The traditional hand-picking method requires a ripador, a small hand-held rake to comb the olives from the branches of the tree onto a net spread on the ground. After I returned from a visit to England in mid-November, we sought one each. None were available at the market, one shop had sold out, a second was out of stock, a third hadn’t had any for ages and as they are hand-made by oldsters they didn’t have a source. We abandoned the search and looked instead into pneumatic palmetas, mechanical clappers to shake the olives (drupes) from the twigs. We bought a good-sized net (Ecocampo recommended eight metres by eight) to spread under the tree, for catching the olives, and crates to carry them in. A week later we were “mooching” in the old town and found two little shops which merit the appellation of Emporium or Aladdin’s Cave; we bought sacks and when we asked about ripadores, they had them! The first time we opened out the net it was obviously far too big, so we swapped it for a 6x6m (20ft square), which was manageable for two of us.

Although it was cold in the morning, the sun always came out and warmed the day to a comfortable 13°-20°C. We were in the olival just after 9am, stripping the drupes then lifting the net to pour them into a crate. At the end of the day we put the olives through a winnowing machine to clean the leaves from the fruit – when we bought the quinta we paid an extra €500 for farm equipment; the only piece that was of any use or value turns out to be the winnowing machine. The Portuguese have no word for this important machine; to them all machines are “maquina”, which covers anything with moving parts. A hand drill, electric drill, pneumatic drill, cement sprayer, car engine, JCB digger, all are “maquina”. To name each, you have to say what the maquina is for.

selecting and cleaning olives for preserving.

Now, once the olives are cleaned and bagged, you take them to a lagar to be pressed for the oil. Our nearest mill, Orca, is closed again this year, and JJ the JCB man suggested one in Vale de Prazeres (Valley of Pleasures). We visited, and found a grim-looking old warehouse mounded six feet deep in tons of bagged olives, lying sullen and forlorn in a thin river of black juice which trickled into the ground outside. No sound of action. A bored bloke shuffled out to “greet” us, fag in mouth and wearing a beret and boiler suit, waiting for us to speak first. Disheartened, it wasn’t worth the effort so we hardly bothered, deciding that any other lagar would probably be better.

Our first sacks of olives

We  were told that 200kg is the minimum acceptable weight for pressing,  so we needed to gather more olives and weigh them;  back to Ecocampo for more sacks and crates. They had sold out of our size and the rest would not stack on ours – typical. However, they did have a weighing machine on sale, so we bought that. And in a typical serendipitous conversation we met Julio the olive farmer, who suggested a lagar called Loca, beyond Fundão, 40mins drive from the quinta.

Two days later, on the way back to our villa, we went to find Loca. There was a queue of fifteen trucks and tractors with trailers right along the access road and onto the main road. Good news though, we stopped to look round the place and met Julio again, a mutual pleasure.

Working most of each day, we harvested 201kg in one week. We took our olives to lagar Loca where we were sixth in line, and only had to wait two hours for our turn – we felt sorry for the farmers who were in the long queue a few days ago!

There we emptied them through what looked like a cattle grid in the floor. They were washed, weighed as 201kg (yeah!), and pressed; we were looking forward to having our own oil but discovered that we were in fact adding to this year’s stocks of “Português” oil and would get one tenth of the weight of our olives as communal oil !


This was a blow, as we had taken over the 200kg  minimum, and their own lab had assayed our olives  as 8.3kg of olives to give a litre of oil.  At least the “extra virgin cold pressed” is VERY fresh and delicious, full flavoured with a hint of lemon.

Sept08

The sun is beating down and the grape vines are loaded full with ripe fruit. The adega is where they are taken to be fermented into wine; the alcohol preserves the fruit flavours, vitamins and minerals for medicinal consumption during the long hard winter (yeah, yeah . . .). However, the builders are still on holiday and we have neither an adega nor equipment. We decide that we will have to forego this year’s harvest. But half the point of owning a Quinta is to make single-estate wine, and the thought of wasting this opportunity is unbearable, so although we are late in starting, we have to go out and buy a 280 litre dorna (60 gallon fermenting tank) – it is the biggest that we can fit in the car with the back seats removed. Friday is hot and sunny (like the previous hundred days) so we get out there with a couple of borrowed builders buckets and polythene bags, harvesting and enthusiastically showing each other what massive fruits / long bunches / lovely colour grapes we have, happily munching samples from our vines as we go.

We  reverse the car onto the land so we can put the full bags in ready for sorting back at home – yes, we did take the whole lot over the mountains and back to the villa, where we have clean dry space and indoor taps.  In the hallway at our villa, Janet trod the grapes in the traditional way. With slightly-warm grapes and fruit-mush squidging between her toes, she trampled them for over an hour before we could simply cover the tank with a table-cloth to keep out the fruit flies and leave it to ferment on natural yeast (one of our local ones rejoices in the Latin name for bee-anus mould, nice!). The sugar content, as it tasted very sweet, was high – 15%!!  That will give a medium wine, full-bodied, with maximum alcohol!

The next day, we visited the Agricultural Co-op in Lousã and bought a 120 litre barrel with a tap, and asked about buying wine yeast – nobody uses it, but the man said we should visit the chemist’s shop for tartaric acid and bisulphite. We did, and I asked the helpful girl at the counter for a hundred grams of tartaric acid. She went off to the back of the shop and then I realised that although I am used to cheap lab reagents, she may charge us a small fortune! She came back with a neat hand-cream container and the acid (powder) weighed out into it, sorry about the cost of the container – it is half of the £1.50 total – relief!

A few days later back we went over the mountains, on the way buying a 250 litre stainless steel tank for storing the wine in, and a couple of cestas (40 litre tubs) to harvest grapes into. A week later, after another treading we needed more fermenting vessels, so we bought a 65 litre and a 30 litre barrel, and transferred the first brew into the 120-litre barrel. Well, I thought, that should be easy, just siphon it off to rack it, but no, too many pips in the mash. OK, open the tap – no, it blocks up with the solids. Ah, blow them back up the pipe away from the tap – no, in come more solids when the tap is re-opened. So I eventually use a litre jug, carefully filling it to avoid collecting grape stalks and flesh, then pouring the liquid into the barrel through a filter in a funnel. Next year we will consider investing in an electric esmegadora, which squeezes the grapes and separates out most of the stalks and pips.

Whilst I went to see Samuel in Athens for six days, Janet and her mum went over for a third harvest, armed with new little secateurs just for harvesting bunches of grapes. When I returned there was wine fermenting in the two big barrels, in a swing-top bin and even in the mop bucket, a fridge full of concentrated grape juice, and Janet telling me that we have only gathered in one third of the crop! Goodness, whatever shall we do next year?!

Pic: nightfall, bunches of grapes hang over the patio.

Another week passes by and it is now October, back we go to the quinta – just look at all those grapes!! So we harvest more, bring them back over the mountains, buy another 65 barrel, tread them, and move all the brews into new vessels. The hall smells like a brewery. The remaining grapes on the vines are starting to turn into delicious sultanas and raisins now; it’s the end of the vendima. At last.

Having lined two of the three boreholes, the next stage was to raise the water to the surface, and bring it to a place where it is useful. One borehole would supply the house itself, and the other borehole would fill the south charca (storage pond) nearer to the house for later use in irrigation. It also has connections to the spring, to the orange orchard/vineyard, and to the tank near the house. We had two estimates for the project of bringing power and water to the house, and decided on a flexible system in which both boreholes can supply domestic water, and the lower (irrigation) borehole is pumped by a solar photovoltaic system. This means that on sunny days when water is most needed, the sun would pump it out of the ground.

Paulo the engineer and I got on well together, and he quickly understood what was needed.  In April 08, as soon as the weather was dry they started work on the 4feet-deep trench linking the lower furo (borehole) and the electric connection board to the house over 200 metres away.

On the satellite photo the red line denotes the limits of our land, green lines are the perimeter of olive grove (olival) areas, and orange is a vineyard with orange trees.  The dark yellow line is for electricity, and blue for the water pipe.

At the same time he put a mains electricity water-pump into the domestic borehole, and linked both lines in the garage via an H- system. This should allow us to choose either of the boreholes to supply the house.  Every day, he brought a big bag of bread rolls, some beers and meat to barbecue; Janet made salad and I cooked the sausages and steaks for lunch, which we all ate together on the patio in the sunshine.

On the second day of work (Friday), they arrived before 8am and asked if they could use my tractor to fill in the trench and level the ground as the tubing was laid. They clearly enjoyed working for us, carrying on into the dark, and finishing at 9pm – so much for the week-end starting on Friday lunchtime!

Lowering the pump, its water-level sensors and electrical supply line into the 100metres deep well.

They worked all day Saturday and two hours on Sunday morning too. In return for the loan of my tractor, they wired lights and a power point into the house. The end of an era; until now, lighting was by candles, storm lamp and an Aladdin No23 paraffin lamp -a luxury to read by, but so much work . . .

View northwards to the house, all the tubes buried and trench filled.

By Tuesday the guys had connected both the water and electrical systems, and we now have our own granite-filtered water from the house furo, supplied to a tap in the garage. The granite house has no plumbing so we have to go to the garage for water, which is an improvement on trailing into the village with two ten-litre containers and filling them at the village hand pump.  At this stage (May08) the lower furo still has no pump.

 

We returned last Tuesday to the quinta.  It was a hot day, the dry land and heat haze reminiscent of Arizona, or the centre of Spain in summer, which is almost where the land is located so I suppose the strong sun should not be surprising, but in November, it is. We had João an electrician come over and discuss how we could make provision to connect the quinta to the electric mains. Two days later I hired a neighbour, Joachim, and together we built a wall section on our south boundary. A few days later, Robert came over. We walked the land discussing solar photovoltaic panels. On the next day (Thursday) we met with the electrician who possibly would install the boxes needed for connection to the national grid. We considered laying a water pipe and electricity cables up the same deep trench to the house.

We have discovered a man who has a JCB digger, João José. JJ the JCB digger man came on Friday, we discussed the project with him, along with other ideas. He told us that since it has been dry since July, the water level in the well is at its lowest and now would be a good time to clear it. It was now late afternoon when the sun is less fierce, so I set up our pump, and managed to start the motor, which is as cooperative as the mule it replaced. Our tenant shepherdess, Manuela, was passing through that field with her flock. Intrigued and eager for something different she helped, but before long she pulled the 2” diameter suction pipe out of the well. Inspecting the valve on the end, she told me that it would never suck up the water, as a part was missing, certainly taken by the old boy who sold it to us. At 6pm we drove to a local garage and bought a new valve assembly. Next day I fitted it and happily (eventually) started the pump. Four hours later along comes JJ, it should be pumping twice as much water as now. The pump needs repair. His brother runs a garage and can do it, but not until Monday morning, as he doesn’t work on Saturday afternoon or Sunday.

08.50 Monday we search out and arrive at his brother’s garage – there is JJ waving us in. Half an hour later we’re off again and at 10am a few kicks and yanks and off goes the pump –WOW water gushing out! By 11am it’s far too hot to stay out, but as the electric man is back again, we don’t have to. An hour later the distant note of the pumps rises a tone, so I leave Janet to finish our business with the electrician whilst I go to sort it out. The water has stopped, the well is nearly dry. So am I, so shut down the pump, it’s time for lunch. Sit at table and am grilled in the sun, no shade from the vines over the patio because they have lost their leaves. I’m ravenous and scoff my cool salad in ten minutes; just as well because here comes JJ in his big JCB, straight up to the well and digging the sides away! End of lunch, take lots of pictures whilst he and his uncle(!) deal with the well.  There are two huge trees growing in it, probably ten years old or more. Whilst drawing water at the pump Janet met our friend Maria Luisa, whose parents were tenants on this quinta for many years, and she grew up here. Janet suggested she might like to see inside the well. In the mid-afternoon M-L arrived and thoughtfully inspected what was going on.  She said in a matter-of-fact manner that her dad dug this well.

By 5pm he’s dug out all the mud and the cleaning is finished. I ask him to lower me into the well so I can walk on the bottom. The walls are lovely big granite stones, and the source has granite slabs arching over the spring, just a trickle until the weather breaks. What a pity the stonework won’t be seen again for many years.

Pictured below:  Clive and Maria Luisa sitting at the edge of the well on the stonework for the picota, long gone here but which will eventually be replaced. It is an eight-foot post with a forked top, across which is loosely tied a ten-foot pole. One end of this pole has a counterbalancing boulder tied to it and the other has a rope with a bucket dangling into the water. The top pole swivels a little in the fork. In the 1940’s M-L as a girl had the job of ladling hundreds of buckets of water into the irrigation channel which linked to furrows across the adjoining field. The end of each furrow in turn was opened to allow water to run along it to the plants. In full sun and no shade it is a hot and tiring job, but it’s the cheapest way to irrigate a crop. She would have spent countless hours during each summer working at this spot.

Water is the blood of the earth.  So in bringing a new farm to life it is necessary to find a subterranean artery and draw off a supply to the surface, where live the plants, the animals, and us.  Being a scientist I know all about seismic surveys, but dowsing, well that’s an arcane art and therefore worthy of closer inspection. For our search, my money’s on the dowser!

After a few walks holding his dowsing spring (an arch of spring steel) extended in front of him, Sr Antonio suggested drilling the first hole very near to the house.  We arranged a date for drilling the borehole.

Several weeks later, bright and early, we had just breakfasted on the patio in the sun, when a lorry towing a chunky yellow trailer appeared over the hill between us and the village. It hesitated a minute before winding its way along the road and arriving at our farmhouse. The wide lorry carried drilling tubes and the trailer was a solid engine packed into a steel casing, a powerful compressor as tall as a man.

Out jumped Sr Antonio, smiles and handshakes, who said there was a corner in the village which was too sharp for the drill lorry.  It had to turn round and find another route and would be here soon, don’t worry. No surprise there, the single-track cobbled streets with sharp turns are not suitable for heavy machinery.  He walked the proposed drilling site with his dowsing spring to confirm where the hole should be in order to strike the underground stream which would yield our drinking water.

A large blue drilling lorry arrived – how ever did he get here? – and the drill was deployed. An air line was connected to the top of the drilling rig which was carefully levelled.  The impressively solid yellow machine was started and the peaceful quiet ambience of birdsong was obliterated by the roar of the compressor.

Rotation… and the drilling head bit into hard-packed soil. As it quickly sank to the rock below, the dull rumbling of its passage into the ground changed to a more pervasive “Brrrr” underfoot and the rattling of the impacts at the top of the rig took on a hard-edged metallic hammering rather like a supersized overpowered pneumatic drill, which is essentially what it is.

Early in the afternoon at forty metres depth there was some water in the powder which was blasted up through the hole by the huge compressor. The borehole yielded more water at 75 metres down. Great! Not what I’d expected, though.

I had visualised seeing water gurgling up around the drill, winching the pipes up, and a fountain of water showering around. No, nothing like! There was no water coming out at all.  The workmen stopped at six o’clock, just leaving it all as it was.  They returned early the next day.  All the water that had accumulated overnight was blown out of the hole and it was re-cleared an hour later. Disappointment, “muito fraca”. Only enough for homestead use (70 litres an hour) even with storage.

Sr Antonio walked the land with his dowsing spring and suggested drilling in the olive orchard, so the entire convoy was moved.

This second borehole was dry even over a hundred metres down.  All the land is on granite, a hard rock, so drilling is slow and expensive. Each hole takes two days to set up, bore, find out how fast the water is being produced (the caudal ),then to de-rig the drill. We now decided to line the first well as the water is of excellent purity.

Lastly they started drilling a borehole on the lowest part of our quinta and I had to return to the villa, leaving the “Captagems, aguas subterraneas” men to do their best. A day later Sr Antonio phoned to say they had struck water, estimated at 700 litres an hour and would continue to drill to 110 metres for a further source. We decided that this borehole should also be lined to enable us to irrigate crops and fill the three charcas (storage ponds) on our farm. Do we have a pump so we can start using the water? No, because we have no electricity yet.