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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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.

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” . . .

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.