Friday, June 13, 2008

Cherries in the Sun

It’s been a great week. The sun burst out last week and with it, came Spring’s final vivacious splash of meadow flowers and fruits before it inevitably and gracefully bows out to make way for the impending arrival of Summer. It sure is already hot in the middle of the day, but the mornings and evenings are still, thankfully, refreshingly cool. Even nippy.
Josh with Eli kindly assisting, made the first pass at "Tom and Jerry"'s cherry trees this week. Oh my days are they delicious! Half a bucket went in a couple of days. Here’s proof….
Von planted in some extra veggies into 4 more of her new beautifully crafted permaculture compost beds. I think we now have hot peppers, cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, butternut squash, red and white cabbage, cauliflowers, more broccoli, more lettuces and strawberries all in situ happily growing. I’ve also seen evidence of seed trays planted up with yet more goodies and a sack of tatters ready to go in once we’ve worked out the best place for them to grow in the heat of the next few months. The guys round here plant their potatoes in Jan or Feb and are now harvesting. So we might be a tad late. We’ll see.
Von has also impressively transformed Harry’s house this week in 2 days flat. It now resembles a kind of Moroccan boudoir. Seriously, it does. Have a sneak in the video below. It’s a wee bit surreal cos suddenly we now have a proper home to enjoy with all our stuff from our old life in London surrounding us. Yet when you look out the window it’s not really very New Cross is it? The cherry on the cake (alright enough of cherries already) is our beloved bed. For 4 nights now we’ve slept deeply, and boy what a difference it’s made to rejuvenate properly at night.
Last Sunday, we went for an outing to the pretty little nearby xisto (pronounced sheestoo, means slate stone) village of Alvaro organised by ‘Champagne’ Ines who works in Oleiros council. Much of the village has been restored with European funding and they’ve done a top job. We picked up a few cool ideas on how to restore our own xisto houses too. After the walk and the lunch, we went kayaking down this curvy and picturesque stretch of the River Zezere. The kids did great paddling a few kilometres downstream and did heroically well paddling back upstream into a fairly stiff headwind. Nice one kids. You rock.
Finally, an update on Moses. The place not the dog. For those who don’t know, we are staying (some would say squatting) now in Bacelo which is the house (sorry, Estate) of "Tom and Jerry"  Moses is another place separate to Moses, almost bordering it but not quite, consisting of 4 falling down old stone houses in 2 hectares of forested terraced land, 10 minutes walk down the valley, a little more remote, with no roofs or water supply or electricity connected yet. Which is why The Winters and Michelle are currently staying (squatting) at Bacelo until we’ve finished (to do that we obviously need to start at some point) renovating everything there.
Anyway back to the plot (assuming there is one), I think we are now waiting for a couple of things to happen. As the rains have stopped, Pedro the road maker can finish his other projects and begin ours, carving out the new terraces we need for the green houses, water tanks, sports area and, of course, the yoga sala at the very top of it all. Sounds like the road work could begin July, sometime, maybe later. Not holding our breath though. We also found cool carpentry and building firms that seem to understand what we want to achieve restoring our houses using mainly the materials we can find on the land and are prepared to work alongside us to do it. But we’ve yet to see a budget. If the budget is good, if we see it, we hope to appoint them and they might be able to start in August. Possibly. Depending on other things apparently. We’ll fill you in on when we know anything more (which implies we know something now, which we don’t really).
However, and it is a big ‘however’, the land down at Moses is looking utterly outstanding. All by itself. With no help at all whatsoever from us. These last 7 photos are just a few of the many we've taken this week, although they simply don’t convey the experience of being in a place that is so inherently magnificent. Truly breathtaking. We love Moses. We really do. One day we will live there. And grow more things there. And entertain there. And make new friends there. And grow old there. And eat more cherries in the sun. And olives, and other tasty home grown stuff too. But as you probably can tell, it’s just we’re not entirely sure when that day will be. It doesn’t matter though, cos the journey to get to Moses is already proving to be a whole heap of fun.
There's no rush, so we ain't rushing.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Work in the Spring Rains

Hello folks. Just a quick update on a few bits and pieces. It has been raining here for most of May. It's a bit odd as usually the heavy rains finish by end of April in Portugal. They have a saying here to describe every month. For April it is "Abril, aguas mille" the month of the thousand rains. But the climate is changing rapìdly and unexpectedly all over the planet so I guess the old sayings might have to be reworked in future. The plus sides of all this rain are the gigantic size of our veggies (the broccoli really are mahoosive), and more importantly, the risk of fires this summer in Portugal is now zero as the land has been soaked so deeply. The down sides are that we've all been a little under the weather with colds and coughs, and the vines and olives are at higher risk of catching blight. Apparently, their foliage requires lots of sun at this time of year to dry them out ready for fruiting over the summer. But we'll wait and see what the effect of it all will be later in the year. For now, the downpours haven't dampened our desire for cracking on with the work around here and below are a few pictures to show you what's been going on.

This is the first structure we have erected for shade on the terrace of what will this summer be the restaurant. Peter and I used the trees we had cut down in March that had the dangerous caterpillars nesting in the top of them. When he returns in a couple of weeks we will finish it off with some green material hammered in over the top. This space will double for a while as a yoga space. Now the sun is beginning to shine a bit stronger, this shaded flat area will be perfect for practising.

Harry's house has had a fair bit of work done to it in May. We finished rendering the internal walls in a lime, sand and cement mix, which as they are all now dry, Von, me and the kids should be white washing this week. Peter had made new barn style doors and shutters the week before he left. Von had been wondering what to do with all the mimosas we cut down last month. Thought about buying an industrial strength shredder, but as seems to be the emerging way here, Von found another more creative solution for all that waste wood that doesn't actually involve buying anything. The large mimosa branches have been set aside for building future structures - pergolas or possibly in the cob houses. The straight branches we have chopped up and inserted in between the beams that support the tin roof of Harry's house to act as bit of insulation and cos they look well pretty. The long thin bits we are weaving together to form the sides of new beds on the veggie terrace. And the small end pieces will be used for dry matter on top of the beds.

The latest bit of new thinking came from a trip we made to Barbara's (the one with the chopsticks) place last weekend. There we met Josh and Rosie, a young couple from the UK who've been in the Algarve for a couple of years but recently met Barbara and decided to move in with her. They are fascinating people. For work, they are clowns. No, really, they are. And their hobby is Permaculture. We've heard a bit about permaculture from a few people but to speak to these guys and see the start they have already made at the Mount of Oaks was really inspiring. Here's why. With all this rain, the weeds have sprung up everywhere at bacelo. It was a touch disheartening cos I only strimmed the whole terrace 2 weeks ago and now it looks exactly the same as it did then - hip high bracken and grasses all over the place. But with a system Josh told us about and then Von researched more on the web, it's all really cool that there are so many weeds growing here.

All those weeds are not pests that need to be battled with for the next 20 years, they are good things. They are in fact nitrogen fixers, and you can cut them, leave them where they are and layer above them with green veg leaves (to encourage the worms), a neutralizer like wood fire ash (plenty from our fire that we weren't too sure what to do with either), then a layer of damp cardboard that controls the weeds underneath from emerging on mass (we have all those moving boxes), above that a layer of chicken manure in sawdust or straw (we have bucket loads of the stuff from the chicken coup that has been nicely maturing for 10 years and we will have more from the chicks we want to buy soon), and finally a layer of bracken or pine needles for the top. Hey presto you have a foot and half high compost bed system ready to go for planting into immediately (as you can see from the new cabbages plugged in this evening). Any weeds that do break through the layers, can be cut and laid over again with more dry matter. This has taken a huge pressure off us. No back breaking digging, annual preparatory rotorvating or endless weeding of exposed soil required. Phew, what a relief that was to find out! We are all hoping the system works as sweet as it looks too.

A couple more pictures for ya...this is Ellie enjoying painting a few prayers in a well cool prayer space that Barbara created out of living, bent mimosa trees and added some plastic sheeting to keep it dry. It was lovely to see all the contributions people had hung up over the months from a whole range of religious and cultural perspectives. (We want a space like that!) And her underheated bath, although a little small for giants like me, was surrounded delightfully in mosaic and recycled bits and bobs. (We want one of those too! in fact, we want to be like Barbara when we grow up.)

On Sunday, I took the kids with Jorge and Filipe (our neighbours' lads) for a trip down to the River Zezere. The fishing season kicked off May 15th and with the waters as full as I've ever seen them, the whole place was in fantastic nick. As it's a little remote down there, about 20 minute drive from Amieira, only a handful of fisherman and noone else. It is such a peaceful place to stay for an afternoon. We promise to take you down there when you come. Moses of course, spent all the time chasing sticks thrown for him. We'll buy our fishing licenses this week too (only 10 euros for all of Portugal's rivers and lakes - cool eh?) so if you fancy messing about fishing, swimming and maybe even on a boat (if we can find someone selling one), any of us, including Moses, will always be delighted to accompany you down there.

On the way back home we stopped again at a beautiful estate Von and I had previously stumbled upon in the week, with 6 or 7 cute old stone houses on a lovingly cleaned piece of terraced hillside and views to die for down the river. Got a tingling feeling that one day it might just be the home of John and Caroline Purday, their kids and their kittens. I have no idea who owns it now or even if it is for sale, but it would make a remarkable artist's retreat. Now wouldn't that be another lovely dream to happen one day. Purdays will be here end of July, so we will let you know how that little adventure pans out.

Need to go now as Slinky is mewing constantly next door for yet more food. And sounds like the kids are running down the hill after been dropped off by the school bus (yep it's definitely them), and Von could do with a cup of tea after hours of toil in the rapidly taking shape kitchen garden. More updates next week.