Child Labouring

Amber is staying with me at the moment and yesterday we went up to Ginjais to plant some of what I’d collected from Quinta das Abelhas the day before – mostly currants and gooseberries, some perennial leeks, evening primroses, and a self-seeded asparagus.

First we tidied up the terrace down next to the ribeira putting all the prunings into a neat pile, planted a shrub that I’ve already forgotten the name of (need to make a notebook of what’s where), watered the trees, and put some of the wood we’d tidied around the trees to mark them and provide some slow-release nutrients.

I planted perennial leeks, evening primrose, and a lone asparagus plant in the garden next to the house, whilst Amber looked things up on the companion planting chart, so we could decide where to put everything.

For lunch we grilled sausages on the kitchen fire.


After lunch Amber started shifting a huge and tangled heap of wood where a fallen chestnut had been piled up by a tractor some years ago. It’s right in the middle of a terrace where I want to plant some of the trees that are still in pots, so it needs to be moved and there should be some great compost under it.



Meanwhile I dug brambles out of a patch to plant gooseberries and currants, planted some gooseberries at one end of it, and mulched with straw.





This afternoon I went up to the quinta to hang out and potter about a bit.

It snowed yesterday and it was interesting to see where the snow had settled and where it hadn’t. I’m hoping this will give me a better idea of where the more sheltered spots are.

Olive trees on north side of house
Snow free terrace on north side of house

No snow on the terraces by the house, another clue that this is a warmer spot is the olive trees.  Strangely this is the north side of the house, the garden on the south side has a covering of snow. My guess is that it’s protected by the huge chestnut trees that are here. I planted a Snake Bark Maple here, and just as I did it started snowing again, I hope it’s going to be OK.  It’s been in a pot on this terrace for a couple of months.

Snake Bark Maple

I didn’t water any of the trees in, as I was worried about it freezing.  It’s all a bit experimental!

I also planted two little olive suckers that I discovered and pulled up when pruning the olives the other day.  I’d forgotten them when we went inside to escape a downpour so they’d been left out in the snow.  I wanted to get them in the ground to give them some hope of survival, we’ll see.  They’ve gone in by the temporary water tank just above the existing olive grove.

Two baby olive trees

I was happy to see that the terrace above this was another free of snow, so it looked like I guessed right on it being a milder spot to plant the Macadamia I bought from market.

Upper snow free terrace where I’d already planted a Macadamia

Not sure the Macadamia’s looking too happy though … I don’t know if it’s normal for the leaves to go brown like this. Also I didn’t think to check if it needs a partner for pollination. Maybe a lesson I need to learn on buying things on a whim!


On the terrace below the water tank, that does have snow, the almonds that I planted are looking good, and beginning to bud 🙂

Two almond trees in below the water tank
Almond buds

After planting, and some more pruning (I didn’t want to risk doing too much in the snow), I sorted through my seed collection in front of the fire with Joaquim.

Joaquim in front of the fire




Pruning, Strimming, Planting

Today Carl finished taking the dead wood out of the big chestnut tree, then started on the olive grove.  As the trees have been neglected for years, many of them are being pruned really drastically, taking the whole of the mother tree down and just leaving a young shoot to grow.

Newly pruned olive tree in foreground, with just one new shoot left to grow

Meanwhile I continued creating the main veg garden, and dug a patch in which I planted peas.  The soil is dark, deep, and easy to dig 🙂  I also planted some Holm Oak acorns that I collected the other day, and Lilac tree seeds.

Newly planted “Pea Patch”

Louise was strimming down by the ribeira (stream) and discovered a fabulous spot at the end of the garden / olive grove terrace (what better location?) with a little cascatas (waterfalls) and the place where the ribeira splits into two, with one part going to a levada (water channel) which then passes through a stone tunnel and into the represa (water tank made of earth) on the terrace below.  Such an exciting discovery! I can’t wait to get the original irrigation system running again.

Stream on the right, levada coming off it on the left (below the fern)

Lou and Neil also discovered another represa at the top of the land, just below the big old cherry tree on my border with Antonio – by nearly driving into it!  Full of leaves, it was completely disguised as solid ground.

And my favourite photo of the day.  Can’t believe I actually get to live in this magical place.

Ribeira at Quinta das Ginjais

Yurt Deck in the Forest

The yurt deck is really beginning to take shape now.  Carl and Lou got about half of the main beams on today.


Meanwhile I started making a little flower bed next to the kitchen door and planted bright red gladioli bulbs there.  I also cleaned the calcada (cobbles) outside the door (but forgot to take an “after” photo).


I also did a lot of clearing brambles and honeysuckle out of the trees down by the riverbank terrace, and some pruning.  Also planted some bulbs by the ribeira and in pots.



Climbing and Pruning

Carl has been up in the chestnut trees pruning off the dead wood ready for us to build a yurt platform underneath.

I’ve decided that the house is going to take too long to get ready to live in, so I’ve agreed to buy a yurt and Louise is going to build a platform for it.  Weather permitting (it’s already stopped play for about a week) I should be in the yurt before Lou goes back to the UK on 2nd March.


This was over a week ago, Carl up in the trees.

Yesterday Carl and Lou got all the posts for the yurt platform support into the ground and (after finally managing working out the correct level – 3rd time lucky after finding out that 2 of the spirit levels were inaccurate) cut off at the right height.


I’ve made a start on treating the timber beams for the main frame of the platform. I’m not using the natural boron treatment as I was given a tin of chemical treatment for exterior woodwork that needs using up – and this is going to be an outdoor structure so I’m not really worried about fumes.


Yesterday I also finished spreading out the hay that we cleared out of the palheira (haystore) onto the first part of where my main veg garden is going to be. I’ve planted strawberries along the edge on top of the wall, some oregano and coriander, and some flower bulbs. There are already some daffodils here 🙂 There will eventually be a fence along this edge, and around the whole garden, to keep chickens (and dogs – can you spot them?) out.







Louise and I have just had a well-deserved long weekend break.

Last Thursday we started scrubbing the roof beams with wire brushes. Not easy work but the results are fantastic.  The beams are just gorgeous, a beautifully aged chestnut-red colour, and wonderful wobbly hand-cut shapes. The main beam is huge and is coming up a deep chocolate brown colour.  I can’t wait until it’s all done, with the new tongue and groove ceiling above in a lighter colour to set off the beauty of the beams.  The little house is already much brighter, just with the walls washed and beams scrubbed – even though everything is still mostly black!


Humberto finished strimming a square-shaped terrace next to the stream which I want for a forest garden.  It was covered in bracken ferns and some brambles and the soil underneath is rich, dark and crumbly!  I’m tempted to put pigs or chickens on there (more likely chickens) before planting – but also I’d really like to get the trees in now, so that’s yet another decision I need to make. This whole quinta is really challenging me, as someone who can never make up my mind about the best course of action.


We also collected up two baskets full of windfalls from the apple trees. The variety is a local one, Bravo de Esmolfe, and the fruits are crisp and sweet.


Yesterday (Monday) we had an easy day as we were both feeling broken after our long weekend (go figure!).  We collected up the remaining fence posts from Carvalheda (the land where I had the horses) and took them up to the quinta.  We stacked all the wood that came out of the top kitchen in one of the dry lojas, and then started on removing the nails from all the wood that came out of the small house.  We got most of that done but rain stopped play so we’ll finish off tomorrow.  There’s plenty of salvaged wood all neatly stored away now, ready for making kitchen units, bookshelves, etc.  It’s going to look stunning and I’m so happy there’s so much of it that’s re-usable.


Scary Stones

After the olive harvest it was back to work on the small house.

On Friday we set up a rudimentary system to get water to the house – re-using an IBC, some hosepipe, and a petrol water pump.  So now we can pump water from the existing tank that is below the house, up to the IBC that we put above the house, and then gravity-feed water down to the house.  We also went and fetched my generator, so (after much faffing and stalling and swearing) we could power the pressure-washer and start washing the soot-encrusted interior walls of the house.


The pressure washer was fantastic for this job, in fact it cleaned the stones much better than we thought it would. However, it made a lot of mess by turning all the earth filler between the stones into mud which then covered the wooden floor …

So yesterday we started chipping away at the mud filler in the stone walls, which is much easier to clean up as dust from the floor (we’ll pressure wash after we’ve chipped out the earth filler, hopefully creating less mud!).

It’s a really scary process though.  Despite only taking a couple of centimetres of earth out – just enough to remove the soot-encrusted outer layer plus a small channel to fill with new clay/earth plaster – it’s been unavoidable to create a couple of really big and scary looking holes where loose earth and small stones have fallen out as we gently chip away. At the moment I’m not sure what to do with these, there’s one that has a fairly large stone above that’s now not really held up by anything much.  Perhaps it is going to need cement? Or will cob be enough?

Also yesterday I planted two Nashi Pear trees (one of my very favourite fruits) and moved the rest of the trees in pots to where the hosepipe now reaches, for easy watering 🙂

Lagar de Azeite

Today Dan came to measure up for new windows in the small house, and took off the shutters to renovate.

Andrea is laid up with a bad back after yesterday’s efforts, so Louise and I finished the olive harvest and hit our target of 200kg early!


Lou up a tree:


We had a better picnic lunch today:


We met up with Carl, Debs, Cameron, Steve (and his two volunteers) at the pastelaria and then went to take all our olives to the mill together.

At the mill we were treated to a cup of ginjinha and a tour of the original mill dating from 1690 which was completely restored and really interesting. I was too busy translating to get any photos though.

We’ll go back to collect the oil either tomorrow or Saturday.

After we went to Steve’s to pick up Fran and have a look at the work they’ve been doing on their quinta – very impressive! Then we all went for pizza.  Driving home feeling exhausted and thinking it must be at least 10pm, Lou noticed it was actually 7.40pm. Definite early night tonight.


Olive Harvest

Today Andrea, Louise and I all picked olives .  We picked 80kg from the trees at Rui and Vanessa’s “Quinta Laranjeira”. These trees are fabulous, really productive and so easy to climb – an absolute joy to harvest. We were so into it that we abandoned our bbq lunch in favour of bread and butter so we had more time to continue and try to hit our target earlier than the end of tomorrow, when we need 200kg for our appointment at the lagar (we are going in with friends who will have picked 300kg).

We were all exhausted at the end of the day, despite managing to finish earlier than usual. We were back to the Freixo house for olive leaf and garlic tea with honey before dark! I’ve cooked the bifanas in the oven ready to have in sandwiches for lunchtomorrow, and now it’s time for me to collapse into a hot bath whilst a jacket potato bakes for dinner.

Taking Down the Partitions

Yesterday Andrea and I picked olives. In the morning at Ginjais and moving in the afternoon down to Rui and Vanessa’s quinta as they kindly offered us their trees to harvest as they are not living there yet.

Meanwhile Louise single-handedly finished taking the ceiling down in the small house, and also removed the final partition wall.

Before: Remains of the kitchen partition front left, and bedroom partition.


During: I love this original wooden partition wall and was tempted to keep it. Instead we decided to take it down in two parts – to be re-used as the walls of a shower room (exact location as yet undecided).


After: the small house is now one open-plan room and so much lighter with the door and both windows giving light to the whole space.