Sunday, 1 July 2012

I think it is time for an update on some previous posts about the quinta, and to add a few random thoughts. I do hope that what I post makes readers think about their own situation and land rather than people feel I am giving out instructions, or merely reporting on happenings on the property. It is wrong to attempt to dictate to people about the way they live their own lives, but relevant reading that leads to a stimulation of the mind is different. I have always read as much as possible about gardening and farming around the world and I continue to do so. It is impossible to know everything that might be suitable for the use of your land, but I try to keep learning through reading.

I planted up the extra olive trees as planned and we now have 483. Most of them are not yet bearing fruit, but those that are have just completed flowering. According to the Ag. Dept. flowering was very variable across this part of Portugal this year, with some flowering well, and others very sparsely. My own trees show similar variances, with some that I had expected to flower in abundance only showing a few. It seems the extremely dry winter was part of the problem, and I have seen a suggestion from a bloke in England that I know only by the name of Owd Fred, that a similarly dry winter is the cause of spasmodic flowering of apple trees this year too. The older olive trees that I retained have all flowered very well, and it suggests that they were able to extract sufficient moisture from their bigger root system, but they are all in favourable positions too and consistently bear well, and that is why they were retained.

Another problem was that Spring never did spring. It is a short season here anyway but this year we went straight from Winter to Summer. April was a full 5ºC cooler than last year and we had overnight temperatures just above freezing, with only 5º as late as 1st May. Then it began to rain – very late, but most welcome, in fact essential to avert a disaster for many people. 110mm were recorded and we needed every one of them. Areas nearer the west coast continued to receive more, and I am sure they needed that too. As soon as the rain stopped the temperatures increased to around the 30ºC mark and remained there until St John’s Day (celebrated overnight on 23to 24 June in Porto and other places as well as other countries, especially I am told, Estonia)) when it moved into the high 30s. The overnight minimum on 26th June was a new record high of 23º and the soil temperature at 9.30 a.m. next morning a similar record at 26º. I know that farmers across Britain were complaining at the same time about excessive rain. Perhaps that is going to be a feature of weather patterns for Britain. A few years back some climate forecasters were predicting more extremes of temperatures and rain in future.

It is much easier to cope with wet weather and even temporary waterlogging or flooding, than it is to farm or garden through a very long dry spell (such as we experience every year in the Iberian Peninsula, and elsewhere, of course) and real drought conditions as occur in Australia, parts of the USA, Africa and other places, often mean just waiting it out without hope of doing anything practical. I appreciate crops can be lost through wet weather close to harvest, and I had a total wipe out of over 200 acres of millet due to excess rain one year in Australia, but pastures grow in extreme wet, and not in extremely dry times.
I decided not to grow more loofahs this year. It was an interesting crop to grow, but the preparation of the matured fruit to bathroom loofah is quite labour intensive. We gave a few to friends and relatives – some of whom had previously thought they were a marine creature rather like a sponge. I did keep back some peanuts from last year’s harvest, and they are growing well in one of the garden beds. My “grown from seed” apple trees are carrying a good crop too, as are the commercial ones we already had growing. Previous severe crop losses of these, and pulses in the garden, through insect damage; inedible grapes through fungal diseases, resulting in no wine either; and a take over of weeds and fungal problems in agricultural crops has led me to abandon all thoughts of continuing to avoid the use of sprays. Portugal is definitely not an easy area to attempt to be organic. Hard winters and a good growing summer season make life much easier for organic production.

Apart from flat out irrigating, my main job at present is picking the hectare of White Lupins. This is another crop I will not be growing again on a field scale. They grew well despite the lack of winter rain, but I would say a combine harvester is essential for larger scale growing. It is harvested too late to be following on with a summer crop and they are quite difficult to remove from the plant - bunches of pods needing to be cut off with secateurs. As previously posted the pods have very sharp points, making the wearing of leather gloves essential. They are also difficult to shell, but I have a fairly labour intensive method of overcoming this that would work well with other podded vegetables, but only if you have hot dry weather, a polytunnel or greenhouse. I lay the pods on the tarmac entrance road to the house after picking and after a week or so they dry enough to burst open. Being big seeds they do not fly when the pod bursts, just drop to the ground. They then need to be picked up and sorted from the empty pods. In future I will stick to earlier maturing broad (fava) beans for a winter crop, and irrigated maize for the summer, both crops being easy to hand harvest. I am also trialling butter beans to see whether they might be a reasonable summer protein crop.

I decided to make Mk3 of the seed drill. Patrick made up precision sowing seed delivery plates (timber wheels with grooves for picking up the seed) and these are driven by bicycle cogs and a chain fixed to the spider wheels of the original version. It is very successful and the broad bean drill will be completed on the same lines. Lack of rain from mid-November last year meant I was unable to sow the planned crop for last winter so switched to the Mk3 maize drill project. I am trialling three varieties of F1 maize hybrids this year (not GM) and all are looking good at this stage. I have a knapsack type sprayer and used a pre-emergence spray against weeds, following up with a post-emergence where necessary. I am very pleased with the results. Last year’s crop was swamped with Purslane (Portulaca) and although I pulled as much of this as I could for goat feed it was a losing battle.

In the garden, we had a good crop of Asparagus, particularly from the varieties Connover’s Colossal and one of the Washingtons – I cannot remember if it is Mary or Martha, having committed the sin of not recording the variety when I sowed the seeds. Very bad management. I have tried a couple of all-male hybrids in the past, in fact destroyed a bed this year, and have not found them to be as productive as the old varieties. Kelvedon Wonder peas, sown late winter, and Aquadulce beans also cropped well before much insect trouble. The later peas and a second sowing of Aquadulce were badly infested with insect larvae. Overwintered onions Despina and Long Red Florence (aka Simiane) had a good survival rate and are being used now, although not yet mature. Both are very mild varieties, which we prefer. When they are matured my wife will chop them and bag up for the freezer – no storage losses that way and they are ready to use in whatever quantity is required. My special Kelsae and Globo onions are bigger than previous years at this stage, as are my leeks. I grow these exhibition type vegetables purely for the fun of it, and eating of course. Apricots fruited well too and my wife made jam and a thinner version that goes exceptionally well on tiramisu ice-cream. We do have a sweet course on rare occasions – and always a dry red with it.

Ever one to experiment with wines, a few weeks ago I began adding a course of pâté between my main course and cheese. In the past I have eaten pâté either as a starter, or after cheese. We found a good rough chopped pork liver one and my wife has also developed one from minced pork loin, adding garlic but still experimenting with other herbs. Pork loins are extremely cheap here, about €4 per kg and some supermarkets will mince it for you (much preferable to your run of the mill mince at about the same price) so the home-made version is a long way cheaper than buying pâté. Making your own from liver is very messy. Nice, but messy.  I have had Moscatel with pâtés in recent years, but since this course is now followed by cheese, with Port, and then nuts, with Moscatel, I began trying different wines as I did not want to go from Moscatel to Port and back again. A Sauternes or other sweet white would be fine, but I have settled for White Port, preferring Ferreira’s (not the Lagrima, it is too sweet) to several others I have tested. 

I have received an email from Smashwords, the ebook publisher, regarding ways and means of promoting ebooks. If you have never tried one, this is a chance because some of the books published can be free of charge from time to time, and this is one of them. Smashwords is running a special promotion during the month of July. It will have a precise start of 00.01 a.m. on 1st July and end at 11.59 p.m. on 31st July, USA Pacific time – so ensure you purchase any books that are discounted by the authors during that time. Smashwords publishes in many languages on a great range of subjects and the site is worth looking at. You can link to this promotion through .  To take advantage of the discounts you will need to enter a Coupon Code towards the end of the purchase process. This will vary according to the book or books you choose, but will be, for example something like SSW50 – the Code for my book.