Latest news from the quinta

April 19th, 2015. Post by Quinta do Vale

This blog tends to feature often lengthy and mostly fairly detailed descriptions of the work here. Shorter updates, anecdotes, comments, photos, links and more get posted to Facebook. Keep up with us directly on Facebook or via the feed below.

Quinta do Vale

The beginnings of the duck house. ... See MoreSee Less

6 days ago

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Chris McDonald, Veronica Balfour Paul and 23 others like this

Sandrine Ferwerda CoosemansThat's a good start! I'm looking forward to see more work-in-progress-pictures - we'll need to build one next year so I can use all the inspiration I can get (especially from people in similar climates). How many ducks are you planning to keep?6 days ago
吳麗蘭And geese?6 days ago

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Bramley apple blossoms! This is the first time the tree has blossomed since coming here from the UK 2 years ago. It was a gamble bringing English apples here because they're not adapted to the climate but they liked the frosts this year and are all in flower. I'm particularly excited about the Bramley. I've not found anything like it in Portugal - it's the queen of English cooking apples, too sharp to eat, but full of flavour and doesn't disintegrate when cooked. ... See MoreSee Less

7 days ago

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Julie Hall, Emma Winfield Tubb and 23 others like this

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Emma McDonaldPretty!7 days ago
Robert WheelerBeautiful.7 days ago
吳麗蘭So so so pretty!7 days ago
Cyril WilsonBrought a Bramley over to central Portugal 4 years ago, planted it hard against a terrace wall, shading the roots and lower tree from south & west, with Hawthorn giving summer shade as well, my tree has produced well over the last two years. I still have some frozen Bramley from last years crop. Well worth waiting for.6 days ago   ·  4
Pauline MorrisseauAm living in canada now for 10 years and have not found a substitute for Bramleys. Maybe I will brave the bringing over of a tree.6 days ago   ·  1

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The mini swale system for the middle fruit terrace is now complete. I managed to slot in a total of 5 swales uphill of the existing fruit trees (which were originally planted in a line along the terrace). In addition to the trees, the swale berms are now planted with a variety of berry bushes (billberries, blueberries, gooseberries and redcurrants), Buddleia, comfrey, lupins, pot marigolds and other self-seeding annuals, various Alliums and poppies. Can't wait to see it all develop and transform this formerly dry and bare terrace into something altogether more lush and abundant. ... See MoreSee Less

2 weeks ago

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Louise Gordon, Tanya Artus and 23 others like this

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Nadine ZdanovichExcellent design and work!2 weeks ago   ·  1
Emma McDonaldIs that bangys terrace?2 weeks ago   ·  1
Michelle Sheridanwow..well done2 weeks ago
Jayne NormanLooks amazing Wendy!2 weeks ago
Edward Alexander HendryA true work of art.2 weeks ago   ·  1
Karina SzilagyiLooking gorgeous already, Wendy! :-)2 weeks ago   ·  1
Brett McBirnieNice.2 weeks ago
Sandrine Ferwerda CoosemansGreat work! Looking forward to seeing all the colours pop up on your pictures :-)2 weeks ago
Ingrid Maria Canowell done yet again!!!2 weeks ago
Emma McDonaldAhhhh I see what terrace this is now, I could not work it out before!!2 weeks ago
Edward Alexander HendryYou could copyright the whole area to the depth of 6 inches as a work of art. Just to stop any pipeline or other intrusive plans.2 weeks ago   ·  1
Sophie Kempinlooks fantastic!2 weeks ago
Julia MarshallI hope you post more photos as it develops.2 weeks ago   ·  1
Rica Macinneswhat a magician, you are!2 weeks ago   ·  2
Emma Bruntongosh you work hard, I'm in awe2 weeks ago
Nicky PerrymanWow looks amazing! I hope I get to see it soon!2 weeks ago
Shelley WhiteHey r ju dont be setting me digging on that HUGE Plot ha!xx2 weeks ago
Quinta do ValeJings! I'm a bit overwhelmed with all these comments! Seriously, this is nothing very special or hard to do. Just a series of small on-contour ditches designed to hold water and soak it into the soil rather than drain it away or let it run off the surface. They don't take particularly long to dig (unless you hit a rock outcrop) and the effort isn't huge. The difference it will make to what's growing on the terrace though - now I can capture more rain or turn a hosepipe on and fill each swale with water once a week or so through the summer - will hopefully be much greater. Yes there will be photos! Thanks all.2 weeks ago   ·  1
Louise GordonHi Wendy, it's great to see the fruits of all your hard work (so to speak) we have loads of lupins in our garden it's great to know they grow well in Portugal, do you have any before pictures of the terrace, many thanks Louise6 days ago

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Happy Easter! Boa páscoa a todos! ... See MoreSee Less

2 weeks ago

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Louise Gordon, Patricia Daniels and 23 others like this

Frank AntonsonGood choice of a picture! Thanks!2 weeks ago
Emma McDonaldHappy easter granny wendy xxx2 weeks ago   ·  1

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Cherry blossom. ... See MoreSee Less

2 weeks ago

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Wooly jumpers and thermal leggings this morning, shorts and vest by this afternoon. And first solar-heated shower of the year. Not roasting, but perfectly acceptable. ... See MoreSee Less

3 weeks ago

Emma Brunton, Louise Gordon and 22 others like this

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Louise GordonWow, we have been wearing our thermals for so long it feels strange going out to dinner without them on! But we have been graced with a lovely sunny day today got my sunglasses out.2 weeks ago
Louise GordonDo you only use your solar for the hot water?2 weeks ago
Quinta do ValeNot sure what you mean by "your solar"? You can use the sun for a lot of things. I have solar photovoltaic panels for power generation, but I also heat water with the sun when it's warm enough. Eventually there'll be solar driers and cookers as well.2 weeks ago
Louise GordonHow do you heat your water up with the sun? How many solar photovoltaic panels do you use for your power? Many thanks Louise2 weeks ago
Quinta do ValeIn a 100m coil of 40mm black MDPE water-supply pipe. That amount of pipe of that diameter holds about 80 litres of water so acts as its own tank. Solar PV panels come in a wide range of wattages so the number of them tells you next to nothing. 6 x 80W panels = 2 x 240W panels. The main variables are the total generating capacity in watts, your system voltage (12V, 24V or 48V) and your battery capacity in amp hours. The best place to start is to work out how much electricity you need to run the appliances you want to have and arrive at how many kWh per day you'll need to make. Lots of online calculators - Google "online off grid solar calculator" - which will give you a flavour of what's involved. It's a big subject!2 weeks ago   ·  1
Louise GordonThanks Wendy, I will have a look at those.2 weeks ago

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OK guys, the catnip is now caged (for its own safety). I'll trade you one leaf for every pea-munching mouse. ... See MoreSee Less

3 weeks ago

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Emma McDonaldYou're growing catnip?! 😂 this is too funny!! Pooley looks a bit scruffy! Where's my fat boy?3 weeks ago
Quinta do ValeAlso trying to get stoned.3 weeks ago   ·  1
Emma McDonaldWasted mamins!! Meccish has a scrawny looking neck, is he skinny? I want to come see my boy 😩 I love that amin.3 weeks ago
Emma McDonaldIs that where they live now? By the catnip?3 weeks ago
Quinta do ValePooley is not wasted! Well at least not in the way you mean.3 weeks ago   ·  1
Quinta do ValeMeccish is scrawny. He's lost his undercoat on account of flea allergy and the chemicals not working.3 weeks ago
Emma McDonaldPooley is fat and meccy is thin? What's with the switch in weight? I like my meccish fat 😭3 weeks ago
Emma McDonaldPhoto of meccish please 😍3 weeks ago
Quinta do Vale3 weeks ago   ·  2
Emma McDonaldOh so skinny 😭 he needs his em.3 weeks ago
Emma McDonaldAnd some cheese and milk.3 weeks ago
Beth WilliamsEr, I reckon there maybe more mice than leaves ..... For now ....3 weeks ago   ·  1

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Right mice, it's war! 240 peas sowed in trays (so the mice wouldn't get them). Not one pea remains. Every last one dug up and eaten. ... See MoreSee Less

3 weeks ago

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吳麗蘭OMG3 weeks ago
Michelle Sheridanbuggers ..3 weeks ago
Annette DalyJust saw a Victorian tip on grand estates utv programme where they cut holly branch's and laid them at the base of the pea rows to keep mice away?! Worth a try3 weeks ago   ·  4
Lionel de NobregaThose are very resourceful mice you have. Let's hope they never develop opposable thumbs. ;)3 weeks ago   ·  1
Jo BruceLittle tinkers !! You need a cat !3 weeks ago   ·  1
Quinta do ValeAccording to Douglas Adams (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), the mice are the ones in charge. I think he's probably right. I'm going to try the holly, though the tree I have isn't particularly spikey. Maybe last year's sweet chestnut cases and some gorse thrown in for good measure would help. And some peppermint. And putting the cats and dog on starvation rations ...3 weeks ago   ·  6
Eluzabeth Jane Rosson NewtonPeppermint oil in a spray can work .3 weeks ago   ·  2
Jay TaiSweet corn and maize, pumpkins and cucumbers, beans . . . . And there are rats as well as mice here - the dog gets a few and I do traps and poison - if it's not the seeds it's the harvest, I can't leave corn or beans on the plants to dry, as soon as the rodent damage starts I have to harvest them all and dry them in the house. All the best with beating the lil varmints. As for opposable thumbs - the very idea brings me out in a sweat!!!3 weeks ago   ·  1
Sandra SmithI feel your frustration, I have exactly the same problem here in my polytunnel; the mice ate trays of peas, mange tout, several types of beans, squash etc. But I do have a solution that works .... all my trays are now balanced (precariously) on tall pots on a table and I now have seedlings coming through. P.S. Dogs, traps, holly didn't work for me.3 weeks ago   ·  1
Kt Shepherdi grew my peas/beans in-between my (established, grown in the autumn) garlic last year after the first 3 sowings were munched....it worked great!3 weeks ago   ·  3
Suzi KohlIt was a terrible season for rats and mice!3 weeks ago
Sarah Retherford:(3 weeks ago
Sue HussOh that is horrible. I have a similar problem; they have eaten almost everything I planted. I'm using a vibrating stick that you plant in the earth and the vibration bothers them so they run away! It is safe for other animals and humans.3 weeks ago   ·  1
Nadine ZdanovichOh dear!3 weeks ago
Patti Masencup GibsonI've had the same problem. I just keep planting and eventually I guess they get bored with the same thing as the peas start growing. Something even then keeps nibbling at the new shoots but I think there'll be enough yet for me.3 weeks ago   ·  1
Emma Bruntonthis is a job for our Purdy the mouse murderer!3 weeks ago   ·  1
Kristin KaulWhat about garlic-red pepper spray or cinnamon powder in the soil? I have the same problem but with squirrels, and was planning to try these this year.3 weeks ago   ·  1
Emma Bruntonshe would do it for the sheer bloody pleasure of it all hhaaahoohaaaaaahaahahaaaa wouldn't she Simon Pownall3 weeks ago   ·  1
Simon PownallTHE TERMINATOR is available3 weeks ago   ·  1
Veronica Balfour Paulgrrrr.3 weeks ago
Julia MarshallMy grandpa use to swear by mothballs he would put them in silver trays or on tinfoil around the seed trays and at the bottom of the plants. He use to swear by it.3 weeks ago   ·  1
Mara RaraOur cat is pregnant and she catches lot of mice i think,3 weeks ago   ·  1

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A dining area for the wee house

November 12th, 2014. Post by Quinta do Vale

Following on from the completion of the kitchen at the wee house, the next step was to create a dining area. The terrace in front of the house on the lower level was the logical place for this – lovely views through the olive trees down to the village and across the valley, and grapes vines already planted and just asking for a trellis to grow over to create a shaded seating area. Plus it had already been identified as a fine place to sit …

The wee house dining area

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Swales

November 11th, 2014. Post by Quinta do Vale

Swales – level ditches dug to follow the contours of the land – are one of the principal ingredients of permaculture earthworks which are, by and large, recipes for catching and holding rainwater runoff and encouraging it to slowly infiltrate the soil rather than being lost to the nearest river. Because they’re level, swales don’t channel the water away but hold it in situ until it soaks into the soil. They can be dug to any sort of scale and used alone or, as part of an integrated water catchment system over an entire property, in combination with other elements like ponds, infiltration basins and dams.

Bottom ponds

On narrow terraces and steep mountain slopes with thin soils – ie. here – swales are not something you can use on a large scale, but they can still be useful. When I dug the lower ponds, the effect on the ability of the surrounding soil to support abundant growth was immediate and impressive, but it didn’t extend too far along the terrace. Just 2 metres away the soil was so dry in summer it barely supported a few grasses and wildflowers and would turn to dust in your hand and blow away. So after working out the contours of the terrace, I decided to extend the area of hydration much further along by using the ponds to feed small swales.

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Yurt makeover

October 5th, 2014. Post by Quinta do Vale

The yurt has been my home for 5 years now. It’s stood up to the extremes of Portuguese weather reasonably well, especially after building a porch to protect the doorway (4 years ago) and covering it with shade netting to stop the canvas disintegrating in the sun (3 years ago). It’s settled nicely into the landscape and as the gardens mature around it, is becoming less and less obtrusive.

The yurt becoming part of the landscape

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Sourdough bread

October 4th, 2014. Post by Quinta do Vale

After accidentally discovering natural sodas, I’ve been keen to explore natural fermentation more. Sourdough bread was an obvious development. I already bake most of the bread eaten here and like to have a variety.

Making sourdough bread is a fascinating, rewarding, exasperating and infuriating process, frequently all at once. It’s never the same from one bake to the next, especially when you live most of your life outside and use a wood-fired oven. It takes a lot longer than making bread with fresh or dried yeast, and the way the starter behaves is very dependent on prevailing ambient temperatures, not to mention changes in the natural yeast population, so with the more unpredictable weather this summer, more than once I was caught out by a cooler-than-expected day which threw all my timings. As I learned more and more with every batch, each time I’d start the process thinking “this time I’ll nail it!” and each time I’d be proved wrong.

For a good while I thought this was down to my inexperience with it, but then I learned from the son of an Australian baker and sourdough specialist that it’s always like this and after 30 years he feels he’s only now properly getting to master it. Yet there is a reward in the process, let alone the taste of the final product, that goes beyond the occasional frustration. It is very definitely worth it.

Sourdough bread baked in the cob oven

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Refrigeration

September 10th, 2014. Post by Quinta do Vale

I had been thinking for some time on how to tackle the issue of refrigeration on the quinta. An early experiment hadn’t been encouraging. It’s all very well using a zeer pot for a few items (I have one in the yurt made from 2 large plant pots), but when there’s volunteers or guests staying, it’s a lot less practical. I found myself torn between the desire the keep it low tech and cool things naturally, and having the convenience of somewhere I could easily store more sensitive foods like meat and even indulge in the occasional ice cream. I don’t eat a lot of meat, but I have two cats and a dog who do. With the price of pet food rising while the quality plummets, I’d also been thinking about making my own animal food. This would be a lot more tricky without a fridge.

Zeer pot used for refrigeration in the yurt

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Wild carrot jelly

August 21st, 2014. Post by Quinta do Vale

This summer, the terraces are covered in wild carrot – Daucus carota or Bishop’s Lace, Queen Anne’s Lace. This is the original plant from which our familiar domesticated carrots are descended. Slightly ironic then that it should grow in such profusion here when I’ve yet to harvest a decent crop of carrots, but that’s down to the voles getting in there before me rather than any failure of the plants to grow.

In the process of investigating the properties of wild carrot, I discovered some recipes for a jelly made with it. (I try to learn all I can about the wild plants which appear here – dismissing them as ‘weeds’ just because I didn’t plant them seems little short of wilful disregard of a natural treasury bordering on insanity.) The jelly sounded intriguing. I had to give it a try.

Daucus carota or wild carrot growing on the terraces

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Redcurrant recipes

July 17th, 2014. Post by Quinta do Vale

The trouble with turning fruit gluts into sweet preserves is that I don’t have a particularly sweet tooth and neither, it seems, do most people who stay here. So the store room shelves are usually very well stocked with jams and jellies that are often 2-3 years old because I made such large batches. Recently I’ve taken to making smaller batches, and increasing the variety in both the number of jams and jellies I make and in what I do with the fruit. This has been a lot more successful in actually getting things eaten. So here are the redcurrant recipes used this year …

Redcurrants

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A portable rocket stove

July 2nd, 2014. Post by Quinta do Vale

A year or so ago I salvaged a couple of tin cans from the local dump. From the moment I laid eyes on them they were shouting “portable rocket stove!”. They’ve sat around waiting for me to find the time and inclination to put them together ever since, but a friend moving onto a nearby quinta with no cooking facilities finally spurred me into action. In my head, I’d already worked out exactly how the stove was to be made, so it took very little time to assemble. In fact, it all happened so quickly, I didn’t even get any ‘before’ photos.

Making a portable rocket stove out of junk

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We are crowdfunding!

June 18th, 2014. Post by Quinta do Vale

This video explains …

And the campaign is hosted here.

The vermicomposting flush toilet completed

June 8th, 2014. Post by Quinta do Vale

Last year I wrote about our installation of a vermicompositing flush toilet – a worm composting system for a conventional flush toilet – in the outhouse for the wee house. It was all ready and set to go for a good while, minus the worms, but we couldn’t start using it until we had a water supply to the wee house since there would be nothing to flush with until we did.

With the completion of the quinta’s water storage and distribution system in February, I could at last commission the system.

Outhouse toilet featuring a composting flush toilet

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