raising hopes and beds


The original garden was a useable space but with terrible soil and a bit of a slope towards the road with a cedar at the end, the tree blocked the view from the balcony upstairs and it was hanging on the main electricity cable for the whole street, so it had to come down

Rick got the saw mill out and sliced it up with the idea that it would be used for stairs in the house..unfortunately with his passing that is not going to happen so I am gifting it to a friend who is going to make some furniture with it

Rick had started the raised bed project after I left, dug foundations, moved a lot of heavy clay and started some of the block work

I was totally overwhelmed when I arrived back, and kept looking at all the sacks of sand and stone and the unfinished raised beds (which sort of resembled giant graves) and mountains of clay in the garden and just couldn’t contemplate doing any of it, let alone completing it

having gone through an enormous range of emotions relating to Rick’s death, I’ve now had a moment to breathe and evaluate my situation, I have decided that Italy will be where I stay for the time being, after all I bought this house because I loved it, it’s where all my things are, it’s where I last shared a meal with Rick and for a brief moment it was the place that gave us both hope for the future, a common goal and a roof over our heads……

With a lot of encouragement from new friends and old, I decided to finish the project myself, I know I lived with a builder for 24 years but I never did any actual building, but I thought, how hard can it be????

I finished bed 2

I needed to cut some of the blocks but am terrified of spinning blades and electricity, it took me a few days of various consultations with men friends, some plucking up of courage and remembering what Rick would say…….Just do it Doris….I did

With bed 2 finished, I decided to waterproof the insides of the beds, and then back fill with various bits of hardcore lying around, including the old toilet and sink, prunings, ash from the fire, manure from a friend and the soil that had come out of the foundations and some bought compost

I levelled off the area between both the beds and made some steps. I used some of Rick’s old burnt chisels and files as supports, got rid of a bag of gone off cement, mixed with sand and the last of the stones

I had to put an extra course on half of bed one, because the ground level at the front of the bed was the same height as the bed and it looked all wrong…

new back bit - 1
A friend donated some lovely old bricks for me to finish off the tops of both beds

The foundations were already in for the third raised bed and just about enough blocks for 3 courses, so I did that too

I painted everything white, planted all the plants I’d been growing in my tiny propogator, sowed a lot of seed

laid a very wonky beginnings of a patio with some other found bricks

bought some bark chippings

and today I have picked my first radish…..

I have to say without sounding too boasty I am rather pleased with myself, I had a vision, Rick saw it too he started it, I am finishing it

Even with him gone, we still make a good team

I look like a midget but I'm not, he was very big
(Photo taken in 2009 after first potato harvest in Portugal)

I’ve got my zest(er) back

I’m in Italy, in a tiny house with a tiny garden, in the middle of a tiny village, surrounded by stunning countryside, friendly people and delicisousness in the bushes and in the shops (when we are allowed to go to them)!!!

I’ve started replacing all the wonderful things I had, one thing that I was very upset about was the loss of my microplane, I know it’s easy to replace, but it wasn’t just about replacing things and filling my life up again

I had been fundamentally changed by the fire, so I didn’t really want to cook much anymore, I did kind of get into it last autumn, when we arrived in Italy and spent days foraging and making sloe cheese, quince everything and figgy stuff

which I loved, but then I lost the desire again with the breakdown of my marriage and the subsequent, sudden death of my husband…….

I’ve been in Italy since lockdown, organising what has fondly become known as “Italy death bollox” and whilst I was appreciating being here, in a remote and beautiful country, I still had no desire to cook much. let alone forage………

It’s been a long time since I lived anywhere where there were any hedgerows, and it’s a wonderful thing, there’s so much diversity here, you don’t even have to look very hard, you just have to have the right eyes in, a bit like mushroom hunting, once you tune into your environment a multitude of abundance reveals itself…..

What’s nice about foraging is the chance to just stop and admire what is growing out there, the countryside is rife with life, identifying it and making it into something is therapeutic not to mention practical, what’s even better is that when you crack open a jar of something, from whatever season it came from, you are instantly reminded of that time, the picking of it, the light, the sounds, the winding down of the days, the changing of the seasons, this is one of the most evocative things about growing, preserving and making, it’s a reminder that the simple things are the best, it’s the time that you were most calm and happy and grateful, to just be with nature and give thanks by turning her gifts into a culinary delight, elderflower cordial heralds the beginning of a new season for me, a season of abundance, after the quiet time of winter in the hedgerows, it’s a new start, a fresh start with a fresh drink to whet the appetite and forge ahead with a new strength and vigour and determination……..here we go again!!!

sad endings and new beginnings

the last thing I had that hadn’t been consumed or destroyed by the fire has now been swept away by a tsunami type flash flood on my land

The river broke over the top of the 8 foot high wall that borders the land, chucking burnt trees and branches, litter, lumps of coal and a tonne of top soil and ash all over my garden, it swept away all the trees, bulbs and herbs that I had been growing in pots, most of them have disappeared completely, no doubt littering someone else’s land downstream and blocking up the river

I am so completely heart broken by this turn of events that I can’t even cry anymore, I just shrugged and laughed……

So I’m off for a break, somewhere far away, where everything is white instead of black

where I am not constantly reminded of the grief that is consuming my life, where I can get a different perspective and not have to climb huge hurdles everyday just to stay on top of things, or fix something that is very broken or unfixable, or tidy up a terrible mess……..there’s only so much anyone can take until we break, I’m not waiting around to be broken by this, so I’ll cut my losses and get away before I too am so broken that I will be unfixable………

I am happily saying goodbye to 2017 and am looking forward to welcoming in the new year with an open heart and open mind………happy new year everyone

there is no “normal” anymore

Like for many others in this area, there is no “normal” anymore, there’s  “before the fire”

and “after the fire”


for those of you that have followed our story and the one from before moving to Portugal, we have been constantly building since we married (21 years ago)…….

I had a home for a bit in the UK and then we built a new one….

which didn’t really become my home

we then moved to Portugal and rented various hovels!!

We’d been living in our new house for 2 years, but it was a building site most of the time, with no running hot water or bathroom, that was fine

I liked my outdoor bathroom and when the Rayburn was on there was always hot water on the stove top…..

We had almost finished all the very expensive and complicated plumbing which would have given us two sources of hot water

one from the Rayburn in the winter

and one from a solar water panel for the summer……….

we were two days away from filling up the tanks and testing the whole thing……

Having a home was the most wonderful thing, unpacking all our stuff which we hadn’t seen for years

getting it out, finding places for it, mounting pictures, paintings and photographs

actually being comfortable

cooking and eating amazing food from our gardens


harvesting for the winter


I had just finished making 120 litres of grape juice

we had, rather ironically just finished paying for and sorting out all the paperwork for a very expensive olive grove on the other side of the valley in front of the house, which has now exploded too……

having an actual life that wasn’t full of stress, hard labour, long hours……

I was so proud of the house, what we had done, how beautiful it was……ourlifehandmade

sadly that period has ended
that chapter of our lives was abruptly closed on the 15th October, a day and night that will forever be melted onto our hearts

please help us if you can :

https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/sarah-and-rick-whitehead

an odorous task

I’ve harvested the garlic and onions, firstly I want to say how bitterly disappointing both these crops are, when I lived in England I had an allotment which was heavy clay, with easy access to all kinds of manure, everything flourished, esp. the garlic and onions. I had never had a problem growing these basic crops, until, that is I came to Portugal. Despite my efforts to get nutrients into the soil, other than the first year here (land had been fallow for quite a few years), I have yet to have a successful crop, by successful I mean enough onions and garlic to last the whole year. I had always grown onions from sets, sowing in late Autumn, this year was the last year for that. All the sets I grew went to seed,

onions seedwhich made up over half my crop. The rest were plugs bought from the market and planted in early spring, these did not go to seed.

onions

So, from now on I will either try and grow my own plugs or buy from the market. Gone to seed onions do not store at all, whilst you can cut off the seed head, get rid of the head and cut the stalk up and saute in butter (very delicious), they will not grown anymore. I had to skin and chop 7 kilos of onions, with the idea of freezing them…….having been given a lot of ziploc bags recently (again, generous friends from Canada) I decided I would double bag all these onions and put them in my freezer……..bad move……i had to take them out and quadruple bag them and they still smell and are stinking up all my fruit, so they’ve gone to live in my friends, mostly savoury freezer, they said they don’t mind, they may change their minds, in retrospect, I should have wrapped them in smaller portions in tin foil and then bagged them……..the freezers here at the farm are still stinky.

The garlic again has been disappointing, I gave up with my experiment of growing my own from my own seed (see previous blog entries) and bought some teeth (as they call them here), they’ve not done too badly but again alot went to seed.

garlic

Lessons learned:

don’t grown from sets from here (they are probably not heat treated)

don’t plant too early

don’t plant too late

don’t let plants get cold

don’t let plants get hot

what a faff!!!

from plant to plate

this year we have had our first blueberries, which is very exciting, they are very happy down in the fruit meadow, so we may get rid of some of the less productive fruit (blackcurrants) and replace with blueberries,

today we had blueberry pancakes with maple syrup, such a perfect combination and only made possible by dear friends from Canada…….

pancake

As mentioned in my previous blog entry we’ve had a lot of lemons to deal with, the final thing that got made was this yummy lemon tart, definitely worth a go

lemon tart

springtime

apparently we’ve had the coldest March for 31 years and I suspect we will have had the wettest April for ages too, by the time it’s over.

riverWe’ve had a lot of rain this year, quite a lot of flooding and landslides but despite the dreadful weather, the wild flowers are amazing and my garden has never looked so good at this time of year.

arti

I sowed some peas at the same time as the broad beans, about October time and although I have never done this before, they seemed to have survived the winter and are now producing actual peas, the broad beans have masses of flower too but are looking a bit beaten down by the endless rain and then winds, but they are still alive and podding up nicely, maybe by the end of the week we’ll have some with our favourite dish….

peasbroad beans

the purple sprouting broccoli has been the plant that just keeps giving, so much that I am giving it away, it took ages to do anything, had to be staked, has got so tall but now they’ve got going, there’s no stopping it

broc

the other thing I’d never done before was to grow some winter lettuce, this too has been prolific, I kept it fleeced over for the very cold months, it’s done really well and has supplied us all winter

salad as has the coriander

coriander

which I have been amazed at as have my friends, who have all benefitted.

The asparagus, as I could have predicted has not done so well, I think I disturbed it a bit last year, so I’ve only got myself to blame, but I’m grateful for the small amounts we have had, I shall be moving the bed this year and starting some new ones, they are 7 years old after all.

Potato obsessed husband has planted almost an entire field of the things

potatoes

Aside from all the foody bits, the flowers are very blue and some are yellow and orange, they’ve been out all winter….weird

iris

hyacinthborageflowers

Now, we would like it to stop raining, please, just for a bit and only at night, thank you