Thursday, 25 December 2014

Seasons Greetings to All

This year we are celebrating the 25th Dec as the 21st coincided with the local Capon Fair in Vilalba which is always an excuse to buy wonderful Artisan cheese which we couldn't miss. Tim is a bit of a 'cheesehead' and I am pretty keen on the stuff myself. Our home reared Turkey went in the oven early as she is 12 kg of loveliness and we spent some time this morning selecting the best of the garden vegetables. We have green beans, field beans, leeks, sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower, most of which is fresh. The stuffing was made yesterday along with a huge vat of mulled local wine from our nearest town.

We made an evergreen bower on the 20th to decorate the sitting room which smells lovely as it includes bay, rosemary, flowering gorse, holly and ivy. Tim's family made them when he was a boy so many years ago.
Some plants are still flowering in the garden so I have a vase of fresh flowers and a vase of fresh herbs next to the lit candles. It feels  very christmassy and we are relishing just being together at this time. We spend so long apart during the year, it makes it extra special when we are together.
We also have blue sky and sunshine, the first for a few days so more reasons to be cheerful. Thanks to the joys of modern communication we have spoken to family back in the UK and all feels right in the world. Underneath the joy is an awareness that many people are not so fortunate as us. Poverty, war, disease, the list of horrors are endless but occasionally we just have to live in the moment and appreciate the life we have.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Magosto Celebrations

On Saturday night my daughter and I went to the local village Magosto Fiesta. As ever it has pagan origins and celebrates the chestnut harvest. In Galicia the chestnut is very important as it was the major carbohydrate food source prior to the arrival of potatoes from the new world.
We ate a delicious chicken paella with local wild mushrooms, various pork products including jamon, the fresh new red wine, numerous deserts and a wonderful chestnut ice cream and roasted chestnuts of course. After this the music started with the musicians just joining in with each other informally and singing. Dancing followed and a great time was had by all. 
There was chestnut competitions such as the largest, smallest and most unusual use of chestnuts. The winner being a Santiago pilgrim complete with walking stick and backpack. An Autumnal photographic competition was also hotly contested. 

We left at 2 a.m. and the fiesta was still going strongly, probably until dawn (they usually do).

Monday, 3 November 2014


I killed and processed the last of the turkeys last week and they are in the freezer awaiting a starring role in Yuletide celebrations. The family have all gone home, the goats have been sold and now it is just me and the dogs and chickens. Silence takes a while to get used to. I always need time to settle back down into it again. It is about communing with nature. Getting the books out to read, sitting by the log burner. I have had ample opportunity to do that as the weather has turned. It is colder with constant rain and it feels truly wintry since the Celtic year changed to the dark half of the year on Samhain.
There is plenty to do in the veggie patch. Rotted manure to be barrowed onto the empty beds. The last of the summer crops harvested such as flint corn and soya beans currently finishing drying in my kitchen. I hope to plant some green manure this winter to keep the soil in good condition but I need a decent break in the rain to do that. I also want to start the endless round of mulching the trees and bushes to add nutrients and keep the grass down under them. Broad beans, kale, winter brassicas and field beans are growing well but I haven't planted the garlic yet. I am also trying Chinese vegetables for the first time this winter. They have all germinated well but the slugs and snails adore them so I am growing them on a bit in cells before planting them out when they are bigger. I fantasise about a poly tunnel for overwintering veg and salads but that will have to wait. Perhaps next year....
In some good news, Ginger has hatched four strong chicks again. Motherhood is her thing and she goes from a low status hen to a ferocious lion when her chickies are threatened taking on all including the unwary dog.

Getting back to the silence. It allows me to think, to commune with nature, to answer questions about why I am here. I know that this place feels like it is beyond worth, something priceless. It is so much more than a rabbit hutch made for 'consumers' like the Kent terrace house where we came from. This is a place built for producers, creators, guardians of the earth, people. When I plant a seed or we plant a tree I feel an amazing sense of 'rightness'. A weird word but we are not just planting it for us, we are planting it for birds, insects, the soil, other people, future generations and increasing the biodiversity of this piece of land. From the pollinators, to the consumers of the fruit to the earthworms pulling the fallen leaves into the earth. It is so much more than just planting a tree. We are correcting the grass monoculture and healing the hurts.

This is a worthwhile way to spend the rest of my life.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Animal Cruelty?

Last night when I went to put the turkeys away for the night I found one of the males recently dead. There were no marks upon him and I suspect he fell victim to a heart attack something that they are very prone to, due to their excessive size. As he was still warm I removed his breasts and legs and put them in the freezer this morning for eating later. Each breast was 2.5kg and each leg was 2kg of meat, he was around six months old. It seemed like a crime to waste his death.

This year we are trying out the accommodation for them including the orchard they roam in and the security of the fencing. It has been a success, they seem to be very happy in their housing under the horreo and they are eating the fruit windfalls, grass and insects, as nature intended. Bronze turkeys have been bred to gain weight very fast and their double breasts mean that they can not mate naturally, the females have to be artificially inseminated. They are also prone to heart attacks and in commercial barns are fed sedatives and antibiotics in their food to stop them fighting, moving around too much and dying from disease.

I am pleased that I gave him a good life, for as long as it lasted, he had company, the sun on his back, the best of food and drowsed away the warm afternoons in the shade of the trees.

There is however a part of me that is so angry at the way humankind feels it can breed and factory farm animals to suit itself without any moral obligation to ensure a decent quality of life for them. There are several blocks in the area, full to the brim with sedated turkeys which stink as you drive past them. We have done it to pedigree dogs and cats (bred them for looks not health) as well as other poultry, pigs and cattle. I am a carnivore and I enjoy eating meat when it is home produced, raised outside, with friends of its own kind and slaughtered quickly and humanely where it lived. Every part of the animal is used where possible and the manure is a valuable asset when applied to my vegetable beds I would rather eat less meat than continue to support the inhumane production of meat. There is a niche on a small-holding for a small number of animals which use waste vegetables, keep grass down and produce high quality protein. Man has deliberately bred bronze turkeys to be unhealthy, profit as ever comes before any other consideration and left to its own devices this breed would die out in one generation.
Black turkey
 A Spanish Black Turkey

We have already decided that next year we will get local Spanish Black turkeys, smaller than the Bronze, able to mate naturally, better at foraging and growing more slowly and ultimately smaller. We hope to keep a pair or trio and in future years, are intending to rear our own chicks and sell any excess birds to friends.

Saturday, 11 October 2014


My recent lack of blogging is due to busyness or that is my excuse anyway. I currently have immediate family staying and therefore I don't feel ashamed in asking for some labouring help. We have decided to paint the rendered part of the house. Although it is all built in granite half of the house is covered in mossy stained grey cement render. Whilst removing the forest of grass, weeds and old cement sheeting running alongside the walls we found these lovely chaps.
The first one is a female Marbled Newt, Wikipedia says that "Marbled newts use the stars to orient them on the way to their breeding pools" which is rather wonderful, you can certainly see the stars from here. The second is a fire salamander which has poisonous skin so we were very careful relocating them to the other side of the house until redecorating is complete.

Getting the balance right between renovating , improving and maintaining an old house is difficult. We inherited the grey cement render so I am really enjoying turning into a bright attractive area. Where we have the original beautiful granite showing however I shall just be re-pointing the crumbling mix in between the stones.

Above is the before, below the after, and we still have a second coat of paint to apply.

We may not yet have the money for the place to be re-roofed but huge leaps forward such as we have been doing this week gladdens the heart when you can see a major improvement. I spend a lot of my time running to stay still, caring for the animals, vegetables and land maintenance (bramble bashing). When a big change happens it is lovely to sit back and admire the difference, perhaps with a glass of local wine anyone?

Monday, 1 September 2014

Life and Death

Unfortunately our young white cockerel Barry died last week. Our dogs cornered him outside where he shouldn't have been and mauled him. Although he only had one cut he had some of his feathers pulled out by the dogs and by the time we discovered him, he was in shock. Despite our best efforts he died over night.

Naturally Tim and I feel awful but we didn't hear any kerfuffle. Accidents do happen, chickens drown, are taken by birds of prey, sometimes they just disappear like our much loved young cat Monty but in most cases there is very little that can be done. In the wrong place at the wrong time. None of us are immune from death. As Terry Pratchett said in Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch.

Barry in happier times with some of his ladies

The hens were very subdued without their man so Tim and I bought another one at the local market yesterday. We have named him Errol (after Errol Flynn) as he is handsome and dashing and able to twirl his moustache with one wing.. After a few minutes here, he was doing what cockerels do with one of his new harem and he has settled in beautifully. We only hope he has a long and happy life with us.

Otherwise we continue to preserve the fruits of our labours. We bought a dehydrator and are drying some of the huge fruit glut, grapes, pears, apples and figs. Seed saving continues, various beans are drying for winter soups and stews and the turkeys continue to thrive. The gentlemen Turks are quite magnificent in their bright colours and enjoying every moment of their lives. As the old Irish proverb says "A turkey never voted for an early Christmas."

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Friol Horse Show

This is an annual event in my local town, with a mix of entertainment, horse selling and competitions. It is held in the market place. The weather is rainy today but this didn't stop the crowds. The Galicians love their horses.
The height that the grey horse achieved when it jumped in the air and kicked backwards was incredible. You can just see the feet of the man supervising it on the left.
The pony was just as well trained and could lay down and play dead as well as rear up on command.
The result of many hours hard work I am sure.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Work goes on

I am making the most of having my daughter here, families are great. Yesterday we spent a hot day loading our lorry load of wood into the wood store. It had sat outside drying for a couple of weeks but with thundery storms looming at the weekend we decided not to take any chances of our wood getting wet. The weather here has been unusual, the rain has fallen late this year and there is more cloud around leading to high humidity, ideal conditions for blight. My tomatoes are suffering again from this and I have lost several plants.

We are part way through the construction of a goat milking area, we have prepared the base of what will be a small concrete slab with wooden posts in it, to keep a reluctant goat still and enable a single person (me) to milk unaided. Our goats have not been milked before so I expect them to be skittish but the lure of home-made ice cream, yoghurt and cheese is too strong to be ignored.
Our domestic animals remain very happy, Nosher the cat is the senior animal and bullies the dogs unmercifully and spends his days sleeping in the sun and his nights sleeping on the sofa with an occasional break to eat food. He is a good mouser when he can be bothered.
Sam is senior dog and supervises every activity, he has had a summer hair cut and looks smarter as a result with less rubbish caught in his fur. He is a fussy eater, he is very bright and a 'worrier' who spends most of his time ensuring that the junior dog is not misbehaving (an impossible task).

Toby as junior dog, is the lowest of the low. He is a Spanish mastiff crossed with a Brittany spaniel and has inherited the worst attributes of both breeds. He is big but not very bright and provides the muscle to Sam's brains. For a few months I was not sure I could keep him as his destructive tendencies felt like more than I could cope with on my own. He does not intend to trash things but chewing through internet cables, furniture, digging up newly planted vegetables, unearthing shrubs combined with chewing my underwear and chasing and killing chickens made me despair. His regular gifts include rotting goats heads he has found (three so far) various dead body parts and vomiting back cow pats. I offered him up for re-homing but nobody wanted him, finally now, as he ages he is slowing a little and learning some manners. He is very sweet natured and now I finally feel he is here to stay even though disaster follows in his wake.

They are all part of our 'family'.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Nature's Bounty

Yet again summer is here and we are overwhelmed with riches. The squashes are madly producing and you can see them visibly swelling from day to day.

The goats are now thriving and the kids are getting into mischief and playing endlessly on the long summer days.

The day lilies are a mass of flowers and make a tasty snack at any time whilst I am busy drying beans, peas and many other seeds in the sun for next year.

Catherine and I have been very busy this past week making hay whilst the sun shone. It is hard work in the heat and we had to spread the loads over a few days as it doesn't cool enough for heavy work until after 8pm. We managed to beat the rain which fell this weekend and hope that we have got enough stored to get us through the upcoming winter. Even in the midst of the summer minds turn to the winter to come. Our firewood was delivered last week. It is sitting outside in the sun drying for a few weeks prior to being loaded into the woodshed before the next rains fall. Again with winter in mind the jam making has continued. Our most recent batch was a tasty cherry and plum to add to the gooseberry and strawberry made earlier this year. Next I shall be making chutney and pickles with any vegetable gluts.

Finally the fruit trees are looking laden with fruit. We have our first quinces ripening on the larger of the two trees and apples and pears promise a good harvest, although there is still time for some of it to drop if we get a very hot August.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

It's Twins

This time it was Tensings' turn. She waited until we had gone out to a local fiesta and produced twins.
We have a boy (the dark one) and a girl (lighter and smaller than her brother).
Unfortunately by the next morning it became obvious that the girl was hungry and weak so we had to run around and sort out bottle feeding for her. A friend (thanks Shenna) kindly came round to look at them and we discovered that one half of Tensing's udder had clots of milk and lumps in it. It was a bit too soon for mastitis to develop but after milking out the affected side the milk has cleared since we have been milking and discarding milk from the affected side. We are now watching Tensing carefully in case her condition deteriorates and keeping all fingers crossed for her. Both kids are now feeding from Mum and bouncing around happily so we are holding off the supplementary feeding for the moment.

The first kid Fay is now enjoying having some new play mates. We have named the boy Puck and the girl is Lilly.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Pixie Delivers!

Our youngest goat has just delivered a brown female kid. It was her, and our, first time but the mothering instinct took over and she did everything right. I missed the actual moment of delivery as I decided to take an early lunch in preparation for the delivery. I arrived in time to see a very wet kid lift its head and look around for the first time.
Within a few minutes she was standing and trying to feed. We are thrilled that all has gone so well with minimal intervention. After some discussion we have decided to call her Fay.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

The Wheel of Fortune

The wheel of fortune is currently smiling on Tim and me. Tim is here on a well needed break from his London office and we get to spend time together and recharge our batteries. The sun is also shining, birds sing, flowers bloom, vegetables swell and wine is enjoyed.

We also have new life burgeoning, Ginger the chicken has hatched 3 chicks, the first of this year and Barry's first chicks.

The turkeys are growing very fast and have turned out to be very friendly and chatty. They do however complain loudly if they run out of food, or if it rains. They also 'gobble' at unexpected loud noises. I think we have two males and one female although it doesn't really matter as they are all going to be eaten at the end of the year.
The goats are also heavily pregnant. Their kids should be due in the next month or so. They are now much more lethargic and are enjoying the sun although they have their moments of chasing each other and playing together. This will be Pixie's first kid, she is the brown goat,  and I am hoping that all goes well. I still need to practice my goat maternity skills after last years disappointing false pregnancy.

There is an inevitability about the wheel of fortune, the seasons and life itself. There are good times and bad, the secret is learning to enjoy the moment. Our dogs are good at this and it is a lesson I am still trying to learn.