Feb 25, 2013

fooling around in fevereiro...

Some days it feels like spring is around the corner, sounds of bees in the Mimosa flowers and wearing t-shirts as we work...

.....but the chill in the air today reminds us we are living in the 'inbetween' days. The moon calendar which we refer to frequently refers to this time of year as Spring - but I am not quite sure.  A recent visit up the Serra de Estrela into the snow certainly was a reminder that we could easily be still in winter!

 This update will let you know a bit of what we have been up to these last weeks....

Enjoy reading!


Beginning of the Month.....

The month began with the celebration of St. Bridget’s day and Imbolc, which are festivals that are rooted in celtic culture. Each year I (emma) make St. Bridget’s crosses for friends and family from rushes – it was super to find rushes in the bottom field. 

There are many signs of spring on its way – catkins on the willow and the spring flowers like daffodils coming out to name but a few. I love this time of year and find that my energy levels are increasing along with the length of the days!

For us on the land it was a time to begin to put into action the projects we would like to focus on as we move towards Spring time. So, of course, before working again the tools need to be sharpened…..


Preserving Olives

 One sunny day earlier in the month we tasted the olives that we harvested in October for eating. The water the olives had been sitting in has been changed twice previously. 

They were almost sweet – meaning that they had lost the truly acidic taste and were ready to add the salt and herbs for flavouring. 

In previous blog posts Barbara made a wee video of the process. I used the same method as she describes in the video, adding enough salt to water to make a fresh egg rise to the surface. I then poured the saline water over the olives. 

Based on intuition I added what the neighbours suggested to the olives. In different jars the experiments included – lemon peel, garlic, oregano, rosemary, chilli, orange peel – all produce from the garden. If you come for a visit you are welcome to try and see which mixture you prefer.


Tea Time

Clearing around the herb spiral in the center of the kitchen garden promoted a mint drying session. 

Soon, we will harvest camomile for drying on a day favourable to flower – the potency of the tea is stronger and the medicinal value higher they say! In the fields all around there are carpets of camomile and wild calendula.


Pruning trees

In February in the fields around us the farmers are out pruning olives and fruit trees. It is so funny the style that is preferred by the locals – the olives are pruned so that it looks like someone came along, standing above the tree and cut it flat on top with huge scissors. This seems to be the standard look! Our trees are not in fashion lets say – since they have not had a big cut in several years some trees are quite out of shape. We lovingly are going tree by tree and asking them what needs to go. Mostly the first thing we do is remove any dead pieces, then the branches that are growing towards the center – after that it is a question of what the trees needs/wants.



The technique of mulching is not new to any organic gardener – and is a core aspect of permaculture gardening. We began the cycle of mulching on the top terrace with compost and widening the mini trenches around each of the trees. 

To complete each tree takes about 40 mins by the time you remove any couch grass in the bed, widen the circle of good soil, collect broom and mimosa branches to bury in the circle and then put back the beautiful top soil and then cover with more mulch! 

With the all the love an attention each tree gets we are guessing that it can only do them good.


In the kitchen garden the weeding of the beds has begun in earnest – with all the rain over the last two months the unwanted grasses are sprouting all over the place – but the grass provides a new layer of mulch for all the veg that are already in the beds. 

Since we have lots of rotting straw from Xico’s house we are also putting this on the beds. Again time consuming work – but great to get the hands dirty in the gardens. 

When we were on the upper terrace mulching around the “Nêspera” and plum tree we had the chance to admire the pond. The water level is lovely and high thanks to all the rain we had over Autumn and Winter. Thank goodness for that! We had such a drought last year that we really needed a rainy season to replenish the water supply. 

Talking of water, the pond that we uncovered last summer with James from Duruxa is FULL of water and looks really well. We have decided to make a tree nursery in a patch of land near this pond. Hopefully starting this wee project next month.


Shrove Tuesday/Carnival

12th Feb is Carnival in Portugal – a national holiday as I found out after making a useless trip to Alpedrinha to the post office to find it was closed….what I did find at 2.30pm in the afternoon were people wandering around in strange costumes, blue hair and whatnot. 

The tradition where I am from is that we make pancakes on Shrove Tuesday and decide what we might give up for Lent (the 40 days leading up to Easter.

Making of the mobile chicken house

Barbara was busy making the mobile "chicken house" this month. Here are the stages in her words...

I didn´t want to invent the wheel, but it was fun to make the adaptation on the one I bought with a nice piece of cherry wood... and it works :-)
I started with the base... all with Mimosa wood, and some pine for the structure´s handle...

It took me a long time to get all the poles for the base, as I had to choose them, cut and peel most of them...

Then I had to reinforce the base, as I realised it was not strong enough to move it around...

And finally finished... this side has the main door where the chicks will come in and out... next to it there is a door that we can open when we have to clean inside...And on the other side (you can´t see it from here), where they will nest,  there´s another door for us to open and take the eggs  :-)... 

Now we can move it wherever we want them to prepare some soil, and fence them around their "mobile home"...That´s about it, in theory... we´ll soon see how it will work in practice...

Mimosa in Bloom

Thank goodness for the mimosa blooming – it is the most delicious smell in the air and attracts hundreds of bees onto the land. There are other reasons to be thankful for the beautiful yellow flowers – this Valentine’s Day we had our neighbours Meline, Alfonse, Cleo and baby Naoki with us. In the prayer forest Barbara and Alfonse chopped down a massive mimosa that was blocking the light from the struggling oaks next to it. 

The mimosa tree came down with a tremendous crash. Right at the top of the tree which by the afternoon lay in gigantic pieces were bunches of flowers ready to pick. I got one, Meline got a bunch and Cleo took one for her ‘boyfriend’. 


In this season while they are in abundance we have fresh flowers in the bus – the aroma is sweet and delicious. We would love to make soap with the blossom – if anyone has a good and easy recipe for homemade soap, please do let us know!


Trip to Serra

The other weekend we took off up the mountain with Cleo, our 8 year old friend. She was the excuse we needed to go have day in the snow up at the top of the Serra da Estrela. The whole experience was magical – going up the mountain, clocking each of the signs marking the steep altitude, the crazy curves, the cute villages near the top – and then a small ski station! 

We parked out of the way of the volume of traffic and found ourselves a piece of the mountain with no one else and got straight into having FUN! 
 We had 2 body boards (which the Uhler family left with us before leaving Portugal) and immediately began to slide down the snow on our bums and tummies – trying to surf on ice! 

This sliding on your bum on a plastic bag, bin lid or sort of sleigh is known in Portugal as ‘Sku’ …  “cu” in Portuguese means “ass”, so, it’s basically a mix of Ski on your “cu”, which makes “Sku”…


We couldn’t help but make the experience an educational one for Cleo – Barbara put her natural building skills to good use and made an igloo. 

 Cleo would not believe until she felt inside that it was warm inside the ice house. She was in shock when Barbara suggested we light a fire inside like the Eskimos do – Cleo was sure the house would melt. It did not melt and in fact was super warm! 

After a lot more ‘sku-ing’ we walked back to the van cold, soaking wet but very happy.




Funky home for the seedlings

As you saw last month we began putting seeds in the ground, protected by a plastic sheet – well this month the little seeds have germinated and so need a little breathing room from the plastic. 

Here is a picture of the tent like structure we made using old tent poles that we had stored. A very cheap poly-tunnel experiment. We are thinking of making some more of these domes for the seeds that still need protecting from the possible frost.



It has not been all work this last month – we went out for dinner with a Portuguese friend Diogo to celebrate our neighbours Paul and Martine finishing their round music studio. The construction took longer than they expected, but now it is all but complete. Paul has moved in all his instruments and recording equipment. There are something like over 100 instruments there. If you are interested in music and want to visit them – they have an apartment to rent and also Bed and Breakfast accommodation. You can see more about it on their blog 

But about our night out – we had a meal that cost only 6 euros each, including lots of wine and coffee to finish!! Afterwards we walked to a café for a nightcap and were treated to some pure Portuguese musical talent. The Senhor serenaded us with fado from Coimbra and for Martine sang a French tune accompanied by the Portuguese guitar. Good night!



In the last month we have been exploring another option to improve the soil and will not cost us money – we will report more in the next post! But to give you a taster here is a link to one of the best blogs that we have found about the subject: hugelkultur beds



Thank you to all of you who have been so kind to transfer money to our accounts. It is a real blessing. Thank you to those who have shown an interest too in supporting us. We really would love to increase the number of monthly givers -  and so we ask if a few more of you would consider giving 5 euros a month. As we wrote in the New Year message – this is the price of a few beers and makes such a difference to us and this project. As you see from the blog we are not extravagant people and work really hard to make this place a welcoming spot for passers-by and as a future community. Every little helps!


Guest Book


Here is the link again if you would like to write a wee note on the guest book.  

If you have lived here, volunteered here, rested here or took part in a Permaculture Design Course or strawbale course – do please consider what the time here meant to you and leave a message. We are trying over the course of the year to gather people’s experiences of the Mount of Oaks.



 We hope you enjoyed reading and look forward to hearing your feedback in the comments section or via email. 

 The new email address for the Mount of Oaks is mount.of.oaks@gmail.com


emma and barbara


Unknown said...

That wasn't so much fooling around... you did some serious work. Well done ladies! Greetings from still prety much winter Germany.

yogi said...

wow u did some great work....i would love to taste the olives :P love & blessings tom