dimanche 25 novembre 2018

Amphibians at the Monte - A great year

2018 turned out to be an exceptional year for amphibian fans at the Monte, with prolonged spring rains and a rainy autumn. We observed two new species (Alytes c. and Discoglossus g.), confirmed the presence of our rarest one (Pelodytes i.) as well as autumn reproduction in some of our new ponds digged during the summer of 2016. As a whole, we observed 9 of our 10 species this year. Here are three pictures from this month of November.

Autumn blossoms

In early November this year, the air was full of the afternoon smell of Autumn Daffodils (Narcissus serotinus), somewhere between Jasmin perfume and... cat pee smell. Daffodils usually appear in trios with Acis Automnale and Scilla automnalis. Plenty of other flowers were taking advantage of the rain this autumn, including some Asphodels.

A few kilometers away from the farm, in the next valley, we also admired some Colchicum (lusitanum?)

Praying mantises in the Alentejano summer

We never get tired of admiring Mantises (Mantis religiosa). Here are two of them spotted in August at the Horta.

dimanche 18 novembre 2018

Swales and hills

We took advantage of the early November break to dig two extra swales and plant more than 80 extra fruit trees. Mostly pomegranates (more than 30 new cultivars), but also 10 extra cultivars of Ficus c. and afghanistanica, some Anona ch., Sorbus d., Mespilus g., Asiminia t., etc.

Our technique is one that involves swales on contours, interrupted with a small dam every ten meter -  an Ethiopian improvement, aimed at avoiding any problem in case we are not perfectly on contour. The soil taken away from the swale is used to build small hills on which we will plant one tree. This is meant to avoid excessive humidity in the winter and to increase soil depth. The distance between each hill is 3, 5 m. Once the trees are planted, each hill is mulched with a small bale of straw, that we decompose into thin tiles of straw. The results from last year's experiment have been very successful so far.

Above, you can see the large orchard with the two lines planted last autumn (on the right) and the two new ones (on the left). It is located at the bottom of the valley, with deeper soil.

Below is a smaller orchard of 50 trees mixing mostly figs and pomegranates at the top of a slope, with more superficial, stony soil and southern exposure. We had started the digging over the summer preparing one bale per hill and covering the bottom of the swale with straw. With some of the large stones, we also built a small shelter aimed at snakes and little owls.

The work on that higher orchard was completed in November too. We planted all the trees and managed to harvest the first runoff water.

Bob Sheppard Nestboxes for little owls

At the beginning of November, we installed a few extra nestboxes. Luis, our great local carpenter, built us 4 Bob Sheppard nestboxes for Little Owls. We also ordered a few more by post for tits and bats from the Nestbox Company. We are now approaching more than 20 installed nestboxes, not to mention the other structures used by birds (White stork structure, heaps of stones used by little Owls, sheep-folds used by swallows, etc.). Some of the boxes are regularly used, two of them by Kestrels (Falco tinnunculus), one of them by Barn Owls (Tyto alba),... And we hope to be able in the future to help other populations such as those of Eurasian Scops owl (Otus scops). The great fun of nestboxes is that building and installing them gets everyone involved. Thanks to Y., G., T., D. and A. for all their help and some of the pics!

dimanche 11 novembre 2018

Lights and landscapes around the farm

We never get tired of the fascinating lights and landscapes of the inter-season. A sense of limitless space mixed with the light contrasts and the silence surrounding us give us so often the impression of levitating in a painting...

Li Jujube

One of the nice surprises of this year's fruit season was the amount of Li Jujube (Ziziphus jujuba) fruits produced by our little village tree planted in december 2016. Here, you can see a sample of it. The fruits combine a unique mix of smoked apple and raisin flavors. The locals love it. Since 2016, we have planted several other cultivars at the farm, one of them - Tiger Tooth - having also produced quite a few interesting fruits. 

We also took advantage of the autumn humidity to plant some new Aloe species in pots. This should provide us with a blossoming Christmas garden, full of Aloe flowers of various colors (orange, red, white,...).

Baking bread in the wood fired oven

Traditionally, bread was being baked once a week at the farm. When it was fresh, the bread was used in slices. As it was turning harder, the small loafs of bread were poured into the daily soup - the Alentejano verb being "migar". We found some Spelt flour and Maria and Yannick used all their expertise to lead a group of enthusiastic bakers an pizzaiolos. This would not have been possible without our Master of fire, Georgie! The result of the enterprise was a delicious dinner!

Little bustard feathers

This early November, the groups of wintering little bustards (Tetrax tetrax) have been amazing around Campinho. We came across a lot of feathers on the ground. So, we harvested them with Christien and Leo...