Snow in the Algarve

Carpenter bee in the bougainvillea

The snow of the Algarve: the almond trees are in blossom


While our swallows are far away in West Africa, the sparrows have tried again to take over the nest. The same old story. So we nailed two corks together, side by side, using heavy U-shaped pins, and slotted them into the entrance to the mud house. We went away for a couple of nights and came back to find the corks had done the job: the sparrows hadn’t been able to remove them. What they had done instead, however, was to start to peck away at the mud gobbets placed by our indefatigable swallows in order to get in behind the obstruction. They hadn’t removed enough to gain access so we pushed the corks further in to block them. The only sure-fire way to protect the nest is to hang around on the front veranda for ever. The sparrows don’t like us near. The feeling is mutual.

Our permaculture journey is about to begin. Behind the house, the neglected hillside is to be ‘engineered’ into water-retaining swales and terraces and planted with a variety of young trees. We will slowly sow seeds and plants between the trees, as well as allowing pioneer seeds to take root for themselves. From here, the biotope will do its own thing. The health of the soil will gradually be enhanced and it will increasingly sequester carbon and hold water. In the few weeks since our eyes were opened to this possibility, I have tried to teach myself about permaculture and developing a food forest. Some of the things I have learned:

  1. Diversity is key.
  2. The soil is queen.
  3. Mulch is king. All kinds of things, not just plant material, can be mulch: old clothes and cardboard, for example.
  4. No such thing as garden ‘rubbish’. It’s all useful biomass.
  5. The biotope is a natural, self-sufficient energy system. Nothing in, nothing out – except for food produce.
  6. Weeds are good, not least for soil cover.
  7. Don’t be purist. What works, works.
  8. It isn’t always pretty in the short term. In the long term, it will be beautiful.
  9. It is an agricultural system for humans (and animals) to live in.
  10. Small-scale farmers feed the majority of the world – some say 80 per cent – while having access to less than a quarter of all farmland.

Another journey, begun long ago, has reached a new destination. When my grandparents ran away from County Offaly in Ireland to Liverpool to get married – in the face of parental disapproval – they didn’t know they were extending a lifeline to a future granddaughter that would allow her to keep her treasured European citizenship. I applied to register at the Irish embassy in Lisbon as an Irish citizen of ‘foreign birth’, then, once that had been confirmed with a certificate, I applied for a passport, which a few weeks later arrived from Dublin, via Lisbon. It was straightforward and I dealt with nice human beings all along the way. Across the pages of my new passport run lilting lines of prose, among which are: ‘The Irish nation treasures its special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage.’

Lordy visiting us

Lordy with his breakfast bread

Bony fig tree, soon to come into leaf

Bread: two spelt and seven alfarroba loaves. The alfarroba (carob in English, Johannisbrot in German) was a successful experiment. Almost half the bread’s flour comes from the alfarroba, the rest is rye, spelt and wheat; the crumb is firm and dark and mildly sweet, the crust has a hint of caramelisation. It slices well and keeps well. Not for nothing does the German name of the tree and its fruit translate into English as St John’s bread


  1. Janice Bell

    Interesting post.
    The permaculture project will be a great journey for you.
    I love the sound of those loaves. Are they sourdough or yeasted?

    1. Edith (Post author)

      Hi Janice, good morning to you. The alfarroba loaves are sourdough. They are sooo good.

    2. Husband

      With the exception of the Italian-style breads (focaccia etc) and the gluten-free loaves that you might see here, all the breads I make are sourdoughs.

  2. Hazel

    The alfarroba bread sounds wonderful — can’t wait to come over and sample it! Also to see the new works on the land. Goats next — they’d keep mowing (if there is any!) to a minimum, provide you with hours of non-stop entertainment and supply milk for cheese. Am v. fond of goats — Dad kept a few when he was still farming. The chief nanny was called Peppermint. Have rambled on — to keep my mind off the bitter cold here; we are several degrees below here today and the study (where I am sitting) is several degrees below the outside temp. As usual. Lots of love to both. xx

    1. Edith (Post author)

      Morning, Hazel. Husband v. fond of goats too. I, however, do not like to think of them eating the leaves of our new trees! Awaiting your next visit . . . xx

    2. Husband

      I love goats, I really do. But I am pretty sure that if we kept them on our permanent-culture hill, we might as well safe ourselves the trip to the nursery and feed 20-Euro notes directly to the animals…

  3. fatma

    Wow, what an inspiring blog this week. So good to hear you are ever developing and moving forward. The permaculture hill project sounds wonderful; the information gleaned about it invaluable. The bread looks mouthwatering. At what time I wonder will the nest be safe from the marauding sparrows and the cork removed to welcome back the long distance travellers?

    1. Edith (Post author)

      Hi Fatma. As soon as we see the swallows on the horizon – in a couple of months – we will remove the cork, but then the real battle begins: between the swallows and the sparrows. However, we must leave it to the birds . . . xx

  4. Patricia Roberts

    Lovely blog and pictures,such cheeky swallows but you won that one.

  5. BeckyB

    Hope it goes well this coming Friday with the next stage of your permaculture adventure, looking forward to hearing the update when we do lunch 🙂


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