Eating glass

And levelling up while waiting for rain

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A year ago we were panicking over an alien plant invasion, battling the boiler gods for daily warmth and having our stuff ruined by rain.

Our old Land Rover (the now dearly departed Millicent) was either stuck in the mud or in the garage, and I was spending a fortune breaking everything while we were waiting to see whether the tourism board would approve our big building project.

While the project is still stuck in a holding pattern of delays, bureaucracy and a nasty COVID hangover amid the fear of inflation/global meltdown...we’re currently OK with the Oxalis and are mostly nice and toasty.

But we really could do with some rain – especially as all our stuff is now under cover, we have a large hole in the ground waiting to be filled with water, and we miss foraging for mushrooms.

Wait, what? All will be revealed.

Oh, I know how lucky we are with the sunshine and the high temperatures and all that – and while we deserve absolutely no sympathy from most northern hemisphere winters, the grass is always greener...

Or at least it would be if it rained more.

So while we wait for a downpour (and a load of scary builder quotes) what more is there to do but continue our wine education (theory and practical)...and bring in a digger.

Read the post about Our Grand Plan

But let’s start with the plant aliens...and why glass-eating magicians love them.

The little rain we had turned a big chunk of our land into a disturbingly green shade of clover-like plants and bright yellow flowers.

Yes, that’s the vegetable patch…somewhat overwhelmed by oxalis!

Local advice was to panic and pull them all up – Portuguese oxalis (sometimes known as Bermuda Buttercup) is self-fertilising, spreads through both seeds and bulbs and is utterly out of control.

I even found some warnings on the “Invasive species Portugal” Facebook page.

They pop up out of pot plants and grow so fast you can practically watch them invading.

Spot the pot plant!

I’d already decided to let them be this year, dig them in for green manure and then get some chickens to eat their bulbs, but then our friend Pauline sided with the sorrel and sent me this.

It turns out: “The whole plant is anthelmintic, antiphlogistic, astringent, depurative, diuretic, emmenagogue, febrifuge, lithontripic, stomachic and styptic.”

Well, wouldn’t you know?

It seems some oxalis can treat pretty much any ailment from flu and diarrhoea to snake bites, but having been a former member of the Junior Northern Magic Circle I particularly enjoyed the use of the “slimy substance which collects in the mouth when the leaves are chewed.”

Fabulously, it is: “used by magicians to protect the mouth when they eat glass.”

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I’m not sure I’ve met that many magicians who eat glass...or anyone who eats glass for that matter...but if you know anyone who’s considering it I suppose you should share this post.

But having spent far too long down an oxalis-infested rabbit hole, the jury is still out over exactly what kind of oxalis it is...so I might stay off the glass until I’m absolutely sure.

Faulty powers: don’t mention the war…but I won this week and it’s now working

While I scored a small victory against the evil boiler gods with the remote help of Paulo the wonderful Viessmann technician and some nifty controller settings, sadly Millicent the Freelander is no longer with us.

Regular readers will remember the Land Rover with the pink eyelashes who got us moving for a very competitive price when we first arrived.

She identified as a 4x4 – and was advertised as such – but sadly wasn’t up to the ups or downs of rural Alentejo living.

Millicent in her magnificent heyday. RIP dear friend.

Despite that drawback, Millicent did us proud and we really thought there was no going back...especially when her transmission faltered and she couldn’t actually reverse.

She autumned and wintered in the Algarve at a garage awaiting parts, but after a cost/benefit analysis we saw little benefit in the high cost of repairing her.

Read Voyage of Discovery from last year

At one point we even received a letter from the department of the environment suggesting we had abandoned her and fining us €40,000 (“perish the thought” our lawyer explained in more formal Portuguese legalese). Let’s hope it goes away.

So it was with heavy hearts that she departed for parts...her eyelashes faded by the harsh Algarvian sun.

And with no car with an automatic gearbox Ana is in discussions with the local driving school to get a Portuguese license and a few stick-shift lessons.

This week Niels & Sibylle invited us for sushi class and homemade sake tastings
…and the rather impressive results!

So that just leaves me with wine class and a digger.

I’m pleased to report that while we are a little behind with our Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) coursework, the practicals are coming on nicely.

This week it’s comparing dry and sweet Rieslings and trying to get our brains around the different labelling terms for wine regions of places of origin in various different countries and languages.

I’m going to post a sneak preview of our pilot wine podcast later today, so please sign up for that below if you’d like to have a listen and give us feedback...we’d love to hear what you think.

Much to the delight of Simon & Garfunkel, we’ve had to go back and forth to the beach a few times to re-record some of our links as we try to get the tone right.


But the great leveller of the week has been a two metre long plank of wood and an electronic box that knows exactly where it is.

Doubling down on the “it will eventually rain” gamble (having already spent a load cleaning up the lake to increase its capacity) we are now investing in some swales to harvest as much rainfall as we can...when it arrives.

Levelling up and making a plan

Landscaper and nature-lover Carlos Dias is bringing his digger back to Vale das Estrelas to cut some routes into the hillsides so that once rain has soaked the soil it will start flowing into the lake.

It’s a neat way of widening the lake’s catchment area and involves creating a network of gradually sloping paths shaped into the land at an angle of no less that 0.5% and which will also create some nice nature trails for guests.

The new trails need to keep an angle of 0.5% to help direct water

The prep work has involved using the plank of wood, the electronic level and some spray paint to mark up nearly 600m of swales and then strimming and chain sawing some space so the digger can work.

It has taken us off the beaten track exploring overgrown parts of our land with some beautiful cork oak trees that need a little attention.

Pruning time for the cork oaks as we work out how to battle destructive beetles

And so Lionel, who cleared our eucalyptus forest, is coming back with his chainsaw and his mate to prune and advise us what we can do about some invasive beetles which are sickening some of our sobreiros.

I shall report back on our continuing battle with the aliens.

From Vale das Estrelas have a great weekend…