Lesley and I returned to the Beautiful Boot in late February full of enthusiasm after a short dance with winter in Nova Scotia. Damn it felt good to be back. Our first job was to start back at clearing the farm terraces that we began last fall while we waited for final approval on our farmhouse restoration and hostel design.
In the beginning our tool of choice was the simple little hand clipper. After wearing through the palm of my first pair of leather gloves we upgraded to more serious tree branch pruners. But after being continuously attacked by the brambles drawing blood and being quite painful, we decided to get serious about the task at hand.
The “Machine” sort of looks like your domestic whipper snipper except it is over powered and has this nasty steel blade. You do not want to be working with this beast without safety gear and a lot of concentration. I took a short lesson from our friend Manuel before being unleashed on bramble and brush. With the right motion I was taking out small trees and mulching them up in seconds. The greatest fear is unseen rocks that split up and fire about like bullets. I took one in the shin early on. It was so painful I was afraid to look. I didn’t see any blood coming through my pant leg so I continued on. Later I had a look and it looked like a golf ball had been placed under the skin of my shin. I now notice the locals often wear shin guards and Manuel told me how he damaged his eye. My clearing technique has improved immensely knowing the price to be paid.
We really had no idea what lay hidden under all the brush so we simply put our heads down for the first month and began clearing. Our instincts said to explore the terraces which were completely over grown by a ten foot wall of tangled growth . After our first go we were rewarded by uncovering an old orchard planted like an avenue. We are not sure what kind of fruit trees they are because they had been so badly strangled by the brush there was little or no leaves. We will let them be for a year and hopefully, after a hard prune, new growth will appear so we can identify them. We mulched up all the cutting by doing three passes with the “machine”. It was hugely satisfying and encouraging to discover this beautiful little orchard terraces.
Onto the next terrace. On the official land survey this is unchartered land. Half of the farm appears as a green blotch. The surveyors told us they could not get through the brush to do their GPS marks. So with trusty “machine” in hand we went at it. Cleared the bramble and removed about forty gnarly trees with a 24 inch buck saw. AND after three days hard work there it was. “Lesley’s Park”. It is about half the size of a football pitch with mulched ground cover that is so thick it feels like a bed mattress when you walk on it! We bagged up all the pine cones to offer around to our neighbors. In Portugal they are a major ingredient in the winter fireplace. The majority of trees in the park are oak with a couple of dozen stately pines. Now, at the end of a long day, I put a couple of cold beers in my back pocket and wander through the park celebrating the late afternoon sunlight as it washes the park in its burnished gold.
These kind of discoveries are a huge part of our experience at the Beautiful Boot. The Portuguese farmers are quite ingenious when it comes to using available resources. We moved our enthusiasm for clearing brush to the lower sections of the farm. The terraces there are lined with three meter high granite post to support the grape vines. I mistakenly tried to adjust the angle of one and as I was walking away it went over with a whump that shook the ground. Yes they are dangerous.
The third terrace up is the same thing except it is still a wall of brush. It is truly hard to describe it in size and density. This picture shows an exploratory path we cleared on the third terrace. On the bottom right is the irrigation trench which needs to be cleared with a pitch fork and then raked out as the water flows through. Tried clearing with the “machine” and ended up covered in mud. We think we are slowly getting the hang of clearing the farm but no sooner have we cleared that it all begins to grow back. The Minho region of Portugal is noted for being lush so we need to learn to work with this green gift.