Did You Hear Me Scream – SNAKE!!!!?

I am usually not too squeamish when it comes to insects, but snakes… ewww…

Grass snake

Grass snake

Natrix_natrix_(Marek_Szczepanek).jpg

Last week, I was walking in the garden at the side of the house when a snake, about 1.5m long, slithered onto the path in front of me. I froze in terror as it reared up and then zig-zagged towards me at great speed. Despite sporting a debilitating injury to my knee, I turned on sixpence and sprinted in the other direction. It’s incredible how the body reacts when faced with danger! My mind, however, was about to black-out in sheer terror as I screamed like a demented banshee.

I think my new friend is either an Iberian false smooth snake (Macroprotodon brevis) or grass snake. Maybe I’ll just call it Sam.

The last time I was this close to a snake it decided to join me for a swim and I launched myself like a rocket out of the pool in one athletic leap. And trust me when I tell you, my body is more grounded whale than athletic.

The snakes I’ve happened upon in Portugal so far have not been aggressive. But this beauty…phew.

I will also add my husband saw a snake on the road outside our house about a month ago. When he tried to ignore it and walk past it reared up, before slithering under our garden gate and into the hedge.

I knew it would only be a matter of time before we came into contact.

After extensive research I think the snake is either a False smooth snake (Macroprotodon cucullatus) which is a mildly venomous snake, or a grass snake. Given that Wikipedia states that grass snakes

‘They may perform an aggressive display in defence, hissing and striking without opening the mouth’

and

Grass snakes display a rare but known defensive behavior involving raising the front of the body and flattening the head and neck so that it resembles a cobra’s hood, although the geographic ranges of grass snakes and of cobras overlap very little.

I am going to opt for the grass snake. IT certainly raised its body and flattened its head

Snakes in Portugal

False Smooth Snake (Macroprotodon cucullatus)
Grass Snake (Natrix natrix)
Horseshoe Snake (Hemorrhois hippocrepis)
Ladder Snake (Rhinechis scalaris)
Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca)
Southern Smooth Snake (Coronella girondica)
Viperine Water Snake (Natrix maura)
Western False Smooth Snake (Macroprotodon brevis)
Family: Lamprophiidae
Montpelier Snake (Malpolon monspessulanus)
Lataste’s Viper (Vipera latastei)
Portuguese Viper (Vipera seoanei)

Source: Wikipedia

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Queen of the Night Orchid Cactus (Epiphyllum Oxypetalum)

Epiphyllum Oxypetalum (Queen of the Night) only flowers at night

Epiphyllum Oxypetalum (Queen of the Night) only flowers at night

About eighteen months ago I was given a small, insignificant looking cactus. I had no idea of its name until I stumbled across a facebook discussion group for ‘cacti and succulent’ enthusiasts. One of the members had posted a photograph of the plant (no flowers) and was trying to identify. I immediately had an ‘aha’ moment as I recognised the ‘leaves’. I later discovered they were not ‘leaves’ but referred to as ‘stems or branches’.

Oxypetalum (Queen of the Night) only flowers at night. Buds starting to open.

Oxypetalum (Queen of the Night) only flowers at night. Buds starting to open.

Oxypetalum (Queen of the Night) only flowers at night

Epiphyllum Oxypetalum (Queen of the Night) only flowers at night[” width=”500″ height=”679″ /> Oxypetalum (Queen of the Night) only flowers at night

My baby was identified as an Epiphyllum Oxypetalum (Queen of the Night). WOW! My first thoughts were of an ugly duckling morphing into a beautiful swan.

After further research (thanks Google) I discovered it only flowered for one night when it was adorned by striking white scented flowers. So in order to enjoy this display, it would need to be rehomed near the house and preferably by the lounge window. Maybe it was fortuitous that one of my pot plants by the bougainvillea had recently passed to plant heaven as this proved to be the perfect location: Early morning sun, protection from the sea winds and the bougainvillea provided a ready-made support. If the plant is left in full sun, the stems will yellow. I agree. Within weeks of moving the plant to a more shady location, it changed colour and in just a few months my epiphyllum oxypetalum grew like a runner bean and went from only 12 inches high to around 36 inches.

Queen of the Night Orchid Cactus (Epiphyllum Oxypetalum) - starting to open

Queen of the Night Orchid Cactus (Epiphyllum Oxypetalum) – starting to open

At the time of posting my queen had flowered in both August and September and there are more buds on the way.

Watering – too much or too little? I’ve noticed that the top inch of soil will dry out quickly while the roots are still moist. I could never decide so I invested in a moisture metre and insert the prongs to test before watering.

Do you fertilize your cacti and succulents? I was informed, no. But common sense prevailed and I decided a pot plant won’t thrive on fresh air. I now feed my cactus and succulents a balanced fertilizer during the growing season.

Night Orchid Cactus
Further information on caring for succulents and cacti.
A beginners guide to succulent and catcus care

SFGate   includes useful information on propagation and general care.

Creative Ideas: Upcycling Plastic Crates to a Garden Cloche

Upcycling vs. Recycling

For some reason I’d always assumed (ass-U-me) that anything we ‘reused’, rather than throw in the garbage, was  recycling; apparently not. Upcycling is reusing an item, such as the plastic crate pictured below, and creatively using it for something else. While recycling is taking items made of plastic, metal, paper etc. to the recycling areas. The items are reprocessed and manufactured either into the same, or new product.

Upcycling is being creative by using what we have. Recycling reduces waste (otherwise dumped in landfill sites), and  reprocessed.

Upcyclng Plastic Crates

We often see this type of plastic crate dumped in or beside the garbage bins. (We don’t have the luxury of house-to-house refuge collection we use communal facilites.) So using my creative spirit I collect discarded items, such as these humble crates, and put them to use in my garden.

The weather has been very cold at night with temperatures as low as 1C. We’ve also had heavy rain showers for weeks so I decided my baby vegetable plants needed protection from the elements.

With this in mind I decided to make some mini garden cloches.

Materials

1. Two plastic crates
2. Clear plastic sheets (I reused a large plastic bag which protected my new mattress when it was delivered)
3. 4 sticks. I used bamboo canes.
4. String

Plastic crate

Plastic crate

The plastic crates used for this project have an insert in each corner. You can of course utilize other types of crates and just be creative  how you attach the supports.

Plastic crate - corner holes

Plastic crate – corner holes

Cut 4 sticks the same size and insert. This will form the base of the cloche.

Cut four sticks of equal size to insert in holes

Cut four sticks of equal size to insert in holes

Cover top of crate with plastic sheet

Cover top of crate with plastic sheet

Cover the top of the crate with plastic and secure with string. I allowed extra plastic on one side of the crate for extra protection if needed.

Cover crate with clear plastic

Cover crate with clear plastic

Align the sticks with corner recesses in top plastic crate and voilá! One upcycled garden cloche.

connect the two plastic crates with sticks

connect the two plastic crates with sticks

Pull down the extra plastic flap as and when needed

Mini cloche from recycled plastic crates and heavy duty plastic bag

Mini cloche from recycled plastic crates and heavy duty plastic bag

——————–

Base of cloche

Base of cloche

The yellow peppers were too tender to be planted in the vegetable garden so thank goodness for the mini greenhouse.

Almost there!

Almost there!

At night I pull down the plastic flap for extra protection.

Voila! Piglet's Clothe made from plastic crates, heavy duty plastic bag and four pieces of cane.

Voila! Piglet’s mini greenhouse made from plastic crates, a heavy duty plastic bag and four pieces of cane.

My garden cloche may not be ‘twee’ but it works perfectly well.

Related Post: Recycling water in the home
Reference re upcycling: EJ Environment Journal

NaPoWriMo Day #1: 30 in 30

Today is day one of NaPoWriMo so I will start the month with a fun poem. (Please don’t worry, I wont be posting a poem to my blog EVERY day for a month. I will share them on our NaPoWriMo forum).

Thirty in Thirty!

De clock is a-ticking and NaPo’s begun
so engage dem braincells, and let’s have some fun!

‘Thirty in thirty’s a piece of cake,’
says Piglet, whose courage is beginning to shake
in shoes dat already are beating de time
and checking de meter and words that don’t rhyme.

So dis poem’s for NaPos everywhere.
Thirty in thirty, oh what a fun dare!

My last post referenced #NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing  Month). How many other poets are taking part?

 

NaPoWriMo 2018 or should I say – GloPoWriMo

Calling all  poets. Wherever you live, April is National or Global Poetry month. Can you write 30 poems in 30 days during April? Why not join us on

NaPoWriMo 2018

NaPoWriMo 2018

on our NaPoWriMo forum for moral support?

Register now on WritingForums.com. See you there!

‘Assisted’  Travel from Faro to Lyon–Saint Exupéry Airport

Last September I injured my knee, so after months of pain I finally consulted with an orthopedic specialist who organised an MRI scan and X-ray.  The diagnosis: I had a ruptured meniscus, tendonitis, arthritis and a crack in my knee bone. Ouch! I consoled myself with the fact there are people far worse than myself so it is fingers and toes crossed my injuries are only temporary. However, I had never considered just how challenging it is for people with mobility issues to travel until I took a flight to Lyon.

My injury basically means I am unable to walk very far or stand for long periods (queuing).

So faced with the challenge of travelling to France and standing around at airports for long periods with often no option to sit down, we added ‘assistance required’ to our booking.

My first experience of assisted travel was on a flight from Faro to Lyon. You prebook ‘assistance’ with the airline so airport staff are available to help with your needs. We arrived at Faro airport and husband left me and the luggage in the departures drop-off area while he went to park the car. Being an ‘Assisted Travel’ virgin, and not conversant with procedure, I hobbled to the Information desk where I they could either summon a porter to bring a wheelchair or I could check in first. I chose the latter. For reference: There is an intercom at the drop-off car park should you need assistance right through.

Once checked in we were directed to a seating area to wait for assistance. After what seemed an interminable wait my chariot arrived courtesy of a charming Portuguese man with laughing eyes and a kind demeanor. He carefully helped me position the wheelchair foot plates so I could rest my trolley bag between my legs, then I was whisked off at G-force speed (or so it seemed) through the departure lounge towards security and passport control.

It was strange observing the world at this level and I felt slightly nauseous as every bump was exacerbated by the lack of suspension due to the wheels of my chariot probably being cloned from a supermarket trolley.  Plus, I had no control of speed or direction as we zigzagged through a sea of people.

At security we went straight to the front of queue then to the boarding area and parked with all the other wheelchairs. My assistant would be back later to help me board the plane. And indeed he was. What a charming young man!

When we arrived at Lyon airport what a stark contrast in service and attitude: I was directed into the lift to transport me from the plane to ground level. My husband was waved away. I was then told to step up onto a bus. I looked at the height of the step and shook my head. They grunted and shrugged before begrudgingly producing a step.

Once on the bus I looked around for my husband. He was nowhere to be seen. I tried to explain in my broken French he had my passport and ticket but my pleas were met with a ‘hmmmph’ and a hostile glare.

At arrivals area (or some building) I was plonked in a wheelchair and we raced along the corridors. There was no consideration or care as the assistants chatted and laughed noisily above my head. It was then I spotted I was being pushed straight towards a closed glass door. Surely she would see it was closed. No, the woman rammed my knees full speed into the doors. She tutted and made no apology; I was just another piece of luggage.

“Excuse ‘em moi, Madame, have a care’. Now in a lot of pain I began to cry.

We finally got to the entrance of the baggage area and I was evicted from the wheelchair as apparently their job was done. They were outside staff and did not work inside. Someone else would have to deal with me.

I looked at them in horror. The exit was a lengthy walk; I had no way of contacting my husband and no paperwork.  I could feel a panic attack welling up inside me. I think at this point they could tell I was about to howl like a baby and have a dummy spit.

In the meantime, my husband had collected our luggage and was outside trying to find me. Unsuccessful, he tried to locate someone who could help him. As is usual, it is always someone else’s problem and he was directed from help desk to information and back lugging a heavy suitcase and two trolley bags.

After my dummy spit a wheelchair and porter miraculously materialised and I was dumped in the arrivals lounge just as my husband came into view.

What a contrast to the way I was treated at Faro.

My one regret is that I never made a formal complaint about the way I was processed.

Our return journey was a little better but once in Portugal I was no longer treated as ‘baggage’. In fact, my porter was so helpful he took me to the drop-off point and made sure I had somewhere to sit while my husband collected the car. He was so kind and considerate we gave him a tip. Faro airport, you should give yourself a slap on the back for the compassion and patience of your staff who help passengers with mobility issues.

What is your experience or observations regarding assisted travel?

Picture courtesy of Pixabay

Growing Strawberries in January

Growing strawberries in the Algarve -  Jan 2018

Growing strawberries in the Algarve – Jan 2018

In the Western Algarve growing strawberries in January is relatively easy. Dare I say we do not have ground frost and temperatures can reach a high of 18c during the day and from between 2C to 12C at night.

Growing strawberries in containers Jan 2018

Growing strawberries in containers Jan 2018

I have found the best method of growing strawberries during the winter months is in containers which I move to a sunny location. I then cover with a a plastic cloche to not only retain the heat but also deter greedy blackbirds.

strawberries undercover -Jan 2018

strawberries undercover -Jan 2018

As an experiment I also moved some strawberry plants to my raised vegetable bed and have a selection of plants which are not covered – the plants are okay but they are not as advanced as the plants pictured below which are covered.

Strawberries in raised bed - Jan 2018

Strawberries in raised bed – Jan 2018

Soil for both container and raised bed is a mix of manure, home and commercial compost. I also feed with fruit feed once the plants start to flower.

Related Posts:

Strawberry Quest
What does growing strawberries and recycling have in common?

Fake Flowers on Cacti – What a Con. Buyer BEWARE!!!

One of my pet peeves is the straw flowers they add to cacti. Not only is it cruel to stick a sharp stick into the flesh of the cacti it is misleading to the unsuspecting buyer.

Cacti with straw flower attached with stick

Cactus with a straw flowers

This is one of the first cacti I purchased and I was not aware such a practice existed. It was only when my husband pointed out that the flowers had not changed in two months I inspected the cacti a little more closely. You can imagine my horror when I discovered the flowers were attached to a cocktail stick which was thrust deep into the flesh of the cactus.

I carefully removed the sticks and the poor plant was left with two gaping holes.

straw flowers on cacti - what a con!

straw flowers on cacti – what a con!

Do you feel this is acceptable or misleading?

 

 

Using Sulfato de Magnésio (Epsom Salts) in the Garden

In my quest to use as many natural products in the garden as possible I consulted Google and found this imformative article by Backyard Boss who kindly gave me permission to repost some of the article here.

 

WHAT ARE EPSOM SALTS?

To begin, I should probably explain what Epsom salts are. Epsom salts are actually a mineral compound of magnesium and sulfate- essential nutrients that regulate enzymes and are found naturally in most living things. Originally found in Epsom, England (hence the name), they are mined from the ground and have a variety of different uses ranging from healthy lifestyle choices, help with magnesium deficiencies, crafting projects, and in our case – gardening.

Epsom salts are not salts at all even though they look like it (it doesn’t have any sodium chloride in it’s makeup). Because of this, it can be used as a natural alternative in many agricultural and health practices without ill effects- since too much true salt is actually harmful to plants.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF EPSOM SALTS FOR PLANTS?

Magnesium sulfate is actually a key ingredient for vegetation and is found naturally in soils, although they can eventually be depleted and leach over time. The use of Epsom salts in varied ways can help give a very inexpensive boost to your plants and flowers year round – whether they are grown as indoor plants or out.

Essentially they are a building block of new growth, and is supportive of overall plant health; they can be used in a variety of ways to enhance seed germination, flower production, new growth, and can aide with chlorophyll creation: which is needed for photosynthesis in all green plants.

The article continues with a list the uses and benefits of Epsom Salts
– SEED GERMINATION
– NUTRIENT ABSORPTION
– COUNTER TRANSPLANT SHOCK
– GREENER FOLIAGE
– DETER GARDEN PESTS
– GROW SWEETER FRUIT
– FERTILIZING WITH EPSOM SALTS
– USING AS A FOLIAR SPRAY
– HOW TO USE WITH FLOWERING PLANTS
– HOW TO USE WITH VEGETABLE PLANTS
– HOW TO USE TO HELP ERADICATE WEED PLANTS

Full details please check out GROW BETTER PLANTS WITH THE BENEFITS OF EPSOM SALTS

Paraiso Artesano – Pottery Shop, Vila do Bispo, Algarve

When you drive from Lagos along the N125 towards Sagres after about 20 kms you will discover the most amazing and probably one of the best selections of pottery on the Algarve. It is the second pottery shop on the left-hand side just before Vila Do Bishpo. You can’t miss it It’s easily recognizable as the front elevation is covered in decorative wall plates. However as you can’t turn across the road you will need to continue until the next roundabout and then turn back towards Lagos.

I say shop but Paraiso Artesano is actually so huge ‘pottery warehouse’ is a more accurate description.

I was completely blown away by the huge selection of ceramics and terracotta, craftwork, linen and variety of miscellaneous gifts and knickknacks. But be warned, they only take cash. They also have a seconds area where you can pick up some good bargains.

Paraiso Artesano - Pottery Shop, Vila do Bispo, Algarve

Paraiso Artesano – Pottery Shop, Vila do Bispo, Algarve

Paraiso Artesano - Pottery Shop, Vila do Bispo, Algarve

Paraiso Artesano – Pottery Shop, Vila do Bispo, Algarve

Paraiso Artesano - Pottery Shop, Vila do Bispo, Algarve

Paraiso Artesano – Pottery Shop, Vila do Bispo, Algarve

Paraiso Artesano - Pottery Shop, Vila do Bispo, Algarve

Paraiso Artesano – Pottery Shop, Vila do Bispo, Algarve

Paraiso Artesano - Pottery Shop, Vila do Bispo, Algarve

Paraiso Artesano – Pottery Shop, Vila do Bispo, Algarve

Paraiso Artesano - Pottery Shop, Vila do Bispo, Algarve

Paraiso Artesano – Pottery Shop, Vila do Bispo, Algarve

Paraiso Artesano - Pottery Shop, Vila do Bispo, Algarve

Paraiso Artesano – Pottery Shop, Vila do Bispo, Algarve

Paraiso Artesano - Pottery Shop, Vila do Bispo, Algarve

Paraiso Artesano – Pottery Shop, Vila do Bispo, Algarve

Paraiso Artesano - Pottery Shop, Vila do Bispo, Algarve

Paraiso Artesano – Pottery Shop, Vila do Bispo, Algarve

Paraiso Artesano - Pottery Shop, Vila do Bispo, Algarve

Paraiso Artesano – Pottery Shop, Vila do Bispo, Algarve