Thursday, 16 March 2017

Projects on the go.....

We have realised that December through to February is going to be the busiest time of year for us. It's when the trees need pruning (in our case mainly olive, almond, citrus, fig), the prunings need burning and the jobs that it would be too tiring to do when it gets warmer need to be completed. Our burning permit, which is issued by the Town Hall, allows bonfires only until the end of March, only on days when it is not breezy and the bonfire must be finished and covered by 2pm. So if there's a pile of prunings to burn it's a case of getting up, sniffing the air and seizing the moment! 

As the pruning is out the way and the trees have started to show their new growth, it's time to fertilize them. I love this job because it reminds me of the promise of things to come! We are currently in the process of tidying our land and it won't be long before we are getting the fertilizer on the ground.

Over the past 6 weeks or so our almond trees have blossomed. They were beautiful and now the nuts are set on the branches.

The lining of the alberca is progressing but is not finished yet. It has been lined with very thick plastic which is joined by heating. However, when we filled it the lining sunk into the crevices of the land and is a bit low in one place. We therefore need to have a bit more material heat-joined in the low area. The gentlemen are coming to do that tomorrow. So we have had to drain it again. To try and preserve the wildlife, we have salvaged frog spawn and found a turtle, who has joined the goldfish in our plunge pool! I hope he doesn't eat them all. Maybe the fish are thinking 'Thanks for that!' Mark has also been periodically netting toads as they do not like to spend all their time in the water and the sides of the alberca are steep and slippery. We are going to put a wooden plank into the water in due course to help wildlife that want to climb out.

As we sacrificed having irrigation water at hand this winter so that we can sort out the alberca, we haven't put any vegetables in and have been holding back on planting new trees. This has been a bit frustrating and we have immersed ourselves in various projects to take our minds off it. 

Below the alberca, Mark has uncovered a beautiful dry stone wall built in 3 tiers. Someone many years ago has channelled their time and skills into this and we are proud to have such a lovely integral feature in that part of the land.  

Whilst Mark has been uncovering walls, I had a project on the go on the upstairs balcony. The motivation behind doing it now was to get it completed before the grapevines start to bud and grow along the balcony railings. I put up a wall frieze of Andaluz tiles on the two walls, did some rendering to make the wall textures more uniform, then painted the walls with a nice fresh coat of white paint. Then I gave the railings a coat of black Hammerite and finally painted the floor as the tiles were a bit tired and needed a facelift. We enjoy sitting up on the balcony to take in the view at sunset in Spring and Autumn and decorating this area will bring us a lot of pleasure. We plan to finish off the balcony by putting a pergola over it so, with shade on offer we may get even more use from this area.

Yet another project we have completed is to put up a pergola on a very open terrace area outside the house. We bought the pergola from a DIY shop in Granada and, as two of the pieces of wood measured 4 metres, loading up the car was an interesting activity!  We have painted the wooden frame and laid willow over the top. Yesterday it was windy and thankfully the willow covering did not move at all!

We have been treated on more than one occasion to a couple of days of rain and the land has seen an explosion of beautiful wildflowers. There also seem to be less insects eating into the flowers on the fruit trees this year: probably held back by the colder winter. 

This is our paraguayo peach - they are those flattened-looking ones! Fingers crossed, we will have a few peaches this summer. 

We have started to harvest some of the larger broad bean pods and hopefully this will enable the smaller pods higher up the plant to start swelling.
And, despite not having our alberca water, the rain has been kind to us and kept alive the vegetables that were already in the ground. This little collection was the basis of our evening meal a few nights ago.
All but the kidney beans and the rice came from the garden to make this risotto.

Last week, Mark took another 50 Kgs of olives to the mill for which we received 10 litres of oil. So in total this year we harvested 208 Kgs of olives and got 35 litres of oil in return.

With spring just around the corner, our little kitten has been spayed.

And we have tried our hand at a new skill: yesterday, our neighbours who live above us gave us some goats' milk as they are looking after a herd for somebody and had an excess. So we made some cheese. It turned out really well, even if I say so myself! We added oregano leaves, as it needed a strong flavouring to match the strong taste of the milk. This evening I made another batch and flavoured it with rosemary leaves from the garden.

So all in all, we are feeling up to date with the various tasks required this season and, I am pleased to say, way ahead of where we were up to this time last year. 

Friday, 27 January 2017

On the subject of Kings...

We have just enjoyed our second Christmas out here. In Spain, the holiday festivities and 'that festive feeling' go on until the 6th January, the Day of the Kings, when most Spanish people give their gifts. This year the Dia de Reyes fell on a Friday, and the festivities extended over the following weekend. Just as in England and probably more so, it is a big family time: the Spanish traditionally celebrate by having a family gathering on Christmas Eve (Noche Buena), New Year's Eve (Noche Vieja) and the Eve of Dia de Reyes.

Crocheted Christmas tree - you see a few of these dotted about!

We loved having our eldest son, Tom, come out on Christmas Eve and stay with us for a week. We so much missed not being with our other two grown-up kids as well on the special day - it's so good that we have Skype and the like, something that has only become widely available over the past decade. 

Whilst Tom was over we went out and about a bit. Sometimes, it's nice to discover new places together rather than take guests to places we already know all about. Tom had read about the 'Termas de Santa Fe', some hot springs that bubble up in an olive grove west of Granada City. We had been intending to go there ourselves for quite a while but hadn't got round to it, so one afternoon between Christmas and the New Year, we set off. The place isn't signposted. A friend of ours had given us directions and we stopped and asked twice - we didn't go far adrift, though. Our friend had also advised us not to go in the height of summer as the springs are hot, so late December seemed a good time. 

We knew we had found the place when we reached a load of cars parked up. Some people were camping over and others had just stopped for an hour or two. We found these lovely pools of hot sulphur-smelling water; no frills, just nature itself. 

Enjoying the Termas de Santa Fe and thankful for my dark sunglasses. Unlike many of the other bathers and proud of our modesty, we kept our bathing suits firmly ON!!!!

We had a lovely dip, as warm as a nice hot bath, and then reparked our car slightly to overlook the olive grove and picnicked beside it, taking in the view of the olive trees and the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains beyond, whilst devouring Christmas cake!

It's a bit of a drive from our place to the hot springs, but whenever we are close by in the future I would like to take advantage of that and build in a visit. It is close to the airport, and flights are starting from Manchester and Gatwick to Granada this year, so we may be making more trips to Granada Airport if people coming to visit us choose to fly to Granada.  And, on the 10th March, we need to drop our little kitten off at the vets very close by for a few hours whilst she is spayed, so the opportunities for returning are already flashing up (no pun intended!!!).

The week after Tom returned to the UK, our daughter, Rosie, came over for a few nights. What a lovely treat. She took this photo of us by the coast on one of the days.

After our daughter had left and hoping it will not be too long before we see our younger son, we set about making plans for the next 6 weeks or so. 

Our first project was to empty and clean out the woodshed before returning all the logs. As well as the logs in the store, there were more on the land that had been cut last February when we pruned the olives. These logs had been stacked outside and left to season. As it had not rained for a while, most of them, apart from the bottom layer on the ground, were dry enough to add to the woodshed logs. It is now a very tidy and neat store. 

The woodshed was probably an old stable. It is built of stones off the land and the far wall is built into the terrace above. There are several mangers which we have left preserved and use as receptacles for kindling wood / fire starter.
The job of stacking the woodshed isn't finished yet. We still have more seasoned wood outside to add to the pile although after today's rain we will need to wait for it to dry out again. We didn't burn much of it last year as it was so warm: we went into spring 2016 with no snow at all on the southern Sierra Nevada. It has been cooler on the whole this winter and we are needing to heat the house of an evening. On a fine sunny day the temperature suddenly drops and it becomes quite chilly around 6 pm, our cue to light the fire. Thankfully as well, the mountains behind us have a covering of snow: our irrigation water for the coming season.

In appreciation of a good fire.
This fire has a little oven above and it's great for cooking pizzas!

Talking of irrigation, another of our jobs we wanted to progress with in the New Year is lining the alberca (water reservoir) that we share with our neighbours. We rely on this for watering two of our terraces, and it had completely dried in December as it was losing water faster than it could be replaced. A gentleman who specialises in lining albercas came out to see the site before Christmas. There is no one in our area that specialises in this and the man lives an hour's drive away to the west. (The other known specialist lives about two hours east in the province of Almeria.) So, he is is a very busy man, and he already has a couple of jobs lined up with other people on the mountainside. He quoted us for the work but asked us if we would first 'clean' the alberca using labour locally. The water deposit had a layer about 40cm thick of silt, known as 'fango', which needed to be removed. So, working with our neighbours, we hired a gentleman with mini excavator and a mini dumper to dredge the fango from the alberca and deposit it above. This took a bit of organising in terms of getting quotes, liaising and also practically in clearing a space we felt we could spare. Fango apparently has a reputation of being an excellent fertiliser to use in summer. Five different local Spanish people who are knowledgeable in farming have stated this independently. So, although there is a rather large deposit of mud on our upper terrace, we feel as rich as kings if wealth is measured in how much fertiliser you have!

In order to get into the alberca and dredge it, a ramp had to be dug down through the soil.

We are all very pleased with the work so far. The alberca will not only retain water but cleaning it has increased the volume that it will hold. 

This gives an idea of size. It will hold in excess of 100,000 litres.

Mark is standing at the far end where Carlos had excavated a ramp down into the alberca.
One of our neighbours is an architect and he skillfully directed the excavator to position the stones and rebuild the wall

The week after the work was finished, we informed the gentleman who is to line the alberca that we are ready for him and we are awaiting his call. The pipe that directs water into the alberca is stopped off so that it cannot refill, although we have a couple of days of rain in the offing which may mean that things have to dry out a bit and therefore hold up proceedings. It's funny that on the one hand (and as is very often the case) we really want rain but on the other hand, right now, we don't want any rain so the lining of the alberca can go ahead!

As well as rain, we have had snow at the level which we live, which is 650 metres asl. If it had settled for any length of time, it would probably have amounted to around 6 - 8 cms, but having spoken to our neighbour it was nonetheless a rare event.
The snow is coming across the valley from the south

On the day that it started snowing, a gentleman had come to prune the olives trees on our land, as we are in the midst of pruning our olives and generating yet more firewood. Although we are a bit choked with logs at the moment, it is quite unlikely that we will be generating as much wood in years to come so the quantity will reduce. Again, we are rich as kings if our wealth is to be gauged by how much firewood we have!

I remember thinking back to this time last year. The winter was upon us and some of our plants were looking very tired. Then, as the days started to lengthen, the plants and the birds knew something and the rejuvenation that spring brings was soon in full flow. In anticipation of the rain and cold, we harvested the remainder of the pumpkins and squashes that lay on our land.
Clearing out the old

And as a sign of that spring rejuvenation, this last week our almonds have started to blossom and the land has become, to quote Yeats 'bee-loud'.

Almond blossom - the bees luv it

With all this imminent new life in mind, we are busy pruning dead and old wood off almonds, citrus, fig, grapevines, and generally clipping a bit here and there, and chipping or burning to prevent the land from becoming choked, making way for the growth-surge. Yesterday I grafted onto our few bitter almonds with the shoots from sweet almond trees. None of our grafts took last year. I don't think there was anything wrong with the technique nor the type of graft, but it is possible that we left it a bit late. So let's see what happens this year.

And, talking of new growth, our little kitten is settling into the household and learning fast. This little senorita now has her passport and has had all the vaccinations that getting a passport entails. There are so many needy cats here, it was the least we could do to take one in. So we have turned this little street cat into a posh cat.

Everybody loves a baby animal! Our daughter took this photo of a little donkey and its mum in a field on our way into town.

So although it is a rainy day today, thankfully these days are few and far between and the sun usually keeps shining for us which gives us a lovely sense of wellbeing. In fact, when it comes to sunshine, we are as rich as kings!

A ridiculously-large grapefruit

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Reflection and anticipation

We have it officially. According to AEMET, the meteorological office of Spain, 2016 was the third hottest and the second driest summer since 1965. To top that, the other two years that appear within AEMET's data include 2015. So basically, unprecedented heat and drought. You can therefore imagine our glee at having had a couple of weeks on and off of decent rainfall. 

The land around us is starting to develop a bright green carpet of weeds. We have put weeding on our 'jobs to do' list for next week.

It is quite something to look down the valley and see clouds ......

The Sierra de Lujar mountain range opposite us has a sprinkling of snow ......

Last Sunday we went for a walk above the High Alpujarran villages. Since then the snow line has dropped further and will be close to where we stood on grass and earth last week.

Lunch in Capileira last Sunday. It has snowed there this last week.

Since our last post, we have seen a bit more of Spain. In the middle of November, we flew from Malaga to Madrid one weekend and met up with two very good friends in the capital. We visited the Prado art museum, the Royal Palace and we worked our way through a list our friends had brought with them of craft breweries. We returned to Malaga on the high speed AVE train, a very relaxing experience, then enjoyed the week together at our cortijo before spending the last night in Malaga. We are not shy of having fun!

After a lovely week of relaxing, we could see that the olive harvest was not far off. Some of our olives were going to be hard to reach and we realised we would have to leave some to drop naturally. So we gauged the right time by drawing a balance between quantity of fruits that were already dropping and would spoil from hanging around and those that we would not be able to pick at the harvest and would end up dropping later. 

We would love to have our own oil from our own olives, i.e. single-estate oil, but we need to be able to produce the magic 500 kilos for that to become a reality. This is the fourth year that we harvested and we are collecting slightly more each year. Last spring some of our large established trees were pruned back heavily and have rejuvenated very well. Although these trees did not produce fruit this year, we have high hopes for them in the future and so not think it would be unrealistic to expect to achieve 500 kilos + in a few years to come.

This year we harvested 158 kilos, which should give us about 25 litres of oil, plenty to see us through the year.

Once harvested (it took us about 3 days), we loaded the car and drove the olives off to the mill.

The scene at the mill is as follows....

You reverse your car up to the grille

You get out your sacks and tip your olives down into the metal chute which has a false floor. Once all the olives are deposited, the floor moves away and the olives pass through to have any twigs and leaves blown away and to be washed and weighed.

The clean olives, still a bit wet, pass out onto a conveyor belt.

A very proud moment and a lovely smell of raw olives.

The weight of your load is registered on a computer in a hut at the side. You are given a slip of paper and asked to return in several weeks to collect your oil. You don't have to have all oil in return for your olives, you can request money instead, or a bit of both. We like the mill we go to as the procedure is straightforward and we like the taste of the oil. It is sold in our local supermarket.

Following the olive harvest, we are still picking up the olives that have since fallen and we may take a smaller, second batch to the mill in the New Year.

Talking of produce, we have just bottled the wine we made from the grapes we picked in August. We only managed twelve bottles this year. We do need to study pruning techniques a bit more when it comes to grapes!

We have also been getting creative on the land. We cut back some of the willow around our alberca and have formed the shoots into a willow arbour....

We will put an irrigation pipe around the willow shoots and hopefully they will send out roots and grow into a decorative living shelter.

We have also built steps up one of the slopes that leads to the terrace above our house. Most of the steps have been formed by using the logs (from the trees we had reduced last year) as risers and by forming some of the smaller branches into pegs to hold the risers in place.....

It's always good to do before and after photos. Sometimes we forget and when we get to the end of a project we regret not having taken a photo before we started.

There are several slopes on our land that would benefit from steps. We chose to start with this slope because we want to keep our chickens somewhere at the top and, as the steps are likely to be used the most they were the priority.

Whilst working on the land on the sunny days, we introduced our little kitten, Chula, to the garden.  She was so ready to go out and was starting to get a bit bored indoors. Also, our home has quite small windows to keep it cool in summer and warm in winter so it was good to get her out into the sunshine. She loves being outdoors and thankfully is not wandering too far from us at the moment. 

Recently, after being out in the garden on and off all day, we have had one tired kitten flopped in front of the fire.

One rainy day it was a bit too wet to let Chula out, so we put the tree up and she helped to put the finishing touches to it.

It is very much the time of year for citrus to be ripening. We have watered them diligently ever since the fruit set last spring and to be honest they already looked as though they would be juicy before the rains came. We have quite a few different citrus plants our land:

Oranges, loads of 'em, sweet ones and Sevilles

We pruned our white grapefruit tree quite hard last spring to rejuvenate it.
 It has still managed to give us two fruits this year.... and lots of new green growth.

The pink grapefruits are ripening nicely.......

....and they taste very good indeed.

We have miniature lemons

And we also have some rather large lemons....

These are limes on a tree our son gave us for Christmas last year.

Mandarins - very Christmassy!

This lemon tree is pushing its luck! Those purple leaves are young and tender new growth.
Given the forecast for this week, I think the cold is going to get the better of them.

As well as our lovely citrus harvest, we have some vegetables coming along.

Cabbages interspersed with garlic....

Lettuce and radish - they bolt so quickly in the heat of summer but the climate is more clement for them right now. This evening we ate a lettuce with our tea and it was delicious, so crisp.

We invested a bit of time in our strawberry bed over the year and I think it is starting to pay off.

A few aubergines are still holding on. I have a nice recipe for an aubergine pasta pie!

....and yesterday we sliced a rather large courgette and added it to the Bolognaise sauce.

The habas (broad beans) are coming on a treat. They are a very Spanish crop to grow. They are not far off flowering.

The geraniums are coming into their own. They seem to prefer the cooler, wetter weather.

Moving further into winter, our first big task for the New Year has presented itself. The acequia water supply is cut off at present as it has rained and everyone has a full water deposit, except for us! Our irrigation alberca loses water. The deposit must hold about 150,000 litres of water and all of this has slipped away into the land over the course of two weeks and whilst we have used nothing at all from it. So, together with our neighbours who have watering rights from the deposit, we have decided to line it.   We don't like covering the land with bits of plastic but global warming is here to stay. With a depleted aquifer meaning that our winter water has only just started to flow, we need to take action. More to follow about this in the New Year! Lining our alberca will be a very big tick for us in terms of summer water management and has been on our list for a while. 

So, we have our jobs lined up for the weeks and months ahead and a purpose-

driven year in store. But before any of this we are looking forward to Christmas, a time of year when we reflect on how lucky we are to have a house full of food and to live in a safe and beautiful part of the world.