Thursday, 10 December 2015

The Olive Harvest

The sun is continuing to shine. In fact, it has only rained on us twice since we came here in mid-July, and only twice in the area in 7 months. Whilst we are loving the feel-good light levels every day, there is no snow at all on the southern side of the Sierra Nevada behind us (and only a sprinkling on the northern ski-slopes, I have been informed). This is currently a little worrying in terms of water availability next year. You never know, it may all change in January - and we have a stack of indoor jobs to do which we are saving for a rainy day!

Although we feel like we are in a perpetual summer, it does get dark here at about 6pm. It's easy to forget this when the day is so warm and feels like a UK June day. We have to make the most of the daylight for all those outdoor tasks. Some things can be left until after sunset, e.g. shopping trips can happen when the shops re-open after siesta (that is, the siesta we don't currently take because we are making the most of the daylight hours!)

Our first pile of compost is ready to use. We are giving some of the trees a little TLC: a bit of weeding under their canopy of branches, some organic fertiliser watered in, and finally, a lovely rich layer of mulch courtesy of the compost heap! There won't be enough mulch for everyone at first, some of them will have to be patient!

Weeded, fertilised, watered, mulched, muy contento! A beautiful pear tree.
The bashful banana. Mulched : check!

We have also planted a couple more trees: an algarrobo (carob) and a kaki (persimmon). 
Algarrobo (carob) tree

There isn't a photo of the persimmon as it's deciduous and just a load of twigs at this time of year.

We have cleared an area on the approach to the house and planted it up with a Polygala shrub and a pale yellow Lantana. They are both very popular plants and seen frequently locally. They like lots of sun and don't need too much water once established so should do very well in the area where they are planted - we hope! I do like a bit of purple contrasted with yellow going on!
Mister Sparrow is doing a bit of clearing. 

Job done. The lineup: Lantana and Polygala in the background. Osteospermum and succulents in the front row. More plants to follow!

When we are digging and clearing, we are finding lots of natural stones which we are using to retain the soil and help with the terracing. Wherever possible, it's much nicer to let the earth breathe, rather than cover it with concrete, so last weekend I had my first go at a drystone wall! It was a very absorbing and pleasing activity, and the wall doesn't move when you kick it! When I had finished it was quite dark and I had trouble finding all my tools to take back to the house. I have about twenty strawberry plants to plant on the lower level. It's quite a shady location: if the strawberries flounder, I'll have to move them to a brighter place.

Don't laugh! It's my first attempt at a dry stone wall

We are getting a few vegetables at the moment and it's great to put something on the table that is home grown.

All from the land: salad leaves, radish and miniature lemons
- plus a splash of our oil from last year

And there are a few crops in the pipeline......
Future peas (I wish)

Future broad beans (I wish)

It's interesting that, although we can physically grow plants at the moment, there doesn't seem to be much around in the way of pollinators. Some of our broad beans are flowering and there is not much insect life around. However, I did notice a honeybee on the broad beans yesterday, so maybe she will waggle her bum at her friends and tell them where there is a fountain of nectar: in the Sparrows' broad bean bed! So, if the crops don't do very well it may be due to lack of available pollinators rather than soil or temperature or moisture levels. Where would we be without our insects?

One day when we were working on the land, we heard some birds we hadn't heard before. There were about 5 or 6 of them running about on a level above us. When we went inside we got 'the book' out and found that they were red legged partridges. I have never seen a partridge in the wild before. Mark did say that if they had been in the pear tree he would have realised immediately that they were partridges! According to our Mediterranean bird book, they feast on cereals and grass seeds, and that must have been what they were doing, as there are some large clumps of grass that are going to seed in the location where we spotted them. However, I did go up and check they had not pecked at my broad bean plants, which they hadn't! They were certainly having a lovely little afternoon outing and they have returned at least once since.

The orange juice is back on tap as some of the oranges are now ripe and sweet enough to squeeze for juice.

some of the oranges have ripened

There are some beautiful weeds around, such as this majestic sunflower that appeared in the 'herb garden'. Luckily, I recognised the first leaves and thought: 'I recognise you, you're a sunflower!'. It has grown to approx 150 cms, which isn't bad for a December baby.

It's good to let the weeds grow! You never know what you might get coming up.

And Mark noticed a lovely climber on our land, Dutchman's pipe. It has subtle dark brown flowers shaped like an old-fashioned smokers' pipe (approx 2.5 cm long).

Dutchman's pipe - Aristolochia

Talking of weeds, what is that dreadful smell? Oh yes I remember, it's the nettle tea brewing away nicely for our guests, the cultivated plants.

Everywhere locally the olives are ripening and people are busy with their harvest. Last weekend, we walked down the track and there were lots of oil patches on the road: not oil from cars, but from olives squashed by tyres or feet treading on them. This last week, we have joined in the fun and harvested our own olives. The previous two years when we came over from the UK in January (for a break), 4 of us harvested as many olives as we could in a 2 to 3 day period, and then we took them to the mill. This year we have obviously had longer and we could be more thorough, which is just as well because the harvest has not been as good. Apparently, the poor olive harvest is true of all of Andalucia due to the hot dry summer we have had. In addition to this, we need to prune our trees to encourage future growth and olive yield. This task will mean a lot of work and we will  prioritise over the next few years to keep it manageable. 

We got the olives off the trees partly by hand-picking the ones we could reach, or combing with a rake or (last resort) bashing the upper branches with a stick. The olives fell to the ground onto nets previously placed below the tree. We also picked some off the ground that had fallen fairly recently. Mark did make the point that it's a good job we don't have rabbits on the land or else we might make a very unpleasant mistake!
Mark is tapping the olive tree in the hope it may part with its olives

Our oil for the next year!

Loading up the olive harvest

Today, we took the olives to a mill in nearby Lanjaron. We arrived there early, at 9.30am, but there were already 5 or 6 cars and two big lorries in the queue. When our turn came, Mark backed up the car to an iron grille. We emptied the sacks through the grille into a pit below where the olives were weighed: 116kgs, less than last year but more that the first year! We have a slip of paper which we will take back to the mill after Chrismas to get the oil. We expect to be given somewhere between 15 to 20 litres (6kgs of olives produces about 1 litre of oil). These olives will be milled together with all the other people's, so it won't be organic and not strictly 'our own'. Next year, we hope to arrange to have our olives milled individually to give us our own, organic oil from our own olives. However, we are satisfied with what we have managed so far. Tonight, I heard a very pleasing sound of a wine bottle being opened in the kitchen to celebrate the end of our hard work. A nice Ribera del Duero was breathing on the table, which for me beats a Rioja hands down any day!

As well as taking olives to the mill, we are curing some 'table olives'. We have a manzanilla olive tree on our land that produces superior fruits for curing, but both years that I have harvested these as black olives and their texture has been mushy and unpalatable. Next year I will harvest them green. So, we are now curing some of the olives that would have otherwise gone for oil, just a few saucepans full.

Preparing the olives for curing: one batch of dark ones and one batch of green

As the olives are pushed through the holes, four blades score the sides
We have a special tool given to us by a friend that either makes four cuts down the sides of the olives, or crushes them so that they split, according to preference.The olives are then soaked in water, followed by brine, until cured. It is very pleasing to see these jars of curing olives sitting in the kitchen.
Curing the olives

For a bit of a break from the olive harvest, one afternoon we went off to the tapas festival in town. A marquee had been set up in the main square. There was a programme of activities spanning four days and many of the shops were shut, although in true Spanish style, the music and dancing did not start until 10pm, way beyond the bedtime of an olive harvester! We arrived at about 3.30pm and were in time for the bingo. We bought our tapas and drinks tokens and exchanged them at the bar for fine wine, beer, migas and patatas a lo pobre, then bought our bingo cards. I got full house on the second game and won 50 Euros: hahaha. We didn't stay for a third game because I was worried I might win again. How embarrassing would that be? We had walked down to the tapas festival so we could have a glass of wine and I was so happy to have won 50 Euros, I could have skipped all the way back up the hill!

A rather large pumpkin! 

Warming up for bingo

Inside the tapas tent

Christmas market stalls outside the tapas tent

Outside the tapas tent, there was a Chistmas market, just to remind us it is December! 

With regards to our own seasonal preparations, the Christmas cake is baked and awaiting some home-made marzipan. Next year I will dry more of the grape harvest to make a larger quantity of sultanas as I have found the ones in the shops are either imported from South America or, if local, extremely expensive. I'm not suprised at the high price given the effort I went to in order to produce the small amount that we had. Whilst the Christmas cake was baking a couple of weeks ago, I had put two loaf cakes into the oven made with 'angels' hair pumpkin' and flavoured with aniseeds. 

Needless to say, the angels' hair cake tasted Heavenly!

Cake made with angel's hair pumpkin

Lisa and Towersey, our two lovely old-lady sisters