Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Recuerdos de la Alhambra

One of the magnificent ceramic tile friezes at the Alhambra

We have had a well-deserved rest recently as one of our sons came to visit. We went to the beautiful Alhambra followed by a passionate flamenco show in Granada. As always, I was in awe of the water features at the Alhambra. One of the days, we had a dinner of locally caught fish on the beach in Salobrena, and on another we visited some of the mountain villages and the Buddhist refuge of Osel Ling. A busy but restful time.  We were very sorry to wave goodbye to our visitor and look forward to further visits from friends and family in the future.

In the Generalife at the Alhambra

Patio de los Leones, in the Palacio de los Nazaries, Alhambra

Back at home, the garden is doing well. The French beans are taking off. There was some debate over which direction they would climb around their poles. Was the hemisphere we live in a factor or their variety? After some reading, it appears that it depends on the species and variety. These are all climbing anti-clockwise with not a rebel amongst them. The caulis and cabbages have been planted out. A naughty blackbird had been yanking them out and I have been to water them in the morning only to find he has been up before me and uprooting them. They now have a palate over them and I cover them with fleece at dusk - which reminds me, I haven't covered them tonight so I'll have to venture out in a moment with a torch! I sowed 6 rows of carrots almost 3 weeks ago but they are failing to germinate. They possibly need watering 2 or 3 times a day rather than just the once as germination is reputedly sporadic with carrots owing to them being allowed to dry out between waterings.  Broad beans are planted out and now about 10 cms tall. The naughty blackbird also uprooted a number of these but they are much more robust seedlings than the meek and mild cauli. Mark put in some seed potatoes this morning and we look forward to these making an appearance on our plate in due course. Sadly, my summer romance with the  majestic purple aubergines is coming to end.  We started them off quite late and got 4 veg in all. It is getting too cold for them now and the leaves are dying off. Their final appearance will be in a baba ganoush dip. Their next-door neighbours, the pointed green peppers, are having a late flourish and we have enjoyed eating them in salad. The batch of rough and ready wine in which we relied on the natural yeasts to do the fermenting is now racked off. It has a much more musty aftertaste compared to the batch we made with yeast from a wine-making shop.

We have treated ourselves to a magnificent nutcracker. It has a lever and it cracks the almond in one downward movement, often leaving the nut whole. A great piece of kit indeed. 

But the most significant recent addition to our household has been some tanks which we acquired to recycle as water deposits. This will greatly help watering one of the areas of our land. As with the rest of the irrigation system, they have been placed at the highest possible point (in this case, on the very highest point of our land) and the pipes attached will carry the water by gravity to the plants, in this case mostly olives. Mark and I carried them uphill to the place where we wanted them and I can tell you they were heavy! Watering the plants in this way through pipes will help to conserve water and reduce soil erosion. We Christened them on water day, two days ago and all I can say is 'Great success!'

My friends, the water tanks

We have another little landscaping project on the go to reduce soil erosion. Mark has been building some steps that lead to our lower terrace. In order to do this, we have been setting our alarm and are out and working by about 8.15 so we can get a good couple of hours in before the sun comes round to that area. Of course, every good builder has a reliable mate that mixes up sand and cement, is at the ready with a spirit level, and can provide quality control checks and advice (even when not needed)!

In two days time it's the Fiesta de Orgiva. It lasts for 4 days, from Thursday until Sunday. All the shops will be shut. There are various entertainments taking place: a horse show which we might go to, another show which looks like it involves tormenting a bull (we won't be going to that), music that goes on well into the early hours and many, many street bars in addition to all the usual bars and restaurants. Lighting is already being put up by men in cherry pickers, the fairground attractions have arrived, and we are set to party!!

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

First Rain

We have just seen the first rain in the 8 weeks we have been here. Apparently, it has not rained here for about four months, according to a conversation I was having earlier today with my Spanish teacher. When it rains for the first time after a very dry period, the water tends to wash over the soil rather than soak in, taking with it the accumulated debris and dust that have built up. The downpours we had were very heavy at times and, in true proper-rain character, there was thunder and lightning, made all the more dramatic by the mountains we are enveloped in. The first drops produced that lovely rain-on-hot-ground smell, and now that it is clearing up, the garden smells beautifully fresh.
As rain has stopped play, the almond harvest is extending for another week. We have calculated approximately another three mornings work getting the almonds off the trees, and then several hours more separating the husks and drying the nuts for a few days in the sunshine. Maybe a celebratory meal out could be in store when all is done??

A barrow-load of almonds

To gather the nuts, it is customary to tap the branches with a stick. Nets are placed on the ground prior to this to catch the fallen produce. Some nuts fall free of the husk whilst others need to be separated (manually, in our case). Last year when we went to sell our produce to the almond dealer (!!) we bought a carbon fibre rod. This implement is light enough to control accurately but heavy enough to  deliver an effective whack where needed to the odd stubborn nut.

I never imagined I would be able to wax lyrical about almonds
We have several different types of nuts on our land.  I will have to confirm with my Spanish neighbour what they are all called. The biggest and the one that is considered 'king of the nut is the 'marcona' - we have several marcona trees. These fetch the highest price if selling them on. Needless to say, we won't be selling any of these beauties. There are elongated types, which I think are called 'desmayo larguetas'. They have a lovely milky flavour. Some of the tiny ones are very hard to break and have a very strong almondy (but not bitter) flavour - I think they will be great in marzipan. One thing we have discovered is that the size of the nut shell is not proportionate to the size of the nut inside, and some of the tiny ones are surprisingly large once cracked open!
Clockwise from top left: 1.marconas, 2.desmayo larguetas,
3.teeny weenies, 4.regular almonds (haha)
When harvesting from one of the almond trees, we found a vine which was wrapped around the branches and heavily laden with grapes. We collected about fifteen kilos of grapes and have started a second batch of wine. As we have already filled our demijohns and used the little wine yeast we brought with us on the previous batch, this next lot was to be a 'rough and ready' batch. We have relied on the natural yeasts on the grape to ferment and, after only a couple of days, it has started to bubble vigorously. The only ingredient we have added to the grapes has been sufficient sugar to achieve a 12% wine, as indicated by the hydrometer. This concentration of alcohol should deter the organisms that would impair the quality of the wine. Once the fermentation has subsided, the wine will be racked off from Mark's beer fermentation bucket to an empty five-litre mineral water bottle. Improvisation will have to be the name of the game!

The French beans have been planted out. Following the example of our experienced neighbours, we are planting out in mounds then flooding the furrows in between. As the soil is not very free-draining, water seeps into the mounds within reach of the roots. (Actually, I couldn't resist a quick spray with my thumb over the end of the hose as well! Old habits die hard!)

The eating of the aubergine
We did this deed last weekend. The first vegetable we had grown since arriving! It had reached a respectable 6, no! 7, no! 8 inches and cutting it should enable the one beside it to develop. We prepared a sauce consisting of aubergine, onions, garlic, fresh basil and tomato salsa made from plum tomatoes (the Spanish call them pear tomatoes!). It tasted g-o-o-o-d and we hope there will be enough warmth and light for a few more aubergine dishes on the dinner table.

The courgette plants are finally starting to produce female flowers. There seemed to be a dearth of air-bourne creatures following the rain so Mark went out and attempted hand-pollinating this morning.
We have found somewhere that sells organic fertilizer and have invested in a sack to give the plants a bit of a kick-start until the compost heap conveyor belt starts to move. We look forward to chicken manure once we have set up the hens' accommodation.

A nearby hermitage - a pretty destination to end up at on an evening's walk

Pomegranates are ripening!
So, here we are at the end of another very rewarding week, bathed in beautiful sunlight and surrounded by the many gifts nature has to offer.