Friday, 13 May 2016

A bit of a change from chipping......

We have kept to our schedule and FINISHED chipping the branches from the pruned olives and the reduced eucalyptus and poplars. There are still branches to be sorted and either stored or cut into logs, and logs to be stacked into piles. However, we have allowed ourselves to have more varied tasks in addition to clearing the land. It is getting warmer on the whole (apart from the last few days) and the sun is getting stronger. We have started setting the alarm clock to make the most of the cooler early morning and to get ahead with the heavier tasks. 

I don't miss much that we left behind. People we miss, of course, but not many 'things'. One of the few things I do miss, however, is lawns! So, in a little area on the same level as our house, we are planting a more formal garden area which includes a lawn. It's the right time to be sowing, and a good idea to do it whilst there's enough winter water. It would be a shame to let the opportunity pass us by. 

It took us about 3 days to prepare the area and sow the seed. We needed to clear the land as the builders had been working there, which involved moving the excess ballast they had not used, and sieving the soil to remove any further building debris. There was room in the skip that had been hired by the builders and expertly placed by the builders' merchant in our driveway. Once we had cleaner soil, we levelled and raked the area, removing any larger stones. 

Work in progress, Mark is taking away a barrow-load of rubble to go in the skip. 

The lawn area has been defined, a gulley cut out to demarcate the path on the left. 

We thought it would be inevitable that the grass would wear in a certain place where we were likely to take a short cut across the lawn, so we found some lovely flat stones and sunk them into the lawn area as stepping stones.

Lawn-to-be is levelled, raked, sown, raked again and watered. The pipe in the gulley is for irrigating the olive trees. 
Having sown the seed, we have sat back and waited. It is starting to germinate, a little patchy in places, but we expect to be able to walk on it by about July! The steps that the stones lead to were made by our clever builders. The stone wall in the background is a very old part of the house.

The lawn area is the only really 'formal' part of our land but I think it will be a lovely place to relax and enjoy the tranquility. I was treated by our two sons on mothers' day and on my recent birthday with some of my favourite plants from our local garden centre to add a tropical touch to the area. 

Callistemon - 'bottle brush plant' - from Australia, very popular as a decorative plant in the local vicinity. We grew one in our south-facing garden on The Wirral but, owing to the climate, it always struggled and I think this specimen would easily take it in a fight.

Lords and ladies - Xantedeschia - from South Africa - also very popular locally. We had one of these on The Wirral too! The Spanish call it 'flor de patos' (duck's flower).
Behind our Callistemon (bottle-brush plant), we planted a nispero tree. We already have one, but it is in the shade of a larger tree and will never get very big where it is but is too large to transplant. The fruit is delicious and we have stripped the tree we already have of fruit. It is also rather nice because, apart from citrus, it is really the first fruit of the year to make it onto the table.
Then, with the ancient stone wall of the house as a backdrop, we planted a Pittosporum, a plant from New Zealand, but also very popular locally. It has a lovely perfume.

Bouganvillea with beautiful purple sepals
We plan to climb the bouganvillea up the wall but first the wall needs another coat of paint. 

Then, on the same level and nearby, we have planted a strawberry bed. The strawberries were on the terrace above but for some reason were not doing very well. We had been giving them plenty of water and the leaves were lovely and green but the fruits were tiny. I have always taken a pride in growing strawberries and am finding it hard to accept that there has not been a decent crop on the plants but I am not prepared to give up yet! So we decided to move them to a brighter location. We used some of the branches that were cut off our trees as borders for the bed. It is not exactly a raised bed, but the areas are defined and it looks rather pleasing. 
Mr Sparrow is putting the final touches to the strawberry bed.
We finished off the strawberry bed with some of our precious woodchip as mulch to retain water, keep down the weeds, and for the fruits to sit on (what fruits?!!).  We hadn't even finished putting down the mulch when when we noticed half a dozen nosey bees already coming to see what was going on!

Another exciting event in our garden is that the kiwi plants, both male and female, are in flower. At first only the male was in bloom, but the female is now blossoming and it looks like there is enough of a crossover for the females to be pollinated. As we have had a couple of grey and overcast days with fewer apparent pollinator insects flying, Mark went up and did a bit of hand pollination earlier today. Fingers crossed, we may get one or two kiwi fruits this year and many more in years to come! But we mustn't count our kiwis before they're hatched.
Beautiful kiwi flowers
 And our apricot has set fruit..........
There are not that many fruits on the apricot tree, given its size, and we have never been out here when the few fruits on the tree have been ripe and ready to eat, but, fingers crossed, there will be apricots in June (ish). I love apricots: fresh, dried and in jam. I have a lovely apricot and almond jam recipe!
The other bit of mega-excitement is the development of our bee colony which we collected as a swarm at the beginning of April. Once the swarm had been hived, we put some food (sugar solution) into the hive and checked the bees were starting to work on the comb, which they were, then we left the hive undisturbed for a couple of weeks, hoping that the virgin queen would mate.

When we inspected the colony recently, we found eggs, larvae and sealed brood, good firm evidence that the queen had indeed mated. The bees continue to be good-natured.
The solid yellow area on the comb (left of centre) is sealed brood.

As well as determining the presence of the queen, we were actually lucky enough to spot her. 
Here's the queen, in all her splendour. We painted a white dot on her back so that we can spot her easily. White is the colour used for new queens in 2016. The dark orange 'blobs' in the cells are pollen, much-needed protein for a laying queen and the colony. Orange pollen may have come from orange blossom.
We haven't looked in the hive since marking the queen, apart from to give another batch of liquid feed. The sealed brood will be due to hatch soon and won't be flying to collect nectar for a couple of weeks. Feeding the bees at this point takes stress off the few flying bees that formed the original swarm and who are currently solely responsible for finding the colony's food. Lack of food right now could so easily lead to colony collapse due to starvation. 

As we have now lived in Spain for more than 6 months, it is a legal requirement for us to become residents. In order to do this, we recently took a trip to the Comisaria in nearby Motril with evidence of the various conditions that had to be met before the residency permit could be granted. We had to provide proof that we are patrons of a Spanish town, evidence of sufficient income and savings to support ourselves, and evidence that we have a comprehensive health insurance policy. We needed to get up early to get to the Comisaria for 9 o'clock, because you cannot make an appointment in advance and once all the appointments have been given for the day, that is it - you would not be able to be seen! Once the interview had taken place and forms filled in, we took the paperwork to the bank and paid the residency fee and then took the receipt back to the Comisaria where it was exchanged for our green card. The residency is valid for 5 years and then has to be renewed. 

Whilst on the way to the bank in Motril to pay our residency fee, we spotted some rather large cacti. They would not fit in a pot on the windowsill!

We will become taxpayers in Spain from 1st January 2016. Tax on earned income is higher in Spain than in the UK, but tax on other things, e.g fuel, council tax, car tax, booze and ciggies, is much cheaper! And food (proper healthy food) is cheaper here in Spain. You declare your earnings and income in May for the previous year and pay your annual tax bill at that point. It's all a bit different here, something else to get our heads round! 

Talking of things being a bit different, our old workhorse car was up for its annual MOT recently. An MOT here is called an ITV (Inspeccion Tecnica de Vehiculos). Your first ITV is when the car is 4 years old, then it's every 2 years until the car reaches 10 years old, then it's annually. Our car needs an annual ITV! The experience is quite different indeed from the UK where you take your car to an approved garage to carry out the checks and you (usually) go back and pick it up later and the mechanic tells you either good or bad news. In Spain the ITV station is a Government building. You make an appointment, either by phone or online. Ours was for 13.02! The reception of our local ITV station is a modern building with automatic sliding doors, highly polished in the reception and waiting area. You go up and pay your fee then you wait next to the coffee and chocolate machines for your registration number to flash up on the screen. Or you can sit outside in your vehicle and wait for the registration number to flash up on the large screen outside. This is a preferable option if you have an older car because the first test that is carried out is for emissions and it is good for the engine to be warm for a more favourable result. So there we were, revving up the engine in anticipation of our ITV, along with the other car owners who were waiting! We live in a rural location, and one of the vehicles waiting for its ITV was a tractor! Once the registration number flashes up, you drive round to a highly polished and squeaky clean corridor where you stop at various points and different personnel carry our the different checks, asking you whilst you are sitting in the car to operate lights, horn indicator, brake etc. Finally you drive your car above a pit and are given a walkie-talkie receiver and the person below tells you to turn the steering left, right, side to side quickly etc. Once you have driven out the other end of the corridor you get given a sticker (if you've passed) and yes, we passed - so our car is good for another year!

We have had some days off  during the past month: as well as our 34th wedding anniversary, I also had my birthday a couple of weeks back. This date was also special because it marked a whole year since giving up my old vocation for a new vocation - and definately no looking back!

On my birthday we went on walk circular in the High Alpujarran villages but we had to cut it short because there had been a landslide which blocked the path on the opposite side of the valley. 

Looking down the Poqueira valley to Pampaneira

Some rather large buttercups, and hands that look like the colour of pork luncheon meat

Young deciduous oak leaves

Beautiful wild snapdragons

Ubiquitous poppies
 Whilst on the walk, I had severe case of log-pile envy.......

We also had some time off when our eldest son came over to visit. On one of the days, we drove up to the ski station on the northern face of the Sierra Nevada. The ski season was really at its end, but we wanted to have a nosey. I have never been to a ski resort before as my holidays have more or less always involved travelling from the UK to somewhere warmer! The scenery on the way up was stunning, looking over Granada and the plains beyond: not as lush as the Alpujarras. The raw beauty was interrupted when the road abruptly came to a carpark and a complex of hotels carved into the mountainside. I'm not sure what I had been expecting, but it's not a place I will be rushing back to! 
Janet and Tom sampling the snow
(it had actually been made from a snow machine on the hill above us)
We drove back down towards Granada and stopped about half way at a restaurant with a lovely terrace full of Spanish families and couples enjoying the Labour Day public holiday.  Mark and I chose habas (broad beans) and ham as our main course. It was delicious. When our meal had ended, a gentleman arrived in his car and got out carrying a plastic crate full of broad beans. He then proceeded to give a handful to each table in the restaurant. We were able to explain that we had chosen habas as our main course and asked him if they would have been his, which he said they were, and we then complimented him on the lovely vegetables we had just eaten! It felt very pleasing to have eaten so close to where the food had come from.

On another of the days, we went to Salobrena (a seaside town with an Arabic Castle) where we had been on our anniversary. This time, we took a walk up to the castle in the old town. It closed at 2pm for siesta and we had just missed last entry at 1.30 so we took a slow walk down and then had a picnic on the beach.
This church doorway in Salobrena old town looks like a mosque doorway. The building was a mosque until 1989, then it was changed into a church!

Mark and I have both finished our current Spanish courses and are having a break before resuming so there is more time to spend on the land (going into town for lessons is enjoyable but it makes a big hole in the working day)

Right now, we are getting some much-needed rain. It is falling as snow at 1900 metres. Last night, when I wrote the majority of this post, and whilst the UK apparently basked in a heatwave, we lit a fire to take the chill and dampness out of the air. Not that we are complaining at all, as the forecast is for warm weather again in a few days, and it is quite nice to spend a bit of time inside, getting our home straight, a job that is long overdue as the autumn and winter were very dry and we spent the majority of our time outside! And the views of the mountain on our drive into town this morning were stunning after the snowfall!

Fresh snowfall last night - our summer irrigation water, I hope!