Thursday, 14 July 2016

A tale of three melons

Well, it has certainly turned warm! A sign that things are warming up is that the cicadas have started 'that cicada sound'. Their chorus gathers momentum when the sun rises above the hill, bringing the warmth of the day. The sound is quite loud indeed at times, and the only let up is when a cool breeze sweeps across the land and they are momentarily muted. The cicada nymphs shed their exoskeleton and we have been finding them here and there on the leaves and trunks of trees:

The exoskeleton of a cicada nymph on a runner bean leaf

We have continued to get up early to get the more strenuous work out of the way before it gets too hot. In fact, I also often get up at about 3 am for a quick dip in our alberca so that I can get back to sleep!

Mark went back to England for a week at the end of June. He went to the Glastonbury Festival with his sister and our niece and her fiance and he had a great time there. I enjoyed a week of feline company plus a few trips into town so as not to become a total recluse! I find it very comfortable to spend time alone in the house and on the land although I was pleased to see him when he got back. 

Mark, his festival T shirt, and lots of mud

One of our current tasks is strimming the land to tidy it up a bit. Just an hour or so a day to get through all the areas - poco a poco (little by little). We have left the strimming rather late because we were waiting for all the pretty wildflowers to finish flowering, to give them plenty of opportunity to set seeds. Our land looks a bit wilder than some of the land around us. The Spanish use the word 'cleaning' for clearing the land.  It is good to keep the grass down at this time of year to reduce the possibility of spread of fire, and it will be easier to harvest when the time comes. Up to now it has been quite nice to have long grass around the trees to prevent evaporation when irrigating, but now it is so warm and with no recent rainfall, the grass is reduced to a frazzle.

Mark's finger is still very painful and the traumatologist said it will take 4 or 5 months for the bone to heal. It would be too uncomfortable for him to use any machinery that vibrates so I have been doing the strimming whilst he tidies around: raking up grass, moving irrigation pipes and uncut branches. It does look like we are starting to get on top of things in places and the land is, in my opinion, looking proper reet bo at the moment. The olives that were pruned hard in winter are starting to recover and have put on a lot of vigorous new growth.

Look at this beautiful clematis climbing up a tree stump above our irrigation alberca.
And the bees are lovin' it
Mark is currently having daily physiotherapy for 20 sessions in Motril. The physiotherapist is using microwave, infra red, laser and something that sounds like TENS to help reduce the swelling. He is also having the finger manually manipulated to help release the tendons and has exercises to restore mobility. 

Another of our current projects is to modify the irrigation of the vegetables so that the task becomes a little more automated.  The vegetables are starting to snowball! Yesterday, I was able to get together a whole gang of veg to make a ratatouille all from produce on the land: 
onions, garlic, tomatoes, aubergine, chilli, peppers, courgettes and some basil leaves to add to the aroma. Even the olive oil was from the proceeds of our own olives. It tasted divine. I have a much-used and much-loved slow cooker which uses very little electricity so I just put it on and when it was tea-time the dish was ready and waiting for us.

The ingredients for a fully rounded ratatouille

Our veg are a little small but perfectly formed. We are proud to call them organic and, with the promise of horse manure in the offing, it may only be a matter of time before we are growing prize specimens!

There are a lot of squashes on the land at present. I think I overdid them! They start off small but those pumpkins get everywhere.  They do provide good ground cover and the leaves may stop water from evaporating but I think they are thirsty devils. Some of them have grown as weeds from pumpkin seeds I put on the compost heap. I didn't have the heart to pull them out at first but now they are certainly showing who's the boss. 
Maybe one morning I may wake up bound to my bed by a pumpkin that has crept in and pinned me down overnight!

Another member of the squash family is the melon. We have had close encounters with three types of melon over the past week. We had been nurturing one that set several weeks ago. Yesterday, the melon felt like it was ready to harvest and, sure enough, if broke away easily when lifted.

The proud bearer of a Galia melon.

The Galia melon was delicious......

The melon was harvested at the peak of ripeness

The plant from which the Galia melon was taken has not produced any other fruits and it has stopped flowering because the pumpkin leaves have swamped it. I am thinking of putting up a vertical trellis made from canes and pulling the (lush) melon leaves over the canes in an attempt to rekindle its desire to produce offspring. We have already put a melon plant on a vertical trellis in another location in the garden. This time it's a piel del sapo (toad's skin) melon. This plant has a fruit almost ready to harvest and is continuing to flower and set one or two fruits more. It won't be long before we eat this melon. The skin is just starting to 'give' when firmly prodded. 

Piel del sapo melon. I have put it is a net bag hung onto the cane trellis so that the weight does not detach it prematurely

Finally we have rubbed shoulders with the big boy, the watermelon (sandia in Spanish). Our friends had acquired a very large watermelon. When they came over to lunch they brought half of it to share with us. 

Sandia water melon. We have seen fields of these growing in Castilla La Mancha, south of Madrid.

We enjoyed some triangles of the melon in a salad and on our breakfast but we were clearly making very little impression on the fruit. Finally, after trawling the internet for ideas, we put it through a food processor together with some sprigs of mint, then strained out the rogue seeds and bits of mint leaves. This left us with a refreshing juice which we have enjoyed watered down with sparkling mineral water. It was also very nice drank in 3 equal parts of white wine, melon juice and sparkling mineral water.

And talking of squashes, the cucumbers are now coming into their own. Tonight we ate our first cucumber with home-grown lettuce and tomatoes. The cucumber was quite small but we need to get on top of the cucumber-eating schedule as we may be in for a glut. There's not an awful lot you can do with a cucumber glut is there? It's a shame we are a way off building a composting toilet!

Cucumber (pepino in Spanish)

Aaaahhh, this cucumber still has the flower blooming on the end.

Mark and the three sisters

The three sisters' planting of sweetcorn, French beans and (yet more) squashes is now as tall as a man. Our friends who live close by told us they had a plot of perfectly formed sweetcorn on the verge of being harvested. However, one morning they awoke to find that the jabali (wild boars) had had a midnight feast - not a single sweetcorn left. Maybe it was the same family of jabali that visited our neck of the woods about a week ago. Our neighbour shot one of them (which he estimated to be about 85 Kgs). We didn't see it but we heard a lot going on late one night, laying wide-eyed and awake in the darkness. We are very pleased that he takes this matter into his hands as we are naive about, or lack the skills for, some of the more grizzly aspects of living in the countryside.

We are having a few other little surprises pop up on the land. It is very unlikely that a mango tree would survive where we live because the temperature dips slightly too low in winter. The trees grow very happily on the coast which is only about 30 kms away as the crow flies. However, I have managed to germinate a seedling from a locally-grown mango I bought at the market.

Mango seedling

We have also moved a few plants that have not seemed very happy in the places where we originally planted them. I have moved the pittosporum from a very sunny and hot position to a more shady location. Either the plant was too hot or just couldn't get enough water were it was. Fingers crossed, it will start to look a bit healthier.  

The Pittosporum has been moved to a new home.
We also moved a blueberry which has become increasingly sickly but is trying so hard to 'hang on in' that it deserves a chance. Our soil is quite alkaline and blueberries like acidic soil. Down our track and towards the road there are some pine trees and I have collected a sack of pine needles to put around the base in an attempt to lower the pH of the soil. Time will tell!

We have harvested the onions we grew from seed. There are some more growing that are from purchased sets.

Plaited onions waiting to be hung

Garlic and chillies. My garlic-plaiting leaves a lot to be desired!

This week is special to us as it has been a year since we arrived here to live permanently. Yesterday we noticed that the almonds are opening and starting to fall off one of our trees ( a little ahead of our expectations), and it was when we arrived here a year ago that we launched ourselves within a very short time into collecting the almond harvest. So the year has turned full circle for us.

And what an amazing year we have had! The learning curve has been massive as each season has brought its challenges. It has been such a relief to finally put to use practical and spatial skills that had been locked away inside and fighting to get out! We are both physically stronger, lead a healthier lifestyle and actually feel healthier.  

This year has been very much a 'setting up' year and whilst this is far from complete, we feel that we have laid some firm foundations to build upon. Whilst reflecting recently on our past year, we drew up a list of significant things we had achieved over the past year, anything from pruning trees to doing our own tax returns, and from identifying various services and businesses to meet our needs to starting to get the house straight (a very difficult job for two people who love to be outside so much!). It didn't take us long to list 100 things which, Mark pointed out, is something new every three and a half days.

As our first year out here draws to an end, we will take what we have learnt to influence how we go about our plans for the next year. We may do some things differently in the future due to our greater insight, and I think that on the whole we will be more relaxed and have greater confidence as we make plans and bring them to fruition. But then no two years are the same, so there are bound to be a whole new load of challenges awaiting us. That's what keeps life interesting, isn't it?

Lisa is reflecting on the past year and planning her next year on the mountainside