It has been a whole month since the last blog as we have been BUSY doing ....... you've guessed it, pruning! The olive trees are usually pruned here when the fruit is harvested or soon after. However, a factor that has added to the current workload is that the trees (and birds) think it is early spring. All but a few almond trees are in flower - about 5 weeks ahead of last year, and many other trees are threatening to come out of dormancy, so we have had to accelerate our pruning plans to get round as much as we can at the correct time of year.
Of course pruning produces mountains of wood and, in the case of olives, branches with leaves. We have had a couple of bonfires to burn the leaves but, since we have only had about 12 millimetres of rain in 5 months the countryside is very dry and we are reluctant to light another fire until there is a little rain to moisten the earth. Our permit to burn is until the end of March. If we can't get through everything, we will be making copious trips to the tip, which would be a shame, because it would be good to add the bonfire ash to our compost heap.
A gentleman is coming on Monday to help with pruning the large olive trees that Mark's chainsaw is too small to get through. He will probably spend about 3 days with us and it will be all hands on deck to help sort yet more wood and leaves into appropriate piles, i.e. indoor firewood, 'landscaping', bonfire. When he came over to give us a quote he asked us what result we wanted from the pruning: belleza o cosecha (aesthetic appearance or harvest). There are a few lovely old trees on our land that have beautiful trunks and bark and we will sacrifice part of the harvest to retain these trees as they are: for their stature, graceful form within the landscape and the shade they can offer on a scorching day. After all, we don't have to make a living from olives - and these taller trees should produce olives but they will just be more difficult to reach at harvest time. But then we will prune some of the trees harder so they produce young vigorous shoots that should give us a good accessible crop in a few years or sooner if we are lucky. In theory! We have made a start on both the 'belleza' trees that we are keeping big and some of the 'cosecha' ones that we want a good harvest from.
There are quite a few different shapes you could style your olive tree into: wine goblet, Martini glass, candlesticks, to name a few. The favourite shape in Andalucia is a tree with 2 or 3 main branches and that is the type of tree we will try to emulate. I think olive topiary would create a bit too much of a stir. Imagine an olive tree skilfully crafted to create a peacock or the full cast of Alice in Wonderland positioned up the track! Ha ha! Local farmers prune their olive trees quite zealously indeed, removing any young shoots that grow into the tree and generally bringing light to all the leaves. I find it difficult to cut off what looks to me like a perfectly good branch, but keep telling myself that having the two - both stature and vigorous growth lower down the tree will create stress on the tree and increase its water requirements considerably. So the mantra is 'rejuvenate' where that is the aim of the exercise.
Here are a few of the 'belleza' trees at their various stages of enhancement:
Moving on from the olives, we have also made a start of pruning the almonds. One or two trees are proper D-E-A-D and need sawing off to enhance the beauty of the landscape. Almond wood is hard, but dead almond wood is even harder and a challenge even to a well sharpened chainsaw.
On some of the living trees a few of the older boughs have been removed to enable rejunvenation from younger shoots. Pruning almonds will affect the harvest negatively, this is widely documented in the literature, but we have a lot of almonds to eat through until the next harvest in September and although it's an adventure to go and sell them they only sell for about 1.20 Euro a kilo. Better to have a strong and beautiful tree.
We have also done a bit of almond grafting. We have cut back the bitter almonds which we identified and labelled last August/September and grafted from good stock onto selected shoots. There is some debate about exactly when almond grafting should take place, and the type of graft to use. The information we obtained from the internet is different from what our neighbour is telling us. Anyhow, we have done the deed and we'll know in a few weeks whether or not any of the grafts have taken.
We have also purchased 12 new almond trees - Marcona variety - the king of the almond, whose nuts fetch the best price when sold, and we planted these last weekend. The aim of planting them, as well as to replace the dead ones, is to make optimum use of the piece of land they are on, to add to the beauty of the countryside and, most importantly, so that the roots can grasp the soil and prevent erosion and falling soil on the terraces. Consequently, the new trees are planted at the edge of the terrace, next to the vertical drop. You don't normally water almond trees but the young ones will need watering for about 6 months until they get established.
When I was at the garden centre last week to buy the new almonds, I noticed that they had 1 year old fruit trees in stock. At the price of only 4 Euros each, we succumbed to temptation and bought a pear and apple (to keep our other ones company), a nectarine, a peach, and a plum. So, more youngsters to look after. Then to add to the growing family, we popped back and bought two kiwis, a male and female.
There are a number of vines on our land from which we obtained our grapes to make the summer wine. We have untangled these a little and tied them into cane supports in the hope of increasing their yield. This has involved yet more pruning. Probably, we haven't been nearly as hard as we should have, although the vines produced grapes last year, and many of them had grown into the supporting trees and hadn't been pruned for a while. If the vines come to anything this year we may put up more sturdy supports.
We have been pruning some of the orange trees as quite a few of them are already in flower. The bees have so much choice of forage at present! Some orange trees just require a little dead wood removed whilst others are a bit sickly and have required hard pruning to rejuvenate, followed by intense TLC.
Much as we enjoy the pruning and forming of the landscape, we are excited about the prospect of constructing our chicken cage and house so we can move forward with getting our hens. But the olives above where the cage is to go need to be pruned first and then the area needs to be cleared. There is a shop in town that sells hens and I asked the owner about a cockerel, as we have seen the odd one there from time to time but not on a regular basis. She told me that she does have cockerels but she cannot keep them at the shop overnight as the people that live around get woken up! So she has asked me to let her know when we want one and she will bring him in on the day. We haven't had a cockerel before for the very reason that in England we lived too close to other households. We are looking forward to this development as the spring unfolds.
The explosion of blossom has been accompanied by intoxicating perfumes: orange blossom and white jasmine and the gentle fragrance of almond blossom.
We did take a couple of days off in January. Our younger son came and stayed for three nights before going off to see his friend in Madrid. We met him from Malaga Airport and headed straight for Malaga City Centre, where we had been only recently on Christmas Eve. Heading back to the old town, we visited the Picasso Museum, to fulfil one of the promises we had made to ourselves on our last visit.
Whilst our son was staying with us, we went out on a walk up one of the hills across the valley from us in the Sierra de Lujar mountain range.
We frequently look across at this 'hill' in the evenings and can see a red light far up and often car headlights / tail lights. We have heard some sinister tales about the activities that are taking place up this hillside, but it is actually a fluorite mine, the only active one in Andalucia, and the lights are probably the 'miners' driving to and from shift! The walk gave us some beautiful views across the valley to where we live and the Sierra Nevada beyond. This was a different view from when we normally walk, as we are usually hiking on the other side of the valley in the Sierra Nevada foothills and our views are towards the Sierra de Lujar range.
The weather continues to be calm and sunny and we are basking in midday temperatures of approx 20 C. However, it was overcast for a couple of days two weeks ago. I had rigged up a propagator on an overnight timer (15 minutes on, 30 minutes off throughout the cooler hours) to give seed germination a head start. Mark woke up one night and noticed the electric clock wasn't working. Our battery was completely out of juice and I think the propagator was the culprit. Next morning we fired up the generator to give the system a boost. We could have waited a couple of hours and it may have started up without resorting to fossil fuels. However, I had cooked a few double and triple batches of dinners which were in the freezer and I didn't want them to spoil.so Mark twiddled with the generator whilst I cleaned the solar panels, which induced a good sweat as they are situated on one of our roofs. We went a bit careful with the electricity after that and Breaking Bad had to be left suspended for a couple of days somewhere near the end of season 3!
However, before abandoning the use of the propagator, some tomato, aubergine and chilli seeds managed to germinate. Just the red and green peppers didn't sprout but the seed was old so I have bought some more and have fingers crossed!