Escape to Lisbon to experience RAIN

Casa Halcon Olive Oil making

Firstly, I apologies for the fact that my blogs are limping behind time. Somehow the happenings taking place seem to turn up so quickly and the time to write is so precious that my words desert me for a while.

So here we are in December and I write about the past September, but that’s life, it happens and not always the way we like or plan.

What’s the saying? ‘If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.’

But its not all that bad, here goes:

Our September turned out to be still Mid-Summer, just with slightly shorter days, which is a welcome relief; still no rain, still over 30 degrees.

It is also the month where the olive harvest for table, eating, olives starts here in this area. The Manzanillas are now ready to harvest just before turning purple and black. And when this happens, they are used for oil. Getting them harvested in their essentially unripe green state is crucial if we want to recoup the money spent on the spraying, pruning and paying pickers.

Here they do not eat black olives and the price for these is a lot lower than for the perfect, plump shiny green table olives. Mind you, they still need at least two months in brine before they are edible.

Nigel was lucky to get some Moroccans to help with the manual picking. This year we had also some women which are slower, but more careful when picking.

It is still hot, very physical and dusty work and six hours is all they do.

With the remaining black olives Nigel makes his home-made pure , unfiltered oil, which is on sale here at Casa Halcon. Together with my new venture, home-made soaps with natural ingredients. At the moment I am just playing with glycerine based soaps until I can source all the necessary ingredients to make a real soap from scratch.

Our ‘farm shop’ offers now honey from Almonte-Donana, our fresh eggs, olive oil, chutney, marmalade soon, and soaps.

Off to Lisboa

I got a surprise invitation to stay with my friend Fiona in Lisbon for two nights, coinciding with my birthday. She has started a new job that brings her to several cities in Europe, Lisbon being one.

It’s nice to get away and see some other view than olive trees and soak up another culture. As she is a wine aficionado this means visiting wine bars, of course, and why not?

And the two we attended were really a pleasure and surprise. ‘By The Wine’ [https://bythewine.pt/en/index.html (My photos didn’t do it justice, so look it up yourself)].

It has an amazing vaulted ceiling decorated with hundreds of wine bottle strung along the whole lengths of the bar and the food is as good as the wines. It has a lovely atmosphere, book in advance or come early to get a table.

The other was ‘The Old Pharmacy’ with a serious detailed wine list and prices that make your eyes water. But you can also just have a decent glass of wine without any pretence of wine knowledge and just enjoy the lovely old glass-fronted cabinets full of wine bottles. Again, the food is delicious, so make a nice evening out of it.

Both wine haunts were in walking distance of our hotel ‘Residencial Florescente’ in R. das Portas de Santo Antão 99, 1150-266, which had just been redecorated and we enjoyed a small suite with three little balconies.

This is a touristy area and has seemingly thousands of restaurants, so be a bit picky. They all appear to offer to the same dishes anyway; the Italian restaurant ‘Locanda Italiana’ just down the road was decent enough, good food, quick and friendly service.

Our first day we just walked around the old town and the seafront, the second day it was raining. For me a novelty after a whole six months without rain. So we boarded the tourist bus for a drive around the six hills of Lisbon, nearly missing our booked experience into the past.

There is one experience that I would recommend everyone to visit, it’s the QUAKE museum, Quake – Lisbon Earthquake Centre which is as far away from a standard museum as a fish soup is from the ocean. It is an immersive, interactive experience OF THE EARTHQUAKE in 1755 and you learn everything there is to know about earthquakes in general and how people then coped with their lives suddenly reduced to rubble. How were the relief efforts organised? You can actually make the decision sitting around a table with the then influential people like the mayor, architect and wealthy merchants.

https://lisbonquake.com/en-GB/about/quake-project (please paste and copy the links into your browser):

Here is one article you can download during your walk through 1755:

https://lisbonquake.com/en-GB/scanner/the-german-merchant or this one:

https://lisbonquake.com/en-GB/scanner/carpenter-accused-of-bigamy

I have gained a deep respect for the city that is now Lisbon, the people that created this new old town and how this blueprint was used for many towns we take now for granted. It was a revolutionary effort. Go and experience it yourself:

R. Cais de Alfândega Velha 39, 1300-598 Lisboa, Portugal.

This is situated a little outside of the town in Belém, but bus or tram will bring you there easily.

An Extreme HOT AND DRY SUMMER

Sunset at Finca Halcon

July has gone and so has August and September and here we are at the end of October,

it’s shocking how time flies by so quickly.

I have to admit the heat really takes its toll and a siesta is necessary to keep energy-levels up, so then the evenings have to make up for the lost time.

Guests kept coming, keeping me busy and then the olive harvest started in early September.

I have learned some lessons in the garden, the hard way.

The garden gurus say to save seeds yourself, to propagate your own so that seed companies do not have the monopoly on seeds and our food supply.

I sowed courgettes, probably old seed or seed from shop bought courgettes, I cannot remember, mistake number one. Note to self: Always make sure you remember where your seed comes from.

I watered and fertilised, and water and mulched and incorporated ‘ollas’ and did everything to achieve lush, green growing plants. They flowered and some little baby fruit appeared. I harvested one; yes only one medium courgette from five plants. Every other fruit shrivelled up or died or did not even form.

The same with volunteer tomatoes from last year and the melon plants; they grew and developed nice green foliage, two small melons appeared and shrivelled up; granted after being attacked by the peacocks.

And my shop bought tomato plants? Yes, they are still producing, but I rarely get to enjoy a fruit as again the peacocks get at them despite netting and wire mesh. And the ones they cannot get the ants will claim for themselves. In an extremely dry, hot year any source of moisture helps the critters to survive.

Who am I to deny nature its bit? Well, it is damn frustrating to a go without a bounty of harvest after putting in the time of keeping the plants alive in the extreme heat.

Saying that, I did have some success with the cucumbers and made plenty of cucumber smoothies and the peppers are doing quite well and also the multi-coloured aubergines. I have purple, purple-white striped, yellow and white aubergines and even sold some to the Moroccan shop, which also takes our eggs. Ok, I am obsessing about those beauties, simply because this is this years most successful crop, as ants and peacocks don’t go near them.

This year’s lesson is:

  1. take note of where your seeds or plants come from, also what age the seeds are.
  2. do not buy hybrid or polyploid seeds or plants if you want to save the seeds or propagate new plants from the old
  3. bought plants will not guarantee successive produce in the next year, because of the same problem: lots of fruit in the first year, then diminished production.
  4. If you want to save seeds, buy organic seed that are untreated, produced without chemical additives like fertilisers and pesticides and are not hybrids for a once off showy grandeur of produce.

And did I mention the trouble these beautiful wonderful peacock and peahens give me? It’s definitely a love-hate relationship, full of passion. They break into the garden; push their way through netting and wire to eat all of the Swiss chard, some tomatoes, all of the cabbage, lettuce and what-have-you.

I am looking forward sowing my crop of Ruccola, self-saved and always a great slightly peppery salad ingredient.

HAPPY DAYS WITH LOVELY PEOPLE

In August I went to collect my daughter Elaine in Malaga, or rather Fuerengirola, taking in Benalmadena on the way where a dear friend of mine lives.

She is nearing her 80s, but an inspiration with her active life. She moved to Spain in her 70s, learned Spanish then and thus it proves you are never too old to start anything. Being a nurse by profession she volunteered her time and expertise in a nearby hospice and wrote a book at the same time. We met in 2016 in Granada on an excursion of the Spanish language schools and being both on the way to move our lives to Spain, clicked.

My daughter was after having a hen party weekend with friends and happy to move to the quietness of our finca. Not without being dragged over the border to Portugal, where my son and girlfriend holidayed in Albufeira. Well, ‘If the mountain will not come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mountain’ or: don’t underestimate your mother, she will come and find you.

We spent a lovely day paddle surfing, paddle boating, jumping into the water, falling off the paddle board and filling ourselves up with food in between. All crowned with a cocktail, and a mocktail in my case, in the ‘Havana meets Jamaica Bar’, [R. Padre Semedo de Azevedo Nº18, 8200-167 Albufeira, the old town, Portugal], which we would recommend if you like really well made cocktails, Bob Marley, Shisha and a cool decor.

As you can see, I am lacking photos of this single day in Albufeira. Simply because we enjoyed ourselves too much to take silly selfies and were too busy splashing in the water and getting sun burnt.

Water is Life

After four years living in the deep south of Spain and trying to grow things, I can now dwell on my experiences.

Firstly, for me it turns out to be rather frustrating, battling the extremely high temperatures in summer and then the few nights where we actually have a few hours of frost, which will kill the tender plants. It killed our potato stalks once.

Then there is the sandy soil, where any moisture is sapped away immediately. Added to which our back garden has 15 cm sandy soil underlain with building rubble, you could not pick a worse place for a garden.

Despite that, I am growing more or less successful courgettes, peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, Swiss chard and onions, garlic and herbs. In fact, the rosemary and lavender bushes love it here so much that I have to cut them back twice a year or they would develop into a forest.

These are Mediterranean plants, so this is their home and they thrive; which cannot be said for things like chives, French beans or any other cool-loving plants.

Rucola or rocket, roquette grows in the winter months nicely. Even beetroot, leeks, kohlrabi and other cabbage do well. The main growing season is between October and May, after that comes the time of the tomatoes, peppers, sweet corn, melons etc.

As it only rains here twice, usually in November and March or thereabouts, watering the plants most of the year is a necessity.

Nigel did even install a roll-out lawn twice in the front of the house and kept it going over the summer, but it takes a lot of water and time to keep it alive. There is a native type of grass, grama, which can withstand the heat but dies back in winter, and he does not like the look of it. It originates from North and South America, genus Bouteloua oligostachya, is much coarser and spreads in stolons on the surface.

Roll-out lawn when it was put down in March

After one summer.

After two years of struggling along with stunted plants in our back garden we started the out garden or container garden. Any type of big containers, like a square 1000 liter cube or second hand palm tree pots are ideal to grow plants in, as they can be filled with good, humus-rich soil and will keep moisture available for the plants and are easier to tend too, being high off the ground.

We now have 9 big containers, where I grew this year potatoes, tomatoes, fennel, aubergines, sweet corn, leeks and carrots.

This is one solution to the bad soil and lack of rain. I have also tried out a few different forms of irrigation systems on my garden:

  1. water hose, surface irrigation,

2. ‘Ollas’

3. ‘Cuban Method’

4. trench planting,

5. piped, drip irrigation,  

and  most essential: mulching.

  1. Water Hose

The traditional way of using a water hose has the advantage of flooding a plot and can be done willy-nilly, any time of day. The disadvantage of course is it takes a lot of water, splashes from the soil can infect plants with diseases and evaporation is high, if the ground is not mulched.

2. Ollas

A pottery friend in Germany mentioned ‘ollas’ to me, which is the Spanish word for pots, in this case terracotta pots which are buried in the soil beside the plant. Ollas can be very fancy, come in different shapes and sizes. I however just stuck two cheap clay pots from the Chinese shop with silicone together, plugged one hole and dug these in. They work. They act as a reservoir for water, which seeps out really slowly over time. Here however, thanks to the very thirsty sandy soil, it is gone within a few hours, unless the soil around it is also kept damp.

The combination of ollas and water hose works well, but a lot of ollas are needed.

  1. 3. ‘Cuban Method’

On YouTube I found this old Cuban fellow extolling the virtue of watering only once a week thanks to his plastic bottle system. Instead of clay ollas he reuses plastic bottles, makes a small hole in the side and digs them in beside the plant to be watered.

I like the idea of reusing plastic bottles, everybody has them available anyway. So all new bushes and trees now get a two or 5 liter bottle beside them. I have placed a bamboo stick with a cork at the end into the bottle and so I can see how far the water level has gone down.

It works very well. Since my cucumbers have now a bottle beside them, they thrive as well as the cucumbers in the paint container.

  1. 4. trench planting

Another method is to dig a biggish hole, fill the bottom with gravel, and stick a pipe beside the plant root that will be receiving the water. Thus the water goes straight to the roots, where it is needed.

This is a good idea in soils that go rock hard and will not take surface water, again a problem we have.

  1. 5. piped, drip irrigation

I watched YouTube videos, I saw the neighbours doing it, I heard it from others too and it is done on a huge scale in the tunnels and green houses, drip irrigation. Over thousands of hectares of strawberries are grown this way here in Huelva province.

Advantages of drip irrigation

[see https://www.farmpractices.com/types-of-irrigation ]

  • It saves around 30-70 % of water.
  • There is a reduction in the cost of labor.
  • Suitable to use in hilly terrains.
  • It also decreases the weed problem.
  • There will be an increase in plant growth, vigour, and yield.
  • Facilitates easy intercultural operations.
  • Ease the fertilizer application
  • Fewer incidences of various diseases spreading through the soil are minimized.
  • It is most suitable for light soils.
  • Utilization of low-quality water like hard water or salt water without contamination of the whole farm.

It is a bit complicated to get all the bits and pieces together, that’s why I shied away from it for a long time until all this daily watering and getting entangled in hose pipes got to me.

So I made a plan, got the various items in the local supplier, including a programmable watering clock.

Unfortunately the connection coming from the wall tap just is not right and water already gets out from there before going down the various pipes, which we luckily had available here on the finca anyway.

So I am lacking the pressure to have a circular system to drip irrigate all the beds.

It’s not a big area, but I wanted all beds to receive a lot of piping which is just not feasible, so back to the drawing board.

I know others also have their problems with blocked pipes or holes and some areas not receiving enough water. So the jury is out on that one.

But what I urge everybody to do, who lives anywhere at all, is mulching. Deep straw mulch is best. Here we have a ready supply from the goat sheds down the road, so my mulch comes with added nutrients.

Mulching is the very best method to:

  • prevent evaporation
  • prevent weeds from coming up
  • preventing soil erosion
  • keep the soil surface cool
  • adding to humus content and organic matter
  • help water absorption
  • reduces the intensity of rain/irrigation water
  • helps prevent soil borne diseases
  • establish beneficial fungi, bacteria and worms to break down the organic matter
  • protecting tender plants
  • adding nutrients.

You could also use wood chips, bark mulch or dead weed matter, just try not to introduce weed seeds or roots or disease. I have my doubts about paper, because of the ink and very high carbon content.

Currently I use a combination of all the methods listed above. The drip irrigation is stalled at the moment. So watering still takes me an hour, half an hour in the back garden, which is under shading and another half an hour in the container garden and various plants all around the house.

We were lucky enough during our three week holiday to have a conscientious friend looking after our house, plants and creatures, feeding and watering daily.

And yet, still plants wither and die from the sheer intensity of the heat and are under heat stress, they cannot suck up water as quickly as it is lost.

The highest and lowest soil temperatures occur at the soil surface, and become more stable the deeper you go. What I thought is interesting is that in order to properly earth an electric installation you have to go as deep as 1.5 m with your earthing rod according to our electrician. It is at this depth the soil becomes damp, even though on the surface you think it is completely dried out and dead, devoid of all soil life, but deeper down it is teaming with soil life.

When the air temperature reaches 35 degrees Celsius, the soil temperature can go even higher than that if you have a sandy type soil. Our soils here are sand and loam and behave like concrete, making it difficult for roots of newly planted plants to penetrate and search for moisture.

Therefore any new planting is done in the autumn, when there is less heat and the hope of some rain. The vulnerable plants can take their time to drill down roots and get settled before the blazing heat of the summer.

Into The West

The month of June was a very exciting and busy one for us, apart from the Romería in El Rocio taking place after a two year break; we set off to visit Ireland and our families.

We worked hard to deserve a nice break.  

recent Booking.com reviews

Romeria El Rocio 2022

The very famous pilgrimage, the Romería , is about the veneration of the Virgin of El Rocio, La Paloma Blanca, and was as colourful as always. The flamboyant Flamenca dresses come in all sorts of colour combinations and sizes, everything goes here; it is an exuberant expression of life.

I am in awe of the solemn manifestation of religious fervour, be it genuine or not. From an early age the children are encouraged to be a part of this celebration and soak the atmosphere up into their very being, to then perform their essential part in the religious pageant.

While the Virgin was on her last day in Almonte and on the brink of being carried on manly shoulders through the town twice, we witnessed a group of adolescents carrying their miniature virgin, mimicking their fathers and uncles or older cousins.

We had over twelve bookings for the weekend of the Translado, the moving of the Virgin from Almonte to her home town of El Rocio and the following weekend of the Romeria.

The Spanish like to book spontaneously, sometimes in the middle of the night and a few hours later think better of it and cancel again. So in the end we realised only six overnight stays and had a room free, meaning a third was not booked.

I looked up the competition in El Rocio and surrounding areas and saw that they also were not fully booked.

So money is not freely available anymore, with prices for food and transport well up.

Back to the Emerald Isle

Lough Key, County Leitrim

After our hard work on the farm/finca, with guests, garden and goats we took off on a three week holiday to cherished Ireland.

We had Lada, our Czech regular guest, and a friend minding our house and creatures and gardens, while we took our time visiting good green Eire. There was a very important reason for that; my daughter got her Doctor title conferred and her Mummy was definitely not going to miss that.

Our car was already waiting for us in Knock Airport, north-west Ireland, as Nigel’s daughter Lydia had brought her dog in our car over to Ireland from Spain. As car hire prices have broken the stratosphere it meant only paying the diesel for our transport. We managed to cover nearly all of Ireland on this trip, from the very South to the very North coast and lots of counties in between.

From Knock we went to Kilkenny, where my daughter Elaine now lives. Nigel and I made the most of it and visited Kilkenny Castle and park and took the tourist train and Nigel sampled a few Guinness’s in various pubs, as suggested by the ‘Guinness Guru’ as seen on Youtube. This young guy travels around Ireland and other countries rated the standard of Guiness in a very Irish and charming way.

I then spent my first weekend with Elaine and Frank and Holly, his girlfriend, between Clonakilty and Kinsale, in Cork, the very South of the Republic of Ireland.

We had a lovely spacious Airbnb, right at the water and owned by a dairy farmer. Our weekend was short and action packed: Saturday morning surfing at Inchydoney Strand and in the afternoon a high-ropes parcours, then witnessed the cows being milked on Sunday morning at 8 am by our host Maurice.

In the meantime Nigel was helping his best friends Joan and Paddy in Clonmel moving out of their beautiful residence beside the Marlfield lake into town.

From Cork we drove to Portrush, Northern Ireland, the Antrim coast and still part of Britain but strangely not part of Brexit. I stayed with Nigel’s sister (also called) Elaine and was pampered and had a really lovely, relaxing time nursing my weary bones from the hard weekend before, whereas Nigel went off to his hometown of Ballymena to visit old friends.

Between looping back to Donegal and the Republic and visiting Nigels brother in Buncrana, we crossed the border many times unhindered.

Then it was time to go to the Midlands for me to stay with my friend Fiona in Longford and Nigel to do some business in Manorhamilton. Fiona is a fashionista and helped me get ready for my daughter’s big day.

It was her conferral ceremony to receive her doctor degree in Dairy Cow Nutrition at University College Dublin, UCD. Curiously she graduated with the Veterinarians instead of the Agricultural PhDs due to her supervisor being a veterinarian.

The title of her research is: “The Influence of nutritional management and genotype on milk production, metabolic status, energy balance and nitrogen excretion of high-yielding pasture-based cows.”

And yes, the research itself was as cumbersome, intense, and multi-faceted as the title suggests. It involved a herd of cows that were split into two groups under two different feeding regimes involving daily sample taking, so no weekends off for Elaine.

She was up against the weather, sabotage of her project, heart-break and exhaustion. I really feared for her mental well-being in those four years and tried to cheer her on from afar.

What kept her sane was that her best friend Sofie, a German girl she shared a room with while studying at UCD, also did her PhD, but at a different location in Ireland. The two of them graduated together, they are like sisters.

Naturally it was a very emotional day, us four together again as a family and bursting with pride over what our children had achieved. Both are now installed in their chosen career, Frank as a dairy herd manager, currently on a farm in Waterford with six hundred milking cows and Elaine in Glanbia as Ruminant Nutritionist and Gain Technical Advisor, frequently being seen on YouTube educational videos under the Glanbia Connect series.

A few days of our time were taken up with looking at our rented properties; mine a small cottage near Longford town and Nigel’s farmhouse in Leitrim. A few bad surprises awaited but overall they still stand, although nobody will take care of your house and garden as yourself.

Then on the way to the South and the ferry in Ringaskiddy we did the touristy thing and visited The Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary.  We passed it by so many times before, so finally we wandered around this fantastic medieval complex, which was built between the 11th and 16th century and has wonderful views of the surrounding countryside as it sits on top of a rock 110 metres above sea level. The very well preserved round tower stands another 28 metres high above that and had six floors inside.

The other remarkable feature that is still partly visible is the Archbishop’s secret passageway. Here is an amusing account of the life on the ‘Rock’ in medieval times:

https://www.enjoy-irish-culture.com/rock-of-cashel-medieval.htm

By the way, part of the movie Excalibur (1981) was filmed in this location.

What did I enjoy most being back in Ireland?

Lough Melvin, County Leitrim

Well, apart from seeing friends and family eye-to-eye, the fresh greenness, the hiddenness of the countryside features as during the summer months the hedgerows, trees and rushes take over the roads and bye-ways. The misty rain, so gentle and cooling, if only we could have a bit of that in the blistering heat of summer in Andalucia.

I also miss the food, would you believe it. Since I arrived first in 1991 in Ireland, the country has changed its food culture radically. From meaty salads drowned in mayonnaise and ‘Hangsandwiches’ (Ham that is) now you can get all the dressings, vegetables and vegetarian options in the supermarkets and restaurants from all over the world. Our last meal was a traditional Christmas dinner (ham, turkey, stuffing and gravy) for Nigel and I had a selection of salads.

Our boat, the Armorique, took us over to Roscoff in France in a calm16 hours voyage.

Hello 2022

We now enter the third month of 2022 and this is my first blog this year.

What does that mean? Am I too lazy or tired or simply too busy?

All of the above, in fact.

If I don’t do my writing in the morning I am either too tired at night or the laptop is used for watching sports on TV, or indeed I watch my favourite soaps, Heartbeat, Doc Martin and Vera, all English. This happens only in the winter and if we have no guests.

And we do indeed have a lot of guests, so much so, that I have to block days just to keep up with the washing.

Only last week we had continuously guests from Thursday to Monday, which included breakfasts and dinners and the usual housekeeping and corresponding before with the arrivals. And sometimes Nigel even takes the guitar out and sings a few old Irish ditties.

Last night then, the gate was locked and we were looking forward to a quiet night, as my mobile rang and two French motor bikers informed me they just booked and were in front of the gate.

My biggest challenge this year was the group of five Belgians, all bird watchers and nature lovers, who stayed with us for four nights. Daily breakfast at 7.00 am, packed lunch and dinner was provided with the additional requirement of one vegetarian and one Keto-diet, i.e. No-Carb-diet. So I devised meals to please them all, which is what I like doing, creating a meal to suit my clients palate and dietary preferences.

We received another well deserved Booking.com award, which is nice to know our efforts to give people a warm welcome are recognised.

In between keeping guests happy we try to find new places to go, several of which are nearby and important to know as local information for guests.

La Rocina y El Acebrón is one such board walk and just after crossing the bridge at El Rocio on the A-483.

It’s a really lovely walk through umbrella pine woods, leafy forest, dotted with observation hides and gives you lovely views across the lagoon and river La Rocina with its many birds like the Purple Gallinule, herons, ducks, Spoonbills, rails and flamingos. The landscape changes into dry scrubland with herbs like rosemary, thyme, lavender and cistus shrubs. And this time of year the dreaded Pine Processionary Caterpillar (Thaumetopoea Pityocampa) are hatching and climbing down the trunks to pupate. The hairs and bristles are poisonous and can lead to allergic reactions like a rash on the skin, dogs and cats may even die after contact.

We did not follow the 7 kms road towards El Palacio del Acebrón this time.

Much nearer to us are pine woods where we can take a ramble in the shade or follow the path along the Eucalyptus plantation and heath.

Cycling Loop

My last foray on the bicycle lasted ca. 3 hours and had 33.5 kms. The first part runs along the back road through pine forests, which is tarmac but a bit rough, towards Hinojos, passing by the Camping Doñarrayan Park. From there a nice concrete cycling path winds its way towards Hinijos/A-474. Unfortunately, the way back is along the A-474 towards Almonte with all the traffic whizzing past. And then it’s 3 kms on our dusty camino.

Olive Harvest 2021 – How much did we make?

This was our 4th season at Finca Casa Halcón and sadly it was not the best. This was due to the bad weather and the wind beating the blossoms off the trees in April and the whole harvest of the Verdial olives was condemned as a new type of fly got into them, so they went as oil olives, which is a very small payment of €40 cents per kilo as opposed to €85 cent/kilo, which we should have had.

This year, as last year, we brought in Moroccan workers to help with the harvest, as it needs to happen quickly to prevent the olives from turning black.

We received two top-ups after the main payment, as our agents sell the produce and then hand on the increase in price, when the market price is good. We are happy about this system. All in all, our olives received a premium for being clean (no leaves), disease-free  (due to the spraying against the olive fruit fly and the olive leaf spot disease which is caused by fungus Spilocea oleaginea) and size. Because we have a relatively small amount of fruit on the trees our fruit tends to be bigger, even without watering. We were paid 85 cents per kilo for the Manzanillas and €1.10 euro for the Gordal and 40 cents/kg for the molinos, the black olives.

Looking at our figures, it means we made no profit last year if we take the cost of spraying and labour off, in fact we lost money.

Our overall yield increases slightly each year, due to the constant pruning and cutting back and it will be another few years to really be optimal, as we had to cut a lot of diseased wood out and therefore our trees are carrying less leaf mass.

Olive Yields:

2017 – 2188 kgs, 2018 – 4611 kgs, 2019 – 2270 kgs, 2020 – 8761 kgs, 2021 – 4046 kgs.

Our first year, 2017, we just arrived on this unkempt, overgrown finca and proceeded to take the olives down without having a clue. The amount was not so bad, as no pruning had taken place and it was a good year. In 2018 we started pruning, but we harvested ourselves and took forever to take all olives down, three months in fact, and they turned black, so we didn’t get paid a lot.

In 2019 the guy with the sprayer let us down and the trees got diseased. It was absolutely horrendous to see the leaves dropping off and the fruit turn into squelchy brown blobs. Now, that did teach us that our location is a rather humid place with a lot of morning dew, that can bring on the fungal disease, if not preventative treated with a copper fungicide. The spraying with a copper sulphate or copper hydroxide is even allowed under organic standards and needs to be carried out here at least four times a year. Fortunately, the application of the insecticide against the fruit fly only happens once in the year. Although, now that a new variety of fruit fly later in the season has attacked the Verdial, there might be another treatment due.

So although the olive is a rather easy crop, as it does not carry thorns, does not need irrigation (although some farmers do), regrowth is vigorous, is self-pollinating and native to here, it has its problems and like all agricultural crops, the money is not hectic. The yield changes from year to year and there is a lot of annual manual pruning required.

Best of all then, because the black olives only get a payment of 30-40 cents a kilo, as opposed to 80-100 cents a kilo for the green olives, Nigel now uses some of the black olives to make olive oil, which attracts a premium price of €30 a liter!

He does this what I call the stone-age way. In a 25-liter tub he simply stamps on the olives and let the mash sit until the oil comes to the top and drains it off. Then the oil is let to settle and he drains it off several times to get rid off the organic bits that collect in the bottom of the bottle. The simplest method instead of filtration. No machines involved, just honest-to-goodness manual, or in this case, pedipus work.

Well, at least that was what he has been offered by an ex- Almonteña, who now is a chef in a restaurant in France. He now sells the liter of home-made olive oil for €20.There is only 8 liters of the stuff, so it’s a rarity.

And of course we have the lovely olive wood keeping us warm in the winter and a delightful fire on in the chimney at night in the winter months.

Second Hand Furniture – Restore – Reuse

Our local scrap merchant, MetAlmonte is a treasure trove for used anything and everything, big or small, from forks, plates, garden gates, cement mixers, wash machines, mattresses, bicycles, garden ornaments, tables, chairs, chains, curbstones, you name it , he has it at some point.

This is our first port of call, and if he does not have it, well, then there are other alternatives or buy it new.

When we moved in, we had an assembly of old tables, but not a single chair, so we sat on the stairs or an upturned bucket while we were working to rejuvenate the olive trees, setting up the gardens or renovating the house. Then we were given used garden plastic chairs, which I painted in primary colours and we still have them.

We bought a lot of our (new) furniture locally in Almonte, helping the economy and transport is easy. Some electrical items are cheaper in Carrefour, but their customer service leaves a lot to be desired.

For our outside terraces we by second hand sturdy stuff, as I ordered once a seating arrangement online and it turned out to be a disaster, disintegrating after only 6 months!

Madrid – Toledo

In February we got away for two nights to research the possibility of buying either a caravan or a camper to drive to Ireland and other places in another few years. The internet told me there were major businesses around Madrid, Malaga and Barcelona. So we went north to explore.

What we learned was that due to the Corona restrictions imposed during the last two years, people preferred to travel independent of hotels and airports and also to keep their distance to other travellers and so the market for campers and caravans of all sizes is booming.

So much so, that the Germans come to Spain to buy a camper and manufacturers can’t keep up with the production. To order a bespoke camper you need to wait at least two years and any second hand caravans or campers are immediately snapped up.

With the price of new and even second hand campers we were quoted, that idea is a non-runner.

But at least we got to see beautiful Toledo.