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.

Trials & Tribulations

Jack taking a rest

Scams – the Second

In my previous bog (Summer – Verano 2021) I wrote about the German couple that scammed me out of €300. Of course it is my fault for being so trusting, helpful and not listening to my gut feeling.

This scam involves a sob story of how all your valuables including passport, mobile phone, credit cards etc. were stolen, preferably on the train.

Now in August we came across this for a third time. At 22.30 in the evening I got a phone call, one person asking for a room for the night. I do make exceptions sometimes; this was one of the times as she said she was in El Rocio and would come immediately.

A car arrived with a guy and the girl. He paid cash for the room and when I asked her for ID, she showed me the ‘denuncia’, a report form from the police, which they fill out in case of a lost passport etc. I waved this away as it would be useless for the data I need to fill in the online police register. So the Romanian guy gave me his passport instead, fair enough. She had nothing much, only a plastic bag with a bottle of Coca-Cola and some bits of food and sweets. Nigel asked when she would be collected the next day and she said 12.00, which is our check-out time. All ok so far.

The next morning she comes down for a smoke and says she likes it here so much she wants to stay another night and I would get paid at 15.00. I started to talk a bit with her and she told me she is half Italian, half Romanian but over thirty years in Spain and her stuff was stolen on the train. She has a job lined up in Matalascanas in a few days. She has a house on Tenerife. I looked at her skeptically and she assured me she wasn’t really a waitress but an administrator at the justice system, but since a year and a half laid off due to the Corona virus crisis.

Now who would believe such a cobbled together story? We were highly suspicious, added to which she apparently had smoked in the room and was stoned for much of the time, so she had enough money for hash and tobacco.

We had to meet our new solicitor in Almonte but didn’t trust her, so she had to stay outside as we locked the house and the gate, effectively holding her captive.

 When we returned Nigel spotted the tracks of a car that turned at our gate, maybe imagination? She went back upstairs, to curl up in bed. Naturally at 15.00 nobody came, not at 17.00 as she had changed her story (how would she know, without a mobile phone?). She had asked for my mobile to contact the guy, without success. He himself called finally at 19.30 and appeared shortly after 20.00, without the money. She asked if we had a credit card machine.

By then I had enough of her. I had given her toast and salami to eat, she never tidied up her things outside and now she was starting to argue. So I threw her out.

We believe that this guy was also taken in by her and didn’t even know he had to shell out another €30 for another night here. But we would not have slept a minute.

I researched scams in Spain and the first was the ‘poor me, all was stolen’ story. Sure, you dump your belongings with a friend, then go to the police and they write down what you tell them. Could be fake names, address, anything at all. They are not obliged to check it out, the embassy or authorities responsible for issuing a new passport have to do that.

And then you try to find a gullible person which will pay for you. In the course of that you can maybe find a nice place with things you can steal or just give information about it to your mates-in-crime.

Another lesson learned. In future I will not take persons without proper ID, sad as it is.

This time we got away, but others have not been so lucky and I have already lost €300 to learn that we cannot always trust people.

What she had in common with the others is the incessant talk, stories to convince us and to tell us how nice we are, how lovely the place is. A bit plump really, but people can get really good at it, as this Manfred Kwiaton was with his made up place of work on his Facebook profile. Part of his story was reflected there, but the other part was obviously concocted.

Photos below: it’s not all work, we get away sometimes to enjoy places nearby:

Matalasacanas, Cuesta Maneli, El Rocio, and Restaurente El Pocito in Almonte.

Ley Lines in our Garden

We have a problem growing anything in the front of our house. There is the bit of Irish lawn alright that Nigel needs and is proud of, but behind it nothing really thrives. We twice planted orange trees there and they died. Then we planted a good sized fig tree, these grow here everywhere, but it too died. I planted some pomegranate saplings I grew from seed. And these grow like weed here. Guess what? Yes, shrivelled up and dead. It was not for the lack of water, because of course we made a point of watering the plants.

We had radically cut down three olive trees to rejuvenate them and their regrowth looks fresh and bushy. We also have wild flowers everywhere, so it is not impossible for plants to grow there.

As I mentioned before, every summer, in July or August, when the temperatures hit the low forties, lots of plants suffer and die. My kiwi and bougainvillea on the upper terrace have not really grown. Up there is an intense heat during the whole afternoon and evening and no shade.

We were just going for another attempt when a German couple stayed with us who live in Marbella and he is a landscape gardener. He asked us for two metal rods, bent them and turned them thus into divining or dowsing rods and proceeded to walk slowly around the area in front of the house.

Lo and behold, they started to cross over in front of the lawn. In other locations they drifted wide apart. The reason for this behaviour apparently is that there are ley lines or electromagnetic underground energy flows.

I have heard of them before and used or seen used divining rods for finding underground water sources. I have also read about the immense energy knots that are supposed to be running through Great Britain, especially Stonehenge, Glastonbury and even in London.

https://sacredmysticaljourneys.com/spirituality/the-magic-of-ley-lines-vortexes-and-chakras-of-the-earth/

Of course we tried it too. It works better with Nigel than me, not sure why. You are holding the rods so lose, that it is easy to unconsciously tilt them one way or another. Unfortunately, the site of our (already concreted swimming pool) would be perfect for growing an orchard.

As our bamboo started to wilt and go yellow we moved it, and the remaining struggling orange tree, just in case. Maybe we should find a new spot for the nectarine too, it’s not looking too good either.

Line where growth stops (due to ley lines?)

Gone Birdie

Our very productive hens have gone on a break, laying faithfully all year. We added four more hens to our production team and one Araucana hen was gifted to me for my birthday who I call Greta Green as her eggs have a slight green colour. She lacks tail feathers and is rather wild. Hopefully when her laying time comes, she will join the flock. Our Greta is a speckled brown hen and will only lay three eggs per week, so they will be really special when we will find them!

My three young peacocks turned out to be all females, pea hens. Naturally that means more peafowl and so I have three more young peafowl which will hopefully turn into peacocks, some day. If not, the deal it that I will get the males for free, as it is hard to tell when they are young.

That still not being enough feathered friends we also purchased three ducks from the market, which I named Daisy, Dolly and Donna. They are between 5 and 6 months old and occupy the space in front of the house, where we unsuccessfully tried to grow our citrus orchard. They have a nice run with an olive tree for shelter and a raised pool to keep the water clean.

Nigel loves duck eggs and hopefully soon he, and our guests, can indulge in daily duck eggs again.

A Challenging August

 Life as a Guesthouse owner

After three years of opening our home to complete strangers, we have many tales to tell.

What seems to be on repeat is that some guests stop in from of our neighbours gate, just after passing ours, with the name Casa Halcón written in big letter. This gateway is also as the main photo on booking.com, where the majority of our guests book. And yet, they phone me up and ask to be let in and that there are some big dogs.

It is true; our neighbours have four humoungus mastins and a sign that says ‘Finca La Tremosilla’.

I can only guess that just because they do not see a house through our gate, they keep going to the next one with a house.

We also have the occasional worker staying here in the single beds room for a single-person rate. The last one also called for help, and then at 22.00 he asked for food. So I made him two toasted sandwiches and a salad.

I was up the next morning shortly after six to prepare breakfast for our guests that booked a tour through the Doñana National Park. These buses leave at 8.00, so breakfast needs to be ready at 7.00.

In between I receive bookings, make contact on Whatsapp to give directions, receive phone calls, make beds, clean rooms and go shopping, cook lunch and sometimes dinner for guests and tend to the garden.

Nigel’s part is to make the guests relaxed, make sure the lights are on outside at night, the gate is unlocked in the morning and sometimes he cooks an Irish breakfast and plays the guitar and sings. He also lovingly keeps the lawn watered and luscious green, a nod to the green fields in Ireland.

So here guests get individual attention and even entertainment. We only have the three bedrooms for rent, but six strangers coming and going every day can be quite exhausting and it is basically a 14-hour job for me and Nigel clocks in more time as the night porter, waiting up until all guests are in their beds.

More excitement is provided every year by the forest fires, this was only 800m down the road from us. Thanks to Steffi, our neighbour calling the fire brigade immediately it was brought under control quickly.

The road to Mazagon ,  The further you go, the farther you are away….

The kilometer signs from Almonte to Mazagon on the Camino de los Cabezudos are a bit confused. They tell you it us 32 kms to Mazagon, the next signs says 35 kms, then we are down to 28 kms only to go up to 30 kms again.

This road goes through the national park area and sports 53 speed bumps. Otherwise it would be a quick drive to Mazagon, the seaside town with a yacht harbour.

We went there on a Monday after the guests left to have some tapas and a drink in the small bar, but it was closed. So we just watched the small boats and some fishing vessels coming in and going out. It was the most relaxing time, as they glided slowly on the water, it was mesmerizing. Even the unloading of the incoming fishing boat had to happen slowly as the bins were heavy and full of fish and ice water.

Now is high season for the tourists, but there in the harbour was nobody, so I really got to chill.

Later we went for a meal and spent an hour on the beach to round off the day. From the beach in Mazagon you can see the tankers of oil waiting to come in. Every day several are lined up on the horizon to supply Spain with oil and gas.

Isla Cristina

This island is connected via bridges to the mainland, seven kilometres from the Portuguese border and has, according to Huelva turismo, eleven beaches, the marshes, marismas, protected nature reserves and salt flats, and more important one of Spain’s most important fishing harbours.

https://www.huelvainformacion.es/destino-huelva/playas-huelva/playas-Isla-Cristina-robaran-corazon_0_1583543647.html

We like the contrast to our olive groves and agricultural land uses. It is interesting to see the rather small fishing boats getting ready to go out to sea. It will take them over an hour to go along the channel to reach the Atlantic sea.

There are numerous restaurants that serve the daily landed fish; it is hard to make a choice. We selected a smaller place away from the crowds in the centre not far from the actual fish market.

Beware of the whole fish, the price is per kg and you do not know the price before the fish is on the plate! We had fried anchovies as a starter, tuna in tomato sauce, some sea food croquettes and a sole, a flat fish with a very delicate flavour, which costs itself the princely sum of €25. Altogether we spent €53, which we might do twice a year to treat ourselves.

Here is a little story in photos of fishermen boarding to go to sea. It is amazing how many people it takes to bring in the fish from the sea. At the end there were twelve men on board.

More Guesthouse Stories:

When The Sun Gets Too Much

We had just had our first serious heat wave of this year with temperatures of over 45 degrees, in the shade.

And yes, of course the Sahara is not far, about 850 kms and we are in the South of Andalucia. It just depends how you deal with those sorts of temperatures that feel as if the hot breath of a dragon breathes upon you. That is the reason why we have siesta and everything shuts down from 14.00-18.00.

Even our solar system that depends on the sunlight to generate our electricity had enough and shut down. The fault message was 2: overheating, even though it sits in a shed with door and window open. There was a slight panic as we had four guests in the house that did not wanted to leave the premises and preferred to rest. And we could provide no water as the pump (for toilets and taps) did not run, no fans worked and the fridge and freezer were also off.

In the case of bad weather, no sun or if the need for electric heaters arises we have a generator. Unfortunately this is directly connected to the solar inverter so it starts automatically when the battery bank is low on wattage.

In our case we had more than enough power generated but it was not delivering into the house or anywhere as the inverter took a well needed break. This prevents the system from overheating even further.

We tried cleaning the fan of the inverter box, switching off the whole system, fanning the control unit and praying to the Holy Virgin of El Rocio. After about four hours she heard us and all suddenly sprang to life again.

To keep me from panicking I started preparing the dinner for six. Cooking does relax me, it takes concentration and if the end result is pleasing for all concerned then this is time well spent.

And after all that we got a very glowing review in booking.com, so our efforts paid off.

What did we learn?

There is a reason why a solar powered system needs a back up, just in case. In most places it is the connection to the grid, in our case it is the generator. We will now add a direct line from the generator to the house, circumventing the solar control unit. So in future we have total control when we want the generator to take over; which is probably a smart move for when we need to carry out work on the system like replacing the batteries, the control unit or for repair.

A Case of Mistaken Identity

This August we hardly have a day without guests coming or going or staying. It is not always possible for the two of us to go away, unless the guests have a key, which we only give out to guests that stay longer than one night.

For Sunday we were invited to a ‘pool party’ at Tina’s to give a farewell to our German friend’s son and girl friend. As Nigel did not want to miss his favourite football team’s match, we decided to split our attendance. I would go earlier and then return when his game was over, so he could go, so then there would always be one of us at home.

I gave him instructions about the two couples that would arrive that afternoon and where to put them, the Italians upstairs and the Madame, Spanish, downstairs in the room with private bathroom. I went happily on my way, promptly taking the wrong exit for Tina’s house and taking another twirl down the motorway when my mobile rang. The first guests had arrived and where sitting in front of the closed gate. I instructed them to open it by hand and called Nigel, three times. Another call from the guests, they could not get in. I told them Nigel was coming to open, but I still had not reached him. More heat then was already in the car crept up my body.

Where was he? Fallen asleep in front of the TV? This would not be surprising as he puts himself on night porter duty every night, staying up until all guests have returned to lock the gate and switch off lights.

I tried again, no answer. Then I ask our guests where exactly they were? They sent a photo of the entrance on Whatsapp. It was our neighbour’s gate, again.

What is it about people? Our gate has the name ‘Casa Halcón’ in big letters on it. A photo of it is on Booking.com’s website. What else can we do?

By the time they had reversed I had finally spoken with Nigel; he had been out given water to the horses and naturally did not see a car.

Anyway, all was now sorted, or so I thought. Shortly after I arrived at Tina’s and after a cool drink of cucumber soup I checked in with Nigel to see if all went well. Yes, he showed them the room upstairs and they were happy.

And then the Italians arrived on a motorbike. Well, he is Italian, she from Paraguay. It turned out Giuseppe had lived and worked in Ireland for 20 years and he and Nigel hit it off at once.

So they took the bottom bedroom with private bathroom. Unfortunately, or rather fortunately for them, this was not what they had booked. Nigel had switched them around because he maintained the first fellow definitely looked Italian, but was Spanish.

When I came home later that night they were all happily sitting outside, chatting. Which is all very well, but when you pay twenty Euros extra to ensure you have a private bathroom and discover somebody else had been given this room, you want an explanation.

In fairness, they were very nice about it. They asked if it was a fault with booking.com. No, I replied, it’s a fault with Nigel assuming things and not asking. So I let them have drinks and breakfast gratis and in the end they left us a really good review. They even said they would return. He acts as a bodyguard to politicians and even showed us his badge and gun. He was used to bringing it around with him, a habit that he cultivated due to the ETA threats from years back.

our entrance

Priests Having Lost Their Way

We have all kinds of people and couples here, in all sorts of combinations, from all sorts of countries. And then there were the two priests in the big double bed….

They could have booked the single beds, but the Spanish do seem to see all things catholic a bit different. I prefer this to the cleric putting their hands on children any day, but we should not jump to conclusions either. They were to go praying to Almonte in the evening, where the Paloma Blanca, the venerated Virgin of El Rocio still resides, according to Nigel because she has not been given the jab, the Covid vaccine.

On the way back they must have decided to take the scenic route and then relied on Google maps for a shortcut home. They must have been back at around 2.30 in the morning. Nigel met them at 8.00 on the stairs and they asked for his help to tow their car out of an olive grove, where it was safely sitting in sand. With the help of the jeep he got them out, but how and where they got into this place was a mystery as it was fully fenced and Nigel had to find a place to open the thorny wire fence.

Rio Tinto

Sometimes we get away on a Sunday or Monday evening, when no more guests are expected and explore more wonderful places around here.

The last outing was to the Rio Tinto, which is a red river that ends in Huelva port. Nigel brought me to the Embalse de Corumbel Bajo, a reservoir forty minutes from us. It is quite pretty and this is where the mountains start. From there he went off-road on a track that goes up and down and around and ends along the railway line, which transported minerals and metals from the mines to the harbour in Huelva. Part of the line is dismantled, parts have been turned into a Via Verde, a cycling path, and some parts are still intact.

It is a fascinating place with its many colours of reds, rusts, browns and yellows. Mineral deposits can be seen where the water recedes and old workings, going back to Roman times, are also still in place. There is so much more to discover along the Rio Tinto and we will have many more explorations. In fact, in the spring Nigel cycled with Robert on their mountain bikes from Bollullos up to the mountains and along the Rio Tinto over some of the old railway bridges and it was none so pleasant I am told.

And then we went for some delicious tapas in La Palma De Condado, a small bar that was a meeting place for the pensioners, but they still served us ;0). As usual we were way too early , but after an hour the place was full.