Never A Dull Moment

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There has been an uninterrupted stream of visitors; family, friends and guests for the past three weeks.

Family and friends are volunteering as ‘woofers’, workers-on-organic-farms as we are now officially in organic conversion! This is another milestone in our development of the finca and getting our olives recognised and maybe making a few more cents out of them eventually.

So I am slightly exhausted as we have to give everybody our attention and of course catering for all, be it making sure there is enough food for breakfast and the occasional formal dinner for guests. As our reviews proof, my cooking is greatly appreciated.

The weather has been surprisingly wintry with temperatures down to six degrees at night and ten during the day and also dull, cloudy days and even rain. And all along our solar system, our only source of electricity for the whole finca, house, water pump and all, has been on the brink of leaving us in the lurch. The system has been guaranteed to supply us with electricity for two people and the occasional visitor and a maximum of ten rainy days. We are the victims of our own success as we have many more guests than we could have ever imagined. It’s not the guests themselves that use up a lot of power, it’s more the continuous washing of bedding and towels. And of course the uses of high-powered appliances like the toaster, kettle and the dishwasher. These last two have been outlawed for the moment until we have a back-up generator installed. This will kick in automatically when the batteries go low, but will give us peace of mind. This will run on petrol, which is of course an environmental-NONO, being a non-renewable fossil fuel and pricey. We will monitor how often it runs and then decide to upgrade the solar panels, if needed.

We have added a new member to our ever-expanding tools: a new-to-us jeep, Mitsubishi Galloper. In fact it is 16 years old but in immaculate condition as it has been used by our mechanic purely to drive around town. He is giving us a year’s guarantee. Now we can transport our olives in style.

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I have decided to give up the being nice to all people and requests to being more professional. You learn the hard way. In the beginning we threw in breakfast for free, but almost all Spanish guests left in the morning to get on the road and stop at a cafe later.  Also they do not eat cereals, but toast and olive oil or jam. Now we charge three euro for a small breakfast with orange juice, coffee or tea and toast. If you like two of our free-range eggs it’s a fiver. And they are delicious with a lovely orange colour from the grazing and grubbing they do under the olives.

Many people see us on Google maps and call, not bothering to book online. They say they have no credit card and can’t book online, but really, who in this day has no internet access or debit card?

So last weekend I had two nights booked and nobody turned up. It’s not only that the rooms have to be clean and beds made-up, I also have to block the rooms on booking.com and Airbnb so that I will not get double-booked, which would be a complete nightmare. So I am losing out big time when this happens. Last Saturday night I waited up for people to arrive and finally texted and called them but got no reply. And therefore I have resolved not to do this anymore. And honestly we have usually enough bookings that we don’t need to rely on these callers.

Apart from human visitors we are also hosts to other creatures:

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

 

One of Nigel’s experiments: frying egg on top of the jeep hood, and yes, the egg got solidified.

Not all things work out, which is totally to be expected. This is a different climate to Ireland; it has different rules and behaviours, concerning humans, plants or animals.

My garden turned out so-so, some is good, some middling, and some bad. The tiny baby-carrots have died, probably from overwatering. I made damn sure they weren’t going to die of lack of water…  But sitting in a plastic container with no drainage, the water accumulated and they do not like wet feet. I bought a Busy Lizzie, Impatiens and a lovely fuchsia, both of which died for some reason. So did three of our orange trees that we planted back in May. Busy Lizzie is supposed to be easy-care and I used to have mine for a long time until the aphids usually got the upper hand. But now I think it just got too much sun out on the terrace as did the fuchsia. Lesson learned: I cannot expect plants that love moderate heat to cope with 30+ degrees.

Top: dead carrots, courgette plants with pollination problems                                      Bottom: woody courgettes, middle: overripe aubergine on right, left: dead busy lizzie

The three courgette plants I grew from seed were doing well and I had some nice fruits until I came across two as hard as stone. A big knife wouldn’t cut them and they were not oversized. I assume it was irregular watering or again too much sun, as even my tomatoes got sunburn.

The hibiscus however and my jasmine are happy out on the upper terrace, with a daily morning watering routine.

The beauty – Hibiscus

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Success: peppers

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The Bad

Unfortunately three out of four orange trees also died eventually. Even though a guest from Portugal told us they need absolutely no care, as he planted his 12 years ago and they didn’t receive any attention and are doing just fine. Ours were well cared for, got water and rain in the early days, manure and even were sprayed for bugs, a thing I abhor but there were tiny critters on it that made the leaves roll up and die. This happened twice and then the trees gave up their fight.

The Ugly:   Gunk in the Pool

Recently we have floating green gunk coming up to the surface of the pool when the water warms up, about midday. At night and in the morning nothing comes to the surface. Of course leaves, insects and sand fly into the pool and now there are particles collected on the bottom. Unfortunately our pump that came with the pool is too weak to suck up anything lurking there or to connect a hoover [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uwNFriu26SA best youTube video explaining to why, the how and the way to get rid of algae]. So I will shock the system and see what happens. It’s not too bad; you can clearly see the bottom.

Our olives are doing ok. We have sneaked over to the neighbouring groves and studied theirs. Some trees have bigger or more olives than ours and some have less or smaller ones than ours. So we are middle of the road, which is a great achievement considering we knew nada-nothing-zilch about olives a year ago. And the trees look much better, cared for and shapely and not overgrown and neglected.

Left: Nigel ‘cleaning’ side-shoots with an axe, middle: one lone Gordal olive, right: olives doing well.

 

Snakes and Ladders, ……… and a combination of both.

Ladders have been involved in the painting of the house and first floor terrace outside. Only the ‘tower’ is left to do. A different kind of ladder showed in the markings of this more than a meter long snake, which Sofie found in the grass at the side of the house. She was not amused, the snake. She hissed loudly and lifted her body to strike, an amazing and frightening site for people coming from the island of Ireland, where St. Patrick drove all snakes out (he should have brought the slugs along with him).

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We weren’t sure what kind of snake this was, as there are 13 species of snakes resident in Spain, of which 5 are venomous. Ours apparently is the harmless Ladder snake, Culebra de escalera, Rhinechis scalaris or Elaphe scalaris. These are the poisonous snakes of Spain: Baskian viper, also Iberian cross adder or Portuguese viper (Vipera seoanei); Montpellier snake (Malpolon monspessulanus Culebra bastarda); Asp viper or European asp (Vipera aspis); Lataste’s viper or snub-nosed viper, snub-nosed adder (Vipera latastei); False Smooth Snake (Macroprotodon brevis).

Deaths from snake bite in the whole of Europe are estimated at about 50 persons per year and only 3 to 6 in Spain. Of these 1 to 3 occur in Catalonia, it being the highest risk area. These facts give the odds of being a victim of death by snake bite in any part of Spain at more than 13.3 million to 1 or put another way the same odds as winning the UK national lottery. Death by bee or wasp sting is more likely, although still very rare according to practicalspain.com. But just in case:

Medical treatment: If you are bitten by any venomous snake, remain calm and seek medical attention immediately. Make an emergency call on your mobile, phone 112 and try to keep the bite area well below the position of the heart (info from http://www.ruralspain.info/nonvensnakes.htm and http://www.practicalspain.com/spanish-reptiles.htm).

So she slithered away into a cavity in the base of the olive tree. We have since spotted a few more. Not to worry, these attractive looking harmless ladder snakes are not venomous and quite common. I think it’s the horses that have upset their territory. Because the six mares with their foals caper around and the snakes are in danger of being stepped on which they don’t like. So they go and find a refuge which happens to be the surrounds of the house, which are fenced off. Once the horses return to the other side of our finca or to their own finca, they can live in peace again. The Culebra de Escalera, Rhinechis scalaris is listed in the IUCN Red list of threatened species as of least concern and some country people apparently use its fat to apply in wounds of goats and sheep, but currently this utilization is quite marginal.

View from the top floor:

In the meantime painting is ongoing and the carpenters have finally fitted the upstairs doors which means we can soon ‘open the doors’ to welcome guests, open the door for business and share our country-living, home-grown potatoes, vegetables and hopefully soon complete with fresh eggs.

FEATHERED FRIENDS

IMG_20180401_162644The cuckoo has been here in the area from early March till the end of May, being insistent and pretty loud in his callings. There is a vast amount of chirping going on near the arroyo, the stream nearby, where a lot of high trees grow.

Other birds that are around here and we are able to identify are the European Bee-Eater, like a flying jewel he sports yellow, maroon and turquoise blue. The Eurasian Hoopoe with his head crest and barred feathers is unmistakable. The Azure-winged Magpie is also striking. And of course there are any amount of singing birds, day and night.

In May our falcon pair laid 5 eggs. The nesting site is the round window sill, that the female also used last year. Falcons, or in this case, the common kestrels use no nesting material. Three kestrel chicks hatched. But only one will make it to a fledgling. Maybe the first two were so old and strong that they did some harm to their sibling, when it finally hatched. Unfortunately it never lived. And one of the older ones was dropped from the nest. I found it on the terrace, still alive, and without touching it, slipped it onto a copybook and lifted it up to put it back into the nest. But sadly it didn’t survive. So now there is only one which is getting stronger each day. It has a big head and big feet and fluff rather than feathers. Hopefully it will grow up big and strong.

I have now started feeding it some meat and hope it will become friendly and trusting. It would be nice to tame our own falcon, as this is Falcon House.

Our eight hens are now also slowly getting more comfortable in their new place, taking dust baths outside and generally eating lots. It will be some time before we will be able to collect eggs but till then we make friends with Ruby, Rita, Blanche, Bianca, Maggie, Mollie, Grisella and Greta.

We have other exciting news. Yesterday the boys from Azimut installed three water filter and a UV tube to purify our well water coming into the house. It is now purest drinking water and will also benefit all plumbing as all impurities are filtered out before it even comes into the house.

 

They also installed the alarm system. A necessity when we are away as Sofie can be a bit sleepy on the job. When Nigel was on his own here, before we moved in, three men cut through the fence to have a look at the property. Luckily Nigel was just emptying the washing up water onto the lawn and spotted them, while Sofie was snoozing nearby. They took to running and disappeared in their car.

While Nigel busied himself with fencing and landscaping, I painted the old, stained plastic chairs to give them a new lease of life.

The holes along the driveway for electricity and probably planned for lighting, have been covered over by Nigel to prevent injury to the horses.

And this is Nigel’s Sunday project; a flower patio to enhance the now tidied up area beside the shed.

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