Traslado del Virgen continued – The Outfall

On one of our exploration evening drives we took the route that the pilgrims take from El Rocio to Almonte out of pure curiosity. It is hard to believe that a throng of people marched this camino in the middle of the night, with no lighting and through pine woods and pure sand, carrying a statue as if that wasn’t hard enough. There are Stations of the Cross, decorated arches along the whole way but also an enormous amount of litter. It is an utter shame to see plastic bottles strewn all over the camino and blown into the forest even after a week passed. Obviously religious fervour does not include taking responsibility for the environment. A wooden statue is celebrated like the famous golden calf, venerated and huge amount of tax payers money is spent on organising this event, for security, catering, decorations and what not. According to the online edition of Sevilla ABC news stated 1,4 million people took part, calculated by the amount of cars parked in the specially opened spaces, the amount of water bottles sold, buses used and toilets flushed. And again, Mother Earth has to suffer even as a Virgin is carried on hands…

Eclectic mix of guests

Most weekends we are completely booked out. We had a booking for the downstairs bedroom with private bathroom which turned out to be a gay couple when they finally came in the door. An hour previously they had phoned as they were lost, even though I always sent the location and a description how to get to us via Whatsapp to every guest. After trying to guide them here I finally handed the phone over to another guest, thinking that my bad Spanish might be the reason of their lostness. These boys needed devine guidance to get them to our place; they were near, yet so far and I handed the phone to the priest, who also stayed the night in our casa and luckily had returned just in time to save the lost sheep. These gentlemen came with a sports Audi coupe and gave us one of the worst reviews, a   3.5 out of 10. All was wrong, obviously they would have been better off with a five-star hotel in the middle of town.

Other guesting gripes are phone bookings with the result that the people don’t turn up. I take phone bookings midweek to fill rooms but not at the weekends. This Saturday I had three bookings for one room, with one immediate cancellation and one no reply, which is rather rude, but eventually a booking came through via booking.com and we had all rooms full. It is a bit exasperating because each time I send a personalised whatsapp message with directions after saving the number into the mobile phone.

It is true, I do get blue, and sometimes I think of the green, lush fields of Ireland. The familiarity that 25 years of living on a relatively small island instills, the ease of conversing in a language which I picked up from primary school but only mastered after a few years of practical application in County Westmeath.

I thought a warm climate supports the growing of plants. Alas, the heat is just as bad as frost, both burns the leaves and shrivels up the poor things. Granted, it’s too hot for slugs but instead we have burrowing furry things attacking plants from underneath. They felled most of the aubergine plants. On the upside I am proud of the lovely kohlrabi and beetroot, these are yummy.

Now in the first week of September, it is time for autumn sowing, and more kohlrabi and beetroot, fennel, beans, peas, herbs, brussel sprouts and later salad are on the way. The hot soil temperature has seeds germinating within 2-4 days, but it is important to keep them shaded and moist or they’ll get burned.

Which they did. Now we are already well into October and temperatures reached above thirty degrees and killed off my lovely pea seedlings. Fennel, Brussel sprouts and Kohlrabi did not germinate at all but the beans are fairly happy, as long as they can enjoy some shade. So for next year the garden will definitely need to get proper shading   installed over all parts.

BERLIN

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We spent three nights in Berlin to visit my mum, who is now 95 years old. This time it was on my birthday so she got a lovely bunch of roses. Unfortunately and understandably she has slowed down a lot and a two hour visit is all she can take.

 

As a treat we watched the VIVID show in the Friedrich-Stadt-Palast. I always wanted to see this iconic building from the inside. I studied not far from there Agriculture Sciences at the Humboldt University. The Palace has kept his old style feel and art deco interior. It is supposed to be Europe’s biggest stage, in depth. The orchestra sits right at the back of the stage and we could glimpse it between the actors and dancers. It was a spectacular show with headgear designed by Philip Treacy, the Irish hat designer and custom-made music, dance and decorations for this place.

We also watched the winning runners of the Berlin Marathon pass us at the Fehrbelliner Platz, just around the corner, where my mother lives. The drizzly rain felt refreshing to us since we had no rain here in Almonte since April.

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Berlin Marathon

In the meantime we had our house angel Sara and her mother and sister mind our finca and look after our furry and feathery friends. They had a lovely weekend at the beach and we were all happy.

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Olive Season 2019

This year the olive harvest started already in the first week of September. This coincided with the wine harvest, so the area was a flurry of activity. The reason of the early date is the lack of water. The olives are starting to turn black and so need to be taken down as the green ones are used for eating at the table, not for oil. This year the yield is down by 50-60% so we don’t need help this year. We have finished the Manzanilla variety and are close to 2 t and Nigel has started on the pruning until we harvest the Verdial olives.

Little Owls in Olive Trees

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After only being on booking.com for seven months, we already received their award for having achieved 9.2 out of 10 points on their review scale, which is nice. Nicer still is when our guests tell us ‘don’t change anything, you are doing everything right’.

The most elaborate and lovely review was posted by our Canadian ‘birders’ Janice and Art on google maps: “A stay at Casa Halcon is worth going out of your way. If you happen to be interested in nature, this is a great place to start your tour of Donana National Park. El Rocio is a mere 23 minute car trip. Casa Halcon is worth a stay even if the local history and nature aren’t your main interest. The owners of this Inn are dynamic, talented and experienced hosts. They run the Casa and the surrounding olive farm. If you are fortunate, you may be able to ask Angelika for a super delicious homemade dinner for a modest fee. The breakfast is unbeatable. The accommodation is both attractive and comfortable, which is a major achievement as Angelika and Nigel are “off the grid”, an ecological bonus. The dogs stay outside. If you are dog people, though, be sure to ask for an outdoor visit with Sophie and Drops. Both are adorable. Take an evening stroll down the road and say hi to the horses. As darkness falls listen to the calls of the Little Owls from amongst the Olive trees-magical!”

Said Owls are active night and day, and their call is like a bunch of kittens, but none of us has ever spotted them, as they are very small and secretive.

Our guest book is also full of praise and maybe we have now come to expect that everybody should love it here, which is not the case. Occasionally we do get people that book, but do not stay. This leaves us a bit floundered, because they do not say what made them cancel. Our location shows now up correctly as being in the countryside, 4 kms outside of Almonte. It shows you can’t please everyone and it serves to keep our feet on the floor and our heads a reasonable size.

Our Canadians hired a guide from Ronda, who spent two days with them, showing them the local wildlife around here. See http://www.wildandalucia.com/trip-reports/    http://www.wildandalucia.com/ :

Latest birding trip reports to southern Spain  11, 12-2-2019. Best of Doñana
Our classical 2-day best of Doñana Tour with Art and Janice, Canada. Seen remarkable sights such as Greater Spotted Cuckoo, Black-winged Kite, Spanish Imperial Eagle, Lesser Kestrel and Squacco Heron. Our first day was a magnificent introduction to Doñana along the whole north side of the park, i.e., José Antonio Valverde visitor centre, Dehesa de Abajo, etc. On our second day we visited El Rocío area and the Odiel’s marshes at low tide, giving us a nice bunch of waders. Great days in good company, enjoying great local fish and challenging bird sights .  9 raptor species among a rough 90 species. The season’s officially started!

 

We have now also extended the back garden, this will be its final design. It is lovely to see the first seedlings coming up to herald spring: spinach, garlic, tomatoes, leeks and the potatoes that Nigel planted the 20th of January. The peas are also doing very well. I also tried my hand on decorating a few flowerpots, cheering them up a bit.

We had so many lemons, that I decided to make some lemon jelly and lemon chutney, which turned out nicely. The rest will go for lemonade – when I get around to it.

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shop in Castlepollard, Co Westmeath

We had to make a quick Ireland visit end of February. This time Nigel’s sister Elaine and her husband Ian kindly agreed to mind our finca, house and animals. It makes for a nice warm break from frigid Ireland, where we arrived to sparkling sunshine and blue sky. We started out in Tipperary, spending a night at one of Nigel’s best friends Paddy and Joan outside of Clonmel. I also got to see my son Frank, who is working on a dairy farm nearby. Further north though, in Leitrim, the sky turned the usual colour grey and I never took off my winter coat while helping Nigel to spruce up his farm, which is being rented out.

We stayed with his neighbour Mick and Valinda and their kids in the very nice house beside the lake. On the first morning we ‘walked the dogs’ which involved kayaking on the lake while the dogs run along the lakeshore. It was bliss slowly gliding along the serene, calm and silent lake. The next day, after a day toiling away pulling weeds and cleaning drains, I immersed myself in their sumptuous outside Jacuzzi with a view over the said lake and surrounding mountains. Not a bad way to enjoy the Irish countryside! We were also kindly invited by friends of Nigel to dinner on both nights, so we had a nice time socialising.

What was this machine used for not so long ago?

It sits in the Donana National Park, the El Acebuche Visitor Centre site [see http://www.juntadeandalucia.es%5D, where we went one Sunday for a long walk. This side of the National park is open to visitors at no cost. They have extensive board-walks and bird-watching huts scattered about and a wetland,  that greeted us with a frog- or toad-concert.

Answer; it is a pine-crusher, to expel the pine kernels from the cones. To this day you will see folks beating and climbing the pines to collect the pine cones to extract and sell the kernels.

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spring flowerSilene ssp.

Ongoing fiestas in El Rocio bring many more guests and friends-to-be

The year in Andalucia starts off with a never-ending calendar of fiestas, at least in El Rocio.

No sooner is Los Tres Reyes over, it’s the fiesta of the Hermandado Triana, followed by the Candelaria. Even though we don’t attend these religious based fiestas, we know they take place because our rooms are booked out well in advance. So I need to be smarter and raise the prices, as people have remarked how cheap we are. And strangely, the cheaper you are the less people appreciate your efforts. If you don’t value yourself, nobody will.

In the past three weeks, we only had three days without a guest in the house. From wildlife experts to religious revellers this location seems to be ideal to catch the traveller en-route.

Some of our new-found friends have been guests that stayed with us while searching for a new home around here. dav

And because they are going home again we have been given lovely oranges and lemons from their holdings. Blessed be the fruit of friendship!

 

 

 

We have now also made good friends with our neighbours Steffi and Terry. A mixed-nation couple as well and they have olives, which they care for organically. So we have lots to talk about apart from embarking on darts competitions and playing cards together.

In The Garden – Organic Endeavours

So the weeds are back that I treated with the home-made vinegar-salt-washing up liquid concoction. No surprise here. So off we go again with another application. This time I devised a wipe-on applicator with an old dish-brush and sponge as an alternative to the spray bottle. They tend to stop working with me after a while.

For or rather against the dreaded olive fruit fly, Dacus oleae, we now use a mixture made from red wine, red wine vinegar, sugar and water. This is filled into plastic drinks bottles with holes in the top part and functions as a trap. The scent attracts flies, these crawl through the holes and fall into the liquid and drown. I have hung up our first 16 bottles and already Nigel found ca. 40 flies the next morning in the bottles. Success! It is a cheap alternative to other expensive commercial products.

Nigel added to our landscape a nice bench and a rondel for flowers. Bit by bit we will add colour and prettiness to our countryside residence as well as some exotic touch with some palms and a few fruit trees.

A few peas have self-seeded themselves at the hen house. The seeds must originate from the feed mix. Nigel couldn’t stop himself and already planted three rows of potatoes. We expect to eat the first of them in May. I planted out my pea seedlings and hope no frost will kill them.

Happy Pigs in Bollullos

On one of our mystery tours in the area we have finally met the happy Iberian black pig. These are kept outside all year round and feed mainly on acorns and whatever they find rummaging in the ground. This herd of pigs counts 131 and lives near the Parque Natural San Sebastian.  We had a chat with the herdsman who has to mind the pigs in case somebody saw fit to use a shotgun to turn them into pricey ham. A whole leg of ca. 8 kgs of pure ham Jamon Iberico will set you back over from €1,200- €4100! [see https://elpais.com/economia/2016/03/04/actualidad/1457115720_533201.htmland http://www.dopjabugo.es/es/ ].This is the most expensive ham in the world and comes from the Parque Natural Sierra de Aracena y Picos de Aroche. Only in winter these pigs will eat organic grains, almonds and olives; the rest of the year they spend outside in ancient oak forests. At 36 months, with 170 kilos, they are being killed early in the morning to avoid mixing with other pigs. The ham then gets cured in salt for up to two years until it is ready to be consumed. I have been to a family-run ham factory in the Sierra Nevada and seen thousands of hams hang from the ceiling or laid in pure salt.

End of 2018 – Beginning of 2019

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The Garden in Winter

I have been gearing up to get an early start on growing veg and bought seed packets. These indicate sowing times, but for what region in Spain? The climate varies widely so I also ask the shopkeeper and watched the plants on sale for a clue. We bought some strawberry plants that are doing really well, the first strawberries are already blushing in the warm midday sun. However, I sowed tomatoes and put them under the cold-frame until they were big enough for planting out. Everything went ok until the frost eventually killed them. And honestly, they were struggling through the cold nights. The spinach is doing well and even the pepper plants are still alive and producing. The cauliflower and broccoli are growing well and last year’s broccoli is also still producing. Last year’s fennel has come back and looks pretty even if it doesn’t have big bulbs, the leaves are tasty.

 

January and February are the main winter months, even as day light and sunshine hours are increasing. The frosty nights hamper real growth. I tried to buy a fleece to cover tender plants but all they have here is protection against the sun, heavy shading fabric. So I will need to look online.

My other experiment is a home-made weed-killer from strong vinegar (Mercadona has an 8% cleaning vinegar), salt and washing up liquid. I sprayed that onto the ‘non-welcome’ plants in the stone circle and within 2 hours the leaves were dead! Success! I am not sure how long this will last as I doubt it kills the roots, but even though, it still helps.

The garden is now also fenced against scratching hens and digging dogs. We are now proud owners of a giant Mastin, Sofie, and a tiny terrier stray, Drops. She dropped by one day, all skin and bones and wary but devoured all food that we gave her and disappeared again. About a week later she was back, doing the same and stayed for the day, to Sofie’s delight. Sofie, being only a little over a year old, wants to play and run around, but Drops did not have the energy. She was gone again but eventually came back to our delight. She has got stronger, more confident in herself, found her bark and now plays with Sofie. I never was a dog person but she stole my heart and is very happy to see me. She seems also more obedient than Sofie, who still has the habit of trying to get out the gate and disappear for a few hours at a time. It is impossible to catch her as she knows full well she will be tied up, at least for a day.

We still have plenty of guests, from Germany to Sweden to Switzerland and Canada. Some bring motorbikes, some bikes, some dogs and some both.

The night before my children arrived we celebrated New Years Eve with a bunch of really nice Spanish, that came all the way from Jaen-Ubeda direction. This was the family of our house angel Sara. The tradition is to eat 12 grapes when the clock chimes 12 times; one grape for each month of the New Year. I tried but couldn’t get them all down so quickly, so I must practice for the next time.

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January 2019

 

2019 started wonderful. My two children, Elaine and Frank, were here for the first time and needed some TLC, because they brought with them colds and sniffles. And the sunshine did them the world good.

We only had two full days together, but better than no time.

Forget Christmas –

It’s the Three Kings where it’s at. This turns out to be a bigger deal then Santa because there are three of them bringing presents and literally tonnes of sweets.

Epiphany is the coming of the three wise kings, mages or whatever they were to welcome Jesus and bring him presents of myrrh, gold and incense.  Nappies and a hot soup for Mary would have been more useful. But for the children in Spain this is when they receive their presents at home and on the streets. We were invited to come along to our neighbour farmer’s family and witness the carnival-like atmosphere in our small town of Almonte. The streets were full of people, old and young, lining up to watch the procession of tractor-drawn floats of colourful dressed-up people, throwing sweets and toys. So that’s why some came equipped with plastic bags to bring home their stash of sweets.

 

IRELAND, RAIN and GARDENING PAIN

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We went for a flying visit (literally) to Ireland to conduct some urgent business. And to collect post which has been sitting there for months. It was no surprise that it was raining for the whole duration, which was 5 days, including the travel days. So we ended up with a miserable cold to bring back to Spain.


DOLLY AND BABY GIRL

 

 

 

 

 

Snail Solutions

It also rains in Spain. Lots. Since October we had more than our share as TV and newspaper reports attested, for example according to ‘The Watchers’ https://watchers.news/2018/10/18/extreme-rainfall-deadly-flood-potential-spain-october-2018/ :
“Extreme weather conditions are expected across the IberianPeninsula and the Balearic Islands from October 18 – 21, 2018. The event follows devastating floods that claimed 13 lives in Mallorca and another 13 in neighboring France over the past couple of days. There is a potential for similar rainfall totals and extremely dangerous weather situation.

Spain’s national weather agency (AEMET) issued Red rain alerts for Castellón and Terruel, Orange for the Balearic Islands, Alicante, Valencia, and Tarragona, and Yellow for 11 other neighboring provinces. The weather front is expected to arrive on October 18 and continue affecting the region through Sunday, October 21 plunging Spain into the worst ‘gota fria,’ a Spanish term meaning ‘cold drop’ that explains a sudden drop in temperature, in a decade.”

 

rainy days

Average monthly precipitation in October from AEMET (Agencia Estatal DeMeteorologia, Gobierno de España) state for Huelva 5 days of rain with an average of 56 mm. When I looked at the actually rainy days in October to December this year for Sevilla, I saw that we had no rain the first week in October and then daily heavy downpours, with 27.5 mm in one day alone and 230 mm in total for October! Of course we are not the only ones that suffered unprecedented amounts of rainfall.

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The result of all the rain is that I swapped slugs for snails here in Spain and there are just the same pain!

So I declared war because my gardening here is still trial and error as I get used to the new soil, climate and site specific conditions. Tomatoes with sunburn, shrivelled peppers and rock-hard aubergines being some results.

I have tried the beer trap, but it would take a whole beer barrel to keep the snails away from all plots. My cold frame has a beer trap in it and so far no snails have come near my little ones.

I have cut up plastic drink bottles to act as cloches, but they just climb in, the slimy pests! Online I got my best weapon yet, a roll of copper band that sticks onto surfaces, so all pots and cloches are prepared with the metal barrier. When they crawl over it they receive an uncomfortable electrical charge, so they stay well away from it.

I prefer barrier methods to poison, which always will have some impact on either the soil or some innocent organisms.

Therefore I also use fly food covers as barrier and safe nursery for my baby spinach plants.

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copper hoop

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:

Raindrops keep falling on my head – and Olives

It has finally rained, after four months. And it destroyed most of my seedlings, as the rainwater poured down onto them. I had them in trays on a table too close to the house and the rain came down off the roof. This house has no gutters apart from the  gutter Nigel installed over the terrace. So I assessed the damage and proceeded to sow again. Lesson learned.

Luckily I had already  put cut clear plastic bottles over the cauliflowers and broccoli baby plants as a snail barrier, which also keeps the hens from picking at them. The mattress base helps against the hens scratching away in the freshly dug horse manure and the netting is supposed to do the same.

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Spanish course

I have signed up to an online spanish course to get more practice with the dreaded verbs. It’s all very fine to talk about the present but sometimes you need to talk about yesterday or tomorrow. I used the Babbel online course for a long time and it is fantastic for building up your vocabulary and pronounciacion, and I learned a lot. So I jumped into this course by Catalino Moreno thinking I will do my online exercises whenever I get around to it.

BUT – she keeps me on my toes. Now I regularly receive emails with videos and exercises, it’s more than I bargained for. It is great, she really is fun and involves all her students and even answers personally to comments posted or questions [see for example https://catalinamoreno.weebly.com/blog/usos-de-hay-en-espanol-parte-iii ].

So I have a real teacher now and hope I will progress a bit. Although the Andalusian dialect is still a big challenge. Thanks to Nigel I am thrown in nearly daily as he seeks out our neighbouring farmers to ask them every imaginable question about olive growing; which brings me seamlessly to our current occupation.

Olive Harvest has Started

We have a new friend. Diego is a big farmer with a big heart. He not only grows olives but also wine and has tillage. He works from morning till dusk every day of the week but took the time to bring us to the olive factory the other side of Almonte and then invited us into his home and fed us a big lunch, even his mother joined us.

This olive factory takes the olives of hundreds of farmers and immediately throws them into big underground tanks with saltwater brine. These are sold throughout the year to other companies for further pickling with different flavours. Presently in this area the Manzanilla olives are taken in, followed by Verdial and then the huge Gordal olives as they ripen. After that the olives will have turned black and are then collected to make olive oil.

The rain now will make the olives swell up and make them bigger and heavier thus giving us more money per kilo. The olives are weighed and their size is determined by counting the number of olives in 200g, this is multiplied by 5 which is the number of olives per kilo; the smaller the number, the bigger the olives. Ours were not so great to start with, they ranged from 360-280. But we will give them another week or two to grow bigger. But in the meantime they will also start turning black. It’s not so easy to determine the right timing, as olives grow in different stages on the tree, they do not ripen simultaneously.

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on-tree-entertainment

Recipe Vegetable Parsley & Oregano Pesto with Mussels

When time is in short supply, for a very quick dinner Spaghetti and pesto are unbeatable. My version includes mussels, mejillones, in a spicy sauce from a tin and lots of freshly chopped parsley and oregano, garlic, grated parmesan, freshly ground black pepper, a pinch of sea salt and either grated courgette or fried green and red peppers, as they are abundant in the garden at present.

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While the water for the spaghetti heats up, chop parsley, 3-4 garlic cloves, grate half a small courgette and some parmesan cheese. In a pan combine (only ever) virgin olive oil, the garlic and courgette and gently heat to sauté for 5-8 minutes. When the spaghetti is ready, drain and set aside. Take the pan off the cooker and add the mussels, parsley, oregano and parmesan cheese. Stir and add to the spaghetti, serve with a sprinkle of parsley and grated avocado stone.

Vegetable Pesto with mussels

 

 

 

 

 

We are also still busy with guests at the weekend thanks to fiestas in El Rocio. All our rooms were occupied and we had fun with the two little girls that had fun with Sofie and our hens.