Start of Olive Harvest 2020

Manzanilla Olives

We have moved up in the world of olive farming. In 2017 we started with a few donated bucket and crates, borrowed ladders and our trusty Toyota to convey our small harvest to the Co-Op in Almonte. We only managed to pick about 2-3 buckets a day, which is 40-60 kilograms, sometimes even less, because the olive trees were so bad; too high to reach, too overgrown to produce much fruit and too diseased, full of dead wood.

Three years later we have four people engaged to help picking, we have a jeep and trailer and a proper crate to transport our bounty to the agent, who collects the olives for the factory in Sevilla.

Thanks to our contractor, Antonio Sanchez, who also acts unofficially as our agricultural advisor, our olive trees look much healthier, greener and fuller. The constant pruning that Nigel does all year round is essential to achieve a good balance between too many or too few branches. We still have a long way to go when it comes to shaping and selecting the right branches to keep. And of course it takes time to let fresh regrowth mature to carry fruit.

This year we started harvesting on Wednesday, 9th of September with 2 Spanish workers and Steffi, our all-round talented neighbour. The following Monday, 14th of September, another Spanish worker joined us and now we are 6 persons picking olives every day.

This is necessary, as the sooner the olives are picked the more money we get. The longer they stay on the tree, the lower is their value as they will mature and turn black and our return on them sinks to 20 cent per kilo as opposed to 75 cent per kilo when they are green.

We are lucky in so far that we have bought an olive farm and not a vineyard. Because of the impact of the virus measures being taken to protect the population through restricting gatherings of people and cancellation of festivals the wine consumption is down 40%.  Thus the price of grapes has nose-dived. In our region here grapes are being left on the vine, as it just does not pay to even harvest them.

Luckily, olives still seem to be a staple on every table and the price is good this year because the lack of rain, again, means less tonnage is being brought in.

On Friday, 18 September 2020 we had our first rain since the end of May with heavy downpours and stormy conditions. The day before I planted out my second batch of tomatoes this year, hoping to get some fruit, as the days are still hot well into October and November, we will see if it works. I also have four young courgette plants in the garden.

Hail the Archeress

armed and dangerous

After a hiatus of seven years I have finally dug out my flat bow and home-made arrows again. They are a sorry sight, maimed and broken most of them. But I have set up a target, a dart board, under an olive tree and surprisingly even manage to hit it, now and then. It’s a great, powerful feeling to release an arrow in absolute silence and see it fly, powered by simple force of resistance and leverage.  I always have enjoyed this ancient craft of instinctive, traditional archery as it requires concentration and skill. Not for me the various implements like cords and pulleys, bow sights, cams and cables on a compound bow that measure the distance and set the exact force to hit home the arrow. In Ireland I had joined a mad-hatters club of archers in County Longford, the Warriors of Queen Maeve, which were more about the roaming of woods and cracking jokes than the seriousness of notching up points to be the best archer of them all. The attraction was the constant changing of targets, rubber animal shapes in all sizes, from a rat to a standing bear set up in various distances from the shooting positions in the wood, which resulted in contortions, kneeling, crouching, and sideways bending to get a clear view of the target through the trees and undergrowth, sometimes even climbing up on a fallen tree trunk or a platform to shoot up or down hills and valleys. To hit your target was real luck, or skill, or mostly a combination of both, just great fun to challenge yourself not to lose or break the arrow in the process, hence my only four remaining arrows.

So I will have to repair, maybe make some more arrows and practice, practice, practice until I can move up to my stronger bow and execute some serious archery.

Compost Toilet

blue window

We are advertising our finca for campers on various sites like pitch-up and areasauto-caravanas.com for people that like a quiet, rural place far from crowds and noise. Occasionally we do get somebody. Since we are not a dedicated camping site and do this only on a trial basis we do not have any services as yet.

In August a huge campervan drove up with seven people, three generations. They were the rather tiny granny and her grandchildren of 18 months and six years; also her three children, two sons and a daughter with her husband. Did you count? They all shared happily this one space, only Spanish are so family-loving. They had all they needed in this campervan and we only supplied water and two hours of generator connection. We don’t really earn anything out of it, it’s the novelty and giving people a choice, when in the high season all camping sites are stuffed full of holiday makers.

Another day one Renault arrived with four French lads and their tents. These were three brothers and a friend, they were really nice and we prepared breakfast for them. They also needed a shower and toilet, which was fine, as we had no guests in the downstairs bedroom. With the Covid-19 drama ongoing we cannot have guests, strangers, sharing a bathroom.

When we had Dodi and his tent here for a week, he definitely needed access to a bathroom, which was not possible when we had guests in the house.

Therefore I set upon Nigel with much nagging to build a compost toilet. And so he did, within four days he had constructed a solid building which will withstand any storm. Then the olive harvest started and we (or rather Nigel) have not got around to adding a roof, a proper door and a nice tiled floor, but it will happen.

I am all in favour of a dry toilet, which is by no means a new and radical thing. Compost toilets have been around for donkey’s years but nobody seems to want to invite them into their homes. I have come across them first in the 1990s in the Health Food Store in Berlin I worked. They sold upmarket types for garden sheds and holiday homes. In Ireland I used one in a converted outbuilding on a farm. Also German friends of ours that bought a finca have built a simple one and use it every time they are in the country, until they have modernised the house. A perfect solution for water preservation, no fussy plumbing required, and it provides the garden with manure. There is no smell, as liquids are soaked up by a layer of sawdust. They resulting human manure has to be composted for at least a year to be used in the garden. If you don’t believe me please read for yourself ‘The Humanure Handbook’ from Joseph Jenkins, available from Amazon or separate chapters are free to download.

The Egg Trick

Hens are clever; they hide their eggs in plain sight. We recently found a clutch of 19 eggs, right beside the door to the hen house, under the rose bush. We should have known because previously they hid the eggs around the corner in the rose bush. So without a date on the eggs, how would we know how old they were and if they were still ok to eat? It’s easy. Just put the eggs into a bowl of water and the fresh ones will stay below, see the egg marked ‘new egg’ in the photo, the old ones will float as the gases inside the shell develop. With the floating eggs I made a nice ‘dogs dinner’ scrambled egg. They were all good bar one that smelled like rotten eggs smell. The dogs anyway were delighted about their nice dinner.

Corona-Virus Quarantine Blog 2

sign for the roadside

So what happens if you are in week five of the Corona-Virus lock-down?

Not much. Just some mundane things like your hair getting longer and greyer, your patience slowly running thin and you are trying to occupy yourself with keeping somewhat from shape-shifting into a doughnut with several methods. One of them is an iron-strong will not to snack after dinner; to cut out the chocolate bar after lunch; not to bake another delicious cake.

Although saying that, we are of course lucky as there is always some hard-core work do be done on a finca and in the garden.

Even painting the entrance can be counted as this, as holding a brush to painstakingly trace around and inside the lettering can be quiet strenuous.

We were just getting into the groove of cycling around the finca, Nigel even clocking up to 15 kms, when our first pony arrived on loan from our neighbour to eat the greenery.

Everything is now lush and quite overgrown, so cycling actually got a bit hairy. There is a riot of colour displayed, particularly after all the rain we have been getting.

The daily work-out for Nigel is either handling the chainsaw to prune the trees or now expanding on the width and length of the future swimming-pool, which involves only hand-digging and bringing buckets full of clay, which is as hard as concrete, to the surface and depositing them along the fence line as barrier for the dogs.

I do some weeding, light digging if needs be and have taken up the Figure8 dance fitness (see https://bodyfx.tv/jaana-rhythms/), an online course to get me sweating and rediscovering my waistline, some day. The daily 45 minute workout leaves me aching and tired, so it must be doing something. It’s based on mostly Latin dance moves, which I am familiar with, and some high-octane Jive or Charleston.

We also harvested our first potatoes. The stalks got hit by blight, a fungal disease and so Nigel dug them up to rescue the spuds underneath. They are nice, some very small but edible. He has planted some more now.

Nigel also built a rocket burner, an emergency stove for outside, and it works a treat. Within 20 minutes we had a lentil stew bubbling away on it.

How do we feel about the increasing length of this quarantine?

Nigel’s life really hasn’t changed that much, as he prefers to be at home on the finca and keeping himself busy. It has more an impact on me as so far I don’t have to handle phone calls and online inquiries from potential guests. It makes me feel a bit surplus to requirements even though I have no problem keeping occupied. There is always the blog, the website development, continuous Spanish learning, gardening, baking, cooking, etc.

And yet I object to the curtailment of the freedom of movement, I think it goes too far. By all means protect the vulnerable and make protective gear available to all that come in contact with the elderly and already sick persons. Maybe I underestimate the dangerousness of this virus, but since we are not given the comparative figures of ‘normal’ death rates and a correlation between real Corona victims and percentage of population, the reported figures are skewed. And any scientist or doctor who says so is not given credit or newsworthiness. I have heard of such physicians that have been bullied and threatened. We are as a populous governed by fear. Only fear will really keep us in check, this has always been the best method of controlling citizens. Look to any dictatorship, the third Reich under Hitler or the Mafia stranglehold on life in Italy and other countries. What happens now, in the whole world, without questions asked, is without precedence. It makes me wonder.

Anyway, we just have to get on with it and I say this again, we are one of the privileged, as we have an income and very few bills to pay. Like all owners of supermarkets, tobacconists, pharmacies, food stores, veterinarians, farmers and field workers our life keeps going on much as it was before, minus the guests and their money.

So this virus is selective in its impact on the livelihood of people. Some will receive government help; others will fall through the cracks. A lot of businesses will close for good and we don’t know the economic outfall of it all yet.

When all this overwhelms me I try to concentrate on the positive side, because every evil has some good, nothing is black & white. So the reporting of wild things coming out to play, like goats in a town in Wales, an Orca whale in the harbour in Mazagon (only 45 minutes from here), a wild boar in Barcelona, a panda in Hong Kong Zoo finally falling pregnant as a result of no Zoo visitors, and less traffic on the roads is good news for hedgehogs and badgers.

Not to forget that air pollution has reduced dramatically, for the first time people in China’s metropolis can see blue skies, even seismologists report lower vibrations from “cultural noise” than before the pandemic. And little or no airplanes in the skies, even Gretta Thunberg couldn’t foresee that her wish would come true so soon.

We added to our family, as our cat Shadow gave birth to five kittens, three of them male. She was originally given to me as a male, but when our Jack became interested in him/her, we realised it is a she. Life happens.

On the olive pruning side of things, we tried the grafting method which our neighbours employ to rejuvenate a branch that was cut as it lost the vigour to produce olives. When an old arm is cut off, new growth will sprout as in photo 1. Too many sprigs and you have then to select which ones to keep. Instead you can take a sprig from a strong, vigorous olive tree, another type even, and slip the prepared sprig into the outer layer, where it will take root. To keep the site moist and prevent other suckers forming, damp clay is used to close off the cut and an old bag wrapped around the outside to keep it in place.

I have been trying out more no-gluten recipes.

One of them from Glutenfree-on-a-shoestring is called Japanese Milk Bread and came out very well; so well in fact, that the yeast dough flowed all over the bed, where I had it sitting in the warm sunshine for an hour. I had so much dough that I also made a bap that was delicious eaten warm. It’s light, fluffy yellow bread, good for jam and sweet spreads. I added sesame seed to the recipe.

See the recipe at:

https://glutenfreeonashoestring.com/gluten-free-japanese-milk-bread-the-softest-bread-ever/

I substituted the cream of tartar with more vinegar, the butter with sunflower oil and left out the xanthan gum. The flour mix was from a supermarket, it still worked well.

The other new item on the menu is a tortillita, made with equal amount of rice and chickpea flour mixed with cold water and any nice additions like onion, prawns or anchovies or anything you like, even parmesan or cauliflower.

Here is the basic recipe for 2 pers:

100g Rice flour

100 g Chickpea flour

½ cup of water, mix well until sticky, add salt to taste

½ finely chopped onion, ¼ cup chopped parsley

possible addition:    1 tin chopped anchovies, pinch of chili pepper.

The Apple Cake, also glutenfree, transformed into a Birthday cake for my daughter Elaine. Unfortunately we had to eat it ourselves as she could not be with us as planned thanks to the dam*!?x/&#  virus.

Manzanillas, Gordals, Verdials, Picuals and Cornicabras

Church in Almonte

I have broadcasted it probably already 4 times: we are now finished our olive harvest. But this time for real, the last load amounted to only 19 kgs, which are about six euros. We are really harvesting three times: first the green olives for eating, Manzanillas, Gordals and Verdials, but only if they are deemed big enough. Small ones stay on the trees. Then we collect the left over olives that have turned deep red and black or are blemished, have fallen to the ground, are small or have evidence of insect attack. So one olive tree can be visited 3-4 times, as some have a split personality, they can be half Manzanilla and Verdial or part Gordal, small and big olives.

Sometimes I feel like a truffle pig, crawling beneath the trees, picking up fallen olives, because to us, everyone is precious, as they are so few. We still have to do heavy pruning, correcting years of neglect.

After writing this paragraph in Mid November we still had another two days of olive harvesting going on in the first week of December, this time at our friend’s finca near Bollullos. They have four hectares of oil olives, mainly Picual and Cornicabra and one hectare of wine, the Zalema variety. A few trees were left after their son and Nigel did the main harvest and they offered us the remaining olives to make olive oil for our own consumption as payment in kind. So we went and worked another two half days and brought the olives to the Olionuba factory in Bollullos. This olive oil will be enough for us for year and would cost us about €300 to buy.

 

FOOD:  AGONIES & JOYS

So at this stage I have figured out, that I cannot eat animal fats, including butter and cream. Also I am lactose intolerant, which is not so bad, considering all the lactose-free products on the supermarket shelves. Additionally I now have to exclude all wheat, barley, rye and mostly oat products thanks to the gluten in those cereals, which means ordinary cakes, biscuits, pizzas, pastas, crackers, bread, bread rolls are also off the menu. I am not moaning here, just being astonished about my body changing and reacting so badly to food, which I used to take for granted and loved. I can live without ice-cream and biscuits and cake, no problem, as I prefer the savoury taste anyway. Switching from butter to olive oil is quite acceptable in a country that produces the majority of the world’s olive oil. The lactose-intolerance happened suddenly about four years ago. The gluten thing has been brewing in the background as I always found too much bread would make me feel bloated and sluggish. This culminated finally in a lot of stomach cramps and rushed trips to the toilet.

Now that I have reached peri-menopause a lot of the symptoms that most women grapple with have to do with changing hormone levels and the body’s adjusting to that, so why should the digestive tract and the diet stay the same? Also being over fifty means the body starts showing that it has had enough of one or the other food or abuse and lets us know it needs a change or a break to stay vibrant and healthy.

Luckily I always like experimenting with food and rise to a challenge. Any guests with vegan, vegetarian or other food requests will receive a custom-made meal, no problem. Therefore on the menu are now gluten-free bread, wheat flour is replaced by rice and chickpea flour which in turn leads to new recipes. I now bake my own bread with a special no-gluten mix and add seeds to make it real yummy.

As long as I can eat potatoes in all its delicious reincarnations like chips, crisps, mash, baked and boiled, I am alright. Vegetables and salads are my other mainstay. And not to forget eggs, particular our own from our free-ranging happy hens. There is so much you can do with eggs; you’ll never run out of a good meal.

Little Owls in Olive Trees

dav

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.

sdr
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.

dav
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.