April brings April showers, puppies and a riot of colour

 

 

 

Demise of a pool – Creation of a new pool

We bought the round, overground pool relatively cheaply last summer in Carrefour, complete with ladder, pump and cover. It lasted one season. The wind blew it over twice when it was empty and bent the frame frightfully. Also the bottom was leaky in many places, bad quality and wrong use of chemicals being the reasons for that. At least a few guests and my friend’s kids got daily pleasure from it while they were here and I learned how to monitor and measure pH and apply chemicals.

 

It was always to be a transitory solution, until we could effort a decent underground pool. So now we have no choice but to start the new ‘pool’ project, to that end Nigel has started digging. Yes, by hand, shovel and pick. We envision a 6m long x 3m wide x 2m deep. This will take some time, but we will use it in between, we hope. Hole in the ground, liner and hey presto, we have a pool….

‘Wonky Paws’

‘Drops’ came to us last autumn, a stray terrier mix, in need of food and love. We thought she was only a puppy because she looked so skinny and small, but she was only starved. In reality she is probably 3-4 years old. I cooked pasta and rice with sardines and egg additionally to ad-lib dog food. She soon looked more perky, started running and jumping and took up night shift duties with Sofie. She even developed dark spots on her back that were not there before. She now adores me, the head feeder. As a thank you she gave us a clutch of puppies. Well, it was really the neighbour’s dog that came visiting and romancing her. We are now left with three puppies of which we will keep one. After a month they are now starting to explore cautiously, still sleeping lots and keeping to their barrel home and surrounding bushes. One was born with a deformity, his left paw was crippled and very small and the right one was not quite right either, so I called him ‘wonky paws’. I brought him to the vet and came home with a bag full of supplements to help his development. But sadly, something happened and he died. Drops is now a working mother, doing her job as mice catcher and security guard.

A Whale of a Time

Summer has arrived with the last day of April and we took off to the beach. So wonderful to see the glistening ocean again, the endless blue sky and lovely long, golden sandy beach. It could tempt you to immerse yourself in the cool water, but just not yet. Instead we took a walk along the beach to view the stranded whale.

About two weeks ago a huge whale got stranded along the beach, a sperm whale I think, because another one got dragged in front of a ferry from the Canary islands to the port in Valencia, nobody any the wiser for this stowaway passenger.  This one is well on its way to decomposition, some bones are already loose and the skin is off, you can see the blubber layer. It is 12 m long and was probably longer when intact and alive. Thankfully it is about 2 kms from our preferred beach spot, so when it starts to stink offensively it will only assault us when the wind blows east. We wondered why it hadn’t been disposed off, but how do you deal with a monumental corpse like that? Nigel googled and the options are: stuff it full of explosives and blast it, with bits and pieces flying all over the place. If you move it at this stage, it will probably explode anyway due to the gasses inside, not an appetising vision. Dragging it back out to sea is probably too late as well, it will just disintegrate. The only option left is to bury it. As it seems it is left there to its own devices, a ready banquet for birds of prey, seagulls and other scavengers.

(We went to the beach again a week later, and the whale was gone, buried apparently, as at the site was evidence of movement of sand and machinery tracks. It’s stinking though.)

Pergola Project

To ease the summer heat on the upper terrace and in our bedroom I came up with the idea of a pergola and Nigel (of course) put it up with scrap iron and timber from our friendly scrap merchant. In time it will hopefully be overgrown with vine, jasmine and other creepers.

 

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

End of Summer – the Busy Season Begins

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finca eggs

This being the last day in September, we can state that we have all rooms full. Ok, it’s the weekend so it’s not that surprising. At the moment we have three Czechoslovakian and two Russians with us. It’s getting more international!

And because everybody loves it here and is interested in what we do, I thought we could involve people in an ‘olive harvesting experience’ on Airbnb. But to my surprise they didn’t think it lives up to their standards and expectations. We would have guests, a maximum of four, for three days. We would let them try their hand at harvesting the olives, bring them along to the factory, let them taste different types of eating olives and olive oils. Bring them to the oldest olive tree in El Rocio which is over 700 years old and feed them breakfast and a light lunch. I would prepare dinner on request. They would not be required to work hard, just a bit in the morning to enjoy the activity. And have the afternoon/evening free to discover the surrounding area or go to the beach. They can take the bikes or just chill on the terrasse. What’s not to like?

I would be grateful for some comments on this or maybe someone knows where to advertise this. But we can only do this while we are actually harvesting, which is between now (at the moment we are waiting for the factory to open any day) and January.

In the meantime we continued improving the property with a lovely step at the entrance and a rockery. We changed the curtains in our bedroom and added lime wood blinds, as ours is the hottest room because the sun shines into it from noon till sunset. Our third bedroom downstairs also received curtains to make it more homely.

The intense heat will slowly fade now and growth will take off again and that means it is time for gardening. It’s the opposite to what we are used to, winter being a restful period and time to sit by the fire with a hot port. No so here. I planted some cauliflower and broccoli plants and sowed varies tomato varieties as well as beans and hope we’ll be able to keep the chickens out of the vegetable plots.

Sweet Potato and Pumpkin Lentil Dhal

Here is a recipe for a vegan Lentil Dhal I made recently, which turned out so yummy I have to share it. The twist is a sprinkling of grated avocado stone. Yes, you can actually eat the avocado stone, which is a relief because it’s so big and my attempts to grow a plant from it have not been successful. You need to peel it and then grate it, it’s actually quite soft and tastes a bit like nutmeg, but nuttier.

Here you can read up on the health benefits https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/eating-avocado-seed#Benefits but the avocado stone has not received much study, so this is a rather cautious approach. Obviously you are not going to eat a whole stone in one go, just use it to sprinkle on muesli, in a smoothie or on your soup or plate of rice etc. I would use it as a condiment or spice, not as a main ingredient.

Ingredients for 4 people:

1 big cup of lentils, soaked in water overnight (I prefer the red or golden coloured lentils, it just looks a nicer colour)

2 tablespoons of virgin olive oil

1 vegetable stock cube

½ sweet potato, cut in cubes

equal amount of pumpkin, also in cubes

1 onion, chopped

3-6 garlic cloves, chopped

Spices: freshly ground black pepper, ground cumin, cinnamon, coriander seed

(use these spices to your liking, I normally don’t work with measures, just with intuition)

a teaspoon of freshly chopped ginger

a sprinkle of avocado stone and freshly chopped coriander or parley for decoration

How to:

Sweat the garlic and onion in olive oil, add the pumpkin and sweet potato cubes for 5-10 minutes. Add the stock and lentils, top up with water if necessary. You can serve this as a soup or as a main dish.

Add all spices. Simmer for about 40 minutes or until the lentils are soft. Liquidise with a food processor and adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve in bowls with a sprinkle of avocado stone and freshly chopped coriander or parley for decoration.

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summer garden produce (organic)

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.

 

Learning Curve No. 255-ish

Hosting is Fun!

It is actually very nice to see happy people in your own home because they like it there and you have made them feel welcome and comfortable. And by now we had a lot of happy people. Also couples that are very happy together, even after more than 20 years and that makes my heart sing. Because there is so much strife and hardship and separation everywhere and we both have been through it. And it is true; there are many more nice people out there then bad ones.

Praying Mantis

She suddenly appeared on the wall and was rather big and striking (both ways). She is a huntress and we are happy to count her as one of our allies against bugs and insects. She can eat things three times her size, including snakes, mice and bugs of all denominations. This includes worms, caterpillars and maggots we don’t want in the garden, but unfortunately she also devours the ‘goodies’ that help in the garden to control pests like ladybirds, not making a distinction here when she’s hungry [see https://www.jcehrlich.com/blog/5-praying-mantis-facts/ ]. She will not shy away from eating her own man after mating either. But the good outweighs the bad and so we welcome her to our home [see  https://www.spain-holiday.com/Andalusia/articles/10-wildlife-species-to-watch-for-in-andalucia for more wildlife facts.].

Squirting Cucumber – Ecballium elaterium

We have found this pretty looking plant in our garden. She is rather prickly and has pretty yellow flowers and braves the boiling sun. Her seeds are squirting forth from the pods, hence the name squirting cucumber. The juice of the seeds can cause irritation or inflammation of the skin. The roots have been used in herbal medicine, but must be used with great caution.

Solar Power Trouble

So do we have any problems with our photovoltaic system?

Not many. But sometimes things happen that shouldn’t. Last night we had a quite full house with nine people, including ourselves. And then the ventilator stopped dead. I noticed it at around 2 am and thought it ominous. I tried the light, nope, not working either; I went downstairs to check the internet and other lights, nothing. No water out of the tap either. Bad, really bad.

I woke Nigel and together we investigated the solar control station which was in total darkness, also dead. Even worse. I have to admit earlier there was a warning beep and a yellow light blinking, but this stopped again after an hour, so we didn’t think much of it as the control always showed the usual 25% usage and we were told we had 10-days worth of power stored in the battery bank, and this being peak sunshine season we didn’t worry too much until we were standing in darkness with the horror of unwashed guests and unflushed toilets on our minds.

So I sent a text message to our whiz kid David, the solar installation guy. But that didn’t send because I was out of credit. I hadn’t recharged because I am in the process of transferring to another phone company. Without internet I couldn’t recharge now either. Then on to my back-up Irish phone, which was also down to 12%, another message to David. We went back to bed discussing the next steps and how to minimise the discomfort to our guests.

Nigel got up nice and early to haul buckets of water up to flush toilets and at 9 am I borrowed our guests phone to call our best friend Cris. He is our rock and was immediately able to summon David, who had ignored the strange phone numbers popping up on his phone at 2 am.

And then it happened: the solar system came to life again and the internet restarted and there was water, phew. Ok, this meant the cut-out was due to exhausted batteries caused by the constant demand on the water pump, not only for showers and dishwashing and watering the garden but also watering our olive trees. We were warned that the system would support at least four people in the house and the pump is for domestic use only. But on top of that we had four ventilators going all night which squeezed out the rest of the power in the batteries.

Although this was not the only problem; for the past four months one battery had a leak and we could not refill the distilled water. We had David alerted and he was supposedly coming every week, but we didn’t see him. This emergency brought him out on a Sunday morning to our finca.

We have now agreed to install a back-up generator in case this happens again. We did not anticipate the success of our little B&B enterprise. Now we have to make sure not to disappoint our guests that are here for a relaxing stay in the lovely countryside.

Financially our B&B keeps us ticking over as well, because money that was coming our way from Ireland got delayed through bureaucratic hurdles and a very mean-minded Department of Agriculture. Lots of people feel aggrieved about the pay-outs that farmers receive for their work and products. I could go into a really long rant about how this system of subventions of agriculture in Europe was devised and how the general public profits from the unreal low prices of food. To receive those payments farmers are constrained restricted, controlled and policed through rules and regulations. In Nigel’s case the farm was split in half due to a court order in the course of a divorce and became unviable. He had to sell stock and machinery and rent his farm and house. Officialdom did not recognise this as a reason to cease farming and pull out of the 5-year organic farming scheme. So they punished him by denying him the pay-out of subsidies for the past two years. He is appealing this decision but this all will take time.

In the meantime we open our home to really lovely and respectful people that are happy to spend some time with us on our piece of heaven (or hell, as it is still over 35 degrees….).

Learning Curve NO. 80

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(I am not telling you about all our learning moments, as it would make us seem so stupid)

  1. Chickens can die of heat. At least that is what we suspect, because Grisella was only a young hen, but sadly passed away.   The others enjoy the shade of the house in the front with Sofie, our dog.

2. Tomatoes can get sunburn! Yes, in other countries you try to get as much sun on your tomatoes as possible to make them sweet and juicy, but here they need a bit of shade (just like the chicken). The yellow colour does not show unripeness, that should be green, but too much sun. Thanks to one of our more knowledgably guests we now know to cut that bit off and not wait forever for it to turn red.

 

3. There are male and female olive trees. And for every eight female trees you need one male tree for the pollination to take place. The male trees have slightly bigger but less fruit than the female trees.

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What we haven’t figured out yet, is how the health system works. But our friendly Gestor Angel, our agent that registers our car, will make inquiries if we are eligible for the free health care, that everybody receives when they are resident here and pay taxes.

We are now very relieved to finally be again happily legally on the road with our temporary green registration plates. These show that our car is insured and on the way to be properly registered and taxed here in Spain.  Yes, our car is constantly dusty from the dust road that goes from Almonte to our finca. As soon as we wash it its dusted over again. We gave up and safe the water.

We have also opened our third bedroom, as we had to turn people away that wanted to stay here with us. It is not yet publicised, as we first want to see if the sofa cama, the sofa bed, is comfortable enough to charge good money. We acquired it right here in Almonte for a knock-down price of €525. Its original price was €720, but it had sat awhile in the shop. It is now occupied by our lodger Fernando, who is with the National Police and resides with us for five days per week. I am not allowed to show photos of him, as it could be dangerous for him due to the ongoing struggle with the Basque separatists.

The Spanish police system is interesting and you will feel really safe, as you see them everywhere. You could be forgiven to think you are in a police state, a relic from Franco times. But I rather feel protected, particular after the experience with our raided house here (that was before we bought it). There are three divisions: the National Police, the Local Police and the Guardia Civil. And ALL of them carry guns! But as far as our experiences go, most of them are courteous, professional and polite but take their job serious [ see http://www.spainmadesimple.com/moving-to-spain/police-spain/ ].

So far we have one parking offense (which we ignored) and one speeding offense which was dealt with by three officers on-the-spot and cost us €50. We were stopped twice for breathalysing and every time they get a bit confused about our steering wheel being on the wrong (right) side. Mostly they waved us through not bothering to check our Irish insurance and tax documents. But I guess this will change now as we are definitely under Spanish law now. We have been reprimanded once for parking on the side of a (deserted, long straight stretch) of a road because I wanted to pick cornflowers.

Fernando, our friendly police-lodger, often brings a colleague for his lunch break, so that we have two police officers sitting at our table and a police car parked outside. So we are under police protection! If that doesn’t scare off any unwanted guests and burglars I don’t know what would. One evening we had Shabi, a German (long-haired and Afghan-looking) Police Detective and Fernando sitting at our table playing cards with us. Yes, it can be very interesting and exciting having guests you have never met before in your house.

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We also had guests that are vegetarian and vegan, so I have now decided that that is the way I want to go. I offer a cooked meal for €10 including a starter, a main dish and a glass of wine or beer. The Spanish eat an enormous amount of meat and pork and I don’t want to go down that road. I often cook without meat and so I will make that my speciality. I tried out my home-made pesto dish with wholemeal spaghetti on our German Vegan-guests and got thumbs up. This pesto has now already undergone varies changes and it depends on what is available out in the garden and the kind of guests I have.

The base is Olive oil and Garlic, of course. Then I add lots of freshly chopped parsley, some basil if available, a pinch of oregano and marjoram from the garden together with grated parmesan and black pepper. The interesting twist is the tin of Mejillones, mussels, in a spicy sauce that are added just before serving. For the vegan alternative I left out the parmesan and mussels and added grated courgettes and carrots, cooked them a bit in the garlic-olive oil mix and added roasted mixed seeds.

I have also dug out my vegetarian cook books, The Vegetarian Student Cook Book (Octopusbooks) a friend gave me, Linda McCartney-on-tour (written by Paul McCartney’s former wife) and The Happy Pear by Dublin twin brothers David and Stephen Flynn (Penguin books). These give me enough inspiration to device my own dishes.

Free-range Eggs in Mayonnaise Curry dressing:

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