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.

 

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. 6

or   How to look after your Pool

So we thought we want a pool, somewhere to cool down when the thermometer hits 36 plus degrees. Of course a real big one would cost about €7000-9000 and needs a licence. We won’t go there yet – or ever.

Carrefour had this round, over-ground 17 m3, 1 m deep blue thing on sale. Complete with pump, ladder, ground cover and top cover, a real steal. And since we also bought a hoover, they delivered for free. But not without costing me some nerves and had I not already grey hairs, I’d have them now. This Carrefour is ca.20 minutes by car from here, in Bollollus. And they had delivered our fridge, wash machine and oven before. But did they remember the way? No. It was even the same two guys. This turned out to be a drama stretching over three days.

Delivery was to be on the Wednesday, but on Thursday the guy on the phone informed me his colleague would do the delivery the next day after hearing we are out the country (a mere 4 kms from Almonte).  It finally arrived on Friday after nearly an hour on the phone to give directions. By then I was on the way to the beach with Nigel’s brother Stan and daughter Maeve and they listened to this exchange. Me repeating over and over directions I had written down in Spanish and their background rattle and noise as if they were on a horse and cart.

Nigel waited at home and was ready for the new arrival. The next day we levelled the site, removed stones and roots and Nigel heaved buckets of sand to smoothen the site. The three of us then set about sticking the pool together.

A day later we filled the pool up with well water and let it warm up. Now I had to purchase 3-in-one chlorine tablets for keeping the water free of algae, organisms and bacteria and at a pH of around 7.6 so that the chemicals could do their work effectively. This took a while, because I also had to purchase a pH- and Chlor-level testing kit and a floating gadget to put the tablets in. The pH was over 8.2 and it showed by the slippiness of the bottom and walls of the pool that something was amiss. So a bucket of pH-minus was also purchased, 550g of the powder dissolved and added to the pool at night, with the pump running all night to distribute it. I had to repeat this several times to get the pH down to the desired 7.6. By then the water looked clear, the slippiness was gone and all we have to concern ourselves about is to fish out olive leaves, suicidal flies and other critters. Still, the lovely pool water has to be monitored constantly for the correct levels of pH and chlorine so it won’t tip over to a green soup, which would not be very inviting. Although saying that, I had once visions of a eco-pool with self-cleaning plants like reeds and watercress living around the edge. But that would require running water and quite a complicated construction. These were my visions [ see https://www.bing.com/images/search?%5D :

 

NEVER A DULL MOMENT

Today we witnessed the first wild fire. And it happened to be pretty close. The first I knew of it was the helicopter flying over our house and swerving into a semi-circle where I then saw, and smelled, smoke. I run up to the terrace and saw in about 500 m distance a line of smoke. The helicopter was in fact transporting water from the nearby lake at El Rocio to quench the flames. This all happened quite swiftly and within 40 minutes all was under control and the smoke lessened. At one point there were two helicopters doing the round-flight over our finca.

Today we drove to see where the source of the fire was. It was not all that dramatic but got very near to a house. To my eyes it looks as if it was started in a square field of scrub but I could be wrong. Because this seems to be the time where fields are ploughed and prepared for sowing in September, when the first rains are expected. And how to get rid of scrub and dead grass easier then torch it? Which would be madness considering the drought conditions we have now. In fact there is a fire ban in place from the 1st of June to 1st of September. Luckily no wind was blowing and the fire was confined to one side of the road and away from olive groves and our farm. In fact, to prevent fire from spreading most olive and vine groves are ploughed with no vegetation left between the rows, so that fire can’t find food and spread.

 

On a lighter note,

The storks around here have now nearly finished rearing their young and we can spot them on most rooftops in Almonte. On the church roof alone are six nests at least. We can also see them hunting for food near El Rocio in the meadows, a lovely sight.

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As were the Solstice fires on the beaches of the Costa de la Luz, which we witnessed In Mazagon. They are lit every year on the longest day – and shortest night – all over the coast in Spain.

Another sight I do not tire of are the horses, donkeys, mules and carts that casually trot about the streets and byways of Almonte.

And riders on horse-back, photo by Maeve:

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