March 2021 – Anniversary of our Journey to Spain 4 years ago

Beginning and end of the months. It started with floods and ended with a feeling of summer:

And as almost every months, March brought a lot of surprises, some good and some not so good.

Below are what are called ‘ollas’. Yes, I know they are terracotta pots.

A German friend of mine who is into pottery sent me a Whatsapp message about ‘Ollas’ (pronounced OY-yah).

These are ancient vessels of clay that are porous and used as a watering system for thousands of years. They are like vases and are buried in the ground between plants and filled with water.

See https://wateruseitwisely.com/olla-irrigation/

I have since read up on them and like this low-tech version of a watering system and have installed a home-made version in my vegetable garden.

Purpose made ollas are beautiful but quite expensive, so I have bought cheap terracotta pots in the Bazaar Chino, two sizes that just about fit snug into another and have sealed the edge with silicone, and also plugged the drain hole that goes into the ground.

The advantage over over-ground irrigation systems is there is no evaporation occurring, as the moisture seeps into the surrounding soil, right there where it is needed and only when it is needed, so it is extremely efficient. This will depend on a lot of things: the saturation of the soil, the soil type, the plant needs, the plant size and how far away it is. So in fact the plants needs dictate how much water is used. Overwatering is not possible, as the olla is full if no water is needed and empty when all is used up.

The other advantage is that because there is no overground moisture, no weeds will thrive. The top soil looks dry, but beneath and surrounding the olla the soil is damp.

How often it needs refilling depends on all these variables and also how often you water the garden. I look upon this system as a back up to my manual ‘flood irrigation’, which I do every two days at least in the heat of the summer. And in between the ollas will supply a steady bit of moisture.

The disadvantage, as far as I can see at this early stage is, that you need a lot of ollas, either one for every two or four plants and they take space away in small plots. Also our soil is nearly pure sand and does not retain any water due to its lack of humus, so any moisture gets sucked away immediately.

I also suspect that the plants will send out their roots towards the source of water and the olla will eventually be totally covered with hair roots. And then what? Will it clog up? Will I need to dig them up, dry them out and clean them?

Will faster and stronger growing plants take all the moisture for themselves? We will see. It is still an experiment for me and evolving as I put down more ollas and plants.

This system can be improved by connecting several ollas with pipes and having a line coming from a water butt for automatic refill if you are so inclined.

I however like to spend time in the garden with my plant children, so it is no chore to look after them or at them while giving them water. They will repay my diligence with beautiful, tasty, fresh and healthy vegetables and leaves.

Property Surprises

We had a surprise while trying to register the finca for the goat project. We did not realise that our abogado/notary did not register the property with the land registry at the time of purchase. Well, at the time we were just happy to close the deal and move on. That’s not so tragic in itself, but it turns out that a several thousand euro embargo is attached to our finca and we did not know about it.

So off we went to La Palma de Condado to check out, if there were any taxes unpaid, just to be on the safe side.

This embargo must be an issue with the previous owner and we immediately engaged a lawyer to shift this embargo off the property while at the same time starting the process of properly registering it into our name, which costs us a further €3,500, apart from the lawyers fee.

Apparently it is quite common that the local authorities will put an embargo on either your bank account or, if you do not have any funds, on your property for unpaid taxes or any incurred fines. They will either take their unpaid dues out over time from your account or prevent a sale of the property from happening. Sometimes the next owner will have to pay those fines, if they have to do with the property, for example not having obtained the required licences or having built too large or for a different purpose.

In our case at the time of sale, this embargo had not yet been put upon the finca, so we will not have to pay any of it. It just takes time and money to shift it.

This is beautiful La Palma de Condado, Iglesia San Juan Bautista, Plaza de Espana:

Garden Art

Thanks to our new neighbour we are now proud owners of not one, but three unique statues. I always coveted some art in my gardens, just not quite the type we now own. But never mind, they are quite fetching and different from the gargoyle that inhabits the vegetable garden.

These three are nymphs come from a nearby finca, whose owners were Dutch and the new owner just does not feel comfortable with them.

The biggest is a real beauty and the two smaller ones are of the same model, but all are unashamed depictions of the feminine form.

It’s really a deal – art for eggs. Astrid, our new neighbour, loves our farm fresh eggs and we really love her oranges and so we swap. I include in the deal surplus from the garden and so we are all happy.

Our terrace is the hottest place in the summer and really only good for an early morning yoga session or a late night wine chill-out. We erected a pergola and the first year I had a synthetic matting up to provide shade. Between the wind and rusty wire it went to bits. The ultimate idea is to have the wine, Kiwi and Bougainvillea climbing up and over it, but this will take years.

For now, we need an alternative type of awning.

So this year I cut the cañas, the reeds growing along the road, and proceeded to slip them into the wire grid. Fingers crossed, it will provide some kind of shade. It’s organic, free and I can always add some more.

Random photo gallery:

Between the times…

Garden produce….

THE STORKS ARE BACK

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For the past two weeks already the storks are making themselves at home and comfortable in their nests around here. In La Palma de Condado the pair on top of the church were busy repairing the storm damage by adjusting and adding twigs to their nest.

 

Any days we have no guests we use to explore our area. We still know very little about the town of Huelva and its beaches. So one Sunday we drove to Punta Umbria, which is another summer escape for town people with hotels, villas, apartments and restaurants. It also has a sports boat harbour. In the winter of course it’s quiet and not many places are open but there will always be people at the weekends and fiesta days to enjoy the sand, sea and stunning views.

 

The other good news is that WE NOW HAVE A GENERATOR IN PLACE. There is no solar system in place, as far as i know and have researched, that has not got a back-up system in place. Most dwellings are connected to the net, if they are not, they have a generator. Ours took a while to arrive because it will run automatically once the solar battery bank reaches a low level. It is such a relief and it got us already over one week of rain and the period of shortest day length. For the past three weeks we have spent about €30 on diesel to recharge our batteries. Which is essential for pumping water for showers and toilets, wash machine and generally all appliances and lights.

 

 

The Private Health Saga

There are two health systems in Spain; the public one, where 95% of the population are looked after, everybody that is employed here, and the private system, where you voluntarily pay a health insurer, that’s us. We are unfortunately not eligible for the public system because we arrived here after 2012, when eligibility changed and excludes immigrants, which are not employed. Even though we work, we are self-employed and pay taxes, which do not entitle us for free health care. It’s complicated. In order to qualify we would need to pay monthly contribution of at least €280 per person, rising with age. The public system is good, one of the best in Europe, but there are also waiting times for surgery etc. Anyway, so we pay a little less than €200 for two per month, which pays for a range of essential health care, i.e. consultations, x-ray, biopsy, annual check up plus blood test and others we haven’t yet needed. It does not pay for medication or dentistry, although a yearly check-up and cleaning is included.

This is a rural area, Huelva with ca. 100,000 inhabitants being the next biggest town. So there is not much choice in private clinics or doctors. We are currently on No. 2, which is a lady doctor in La Palma de Condado, hence the photos. We needed to change as the previous doctor, a heavily overweight guy who practices only on Wednesday afternoons in Almonte and sits otherwise in Pilas, was very inefficient. It took three visits until he finally gave us a referral for blood tests and his prescription for Nigel turned out to give him increasingly painful muscle cramps. Every time we go, he swipes the insurance card and cashes in.

For my annual check-up I have teamed up with Teresa and we go to the private hospital ‘Costa de la Luz’ in Huelva together. It has all the specialists and equipment to do all sorts of investigations and surgery. I am only exploring at this stage and am very lucky to have Teresa to explain the ins and outs to me and even make the appointments. This is actually quite normal here in Spain, usually all the family goes together to any doctor and gathers daily around the hospital bed.

In the public system all is happening streamlined as you would expect it from Germany, Ireland or England. In the private system here however it seems you are punished for your choice and money. Everything has to be done by the patient, the doctor basically only writes referrals and prescriptions. So for the blood test we have to go to another location, a laboratory that specialises just in taken and analysing bloods. For x-ray it’s another special unit, or the hospital. For any tests you have to get them done, collect the results in person another day and bring them to your GP who will interpret them and write a prescription. Luckily in the Costa De La Luz Hospital all specialists are in the same location. But that doesn’t mean you get all the investigations done in one day, or the results. That’s as far as we have figured it out.

Christmas – Navidad at Casa Halcon

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We had pre-Christmas visitors, Dylan, Nigel’s son and his girlfriend Kaycee from Hongkong.

It was nice to have youngsters around and I really enjoyed this bit of family-time. Of course we showed them the usual places, El Rocio, the beach in Matalascanas, Mazagon and Christopher Columbus’s ships by Huelva. One day they took the bus to Sevilla.

 

We included a trip to the western side of Portugal, to Vila Nova de Milfontes, because there is a company, Camposol, that grows roll-out grass, which Nigel wants to use for our front lawn. This place has a lovely beach, with a river outlet and even though it was rainy, windy and dull it looked stunning. I am already looking forward staying there again, this time without the rain, when we go back in March to collect our piece of ready-made lawn.

Kaycee gave an impromptu concert on the piano in the restaurant where we had a few drinks. She is a gifted musician and it was a really uplifting, wonderful experience listening to her. Unfortunately it rained all the time during their few days with us, so not many photos were taken. These photos below are taken from the web to show the location.

But honestly, this cute town should be kept as a secret, because it kept its charme  by not being build-up with hotels and is mainly enjoyed by locals and Portugese, see https://algarve-south-portugal.com/vila-nova-de-milfontes-portugal.html for more information.

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