An Extreme HOT AND DRY SUMMER

Sunset at Finca Halcon

July has gone and so has August and September and here we are at the end of October,

it’s shocking how time flies by so quickly.

I have to admit the heat really takes its toll and a siesta is necessary to keep energy-levels up, so then the evenings have to make up for the lost time.

Guests kept coming, keeping me busy and then the olive harvest started in early September.

I have learned some lessons in the garden, the hard way.

The garden gurus say to save seeds yourself, to propagate your own so that seed companies do not have the monopoly on seeds and our food supply.

I sowed courgettes, probably old seed or seed from shop bought courgettes, I cannot remember, mistake number one. Note to self: Always make sure you remember where your seed comes from.

I watered and fertilised, and water and mulched and incorporated ‘ollas’ and did everything to achieve lush, green growing plants. They flowered and some little baby fruit appeared. I harvested one; yes only one medium courgette from five plants. Every other fruit shrivelled up or died or did not even form.

The same with volunteer tomatoes from last year and the melon plants; they grew and developed nice green foliage, two small melons appeared and shrivelled up; granted after being attacked by the peacocks.

And my shop bought tomato plants? Yes, they are still producing, but I rarely get to enjoy a fruit as again the peacocks get at them despite netting and wire mesh. And the ones they cannot get the ants will claim for themselves. In an extremely dry, hot year any source of moisture helps the critters to survive.

Who am I to deny nature its bit? Well, it is damn frustrating to a go without a bounty of harvest after putting in the time of keeping the plants alive in the extreme heat.

Saying that, I did have some success with the cucumbers and made plenty of cucumber smoothies and the peppers are doing quite well and also the multi-coloured aubergines. I have purple, purple-white striped, yellow and white aubergines and even sold some to the Moroccan shop, which also takes our eggs. Ok, I am obsessing about those beauties, simply because this is this years most successful crop, as ants and peacocks don’t go near them.

This year’s lesson is:

  1. take note of where your seeds or plants come from, also what age the seeds are.
  2. do not buy hybrid or polyploid seeds or plants if you want to save the seeds or propagate new plants from the old
  3. bought plants will not guarantee successive produce in the next year, because of the same problem: lots of fruit in the first year, then diminished production.
  4. If you want to save seeds, buy organic seed that are untreated, produced without chemical additives like fertilisers and pesticides and are not hybrids for a once off showy grandeur of produce.

And did I mention the trouble these beautiful wonderful peacock and peahens give me? It’s definitely a love-hate relationship, full of passion. They break into the garden; push their way through netting and wire to eat all of the Swiss chard, some tomatoes, all of the cabbage, lettuce and what-have-you.

I am looking forward sowing my crop of Ruccola, self-saved and always a great slightly peppery salad ingredient.

HAPPY DAYS WITH LOVELY PEOPLE

In August I went to collect my daughter Elaine in Malaga, or rather Fuerengirola, taking in Benalmadena on the way where a dear friend of mine lives.

She is nearing her 80s, but an inspiration with her active life. She moved to Spain in her 70s, learned Spanish then and thus it proves you are never too old to start anything. Being a nurse by profession she volunteered her time and expertise in a nearby hospice and wrote a book at the same time. We met in 2016 in Granada on an excursion of the Spanish language schools and being both on the way to move our lives to Spain, clicked.

My daughter was after having a hen party weekend with friends and happy to move to the quietness of our finca. Not without being dragged over the border to Portugal, where my son and girlfriend holidayed in Albufeira. Well, ‘If the mountain will not come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mountain’ or: don’t underestimate your mother, she will come and find you.

We spent a lovely day paddle surfing, paddle boating, jumping into the water, falling off the paddle board and filling ourselves up with food in between. All crowned with a cocktail, and a mocktail in my case, in the ‘Havana meets Jamaica Bar’, [R. Padre Semedo de Azevedo Nº18, 8200-167 Albufeira, the old town, Portugal], which we would recommend if you like really well made cocktails, Bob Marley, Shisha and a cool decor.

As you can see, I am lacking photos of this single day in Albufeira. Simply because we enjoyed ourselves too much to take silly selfies and were too busy splashing in the water and getting sun burnt.

Hello 2022

We now enter the third month of 2022 and this is my first blog this year.

What does that mean? Am I too lazy or tired or simply too busy?

All of the above, in fact.

If I don’t do my writing in the morning I am either too tired at night or the laptop is used for watching sports on TV, or indeed I watch my favourite soaps, Heartbeat, Doc Martin and Vera, all English. This happens only in the winter and if we have no guests.

And we do indeed have a lot of guests, so much so, that I have to block days just to keep up with the washing.

Only last week we had continuously guests from Thursday to Monday, which included breakfasts and dinners and the usual housekeeping and corresponding before with the arrivals. And sometimes Nigel even takes the guitar out and sings a few old Irish ditties.

Last night then, the gate was locked and we were looking forward to a quiet night, as my mobile rang and two French motor bikers informed me they just booked and were in front of the gate.

My biggest challenge this year was the group of five Belgians, all bird watchers and nature lovers, who stayed with us for four nights. Daily breakfast at 7.00 am, packed lunch and dinner was provided with the additional requirement of one vegetarian and one Keto-diet, i.e. No-Carb-diet. So I devised meals to please them all, which is what I like doing, creating a meal to suit my clients palate and dietary preferences.

We received another well deserved Booking.com award, which is nice to know our efforts to give people a warm welcome are recognised.

In between keeping guests happy we try to find new places to go, several of which are nearby and important to know as local information for guests.

La Rocina y El Acebrón is one such board walk and just after crossing the bridge at El Rocio on the A-483.

It’s a really lovely walk through umbrella pine woods, leafy forest, dotted with observation hides and gives you lovely views across the lagoon and river La Rocina with its many birds like the Purple Gallinule, herons, ducks, Spoonbills, rails and flamingos. The landscape changes into dry scrubland with herbs like rosemary, thyme, lavender and cistus shrubs. And this time of year the dreaded Pine Processionary Caterpillar (Thaumetopoea Pityocampa) are hatching and climbing down the trunks to pupate. The hairs and bristles are poisonous and can lead to allergic reactions like a rash on the skin, dogs and cats may even die after contact.

We did not follow the 7 kms road towards El Palacio del Acebrón this time.

Much nearer to us are pine woods where we can take a ramble in the shade or follow the path along the Eucalyptus plantation and heath.

Cycling Loop

My last foray on the bicycle lasted ca. 3 hours and had 33.5 kms. The first part runs along the back road through pine forests, which is tarmac but a bit rough, towards Hinojos, passing by the Camping Doñarrayan Park. From there a nice concrete cycling path winds its way towards Hinijos/A-474. Unfortunately, the way back is along the A-474 towards Almonte with all the traffic whizzing past. And then it’s 3 kms on our dusty camino.

Olive Harvest 2021 – How much did we make?

This was our 4th season at Finca Casa Halcón and sadly it was not the best. This was due to the bad weather and the wind beating the blossoms off the trees in April and the whole harvest of the Verdial olives was condemned as a new type of fly got into them, so they went as oil olives, which is a very small payment of €40 cents per kilo as opposed to €85 cent/kilo, which we should have had.

This year, as last year, we brought in Moroccan workers to help with the harvest, as it needs to happen quickly to prevent the olives from turning black.

We received two top-ups after the main payment, as our agents sell the produce and then hand on the increase in price, when the market price is good. We are happy about this system. All in all, our olives received a premium for being clean (no leaves), disease-free  (due to the spraying against the olive fruit fly and the olive leaf spot disease which is caused by fungus Spilocea oleaginea) and size. Because we have a relatively small amount of fruit on the trees our fruit tends to be bigger, even without watering. We were paid 85 cents per kilo for the Manzanillas and €1.10 euro for the Gordal and 40 cents/kg for the molinos, the black olives.

Looking at our figures, it means we made no profit last year if we take the cost of spraying and labour off, in fact we lost money.

Our overall yield increases slightly each year, due to the constant pruning and cutting back and it will be another few years to really be optimal, as we had to cut a lot of diseased wood out and therefore our trees are carrying less leaf mass.

Olive Yields:

2017 – 2188 kgs, 2018 – 4611 kgs, 2019 – 2270 kgs, 2020 – 8761 kgs, 2021 – 4046 kgs.

Our first year, 2017, we just arrived on this unkempt, overgrown finca and proceeded to take the olives down without having a clue. The amount was not so bad, as no pruning had taken place and it was a good year. In 2018 we started pruning, but we harvested ourselves and took forever to take all olives down, three months in fact, and they turned black, so we didn’t get paid a lot.

In 2019 the guy with the sprayer let us down and the trees got diseased. It was absolutely horrendous to see the leaves dropping off and the fruit turn into squelchy brown blobs. Now, that did teach us that our location is a rather humid place with a lot of morning dew, that can bring on the fungal disease, if not preventative treated with a copper fungicide. The spraying with a copper sulphate or copper hydroxide is even allowed under organic standards and needs to be carried out here at least four times a year. Fortunately, the application of the insecticide against the fruit fly only happens once in the year. Although, now that a new variety of fruit fly later in the season has attacked the Verdial, there might be another treatment due.

So although the olive is a rather easy crop, as it does not carry thorns, does not need irrigation (although some farmers do), regrowth is vigorous, is self-pollinating and native to here, it has its problems and like all agricultural crops, the money is not hectic. The yield changes from year to year and there is a lot of annual manual pruning required.

Best of all then, because the black olives only get a payment of 30-40 cents a kilo, as opposed to 80-100 cents a kilo for the green olives, Nigel now uses some of the black olives to make olive oil, which attracts a premium price of €30 a liter!

He does this what I call the stone-age way. In a 25-liter tub he simply stamps on the olives and let the mash sit until the oil comes to the top and drains it off. Then the oil is let to settle and he drains it off several times to get rid off the organic bits that collect in the bottom of the bottle. The simplest method instead of filtration. No machines involved, just honest-to-goodness manual, or in this case, pedipus work.

Well, at least that was what he has been offered by an ex- Almonteña, who now is a chef in a restaurant in France. He now sells the liter of home-made olive oil for €20.There is only 8 liters of the stuff, so it’s a rarity.

And of course we have the lovely olive wood keeping us warm in the winter and a delightful fire on in the chimney at night in the winter months.

Second Hand Furniture – Restore – Reuse

Our local scrap merchant, MetAlmonte is a treasure trove for used anything and everything, big or small, from forks, plates, garden gates, cement mixers, wash machines, mattresses, bicycles, garden ornaments, tables, chairs, chains, curbstones, you name it , he has it at some point.

This is our first port of call, and if he does not have it, well, then there are other alternatives or buy it new.

When we moved in, we had an assembly of old tables, but not a single chair, so we sat on the stairs or an upturned bucket while we were working to rejuvenate the olive trees, setting up the gardens or renovating the house. Then we were given used garden plastic chairs, which I painted in primary colours and we still have them.

We bought a lot of our (new) furniture locally in Almonte, helping the economy and transport is easy. Some electrical items are cheaper in Carrefour, but their customer service leaves a lot to be desired.

For our outside terraces we by second hand sturdy stuff, as I ordered once a seating arrangement online and it turned out to be a disaster, disintegrating after only 6 months!

Madrid – Toledo

In February we got away for two nights to research the possibility of buying either a caravan or a camper to drive to Ireland and other places in another few years. The internet told me there were major businesses around Madrid, Malaga and Barcelona. So we went north to explore.

What we learned was that due to the Corona restrictions imposed during the last two years, people preferred to travel independent of hotels and airports and also to keep their distance to other travellers and so the market for campers and caravans of all sizes is booming.

So much so, that the Germans come to Spain to buy a camper and manufacturers can’t keep up with the production. To order a bespoke camper you need to wait at least two years and any second hand caravans or campers are immediately snapped up.

With the price of new and even second hand campers we were quoted, that idea is a non-runner.

But at least we got to see beautiful Toledo.

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.

SPRINGTIME IN OCTOBER

'Shadow'

The rain has finally arrived and given the trees and the car a welcome wash-down, and refreshed everything. The starlings are noisy in the trees and the buzzards and falcons are circling above.

The temperature has briefly dipped to below ten degrees at night but is up again to a balmy fifteen. We had a fire in our stove lit to keep the cold at bay, but now it is not necessary.

I have planted five types of spring bulbs today: Daffodils, Tulips, Iris, Fresias and Anemones.

Because of the severe lack of water, farmers have to feed their livestock mainly bought-in straw. Joaquin, a farmer not far from us, feeds his sheep and cows all sorts of fruit that are otherwise dumped. Lately, we saw his cattle tucking into a heap of limes. Yes, the small citrus fruit.

I know, there is citrus pulp included in cattle feed, but these were real, juicy fruit. Now, I am not sure about that. Last year he fed a load of sweet potatoes to his sheep and some died of bloating. Hopefully more rain will mean some fresh growth soon.

Gardening Olives

What we are doing at the moment I call gardening rather than olive harvesting.

Let me explain.

When people are gardening, they are doing it usually for pleasure and no monetary return is involved. It is an activity born purely out of the enjoyment to be outdoors, listening to the birds, the hens scratching, bees buzzing and feeling and smelling the earth, the end result being a lovely flower display or vegetables and fruits for the table. Nobody would ask you what you earn from this labour of love.

At this point in our olive harvest we are gathering left-over olives, which have turned black. These were deemed to small to be picked green, as the bigger the size, the higher the price. So now they are only few of these on the trees or up high and for 30 cents a kilo nobody would bother to take them down. We are however, and it is also like housekeeping, cleaning up. So the return is minuscule and we are laughed at. But I can think of a lot worse things to be doing then cherry-picking olives under the blue sky and getting a good work out at the same time. Believe me, dear reader, it is strenuous exercise. You stretch up high with or without a long-handled plastic fork, pulling the last olives down and then bend down to collect them from the ground. It does come for free, so no need to enroll in a yoga class or pay a monthly fee for the gym.

When we have done the black olives that are used for making olive oil, we will start the next round of green eating olives at a minimum of 60 cents a kilo, these are the Verdial. They are slightly longish, bumpy and spotted, rather than the plump, round Manzanilla.

Minus One

We started out originally with eight hens, which got decimated for different reasons to four. We then bought three more but are again down to five.

From our four dogs for keeps, little cutie Bonny vanished. So Clyde has lost her sibling. Apparently a number of dogs have disappeared in the neighbourhood and a white van has been seen driving about. We can only assume she has been kidnapped, so we are left with three dogs: our giant Mastin Sofie, Drops our stray and her daughter Clyde.

We also had three cats. Sadly we found Sam, our red one, dead on the road the other day and are left with Jack and Shadow.

dav

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.

(click on the photos to see caption)

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.