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.

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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