Farming in a hot climate

Farming in the smallest clothes you own and wearing sunglasses feels weird – as a child I spent most summers on a farm in Ireland, where wellies and coats were the order of the day, even in August!

It has its pros and cons. Obviously the wall to wall sunshine is fabulous! Today we’re expecting to be at 37 degrees by lunchtime so you do lose a chunk of the day where it’s simply too hot to work outside. We drink an extraordinary amount of water throughout the day to try and stay hydrated. Mornings and evenings become the new work day with a little siesta in between! We use drip irrigation but where they’re aren’t water pipes, the ground is like concrete – if you want to dig you have to take a bucket of water with you to soften the ground first. The flies would drive you mad – they are so persistent! Lots of bites on legs and ankles so no flip flops whilst working! Neglect a seedling for one day and it dies – plants need the sun, but many can’t tolerate the afternoon heat, so we try and shade those in the afternoon. There are venomous snakes and spiders, so you have to watch where you walk, and if a big pile of wood needs shifting, you rake it out first before you start picking it up!

We don’t buy sun cream – Rog is allergic to every single make out there so has never used it, but me being Mrs Pasty, well I’ve always used it – I can burn in five minutes. We’re careful – don’t work in the direct sun for more than 15-20 minutes at a time – thankfully we’re quite shaded here because of all the trees. We don’t sit up on the roof terrace unless we sit in the shade (we have a pergola at last, hurrah!). Since arriving in January I’ve only burned once – and that was back in March when I decided to have a sit on the beach with sun cream on!

The drip irrigation is a blessing, we would spend our whole lives watering otherwise, but we were quite naive about it when we first moved in. You think, I’ll just turn in the irrigation and have a cuppa … oh no! The water pressure goes up to 9.5 bar some days and drops to 6 or 7 on others. On a low pressure day you need to release the caps on the droppers (about 200 of them under the trees) so enough water comes out – then if the pressure goes up they start popping off all over the place! They get clogged with mud, leak, and need constant attention. We’ve got it down to about 30 minutes to get around all of them making the adjustments and fixing bits – then we can have a cuppa! We irrigate for 2-3 hours every other day in the summer so it becomes a major part of life! We tend to irrigate in the evening once it’s cooled down a bit. We have taps all around so we can segment the irrigation – this is handy when the pressure drops as we can do a bit at a time to make sure everything gets water.

Almeria is one of the most fertile places in Europe, which is why there are miles of those plastic greenhouses providing 60% of Europe’s tomatoes. It’s great that everything grows so well, but it means the weeds do too! There are some weeds that provide nitrogen to the soil so you don’t pull them up – strimming regularly is the only way to keep them under control. The growing season here is 9 months of the year, which is a major plus. The climate here means that the winters are pretty mild – down to 8-10 degrees, and the summers don’t usually go over 40 degrees. Working in the heat is tough – you have no choice but to slow it all down, and take regular breaks in the shade.

You know yourself that when it gets hot your appetite disappears – but because we’re doing physical work we really need the calories- we’re gradually getting used to the heat and can now eat a proper dinner at night instead of plate after plate of salad – we just eat later in the evening, which is the Spanish way anyway.

The major pro that kicks out any downside is that we’re doing something we love and we’re free … no mortgage, no working 70 hours a week at a job that is destroying your very soul. Yes, we need to get jobs soon, but we’re looking at working just 2-3 days a week, leaving us the rest of the week to run the farm. It feels like the right balance.

I’m a big fan of Alan Watts and I saw a great quote today on You Tube –

‘The most dangerous risk of all – the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet that you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later’

We’ve done this move on very little money (but every penny we could raise out of the house sale, the sale of our stuff and savings) – the farm cost €37,000 + fees and we’ve spent about €10,000 on it – things like the solar system, composting loo, generator, wood chipper etc – it can be done, you just have to find a way and be prepared to make compromises along the way. We could never have done this in the UK with the money we had available.

Farming in Spain, yea, I’d recommend it!

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