Hens and eggs …

At the moment we have 5 hens, and average 4 eggs a day from them. We were getting slightly overrun with eggs so decided to start selling some. The problem is, they’ve become so popular we’re struggling to meet the demand!

Here’s a picture one of my customers sent, with the message ‘guess which two eggs are from your hens!’ 😂 – easy peasy!

The pale eggs on the right are organic free range eggs from a big supermarket costing double what we charge! Our customer said ‘The flavor is vastly different – yours are creamy and full flavored, the shop ones are watery and bland’

So we have a couple of choices – just keep one or two customers; put three more hens into our existing coop (which will realistically be the most we could add for the space we have) – or build a second coop and get another six or so hens … I think we all know my preferred option! 😂😂😂

We don’t really want to limit our customers. If we add three hens into the existing coop we’re looking at six weeks of bickering and very few eggs. Option number three it is then – a second chicken coop and run with another batch of chooks!

We’re clearly doing something right for our hens to be producing such marvellous eggs. Every morning they get chopped up vegetables, including peelings from the kitchen, and which most days include some fresh parsley (excellent for egg production). They also have a really good layer food, plus extra corn in the winter when it’s cold. Corn is high in fat and helps to keep them warm. They also get crushed up oyster shells to munch on. Hens use so much calcium from their bodies to produce eggs that it’s really important for them to have extra calcium in their diet. And lastly, they get mealworms every day to keep up their protein – again, essential for egg production.

Most days they do get out of the coop and can free range around the finca for a while – they like to dig a little hole and have a dust bath – a natural way for them to clean their feathers and keep any mites at bay. We also use diatomaceous earth in with their bedding too to make sure no mites can get at them. We grow vetiver here on one of the banks to stop soil erosion, and when we cut the vetiver we add some to the nesting boxes as they are a natural insect repellent. I love utilizing everything possible here!

So we’ve picked a spot at the end of the third terrace – the run will need to be triangular to fit in the space, but it will be a bit bigger than the first one. We need to do some planning and decide whether to build a wooden coop, buy another IBC or buy a ready made coop (which is the most expensive option and not the preferred way for us). I think we might also try another breed of hen this time too! Variety is the spice of life!

I think we’ll get the kitchen finished first, and then it will be watch this space!

Getting creative!

We now have a regular supply of eggs – 4 or 5 each day. Clearly too many for us to eat! Until now, we have been giving eggs away to friends, but I really want to start selling them now I’m not working.

I need some egg boxes, I thought. Checked with our local place where we buy our chickens thinking they’re bound to have some, but no! Finally found some online but they cost 50 cents each! I have ordered a pack, but clearly there’s got to be a better way!

Now my friends and family on Facebook know that I love the chickens, so tend to tag me into anything that’s daft and chicken related -things like a harness and lead to take your chicken for a walk, swings and picnic tables! My stepdaughter Katie sent me a picture of a crochet egg collecting apron – I’m totally serious 😂 – here it is …

But it got me thinking, and after a bit of research I came upon a picture of an egg basket. Now this would be more sustainable than an egg box as it could be used over and over, and it gives me something else to sell alongside the eggs. So the idea is that people can buy one of my sustainable egg baskets with 6 eggs in it, and then when they want more eggs they just bring it back to fill up, paying just for the eggs. It totally fits in with our sustainable living! So, here’s the first one – not perfect but it definitely works, and even has little carry handles! Some of our eggs are enormous so I might have to make them a little bigger!

Pretty easy and cheap to make!

I might also make some reusable bags so people can also buy marmalade, chutney and jam when they come for their eggs! I’m actually quite excited at the thought of our little cottage industry!

Plants to improve air quality

I mentioned the other week that we were going to try using house plants to improve the humidity in the house when Rog got ill.

Well, we’re a few weeks on now, and I can reveal whether this method has been a success!

The short answer is a resounding YES!

Two of the peace lilies which are good for purifying the air

In our main room, which serves as kitchen, dining room and living room, we have two reed palms and three peace lilies. Then in the bedroom we have another, slightly larger reed palm and a mother in laws tongue. We have also bought a Himalayan salt lamp for the bedroom, which we put on for a couple of hours in the afternoon – we don’t have enough electricity to have it on longer, but combined with the plants, we can both really feel the difference.

Reed palms reduce humidity

We have a weather station here, and one of the things it measures is indoor and outdoor humidity. A comfortable range is 30-60% humidity. A few days after I put the plants in, we started to monitor the humidity more carefully, and for the last two weeks it’s hardly gone over 60% indoors! We had a day last week where the humidity outside was 97%, but we we’re still all good indoors!

The fact that the house now rather resembles Kew Gardens is a lovely bonus!

It’s been a perfect example of thinking outside the box. Not having access to unlimited electricity means you have to find other ways, and I think you’ll agree that these are much better than running some ugly, noisy dehumidifier!

I was also planning to try making a home dehumidifier by placing one pot inside another and adding rock salt to draw the moisture in – I haven’t managed to get my hands on any rock salt yet so haven’t made these, but I’ll let you know how I get on if I do manage to get some!

We need to go and get some more plants now for the spare bedroom, which is the worst room in the house for damp!

Preserving food

It’s a wonderful thing to grow your own food, but even with the best planning you will always end up with a glut of something at harvest time. So, what to do with it all?

We had about a dozen kohl rabi and 6lbs of beetroot the other day from the garden! I have prepared all the kohl rabi and squeezed it into our tiny freezer!

Well, there are several options – keep eating it every day to use it all up; swap with friends and neighbours for other goods or services, or preserve them.

We’ve done all three to some extent 😂. Believe me, there is only so much cabbage two people can eat! Our lovely friend and neighbour, Pepe, dropped over some beans the other day, and we were delighted to give him a massive cabbage in return. Before we had fresh produce to share, we would give him a jar of homemade chutney or marmalade in return for the veg he brought us. It’s a great system!

Now I’m really getting into preserving food. There’s quite a lot to learn as there are so many ways you can try – freezing, pickling, canning and dehydrating to name just four. There are loads of excellent books and information on the internet, and I am creating my own recipe book as I try new things – if they go well they go in the book. If they’re not so good they get tweaked, tried again, and when they’re perfect they make the book.

Freezing isn’t really an option for us. Because we have a gas fridge freezer, the freezer part is really small. It’s actually quite unusual to get a fridge freezer that runs on butane, and as far as I’m aware there’s just one company that makes them – Butsir, based in Brazil.

Dehydrating using just the sun is on my wish list for this year. We will have to make a frame that is covered with netting and off the ground to stop the beasties getting at the tomatoes whilst they’re drying. The process takes a couple of days, but there’s something really appealing about making your own sun dried tomatoes! Many people use a drying oven, which takes around 24-48 hours – again, not an option for us on limited solar power.

That leaves pickling and canning, and I have dabbled since we moved here with quite good success. I have ordered a pressure canner from the US, but due to the pandemic, the manufacturers can’t keep up with the demand, so it’s likely to be months before it arrives.

So, what does a pressure canner do, and how are they different to a pressure cooker – the two are not to be confused! A pressure cooker cooks food quickly. A pressure canner will also cook food, but it’s designed in a slightly different way in order to seal preserving jars, like Le Parfait and Mason Jars. Without sealing the jars, nasty bacteria can cause serious illness! With a pressure canner, pretty much any food can be preserved. They come in lots of different sizes and can be pretty expensive, but it’s likely to be a once in a lifetime purchase. The pressure required and the length of time that you put the jars in for are based on what you are canning and the altitude you live at – most good preserving books will have charts in them.

Mason jars have a two part lid. The central piece needs to be replaced each time the jar is re-used.
The alternative to mason jars are these clip top jars – the orange rubber seal needs replacing after each use. Probably the best known brand is LeParfait.

Then there’s pickling and chutneys. Because vinegar is used in these, any nasty bugs get finished off in the cooking process, so don’t need canning. Today though, I have pickled our harvest of beetroots using Le Parfait jars, and finished off with a water bath – yes, yet another method 😂. A water bath seals the jars, but not to the extent a canner does – this method is fine for acidic foods, like pickled beetroot or tomatoes, and just means the shelf life is extended. A water bath is very simple to do – you just need a large saucepan that enables you to cover the jars with water, bring it to the boil and boil for 20-30 minutes. I always put a cloth on the bottom of the pan and in between the jars to ensure the glass jars don’t crack. If you’re using a twist lid (jam) jar rather than a preserving jar, then no water bath or pressure canning is used (things will explode!), but the jars must be sterilized thoroughly before filling.

It was with some trepidation that I started preserving food – if you get it wrong you can get quite ill! You do get the odd jar that goes off because it didn’t quite seal right – making sure everything is sterilized properly is so important – that, and having a good look and sniff when you open a jar of course! The slightest hint of mold and it has to go straight in the bin!

When it goes right it is a very satisfying thing to do, and I love seeing the rows of jars in the bodega that we can enjoy throughout the year!

Home grown beetroot preserved in apple cider vinegar with honey – we’ll leave for a few weeks now to really let the flavor develop so they’ll be ready for the summer salads!

When my pressure canner finally arrives I will do a post just on pressure canning once I’ve had a play with it!

Veg gardening – things we know now!

We’ve learnt a lot in two years!

Today’s haul from the veg garden – kohl rabí, beetroot and greens!

Don’t grow too many of the same thing (unless you have a way to preserve your produce). See the box of Kohl Rabi above 😂 – I couldn’t leave them in the ground any longer as they go tough! Things like beetroot are fine as it’s very easy to preserve and will give you months of delicious pickled beetroot through the summer months to go with salads!

Don’t get too hung up on keeping every weed away! There are ‘no dig’ methods that lots of people have success with, but we have copied what the locals do in this area. There’s always more than one right way to do things! Try different methods and then go for the way that works best for you.

Plan your planting and then plant the seeds, especially if space is limited.

Make sure you can fence off the veg garden if you have pets – all your hard work could be destroyed in minutes!

Look up companion planting to see which of your crops will grow well together, and which should be kept away from each other. Planting the right flowers and herbs in between the veg will enhance your produce and keep pests at bay. Basil around tomatoes, marigolds around beans etc.

So, here’s the latest update … hope you enjoy!

Writing a blog!

I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who reads the blog! This month has been record breaking for us, and it’s quite humbling that so many people in so many countries are reading it.

My first blog post was just before my 50th birthday – we’d made the decision to move and we were trying to sell the house and our belongings – it seems like a lifetime ago now, but it’s just shy of three years.

I hope in that time that we’ve provided a few laughs, a bit of inspiration and some sound advice. It’s certainly lovely for us to have a record of our journey so far. So much has happened in such a short space of time that it would be easy to forget some of those moments (although some will be totally unforgettable, like the snake in the bedroom!).

Hopefully over the next year we will be able to make some more informative videos about what it takes to live this sort of life, how to grow vegetables, and what life in this part of Spain is really like. We’ve come a long way in a relatively short space of time and it’s a lovely thing to be able to share our adventure.

So, thanks again, and I hope you continue to enjoy reading!

The crazy weather continues …

We tend to get very strong winds here – it comes straight off the Sierra Nevadas and down the valley in the winter, and in the summer it blows up the valley from the coast. The last few days it has been worse than normal. Being halfway up the side of the valley we seem to get it full force here.

It started Saturday afternoon – about 50kgs of oranges were blown clean off the trees and the gates to the finca were ripped out of the concrete columns either side of the gates. The solid bar that you close the gates with – the bit that goes into the ground – bent by the wind! To straighten it Rog had to use a dirty great lump hammer! That is strong wind!

Once the mortar has dried we can repaint – this gate shouldn’t ever move again!

And then at 3 o,clock this morning we had a repeat performance, so there we were, sitting the house working our way through several pots of tea waiting for it to end – which it finally did about 5.30 – managed to catch a quick hours sleep before getting up so we were ready for the builders, who arrive at 8.

This sort of weather certainly isn’t ideal at this time of year – the oranges are ripe, and you just have to hope they stay on the tree until you get the call from the Co-operative saying they’re ready for you – it was March for us last year.

So we have about 150kgs of oranges sitting outside – what on earth are we going to do with them all??? When I make marmalade, just 4 oranges (2 kgs) makes 5 or 6 jars! I have made some already this year and will do another couple of batches – it’s very handy to be able to give people a jar in exchange for some vegetables etc! The nice thing is that no-one around here expects anything in return, but it’s something we like to do. At the moment, anyone we see leaves with a carrier bag of oranges! We’ve just harvested most of the mandarins too – we could be facing a vitamin c overdose!!

It’s too early for them all to be in crates! This is over 10% of our total expected harvest.

So far this year, we’ve had the coldest weather in 50 years followed by the hottest weather in a decade in January – and now apocalyptic wind! We’re also getting a whole series of earthquakes in the area – Granada, which is only a couple of hours away, had a series of them last week, and last night, Gergal, which is not that far from us, had a sizeable one too!

The weather really plays such an important part of our lives now, and you have to stay on your toes all the time to try and manage the farm around different bizarre weather events. We all know that the weather plays a crucial part in every farmers life, but to experience it firsthand really brings it home. Let’s hope the weather calms down a bit now for the next few weeks!

A loo with a view!

We used to have a proper flushing loo in the bathroom, but we soon discovered that the pozo negro (cesspit) was extremely small. It may have been fine for two people staying here just the odd night, but for two people living here full time, it was a disaster. The day we got up and discovered raw sewage floating outside on the ground we thought we’d better sort something out!

We looked at increasing the size of the pozo, but in the end decided to buy a composting toilet, which is dry, and requires emptying (the wee is every day and the composting bit once a week). We did a lot of research and opted for the Nature’s Head Composting Toilet – not the cheapest, but not the most expensive either, and it had lots of good reviews online. We took delivery in July 2019, so have been using it now for the last 18 months.

As we’re having the bathroom totally renovated at the moment, the composting loo has just come into its own! This week, while the builders have been here, we moved the toilet out into the shed, and then brought it back in the house for overnight. Fantastic! But even better today, we’ve popped it outside, in the warm sunshine, so we can sit and look at the view while we … you know!

Whilst a composting toilet is flexible and you can put it anywhere you want to, there is a hose for ventilation – the toilet has a little fan on the side to suck out the smells. The hole for that tube is obviously still in the bathroom – it’s no problem at all in the day while it’s outside or in the shed, but at night when we put it in the spare room, we’ve had to leave the window open so the room doesn’t smell in the morning!

When we first got the toilet, and with me being me, I wrote a little poem for visitors, so they would know how to use it .. which goes like this …

If while you’re here you need the loo, then this is what you have to do …

Both boys and girls must both sit down, otherwise you’ll get a frown.

If you just need a number one, then go ahead and have some fun,

But if you need a number two, there’s a little extra you must do …

The little handle on your left, opens the trap door of death …

Once finished, close the little door, then see the spindle near the floor

Just turn it round, three times, no more, and then a quick spray so the smells are no more!

I know, I clearly have too much time on my hands!

Dealing with waste

No matter how carefully we use resources, there will always be some waste that we have to get rid of – grey water from the bathroom and kitchen; kitchen food and packaging waste; our ‘personal’ waste; the list goes on.

Back in the UK we were furnished with three large wheelie bins – one for recycling, one for general waste for landfill and one for organic matter for composting. Each bin was collected every two weeks, and there were some weeks where the bins would be overflowing, especially the recycling one. As for other waste, such as grey water or the loo, well, you don’t think twice about it do you? You pull out the plug or flush the loo and it just goes away like magic!

There are no wheelie bins here, and no magic drains or sewers – we have to manage everything we need to get rid of. The previous owner of the finca didn’t manage this very well, which is why the place was in such a mess when we bought it – old kitchen cupboards under the trees, worn out shoes, hundreds of mismatched tiles just sinking into the ground – it took months just to clear the rubbish away so we could start the real work.

The whole finca was like this – it took two months of taking a car load of rubbish up to the bins in town almost every day to clear the place.

We do have access to large bins in the village – there’s an array of recycling bins and then the big grey ones are for household waste. So now we have one small dustbin outside, which we empty in the town once a week. When we go to the market on a Wednesday we sort all the rubbish into piles in the back of the car and work our way round the bins in town. I’m quite proud that we only produce two small plastic bags of rubbish for the grey bin – everything else is cardboard or paper for recycling and then our milk cartons, which are also recycled here. We don’t pay for using these bins – if we lived in town then we would pay a quarterly charge of about €30 but as we’re in the campo in a rustic house, the system won’t let them produce a bill for us – fine by me! I was really impressed that about 93% of all the rubbish in Almeria gets recycled.

Food scraps are no problem at all – we have a second small bin in the kitchen for any food scraps that the chickens can’t eat, and these simply get buried in the ground under the trees.

When we prune the trees we obviously have the cuttings to get rid of. Any larger branches go in a pile to dry out and get used as firewood. The smaller stuff gets wood chipped and put back under the trees. Some cuttings, such as the olive tree branches, don’t chip very well, and so we have a couple of fires after we’ve done those trees, and then use the ash as fertilizer. When we cut down the pine trees at the front of the finca, obviously we had an abundance of twigs covered in pine needles and fir cones – both are excellent firelighters!

So this leaves us with the grey water and human waste. When we bought here we knew there was a pozo – a cesspit, but it became apparent very quickly that it wasn’t big enough for two people living here all the time. The day came when we had to uncover it and see what was going on as we had raw sewage floating on the ground – not pleasant! So the pozo was a small hole in the ground, lined with old tiles – that was it! We still use this for the grey water from the bathroom. We did consider making a proper cesspit using IBC’s, but we would’ve lost a mature orange tree, and we would’ve needed a digger up here for several days, so we decided to find another way – and that was to buy a composting loo.

The grey water from the kitchen and from the outside sink that I use for washing clothes was the next challenge. We decided to deal with these separately, so we have the water spread out rather than all going into one area. To deal with these, Rog dug holes and made two French drains. Now a French drain works a little like a pozo – the pipe goes into a hole lined with stones, but with the addition of a largish bowl upside down. The whole lot is then covered with earth. These have worked really well, but I do have to be careful how much washing I do in one day, as the water needs some time to drain away. After heavy rain like we had the other week, we do have to be mindful of how much water we put down the sinks as it’s not going to drain as well or as quickly as in the summer months.

I think the most important thing we’ve learned is … is it really rubbish? Can we repurpose this, or does it really have to go in the bin? As an example, there were a couple of old tea chests outside, a bit the worse for wear. Take that, some pallet wood and a drop of varnish and Ta da! A new cupboard for the kitchen! It gives me a small worktop next to the cooker and hides the ugly bright orange gas bottle!

Repurposing an old tea chest and a pallet. Excuse all the jars – it’s marmalade week!

Finding a pallet when we’re out makes us so happy! There are sooo many things you can do with them! It’s the same with IBC’s that hold water – we’ve used all the ones that were here already for other things – dog kennel, chicken coop and run, rainwater collection … the list goes on!

The management of these systems is on going – you can’t just put them in and forget about them! Rog spends much of his week on maintenance, adjustments and repairs. He’s definitely a busy boy!!

A Life on Our Planet by David Attenborough

We recently watched this documentary, which the great Mr Attenborough calls his witness statement. I felt compelled to share the information about this program and would urge every single person to watch it, and ask them to then tell everyone they know about it. My Dad is reading the book at the moment, and we enjoyed an animated discussion on the contents last week – it’s great to see that the message is getting through to young and old alike.

The first half of the program charts the changes that he has seen throughout his life, including information about population growth and the decline of the amount of wilderness on our planet. He shares his thoughts on the fantastic opportunities he has had, the animals he has not only seen, but also introduced to ordinary people through TV, who would otherwise have never seen a pangolin, or a baby seal, or a mountain gorilla….

But it’s the second half of the program that had the most profound affect on me. I have read about predictions for the future of our planet. In fact, we felt so strongly about what we were doing to our planet that it lead us to living the life we do now. The way that the program lays it out in such a straightforward way reduced me to tears. Before our grandchildren finish their working lives, much of this planet will be a wasteland; the delicate ecosystem that our planet depends on, destroyed; rainforests and their inhabitants, gone. Decades of intensive mono farming will have effectively killed the soil.

If we continue on the destructive path we are currently on, we will not be able to live here, it’s as simple as that. What will all of our children and grandchildren do then? Where will they live?

The program ends with answers – changes we can make, and changes we need our governments to make, to heal the planet. It can be done.

This is not someone else’s problem – we all have to own it and we can all make a difference – each and every one of us.

Please, watch the program, inspire others, and give our grandchildren, and all future generations, a life worth living.

Thank you.

Creating a farmers almanac

In America there is an annual publication that has been going since the early 1800’s. This farmers almanac gives information on timings for growing crops, moon phase dates and lore as well as natural remedies.

I started a project book when we moved here, and it’s actually fast becoming a kind of perpetual almanac – when to harvest the different fruit, when to prune, recipes etc. But there was a missing piece to the puzzle – sewing and harvesting dates for many of the vegetables we want to grow.

We’ve been feeling our way through this over the last year, but then this week, our lovely neighbour Pepe dropped in a spreadsheet which has everything we need to know – hurrah!! It has the plant name, when to sew the seeds, the spacing, when to plant out, when to harvest, optimal temperature for germination – everything! I need to make this man a lot of jam and marmalade!

We knew most of the veg names in Spanish, but one or two of them are even a mystery to the online translator!

The weather for the next few days is set to be awful (it’s already so cold we’re sitting less than a foot from the fire with blankets over us!) so we have the perfect opportunity to update our own almanac!

Here’s to a more successful harvest throughout 2021!

Growing vegetables in Spain

Almeria is famous worldwide for the amount of vegetables grown in the plastic greenhouses – mainly down near the coast, but they are creeping up our way. There’s one down by the river that we can see from the house, but it doesn’t bother us too much – the view is so vast it would take more than one greenhouse to spoil the view. Almeria grows over a million tons of tomatoes each year that are shipped all over the world. It’s said that this province is one of the most fertile places in Europe for growing. The soil here is clay, which when dry goes like concrete, so the challenge is to stop it drying out completely!

Lots of people said before we came here ‘so are you going to be completely self sufficient?’ To which we answered NO! But we’d be over the moon if we could grow 50% of our veg and all our fruit. 100% self sufficiency in my opinion is just unrealistic – after all, I’m not planning on having sheep to shear to then knit loo roll am I?!!

The whole point of this life is to not get stressed out about stuff, do the best we can, and most importantly, have fun living this life.

So here’s a quick video update on our veg garden!

Being here alone …

Rog had a week away back in the UK in September of last year, and I was just a little nervous about being here on my own then. Well, I wasn’t nervous until everyone kept saying to me ‘will you be ok on your own there??’ and ‘what if you need help’ – after hearing these things from half a dozen people only then did I get spooked! But it was absolutely fine, of course!

He was due to visit the UK again in May this year, but obviously that trip got cancelled. I dropped Rog off at the coach station in Almeria yesterday morning so he could go back for his Mums funeral, and I’m here on my tod for just the second time.

It’s amazing the difference a year makes though – we’ve now got Luna and the chickens, so I really don’t feel alone at all. Although, Rog has only been gone two days and I’m already talking to the chickens probably more than is healthy!! We are having to play referee with the new hens vs the old hens as they’re still sorting out their pecking order, so there’s a bit of squabbling and feather pulling going on. But it’s quite comforting hearing Luna trot up and down the stairs outside the house, chasing everything in sight! She is missing Rog quite a bit – she even came and sat with me in the house for a couple of hours tonight! I’m certainly busier than when I was on my own last time! That’s the nice thing about here, there’s always something that needs doing – no chance of getting bored!

Rog and I are both the kind of people who don’t mind being on our own now and again – even when we’re here together we don’t mind companionable silences and rarely feel the need for inane chatter. Day to day we’re not in each other’s pockets all day – we’ll be off doing various jobs around the place, and we meet up in the kitchen for a cuppa during the day!

Each of us is capable of doing the day to day stuff here – sorting the composting loo, checking and changing water filters, looking after the animals – but there are definitely some things that I would avoid doing here on my own – no wood chipping, no using the chainsaw (well I don’t even do that when Rog is here – I’m terrified of the thing!), no rotavating etc – you know, the stuff where you can chop a limb off! Rog did cut me some firewood before he went, and if I need more while he’s gone I’ll just be using an ordinary hand saw!

When we’re both here I tend to do the cooking while Rog sorts out the heavier, more dirty jobs outside. When I’m away he cooks for himself every night, but when I’m here on my own I find it really hard to be bothered to cook just for me – I’ll warm some soup up or have some toast. I’m going to make a concerted effort this time to be bothered though!

I’ve also done a ‘to do’ list of jobs I want to get done – things like wash the curtains, clear out the cupboards, re-stock and sort our food in the bodega etc. And, of course, get ready for Xmas – which takes far less time now than ever before in my life! I now tend to shop online in the UK and have the pressies delivered directly to the family, either getting stuff gift wrapped by the store, or in the case of the grandkids, sending the pressies to Matt and Holly along with a supply of wrapping paper and they wrap them all up for me! The Christmas shopping was all completed weeks ago to make sure everything arrived in time!

Rog is due back on Wednesday 23rd – we’re a little nervous as he has to produce a negative PCR test to get back into Spain – he’ll be giving everyone a wide berth at the funeral, and the rest of the time he’ll just be in the hotel. If he can’t board that plane on the 23rd then the next flight home is the 27th – so there could be me, the six chickens and Luna sitting around the Christmas dinner table!

I think a little time on your own now and again is very healthy, and it really makes you appreciate each other when you are together again. I have to say though that after hearing Boris Johnson today I’m a bit more anxious about Rog getting home and have everything crossed that it all turns out ok. No point worrying about it though, that certainly wouldn’t change anything. I think the grand plan for when he gets back is to just hide ourselves away here for as long as possible! Sounds like a good plan to me!

Transition to mad chicken woman complete!

After we lost Maureen the other week, I said I’d like to get a new hen to replace her – but it can be difficult to add just one hen into an existing flock. So Rog said, let’s get another three then! I do love him – he says all the right things!

So Rog has built a temporary extension onto the other side of the chicken run so that we can keep the new ones separated from Atila, Balti and Ethel for a couple of weeks to avoid a bun fight. They can see each other, so they should get used to one another fairly quickly.

A temporary extension for the new girls – what would we do without old IBC’s!

Balti has definitely let them know who is the boss already! All three of them made a right racket and then Atila and Ethel decided to go and sulk in the nesting box, leaving Balti to lay down the rules.

What a big fuss they made!

So the important bit – the names! My sister said a replacement for Maureen had to be Maureen the Great, so that’s one decided. The other two will be Gerty and Daphne I think. The new ones are quite hard to tell apart at the moment though! When they come out of hiding in the next few days we’ll get a proper look at them!

So that takes us to six hens, which realistically is the most we can have with the coop and run we’ve got – and to be fair, even I think that’s enough!

For now … 😂

Baby Oranges Part 3

I love this time of year – when you look across the valley the trees look like they have jewels all over them!

The oranges are not ready yet – but they are ripening nicely. The harvest around here generally starts in January and goes on until the end of April / beginning of May. Last year we got the call in mid March from the cooperative for our oranges.

We don’t earn a lot from the oranges, which is why you see people just letting their oranges fall to the ground – the time and effort needed to grow the oranges doesn’t feel fully rewarded by the payment you get! There are two types here – eating oranges and juicing oranges. The only difference is whether you hold an ecological certificate for your finca – if you do then you can sell them as eating oranges and you earn more money. Needless to say, our small finca doesn’t have a certificate, and to be honest, we can’t be bothered with the rules and regulations and soil testing that would be needed to get the certificate. The process would probably cost more than we could earn in 3 years selling them as juicing oranges. For farmers with large fincas it’s absolutely worth it – but for half an acre with 35 trees? Nah!

The first year we were here we didn’t have anywhere to sell our oranges – we sort of moved in just at the wrong time really! We didn’t want rotting oranges littering the finca so we’d pick up the fallen ones each day and then at night take them to the bins in town. We did try to eat as many as we could, and we had fresh orange juice for breakfast each day – it’s a wonder we didn’t turn orange! We gave away what we could to friends back on the campsite, but there were still an awful lot of oranges left to get rid of. I hate wasting food, and throwing them away really bothered both of us.

Last year though, it was all very efficient. Got the call, harvested the oranges over a few days (well, Rog did as I was in England when the call came!) and then we delivered them to the co-op. All done in a week or so.

Learning how to look after the orange trees has been a bit bewildering at times – too much water, not enough water, what fertilizer and when, how to cut them. We’re nowhere near experts yet, but we are learning how to look at them and figure out what they need … we think!

And next month I’ll be stocking up on sugar and jars ready to make a ton of marmalade in January! There’s nothing quite like homemade marmalade with big thick chunks of peel in it!

The next post on the oranges will be when we harvest them!

The Vegetable Garden Part 3!

A thoroughly enjoyable day, despite needing a hot water bottle on my back and a couple of ibroprufen at the end of it, but the veg garden is full! Kohlrabi, cabbages, beetroot and several types of beans are all in. I did stand back at one point and think ‘we’re going to need a bigger finca’ as there’s loads more I’d like to plant, but my aching back disagreed! There are other, smaller areas around the finca that we can utilise, although we’d have to protect the veg from the chickens!

We planted seeds in trays back in September while we were preparing the veg patch and building the frame. The onions didn’t take at all, but we can buy some seedlings really cheaply locally. The beans were donated by a neighbour Pepe, who has really taken us under his wing.

I’m really looking forward to having some excess veg that we can give to Pepe next year. He has been so generous giving us tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and squash from his finca this year. It will be lovely to return the favour.

So the next thing to consider is how we preserve all this veg when it’s ready to harvest! The climate here isn’t great for storing veg in boxes with sawdust as nowhere is really cold enough. The alternative is canning. I did can some tomatoes this year, just using a water bath to seal the jars. This is fine for highly acidic food, but not for other veg such as potatoes etc.

The answer to this problem is to buy a pressure canner, which isn’t to be confused with a pressure cooker! It’s almost impossible to get one outside of America, where they are really popular. They sterilize and seal the jars properly so the food is good for years. The downside is the cost – they’re around $300 to buy, but then the shipping and import fees doubles the cost. The undisputed champion on the market is the ‘All American Pressure Canner’ and it seems from my research that one of these would last the rest of my life! It’s definitely on the wish list as it would enable us to have homegrown veg all year round. They do look a bit scary … but all the blurb says they’re easy to use!

The All American is comes top in every list of best pressure canners.

Pickling is also a good way to preserve, and I have done 6 jars of green peppers today. I made the pickling liquid with apple cider vinegar, water and olive oil. Alongside the peppers in the jars I added salt, garlic salt, peppercorns and coriander seeds for extra flavor. Because the vinegar, oil and salt are all natural preservatives, these don’t need pressure canning – a quick 10 minutes in a water bath does the job to seal the jars!

I always put some cloth on the bottom of the pan and in between the jars to make sure they don’t chink against each other or the pan as this can cause the jars to break.

At some point I will do a more comprehensive post on the different ways to preserve veg, as it could be useful when there’s a buy one get one free offer on at the supermarket – you don’t have to grow your own to preserve food!

Here we all go again …

Spain has done pretty well this year making the lockdown instructions clear and easy to follow. The lockdown here in the Spring was called draconian by many other European countries, but we all knew what you could and couldn’t do, and it seemed to be effective. Restrictions started to ease at the end of June, and it’s been pretty easy over the summer to move around and do what you need to do.

But now, like many other European countries, new restrictions have been imposed over the last month, and they are getting tighter and more strict by the week. A new state of alarm was announced a couple of weeks ago that will be in place until next May, which gives regions the power to close down borders around and within their regions. Where areas have been hit hard, such as Granada, Seville and Jaén in Andalucía, they are pretty much in total lockdown. This seems to be similar to the tiered system that was in place in the UK until last week, when the full lockdown was again announced.

From tomorrow we are going back into a new type of lockdown – we are restricted to our own towns and villages for the next three weeks. It’s better than having to stay in our homes like before, but obviously, living in a tiny village as we do, there aren’t many shops and services here – we can get the basics that we need though. People can still travel around for work or education purposes, but the hope is that by restricting unnecessary journeys it will slow the spread of the virus.

We’ve been under a nighttime curfew for the last few weeks, and this is being extended by several hours now each night, which doesn’t affect us at all. Bars can still open, but have to close at 6pm now. It’s hopefully a good compromise that will slow the virus whilst maintaining the economy to a degree – fingers crossed it works and we don’t end up back in a full ‘stay at home’ lockdown…. time will tell.

Houses in Spain

Spain certainly seems to have different building regulations to what we’re used to in the UK, even more so when you buy a cortijo on a Finca.

Many cortijos were built without any permissions or sign offs at the end of the build – think along the lines of building a shed in your garden!

Most houses don’t have a damp proof course, so suffer from some damp and paint peeling off the cold cast walls.

When we bought this cortijo were went in eyes wide open and knew what we were buying – and also accepted that some work would need to be done to live in it all year round. And I think we’ve been pretty lucky – the house has been way better than we thought it would be. Some of the electrics and plumbing have been ‘interesting’ to say the least, but Rog is handy in both of these areas so with a bit of hard work and some choice swear words, we’ve had everything working ok.

But there, in the back of our minds was ‘what’s going on under the shower tray?’ We took the decision to leave it well alone while it’s all been working ok.

But a couple of weeks ago we had a problem with the hot water – there was literally a trickle coming out of the taps. Knowing the water here has loads of calc we called Emilio, our gas man, to clean out the boiler pipes with the special diluted acid to get rid of the calc. But then disaster struck!

We turned the hot water back on and even though the taps were off, we could hear water running in the house – there was a leak somewhere. The leak had been plugged by the calc so now the pipes were clean, the leak could flow freely! At which point I buggered off to the UK leaving Rog to sort it out!

It turns out that the water pipes were laid and then the concrete floor was poured. So Rog had to dig down and around to find the leak, taking out the shower as part of the process. He had to dig fairly deep …

This is under what used to be our shower!

So the good news is we do now have running hot water, but the bad news is we have no shower or bath! So, we called our builder (also called Emilio!), who once again looked at something in our house and simply said ‘Madre Mia!’. The situation has forced our hand to get the bathroom totally re-done (which was on the list for some point in the future). We’ve been and bought all new tiles and new fixtures and fittings for the bathroom now in case we go back into lockdown like other countries in Europe, but Emilio can’t do the work for a month … it’s going to be a very long month I think!

At this point it’s better to just rip everything out and start again. We’re bringing the water pipes above ground just in case we have another leak in the future!

We’re turning it into a wet room and have chosen tiles we actually like 😂. It’ll all be worth it when it’s done!

It’s a cruel world …

Only three chickens came back tonight … Maureen was missing. After half an hour of searching and calling her Rog found her. She had gone through the fence into the next finca and had been attacked, probably by a dog – the attack didn’t kill her directly, we think she died of fright.

That’s the reality of living out here … but I have shed a tear or two – love my girls.

RIP Maureen 😔

The Vegetable Garden Part 2!

So after cutting down 4 small orange trees and rotavating the end where we plan to have the veggies, we did a big of digging. Now I’m just going to say it was pretty hard work digging in 30 degrees! But I’d rather be doing it in 30 degrees than in the cold, pouring rain!

Trenches prepared for flood irrigation. I promise we hadn’t been drinking when we marked out the lines for the trenches!

Rog then ran an irrigation pipe around the edge of the garden with several large outlets so we can flood the trenches.

So then it was test time – would the irrigation work?

Of course it did!!

The next step was to plant some seeds in trays to get them going so we can plant them in November – we planted cabbage, kohlrabi, onions, spinach, beetroot, beans and some herbs to start us off. We will also go and buy some seedlings from the local garden centre nearer the time. I have a large plastic box divided up into the seasons, with packets of seeds filed away in the relevant sections for when they can be planted – once an administrator, always an administrator! The plastic box also stops the pesky mice from eating all our seeds in the shed (learned that one pretty quickly last year!).

And then the building of the frame began! We had a drive up to Canjayar as they have a metalworks place there so we could buy some really long metal poles for the corners. I do find shopping for agricultural stuff quite exciting these days! Canjayar is only about 10km from us, higher up in the mountains – lovely little town, so of course we took the opportunity to have a nose round and a coffee while we were there!

We put the metal poles in the corners to support the rest of the frame – they’re a long way into the ground so should make the whole thing really sturdy. Then we started building the rest of the frame from river grass. Now the river is at the bottom of the valley of course, so the walk down there is easy peasy- not so easy coming back though, especially with a huge bundle of bamboo stuff that’s about 8ft long! We still needed more, so the next trip was in the car! Alleluia for having a very narrow car which happily goes down the lane to the river (which is still dry and has been since the end of May!).

So with all this bamboo and masses of wire, we started constructing the frame …

Luna wasn’t terribly helpful, she just kept chewing all the sticks!
And it grew and grew …
Ta da! Perfect for tomatoes, squash, beans, peas and peppers! We’ve left a corner without a frame for cabbage, spinach etc but we can also plant these between the poles over the winter while there’s no tomatoes and peppers.

And the finishing touch is a particularly ugly scarecrow to stand guard! Had to be done!

I attached some bells to the sides of the overalls so they jingle in the wind! The scarecrow is the one on the left by the way 😂😂😂. And Luna is STILL chewing the sticks!

Next step, get planting!

Learning to cook all over again!

Since moving to a predominantly plant based diet, I can’t tell you the new things I’ve learned, and the experiments that have been carried out in this kitchen!

It really helps having such lovely fresh produce available, and a good nose about at the market often comes up trumps. My herb and spice rack has never been used so much!

Lots of people on a plant based diet use these vegan and vegetarians alternatives – ‘pretend meat’ – but the problem I have with these is that they’re so highly processed, and when you read the labels you find they’re not that good for you (or for the environment). When we first went down this road we had a trip into Almeria to go to a big supermarket and bought a variety of alternative products to try, and very quickly decided that we would rather just not eat the alternatives, and instead stick to cooking with fresh plants from scratch. Apart from the fact they’re highly processed, don’t taste that good and are expensive, we would have to do a 62km round trip to get any of them. Nah!

And I’ll just say, pretend cheese made from cashews … ewwwww… it tastes like cardboard flavored with whatever they use to make quavers crisps.

Growing up with an Irish Mum and an English Dad who suffered terribly with stomach ulcers (he ended up having most of his stomach cut out), we ate very plain food at home. It was all plain meat and boiled veg, stew and dumplings, Sunday roast with Yorkshire’s – in fact, the first time I ate pasta was after I left home! My first curry was about six years ago – I know, it’s shameful!

So, I decided it was time for this old dog to learn some new tricks – and once you get started, it’s amazing what you can serve up with a few veg, herbs, spices and a little inspiration from You Tube! The great thing is that I have time now – I’ve always loved cooking, but now I’ve become quite passionate about it. After a long day at work it was often difficult to muster the energy to cook something exciting. Living here and only having a small supermarket locally means I have to get inventive with basic ingredients or face a trip down into Almeria for supplies.

A few favourites of ours have become:

Veg stew with white beans and dumplings – ready from scratch in 30 minutes and perfect on a cold day.

Veggie paella (I call this paella de Finca del Cielo – if Spanish people saw my paella they would have a fit as it’s not terribly traditional!).

Poached quince crumble with oat milk custard (ooh get me!)

Deconstructed tortilla (don’t laugh but it’s way easier than trying to flip a tortilla when you make them as chunky as I do!) Again, it’s my own take on a Spanish tortilla and does not conform to tradition!

This is real comfort food!

Fried cauliflower rice. I used to buy the tubs of cauliflower rice in the UK but had never made it myself. As they don’t have that sort of stuff here in the shops I now make my own, and am quite ashamed that I ever bought it – sooooo easy!

So, over the next few days I’ll share the recipes for these on the ‘recipes, tips and ideas’ page. They’re all really flexible recipes – they change every time I cook them depending on what’s in the fridge!

The great thing about cooking without meat is that it actually becomes quicker and healthier and you don’t have to sacrifice flavor. I have been astonished at how easy the change has been, and by not going for the ‘pretend, processed stuff’ we’re saving a fortune every week. Eggs feature quite heavily in our diet as the girls lay an average of 3 a day between them – I think I have cooked eggs in every possible way over the last few months!

I thought I’d miss dairy, but I really don’t. We use oat milk instead of cows milk, and the only problems I’ve come across with this are cakes and Yorkshire puddings. We did try rice milk, and a few years ago I tried almond milk, neither of which I was that taken with.

I have bought some nutritional yeast which is used to add a cheesy taste to food, and it’s ok – you can sprinkle it on sandwiches or over salads and pasta, or stir some into your pasta sauce before serving. We wouldn’t eat it every day, but it makes a change now and again.

We said at the start of our change in diet that we wouldn’t be arseholes about it, so when I make cakes, I buy a pint of cows milk. I have now found a few recipes that don’t call for milk but use water instead. There’s always an alternative way to do things, and as I become more knowledgeable I’m sure our use of cows milk will go to zero.

Occasionally we buy a chorizo and I’ll add a little bit to a paella, but this is becoming more and more rare. I’m amazed that we haven’t craved a bacon sandwich yet, and we happily walk past all the meat and cheese etc in the supermarket without a second glance!

I think the fact that we said if we really fancied a bit of meat then we’d have some has helped – when you tell yourself you can’t have something you immediately start to crave that very thing! But I’m happy with the choice we’ve made – I feel well, I’ve discovered a passion for cooking and we’re saving money – what could be better than that!

Wind turbines and solar panels

When you live in a ‘normal’ house with an unlimited supply of electricity, you don’t even stop to think before you plug something in – at least, we never did. I was a great lover of lamps – we had so many around the house, all on timers so they went on and off automatically. Kettles, irons, microwaves, telly, stereo, hairdryer, food mixer, coffee machine, slow cooker, computers, bread machine, toaster … the list of electrical items we use is endless, and nearly all are probably considered necessary for daily life.

So when you live on solar panels you have to totally re-think what you use, and not just what you use, but when you use it.

The biggest enemy of solar power is ‘the heating element’. Heating elements drain power at an unbelievable rate – I was really taken by surprise by the amount of power they use. So that rules out an awful lot of things – the kettle being the big one for me (being a tea lover!). No iron, no microwave, hairdryer, coffee machine, bread machine, heaters or a toaster – they’re all a huge no no! Instead, we have a stove top kettle, and do the toast in a griddle pan (my new cooker has a grill, which I was quite excited about, but was totally underwhelmed the first and only time I used it). As for the other stuff, well we just don’t have them anymore!

When we were learning about solar systems it became obvious very quickly that it was not as easy as it looks. There are different parts to a system, and balancing out the different parts and calculating what power you think you might need had us producing pages and pages of mathematical equations, and we spent several months of planning before we attempted to install anything.

The house had a very simple control panel, one 100 watt panel, a 150 watt inverter and six 2 volt batteries to store the energy. This set up was used by the previous owner to run the tv for an hour once or twice a week. We were clearly going to need more! We found the original paperwork for the installation of this original system and discovered that everything was 15 years old. Only five of the batteries were working, and the rest were bulging, and definitely at the end of their life. So, we were starting from scratch basically.

On the Internet there are lots of methods of calculating how big your system needs to be. We started by listing what electrical equipment we NEEDED (not wanted!). We needed to know the wattage, voltage and amps of each item, and estimate how long we would use each item each day / week / month / year. Once this calculation is done, you then look and see what items might need to be on at the same time, and from that you can calculate what amount of power you need in any given day. Now, as you can’t discharge the batteries by more than 50% you have to build a system that gives double what you actually need.

So step one – we bought a 2000 watt inverter. We have a 12 volt system here and so we need the inverter to change the current from 12 volt to 240 volts. That was around €800 – wow! You can get much bigger ones, but we calculated that we could run what we needed on this. The big problem with most electrical items is, it might say it’s 5 amps, but to get the item going it actually needs triple the amps. So something you think is pretty light on power can still cause a problem.

The inverter converts the power from 12volts to 240 volts.

The power coming into the inverter from the solar panels is controlled by … the control panel. Now there are two main types of control panel – MPPT and PWM. We chose an MPPT controller as it’s more flexible. MPPT stands for maximum power point tracking. This type of controller looks after the life of the batteries better as it gives just a little more power than you need for what’s on, and the rest is used to maintain the batteries. That may be over simplifying it a little, but you get the drift! When you turn something else on in the house, it diverts the extra power you need to the inverter. The control panel wasn’t too expensive – around €140. You can also buy a combined inverter and control panel all in one now.

The control panel tells you at a glance what state the system is in, and what power is coming in and going out.

So then there’s the solar panels. There are two ways to connect the panels to the controller – in series or in parallel. Always so many choices to decide on when installing a solar system! We have three solar panels totaling 745 watts. The maximum we could have for our controller was 760 watts. Solar panels have come down in price massively and so this part cost around €400. Again, there are different types of solar panels – polychristaline or monochrystaline. The big problem with solar panels is how quickly they lose their effectiveness – we’re probably looking at replacing the panels every 6-7 years.

Lastly, you need batteries to store the energy so you can have power when it’s dark. These are expensive, and need changing about every 8-10 years. We bought 6 batteries which cost about €1100, but they are a decent size. Again, there’s a huge amount of choice of type and size of battery. The control panel’s job is to maintain the batteries – when to pull in power, when to stop, when to stir the batteries to refresh them etc etc.

The batteries are stored in our bedroom – it’s sometimes disconcerting when the fizz and bubble!

Now at this point, I will say that Rog did 98% of the research, and all of the installation! I just couldn’t get my head around volts, amps and watts, so was sitting there chipping in ‘can I run a food processor then?’

All was well, and as we’re in Spain we get a decent amount of sun for much of the year. It is harder in the winter – it gets dark at 5 o,clock and so the batteries get drained much more than in the summer. This is where the candles, oil lamp and solar lights come into their own! We have fitted low energy LED lights in the house, but they are still a drain, and so only use them briefly when we need to rather than leaving them on all evening. We can charge up the solar lights in the day and bring them in the evening. We also have a light we can charge up in the day via usb to use in the evening, which has been more successful than the solar lights! We have to plan what needs charging in the winter on cloudy or rainy days as we can’t have everything plugged in together like we can on a summers day!

So last winter we asked ourselves what we could do to boost our power on cloudy days – and of course, the solution was a wind turbine! It was surprisingly cheap at €130 from Germany. Now, this is where it got complicated. Solar panels output DC power which comes into the control panel and is then converted to AC by the inverter. Wind turbines produce AC power! We wired the wind turbine into the solar panels (I can say we here ‘cos I did actually help!) so all the power from both the solar panels and the turbine combine as they come into the house. This meant fitting a small controller between the wind turbine and the solar panels. This changes the current from the wind turbine into DC to join up with the solar panels, and then the controller / inverter changes it all back to AC. It makes your head hurt doesn’t it!!

We stabilised the pole that the wind turbine sits on with metal wire – it wobbled alarmingly without these!

The net result is that we have enough electricity to live a simple life. We can produce about 7 amps. The average house in the UK has a supply of at least 50 amps to put that into perspective! Most of Roger’s power tools need to run on the generator as the solar system simply can’t handle them, but much of what we do is manual so this doesn’t need to happen often. We are fortunate to have satellite WiFi so I can work, and if we do have a bad weather day, there’s always the generator (a back up is a must have in our situation) – it costs about €1 an hour to run so not too bad. There are days when we literally turn everything off during the day so that we have some power after dark, but the benefit of living in a sunny country is that we don’t have too many days like that!

So, that’s all there is to installing an alternative power system!

They say a little knowledge is dangerous – but a bit more can be hilarious!

I think we can honestly say now that our Spanish has moved from beginner to intermediate! We can actually hold something close to a conversation with people now without most of it being acted out like we’re from RADA! We do have half the village acting out words that we don’t know too though – if you drive past the cafe on a Wednesday when we’re there it must look like we’re all crazy!

However, as Spanish is the second fastest spoken language in the world after Japanese, there can be hilarious misunderstandings. So I thought I would share a few of the better ones! Because it’s so fast, you find yourself trying to reply at the same speed, and this is where it can all go so very wrong!

Like the day that Roger told Olga in the town hall I was outside on fire (I was actually having a cigarette outside). Fuego / fumar – easy to mix up!

At the cafe, Jose told us he was having ‘gato y patatas fritas’ (well, that’s what we heard anyway) – which translates to ‘cat and chips‘! As you can imagine, we both said (in Spanish) ‘oh my god you’re eating cat???’ He nearly wet himself laughing.

We had loads of eggs one day, and so when Paco and his Grandad came to work on their finca at the back of us, Rog said he would take them some eggs. He meant to say ‘I’ve got a present for you’ as he handed them the eggs, but what he actually said was ‘I have some watches for you’. We’re getting so used to seeing bemused smiles when we speak! Regalo / reloj – Well, they both start with ‘R’!

Sometimes you get asked a question, and you’re really confident that you’ve heard it right and so you answer – then you realise by the look on their faces that you’ve just done this:

Q: What did you used to do in the UK?

A: Peterborough, near Cambridge

It’s also so easy to get things like first and last, up and down, before and after etc the wrong way round. Rog told Paco back in March that he was so relieved I got the first flight out of the UK to Almeria instead of the last one before the lockdown!

I think one of the reasons why people have been so good to us here is that they can see us trying so hard. Every week we get a little better. There seems to be a tipping point now that we’ve achieved – we have got most of the foundation stuff and now need to expand our vocabulary. The different verb tenses still give us both a problem but we seem to be understood if we use the present tense but add on last week or last year. I think there may be a rainy day coming where I simply write some verb tables onto paper and stick them on the wall to practice!

Of course, just like you get regional accents in the UK, the same applies here in Spain. Andalucia has very lazy pronunciation – lots of letters missed off at the start and end of words. Hasta luego (see you later) becomes ‘A luego’ or just ‘luego’. This is really tough when you’re learning the full generic pronunciation of words. And then we take it a stage further – here in Illar it is ‘campo spanish’. The equivalent in England would be farmers saying ‘ooo-arrr’ for yes in English. It’s no wonder our brains hurt some days!

The only way to learn really is to immerse yourself in it, throw caution to the wind and not worry if you sometimes look and sound like a real eejit! We haven’t done bad in 18 months – the locals at the cafe said another two years and you wouldn’t know we’re English … we’ll see!

Baby oranges part 2!

In April I wrote a post showing the little baby oranges that were appearing as the blossom fell away from the trees.

April 2020

So here we are nearly at the end of September, and the oranges are coming on nicely. The weather has been really bad for fruit this year – we had far too much cloud and rain followed by really hot sunshine in the spring, which meant that a higher percentage of babies fell off than normal.

We have also watered less this summer. We lost quite a few oranges at the start of the year simply because they were so huge that the tree couldn’t hold on to them. When we had the builders here last December they thought our oranges were absolutely hilarious, so we decided to put less water down, and they are a better size this year.

It’s lovely watching the oranges develop, and in just the last week or so they’ve started to change colour. We do hit our heads on them constantly as we walk around, and they’re quite hard!
I took some ripe oranges back to the UK in March this year and was told they were the best oranges ever!

Yum, I can taste them already! 😋

The Vegetable Garden

Over the last 18 months we’ve been ‘playing’ at growing veg, with a bit of success. We’re novice veg growers who have watched quite a lot on the Internet, but nothing replaces hands on experience – and it’s going to take us years to learn this properly. The veg garden wasn’t the top priority initially as we had to learn about looking after what we already had (the trees) and get things like the house, water and power sorted first. Now the other things are pretty much there we can turn some of our attention to growing our own food. Vegetables from the market are pretty cheap and really fresh, so it’s caused us no problems buying them for the last 18 months, but of course, the long term aim is to grow as much of our own veg as we can.

When we moved here there was a spot that was the natural choice for growing veg – yes, it was dotted with smaller trees but it had more open space than anywhere else on the finca.

Having tried growing in raised beds, directly into the ground, using seeds for some things and plants for others to see what would and wouldn’t work, we now have a bit of a plan …

Step one involved cutting down four orange trees, which we did last week – they were really small compared to the others so weren’t big producers. We still need to try and get the stumps out, but if they prove really awkward we can actually work around them if need be. We’ve read that an average orange tree will put their roots down 3-4 meters, and there’s no way we’ll get a mini digger up here! But having a clearer patch of land now means we can start to develop this end of the finca. We have left two orange trees, a lemon, peach, níspero, citrus finger, two almonds and a chirimoya down that end, but they shouldn’t get in the way too much as they’re along the sides and at the end. We’re expecting some rain and so will rotavate after the rain (by the end of the summer the earth is like concrete where there’s no irrigation!). The bird table will need a new home!

So the plan is to build a framework out of river grass canes – they’re a bit like bamboo and grow wild at the river – so best of all, they’re free! In between these rows of canes we will dig trenches so we can irrigate the roots of the plants, which will grow up the framework. The big problem we’ve had here is that the water runs away so quickly, so digging trenches should mean that the plants get what they need. Rog has set up new irrigation pipes down there all around the edge so we can run pipes off to literally flood the trenches a few times a week – it’s the method everyone round here seems to use. Using this method we should be able to grow pretty much everything we want to down there! That’s the theory anyway!

The aim is to grow tomatoes, peppers, corn, beans, cabbage, kohl rabi, spinach, potatoes, squash and beetroot to start. I’ll also be doing a herb garden on the new decking in pots – we have several types of mint already, but I want to grow garlic and parsley as I use loads in the kitchen. The chickens also love fresh parsley and it increases egg production!

We have gated off the veg garden using an old bedstead left here by the previous owners and some plastic fencing – it works well enough to keep the chickens out!

The vegetable garden part 2 should be in the next few weeks once we’ve got the framework in place!

Living in a tiny house

There are definitely both pros and cons to living in a tiny house.

We came from a house that was roughly 190 square meters in the UK and now live in one that’s 42 square meters!

Moving to a smaller house made us evaluate what we actually need to have. We got rid of over 80% of everything we owned when we moved here – and to be honest, we haven’t missed any of the ‘stuff’ we got rid of. We did bring some books – the ones about gardening, preserving food and living off grid! Our music was uploaded onto iTunes and then all the CD’s were sold, and books were sold / donated, but having a kindle means all my favourite books now take up no room at all, and clothes whittled down to the bare minimum (although Rog would say I still have too many!).

I used to have so much kitchenware – enough plates for 15 people to come for a three course meal without having to wash up in between courses – madness! Glasses, mugs etc – way too many! Even though I whittled these down, we still have plates and bowls we haven’t used since moving in! And clothes, shoes and handbags – let’s not even start talking about those …!!!

So a big pro is less cleaning – which is just as well, as it’s pretty dusty where we live. I can clean the house top to bottom in under an hour, but I do this several times a week now (and half an hour later you can write your name in the dust again!!).

Things that hadn’t been seen as essential before now moved up the priority list – all the tools in the garage, my sewing machine and sewing box, candle holders (and those household candles from the back of the cupboard for emergencies!) – all of these suddenly became priority things to have. We sold lots of our archery stuff, but kept the crossbow and bolts – we get all sorts of animals out here so better to be safe than sorry!

The biggest challenge to living in a small house is storage – you take having an airing cupboard for granted – and our old house had 3 lofts, although this did mean that we hoarded an incredible amount of rubbish – I would be happy with one small one now! Things like the suitcases – we just don’t have room for them in the house, so we have a small brick shed that’s now referred to as the loft – we have to be careful what we store in there though, as we do get little mousey visitors in there – so needless to say, it’s always Rogers job to get things out of the loft!

There isn’t room in the bedrooms to put a cupboard in to store things like towels and sheets, so Rog put up a long shelf in the spare bedroom for these things, and other stuff simply has to go under the beds! But we manage.

Since moving in I have had another clearout and got rid of some of the things we brought from the UK – like the iron that is never going to work on the solar (and even gives the generator a hard time!), so there’s just no point in keeping it, taking up valuable under bed storage space! I did buy a small travel iron, which is fine on the generator, just in case I need to iron something for a special occasion!

It does make me more conscious of what we have, and so now, if something doesn’t get used, it’s likely to end up being given away or thrown away, whereas before, I would keep everything simply because I could.

The spare bedroom doubles up as my office when I’m working – so we have a folding picnic table that can be moved out of the way when we have guests, and I use one of the kitchen chairs. When I’m not working, the Mac just fits on top of the chest of drawers, which has to house things like sellotape, envelopes, games, batteries etc

Converting the bodega last year into a useful storage room has helped – having only 1 kitchen cupboard for food was tough, but now I have shelves in the bodega where I can store food, as well as things like cleaning stuff, loo roll etc and that has made a big difference! I have very few cupboards in the kitchen for pots and pans, so Rog made a hanging pot rack out of pallets and fencing, and it works brilliantly! Once upon a time I wouldn’t have batted an eyelid at spending hundreds on something like this, but it’s very satisfying when it’s free!

Clearing the clutter from life is something I would heartily recommend. At first I was a bit sad at selling everything, and was hanging on to things … but with each item that I sold, not only was it money in the bank for the move, but also I felt lighter and somehow more free. It got to the point where I was chucking everything on eBay and Gumtree – Rog would say, ‘have you seen …’ and I’d say ‘yes, I sold it and posted it off yesterday!’ There has been hardly anything that I regretted selling – I did buy a new pressure cooker – something that I had in the UK but never used. Here, it really works for me to have one, as I can cook a stew in under 15 minutes, and marmalade in about 20 minutes, which saves money on the gas – something that you become very aware of when you rely on gas bottles and don’t just have a constant supply of piped gas!

Our bedroom doubles up as the lounge, particularly in the winter months. After dinner we sometimes watch a film on the tablet, and so the most comfortable place to watch something is the bed as we have no couch to lay around on! We do have 2 armchairs in the kitchen / dining room by the fire, but at the end of a long day what you really want to do is stretch out and relax!

We have adjusted to a small space really well, and you do learn very quickly to make the most of every bit of space you have!

(Almost) Free tomatoes!

I had never grown tomatoes before living here, mainly because until a year ago I didn’t actually like them (largely thanks to a dinner lady at primary school who forced me to eat one, whereupon I was sick at her feet!). But now I love them, and they’re a huge part of our diet here. I even make a rather fab chutney and have canned some tomatoes too!

We don’t have a compost pile here, we just bury our kitchen scraps straight into the ground, so I was delighted when potatoes and tomatoes started cropping up randomly under trees – they’re proving not to be the ideal place to grow them, but it did give me an idea how to grow tomatoes very cheaply!

I sliced a single tomato into about 5 slices and covered the slices with a bit of compost in small pots – and a few weeks later, 13 tomato plants! These were then transplanted into one of our veg beds, and they’re coming on quite well – there aren’t tons of tomatoes on each plant, but I have a lot to learn yet about growing tomatoes. For my first effort I’m pretty pleased.

A neighbour told us we’ll struggle to grow tomatoes here as they get attacked, but they seem to be ok at the moment! Almeria Province is well known for its tomato production in the infamous plastic greenhouses – 80 % of Europe’s tomatoes grow here – that’s a lot of tomatoes! Many of them now use hydroponics to grow the tomatoes but we’ll just stick to popping them in the soil I think 😂

We think we’ve worked out why we’ve been struggling to grow really good veg down in the veg garden. The veg garden is near the five rather huge pine trees at the front of our finca, and the trees have stripped the water and goodness out of the soil down there. We also have the problem of the processionary caterpillars that come and build their nests in those trees, so it didn’t take long for us to decide to chop them down! And, of course, we now have our supply of fuel for the winter! The processionary caterpillars are horrid evil little things – they are actually considered the most dangerous predator in Spain, and kill loads of pets each year. They shoot poisonous spines in the air / at you if you get too close, and these are really bad for young children, the elderly, and anyone with a breathing condition. Pets go and stick their noses into them and breath in the spines – their throat swells up and they die a rather horrible death. Last February we had so many nests in the trees, and although I blasted them with insecticide, an awful lot survived. The weekend they decided to march down the road, Rog went down with a flame thrower and got rid of them all – the most popular method of getting rid of them over here!

My plan for next year is a lot more tomatoes, and now I know this method works, I’ll probably need just half a dozen tomatoes to grow a ton of them! I have a hankering to sun dry our own tomatoes and preserve them in our own olive oil – that’s proper self sufficiency in action – I won’t get to that point this year, but life isn’t a race any more!