Today I’m going to talk about some of the more challenging aspects of living this way – it’s not all like this you know …
As you know, I’m a great believer in using complimentary therapies, and so I thought I would do a short introduction to Bach Flower Remedies this week.
I think you’ll all agree, the world is in trouble (putting it lightly), and even I have found myself feeling anxious and worried about the future. Now we all know it’s mad to worry about something that hasn’t happened yet, but none of us are immune to the odd angst ridden day, and this is where Bach Flower Remedies can really help.
Probably the most famous of these remedies is the Rescue Remedy … recognize it?
But did you know that the range of Bach Remedies consists of 38 different remedies!
Dr Edward Bach developed the remedies back in the 1930’s. He was both a physician and homeopath, and believed that the key to our overall wellness had to include our emotions – you had to care for your mind as well as your body. I think today there’s not many people that would argue with that statement. So the Bach Remedies are designed to balance our emotions. Each essence is derived from a different flower tree or plant, and is linked to a specific emotion.
Dr Bach then organised the remedies into seven groups, to make it easier to choose one or multiple remedies that would help you. You can take one, several, or blends of remedies, enabling you to tailor the remedies to your exact needs.
The seven groups are fear, uncertainty, loneliness, insufficient interest in current circumstances, despondency and despair, over sensitivity due to influences and ideas, and over care for the welfare of others. Within each of these categories there are a number of remedies that can help.
There is an official Bach website, where you can read the description for each remedy – it describes the emotions that the remedy can help with – here’s an example:
Olive is used when you’re tired and out of energy. The description reads … Restore Energy. The Bach® remedy Olive encourages the positive potential to revitalize yourself after making an effort. For times when all reserves of inner strength and energy have run out. Let go and allow yourself to revitalize and restore your mental energy.
Sometimes you may not know why you’re feeling the way you are, but by reading through the descriptions, I can almost guarantee you’ll hit on one and think ‘yep, that’s me at the moment’!
If you simply type Bach Remedies into a search engine you’ll easily find out more information.
The remedies are natural remedies, and made by placing the flower, plant or tree into water and exposing it to a heat source to make an infusion. The plant material is then discarded, and the infusion left behind is preserved (usually with alcohol), diluted and put into vials. Rescue Remedy is now available in a non alcoholic base, glycerin is used instead, so a good option for nursing mums and children.
The recommended dose is usually 4 drops placed directly in the tongue or put into a glass of water, which you can then sip throughout the day. But please, always read the instructions before you take anything!
Now a word of caution – you’ll notice that I refer to these as complimentary medicines, not alternatives! I would never put down modern medicine, and if you are taking medications, never just stop them without talking to your doctor. If I get unwell, I always try the natural route first, then if I need to, I will go to the doctor. When I hurt my shoulder back in January, I was in agony. I tried my own methods first for a week then went to the doctor for something stronger. I took the anti inflammatories and the pain killers he gave me, and alongside that medication, I used homeopathy and Qigong to help my body heal itself – that, to me, is just sensible!
All of our modern medicines have been derived from plants at some point (although mostly synthetically produced these days), so to go back to using natural remedies makes sense to me!
It was one of my goals when we moved here to become less reliant on buying commercial products (that contain all sorts of nasties) and move to making more things myself.
It became very obvious very quickly that this wasn’t going to be an overnight change, after all, there was so much to do here and so much to learn, that it would have been unrealistic to expect all these changes to happen immediately.
But we’re getting there …
Last year we stopped eating meat and dairy. After trying various plant based ‘milks’ we settled on oat milk as our favourite, and we’ve been buying that ever since in 1 liter cartons. Now, we go through a liter a day – we drink a lot of tea and coffee, especially when it’s cold, and have cereal every morning for breakfast. I don’t like the amount of waste that this produces, even though we recycle the cartons, and compared to cows milk, it’s really expensive.
So, time to start making our own – it’s probably the simplest plant based milk to make, but does require a blender. Now I do have a blender, but it doesn’t work on the solar system, it’s just too powerful and sets all the alarms off! So this does mean that I have to pop the generator on for 5 minutes in order to make a couple of liters. I’ve bought 2 glass bottles that we can use again and again, so this will cut down on all the waste. It will also work out to be less than half the cost per liter, so why wouldn’t you make your own!!
It’s very simple – 4 cups of ice cold water to 1 cup of oats – add a tiny pinch of salt and a little squeeze of agave to sweeten and blend until smooth. I then use a double layer of cheesecloth and squeeze the oat milk through. Pour into sterilized bottles and pop in the fridge. It will last about 3 days in the fridge, but it’s such a quick process that it’s no problem to knock up a couple of batches every two days.
The other thing I’ve started making too is deoderant. This is so unbelievably simple and cheap! Two thirds of a cup of cornflour, one third of a cup of bicarbonate of soda (mix) and add two thirds of a cup of coconut oil – mix it altogether and pop it in a jar. I also added a couple of drops of essential oil to make it smell lovely. To use you just scoop a tiny bit out with your finger and rub it in! Pennies to make and better for you!
I’ve also started making seitan (plant based alternative to meat) and plan to turn my hand to making plant based cheese and butter (the two things I really miss!). I’ve had to buy a few slightly unusual ingredients off the internet as I can’t get them locally, but again, making our own will still produce less waste and be less processed (and therefore healthier!) for us – I’ll save these for another blog on another day though!
It’s all too easy to turn to a shop every time you think you need something, but I’m really enjoying the challenge of finding other, more natural ways to provide what we need where possible.
Having to spend a few days laid up in bed last week after screwing up my shoulder really gave me time to think and plan about what changes I wanted to make – it’s good to take time out to take stock sometimes! Every cloud has a silver lining!
So you might’ve guessed … I’ve hurt myself again! My shoulder this time, and it’s not in a good state.
I left it for a few days to see if it would get better on its own – tried keeping it moving but when that made it worse I had no choice but to just sit … and sit … and sit. Nothing was helping, and it was so frustrating knowing there were jobs that needed doing as I watched Rog try to do everything.
Last time it was rotivating… this time I was climbing around up in the mandarin trees cutting out the dead wood. I think my problem has been twofold – not stopping when it starts to hurt and thinking I’m still 18 years old! Since moving here we are asking more of our bodies than ever before in our lives, and we’re not spring chickens anymore!
I like to try and get myself better before I resort to going to the doctors, so I’ve been using reiki, meditation and visualization, homeopathy and listening to music at 432 Hz – a good healing frequency. All helped a bit, but I was getting impatient to be better.
So another trip to the doctor (who rolled his eyes at me again when I told him how I did it) saw me with another load of drugs to take including more diazepam, which I have to take in the day as well as at night. I can’t even drink half a glass of wine these days, so you can imagine what diazepam is doing to me – staggering around the house laughing hysterically at things that aren’t funny followed by passing out in the chair – poor Rog, the things he has to put up with! But I’ve also been to an osteopath, who cracked all my bones which has given some relief – and I’m still carrying on with all the complementary stuff too.
So hopefully a few more days and I’ll be able to start doing some of the more gentle jobs. I’m also planning to start Qigong, similar to Tai Chi. I don’t think yoga would be a clever thing to be doing at the moment, but Qigong will get me moving again in a gentle way, keeping the blood flowing and getting back some strength.
And most importantly, I think I’ve learnt my lesson this time!
Just before Christmas I came across a book recommendation from a like minded person on the internet, who lives in a similar way to us. He described it as a book that would change your way of thinking and split your life into two parts – before Ishmael and after Ishmael. This like minded person didn’t give away any of the storyline, or even what the book was about, which only stoked my interest further.
Ishmael is the first part of a trilogy – the second part being The Story of B and the final part being My Ishmael. The author is Daniel Quinn.
Mum had asked me what I would like for Christmas, and so quick as a flash I asked for this trilogy – since moving here I have once again been able to revert to being an avid reader as I’ve mentioned before. As much as I would consider myself a ‘book sniffer’ who loves nothing more than mooching around Waterstones at every given opportunity, our tiny house forces me to restrict my library to my kindle. The rate at which I devour books again these days would otherwise see us having to build an extension to house them all if I had real books!
And so a couple of days before Christmas I downloaded the three books, and am currently reading the second book, but I couldn’t wait until I had finished all three to write this blog.
I read Ishmael in just a couple of days, and it only took that long because it’s one of those books that you have to put down occasionally and have a think about what you’ve read before continuing. I also found myself re-reading sections to fully digest and understand. I will also say at this point that reading every word is a must – including the foreword . Don’t speed read it.
It was like a light bulb being turned on. We live the way we do here because we consider society, in its current form, to be wrong, unsustainable, and at odds with the natural world. This book explained exactly why we feel like that.
You only have to look at the level of mental health issues, suicide, greed, extinction levels and the stripping of our natural resources to know that to continue on our current path will lead to the destruction of our world … yet we’re all of us sitting by watching it happen, occasionally tutting at how awful it all is …
I’m amazed that I’ve never come across this book before, and I’m so glad that I have read it at last, it’s a story that may just help us to change our story …
It used to be so important to have something to look forward to … the weekends; birthdays; anniversaries; Christmas etc. And they had to be perfect, with lots of organising and build up to ‘the big day’.
We’re coming up to three years here in Spain, and living with nature as we do, these special days are just, well, another day now. I’m not sad at all about that … it says to me that every day is special to us. We get up each morning and live that day – it makes no difference what day of the week it is.
I actually think those special occasions used to be so important as I was always on a countdown to having time off work – two more weeks then a week off for Xmas etc – I’ve always loved just being at home! Don’t get me wrong, I always worked really hard, but all I ever wanted to do was to get back home again.
Our views on gender roles have also changed somewhat. We used to both work and share most of the household chores – whoever was there would run the Hoover around! As we have adapted to living here it has become really obvious that men and women are better at different things! I know that’s probably not politically correct, but it’s the truth when living this type of lifestyle. I will give anything and everything a go, but I just don’t have the strength or stamina for some of the more physical work here – those of you that know me, I’m not exactly a ‘girly girl’ and so it’s taken me a while (and some injuries!) to admit that this is the truth 😂. There is just no way that I would be out strimming while Rog bakes bread! You have to play to your strengths in order for everything to get done here.
Shopping – I used to love a nice new handbag or a pair of shoes! Now I get excited at farming machinery and equipment!
Time … we sometimes forget what month it is, never mind what day it is! The only day we have to remember really is Wednesday – market day! We’ve had to start using a shared calendar on our phones to remind us when things need doing because we lose track of time so badly! We do have a paper calendar up in the wall, but we never remember to change the month! It’s a bit bad when your calendar is still on August when it’s actually October! In our old life, everything was governed by time. Here, it’s more about the seasons in terms of timing – when is it time to harvest, plant veg etc.
Entertainment – when we were at home the TV was always on, and more often than not the radio too in the kitchen. We used to enjoy going out occasionally, to the cinema, for a meal, or a mooch around the shops. I loved going to the gym and yoga center regularly, and I would spend a lot of time cleaning (I know, I actually used to enjoy it!). None of those things are possible now – we can have the radio on in the day when it’s sunny, and we have a little tablet to watch a bit of a film or program at night, but I love the quiet. In the winter, we take the dogs for a walk in the afternoon, light the fire when we get back, and then I have an hour or so before I cook dinner – the perfect opportunity to curl up in a chair in front of the fire with a book – it’s heaven! I haven’t read this many books for years! In the summer in the evening we sit on the roof terrace and watch the bee eaters, swifts, eagles and kestrels and just enjoy the view. We do still have our phones of course, and enjoy a bit of Facebook and YouTube! But we never get bored, and never need things to entertain us now. If we have a day where we have no electricity, then I’m happy with a bit of sewing or crochet, and Rog will learn new things watching YouTube.
Priorities – it feels very real living here – I’m not sure I can explain it very well, but it’s less about owning stuff, technology and how you are perceived by the world in terms of success, and more about actual daily living – food, water, shelter. Simplifying life like we have means there aren’t a million thoughts and worries worming their way around your head, and it feels peaceful. I have said many times in the past that all I wanted was some peace – and I was right to want it. I think we all deserve that.
I’ve always been a home loving person, but I do find that the longer we’re here, the less I want to leave the finca to go anywhere. I do think this has been partly compounded by the pandemic, but the bottom line is that I feel safe here – just me, Rog, the dogs and the chickens – it’s like our little micro world where the big bad world can’t get at us. I thought I’d at least miss going on holiday, but I really don’t – there’s nowhere on this earth I’d rather be.
Now I’m always looking for ways to make living off grid a little easier or more comfortable, but still trying to be environmentally friendly at the same time.
In a recent video I showed the two products I use to do the washing – a hand cranked washing machine and a separate spin dryer that’s like a giant salad spinner. I also have a small food chopper / processor and a hand cranked sieve for mushing up food – and both of these work really well.
When I was looking for a pressure canner, I discovered, after many hours of searching online, that I would simply have to buy it from America. That meant months of waiting for it to get here, a pretty hefty price tag, and a ridiculous amount of import tax (25% of the cost of the canner!). I sucked it up as this was going to be something that would really make a difference to us – being able to preserve our own produce, and from what I read, it should also outlive me!
Back in the UK I used to have a Kenwood Chef – one that was about 40 years old – Rog found it for me on eBay and even managed to track down all the extra bits for it. I loved it, but it was one of the many things I sold before coming here (assuming we would be living with very little electricity).
So I was thinking to myself earlier, I wonder if you can get a hand cranked food mixer, and so the search began. And as usual, I ended up looking in America, because being a prepper or living off grid is big business there! It didn’t take long until I found this …
And then I saw the price … $635 … and that’s without shipping and import tax. WOW! So that won’t be happening then! I’ll stick to my wooden spoon and my hands! Both are cheaper and more environmentally friendly!
Earlier in the year we also saw an advert for solar powered generators. What a great idea – charge it up on sunny days as a back up for when it’s cloudy. The price … £1,700 … but it gets worse – you start reading the reviews and it turns out that the battery will only last for about 8 months to a year! Do they think we’re actually that stupid??
And don’t get me started on the price of mangles!
I’m not sure of the reason behind the cost of these items – some, of course, would probably last a lifetime, so you have to factor that in. It could also be that because production numbers are low that that affects the cost per item. I’m not sure if you’ll ever see any of these items being massed produced, but surely if these are more environmentally friendly, then they should become more accessible and cheaper? It would seem that trying to be more environmentally friendly has become a lucrative business for some!
Time and again it comes back to this … keep it simple! Kneading bread and seitan by hand doubles up as a gym workout and costs absolutely nothing; I have wooden spoons and whisks that are thirty years old and still going strong … at the end of the day they do the same job … a little slower perhaps and a little more effort is required, but the job gets done.
And as for the solar generator, well, if you live in such a way that you don’t need very much electricity then you shouldn’t need another backup! We do still have the petrol generator for emergencies, but the longer we live like this, the less electricity we find we really need.
So I saved a fortune just by reminding myself what it is that we set out to do here … live simply and walk a more gentle path on our planet. It’s so easy to get drawn into wanting more stuff, but the lesson here is to stop and think ‘do we really need it’ – what a difference that one question could make to the world!
I think we’ve got it now!
The first year we were here we didn’t really grow much veg – there were so many other things that needed to take priority (like making the house habitable!).
Then for year 2 we built the big framework …
It was good, but it had it’s flaws – it was very difficult to work in between the rows, especially after we had irrigated. It was brilliant for the tomatoes though. So we started some proper planning (probably should have done that earlier, but hey, we’re learning!). We decided what we wanted to grow, and how to manage the quantity of each veg type – you can see above we ended up with a glut of cabbage and kohl rabi and little else. After these were harvested it was all tomatoes.
So to grow peas, beans and tomatoes we still needed something for them to grow up against. For everything else, we just needed veg beds. We like the flood irrigation – it worked really well last year. Rog repositioned all the pipes and outlets so now we can actually irrigate just around the frames, just the beds, or all of it.
This time we’ve given ourselves some room at the side to work. We were also having problems with the edge of the garden being washed down the bank, so we’ve brought the beds away from the edge a bit.
I’ve bought sacks for growing the potatoes in, so these won’t even need to be fitted into the veg garden.
We put the frames up before we needed to plant anything so we could make sure it all held and was strong enough. It all looked good so I planted some peas … then we had a force 7 storm, and they took a bit of a battering.
One had to be taken down and rebuilt, and the other two just needed a bit of extra securing. We’ve gone belt and braces on them all now with cross beams attached to metal posts that go into the ground about 18 inches. We’ve been able to reuse the poles and all the wire from when we took down the big frame, so there’s been no waste.
So at the moment we have peas, broccoli, cabbage , onions, beetroot and broad beans in the ground. I have also started seedlings off in seed trays, which will be planted in the new year – these include spinach, rhubarb, kohl rabi and some more peas, beetroot and cabbage. Staggering the planting will give us a chance to eat what we grow! This year, of course, I do also have the pressure canner, so any that we can’t eat can be preserved for later.
The potatoes will be planted into the grow bags in January, and then in February we have loads of seeds to start off! I hope to make better use of the space we have this year by continually harvesting and then sowing again so there aren’t bare patches for months in between planting.
We’ve also started growing more herbs, but have decided to do most of them in pots near the house – much easier when I’m cooking! But we’re also planting marigolds, thyme and basil in the veg garden to repel insects – nothing better than picking fresh tomato and basil at the same time for tea – making my mouth water already!!
We would love to have more room to grow more veg, but we would have to start cutting down trees to achieve this – I think we’ll see how we get on with what we have now, and think about expanding the veg garden maybe next year. We do have a lot of trees, but the land would actually serve us better growing our own food rather than a ton of oranges … we’ll see – it’s an ever evolving life living here!
It’s quite strange … it doesn’t seem to matter how much we do, or how many things we tick off the to do list, we never get to the end of the list! For every three things we do, we think of five new ones to add!
Many of the things we have to do here are time bound – certain things have to be done at set times of the year whether we like it or not! We were finding that we weren’t utilizing our time very efficiently, and so we weren’t making all the improvements that we said we wanted to do when we first bought the finca.
So the other week Roger started a to do list – now this wasn’t going to include doing things with the trees or veg – we know now when these need doing – but it was for all the other stuff that needs fitting in in between the trees and veg stuff. The kind of things that are the continuous improvements to what we have here – the rebuilding, changing where things go, mending things that have broken etc.
It’s actually quite amazing how things here need re-doing after about two years! In the UK it’s the wind and rain that do the damage, but here it’s the relentless sunshine and heat that undo our hard work. This goes especially for painting – whether it’s the outside walls of the house, or the glossing of the window bars and gates etc. We did everything the first year we were here thinking that would do for 5 years, but no, it all needs re-painting again!
It’s all too easy to get wrapped up working on the trees and forgetting about the other stuff.
The weather is perfect at the moment for working outside, and since we started the to do list we are actually rocking through it at a pace! It gets light at about 8am and gets dark at about 6pm. We still make time for our leisurely breakfast, and stop at lunchtime for a break. Once it gets dark, the fire goes on, the door closes and we’re done for the day! We never miss our afternoon walk with the dogs and make sure there’s time to enjoy the beauty of where we live. You know what they say, all work and no play …
Of course, the big difference this winter is that I’m not working, and I love having time to work outside with Rog instead of being cooped up inside teaching.
But saying all of that, I was walking around the finca today and I actually thought about just how much we have achieved since we got here, and the changes we have made to the place – it’s actually quite amazing what we’ve achieved in a relatively short space of time. I would love the previous owner, Pepe, to be able to come for lunch – I think he’d be stunned at the place – unfortunately, his wife is so unwell that he’s not able to visit us – hopefully one day soon he’ll be able to visit again.
Even though we’re not employed any more, there are things we can take from our old working life to make sure we stay on track here – namely the 5 P’s – Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance! We start each week with a run through of what we want to achieve – the big difference of course is that if we don’t get it all done, no one tells us off any more 😂
So, to give you a taste of the type of things we get up to here, here are a few of the jobs currently on our list:
Chop more wood, re-paint gates, re-paint side wall of house, render the shed on the 3rd terrace, take down garage wall before it falls down, build new garage, put trellis back up on side of house, strimming, water proofing on terrace, split and re plant vetiver on banks, re-do steps up to terrace, and make Alice in Wonderland signs (don’t ask!) … and that’s before we’ve cut the olive trees, harvested and cut the mandarin trees, harvested the oranges, pruned the orange trees, washed all the trees and grown any veg! Well, we wouldn’t want to get bored would we …!
We started using a reverse osmosis water filtering system back in the UK. The tap water where we lived in Whittlesey, Cambridgeshire, was ok, but tasted horrible. We were also really concerned about drinking water (or using products) that contained fluoride.
So, what does an RO system do? Well basically, it makes the water totally pure and balances the pH levels to make the water 7 on the scale – neutral. Most tap water is maintained at around 6.5 to 8.5 pH. Now there are some disadvantages to some types of RO systems, depending on the type you buy, which I’ll come on to.
You generally see 3 stage or 5 stage systems, and there’s a very important difference between the two, and that’s the re mineralization stage. If you have a 3 stage system, it is possible to add a remineralization filter between the system and the tap, so it means you don’t have to buy a whole new system at least!
So, why is remineralization so important? We’ll, drinking totally pure water is not actually that good for you. Because it doesn’t contain trace minerals, the water will actually leach these minerals out of your body as it passes through. Not good! The remineralization stage also puts back some taste into the water too.
So, on the upside, a reverse osmosis system is an excellent way to drink very healthy water. They are particularly popular here in Spain as town water doesn’t taste that great. As a result they are fairly cheap here compared to what we paid back in the UK (around £300 plus £60 each year for filters compared to roughly half that cost here). We had one back in the UK mainly to filter out the fluoride, as this can calcify the pineal gland.
Our pineal gland is tiny and sits deep in the brain. It produces melatonin and is the biological representation of our 3rd eye, connecting us spiritually to the universe. To be honest, this subject is a blog of it’s own, but I couldn’t talk about filtering out fluoride without some explanation as to why that is important! On a biological level, melatonin regulates our sleep and affects our mood – I have seen some studies suggesting links to various illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia, but I’m not a doctor, so I’ll leave that there! There are lots of other things, such as dairy, that can also contribute to a calcified pineal gland too.
From personal experience, all I will say is that I saw a huge difference in myself when I stopped drinking water with fluoride – everything became very clear in my mind. It was not long after changing to RO water that we threw everything up in the air and moved to Spain, changing our lives beyond recognition!
So, what are the downsides? Well, there’s the initial cost, and annual cost of replacement filters to consider. This is a no brainer for us though, as without the RO system we would have to buy bottled water … and the cost of that would far exceed the cost of the RO system, never mind the plastic etc that we would be using. There is an amount of waste with an RO system – it takes 4 liters of water for every one liter of actual drinking water out of the tap. Now we have our waste water going out into the veg garden, so ours isn’t actually going to waste, but it’s something to be aware of.
After owning a couple of different systems over the years, here’s a couple of top tips that we’ve learned the hard way!
1. Most DIY stores etc sell these systems – when choosing one, check to see if you can get spare parts and replacement filters online! We bought a system from a big store here, and after a year they stopped selling that make, and we can only buy filters, no spare parts! The company don’t have a website, and despite searching everywhere, we cannot find a thing for this make!
2. Shop around – the prices can vary wildly.
3. Check the dimensions of the system and the tank before buying to check it will all fit under your sink.
4. The system requires its own tap, so make sure you have somewhere it can go.
5. Check your water pressure and the minimum and maximums for the systems you’re looking at, and decide whether you will need one with an electric pump (not an option for us, but we do have high water pressure).
On a final note, it is also possible to buy whole house systems, so that all the water out of every tap will have gone through the system – we decided that we didn’t need this, as our water goes through 3 other filters before it gets to the RO system, and having measured the parts per million, it’s perfectly acceptable for washing etc.
Personally, I can’t ever see the day where we don’t have one of these systems!
Back in the UK we used to have three large wheelie bins – one for composting , one for dry recycling and one that would go to landfill. All three were emptied every two weeks, and we tried really hard to recycle whatever we could.
Our rubbish consumption has plummeted since moving here I’m happy to say, and we just keep one small black plastic bin here that we take to empty once a week, separating the different rubbish in the back of the car before we go, so that we can recycle as much as we can. We were amazed to read that Almeria province manages to recycle 93% of all waste.
Rubbish collection works a little differently here – houses don’t have their own wheelie bins. Instead there are large communal bins around the village, and you can take your rubbish to them after 5pm. As well as the large grey bins for landfill, there are large bins for glass, cardboard and plastic.
We try to use less plastic – we now have net bags for the veg stall which we can use again and again, and we still have our bags for life that we bought many years ago in the UK, so it’s very rare that we need a carrier bag from a shop. Simply not eating meat or processed food reduces our rubbish hugely. Any jars get washed out and reused for the homemade marmalade and chutney. There’s no egg boxes these days as we never buy eggs.
As for other stuff that many might consider to be rubbish, well, we try to use as much as we can here. Cardboard boxes are great when flattened for lining the bottom of the dogs kennels – they’re good insulation. Any food waste (not that there is much)gets composted or given to the chickens. And if something gets delivered on a pallet, wow, happy days! The things you can do with old pallets is amazing! Even if it’s old and a bit the worse for wear, it can still be firewood. When the new fridge was delivered it was surrounded by polystyrene – which we’ve used on the back of the bodega door (which is metal), to try and stop the heat in the summer. Whist in an ideal world we wouldn’t have ended up with a load of polystyrene, we really did need a new fridge, and it’s better that the packaging gets reused than thrown out!
When we moved in here the whole finca was littered with rubbish – bits of old kitchen under the trees, piles of old tiles that had sunk into the ground, loads of pipes, bits of fencing, it really was a mess … and that was just outside! The house was crammed full of stuff – old beds with mattresses you really didn’t want to touch, wardrobes full of clothes – it was like they left one day and then just never came back! Sorting out an 87 year old man’s dirty Y Fronts may have mentally scarred me forever 😂 I’ve never been one to use marigolds for cleaning, but I went through several pairs in just the first week here!
It took months to sort through properly. We salvaged things we thought might be useful then took the rest a little at a time up to the bins each day. Roger spent days gathering up the piles of tiles, and these were invaluable! When we did up the bodega, our builder used them to tile the walls and floor – ok so it’s a bit of a crazy pattern, but that’s fine by us! It did the job!
There were 8 old IBC’s up on the third terrace, which used to be used for storing water before the finca was hooked up to irrigation water. These have proved invaluable for all sorts! One is used to catch rainwater off the roof terrace, which we can use to water the plants, then there’s the dog kennels and the chicken coop and run! The top of the chicken run is made from a pergola that we tried to have on the roof – despite it being bolted into the roof, the wind ripped it apart. Makes a good roof for the run, and the rest of it made a nice handrail up the outside stairs!
We do occasionally decide that something needs throwing away though … the other day we had to move all the tree nets. Whilst heaving them around, we commented that in almost three years we’d never used them! So they’re just taking up valuable space! We picked out a few of the best ones to keep just in case, and piled the rest near the gate to take down to the bins on the next run. We’ll that’s plan has changed! Persi and Luna have taken a liking to them … they now have a day bed!
We have now set up our own reclamation yard in one corner of the finca, and it’s piled with all sorts of things ‘that might come in useful one day’ – sure beats going out and spending money on new stuff! It’s great fun too getting imaginative and creative using the stuff we have!
Summer living on solar power is easy peasy! Day after day of brilliant sunshine for 14 hours a day. The batteries are usually fully charged and the system floating by 9am. Piece of cake!
Winter requires a little more … management! The odd cloudy day is fine, but it’s when we get a run of days without sun that it starts to get a little harder!
Yesterday was cloudy, rainy, cold. We left the inverter off for most of the day to let the batteries boost so that we would have some power for the evening. We got about an hour in the evening before the batteries started to struggle!
Today is really cloudy again, and the forecast doesn’t look great for the next 3-4 days. Thankfully, over the past 12 months we have made sure we have different options for when the weather turns.
We have two solar lights in the main room, each with their own little solar panel up on the roof. These don’t need too much sunlight to charge, so at least we have light in the evening! And then there’s the backup candles if need be! We also found some fantastic rechargeable lights in Bricodepot recently, which we bought for mum to have over the bed while she was here – they are simply charged on a usb and we get about 10 hours out of one charge. We try to keep them fully charged as a back up option.
We have two battery lights in the bathroom, which last ages, and a rechargeable light in our bedroom. We can easily get a week out of the bedroom room light, so rarely get caught out with that.
So really, the only thing we need power for in the evening is the wifi – and it’s no great problem if we have to turn that off – a good book, a game of chess, bit of crochet – it’s easy to find other things to do. Keeping our phones charged can be tricky – we both have battery packs that we charge up on sunny days, but they’re a bit old now and don’t last too long, so more than two cloudy days and they’re empty. I do FaceTime Mum and Dad every evening, so it means trying to keep enough charge to make that call – sometimes it has to be a quick check in call only!
Our only heating is the wood burner, so no power required for that!
We do have a back up petrol generator for emergencies, but the only time we had to use that was when I was teaching, as it was critical to be able to run the computer and wifi for the whole day – again, no problem in the summer but the winter was a problem!
There’s always the option of bumping up the solar system – more panels, bigger batteries etc, but it’s an expensive option, and personally, we’d rather manage with what we’ve got! We have talked about raising the panels up on a frame with a turntable so that the panels will track the sun, and get the sun for longer in the winter. During the winter at the moment we lose the sun off the panels by about 3pm, which is not ideal. Making what we have work more efficiently would be a good thing I think.
So in the winter we just have to be a bit organised – when we know there’s some bad weather coming, we make sure stuff is charged up so we’re ready for it!
But now that we’ve been here for a while, it’s amazing how easy we find it to just not have power! It sometimes feels a bit like camping, but that’s fine, we always liked camping 😂
I was always one of those people who gave my job everything, and I did ok on the career ladder in my time. However, this was despite a real lack of self confidence and there were days where I doubted my abilities – I have been known to make myself sick over work, which looking back, was really stupid! Lots of people commented to me that they thought I would really miss working, as I learned to project a certain image to the outside world.
I was thinking about it the other day, and it occurred to me that you hear about people who struggle after retirement … sometimes feeling bored, or that they’re no longer contributing anything meaningful. Some people thought this would be me …
Other than the 18 months when I was teaching part time here, the last time I had a proper job was December 2018, so I thought I’d give my take on retirement so far.
Of course, we’re not doing retirement in a normal or conventional way (no change there then!), and there’s always lots to do here on the finca, but retirement it is (minus the pensions, happy to say we’re too young for those 😂). There’s absolutely no way we could’ve retired this early without making the move we did.
I started my first job at the age of 12, working in an off licence, and then at 15 combined that with working at Sainsburys at the weekends and in the holidays, and any spare time where there was no work at Sainsburys was spent temping. At 18 I left school and went to work full time, and other than a few months maternity leave in 1990 I’ve worked full time all the way through. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some fabulous people and companies over the years, and am grateful to certain people who have me so many opportunities. Now though, I think I’ve done my bit, paid my fair share of taxes etc!
So, what’s good about retirement … although we still set an alarm in the morning to sort the dogs and chickens, we could go back to bed if we really want to … napping in the afternoon is heaven … we can stay up until whatever time we like on a school night… (there are no school nights anymore) … we get to do things that we love and that make us happy … and, very importantly, we get to spend time together – something that was severely lacking in our old life. Then there’s being able to be a bit scruffy all the time, not having to wear makeup or high heels, having time to walk the dogs when it’s still light, having time to cook our favourite dinners … the list goes on! I think it can be summed up in one word … FREEDOM!
On the downside ….. hmmmm … well ….. errrrr … oh yea, there’s no monthly salary going in the bank 😂 Living off savings can be a bit nervie – you see it going down each month and never going up again 😂😂. But really, that’s it, the only negative I can think of!
Some people say they get lonely and bored after retirement. Well, I spent the last 15 years working on the road or at home as a rep, which can get soooo lonely. And as for being bored … my goodness, the world is your oyster! I’ve learned so many new things since we moved here, and restarted hobbies that I enjoyed years ago too – crochet, embroidery, cooking, reading, doing the blog, and that’s before we even consider all the farming side of our life! Before moving here I didn’t know how to look after trees, grow veg, rotavate, use a chain saw, put up fencing, look after chickens, preserve food ….
I would honestly not have time to go to work again now!
So my message to anyone who is struggling with retirement, or wondering what they will do with themselves when the day comes is this …
What are you waiting for??? It’s fabulous!
A famous quote: ‘It comes down to a simple choice really: get busy living or get busy dying’
The first year we were here we actually remarked on the fact that there were four very distinct seasons here. This was a stark contrast to the UK where it goes: more grey and cold to less grey and cold, with rain at any time. Interjected, of course, with the odd heatwave which invariably lasts about a week, before descending back to grey after some thunderstorms!
Over the last 12 months we’ve seen a change here – last winter seemed to go on forever, and then it was suddenly summer – spring was barely noticeable. This summer was hot, with some times that were not just hot, but almost unbearably hot – we’re talking 30 degrees at night hot, and heading towards 50 degrees in the day. This year though, summer stayed with us until almost the end of October, and then pop! Winter! Boots on, jumpers on, fire lit every night, and with little or no warning. Is the climate really changing that quickly or is it just an unusual year?
We’ve been watching the events at COP26 closely, and it’s pretty much played out as expected – I fear we’re doomed. I don’t agree with Greta Thunberg about much, but I do think there was too much ‘blah blah blah’ at the conference. World leaders know what they have to do, but they’re too interested in money and power to do it. Well that’s great, they will be able to sit in the middle of a wasted planet surrounded by all their money within a couple of generations. (Imagine now I’m doing a slow hand clap).
Of course, there’s lots we can do as individuals, but again, there are too many people who still don’t want to make changes or sacrifices – saying you recycle all your rubbish just isn’t enough anymore!
I have a feeling that if we were in a scenario where there was a meteor heading straight for earth, but that we could stop it by, I don’t know, hopping on one foot for example, then I think we’d see everyone out hopping on one foot! What we’re heading for is the same destination but just slower and by different means. We all know what sort of things we can do to play our part, and it’s time we showed the politicians and corporations that it really is important to us. Shame them into action. The planet will bounce back after we’ve gone – maybe it would be the best thing for Mother Nature if we weren’t here?
So I sit here wondering how our climate will change further over the coming years, and whether there will be a habitable place for us and future generations? I really do hope so …
We don’t have enough electricity to run a washing machine here, so when it comes to the washing, it becomes a very hands on job!
I have several different ways of doing the washing, and in this video I’ll show you the different methods and talk about some of the products I use…
One of the things I love about this place is the big sky – huge, enormous, and with nothing to spoil the view. Because of the surrounding mountains, we do get spectacular cloud formations here too.
Now I’m no photographer, and these have been taken just with the camera on my phone, and don’t nearly do the wonderful scenes enough justice, but I hope you enjoy some of the best we’ve seen so far from our finca …
But I’m not sure we’ll ever see anything as dramatic as these next ones ever again … I have shared them before, a couple of years ago, but I couldn’t talk about clouds and skies without including these again. It’s not surprising that people think the aliens are landing when they see these …
None of these pictures have been enhanced, filtered or touched up in any way, so can you imagine how spectacular they were in real life!
Not a day goes by when I don’t feel truly grateful to live here.
Finally, after placing the order back in January, the pressure canner has arrived! Hooray!!
These are almost impossible to buy in Europe, but are really popular in the US, so I ordered mine from Lehman’s Store – famous for working alongside the Amish, and off grid specialists. The only problem was that because of the pandemic, the company that makes them were totally out of stock, so I had to wait until July for it to be shipped, and another two months for it to finally arrive here!
The one I’ve gone for is the All American 915 – after reading lots of reviews, I bought the one that everyone said would be a once in a lifetime purchase – and to be honest it’s likely to outlive me from the reviews!
So, why is this a game changer for us?
It means I can preserve and bottle pretty much anything – this size isn’t recommended for fish, but bottling fish doesn’t really appeal anyway so not a problem! But where we produce more veg than we can eat, it means that we can enjoy them all year round, rather than eating cabbage until we’re sick of the sight of it followed by none for 10 months!
In the Spring we had a complete glut of cabbages and kohlrabi, and this summer we could’ve filled the pool and had a swim in tomatoes! I ended up giving loads away so they didn’t go to waste, but the whole idea of this life is to be able to provide as much veg for ourselves as possible. There’s only so much tomato chutney you can make, and our freezer is too small to be able to preserve anything that way. A chest freezer would be great, but we don’t have enough electricity to run one. So this pressure canner will allow us to achieve our goal. There’ll be no more holding back on planting veg now!!!
They are similar to a pressure cooker, but definitely not interchangeable and a little more technical to use … you need to use a special weight on the top and altitude makes a difference – I will definitely need to do some thorough reading before I start using it – I have visions of blowing the house up at the moment 😱. I have a good stock of clip top jars as these cookers require proper preserving jars such as Le Parfait or Mason jars. If using the clip top jars then the seals need to be replaced after each use, and if using mason jars then the inner lid part needs replacing each time – but these are pretty cheap to buy. There is a distinct lack of these jars available in Spain, not sure why, and the ones that are available are a fortune. Luckily some friends were driving over from the UK so I bought a load at wholesale prices and they delivered them to me!
Bottling (or canning as it’s known in the US) is the only surefire way to remove the risk of botulism and safely preserve vegetables – I have done some tomatoes just in a water bath this summer and it can be a bit hit and miss as to whether the jars seal properly – everything gets very closely inspected before it’s eaten!
We’re at the end of the tomatoes and peppers from the garden now so there’s nothing that needs bottling urgently … not a bad thing as it will give me time to get thoroughly acquainted with it before I have a load to do … but I can’t wait to get started!!
During the process leading up to making this move, there was quite a lot of soul searching. No more pretending that everything was fine, and looking at our lives with the rose tinted glasses not just off, but thrown in the bin.
My life in a nutshell could be described thus:
A fantastic childhood. Parents who made my sister and I the most important thing in their lives, and it always felt like everything they did was for us.
Marriage number one – the most terrible mistake of my life, although the one positive from those nine long awful years is my son Matthew.
Marriage number two – Roger, my soulmate, still putting up with me after 26 years. There have been great years, difficult years, years where we didn’t have a pot to piss in, and years where we enjoyed lovely holidays and no money worries. Three children between us and five grandchildren, which next February will become six!
And at age 50 the greatest adventure so far … chucking life up in the air, and proving to myself that anything is possible.
Over the years I’ve had lots of different jobs – I’ve been at the bottom of the ladder, and at the top, and everywhere in between!
So knowing what I know now, what advice would I give my younger self?
Be happy – if you make a mistake, do something about it; don’t put up and shut up. Life is too short.
Be kind – to people, animals and the planet. I do believe that what you send out comes back to you threefold.
Don’t ever feel like you need to prove anything to anyone.
Accept who and what you are – always try to be the best you can be, and be happy with that.
Like stuff and love people, not the other way around. Stuff may make you happy but I promise you it will be short lived.
If a situation frightens you, ask yourself, what’s the worst that could happen? Will the world stop turning? Feel the fear and do it anyway!
Accept that friends come and go in life, and don’t be sad when you or they feel it’s time to move on. We all change as we grow older, and sometimes you won’t ‘fit’ with friends anymore. Be grateful for the friendship you had.
Money isn’t everything. Having a tiny house with no mortgage has made me much happier than a big house with the corresponding big mortgage (takes me back to point number 2, don’t feel that you need to prove anything to anyone!).
If it looks too good to be true then it probably is.
If something hurts (job, relationship etc), then change it – you are not a tree, you can move and change your situation. Taking a step backwards is sometimes the biggest step forwards you can take.
Look after your health – it’s easier to stay healthy than to regain your health after it’s gone – and it will go one day! Look after your mental health as well as your physical health – they are both your responsibility.
And if you are able to, have a dog (or two!). Surrounding yourself with people and animals who love you unconditionally is the most wonderful feeling.
I could go on all day, but I think this is a good basis for a happy and healthy life. After all, as the Dalai Lama once said ‘the purpose of our lives is to be happy’ – get that one right and everything will fall into place!
I’d love to hear what advice you would give your younger selves!
Having just returned from 11 days with my parents in the UK in their ‘normal’ house, it got me thinking about what we’ve given up to live off grid. It also gave me a good opportunity to evaluate whether there’s any stuff that I miss …
Of course, the big three are unlimited electricity, piped gas and water that you can drink without an armful of filters!
So: no electric kettle, hairdryer, toaster, microwave, washing machine, tumble dryer, coffee machine, iron, or in fact, anything with a heating element – they’re all a big no no on solar. No kitchen gadgets like bread makers, food processors etc. You have to accept a limited number of lights will be available, especially when you most need them in winter. And certainly no unnecessary lights – pretty corner lamps just to make the room look nice, or lights in the dresser! Oh, and no heating or air conditioning.
The great news is that we don’t really miss any of them! No hairdryer, just stand outside in the sun. No iron; hang things on the line carefully so you don’t get peg marks in obvious places. No toaster – just use a griddle pan on the stove. Microwave – well I only really ever used it for my morning porridge anyway, which I now just make the old fashioned way on the stove. No washing machine – wash by hand (I’m actually in the process of doing a video of the off grid gizmos I have for washing clothes!). There’s always an alternative way of doing things!
Lighting – thanks to the development of solar lights, we actually do really well here for light. We do have ‘normal’, wired ceiling lights, but rarely use them now. We changed the bulbs in these to 12 volt led strip lights, which don’t use as much power though. But, we bought two individual lights that each have their own solar panel with a battery that charges during the day. The little solar panels are up in the roof and the wires come in through the corner of the window and across the ceiling – not the prettiest solution, but we do have plenty of light in the evening from these. We also have another light that can be charged up during the day that we use in the bedroom at night – it has a built in blue insect light too, which we leave on all night. This only needs charging every 3-4 days!
Kitchen gadgets – I do still have my electric food processor, but as I have to put the generator on to use it, it’s now gathering dust in the back of a cupboard somewhere! I do have a manual pull cord processor / chopper, which works brilliantly. I also have a sieve with a handle do I can mince things (it’s probably got a special name but I have no idea what that is!). Everything else is done the old fashioned way with a wooden spoon and some elbow grease!
Having a generator is a great back up, but it’s mainly used for power tools – Rog does have a battery powered drill, but there are times he needs to get ‘the big drill’ out, or to use other tools that aren’t battery powered. The really big stuff, like the chain saw and rotavator are all petrol.
The solar does generate enough power to run wifi, although sometimes in winter we can only have it on for a couple of hours – better than nothing though! Because we have WiMAX rather than broadband, our speeds reach the dizzying heights of 11-12 MB’s- but it’s enough to do the blog, play a few games and watch a film! My son was telling me that he gets 350mb in the UK 😱. It’s a different world!
We don’t have a TV but as we’ve spent the last 20 years looking and saying there’s nothing on the telly, we can’t say we miss it! We have a tablet to watch a film in the evening. The theme here is we charge stuff up in the day to use at night!
For our gas appliances (cooker fridge and boiler) we use gas bottles, just like everyone else in Spain. It does make you very conscious of using the oven for hours at a time, which would never have crossed my mind back in the UK. We buy our gas bottles locally, and always have 1 spare one outside, so when something goes we can put the new bottle on and then go and get a refill. Only occasionally do we get the perfect storm of two going on the same day!
In conclusion, yes, we’ve given up plenty to live here – no more big comfortable cars (wouldn’t fit up the drive), and most things being done manually.
BUT, what we have in return makes it so worth it! Living in an environmentally way makes me feel at peace – there’s no guilt about leading a life that’s bad for the planet. It’s fun too – working out different ways of getting things done. Not having to go out to work anymore – priceless. Going down to the garden to pick our own food – this just makes me so happy I can’t even put it into words.
Would we ever go back to living on the grid? That’s hard to answer truthfully – there may come a day when we’re too old or unwell to be able to live like this, but even if we do end up in a house in a village, there will be lots of lessons that we’ve learned here that we’ll take with us … but I might just have a washing machine 😂
Well, Persi is now 7 months old! Where has the time gone? When we got him at 9 weeks old from the rescue shelter they said he would be medium sized weighing 15-18 kgs. Hmmm … at his 6 months vaccination he was already 24kgs!
He’s a greedy little thing and a total kleptomaniac – nothing is sacred or safe in the house. But we love him! He’s now reached puberty and only has one thing on his mind, much to Luna’s annoyance! She has been spayed so not interested in the least, and Persi isn’t quite tall enough, but it doesn’t stop him trying! A bit embarrassing when we have visitors! Think we might have to ‘sort him out’ 😂
Because we got him from a shelter, we don’t know what breed his parents were, but there’s definitely some terrier in him. We thought this would be good for here as terriers have a reputation for being good ratters. And hurrah, he got his first rat this week, and it was a big one – what a good boy! Because we have chickens, you can’t avoid having rats, and where there’s rats, there’s snakes! So Persi catches the rats, and we know that Luna likes to eat a bit of snake!
Their relationship is fantastic – they charge around the finca chasing each other like mad things! But when Luna has had enough she literally slams him to the floor and holds him down with one paw! She is more than double his weight! His favourite game is to bite her tail and try to keep up as she charges off. They really look after each other – in their quieter moments they sit and clean each other, and are never far from each other.
Having Persi has stopped Luna wandering off too far- they both go off together sometimes in the morning and in the evening, but they’re never far from the finca now, and Persi always comes back after 10-15 minutes – he just loves being here with us.
The one problem we do have is when we want to go out without them … Luna can keep up with the car up to the village, and more often that not she will follow us … and where Luna goes, Persi goes. We’re working on it, but at the moment we have to put them on a long lead to get them to stay here. It makes it impossible for us to have a proper day out, as all the time we’re out we just think about getting back for the dogs. Hopefully they’ll get better as they get older!
When we first got Luna we set the ‘no dogs in the house’ rule – yea, that’s totally out of the window. They are always outside at night though!
I couldn’t imagine not having them now!
We planted 25 tomato plants in the spring. This is my first ever attempt at growing tomatoes, so we bought 3 different varieties to see which would work well. And the answer … they all did very well!!
So we’re sitting here with a mound of tomatoes around us! We’ve eaten loads, given some away, and used any ‘iffy’ ones for the chickens.
Unfortunately, the pressure canner I ordered back in January still hasn’t arrived from America, although it has at last been dispatched. The good thing about preserving tomatoes though is that you can just use a water bath to seal the jars (you can only do this with very acidic food!).
So I thought I’d share how to make your own bottled / tinned tomatoes. Since doing this I actually hate eating shop bought tinned tomatoes – they just taste like metal! So if you see a special offer at the supermarket, or decide to grow some of your own in the back garden, go big and plant lots, as by preserving them you can enjoy them all year round!
You don’t have to chop and cook the tomatoes before you bottle them, but I prefer to as they’re ready to use straight from the shelf then.
So you start by peeling the tomatoes. The easiest way to do this is to boil a big pan of water and then, using a knife, make an X on the bottom of each tomato and drop them into the boiling water for 1 minute. Use a slotted spoon to remove them from the boiling water and dunk them straight into a bowl or sink of really cold water to stop the cooking process. As soon as they’re cool enough to handle, take them out and the skin will literally slide off.
Next, chop the tomatoes (I like to cut away the tough stalk bit), keeping as much juice as you can.
Pop the chopped tomatoes into a big non reactive pot, bring to the boil and simmer for about 30 minutes until they start to thicken.
While the tomatoes are cooking, sterilize the jars. Many dishwashers have a sterilize setting now, or you can wash them and pop them in the oven in a low heat for 30 minutes. The other way is to put them in a pan of water and boil for 10 minutes. The rubber seals or lid tops also need to sit in boiling water for 10 minutes. You need to use either clip top jars or mason jars for this (not jam jars!).
Put half a tablespoon of lemon juice in the bottom of each jar, and fill the warm jars with the cooked tomatoes, leaving 1/2’’ headroom. You can add half a teaspoon of salt to the top of each jar if you wish (I don’t).
Bring a large pan of water up to the boil, but before it reaches boiling point, add the jars of tomatoes. It’s really important that the jars don’t stand directly on the bottom of the pan, and they mustn’t touch each other. I use old tea towels to protect them from the bottom, and wind another round the jars to stop them touching. The water needs to fully cover the tops of the jars by about an inch. Bring the pan up to boiling and then turn down slightly and process for 40 minutes. You will see bubbles coming out of the jars as the air is sucked out – this is what seals the jars.
Remove the jars and place on a cooling rack and leave them for 24 hours to cool – don’t even move them! You can check that the seals have worked by unclipping the jars – they shouldn’t spring open! If they do, then they need to go into the water bath again. With the screw top jars you can check that they have sealed by unscrewing the top – the middle part of the lid should sit tight on the jar.
The first time I preserved tomatoes it felt a bit complicated, but it seems much easier the second time around, I promise! Set aside a whole morning for this, especially if you’ve got a lot of tomatoes like we have!
The resulting bottled tomatoes will last at least 1 year, but should be used within 2 years.
When you first start preserving food, there is a bit of an initial outlay for a preserving pan (I ‘borrowed’ Mums a few years back!), some jars, a pair of jar tongs (really wouldn’t be without them) and a thermometer for jams etc. The jars are quite expensive but will last for years – you just need to replace the lids or rubber seals, which don’t cost much. My expensive purchase is the pressure canner – they’re not very common at all in the UK, which is why I’ve had to buy from America, but having one of these will enable me to bottle any fruit or vegetable (and you can do meat, fish etc too) – it’s what all the preppers use for their zombie apocalypse bunkers!
And apart from tasting better, preserving your own food is environmentally friendly too!
When we’re young and at school, we’re taught different subjects based on ‘the model’ – the accepted right answers. When we look at a subject, such as history, it’s often influenced by personal opinions and we all know that different countries report on history differently! We have to agree to learn these influenced facts, or fail our exams!
And that’s pretty much how we’re taught to live too – do well at school, get a job, get married, buy a house, have children, buy a bigger house, and so on. That’s what you do to be accepted by society.
People who don’t follow this accepted model are considered oddballs and crazies. Television programmes are even made about some of them! We used to love watching these for inspiration about how we were going to escape!
If there’s one thing this pandemic has shown, it’s that the accepted life model isn’t so great in a crisis! People losing their jobs, cooped up in their houses that they can no longer afford, feeling trapped with people (their families) that they only usually only spend a few hours a day with. Mental health issues through the roof, businesses closing left right and center, and a whole generation of children who will be told how they will be affected for life by this (which means of course that they will be – because they are growing up in the ‘model’ and most will blindly do or be what is expected of them!).
Maybe we should start trying to free our minds from ‘the model’ – create a life that YOU want to live. You may have to live with being ridiculed by those who still buy into the model, but hey, you get used to it!
When we started to meditate, strange things happened in our lives – marvellous and strange! If we’re just biological creatures, why do we have a consciousness? What would be the purpose of that? Yet the model for modern society makes no allowances for us being conscious beings! That’s not part of the plan!
If you could break free from your current life completely, would you? What’s stopping you? Maybe you don’t want to break free, but make some smaller changes. Why don’t you? Are you worried what people might think if you announce that you no longer buy into the model? Or maybe you feel like I did before I started meditating – you’re desperately unhappy but simply don’t know what to do about it?
My personal opinion is that we should be happy, and what determines happiness is different for everyone. So rather than buying into an accepted lifestyle that everyone thinks you should be happy with, go and carve that life for yourself. You won’t regret it.
My next blog will be about meditation (give me a week or so!) – as there are so many different methods, apps for phones, guided meditation, music etc etc so I’d like to give some hints and tips about getting started and finding a way that works for you – what struggles you might have, and what benefits it will bring.
Since moving here we have learnt so many new things, mostly on the hoof as we’ve had something that needs doing!
I’ve always had a love of learning, and in the past have done so many diplomas and courses to expand my knowledge – and usually nothing to do with my job at the time! I like taking a hobby and really getting good at it!
So here, well, I barely know where to start on the list of things we’ve learnt! There’s the obvious, like looking after the trees, and our veg growing knowledge is getting there. But it’s all the other stuff, like making the water safe, sectioning the irrigation, using chain saws, installing a wood burning stove, installing a solar system and wind turbine … the list goes on! Roger has proved to be like a sponge when it comes to taking in new skills, and I have been in awe of how he tackles problems head on.
So his latest project has been the caseta – the small shed up on the third terrace. It was built out of breeze blocks up against the back wall (which is a dry stone wall), with an earth floor and some corrugated metal laid on the top for the roof. There were massive gaps in the wall, and a resident rat …
We’ve been using this caseta as a bit of a loft space – spare chairs, two grape presses, the suitcases, and the tent that we lived in when we got here etc. It’s been a good opportunity to get rid of some stuff out of there that we simply don’t use.
So, with the help of our mate Paddy, the work began! They emptied it out, chasing the rat out at the same time (although it’s still lurking around 😱). All the gaps were filled, and the roof removed. They laid a new OSB roof, which is secured to the metal crossbars, and they tilted the roof slightly so that the rain will actually run off towards the chirimoya trees. Thanks Paddy!
Then Rog laid a bitumen roof on the top. We bought some tiles that he laid, and luckily didn’t have to use a heat gun to melt them onto the roof – the sun did that for us!
So the last jobs were to render the outside to make it look a bit prettier – another skill Rog has picked up by watching our builders at work here, and to put some sort of floor in. We couldn’t put a concrete floor in, as when our neighbour above irrigates, the water sometimes comes through holes in the wall, so needs to be able to drain away. We thought the best way to have a floor was to collect some flat stones from near the river and then fill in between with dry mix mortar. Looks pretty too! I should point out here that the stones didn’t come from the actual riverbed – this would be bad! Instead we collected them from places nearby where the water doesn’t run!
When we do these projects we try to buy the bare minimum, repurposing things we have around where possible. This whole project has come in under €120 – the bitumen tiles were the expensive bit at just over €100
We’re pretty pleased with the finished article – hopefully we can now store some extra stuff up there out of the way without fear of rats nesting in there and chewing everything!
So the next project is the other shed. Built in the same way out of breeze blocks and a corrugated metal roof, but this has an added challenge of a very wonky wall, currently propped up with scaffolding poles.
Never a chance of running out of things to do here!
This special day is celebrated tomorrow (Saturday 5th June). It’s a day when the UN seeks to focus the attention of investors, businesses, governments and communities on the increasingly urgent need to restore the Earth’s ecosystems.
People will be marking the day all over the world by planting trees, cleaning up beaches and woods, and generally trying to make a difference.
Here in Illar, the Ayuntamiento has recently made a new park area for residents to enjoy, and they have invited the local community along on Saturday to plant the trees – what a wonderful way to celebrate!
Here are some ideas for ways to join in:
Go to your local park, canal, beach or woods and litter pick
Plant some insect friendly plants or a tree in your garden
Spend the day avoiding using any plastic, or maybe reducing your consumption of electricity!
If you’re going food shopping, avoid buying anything that’s packaged in plastic, or highly processed. Maybe look for a local farmers market to support instead of a big supermarket.
Go meat free for the day, weekend or even the week – maybe commit to one day a week without meat?
It might be the start of some easy changes you could introduce into your every day life. We’ve been amazed at just how easy it is to live with much less electricity than we used to have!
The way that we’re living on this planet is not sustainable for life in the long term, and we all know we need to make changes. Whilst many people see the responsibility lying with governments and industry, we can all make small changes that will make a difference now – and if everyone made a small difference, it would add up to a big change. We can’t keep waiting for governments and commercial industries to stop talking and start doing, every single one of us is responsible.
We have two homes – our planet and our body – look after them both.
I’ve always been very house proud, I mean for goodness sake I used to iron dusters! Ive always tried to look my best too – I’m no stunner by a long chalk, but a bit of makeup, clean styled hair etc, nice clothes etc were always important.
Now, things are …. well, different!
Before we moved here we had a weekend away in Limoge in France – we’d made the decision to move to Spain but this weekend break had been booked for some time. When we got to the airport there was a really scruffy, quite mad, Englishman, looking for his wife who was supposed to be on our flight. He was pretty dirty, and had what we now refer to as an ‘off grid air’ about him! I said that we would never go out looking like that when we live off grid! But here we are, killing it!
So, my personal appearance – I think feral would be a good word 😂. Don’t get me wrong, we are clean of course, but now I haven’t worn make up for over 2 years, and I’m less concerned about clothes. I actually threw away my last few bits of make up at Christmas! That was a liberating moment! I haven’t been to a hairdressers since we moved here – Rog sometimes cuts my hair, and sometimes I do it myself! Living here our clothes need to be functional. You tend to look and say, will these show the dirt or doggie paw prints two minutes after getting dressed? Without heating, clothes are things to keep you warm in winter. Without air conditioning, clothes are things to keep you cool in summer. We do still have some nice going out clothes, but they get worn less and less the longer we’re here. The last time I wore a pair of high heels or proper shoes was December 18th 2019 – my last day at work back in the UK! These days it’s steel toe capped boots, wellies or flip flops!
Onto the house. This is more challenging as we avoid using any chemicals on ourselves or in the house. We live just over 10 miles from Europe’s only desert, so we do get pretty dusty here and it can also get very windy. Then there’s the dogs running in and out, often after they’ve played in a field full of water or in the river. Then there’s us – it’s just not a ‘take your shoes off at the door’ kind of place (like our old house in the UK was!). The result is that you are literally fighting a losing battle to keep the house spic and span.
I’ve had to learn to be less fussy – you dust here and ten minutes later it looks like you haven’t bothered for months. Being a small house it’s not all beautifully organised with a place for everything and everything in its place – but it’s comfortable, and it works for us. A certain level of tidiness is required or we just wouldn’t fit our stuff in. We have no storage, so the bed linen and towels have a long shelf in the spare bedroom. Photos and everything else are in boxes stored under the bed – it’s amazing how valuable the space under the beds has become!
I have to say, it’s been a revelation learning not to be so fussy – I never thought I’d hear myself say that there’s more to life than having a perfectly clean house!
But I do now have some clever cleaning hacks using natural products that I thought some of you might like – I have shared some before that you’ll find in the recipes, tips and ideas page, but these are my daily go to favourites.
Buy an old fashioned feather duster – they are amazing! I have a long handled one which means I can do the ceiling and into the corners.
A lemon, some vinegar and some bicarbonate of soda will clean most hard surfaces in your home (not wood furniture though!). Sprinkle some bicarb around your stainless steel sink, rub half a lemon around, and if still not clean, splash some vinegar and gently wipe. Amazing results. Use in kitchen cupboards too! Never use vinegar on natural stone, like marble or granite, or on wood or cast iron.
We have tiled floors, and just use a mop to clean – I use vinegar in the warm water and a few drops of lavender essential oil. The result is that you get lovely clean floors which smell great too. The added advantage of the essential oil is that spiders and bugs hate the smell of lavender so stay away! If you don’t like lavender substitute for an oil you do like! Bugs hate the smell of peppermint too!
For wooden chopping boards and bread boards, you can clean them with toothpaste. Put a generous teaspoon of toothpaste on your hand and work into the wood thoroughly, rinse and wipe dry. Not only does it clean the wood, but will kill off any bacteria lurking in the surface. Half a lemon dipped into salt also works really well for chopping boards, and smells great too!
For the laundry I do buy some environmentally friendly detergent, but also use soapnuts. I boil up the soapnuts in some water for 20 minutes, strain, and use the liquid just like ordinary detergent. The smell isn’t great though, so I add just a tiny bit of the detergent to the wash too. The soapnuts work out to be very cheap – I buy a kilo for around €11 and they last me a year – can’t complain at that! Because I only use a tiny bit if the detergent, I use maybe 3 litres in a whole year – I used to use that in a month back in our old life!
I have recently bought some of these new detergent strips – I’m using the Tru Earth ones. You get 32 strips in a pack and just pull one off and use it in your wash. Obviously, I cut mine down to a smaller size. There’s no plastic, they’re environmentally friendly and good for people with sensitive skin. The only downside I can see at the moment is the price – they work out about 3 times the price of traditional detergent. More companies are launching their own versions, and as they become more popular I’m sure the prices will come down. So far though, in terms of cleaning, they’re really great, and take up almost no room at all!
When I change the bed sheets each week I give the mattress a quick spray to deter any bugs that might want to set up home in our bed (we do get a lot of insects here and it’s my mission in life to keep them out of the house!). I use alcohol with some lemongrass essential oil in a spray bottle – we buy cleaning alcohol here – it’s usually 80/90% strength. I give the mattress and pillows a quick spritz and leave it for 10 minutes. The bed smells lovely and we can sleep soundly at night knowing there’s no bugs in there!
The cleaning alcohol is also really useful in the garden to clean the pruners and shears etc. It’s a good idea to clean these in between working on each tree so that no diseases are transferred from one tree to another.
Lastly for today, a kitchen cleaner. Grab hold of some citrus peel, pop in a jar and add equal amounts of water and vinegar. Let it sit for two weeks, strain and it’s ready to use.
Not only are these environmentally friendly, but you’ll find that you’ll save an enormous amount of money too! I’m always looking for new hacks so if you know of any please leave a comment!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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.
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!
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?
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.
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!
When my pressure canner finally arrives I will do a post just on pressure canning once I’ve had a play with it!
We’ve learnt a lot in two years!
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!
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!
It’s two years this week since we bought the finca. Before we came here, we had a vision in our heads and certain expectations about what life would be like. However, at no point did we imagine this though … 😂
So, have our expectations been met, is life how we imagined it, and what advice would we give to others embarking on a similar journey …
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!
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!!
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!
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!
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.
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!
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!!
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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 … 😂
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!
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!
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!
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!
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.
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 …
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!
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!
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.
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!
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?
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 …
And the finishing touch is a particularly ugly scarecrow to stand guard! Had to be done!
Next step, get planting!
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!
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!
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 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.
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.
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!!
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!
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!
In April I wrote a post showing the little baby oranges that were appearing as the blossom fell away from the trees.
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.
Yum, I can taste them already! 😋
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!
The vegetable garden part 2 should be in the next few weeks once we’ve got the framework in place!
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!
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!