Back to work!!

So now that Mum and Dad have gone back to Blighty it’s time to pick up the tools and crack on!

It was lovely to have a break, spend some time with the oldies and do some different stuff, but we’re both happy to be going back outside, working with the trees and getting the next lot of veg ready for planting!

First things first, the trees need cutting back to get rid of the dead wood, washing again (we’re still fighting off the scale insects) and puffing with sulphur powder. The cuttings will need to go through the wood chipper to make more mulch, firewood needs chopping, and then there’s a ton of work to do in the veg garden to prepare for the winter planting!

We’re just a few weeks away now from the olive harvest too, and it looks like it’s going to be a good year. Between harvesting them and taking the olives up to the factory, we can pretty much kiss goodbye to a week just for this one job – although I have to admit it’s one of my favourite things to do here. There’s just something very satisfying about stripping the olives off the trees!

We’re taking down the huge frame we built in the veg garden last year and will rebuild it just up one end of the garden – we know now what veg grow best here, and which ones need the framework to grow around – mainly tomatoes beans and peas. We are going to put more support posts into the new framework, as I found myself having to weave string between the posts this year for the tomatoes to give them extra support. Doing this will also make getting around the veg easier – it was a bit krypton factor this year!

The new framework will be just up at the end and will have more horizontal bars this time. Fingers crossed this will actually give us more planting space too. We’re still debating whether to cut some of the other trees down on the finca in order to have a bigger area for growing veg … just can’t decide!!

Before we build the new one, we need to rotavate the garden – we have several large holes that have appeared, and the best way to deal with them is to rotavate and then fill.

There’s not too much to plant before Xmas but in January loads of veg will be going in – and this year I’m planning it better so we don’t end up with 50 cabbages, 50 kohl rabbi and nothing else! I bought a big plastic box which I’ve sectioned into the months of the year, and then sorted the seeds into each month – at the start of each month I can simply check the box and instantly know which seeds need planting – we’re getting there! 😂😂

The other thing we really need to do is sort out the chicken coop – sparrows and rats are both getting in so we need to sort that out! When we built it we could only get a larger size chicken wire, and the sparrows could squeeze through, so we covered the whole coop with olive netting, which had tiny holes, but they’re still finding a way in! The rats are coming in by digging under, so we’ll have to dig down further and push the fencing further into the ground to try and stop this!

Persi and the sparrows have managed to wreck the olive netting that was neatly attached to the run! Smaller chicken wire should sort it out, although we’ll still need to make sure there’s shade for the chickens by adding netting to the side and top.

At least we can’t ever say that we get bored!

Getting ready for autumn …

The temperature is starting to drop (down to 30 degrees 😂) and it’s getting dark a little earlier now – the door is closed by 9pm. Time to roll up our sleeves and crack on with preparing for the autumn and winter months … and there’s lots to do!

Rog has already started getting our stock of firewood ready – he’s doubled the size of our old woodshed and repurposed an IBC cage, adding a roof, for extra wood storage. We’ve been caught out in previous winters and ended up scrabbling around for wood on cold days. That’s not going to happen this year – we learn a bit more with every passing year here!

The trees need spraying and fertilizing, and we need to plan for the food we will grow over the winter. We’ve been having terrible problems with scale on the trees this year – we’ve sprayed and sprayed, but just can’t get rid of them. We asked a neighbour at the cafe the other day and he said we need a jet washer with a tank of water and washing up liquid and to ‘clean’ the trees. So we’ve bitten the bullet and ordered a petrol jet power washer with a 50l tank so we can get to all the trees. It comes on a little trolley that you can wheel around. This is going to be so much easier than staggering around with a 16l backpack on, which we currently do, and it knackers my shoulders! It will be much more effective too, and that’s what counts at the end of the day. There’s some things you can scrimp on or take shortcuts with here.

Last year we built a large framework in the veg garden, which, now that we’ve actually used it, we know what we want to change about it. Unfortunately this does mean taking it down and starting again, but doing this will allow us to rotivate the whole area before the next round of planting. I’ve already bought loads of seeds, and plan to grow a bigger variety of veg over the winter to harvest in the spring. Last spring we were overrun with cabbages and kohl rabi but little else – they were everywhere!

In the house, there’s decorating to be done – everything has to be redone every two years here! We did our bedroom this week, and the next job is to tank and then paint the spare room. Pretty much all cortijos in Spain suffer with damp, as there’s never a damp proof course in the houses. For us it’s especially bad in the spare room as the back is built into the hillside. Most of the plastering and painting we did two years ago has fallen or flaked off the walls in there, so we’re doing it properly this time. Brico Depot had a special offer on ready mixed tanking slurry so we now have a huge tub of that to try and stop the damp coming through.

Yep, definitely a damp problem!
Most people say you just have to accept that this happens in cortijos and that you simply have to scrape and paint the bad patches every year.

And the spare room needs to be ready for the end of the month for two VIP’s – yep, my parents are finally able to come over in October and see the finca for the first time since we moved here! Can you begin to imagine the cleaning that will be taking place the day before they arrive 😂😂

So, the next three months are going to be pretty busy! It’s actually nice now that it’s cooled down a little now so we can crack on again! There’s a lot of just sitting around doing nothing when it’s 40 degrees!

So many tomatoes!

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!!

We’d already had several crates of tomatoes off these, and they just keep coming!

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!).

Mason jars have 2 part screw lids. Check your jars for chips or cracks, and make sure the lids are not damaged before using them.
Clip top jars have a rubber seal which should be replaced after each use.

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.

This preserving pan is the biggest thing I’ve got, but I can only fit 500ml jars in it – when the pressure canner arrives (or ‘if’ it ever arrives!) I will be able to use 1l 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.

Once you start preserving your own food you’ll never go back to shop bought!

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!

Veg gardening – things we know now!

We’ve learnt a lot in two years!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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