Buying into the model

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.

Heatwaves and wildfires

As if Spain wasn’t hot enough in summer (we average around 36 degrees in July and August), we’re now getting ready for what could be a historic heatwave. The temperature in parts of Andalucía is expected to hit 50 degrees this weekend, and elsewhere it will be over 40 degrees. The UV index has already been at extreme for some time, and we’re just in the mid thirties – what comes after extreme??

So there are sensible precautions that we can take, namely getting up early before sunrise to do any essential jobs and never go outside without wearing sunglasses. We never sunbathe here anyway – we’ve already been eaten alive in the last week, so the thought of lying down outside with minimal clothing on would be just madness! At the moment we tend to stop any work outside by midday, but that will have to change to probably 10am! We do then have a couple of hours in the evening when we can do things before it gets dark. It’ll be salads all the way – no cooking (hurrah!) as that increases the temperature of the house substantially.

Obviously we can’t run air conditioning or ceiling fans here – we just don’t have enough electricity, so the two things we do use are these:

Yes, that electric fan is as small as you think it is! The traditional fan works brilliantly and also keeps flies and bitey things away!

Extreme heat often sparks wildfires, and so now is the time be be vigilant living here. There have been a few wildfires in the area over the last couple of years, but none of them close enough to warrant any real concern, although we did go up to the roof terrace to keep an eye regularly, as you can imagine!

A friend of ours has an Australian partner, and when he asked us what evacuation plan did we have, we laughed and said we’d probably do a great impression of scooby doo and just get the hell out – ‘not good enough, you seriously need a plan’ he said!

So we have made sure we have several options, and we do have a plan. We have a big plastic box which houses all our paperwork for everything – that goes in the car with the dogs. The chicken coop would be opened and they would have to fend for themselves (I know 😢, but that’s a better option than putting them in the car with the dogs!). If we turn left at the end of our Camino, that takes us to the river, where we can go left or right to get away. We regularly walk along the river bed, and have been down there in the car to make sure we know the turning off that we can take to either get up to Illar, or go to the neighboring village Bentarique. If we turn right at the end of the road, that takes us up to the village. And this is why we have the car that we do – we don’t necessarily need a 4×4 day to day, but there could well come a day where it makes a big difference!

Preparing for extreme weather has always meant snow for us in the past when we lived in the UK – it seems funny thinking ahead because it’s going to be so hot! I know which I prefer!!

Cars in the campo

As part of selling all of our belongings before coming to Spain, we also sold the car, as it had a loan on it that we wanted to clear. I had a company car, so just needed to hand that back. We’ve always loved cars, and have been lucky enough to own some really lovely cars over the years – a TVR Cerbera and an Alfa GTV to name but two.

So, Rog bought a 17 year old Saab 95 estate for £660, and paid £200 for new tyres and a service. All this needed to do was get us to Spain – if it then died, so be it! We didn’t want to bring a car to then change it to a spanish licence plate – the process is a bit complicated and can be costly. Not knowing where we would end up buying a house, the ideal would’ve be for the Saab to last until we had a house, at which point we could scrap it and buy a Spanish car suitable for our location. And it did just that! Hurrah! Not only that, but we managed to sell it on for €400! Hurrah, hurrah!

Rog has had several Saab’s over the years and we’ve always loved them. This carried so much stuff to Spain, including the tent that was home for 3 months in the picture!

So when we came to visit this Finca, we were prepared for narrow roads, steep hills and shingle tracks, as had been the case with most of the other places we had viewed. But we were pleasantly surprised – an actual concrete road! Initially it wasn’t overly narrow, but the closer we got to the finca, the narrower the road got, and then we arrived at the irrigation pool where we turn left to get to the place! Oh! That was quite tight! And the final 100 meters after that turn is considerably narrower than the rest of the road down from the village!

So, once our offer had been accepted, we started to think seriously about what car to buy for here. It needed to be a small narrow car with good ground clearance, which immediately limited our choices.

We’d been looking at the Suzuki Jimny, and the forerunner to that, the Samuri. There was a version built in Spain – the Santana SJ410. We had checked and knew that we would easily get spare parts for these still, so this seemed to be the best option – a small 4×2 that was pretty cool looking in our opinion, and would fit comfortable round the corner and up the road to the finca. And so we bought this …

We’ve had this since March 2019, and in that time we’ve had to do various bits of work to it. The good thing is that the parts are cheap and it’s pretty easy to work on. It’s been great value for money though, as we originally paid €2,250 for it. Second hand cars in Spain are SO expensive!

But it’s now 37 years old, and we think we’re coming to the point where a decision will need to be made – spend more money or change it. When we come up our rather steep driveway it makes some funny sounds, which we suspect is the drive chain. We’ve already replaced the drive shaft, the steering rack and the wheel bearings, and we know the suspension needs some work and the clutch is on its way out. The maximum speed we get out of it is about 80kmh – and it’s not a terribly comfy ride. It does, however, come into its own off road – it’s amazing!

We’ve made a list of cars that we think would be suitable, and today we’ve been walking up and down the road and our drive with a tape measure to see what will fit. There is one car that both Rog and I have always wanted to own – a Defender. The smaller one, the 90, should just about fit the road and the drive. The big but though is the price! We’ve found one over in Malaga that has been renovated, but it’s 4 years older than the Suzuki and it’s up for … €10,000 😱 For a 41 year old car!!!

The hunt will continue, but getting the right one is important as it has to ferry the dogs, the orange harvest, the olive harvest, furniture, solar panels, and well, anything that needs to get to the house!

If we do change the car, I will really miss the Suzuki, which sounds funny coming from a couple of old petrol heads!

The Land Rover is the ultimate classic in our view and would be perfect for here.

Tips for surviving hot weather!

Summer, after a bit of a stuttering start, properly arrived last week. Suddenly, wham, mid 30’s! Nighttime temperatures are now around 20 degrees too – usually by the end of July these will rise to 26-27 at night.

Over the last couple of years here we have had to learn how to live with the heat, and so here are my top tips!

Now obviously, we don’t have air conditioning, and there’s not enough electricity to run a ceiling fan – in fact, the only fan we can use is this little one:

Try not to sit in the path of a fan – as soon as you move away you’ll feel ten times hotter! Position it so it’s just keeping the air in the room moving!

Most Spanish houses have roller shutters at the windows to try and keep the heat at bay, and we keep ours mostly down in the day, although we do still keep the front door open!

We only have a shutter at the big window in the main room. You could use an ordinary roller blind to achieve the same effect, which we have at the other window in the main room, or just keep the curtains drawn.

At the start of the summer we open all the windows, and then they stay like that then until usually September. This is the reason why you see grills at the windows and doors – we can go out knowing that the house is secure. It felt a bit weird at first going out and leaving all the windows open! As houses in the UK don’t have grills this isn’t an option, but the minute you get in, throw them all open to get some airflow!

Get up early – the cool mornings are when you will be able to get things done. If it’s not done by 11.30-12 o,clock, it’s not going to get done until either late evening or the next morning here!

Have cool, but not cold showers.

We still drink tea and coffee in the morning and late evening, but the rest of the day it’s water or juice, with big ice cubes! If I really want a cuppa in the day then I’ll generally have green tea, as this is still lovely when it’s really cooled down. There’s nothing worse than trying to have a cuppa and feeling yourself sweat it out the minute you’ve drunk it! Avoid alcohol, which will dehydrate you and make you feel worse!

Hot weather will bring flies and mosquitos, and boy are they bad this year! We have mosquito nets up at the windows, and keep our bedroom door closed in the day. Any that do get into the house in the day don’t annoy us at night! You can repel insects by planting things like mint and lavender near the house, or by taking some cuttings and having them inside. Keep worktops clean and clear of food so there’s nothing for the little blighters to feed on. We are demons with a fly swat these days! No mercy! We also have a plastic strip curtain up at the door – simply a must have living here! Dab any insect bites with iodine – this will stop flies coming and feeding off the bite wound – I know, gross!

Rog is a bit of a ninja with our
flower shaped fly swat 😂

We’re lucky enough to have an above ground plunge pool outside – it’s years old and has seen better days, but at the end of a very hot day, there’s nothing better than sitting in that for a while to cool the blood. A cheap paddling pool would do the same outside and it really does make a difference! We never sunbathe here – the flies would drive you mad, plus we don’t use sun cream. Too much sun ages the skin and I really don’t want to look even older than I do now 😂. We try to do jobs outside where we can be in the shade, but there comes a point in the day where the best place is inside!

The siesta – it’s what Spain is famous for! Our bedroom has one small window that luckily faces away from the hot midday sun, and so it stays relatively cool in there. The duvet has long gone off the bed – we just have a sheet. After lunch, it’s time for a lie down – if I’m not tired then it’s a good time for a read, but inevitably, I always end up having a half hour nap! If you’re working, maybe take a later lunch break, find somewhere cool and close your eyes for 20 minutes! Hot weather drains your energy, so this is a great boost to get you through to the end of the day.

Clothing – Rog generally lives in swim shorts in the summer, and puts on overalls when he’s strimming etc, but that all happens first thing in the morning. I have discovered the best clothes are simple, loose cotton dresses. Now although my blog is called Life with no bra, I’m not really of an age to be going around all day without a bra! However, ladies, when it gets really hot, losing that thing of torture will make life better! Hats are good – we have a couple of dodgy looking straw hats here for working outside – no one wants sunstroke!

Lastly, food. When you digest food your body temperature rises. So, little and often is the best way. We eat lots of salad this time of year, but try to make sure we’re still getting all our nutrients – homemade potato salad or coleslaw, home grown and pickled beetroot, cold fish, or some cooked prawns (because they only take a minute to cook!), tinned corn … adding these types of things to a basic salad makes them nutritious as well as delicious! Our main meal is late – usually 9ish at night. During the winter we do eat earlier, but the hotter it gets, the later dinner is. People worry about eating before bed – well, it’s not a problem if you’re eating healthy food. Burger and chips just before bed would probably be bad!

So life slows down in summer, and we no longer get frustrated at not being able to whizz around the finca. It’s time to relax and enjoy the sunshine!

World Environment Day

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.

Learning to look after the trees

Before coming here I’d never had a fruit tree, and had absolutely no idea how to look after them, so buying a finca with 97 of them was a bit of a baptism of fire! Our fruit trees include oranges, mandarins, chirimoya, nispero, almond, olives, pears and bananas.

We’ve learnt a lot, but by no means are we experts yet. As with all aspects of life, it’s better to be proactive rather than reactive. Preventing problems through proper management is less work than trying to cure insect or mold problems, as we’re currently finding out!

Twice a year they need fertilizer, which we buy as granules in large sacks – this gets thrown up into the tree canopy so you get a good spread on the ground, and then as we water the trees, the granules dissolve. We also bury our waste from the house under the trees which composts directly under the trees to give them extra oomph too.

Fruit trees can be prone to fungus and mold problems. The best way is prevention rather than cure, and the popular method here is sulphur powder. We have a backpack which has a nozzle on the end and a handle on the side to puff out the powder. It’s a job that needs doing every couple of weeks to be effective. This really does need safety gear – hat, goggles, face mask and overalls – although it’s a natural substance, it can cause all sorts of irritation and problems if you get it on yourself.

We’re a bit devastated that we’ve just lost out apricot tree to fungus (we think) – it was going great guns and covered in fruit. Literally overnight the fruit shriveled and the leaves dropped and died. Apricot trees are prone to a root fungus that kills the tree from the bottom up, and in just days we went from a good tree to one that rocks in the ground – we’re going to have to take it down before it falls down. If we plant a new one, we will have to wait several years for it to produce fruit. There could well have been early signs that we missed – but it’s all part of the learning journey.

Fruit trees are targets for insects – ants develop aphid farms up in the leaves so they can eat the sweet secretions from the aphids – produced when the aphids munch on your tree! The one we’re really struggling with at the moment is scale – they reproduce at such a rate. The trees have been sprayed now with four different types of insecticides and we’ve still got a problem. Scale insects not only suck on your trees, they leave a sooty mold on the leaves, which can affect the fruit. Usually we would insecticide four times a year – January, March, July and October, but at the moment we’re just continually spraying weekly to try and get rid of the problem.

Undoubtedly, the most effective method is to pick insects off by hand, but this is very labour intensive as you can imagine!

Scale insects are ugly little bugs! This is the Cottony Cushion Scale that we are currently battling with.

The adult female cottony cushion scale is capable of self-fertilization and lays about 500 to 800 eggs. Eggs are laid within an egg sac and are red and oblong. The eggs can hatch within a few days during the summer months but can take up to two months during the winter. The population increases most rapidly during the drier months and requires about four months for a generation.

Neem oil and insecticidal soap are both effective for scale, but both are contact insecticides rather than systemic, so the trees need drenching from every angle.

Then there’s watering – we usually irrigate 3-4 times a week in summer. Recently we’ve been turning on the irrigation at night as we go to bed and leaving it in all night. As we use drip irrigation rather than flooding, there are about 300 little nozzles that need checking each time we irrigate – we’ve got pretty efficient at doing this and now it only takes about half an hour!

The drip irrigation lines run throughout the finca, and Roger has zoned them so we can control what areas get watered. This is especially important if the water pressure is too low to water the whole place at the same time.

Pruning – I’ve done blog posts before on pruning but it’s worthy of another mention here. Pruning is essential for tree health – cutting out the dead wood whenever you spot it, and then the bigger, annual cut, to ensure enough light gets in. Water shoots regularly sprout and they need cutting off to ensure the water goes to the fruit bearing branches. Trees that haven’t been pruned will still produce fruit, but it will be smaller and not as good. Opening up the tree through pruning also helps with insect control, as it’s easier to spray thoroughly, and you can actually see what’s going on.

A clean orchard is essential – picking up cuttings if you’ve pruned to get rid of insects and cleaning pruners and shears between trees both help to stop diseases spreading between trees.

And after all that work, your reward is your harvest – we both love harvesting! You get to climb trees and eat lots of fruit, so what’s not to love about it!

Cleaning in the campo …

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!

Hens and eggs …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here comes summer!

So here we are, just into May and the temperature is swaying between 22 and 30 degrees – lovely when you’re on holiday with nothing to do! Slightly more tricky when there’s work to do!

I do understand why many people think the Spanish are lazy, but having lived here for over two years, I can say hand on heart that they’re not – you simply have to pace yourself in this climate.

The working day in Spain is actually a very long one, with a break in the afternoon when it becomes too hot to do anything. For many Spaniards out at work, this makes spending time with family almost impossible during the week, which is why Sundays here are still pretty sacred.

We are soon reaching the time where if things that need doing outside haven’t been done by about 11.30 in the morning, then they won’t get done until the end of the day – 8 or 9pm – or sometimes mañana!

Even the dogs rest more in the day now – they have a mad couple of hours in the morning – then pretty much sleep until about 4pm when it’s dinner time. Our daily walk is getting later and later – the steep hill back up from the river is a killer when it’s 25 degrees! As the temperature cools, the dogs change back into the mad sods we know and love!

With summer comes very windy afternoons here – we get wind warnings most days – it starts out of nowhere at 1pm and just stops at 5pm- another reason for a siesta during these hours! It’s very dusty here, and with the wind it becomes quite uncomfortable to be outside.

Having worked in office or sales jobs all my life before we came here, the weather influenced my life very little (unless we had maybe a week of snow which disrupted things). Now we’re here, we organise our working day and week around the weather, with jobs that need overalls and boots being done early in the morning before the heat kicks in! We don’t use sun cream which means we do have to be careful to do jobs in the shade when we can. It also makes sure that we take regular breaks during the day to top up on water – we drink gallons of water in the summer months as it’s just too hot to drink tea in the day (which is really hard for me – you know how I love a cuppa!).

The hottest months are July and August, and during these months we actually do very little work outside. The main task is to keep on top of the irrigating, and the trees get a spray in July. This year of course, we’ll have more veg growing, so they will need regular irrigating and some attention, but all the big, heavy jobs are done in the Spring and Autumn.

We have noticed too that our weight changes with the seasons – going into summer we’re carrying a few extra pounds! Between the cold of winter and the physical activities in the spring, we naturally eat more. Coming into summer, we switch mainly to salads, so the weight comes off again!

A very different way of life!

Something a little like normal …

After the last year of lurching from one lockdown to another, there’s a lighter feeling starting to settle, something a little like being closer to life pre coronavirus. We are still officially in a 4th wave, but it seems to be more under control than previous peaks.

Last weekend we welcomed some lovely friends here to stay – our first guests for almost 16 months. Our friends were ones we had lost touch with and not seen for over 12 years. We recently got back in touch when we decided to rejoin Facebook after a break from it for several years, only to discover they too were living in Andalucía! It’s a very small world!

Last Thursday saw the opening of the provincial borders, so although the region of Andalucía is still closed, you can now travel freely within Andalucía. The curfew was also reduced, and we can meet up with 2 other people inside or 4 outside (I think anyway, it’s hard to keep up with the changes!)

The State of Alarm that has been in place across Spain for over a year comes to an end on 9th May, and apparently is not intended to be extended again. What this actually means for us in terms of restrictions isn’t really clear yet. Some regions are calling for a further extension in order to maintain restrictions, and if not agreed, there is a public health law that they could use in order to maintain some restrictions – we can only wait and see what happens.

In our village, some things are beginning to return to near normal – our cafe is open again now that the owner, Antonio, is out of hospital – he got covid last September and spent about 50 days on a ventilator. Although he is unable to work, his family have re-opened the cafe, and Antonio is able to come and sit outside for a while to chat to customers – it is lovely to have him back! The village feels more alive again now the cafe has reopened.

There are still no flights to and from the UK into Almeria airport, but fingers crossed these will resume again soon so I can visit the family. I haven’t had a hug from the grandchildren for 18 months, and Mum is desperate for a visit – lockdown was so hard for them with my sister getting cancer and me being so far away.

Throughout the pandemic, it has been law here to wear a face mask at all times when outside (except when you’re actually eating and drinking at the cafe!), unlike the UK. For me, this is the one thing I am most looking forward to ending at some point… maybe next year??? They have now declared that you don’t need to wear one when out walking in the countryside, or when you’re swimming (😂), so that’s a step in the right direction for me. We do have a municipal pool in the village, which remained closed last summer – it would be great if this could reopen this year.

Whilst the vaccine rollout has been hugely successful in the UK, most European countries are lagging behind, with simply not enough vaccine being delivered to provinces – we are just moving into the 50-70’s age group here, so it could be another month or more yet before we get jabbed at this rate. It will be interesting to see if this picks up.

Living where we do, we haven’t felt the impact of the pandemic as much as those living in towns and cities – we spend most of our time going about our normal daily tasks, rarely seeing anybody – exactly as we planned when we moved here! Going out once a week to get the things we need used to be fun, but for the last year it’s been go out, get what we need, and get back home. With the cafe reopening, we can at least resume our Wednesday coffee and tostada tradition when we go to the market!

Let’s all hope now that the light at the end of the tunnel starts to shine a lighter brighter so that we can all get back to the old normal as opposed to the new normal, which hasn’t been normal at all!

Almeria – a very special place

Almeria was actually third or fourth in our list of preferred areas when we came to Spain. Top of the list was Malaga province, mainly because we knew there a little more. Then came Granada or Jaen and then Almeria. For a few months after we made the decision to move, we became avid watchers of A Place in the Sun, when it was about southern Spain. Whilst it is without a doubt an intensely annoying programme, it did give us a few insights into different areas around Andalucía. That, coupled with lots of research on the internet looking at house prices, climate, distances to airports etc, all contributed to deciding our top areas.

During our property search when we got here, we quickly ruled out Malaga – the properties we could afford would’ve been very difficult to live in – very very rural and on top of very steep mountains! We then discovered just how cold Jaen and Granada can be in winter, and we had to consider things like distances to airports etc, having elderly parents. There was a suitable property, although it was at the very top of our budget and needed work. This was in Alcaudete in Jaen. There was just something about it that didn’t feel right, but we kept it there as an option – until we saw this place.

Driving over to Almeria, we had heard of the plastic tents, but nothing prepared us for the sea of plastic tents that went on for miles. The further we drove, the more convinced we became that we would be buying the house in Alcaudete.

The plastic greenhouses in Almeria can be seen from space!

But then we turned off the motorway and started heading towards the Alpujarras and Illar. We spent a lot of time staring out of the window just going ‘WOW!’ at the scenery! There were still a few plastic tents dotted here and there, and we can even see one from our finca, but you get used to them, and they play a huge and important part of the economy in this part of Spain.

The scenery here is dramatic to say the least. That’s probably why so many films have been made in the area. Not too far from us is Little Hollywood, where you can visit some of the film sets from movies made here – including many spaghetti westerns, Top Gun, Terminator, Indiana Jones and Star Wars to name but a few.

Clint Eastwood made many films in Almeria.

The climate is special too – summers are short and hot and winters are short and cold, and the rest of the year it’s, well, just lovely!

They always say that the special thing about here is you can go skiing in the morning and sunbathe on the beach in the afternoon! We’re about 30 minutes from the coast, and 30 minutes the other way you find yourself in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

The city of Almeria is actually lovely – you can wander round the shops then walk over and have lunch by the beach! This part of Spain was heavily influenced by the Moors, and you can see the remnants of this today, not only in the architecture but also in the food.

The Fort overlooks the city.

Almeria’s popularity is growing – there are growing areas of expats, particularly over towards Mojácar and Albox way. Even here in our small village there are probably a dozen expat couples from the UK, as well as from other countries. Property prices tend to be cheaper than other places such as Malaga too.

On the coast you can find Cabo de Gata – a beautiful nature reserve with stunning beaches and little white villages – somewhere we have yet to visit (mainly because of the lockdown), but it’s definitely on the list of places we want to see.

Cabo de Gata is a UNESCO Biosphere Site, and somewhere I’d happily spend a day!

This is also a popular area for observatories – clear skies with little or no light pollution make it a great place to stargaze – we have sat on our roof terrace mesmerized by the Milky Way over our heads!

Little villages dot the landscape, all of which have little bars & cafes serving authentic tapas. Almeria is a place I would definitely recommend hiring a car and having a roam about, and I feel so unbelievably lucky to call it home.

Rog took this photo the other day from a viewpoint up on top of a mountain and it shows the valley where we live!

Catching up

With Rog having been so poorly, we found that we were quite a lot behind with jobs on the finca. There’s never a good time to be ill, but March and April are definitely the worst time possible!

So now that he’s back on his feet, and I’ve stopped teaching, we’ve been really going for it to try and catch up.

The oranges have all been harvested, and all the trees have had a mammoth prune . We probably won’t have many oranges next year, but it was something that really needed doing. I think it’s taken us the two years we’ve been here to feel confident enough to prune them this hard. They say here that a good fruit tree is one that a bird could fly through – and this really is a good measure when you’re pruning.

The orange trees are about half the size now! I think this meets the criteria that a bird could fly through it!

We have raised the canopy off the ground, brought down the height of the trees and taken them in too – a fairly savage short back and sides! There’s no point having oranges growing 25 feet up in the air where you can’t get to them. We can now also walk around the finca comfortably!

The next job was to tackle the weeds, which were 4 feet high in some places. A combination of strimming and old fashioned pulling up has left us with a few pulled muscles and sore bum cheeks from all the bending, but it’s been worth it!

Now that the weeds are under some sort of control we can start rotivating. The oranges on the second terrace are being turned into the ground – we missed the end of the campaign with the cooperative, and couldn’t get rid of them. At least by turning them into the ground they will compost and improve the soil.

The second terrace has had its first turnover with the rotivator – we’re expecting some rain this week so we’ll do it again after the rain. The soil goes solid here in the sunshine!

Once that’s done, it will be time to spray the trees. Usually we would do this in March before the blossom. It’s so important not to do this when the bees are still pollinating as we really don’t want to kill them. Some of the trees developed a fungus problem last year – it didn’t spoil the fruit and they still tasted delicious, but some oranges just didn’t look very pretty! It does mean a double spray this time round – first with insecticide and then a fungicide.

And lastly, before we have a little break, will be pruning the vines. I’ve been amazed at the amount of work that vines require – it’s almost a weekly job to go round taking back the vines without fruit so that the grapes can develop. Grades are also so susceptible to fungus problems, so they will need spraying too!

Baby grapes are starting to form so the vines need thinning out. This allows all the growth to be concentrated where there are grapes. We have 97 vines so it will take a good number of days to thin them out – a very satisfying and therapeutic job!

And in between all this we will be planting the summer veg! The veg garden has been cleared of the last of the cabbages and kohlrabi, and weeded ready for the next lot of seedlings to go in.

We’re cramming about 3 months of work into just a few weeks. At least the days are getting longer now – we don’t go dark until 8.30-9pm which means we can get more done. The nice thing is that we’re not worried, we’re not panicking – it will all get done eventually. And let’s face it, if something doesn’t get done quite at the right time, the world isn’t going to stop turning!

It is so satisfying when you stand back and look at the difference after a hard days graft – it really does feel so worthwhile!

Getting creative!

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

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

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

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

Pretty easy and cheap to make!

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

Plants to improve air quality

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

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

The short answer is a resounding YES!

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

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

Reed palms reduce humidity

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

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

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

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

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

Preserving food

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Veg gardening – things we know now!

We’ve learnt a lot in two years!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How much does it cost to live off grid?

This is a question we get asked a lot. And the answer is, it depends!

There are some costs you simply can’t avoid – tax, healthcare, food etc. And then there’s some you can avoid – like having a car, the size of your solar system, and whether you buy everything or choose to make stuff yourself out of things lying around.

When we got on that ferry in January 2019, we were jobless and homeless – and I’ve never felt so free – what an opportunity to hit the reset button!

Our main priorities were to have financial freedom and a better quality of life. We wanted to live comfortably, but as sustainably as possible. That meant we were prepared to compromise on a lot of things, like the size of the house and land. Leaving a bit in the bank was more important that having an extra acre.

We bought the finca for €37,000 and knew it needed work to make it comfortable, and I would say we’ve spent another €20,000 achieving that.

There are lots of smaller bills along the way to achieving this move which really add up, and could cause a problem if not factored into the moving budget. Things like gestorias to get residency etc sorted – we’ve probably spent €1,000 ‘doing paperwork’ to live and work here legally. Storage and moving costs for the stuff back in the uk, rent for somewhere while you find a property – even though we spent 3 months in a tent we probably spent €2,000 on the tent and campsite costs in this time.

We spent around €3,500 on our solar system, and you have to remember that the panels and batteries will likely need replacing after 10 years. We can’t run washing machines, toasters, kettles or the like off this – we can charge things up during the day, have the wifi on and lights in the evening. The longer we’re here the less we use the electricity we do produce to be honest!

So, monthly ongoing costs – during the winter there’s firewood (unless your finca is big enough to give you the wood you need from pruning, which ours isn’t) – €5 -€10 a week. Gas bottles for cooking, hot water and the fridge comes to €40 a month. We do have a home insurance policy that also covers the trees etc outside – so if the whole lot burned down everything would be replaced – €250 a year. Healthcare costs vary, but having healthcare is a requirement here, not one you can get away with. Because I’m currently self employed I pay autonomo (social security) which gives us both state healthcare – the cost varies across Spain so I won’t quote figures and confuse things. The average cost for private healthcare seems to be roughly €150 a month, but this will depend on age and existing conditions etc.

For the finca there are ongoing costs to buy or replace tools, fertilizer, insecticide and fungicide, seeds or veg seedlings. These costs have gradually been reducing for us the longer we’re here as we pretty much have the hardware we need now. Factor in things like rotavators and chainsaws – these things are not cheap, but buying good quality ones that will last is definitely the way to go.

We are producing more veg, and I’m eagerly awaiting the arrival of my pressure canner, which will enable me to preserve excess veg, but we do still need to buy food – we’ll never be totally self sufficient – I think that’s a wildly unrealistic goal for the majority of people.

So living off grid is cheaper once you’re set up , and we do enjoy a simple life, but we still need probably an absolute minimum of €500 a month to live comfortably – a far cry from what our old life used to cost us each month!

For us, waking up in the morning and knowing that we don’t owe a penny to anyone in the world is priceless, and that the finca is 100% ours. The goal was to remove financial pressures – tick, and to have a better quality of life – tick, tick, tick!

I really hope this post gives some useful information and pointers to the costs involved. There are so many things to think about when making this move. Especially now we’re post Brexit – moving from the UK to an EU country has so many new rules and regulations – we certainly wouldn’t meet the new criteria. It would be tragic not to have done the planning before to make sure the dream could be realised – that’s probably the best advice we could give.

Writing a blog!

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

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

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

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

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

Spring jobs and pacing yourself …

It’s a busy time of year on the finca. Roger is now out of hospital but obviously needs to go carefully (although getting him to take it easy is easier said than done!).

We have managed to find someone to take the oranges – just about half have been harvested so the rest need to get sorted. This is the point where I say a massive thank you to our friends Paddy, Anita and Rab – while Roger was in hospital last week they came over and helped me harvest half of the oranges and have offered to come back this week to help with the rest. We can’t thank them enough for stepping in to help. There’s never a good time to be ill, but March / April is definitely the worst timing!

Rog has rotavated around the olives, and the second and third terraces need strimming and rotavating.

Then the orange trees need pruning and spraying.

The veg that we grew over the winter needs to make way for summer crops – we have prepared the tomato seedlings, and have loads of others that need sowing so that in about 4 weeks they can all be planted down in the veg garden. I did grow too much cabbage, so any visitors here at the moment leave with a big bag! My plan is to have a wider variety of veg, but not so many of each type – these are all the things you learn as you progress!

The important thing now is to pace ourselves – whilst all of these things need doing, no one is going to give us a written warning if they’re not quite done on time! That famous phrase here ‘a poco a poco’ (little by little) is completely relevant at the moment. It will all get done, and it’s important to keep enjoying it, and the only way to do that is to not put ourselves under pressure.

When we first got here we would give ourselves a goal – I’ll finish these two trees then go and have a cuppa, but after watching how the Spanish approach tasks, we now have a different way. We stop when we need to, no matter where we are up to in a job, if we need a break we take it. This is a very different mindset to what we are both used to in our old working lives, living to deadlines.

We have learnt the consequences of not listening to our bodies – the day Rog cut off the top of his finger he was definitely dehydrated. Ignoring the warning signs of his asthma going out of control could’ve had the worst ending – we can’t keep saying oh I’ll be ok in a couple of days – some things will be, but it’s like playing Russian roulette …

So, we continually learn and adapt to this new way of living. Making mistakes is fine, as long as you learn from them and don’t repeat them!

So, it’s time for me to go and crack on with the seedlings …! Until I’m ready for a cuppa, of course!

Humidity

The climate here is more humid than we were expecting, and the house gets pretty damp.

You always think of that dry heat you get on holiday in Spain, but away from the coast where we are, the humidity can play havoc with your health, especially if you’re asthmatic, as Rog is.

Over the last year he’s been having more and more problems with his asthma. We put it down to a combination of being allergic to the dogs, his hayfever and the house being a bit damp. What we didn’t foresee was what has happened over the last week, which has been terrifying.

Last Friday was so bad that he actually made an appointment to see the doctor on Monday. He came back from there with a carrier bag of medication, and was told to go for an X Ray on Tuesday. Tuesday morning I genuinely thought he was dying – after his X Ray he saw the doctor again, who said he would call an ambulance (but I took him to hospital instead). On the letter to the hospital it was described as ‘total respiratory failure’. So that’s where he is at the moment, but we’re hoping he’ll be out in a day or two. The doctors have said the humidity is the likely cause.

That leaves us with the challenge of trying to reduce the humidity in the house.

The solar system isn’t powerful enough to run a dehumidifier, so time to get creative. I have ordered a salt lamp, but this in its own won’t be enough. So there’s a combination of solutions that I will be getting into place before he gets home – starting with plant shopping! Peace lilies and reed palms are both good dehumidifiers, so they’re on the list. I’m also going to buy two small buckets and a bag of rock salt – one bucket inside the other, leaving a gap at the bottom. Drill some holes in the bottom of the top bucket and add the rock salt. This is effectively a big version of the small plastic pots you can buy which are good for caravans etc.

The peace lily is known to help dehumidify houses.

Fingers crossed these do the job. I’ll do an update in a few weeks and let you know if these have worked! Longer term, we’ll have to wait and see, but keeping Rog alive is the top priority, that’s for sure!

And the nicest thing is how friends and neighbours here have been rallying around, offering help. The one thing I don’t feel is alone.

Seresto collar for cats and dogs

I wanted to do a review on this product as we’ve been using these for Luna for about a year now.

When we first had Luna, I used the frontline drops that you put on your dog or cats neck – I had used them in the past and always found them very good. However, we quickly noticed that poor Luna was covered in ticks, and so started looking around for something else. Living where we do in a rural insect infested area, we needed something stronger.

I came across the Seresto collar on the internet, and it had good reviews so I thought we should give it a go, and the results have been amazing.

Available in most pet shops and online – do compare prices though as they vary a lot from shop to shop!

For dogs, they come in two sizes, under 8kgs and over 8kgs. Now, Luna is a big dog at nearly 50 kgs, but the over 8kg one fits no problem, and she has room to spare. The collar is adjustable and easy to put on.

Luna gets covered in mud and all sorts of other ‘stuff’ and she loves to play in the river and in the grasses along the edge of the river – the collar has never come off, and has remained effective. You do need to change the collar about every 7-8 months, and the cost is generally between €28-35 here in Spain.

Since using the collar she’s had no problem with fleas, ticks or anything else. We did notice two ticks on her after a wet day, but they very quickly pulled out and dropped off her, being repelled by the collar.

Totally impressed with this product and thought it deserved our thumbs up 👍🏻

Power tools & machinery!

Now Mr C has always loved playing with power tools, not that he ever had much time back in the UK for projects! But here, oh boy, is he having a ball!

The drill he owned man and boy finally died about 6 months after we moved here, it was a sad day … but it was used more in that 6 months than probably in the previous 20 years!

Living on solar power as we do means we have to be a bit careful with tools. Rog now has a drill with 2 battery packs, and these charge up quite happily on a sunny day on the solar. We bought a spare battery pack so he wouldn’t run out of power halfway through a project and it’s something we’re glad we did – the second battery was about €30 and worth every penny. His other power tools, such as his angle grinder, sander, dremel drill etc all run off the generator. The one he gets the most use from is the angle grinder – it’s worth its’ weight in gold!

Day to day we tend to manage most things with manual tools. Pepe, who sold us the finca, left all his old tools here for us, and we have every size of spade available, rakes, pick axes, you name it .. the shed was bursting! Plus we had the stuff we brought with us from the UK. Working this way has replaced the expensive gym membership I used to pay back in the UK!

Just a small part of the collection! A spade for every job!
Rog wanted me to wait till he’d tidied up 😂 We do actually use everything at some point in the year! There’s another two whole walls like this too!

So the other tools we use here are all petrol, which is great as there are no annoying leads to get in the way, and they are pretty cost effective to run. These tools include the wood chipper, rotivator, chain saw and the strimmer. It does mean we keep a good store of petrol here to keep all of these plus the generator running.

As Rog has become a recycling god here, having decent tools has become essential. There’s nothing we enjoy more now than having a nose around a good suministros, who sell everything from pruning shears to tractors – I really am in love with the little tractors they use here – but we simply cannot justify having one for our small finca! I couldn’t understand at first why they were so small – until we drove down the tiny roads in the campo! Also, as the fincas are generally packed with fruit trees there isn’t much room to either fit a tractor in or turn it around to get out again. They’re known here as mechanical mules. Look though, how sweet are these …

This belongs to our builder and it’s the only way he can get large amounts of materials here! Who wouldn’t want one!

Of course, some safety gear is pretty important – we both have steel toe capped boots (although mine still look quite new and Rog is on his second pair!), safety glasses (tinted of course!), ear defenders and a hard hat. Rog has just bought an all in one thing – helmet, ear defenders and face protector – it will be invaluable as we’ve both noticed that we’re a bit deaf after finishing jobs around here! This will definitely come into its own when strimming under the trees – Rog has cut his head on branches so many times, and of course, strimming kicks up all sorts into your face! Before getting this he had to choose between hard hat, ear defenders or a face mask- it was impossible to get them all on at the same time!

But at last we now have the new chainsaw – the old one died at completely the wrong time, just as the cold weather set in at the end of December. It’s taken 6 weeks to arrive but it’s here at last. We decided to go the whole hog and buy the king of chainsaws – Stihl – it was expensive but I think this is one piece of kit you don’t scrimp on. The next purchase will be a new rotivator (if we’re ever allowed out again) – ours went bang in a big puff of black smoke at the end of last year – piston rings have gone. The way we look at it is we did expect to have to buy this stuff, but Pepe left all his old gear so we’ve had two years out of those. We guessed that all his stuff was 20+ years old, so they’ve done well to last this long.

Ooohhhh! We bought one with a slightly shorter bar – easier to manage but will do everything we need it to.

I never thought I’d hear myself say this, but I’m quite excited at the prospect of rotivator shopping …😂

Dogs in the campo …

Spain has a reputation for stray dogs, which in our experience so far is a little unfounded where we are at least. You do see the odd dog wandering around the village, but they do actually have a home – they just like to go for a walk and a nose on their own! I know in bigger cities there are problems though.

This morning we were enjoying a cuppa on the roof terrace when these two appeared …

I reckon they’re about 3 or 4 months old – they have collars but no names or phone number. They made themselves at home here in about 30 seconds (Luna was out exploring at the time!). When Luna came back, she was really calm … until they decided to try her food. All hell broke loose and both pups ‘got taught a lesson’ shall we say!

But they haven’t been put off … all three are now camped out on the drive! Watch this space for the next installment of ‘Do we now have three dogs?’ 😂😂

Awwwwww ….

Firewood

Now a well stocked woodshed has become my security blanket. If there’s one thing I really don’t like it’s being cold! I start to get a bit jittery and nervous if we don’t have at least a weeks worth of wood.

We weren’t sure what the winters would be like here, and when we bought the finca it was March and still a bit chilly in the evenings. We didn’t have the wood burning stove at that point, so we used the open fire … which, no matter what we did, simply filled the house with smoke every night. We tried everything, resorting to an upside down fire technique we found on the internet. This worked a little better but still not ideal. Thankfully the weather warmed and it wasn’t an issue for a few months. However, we made plans for the next winter, and bought a wood burner. There were piles of wood strewn all over the finca, which we gathered up. Great, we thought, we’re ready for our first full winter!

Wrong!!! When you only burn wood, boy, do you go through a large amount of wood! We used to mainly burn coal back in the UK, but no one does here – the chimneys wouldn’t take the heat and would probably just crumble! So in our first winter here, we got to mid January before the supply ran out.

After speaking to a couple of locals we were told about a place in a nearby town, so off we went …

We drove to Alhabia a few miles away and took the little dirt track off to the right and came across a warehouse with loads of tree trunks outside – must be the place!

Inside there were two elderly gentleman – 80 if they were a day, an old defender in the process of being done up, a myriad of other bits and bobs, plus a really old band saw, which looked as old as the two fellas!

Can we buy some wood please? Si, si! And off they went to go and collect some tree trunks in a wheelbarrow – Rog went to help too of course. They started up the band saw to warm it up – lots of black smoke! Then they just started putting the wood through – no goggles, no gloves, no safety equipment whatsoever! They filled up the back of the Santana until it looked like the suspension was going to break, and then told us that would be €20! Bargain!

Although we do cut a lot of our own firewood we do still regularly top up from the old chaps – it’s really cost effective and that old band saw cuts through the wood like butter, so less work for us chopping wood (and we’re not getting any younger!). Nothing makes me happier than seeing our little woodshed that Rog built fully stocked!

We did almost run out of wood again this winter, right in the middle of that awful week with freezing temperatures, and the old guys came to the rescue again. A combination of the chainsaw breaking on Xmas eve, Rog having to go back to the UK because of his Mum passing away, and not being allowed out to buy a new chainsaw saw us caught short – we have tree trunks here, but they’re way too big to just use the axe and saw.

So we’ve already started planning what to do differently for next winter so we don’t get caught out again. Rog has just started enlarging the woodshed to double the size – this will then hold at least 3 weeks worth of wood. In the summer we will begin chopping in earnest so that by the time we need a fire in November / December we will have enough wood for the whole winter. We can stack the extra near the woodshed and cover with tarpaulin and then shift into the woodshed as it empties.

The woodshed (made from pallets) in the process of being extended to double the size.

Most days we don’t light a fire until the evening – we’re generally pretty busy during the day and we’re in and out of the house. We do get the odd couple of days where it’s so cold we literally huddle in front of the fire with the house door closed, but they’re few and far between thankfully. Winters here are not like we were used to in the UK – but we are becoming acclimatized. When we first lived here we laughed at the Spanish wearing coats hats and scarves when it was 16 degrees – but we’re a bit the same now!

Bliss! Rog fitted some silver bulk head insulator material on the outside wall (normally used in car engines) to reflect the heat back into the room. We left the other wall as that’s our bedroom, so the fire heats that room too! The little fan on top was great until it packed up the other day!

But we’re starting to get warmer again now – the daytime temperatures are back up at 17-20 degrees and it’s generally 10ish degrees at night – not bad for January! We no longer need woolly hats and gloves when we go for our afternoon walk. I do drive Rog a little mad when we’re out walking – pointing out wood we can come back for for the woodshed – and that’s no matter what time of year it is! A bargain is good but free is even better!

Dealing with waste

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Owning a Spanish Mastin

When we lived in the UK we had a lovely Japanese Shiba Inu (a small husky) for 14 years. She was gorgeous and a fabulous pet. I cried and cried when she had to be put down. She wasn’t a big dog – she stood about 12 inches tall at the shoulder and I think the most she ever weighed was about 9 or 10kg. Being a husky though we could never let her of the lead – their hunting instinct is so strong that she would’ve been off and gone if she caught the scent of something – but that was the only downside. We were told when we got her not to bother with training classes – they’re rather strong willed and so with all the training in the world, they will only do something if they want to!

The lovely Ella

Fast forward to living in Spain and Luna, the Spanish mastin! We couldn’t have chosen a more different dog! Ella loved to keep herself spotlessly clean … Luna, well there’s a constant ‘aroma’ that follows her everywhere! Some days it’s so bad we can’t let her in the house – anything that smells bad is only there to be rolled in as far as she’s concerned!

So, mastins, what can I tell you about them – well, they’re big, really big! At 14 months she weighed 49 kg – her head is bigger than ours, and if she puts her front paws on our shoulders she’s taller than us. Her tail is like a weapon, and god help you if you put a cup of tea down on the terrace table – one wag of the tail and she clears the table – mugs and tea flying everywhere! When she’s fully grown she will end up at about 10 stone in weight. Males are generally bigger still, weighing in at around 12 stone fully grown.

Mastins are guard dogs – their primary role has always been to look after livestock here. However, they’re usually not aggressive towards people, just animals that would attack the livestock.

Mastins generally sleep for a large portion of the day – she has her spot in the sun (when it’s not too hot) by the fence, and she’ll be out for the count … or so you think … but if you walk by, or a motorbike, a tractor or person goes by the finca – then she springs into action! At night she simply chases anything and everything off the finca – well not just off the finca, out of the province! She spends most of the night on the roof terrace surveying her kingdom, well positioned to take off like a bullet out of a gun at the first glimpse of anything moving! When she comes back she actually wakes us up when she sits back down again – there’s nothing dainty about her! There are nights where we barely get any sleep!

She has recently started following bikes and tractors, which is proving to be a bit of a nuisance because she follows them all the way to the village, and then doesn’t know how to get back to the finca. It means a quick run up to the village in the car to get her. All we have to do is call her, turn the car around and she follows the car back home! She gets a fair lick on too when she gets moving! The locals think it’s hilarious – our very old car chugging along with a massive dog loping after it!

Mastins are fiercely loyal – when Rog was in the UK before Xmas she literally didn’t leave my side, and at night she still chased everything but did not leave the finca once, really unusual for her. She’s very affectionate too, and loves nothing more than sticking her head through the crook of your arm for a cuddle! It is rather like being cuddled by a bulldozer at times!

She does eat quite a lot of food as you’d expect – a 20kg bag of dried food lasts 2-3 weeks and on top of that she has 1kg wet meat food for dinner each day, which takes less than 3 minutes to finish off! Then there’s bones – we buy her ham bones which have quite a bit of meat on them – that’s a 20 minute snack after dinner. Plus of course, there’s anything she catches outside herself – she’s quite partial to snake, particularly once it’s been crisped up in the sun – I just wish she wouldn’t bring them in the house to show us 😂 And she doesn’t have a water bowl, she has a water bucket!

When we decided on her name (Luna means moon in Spanish) we didn’t realise that a better name would be Lunática (lunatic!) – which is what we call her mostly!

But she is bilingual! We speak to her in both English and Spanish! Certain commands are either always English or always Spanish – sit and stay are always English, but when we’re sending her out of the house (because of the smell!) it’s always fuera or afuera! And dinner is always la cena! Clever girl!

We have been able to train her (sort of!) – she will sit and lie down as long as you have a treat in your hand, and although she does wander off to go and visit anyone working on their fincas, more often than not she will come back now if we call her. I think the locals are getting used to her now – in an ideal world she wouldn’t leave the finca, but short of erecting 10ft high fencing it’s pretty impossible to get her to stay here. The sound of irrigation water is too strong for her, she absolutely loves sitting in muddy water!

So would I recommend a mastin as a pet? Yes, BUT, you need a big garden, and if you treasure your furniture in the house it would be best for the dog to live outside! They can be quite drooly- occasionally Luna shakes her head and ends up with drool on top of her own head – nice!

Another year has rolled round

I can’t believe it’s two years today since we landed in Spain – how our life (and the world) has changed in that time.

Some days I sit here and get a little impatient – we should have done this or that by now – but then I breathe, remember what the purpose of this move was … and relax. But saying that, I was looking at photos of this place the day we bought it – it was like a junk yard, and suddenly realise just how much we’ve accomplished.

When we moved here, it was like a junkyard, it was like this throughout the whole finca. The trees were overgrown, the drip irrigation was a mess, and there was little or no fencing around the boundary. No power to speak of, no drinking water … making that list of things that needed doing was quite scary!
All the junk is gone, and the outside of the cortijo is rendered and finished.
We have chickens and, of course Luna …
Wind turbine and new solar system installed …

Actually feeling quite proud of what we have achieved! It’s good to look back sometimes!

When we first arrived in Spain we lived in a tent for the first three months – I’m very glad we’re not doing that at the moment – we’re experiencing horrendous weather right across Spain. Apparently it’s been caused by a polar vortex over Greenland, which is pushing down very cold air through Europe. To say it’s cold is an understatement – I got up the other morning and the ‘real feel’ temperature was -6! It has been raining since Wednesday night and isn’t due to stop until Monday night!

Jut to add insult to injury, our chainsaw finally fell apart last week and the new one is arriving in a couple of weeks, so we’re having to buy firewood at the moment. It’s a little annoying as we have plenty of wood, but they’re still tree trunks! We said for next winter we need to build a bigger wood store and have the winters supply ready by December. It wasn’t necessary to do this last year, as the days were mostly sunny even if they were chilly, which meant we could cut wood once or twice a week. In fact, there was only one day last winter that we needed the fire on in the day! This week we’ve spent the afternoons huddled in front of the fire with a blanket and a book (which actually has been rather lovely!).

So two years on, we’ve learned so much, and are pretty much settled here now. There are always things on the to do list, and improvements we want to make as and when finances allow. We do sit and think carefully before spending money – is it something we really need … is there another, cheaper way to achieve it. Rog is very imaginative when it comes to solving problems cheaply, but sometimes you do just have to get the cheque book out – like the chainsaw.

Rog has nursed that chainsaw through ill health for the last 18 months – he’s replaced the carburetor, resealed bits, new washers etc, but it’s just really old and worn out. We looked at cheaper options, but decided it would be a false economy – not having a working chain saw is causing us a problem, so this is one thing we won’t scrimp on. We’ve ordered a Stihl – considered to be the best make out there – and so it should be for €500!

So here’s to our third year here – fingers crossed we all have a happier year than 2020 – but we’re still smiling, and still loving life!

I love writing this blog, and wanted to say thank you to everyone who reads it – I still can’t believe how many people in so many different countries read what we get up to. I hope we provide a chuckle now and again, and hopefully we can inspire people to follow their dreams – anything is possible if you’re prepared to take a risk and go for it!

Creating a farmers almanac

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s to a more successful harvest throughout 2021!

As we say goodbye to 2020…

Now it would be terribly easy to say ‘thank goodness 2020 is over’ but I prefer to look for the good in everything, and think about what we have learned from this terribly challenging year …

Appreciate everyone and everything.

Accept that life constantly changes. Whatever is happening around us, make the best of it and find joy somewhere instead of dwelling on the gloom.

Realise that it’s not material possessions that make you happy – it’s people – friends and family.

Don’t take your freedom or your very existence for granted.

Be happy.

Stop thinking about the past or worrying about the future – learn to live in the present.We all know we’re not out of the woods yet with this pandemic – time to pull up our big girl pants and take each day as it comes.

For those people who have lost their jobs, homes or businesses during the year we send our heartfelt best wishes for a better year for you, and to those who have lost loved ones, we just send our hearts.

So as the clock counts down Roger and I would like to wish everyone a happy and healthy 2021.

Growing vegetables in Spain

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

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

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

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

Being here alone …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And they say living in the countryside is peaceful …!

There are some nights where it literally just all kicks off around here. Probably why we’re sitting up drinking tea and writing in the middle of the night!

We have some animal, we don’t know what it is, that comes around occasionally – it makes a terrible screaming noise and sets off every dog for miles around! We had some friends here one night when it visited, and they sat there looking terrified going ‘what the hell is that?’ We’re pretty laid back about it now, but the first time we heard it we reacted in exactly the same way. Whatever it is, I don’t want to meet it!

There’s a really small finca next to ours owned by a couple who just come down twice a week for a few hours – it seems the primary reason for having the finca is to house their three dogs. So tonight, there’s the three of them going mad, and Luna is basically running around the entire area barking her head of, and this thing is still doing it’s’ screaming thing – it’s like a madhouse!

We didn’t know it when we got Luna, but apparently this is what mastins do – they sleep in the day and chase everything all night. They’re very vigilant so even when they sleep in the day, it’s always with one eye open!

We also get some of the locals who go hunting at night so sometimes we lie in bed listening to the gunshots. It’s preferable to when they go shooting in the day to be fair – we’ve had a few bullets whistle overhead – bad enough to make you want to hit the deck!

The good thing about this lifestyle is the freedom though – the day after a bad night we can always have a little siesta or nanna nap in the afternoon! Thank goodness!

A very untraditional Christmas

I think it’s fair to say that most people will have an unusual Christmas this year, with family bubbles, face masks and a lack of social events. I saw some advice that says you should sit Granny and Grandad at one end of the table near an open window – great, so they can die of hypothermia instead of covid!

In the past, we were definitely upholders of the spirit of Christmas. We never had much money, but Christmas was always a busy time, with lots of family, a huge tree and turkey with all the trimmings on Christmas Day.

Last Christmas was our first one on the finca, and it did feel very different – no family here, not a turkey to be seen anywhere (lamb is the traditional Christmas dinner here but we ended up with roast beef) and not enough room in the house for a tree. But we enjoyed it nonetheless – we didn’t feel particularly ‘christmassy’ despite playing all the old Christmas music – sitting on the roof terrace in a t-shirt in 24 degrees just somehow made it all feel a bit wrong!

We did go into the village for the unveiling of the belen (the nativity scene) and joined in with the locals having some rather strong bright green alcohol and some traditional Spanish sweets though. New Year was fun last year – it’s traditional to meet up outside the town hall and eat a grape on each bong at midnight!

This year will be different again – I doubt there will be any form of socialising in the village, no family will be here, and of course, now we don’t eat meat I’m looking at all sorts of vegan recipes to try and still do something a bit special (mushroom Wellington is top of the list at the moment!). We have bought a small tree this year – I think we have got used to the size of the house, we sort of fit into it a bit better now after 18 months!

Christmas, like life, is what you make it. Knowing that your family are safe and well, even if they’re not with you, would seem to be the most important thing to me. It will be an odd one, but let’s hope that Xmas 2021 will feel more normal, and maybe this year’s muted celebrations will make people feel even more thankful for a more traditional Christmas next year!

Transition to mad chicken woman complete!

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

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

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

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

What a big fuss they made!

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

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

For now … 😂

Baby Oranges Part 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Vegetable Garden Part 3!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Houses in Spain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is under what used to be our shower!

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

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

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

It’s a cruel world …

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

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

RIP Maureen 😔

The Vegetable Garden Part 2!

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

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

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

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

Of course it did!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next step, get planting!

Wind turbines and solar panels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baby oranges part 2!

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

April 2020

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

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

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

Yum, I can taste them already! 😋

The Vegetable Garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luna

Well, Luna is coming up to 11 months old now, and she’s been with us for almost 8 months.

After months of no sleep because of the constant barking all night, the daily escaping unless she was on a chain, the chewing of all the drip irrigation pipes and the general destruction of everything around her, we finally said enough – we can’t do this. She just wasn’t learning! We read and watched so much information to try and find a training method that would work with her, but nothing seemed to stick. Now we knew it was something we were doing wrong but we couldn’t fathom our what that was – after all, we had Ella for 14 years back in the UK so we knew what we were doing, right? Luna is a totally different kind of dog. Perplexed wasn’t the word. With extremely heavy hearts we went to the town hall two weeks ago to arrange for her to be re-homed via the local dog shelter.

What worried us more than anything was the escaping – she has a lovely temperament and wants to play with anyone and everyone – but she’s huge. If she came across some children or old people out walking she would hurt them – not on purpose of course, just by trying to play with them. I really didn’t want a visit from the police saying Luna had to be put down because she’d hurt someone. That meant that for the last few months she has been on a chain more than she’s been off it – and that’s really not the sort of life we want for any dog. We do have fencing around the finca, but at the back is a dry stone wall, which is about 6ft high – she’s been able to get up there in a single bound since she was 5 or 6 months old! It’s just not possible to turn the place into a prison with 9ft fencing, and to be fair, we wouldn’t want to live here if it was like that.

Various locals have offered advice – one said she would calm down when she turned 1 year old, another said when she’s 2 years old – the thought of another year of this was, well, unthinkable. She has had a couple of run ins with local farmers – they simply hold their spade up when she hurtles towards them to fend her off, and they don’t seem too bothered by her when she runs headlong into the spade. It was slowly teaching her to stay away from people, which is a good thing!

So we’ve been waiting for Paco to arrange to come and collect her. And while we have been waiting, a miracle has happened.

We moved her house right down to the end of the finca a couple of weeks ago – we just had to get some sleep. We could still hear her barking, but it didn’t disturb us as much. And that seemed to suddenly switch on the lights for her. I’m convinced she knew what was in store for her.

Yes, she still goes off for a little wander, but stays within sight of our finca (the dogs next door are her little friends!). For the last few days the only time we have had to put her on the chain is when we both pop out shopping – she would still follow the car if we didn’t. But she’s free of the chain at all other times – it’s as if she’s suddenly taken a chill pill and understands what she’s supposed to do. She sits on the roof at night keeping guard – and if she does bark it’s literally one or two barks and that’s it – before she would be constantly barking for hours. She follows us around and sits by us while we’re working outside – that was impossible just 2 weeks ago when she was jumping all over us, stealing tools and digging MASSIVE holes where we were trying to work. She still loves to play, but it’s more gentle now thank goodness! We still can’t let the chickens out around her, she would play them to death, but in the evening she sits on the roof with us on her lead while the chickens enjoy a little freedom for a couple of hours.

It’s been a real emotional roller coaster and I can’t tell you how relieved we are that we can keep her – even with all the problems it would’ve broken our hearts to give her away – all I’ve done today is cry with relief! Olga at the Town Hall was so happy for us – she’s a dog lover too and saw how upset we were when we asked about having her re-homed.

So here she is, at home, where she belongs ❤️

I’ve never known a dog who loves being filthy dirty absolutely all of the time like Luna does!

Aloe Vera – the plant of immortality!

I did a blog post a while back about the wonder of iodine. My next wonder is aloe vera, and by the end of this blog I hope you’ll agree that it’s one of the most valuable plants on this planet! Whilst on a trip to Lanzarote a few years back, we visited a museum dedicated to aloe and although we were already fans of it then, it really opened our eyes to more uses for it!

Aloe Vera is approximately 95% water, but the other 5% is made up of extremely high levels of healthy enzymes. It has more than 200 bioactive compounds such as minerals, enzymes, vitamins, amino acids, and polysaccharides, which all improve nutrient absorption in the body. It is also rich in calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, copper, potassium, and manganese. It boasts anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties which help detoxify the body and support the immune system. It also contains the vitamin B12, which is normally only found in animal based foods, making it invaluable to vegetarians.

The ancient Egyptians referred to aloe as ‘the plant of immortality’, the Chinese as ‘the method of harmony’ and during the crusades it was mixed with other ingredients and considered to be an elixir that would lengthen the life of those who drank it. Indeed, the healing properties of aloe have been documented over thousands of years all over the world.

There are over 50 conditions that aloe can be used for – I’m not going to list them all here, but I will hopefully give you a few ideas how you can incorporate it into daily life to benefit from this miracle plant.

1. Drink it – the easiest way is to buy aloe juice from a health food shop, and you then mix a little with some water each morning. Now it’s not what I’d call a lovely taste, but after a few weeks I promise you will get used to it. The benefits of drinking aloe juice are the huge number of vitamins and minerals contained in it, plus its an antiviral and an antibacterial. The juice will also help fight a number of digestive disorders and flush toxins from the body. If you have aloe plants you could of course, make your own juice and there are loads of tutorials online in how to do this. Please see the warnings at the end of this post about drinking aloe juice.

2. Moisturiser- I use it daily head to toe. I have made some aloe body gel, which is a bit sticky and fiddly- but very pure! All you need to do is scrape the gel out of the middle of an aloe leaf, zap it in a blender and then mix it with a little water. Add the oil from a vitamin e capsule and a few drops of essential oil – lavender is great for skin. Mix well and it will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks, so don’t make too much up in one go! Again, you can buy it, and I would recommend getting one that is 99/100% pure – it costs a little more but worth every penny. Living in such a hot climate means my skin gets really dry, but using aloe every day has made my skin in the best condition it’s ever been in.

3. Sunburn and other burns. You can use shop bought aloe gel / moisturiser or just cut an aloe leaf and rub the gel inside straight onto the sunburn. Apply regularly throughout the day.

4. Eczema, rosacea and psoriasis – my Dad had really bad eczema on his back for years – I bought him some aloe gel and within a week he was clear – use every couple of days to keep the eczema away – again, the purer the better.

5. Keeping an aloe plant in your bedroom will help purify the air you breathe as you sleep.

6. Haircare. Using pure aloe gel, rub it into your hair and scalp and leave in for 30 minutes before rinsing. It will improve dry, flaky or dandruff prone scalps and lessen hair breakage.

7. Insect bites – aloe relieves any itching and swelling and protects against infection – everything you want in an insect bite cream! Just use the gel from the plant leaf for best results, or again use the store bought gel.

The list of benefits just goes on and on! BUT, there are some contraindications, and please be aware that aloe is a natural laxative, so if you drink too much you could find yourself staying close to the bathroom! Do a spot test on your skin to check if you are allergic to aloe gel before smothering yourself jn it! Before taking aloe as a drink, please check if it’s suitable for you if you have existing conditions or are taking medication as the flushing capabilities of aloe could flush your medication out too. Children under 12, pregnant women or those breastfeeding should not drink aloe juice. There’s lots of information on the Internet, but if you are in any doubt then please check with your doctor before taking.

We do have several aloe plants here at the finca – the hot dry conditions here are perfect!

Lots of modern lotions and potions copy what plants do – so why put chemicals on or in your body when you can use the original, pure, natural ingredients? I know what I’d rather do!

(Almost) Free tomatoes!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ten Top Tips – save money, help the planet and help yourself!

With so many people losing their jobs, or having been furloughed on 80% of their normal pay, I thought it would be handy to share some tips and ideas that will not only save you money, but are also more environmentally friendly ….

1. Cleaning – use vinegar, lemon and bicarbonate of soda – these three items will clean everything! When I mop the floor I use a couple of capfuls of vinegar, a squeeze of lemon juice (from a real lemon, not a plastic one!) and a few drops of essential oil – sparkling floors that smell delicious! For stubborn dirt in the kitchen or bathroom add a little bicarbonate to the worktop then use vinegar and / or lemon on top – let it bubble and fizz for a few minutes then wipe away! Just a word of caution – if you have plastic / resin sinks and baths don’t use the bicarbonate as it could leave scratches! Obviously don’t use on wood – there’s a quick easy recipe for furniture polish on my recipes tips and ideas page! Keep a spray bottle with a 50/50 vinegar water mix in the bathroom so you’re not mixing it up each time.

2. Moisturiser – forget £20+ bottles of stuff that promise everything! Buy an Aloe Vera plant (or two!) and you will have a lifetime supply of gel for moisturising, for cuts and stings and for sunburn! You can scrape the gel out from inside the leaf and add a vitamin e capsule, pop it in a jar and it will keep in the fridge.

3. Save on electricity and gas bills – we have become much more aware of the energy we use here – I’ve talked about this in other posts – a few simple things like turning off the WiFi when you’re not at home or in bed, not leaving stuff on standby, will all make a difference. Look after the pennies …

4. Food – have something to eat before you go shopping – it’s proven that we’ll buy more if we’re hungry when we go shopping. Stop buying branded goods – I used to be a terrible snob about supermarket brands – more fool me! Try to swap 5 items – if 4 are great but you hate the 5th, then buy that brand for that one item, you’ll still save money on the other 4! Then choose another 5 …

5. Vegetables – look for special offers and buy seasonal veg, which will be cheaper. If there’s a fantastic offer on green beans, for example – buy extra. Blanche and freeze what you don’t need now. We’ve all got to used to eating things like strawberries and tomatoes all year round – buy them when they’re cheap and preserve some for later in the year when they’re more expensive! Find a weekend market instead of buying from the supermarket, or better still, grow some veg in the garden!

6. Meat – a slight reduction in meat in your diet can save you £££’s! Up the veg and a little less meat – good for you and good for your wallet! Buy cheaper cuts of meat and add more seasoning / herbs / spices to turn a cheap cut into a fantastic meal!

7. Hair conditioner – use diluted apple cider vinegar a couple of times a week after washing instead of conditioner – works a treat and costs peanuts!

8. The garden – need compost? Stop buying it and make your own. Have a bin in the house where food scraps go, add them to your compost pile – you don’t need much space and there’s loads of different ways to manage a compost pile (see You Tube!). If you don’t want a compost pile you can bury the scraps straight into the ground!

9. Gifts for Xmas and birthdays – I think most people will be having a lean year this year, but why not use it as an opportunity to make gifts? A bit of knitting or crochet, make some chutney or fudge, whittle some wood 😂 – whatever you can do!

10. Ok, so this one is from Rog! ‘Don’t throw anything away, it might come in handy!’ For example, I had nowhere in the kitchen for my pots and pans, so Rog made a hanging pan rack out of pallets and fencing that were just lying around. We’ve used old pipe and pallets to make raised beds, old ibc’s for the chicken coop … the list goes on! Rog loves a challenge so when I say we could do with something, he’s off, rummaging about that see what he can find!

And a bonus tip – if you have sky, virgin or similar for TV, look at what you actually watch! Do you need all those channels or do you end up watching BBC1, ITV etc but just through Sky? Could you swap to a different sort of subscription (or even just call them and haggle a better deal – be prepared to get to the point where you tell them to cancel your subscription!), change to something cheaper like Netflix- do you have Amazon prime but never make use of Prime TV? Better still, watch less TV and do something more useful instead!

I have been amazed at how wasteful we used to be and how easy it has been to spend less money, live a healthier life, and reduce our carbon footprint!

Lunatics and terrorists

I refer, of course, to the dog and the chickens!

Luna’s continual escaping started to give us real cause for concern on so many levels – she’s a big dog and rather exuberant and I was terrified she would knock someone over whilst jumping on them to play, and we really don’t want to be responsible for someone getting hurt. We also didn’t want her getting pregnant! The little finca next door has 4 dogs, one of whom is male. We soon discovered that his own harem of 3 dogs wasn’t enough. He escaped and Luna escaped, and well, I don’t need to go into details … thankfully she’s not pregnant though – a lucky escape!

So we’ve had to take some rather drastic action, which we didn’t want to do, but our choice became to either take action or take her to a shelter. She needs to learn that she has to stay on our finca all the time – there’s no fence or wall that will keep her in – she can jump a 2m wall with ease, so without turning this place into Alcatraz we had to find another solution.

We have put a long washing line up along the first terrace and we attach her lead to it – she can still run around, lie in the sun or choose from a selection of trees to lie under, but we can control where she is. We do also use a chain at night – again, it’s long enough that she can still wander about, but she can’t leave the finca. It was a bit heartbreaking at first, but after a few days we realised it actually wasn’t bothering her at all – we walk her around the perimeter of the finca 4-5 times a day so that she learns where the boundaries are. Our neighbour said we had done exactly the right thing, and that by the time she is one year old she will quieten down and will know where she can and can’t go – so this won’t be forever. If we don’t get her completely trained now while she’s young, we have no hope of controlling her when she weighs 10 stone in another 18 months!

When we go and sit on the roof terrace, she still comes with us as we can attach her lead to one of the posts up there, and she can still sit just inside the door of the house so on hot afternoons she can lay on the cool tiles on the floor.

Our next thing to sort is to get her spayed in case someone else’s dog comes on our finca and gets her up the duff, but we want to get this new regime ingrained first so she doesn’t get confused by leaving the finca or we’ll find ourselves back at square one again.

Then there’s the chickens – or the banana terrorists as Rog now calls them! We have two areas where we have banana trees, and each area has about 6 trees, some of which were really big (and you’ll notice I said ‘were’!). Yep, 4 little clucky chickens managed to fell 2 trees – turns out they have a taste for banana trees, and spent an afternoon merrily pecking at the trunks – they were so badly damaged and leaning at such an angle that Rog had no choice but to finish what the chucks started! They also had a real go at some of the pups (the young new trees that come up). So we solved the problem by fencing off the banana trees so we could start letting them free range again. At least we thought we had solved the problem …

The other afternoon was so hot – the dog was asleep under a tree, and we went for a little siesta, and left the chickens to roam. Until now they have never ventured down onto the first terrace where Luna is most of the time – they have been perfectly happy with the other two terraces. But while we were asleep they somehow managed to tiptoe past Luna into the vegetable garden! Not where we want them scratching around! So we now had to herd them back past Luna, up two flights of steps and back into the run – they’re so naughty!

Life was so much simpler before the animals, but they do make life more interesting, and I couldn’t imagine not having them now!

Ethel and Maureen loving the banana trees before they were fenced off – they could sleep and eat all in the one place!

Living an isolated life

We recently watched one of our favourite TV programmes – one that inspired us to make the move we did – Ben Fogle’s New Lives in the Wild, and watching it again inspired me to write a post about living in isolation.

Now we’re not as isolated as some people on that program – we just decided that was a bit too much for us when we looked at some properties that really were remote over here. You start asking yourself questions like, one if one of us had an accident or got really ill … or what would I do if the unthinkable happened and I ran out of milk for tea 😱. Our finca gave us the perfect mix of being away from society, but 5 minutes in the car or a 15 minute walk puts us in the heart of the village (which is home to just 400 people!).

Since the Coronavirus pandemic hit, people all over the world have had a taste of living an isolated life even when they live in the middle of a city, and some of the friends we talked to were amazed at how good it felt – getting off the hamster wheel of eat, sleep, work, repeat. Having more time together as a family has been a great experience for many, although I appreciate that financial worries and fears about the pandemic have overshadowed the benefits for lots of people. I will also give a shout out here to parents working from home whilst home schooling their children – hats off to you. The Valium prescriptions should be free of charge for you!

So, how did it feel to spend 24/7 with your partner? I watched my parents back in the UK, who have been married for nearly 58 years, go through a range of emotions – pulling together and being supportive, bickering, out and out shouting, and then the ‘we have to get out we’re going crazy!’ It was quite a process to watch! They usually have pretty busy lives, Dad with his bowls several times a week, mum meeting up with friends for coffee etc, and then mum does drag dad out a couple of times a week for a walk. To suddenly feel like prisoners in their own home was hard for them both.

But this is the life that Roger and I specifically chose. Yes, we go shopping once a week and see other people occasionally to wave to when they’re working on their nearby fincas, but we spend 98% of our time here on the finca, with just each other, the dog and the chickens for company. Some mates pop over very occasionally for a cuppa or some lunch, but we don’t feel the need to constantly have friends over or meet up every other day! The thought of ending up in an expat Thursday night whist club fills me with absolute dread!

Don’t get me wrong, there are the occasional days where we get on each other’s nerves a bit – it would be hard not to, but the key is good communication. It does help that we are actually best friends as well as being husband and wife. We understand each other where so many people just don’t get us – I don’t think either of us ever really fitted into modern society. It always felt a bit like I was a piece of jigsaw puzzle that was being hammered into the wrong place in the jigsaw – ‘you WILL fit in here’ – and what you end up with is a mutilated jigsaw piece!

We also respect the fact that now and again we both like a bit of time on our own, and we’ll go off doing different jobs round the finca, meeting up for a cuppa mid morning! Neither of us mind a bit of quiet – we don’t feel the need to be talking about stuff constantly – being able to sit in companionable silence is wonderful. My favourite part of the day is in the evening, sitting in the roof terrace with a cuppa – talking about what we’ve achieved that day and what we plan to do tomorrow. And then to just sit … enjoy the scenery and the sounds of the countryside getting ready for bed … and the swish of the fly swat for the zillionth time 🥴

When we need to make decisions we do it together, and if one of us is really convinced that something needs to be done a particular way then the other tries to respect that and go with that idea (although we are both capable of pulling ‘that face’!) We’re working towards the same goal here – if we didn’t pull together it just wouldn’t work. But bouncing ideas off each other is invaluable, and we do know each other well enough to know what the other would probably hate – there are times when Rog starts the conversation with ‘I know you’ll say no, but …’

We’ve had a few friends and family from the UK to visit – we enjoy seeing people but we do both find that after about 3 or 4 days we’re thinking, go on now, off home with you – that’s enough talking! We have got into a rhythm here – I won’t call it a routine – rhythm is a much better word for it – and having visitors definitely disrupts that. And now and again for a few days it’s a nice disruption. For people that knew us in the UK it’s quite mind boggling for them just how different our life is now.

Maybe we’ve just got a bit antisocial 😳 We had definitely reached the point of being so tired of peopling – it can be exhausting can’t it! Worrying about what people think, what have I done now to upset them, why don’t they just leave me alone – you know how it goes. I read a fantastic quote recently that I have really taken on board – if you feel like you have disturbed someone, then don’t disturb them again (ie. if someone is being an eejit then let them get on with it, it’s their problem, not yours!) – once upon a time I would’ve worried about this stuff – not now.

We do still do some peopling – talking to our families and friends on video calls regularly – we actually have the time now to have longer and more frequent conversations. The video calling has certainly helped our parents come to terms with our move, and I feel that we have actually got closer to our kids – which is funny, moving 1500 miles away! Some people who were friends have dropped us like hot potatoes – and that’s fine, everybody’s circle of friends changes throughout life – the trick is not to get upset about it – everyone is on their own journey.

Living an isolated life isn’t for everyone, probably not for most people to be honest, but we love it – the feeling of true calm and peace is priceless.

Working outside

For the last 15 years or so in the UK I worked on the road as a rep, driving around 40,000 miles a year. There are benefits to this type of job – you avoid office politics and the obligatory small talk with people you sometimes don’t like too much 😂, but it does take its toll, both physically and mentally. Don’t get me wrong, there were days that I loved it – driving back home with a fist full of orders, knowing you’re on for good commission that month – I would have a big old sing in the car, and do my best Jerry Maguire impression ‘SHOW ME THE MONEY’ – I think Rog used to know what sort of day it had been by the way I pulled into the drive 😂

But it can be lonely, hours and hours each day in the car, and physically it totally screws your neck shoulders and back – and lets not even talk about the varicose veins on your accelerator leg! You tend to average a 12 hour day in this type of job, and then when you get in there’s emails, reports and the like to do.

So now I work just a few days a week, sitting at the computer – but only for 5 hours at a time maximum. I now earn in a month what I used to earn in 3 days, but it doesn’t matter – it’s enough. The rest of the week is spent on housework / washing and working outside on the farm. Rog spends all his time working outside (you should see his tan!). The list of jobs to do here is endless, but we’re under no pressure and there’s no-one telling us what we have to do, how we have to do it and when it has to be done by.

We work with the seasons and the weather. In the winter it’s pretty chilly in the morning and so we start a bit later after a couple of pots of tea, and then finish working outside as it gets dark (no earlier than 5pm). In the summer, we have to get started earlier before it gets too hot. We stop at 12.30 and the afternoon is spent having a leisurely lunch and a siesta. Then at about 6pm we start working again as it starts to cool down.

We take regular breaks – we’ve spent an hour today collecting firewood from our neighbours farm as he’s just given his trees a massive prune – the temperature was about 30 degrees already at 10.30am – so do that job, then take a break before starting anything else. We wouldn’t last the day if we didn’t! By the way, he did say to us to help ourselves to the wood!!

Even when I’m doing the washing, it all goes on outside in our old fashioned sink and the homemade tumbler washing machine. Lots of fresh air and quite physical!

Last winter was the coldest here for 40 years, and there were days when I didn’t want to go outside (I really do feel the cold) but Rog convinced me to help him chop some wood one day, after which I was so hot I didn’t need a fire straight away! They say there’s no wrong weather, just the wrong clothes – and we do go from thermals and jumpers to the skimpiest shorts over the course of the year!

It’s a different way of life – you gauge your day on what the weather is doing AND how you feel – now and then we have a lazy day – and why shouldn’t we! And we don’t feel bad about it anymore! Some summer evenings are just too lovely to work – it would almost be criminal not to have a sit on the terrace with a glass of something cold and just enjoy the view whilst watching the bee eaters enjoying their final flight before bed!

I don’t think I could go back to our old life – every day feels joyous here, even when we’re melting in the heat and covered in insect bites or freezing cold 😂. I used to think I was in tune with nature, but now I understand what it really means, and there’s nothing like it on this earth! Where the wind blows from at different times of year, where the moon rises, the position of the sun when the bee eaters and swifts take flight in the evening – we know when to go up on the roof by the position of the sun over the mountain, not by the clock in the house – being in the same place each day means you really see what’s changing as the year turns.

We’re doing it!!!

I know, it’s just some beetroot and salad onions, but I’m made up! Skipping down to the veg garden with my little basket and coming back with these makes me so unbelievable happy. Having never grown veg before it’s going to take years to perfect the craft, but time is something we have…

And in the meantime, Rog was harvesting the first pears! I just love it.

Fresh onions and beetroot in the salad tonight with pears for pudding – life just doesn’t get better!

Chicken update …

I’ve always wanted to have some hens but was never able to until now.

We’ve had them for a couple of months now, and they make me laugh every day – they really do have personalities! As I go past I always say hello to them, and they do talk back – Rog said I was going bats!#t crazy talking to them … and then I overheard him having a full blown conversation with them 😳

They are quite naughty … you can’t go into the coop with sandals on – they just love pecking at toes! They do protest at being put away at night – you get three in, turn your back for a split second to get the last one in, and then the other three escape again, but it’s all part of the fun. We’ve found that using a piece of board to herd them works well (sometimes!)

We do let them out every day or every other day – one of us sits with the dog on a lead on the terrace – think she’ll have to be much older before we can trust her around them!

They love to stretch their legs and have a good forage about, and we feel better knowing they’re having fun. We wanted to let them free range but that’s just not possible with Luna.

We’re getting 4 eggs a day and the aim is to sell them, although that hasn’t been possible with all the virus stuff going on. I’ve been giving some to our veg lady each week and in return she gives us a ton of tomatoes for free – I have jars of homemade canned toms and chutney – having so many tomatoes is almost as problematic as having 28 eggs a week! 😂

They are actually pretty easy to look after. They like to get out the second the sun comes up over the mountain in the morning, and so I get a bucketload of weeds ready the night before to give them first thing. Rog made a snazzy feeder out of tubing so that only needs filling up every few days, and so it’s a case of clean water with the weeds in the mornings. We have a small feeder that goes in the coop at night in case they get peckish. We have changed their food recently – we got a sack from the local ferriteria but it was like dust, so after a visit to our local pet shop we now have proper dried corn that they love – and at €11 for a 25kg sack that won’t break the bank!

In terms of cleaning them out, we’re using the deep litter method, so once a month we add more wood shavings into their house. That means the whole thing only needs emptying and cleaning twice a year. Their nesting box is fitted to the outside of the coop for easy access to add hay and collect the eggs. Using diatomaceous earth around the edge of the coop and in with the wood shavings keeps insects at bay (I’ll do a post on diatomaceous earth another day!). We do have some small mice that come to nick the corn at night, but there’s not much we can do about those!

These girls though …

Left to right: Balti, Maureen, Attila the Hen and Ethel

Easing of lockdown restrictions in Spain

Spain went into lockdown back in March just before the UK and I was lucky to get the last flight back into Almeria from the UK – if I hadn’t come back early I would still be in the UK now, over two months later!

The lockdown here was one of the most restrictive across Europe. Two thirds of Spaniards live in flats and spent that first 6 weeks unable to leave their flats unless they were shopping for essential items. Children weren’t allowed to go out at all (unless they had to go out with their parent where no one else could care for the child). No daily exercise was permitted and only one person could be in a car to go out for essential items. Pretty hardcore stuff. Those that thought we were mad for living out in the campo were suddenly a bit jealous as we still had our freedom out here, and daily life wasn’t too different for us.

A couple of weeks ago we transitioned into the start of an easing of these restrictions, and last Monday we went into the second phase.

Just to make things confusing, the first stage was phase 0 and the second stage is phase 1 😂. Some places, such as Madrid, didn’t meet the criteria to move to phase 1, so they’re in phase 0.5 😂 It’s nigh on impossible to know what you can and can’t do! Luckily, Almeria has been pretty good – not too many cases compared with elsewhere in Spain, so the move to the next phase was never going to be an issue here.

We still can’t leave the province (not that we need to!) and there are still no flights out of Almeria – really hoping I can get back to see my poorly sister soon, although with two weeks quarantine both ways it would hardly be worth it, as I wouldn’t be allowed to see the family in that time. With my sister being so ill, she can’t have any visitors in case she gets the virus – mum and dad go over and wave to her through the window – brain cancer at any time is devastating, but this pandemic has made it even harder for everyone in the family. It would be good to see her again though, and to support mum and dad.

But, last Wednesday did see us going food shopping together for the first time since March! It was quite an event!

Cafes are allowed to open again, but customers can only use the outdoor terrace and with a maximum capacity of 50%. There are stringent hygiene requirements too and twice daily disinfecting of the premises, which has meant that lots of cafes have chosen to stay closed, fearful of getting it wrong, including our one in the village. But we did stop at a different cafe whilst out shopping – there wasn’t a whole load of social distancing going on, but we didn’t mind – it was lovely to see people out laughing and kids running around again.

A few more shops were open so we were able to get some bits – only shops that are less than 400 sqm can open, and the number of people in there at any one time is limited, but it’s a step forward.

So fingers crossed we’re in the road back to a more sociable life with the freedom to travel again …

Living with solar power… a year on

Having completed just over a year of being off grid, I really think we have this licked now! Not really knowing what the climate would be like across a whole year meant we had to try and anticipate what we would need to get through winter.

We have three decent sized solar panels, a 2000 watt inverter, charge controller and six big batteries to store the energy in here.   We replaced the ancient system that was here when we moved in as it was just 1 x 100 watt panel, very old batteries and a 150 watt inverter!  What we have now gives us enough electricity to run the compost loo fan 24 hours a day, for charging phones, the toothbrush, battery packs, running the WiFi and the radio / speaker. We can also run the computer when I work in the day as long as it’s not really cloudy. We have to be careful how many things we have going at once, so try to stagger the usage.  On bad winter days we turn the wifi off for most of the day so we can have it on in the evening for a few hours – running the compost loo fan is way more important than having wifi!!  We added a wind turbine last autumn to try and boost the power on cloudy days and overnight – I wouldn’t say it’s been a roaring success, but it helps to maintain the batteries rather than add to the stored power.

We can have lights on, but they’re quite a drain on the power even though they’re LED, so we have a couple of solar lights that we charge up outside during the day, and another we can charge on the usb in the day, which is a great light in the evening.  Worse case scenario, we always have a stock of candles. It all comes down to finding other ways of achieving your goals, and prioritising what’s most important.  We can use the light in the bathroom in the evening as it’s not on constantly, but we do find these days that our eyes don’t like bright artificial lights!

On cloudy days we really limit our usage. We both have battery packs that we can charge up on sunny days to use on cloudy days so we don’t need to draw on the power, and we have the all important back up petrol generator so I can work in bad weather.

But it’s funny how quickly we’ve got used to living like this! It just takes a little juggling and organisation, but we do it now without really having to think about it!

In the kitchen though, I didn’t want to be beholden to having sunshine to be able to cook, wash etc, so opted for as few electrical items as possible. I did bring my food processor, but this has been resigned to the back of the cupboard as it will only work on the generator – it’s too powerful for the solar on start up.  I can use it if I really need to, but its a bit of a pain to turn on the generator, run a lead into the house just to blitz something for 30 seconds!  I have a spiralizer and have just treated myself to a pull cord mini chopper / processor, and I have to say it’s brilliant!  But other than those, everything is just done the old fashioned way by hand with a wooden spoon or knife – it actually feels like real cooking again!

We have a fridge with a small freezer, which runs on butane gas – we go through a gas bottle every 3-4 weeks, which costs about 13 euros, so an effective way to run a fridge.  We have a small camping oven with two gas rings, which is ok for cooking on – this also runs on gas, and a gas bottle lasts 6 weeks, so pretty efficient.  I simply avoid cooking things that take hours – lots of dishes that take 20-30 minutes works well on so many fronts!  For most of the summer it’s too hot to eat anything other than salads anyway! Our hot water is on gas too – in the summer a gas bottle lasts nearly 3 months – all you want are cold showers when the temperature doesn’t drop under 26 degrees at night and averages 36 in the day!  In the winter we get 6-8 weeks on a gas bottle.  So we average 2 gas bottles a month – about 26 euros – I wish my gas bill in the UK had been that low!

I’ve got the clothes washing down to a fine art now.  I have a small hand crank washing machine in the house for clothes and a larger one outside that Rog built for duvets, towels etc.  When we got here there was an old fashioned sink outside with a washboard (you can actually still buy these new here!). Rog has done it up, added a pipe to drain away the water etc and this is brilliant for getting really dirty work clothes clean.  Now that the weather has gone back to normal at last, the washing dries in no time outside, and with the afternoon breeze it doesn’t need ironing – in fact, I haven’t ironed a single thing since we moved to Spain! It’s been a revelation!

We weighed up putting in a bigger solar system so we could run things like a fridge, but the cost was pretty steep – it would only break even after ten years compared to what we spend on gas, and at that point, parts of the solar system would need replacing, so not a cost effective option.

We bought a decent generator when we moved here – being able to work to earn a few bob is essential, but we also use this for some of Rogers’ power tools for doing jobs outside – there are times when you just need to use beefy tools for some jobs!  We bought a rechargeable drill with a spare battery pack, so one on and the spare charged up as a back up, and this does for most jobs.

Our only source of heating for the winter is the wood burning stove, but as our house is tiny this pretty much heats the whole house.  We have a fan that sits on top of the stove to maximise output, and this is powered solely by the heat from the fire – an excellent purchase! We tend to only use this in the evening – if it’s cold in the day it’s warm clothes and move around (difficult when I’m teaching, so out of view I have a hot water bottle and a blanket!).

We don’t have air conditioning here – some people think we’re crazy to live in Spain without it, but the house stays pretty cool in the summer, and we do have a tiny fan just to keep the air moving in the day. We found last year that we opened all the windows in May and they stayed open until September! We have mosquito nets up at all the windows to stop the critters otherwise leaving them open just wouldn’t be an option!

We use strimmers outside for weed control, a rotavator and of course the wood chipper, and these all run on petrol. As they aren’t in constant daily use they don’t cost us much at all – we rotavate a couple of times a year, strim every couple of months in autumn and winter but more often in the summer (almost a constant job like the forth bridge!) and wood chip maybe 6 – 8 times a year.

Back in the UK we never gave a second thought to using gas and electric – just turn it on, and the direct debit goes out each month.  Now we have to be more careful, and prioritise what jobs to do and what to use, but it’s really no problem at all.  I would imagine that living off solar in colder or cloudier climates would be harder and more of a challenge.

I can honestly say that with the set up we have, living off the grid is pretty easy and less of a compromise than I ever thought it would be.

Preserving fresh food

One of the plans we had for our new life was to grow and preserve as much of our own food as possible. We’ve had some cabbage, broad beans, peas and onions from the garden so far, with lots more planted. So far we’ve eaten whatever veg we’ve produced, but we plan to increase how much we grow each year as we find our feet.

From our fruit we either make jams, chutneys, sell it or just eat it!

Yesterday my lovely veg lady gave me about 4 kilos of tomatoes in return for some eggs – now we like tomatoes, but there’s no way we could eat that many before they go off, so I set to this morning to bottle them so they’ll be like tinned tomatoes which I can then use in dishes.

I know lots of people have started growing some veg now because of the worries around food supply chains with the pandemic, so I thought I’d share how to preserve tomatoes, and also details of my favourite, no nonsense preserving book. I’m guessing that come the summer people are going to suddenly be inundated with tomatoes!

First, my favourite book is this one by John and Val Harrison:

It’s practical and easy to follow – it’s become my little bible here!

There are a few bits of equipment that I would recommend you get, namely a jam thermometer and jar tongs (worth every penny!) A decent preserving pan is helpful for jams and chutneys (I stole my mums!).

For jams and chutneys you can use ordinary jars – I re-use these as long as the seal on the lid is still good. For bottling and preserving use le parfait clip top jars and mason jars. All are easy to get hold of in the UK and can be used re-used for years, simply buy new rubber seals or lids occasionally to make sure you always get a good seal.

To bottle or can tomatoes, I skin the tomatoes first – cut a small cross in the bottom and pop them in a pan of boiling water for a minute until you see the skins loosening – take them out with a slotted spoon and peel off the skin, cut out the hard core and chop up.

Once this is done simply bring your tomatoes slowly to a simmer, stirring frequently.

I wash my jars and then pop them in a warm oven to dry and sterilise while I’m cooking the tomatoes – if you have a dishwasher simply wash them on the hottest wash.

Ladle the tomatoes in leaving half an inch headroom. Add a teaspoon of salt or lemon juice and put the lid on. Pop into a water bath (saucepan of hot water with either a cloth in the bottom or a metal trivet, and make sure the jars don’t touch each other) and let it bubble away for 40 minutes to seal. The water needs to be 1-2 inches over the jars, so keep an eye on the water level and top up when necessary.

Once done, lift the jars out and leave standing for 12 hours – and that’s it! You can check the seal by unclipping or parfait jars – the lid should stay sealed (if it doesn’t it needs to go back in the water bath) or unscrewing mason jars – the middle section of the lid should stay put. Your tomatoes will be good for a year.

Here are the ones I’ve just finished:

You can add herbs or garlic etc – I’ve just left mine plain and will add the garlic and herbs when I use them in a dish.

Fingers crossed I’ll be sun drying our own tomatoes and preserving them in our own olive oil later this year!

Baby oranges

I’ve found watching the life cycle of oranges quite fascinating over the last year. The UK isn’t well placed for growing citrus fruit, so this has all been totally new to us.

The trees blossomed about a month ago, just as we were harvesting the oranges, and since then the trees have been humming with the sound of hundreds of bees busy pollinating.

The blossom is just about done now, which means that next week we’ll be able to insecticide – some of the trees have an aphid problem so this won’t be a minute too soon. But while the bees are doing their thing you just let them get on with it and don’t interfere! The smell of the orange blossom has been heady to say the least – I don’t suffer with hay fever, but it even got me sneezing!

As the blossom falls away, the trees reveal their little babies!

The tiny green balls are what will become the oranges that we will harvest next year. The harvest around here starts in mid January and goes right through to April. We have to wait for the call from the cooperative to tell us when to harvest, as they can’t be sitting around for weeks in crates. This year we got the call which gave us a week to harvest and get the oranges to the drop off, which was fine.

Lots of these tiny oranges will fall off over the next few months – the trees will shed about a third or more of them to make sure it can grow all the other oranges to perfection.

Our job over the next year is to insecticide every 3 months, water regularly and fertilise 3 times. We also keep an eye out for dead wood and crossing branches that need cutting out. There’s no specific time of year to prune orange trees – it’s just an ongoing job throughout the year. We did remove some of the bigger branches that needed to come out after the harvest in March – it’s important to let light into the middle of the tree, as one thing oranges do need is sunshine, and lots of it!

The motivation to change

I’m pretty sure that the current situation with the virus has given lots of people food for thought about their lives, their dreams and what the future might hold.

Motivation is a funny thing – other people can’t make you feel motivated, that only comes from inside you. You can be inspired by others that brings about the motivation within you, but only you can make things happen to bring about a change.

So what inspired us to make our big change – well, there were a number of factors and we really reached the point where we couldn’t ignore the call any more.

As a child I used to go to Ireland each summer to stay with my Grandmother. She lived in a small village right in the middle of rural Ireland, and we were related to a large percentage of the village! My Mum grew up a way out of the village with her Granny, but spent most of her time on the farm down the lane from her Granny’s cottage – Nancy and Joe weren’t actually blood relatives, but her farm was a sanctuary for my Mum. I loved it there – every morning I would get up early and walk to Nancys’ in my wellies in time for milking, which was all done by hand, and then I used to take the milk up to the top of the lane with Joe in the donkey and cart. On the way back we would stop at what was my great granny’s cottage to see my aunts – Queenie and Kay, for a cup of tea and a chat. The farm had no electricity, no running water, no bathroom – proper off grid! The farmhouse was thatched and the kitchen had a big open fire – the only thing for cooking and heat. There were chickens and dogs wandering around the yard and the donkey lived in the orchard. My days were spent collecting eggs in the hay barn, taking the cows down to the brook for a drink of water, helping Joe in the fields – it was perfect and I loved it. I used to have to go back to Nans for lunch, but the minute that was done I’d be back to the farm – I spent every possible moment there and would’ve stayed there forever given the chance. I have so many funny stories about those years in Ireland, I should probably write a book!

But those sorts of dreams rarely become a reality – you leave school or university, get a job, get a mortgage, have kids, and somehow your childhood dreams just vanish. You wake up one day in a house that’s too big now just for the two of you, mortgaged to the hilt and working all hours to pay for a house you never spend any time in.

Yoga and meditation played a huge part too – they help you to think clearly and give you the ability to shut out the ‘noise’.

Then one day, out of nowhere, Rog said, ‘let’s move!’. ‘Where to’, I said.  ‘Anywhere’, he said. And that’s how it started …

Time for some honest list making and planning – so much planning and research went into this.  We spent 2-3 months defining what sort of life we wanted and how we could make it work financially. We put the house on the market just before Easter, and then put most of our stuff on ebay and gumtree – every item we sold got us one step closer.  The house sold in August and completed in November and that was us off … and the rest is history as they say!

So roughly half of the world’s population is currently in lockdown, and has been now for many weeks … giving people time to think and dream … what changes have you been dreaming about, and more importantly, what are you going to do about it?

Spring has … limped in

After one of the worst winters here for decades, Spring is attempting to get going. The weather has improved slightly this week, actually managed a wear a t-shirt yesterday and today for a few hours! Looking at the forecast it’s going to be up and down over the next few weeks, but at least it’s warmer now while it’s raining!

But despite the weather, Spring is doing her thing and stuff is growing – it’s my favourite time of the year.

The nisperos are growing visibly bigger every day:

And the orange blossom, which has been humming with hundreds of bees every time the rain stops, is starting to die off to make way for baby oranges:

The apricots are going great guns – another month or so and they’ll be ready:

Baby pears are forming:

The vines are taking off:

Almonds are getting big, but won’t be ready until August / September:

And the olive blossom is getting ready to open:

We still have some poorly trees that we’ve been trying to rescue since we got here – we have 12 chirimoyas that really don’t look well at all – I’d hate for these to fail as the fruit is delicious and really expensive to buy! A handful of the orange trees are struggling, but they’ve had a really good hard prune, which will be kill or cure … time will tell. The big challenge at the moment is the weeds – we don’t use herbicide and could literally spend day after day pulling them out and strimming! The good thing now, of course, is that we pull them up and give them to the chickens!

We leave the wood sorrel and chickweed to grow freely – these are good for the soil and the chickens favourites. Since we started giving them a huge pile of weeds every day, egg production has gone through the roof – we’re getting 28 a week – that’s a lot of eggs for two people! We were planning to sell them, but with the current lockdown restrictions we can’t to that – so we’re giving some away and eating the rest, scrambled egg for lunch most days – I’m not complaining!!