Well it’s been almost four years since I started writing this blog about starting a new life in Spain. Moving from a comfortable home, a well paid job and lots of creature comforts to a tiny off grid finca. And what a journey it’s been!
We have so many new skills, ones that actually feel real and relevant to daily living. We’ve had lots of challenges to overcome, but we’ve faced them all and beaten most of them! We’ve become adept at living without resources that modern society would have you believe are essential, and carved ourselves a life that is uncomplicated and sustainable.
I think we have changed and grown both as individuals and also as marriage partners – if we didn’t work together as a team here we’d be in real trouble!
The world has also changed so much in the time we’ve been here, and with each new tragedy I can only think that our move was perfectly timed.
It’s been a privilege to be able to share our story, and now we’re ready to continue what we’re doing – we have no plans to change where we are for as long as possible – no place has ever felt so much like home as it does here – our little sanctuary, with our beloved dogs and our funny chickens. You never know, I might crack on with that book I’ve been threatening to write one of these days!
We both hope that you have enjoyed reading about our life here, and maybe even been able to inspire some of you to make a change, however small … or even just to feel more grateful for that flushing loo you have in your house!!
I’ll leave you with one final thought – no dream is ever impossible unless you decide it is. I hope all of your dreams become reality.
Life isn’t all about massive achievements … and we all know that massive achievements don’t come along that often during life. This means that we can find ourselves rushing through mundane jobs to get them done and out of the way.
Jobs, relationships and life in general can be transient and uncertain in the modern world, and we have all become aware of just how uncertain things can be over the last few years as we lived through the pandemic and then straight into the crisis in Ukraine, especially with the media hailing it as the potential start to WW3.
I think it’s important to find things that give stability … the day to day achievements we barely take any notice of … cleaning the house, doing the washing up, cooking dinner and the like. It’s in completing simple tasks that we can find peace and stability in our lives. Instead of rushing through, be present and take notice of what you’re doing.
In this next blog about natural remedies, I thought we could explore crystal therapy, as this is something you can do for yourself in your own home!
Obviously, it’s lovely to go and get a full therapy with a professional, but you can make using crystals a part of daily life – having them around your home or office, or carrying them around with you.
So, how do they work?
We all have seven main chakras, or energy centres, in our body. These are represented by different colours, which are associated with the characteristic of each chakra.
The root, or base chakra is what keeps us grounded. The sacral chakra is about courage. The solar plexus chakra is fun / laughter, whilst the heart chakra of course is associated with love. The throat chakra is all about communication. The last two, the third eye and crown chakra, represent our connection to the spiritual.
Think of these chakras as little whirlpools (that’s how they always feel to me when I place my hand above them!). Sometimes these whirlpools get a bit mucky, the colour fades, or they don’t whirl around enough – that’s when we get out of balance. When we look at the word disease we can break it down thus:
ie. your body is not at ease. So when our chakras become unbalanced we can feel unwell, either physically or emotionally.
Using crystals can help to rebalance our chakras. Of course it is better for a therapist to do this for you, as we first create a circle of protection around the aura, before opening, cleaning and rebalancing the chakras. Chakras should never be left fully open, as it leaves you totally vulnerable to outside influences. However, after a bad week, you could lie on the bed and rest the crystals on your chakras and just rest for half an hour, somewhere quiet.
The best collection of crystals I can recommend for the chakras would be clear quartz for the crown, amethyst for the third eye, sodalite for the throat chakra , rose quartz for the heart, citrine for the solar plexus, brown tigers eye for the sacral and red jasper for the base or root chakra. You can, if you prefer it, use Lapis Lazuli at the third eye, and instead of a pink rose quartz at the heart, you can swap for a green aventurine. Personally, I prefer to use the green on my heart chakra, but if you’re not sure which would work best, let your instinct pick for you – pick up the one that feels right.
You can use tough or tumbled crystals for this, and any size is fine. What you don’t have to do is buy one of these fancy kits in a lovely box with reiki symbol engravings on them – I promise you, they make no difference, except to your purse!
At other times, you can simply carry crystals with you, or have them placed by your bed or on your desk. There’s lots of books out there to tell you the characteristics of different crystals, but here’s my advice – if you can, go into a crystal shop and pick what jumps out at you. Your instinct and intuition are far stronger than you think!
Here are some of my favourites:
Sunstone by your bed – you wake up happy!
Hematite by your computer – negates some of the EMR
Snowflake obsidian if you’re struggling to come to terms with something difficult
Clear quartz or smoky quartz can help you to meditate. If possible, but a slightly larger stone with a point at one end and just sit with it in front of you. If you’re struggling to quieten your mind, gaze at the crystal and I’m sure you’ll find it helps.
It’s a good idea to look after your crystals too by regularly cleansing them – you can either run them under mineral water or leave out in the full moon overnight – this removes any negative energy that the stones have absorbed. If you are reiki attuned, you can simply hold them and flood them with reiki to cleanse them.
Crystals can help you to stay focused and balanced in everyday life, in a gentle and soothing way! Learning about and using crystals has certainly made a difference in my life, and I hope you give them a go ❤️
Luna and Persi really do have a wonderful life here … lots of freedom, lots of space to run and play, and no shortage of snacks between meals!
But it’s not always fun for them … there are wild animals about at night – rats, foxes, other dogs, cats and wild pigs.
A couple of days ago we noticed Persi had a nasty cut under one of his legs – popped him down to the vet and she said he’s fine, keep it clean (🙄).
But that didn’t prepare us for what happened to him last night … this is what we found this morning when we got up:
Luna has come to sit with him in the house to keep him company, and we’re just hoping he has a good sleep now, as keeping still for a while to let the healing start is the best thing for him.
We stopped off at the cafe on the way home, we both definitely needed a strong coffee. One of our neighbours said he was definitely gored by a wild pig – hopefully he’ll know to stay away from them in the future!
Back in the UK Rog used to have a few allergies, resulting in both asthma and eczema, but it was always controlled and rarely caused him a problem.
When we moved to Spain, one of the things we were hoping was that it would improve both his asthma and eczema, as in previous visits he found that the extra sunshine cleared up his eczema, and the drier air meant he rarely needed to take his inhaler.
And indeed, our first year here that’s exactly what happened! He bought a six month supply of inhalers, which lasted a whole year! Great news!
Then about 18 months ago he started to struggle, and visited the doctor several times in an effort to resolve the problems. They changed his inhaler, as the one he had in the UK isn’t available here. He continued to struggle – everything became difficult, breathing, or doing anything at all.
Just shy of a year ago he was rushed into hospital with total respiratory failure … and was then diagnosed with pneumonia – he had been trying to carry on regardless for months… but he’s always been like that!
Even after the pneumonia cleared up, he continued to struggle. So over the last year we’ve been backwards and forwards to the hospital, and yesterday we got the results of probably the most important tests so far. They did pin tests to test for allergies, and the news was about as bad as it gets.
Now we know he’s always had a bit of hay fever in the past, and that he wasn’t great around animals, but our dogs live predominantly outside, so he’s not been too bad with them.
Cats, dogs, dust, powder, plants and trees – basically he’s allergic to where we live. And it’s not just a little bit allergic, he’s a lot allergic. If it was a stuffy nose and red eyes he probably would just get on with it, but his reactions have been quite severe.
The way they explained it is that if you imagine a bucket and you put some allergies into it, you can take the odd antihistamine and be ok. But then something else gets added and the bucket overflows … that’s when it gets serious. The one that has made Rogers bucket overflow is olives – obviously back in the uk we never came into contact with olive trees!
During the meeting with the consultant I quipped that we needed to move and have a house by the sea … I wasn’t expecting her to agree …
But that’s out of the question … there’s certainly no money for another house, we love living here, and even if we did put it on the market it could take years to sell, and wouldn’t raise enough money for anything other than a one bedroom flat near the sea … it’s a quandary, but we’ve always loved a challenge!
BUT I’m now a woman on a mission … researching natural ways that will help him to cope – thank god we didn’t buy a finca with 3 or 4 acres 😱. We know that things like pineapple can help with inflammation because it contains an enzyme called Bromelain, and stinging nettles are a natural antihistamine, green tea helps too, but I know there’s lots of other things to investigate …
As I find remedies that work for Rog I’ll do regular updates and hope they help with anyone else out there living with severe allergies … and of course, if anyone out there has any suggestions, I’d be glad to hear them!
I’ll be 54 this year, and I was thinking the other day how technology has changed during my lifetime. Looking back made me chuckle so I thought I’d take some of us back down memory lane, and for any younger readers, this will probably horrify them!
Let’s start with the internet! In 1991 (aged 23) I was working for Equity & Law as the office manager. The computer team arrived at the branch one day and installed a new terminal (as we called computers then 😂). After hours of messing around, they dialed up and, with great excitement, showed us a screen and said … this is the internet!! I can remember it like it was yesterday! What does it do, I asked. Well, they said, you can ask it anything at all! Go on, type a question in. And do you know what, I couldn’t think of a single thing I wanted to ask! Can you imagine not having Google now! If we had a question we’d ask our parents, and they would tell us to look it up in a book if they didn’t know! I used to go to the library every Saturday morning to get both books for enjoyment and reference books to help with homework. Then came a revolutionary day – Mum and Dad bought a really good set of encyclopedias- life changing!
If you wanted to make a phone call you walked to a phone box … but we rarely did that as we didn’t know anyone else with a phone 😂. I think I was about 10 years old when we got a house phone. My sister was terrible, she would say goodbye to her friends on the bus and then phone them when she got indoors! Mum went mad when the bill came in so she bought a lock for the phone … and then gave us a key for emergencies 😂
TV – we had a black and white TV with 3 channels – BBC1, BBC2 and ITV. I remember arguing with my sister who was going to get up to change the channel and fiddle with the aerial when the picture went wonky! When Channel 4 was launched we weren’t allowed to watch it because it used to have vulgar programs (trendy programs aimed at teenagers in truth!). And the TV didn’t have programs on 24 hours a day! Mum and Dad always had a little bet on the horses on a Saturday, and one week my Dad hit the jackpot, winning about £80 (a months wages!) … he went straight to the betting shop to pick up his winnings, and went into Radio Rentals next door and rented a colour TV (nobody bought TV’s in those days!) – and they delivered it the same day. He also arrived back with a huge bag of sweets too!
Household appliances – my Mum washed all our clothes by hand up until I was about 11 or 12, when she got her first washing machine. She worked full time and so would spend all of Friday evening and Saturday morning doing all the washing. She had a spin dryer, although it used to dance across the kitchen floor when it got going! You wanted toast – you used the grill on the cooker. No coffee machines, bread making machines, microwave ovens, food processors etc.
And of course no Facebook, no instagram, no TikTok YouTube etc etc – it would be hard for teenagers now to imagine a life without technology!
Games – it scares me when I see our grandchildren absolutely fixated with their games consoles etc – they really do look like zombies sometimes. As kids we played cards, backgammon, draughts and board games on wet days, and played outside when the weather was nice.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not against technology – far from it. Taking on this life would’ve been a whole lot harder without it. Just the solar technology alone makes such a difference to our life here. Being able to use YouTube and Google to instantly access experts for information and guidance from all over the world is a godsend.
But there is a downside … maybe we’ve become a bit too reliant on it these days – I think even we need to step away from our phones a bit more! I’m not sure there’s many people who wouldn’t admit the same! I do find now that I’m losing touch with tech a bit – starting to feel my age as I look totally confused trying to back up my photos off my phone without deleting half of them!
If I look at how technology has changed just in my lifetime, and the pace at which it evolves now, it does make me wonder where we’ll be in 5, 10, 30 years … will life be better ir worse for it? I just don’t know!
It was one of my goals when we moved here to become less reliant on buying commercial products (that contain all sorts of nasties) and move to making more things myself.
It became very obvious very quickly that this wasn’t going to be an overnight change, after all, there was so much to do here and so much to learn, that it would have been unrealistic to expect all these changes to happen immediately.
But we’re getting there …
Last year we stopped eating meat and dairy. After trying various plant based ‘milks’ we settled on oat milk as our favourite, and we’ve been buying that ever since in 1 liter cartons. Now, we go through a liter a day – we drink a lot of tea and coffee, especially when it’s cold, and have cereal every morning for breakfast. I don’t like the amount of waste that this produces, even though we recycle the cartons, and compared to cows milk, it’s really expensive.
So, time to start making our own – it’s probably the simplest plant based milk to make, but does require a blender. Now I do have a blender, but it doesn’t work on the solar system, it’s just too powerful and sets all the alarms off! So this does mean that I have to pop the generator on for 5 minutes in order to make a couple of liters. I’ve bought 2 glass bottles that we can use again and again, so this will cut down on all the waste. It will also work out to be less than half the cost per liter, so why wouldn’t you make your own!!
It’s very simple – 4 cups of ice cold water to 1 cup of oats – add a tiny pinch of salt and a little squeeze of agave to sweeten and blend until smooth. I then use a double layer of cheesecloth and squeeze the oat milk through. Pour into sterilized bottles and pop in the fridge. It will last about 3 days in the fridge, but it’s such a quick process that it’s no problem to knock up a couple of batches every two days.
The other thing I’ve started making too is deoderant. This is so unbelievably simple and cheap! Two thirds of a cup of cornflour, one third of a cup of bicarbonate of soda (mix) and add two thirds of a cup of coconut oil – mix it altogether and pop it in a jar. I also added a couple of drops of essential oil to make it smell lovely. To use you just scoop a tiny bit out with your finger and rub it in! Pennies to make and better for you!
I’ve also started making seitan (plant based alternative to meat) and plan to turn my hand to making plant based cheese and butter (the two things I really miss!). I’ve had to buy a few slightly unusual ingredients off the internet as I can’t get them locally, but again, making our own will still produce less waste and be less processed (and therefore healthier!) for us – I’ll save these for another blog on another day though!
It’s all too easy to turn to a shop every time you think you need something, but I’m really enjoying the challenge of finding other, more natural ways to provide what we need where possible.
Having to spend a few days laid up in bed last week after screwing up my shoulder really gave me time to think and plan about what changes I wanted to make – it’s good to take time out to take stock sometimes! Every cloud has a silver lining!
Just before Christmas I came across a book recommendation from a like minded person on the internet, who lives in a similar way to us. He described it as a book that would change your way of thinking and split your life into two parts – before Ishmael and after Ishmael. This like minded person didn’t give away any of the storyline, or even what the book was about, which only stoked my interest further.
Ishmael is the first part of a trilogy – the second part being The Story of B and the final part being My Ishmael. The author is Daniel Quinn.
Mum had asked me what I would like for Christmas, and so quick as a flash I asked for this trilogy – since moving here I have once again been able to revert to being an avid reader as I’ve mentioned before. As much as I would consider myself a ‘book sniffer’ who loves nothing more than mooching around Waterstones at every given opportunity, our tiny house forces me to restrict my library to my kindle. The rate at which I devour books again these days would otherwise see us having to build an extension to house them all if I had real books!
And so a couple of days before Christmas I downloaded the three books, and am currently reading the second book, but I couldn’t wait until I had finished all three to write this blog.
I read Ishmael in just a couple of days, and it only took that long because it’s one of those books that you have to put down occasionally and have a think about what you’ve read before continuing. I also found myself re-reading sections to fully digest and understand. I will also say at this point that reading every word is a must – including the foreword . Don’t speed read it.
It was like a light bulb being turned on. We live the way we do here because we consider society, in its current form, to be wrong, unsustainable, and at odds with the natural world. This book explained exactly why we feel like that.
You only have to look at the level of mental health issues, suicide, greed, extinction levels and the stripping of our natural resources to know that to continue on our current path will lead to the destruction of our world … yet we’re all of us sitting by watching it happen, occasionally tutting at how awful it all is …
I’m amazed that I’ve never come across this book before, and I’m so glad that I have read it at last, it’s a story that may just help us to change our story …
It used to be so important to have something to look forward to … the weekends; birthdays; anniversaries; Christmas etc. And they had to be perfect, with lots of organising and build up to ‘the big day’.
We’re coming up to three years here in Spain, and living with nature as we do, these special days are just, well, another day now. I’m not sad at all about that … it says to me that every day is special to us. We get up each morning and live that day – it makes no difference what day of the week it is.
I actually think those special occasions used to be so important as I was always on a countdown to having time off work – two more weeks then a week off for Xmas etc – I’ve always loved just being at home! Don’t get me wrong, I always worked really hard, but all I ever wanted to do was to get back home again.
Our views on gender roles have also changed somewhat. We used to both work and share most of the household chores – whoever was there would run the Hoover around! As we have adapted to living here it has become really obvious that men and women are better at different things! I know that’s probably not politically correct, but it’s the truth when living this type of lifestyle. I will give anything and everything a go, but I just don’t have the strength or stamina for some of the more physical work here – those of you that know me, I’m not exactly a ‘girly girl’ and so it’s taken me a while (and some injuries!) to admit that this is the truth 😂. There is just no way that I would be out strimming while Rog bakes bread! You have to play to your strengths in order for everything to get done here.
Shopping – I used to love a nice new handbag or a pair of shoes! Now I get excited at farming machinery and equipment!
Time … we sometimes forget what month it is, never mind what day it is! The only day we have to remember really is Wednesday – market day! We’ve had to start using a shared calendar on our phones to remind us when things need doing because we lose track of time so badly! We do have a paper calendar up in the wall, but we never remember to change the month! It’s a bit bad when your calendar is still on August when it’s actually October! In our old life, everything was governed by time. Here, it’s more about the seasons in terms of timing – when is it time to harvest, plant veg etc.
Entertainment – when we were at home the TV was always on, and more often than not the radio too in the kitchen. We used to enjoy going out occasionally, to the cinema, for a meal, or a mooch around the shops. I loved going to the gym and yoga center regularly, and I would spend a lot of time cleaning (I know, I actually used to enjoy it!). None of those things are possible now – we can have the radio on in the day when it’s sunny, and we have a little tablet to watch a bit of a film or program at night, but I love the quiet. In the winter, we take the dogs for a walk in the afternoon, light the fire when we get back, and then I have an hour or so before I cook dinner – the perfect opportunity to curl up in a chair in front of the fire with a book – it’s heaven! I haven’t read this many books for years! In the summer in the evening we sit on the roof terrace and watch the bee eaters, swifts, eagles and kestrels and just enjoy the view. We do still have our phones of course, and enjoy a bit of Facebook and YouTube! But we never get bored, and never need things to entertain us now. If we have a day where we have no electricity, then I’m happy with a bit of sewing or crochet, and Rog will learn new things watching YouTube.
Priorities – it feels very real living here – I’m not sure I can explain it very well, but it’s less about owning stuff, technology and how you are perceived by the world in terms of success, and more about actual daily living – food, water, shelter. Simplifying life like we have means there aren’t a million thoughts and worries worming their way around your head, and it feels peaceful. I have said many times in the past that all I wanted was some peace – and I was right to want it. I think we all deserve that.
I’ve always been a home loving person, but I do find that the longer we’re here, the less I want to leave the finca to go anywhere. I do think this has been partly compounded by the pandemic, but the bottom line is that I feel safe here – just me, Rog, the dogs and the chickens – it’s like our little micro world where the big bad world can’t get at us. I thought I’d at least miss going on holiday, but I really don’t – there’s nowhere on this earth I’d rather be.
Now I’m always looking for ways to make living off grid a little easier or more comfortable, but still trying to be environmentally friendly at the same time.
In a recent video I showed the two products I use to do the washing – a hand cranked washing machine and a separate spin dryer that’s like a giant salad spinner. I also have a small food chopper / processor and a hand cranked sieve for mushing up food – and both of these work really well.
When I was looking for a pressure canner, I discovered, after many hours of searching online, that I would simply have to buy it from America. That meant months of waiting for it to get here, a pretty hefty price tag, and a ridiculous amount of import tax (25% of the cost of the canner!). I sucked it up as this was going to be something that would really make a difference to us – being able to preserve our own produce, and from what I read, it should also outlive me!
Back in the UK I used to have a Kenwood Chef – one that was about 40 years old – Rog found it for me on eBay and even managed to track down all the extra bits for it. I loved it, but it was one of the many things I sold before coming here (assuming we would be living with very little electricity).
So I was thinking to myself earlier, I wonder if you can get a hand cranked food mixer, and so the search began. And as usual, I ended up looking in America, because being a prepper or living off grid is big business there! It didn’t take long until I found this …
And then I saw the price … $635 … and that’s without shipping and import tax. WOW! So that won’t be happening then! I’ll stick to my wooden spoon and my hands! Both are cheaper and more environmentally friendly!
Earlier in the year we also saw an advert for solar powered generators. What a great idea – charge it up on sunny days as a back up for when it’s cloudy. The price … £1,700 … but it gets worse – you start reading the reviews and it turns out that the battery will only last for about 8 months to a year! Do they think we’re actually that stupid??
And don’t get me started on the price of mangles!
I’m not sure of the reason behind the cost of these items – some, of course, would probably last a lifetime, so you have to factor that in. It could also be that because production numbers are low that that affects the cost per item. I’m not sure if you’ll ever see any of these items being massed produced, but surely if these are more environmentally friendly, then they should become more accessible and cheaper? It would seem that trying to be more environmentally friendly has become a lucrative business for some!
Time and again it comes back to this … keep it simple! Kneading bread and seitan by hand doubles up as a gym workout and costs absolutely nothing; I have wooden spoons and whisks that are thirty years old and still going strong … at the end of the day they do the same job … a little slower perhaps and a little more effort is required, but the job gets done.
And as for the solar generator, well, if you live in such a way that you don’t need very much electricity then you shouldn’t need another backup! We do still have the petrol generator for emergencies, but the longer we live like this, the less electricity we find we really need.
So I saved a fortune just by reminding myself what it is that we set out to do here … live simply and walk a more gentle path on our planet. It’s so easy to get drawn into wanting more stuff, but the lesson here is to stop and think ‘do we really need it’ – what a difference that one question could make to the world!
The first year we were here we didn’t really grow much veg – there were so many other things that needed to take priority (like making the house habitable!).
Then for year 2 we built the big framework …
It was good, but it had it’s flaws – it was very difficult to work in between the rows, especially after we had irrigated. It was brilliant for the tomatoes though. So we started some proper planning (probably should have done that earlier, but hey, we’re learning!). We decided what we wanted to grow, and how to manage the quantity of each veg type – you can see above we ended up with a glut of cabbage and kohl rabi and little else. After these were harvested it was all tomatoes.
So to grow peas, beans and tomatoes we still needed something for them to grow up against. For everything else, we just needed veg beds. We like the flood irrigation – it worked really well last year. Rog repositioned all the pipes and outlets so now we can actually irrigate just around the frames, just the beds, or all of it.
This time we’ve given ourselves some room at the side to work. We were also having problems with the edge of the garden being washed down the bank, so we’ve brought the beds away from the edge a bit.
I’ve bought sacks for growing the potatoes in, so these won’t even need to be fitted into the veg garden.
We put the frames up before we needed to plant anything so we could make sure it all held and was strong enough. It all looked good so I planted some peas … then we had a force 7 storm, and they took a bit of a battering.
One had to be taken down and rebuilt, and the other two just needed a bit of extra securing. We’ve gone belt and braces on them all now with cross beams attached to metal posts that go into the ground about 18 inches. We’ve been able to reuse the poles and all the wire from when we took down the big frame, so there’s been no waste.
So at the moment we have peas, broccoli, cabbage , onions, beetroot and broad beans in the ground. I have also started seedlings off in seed trays, which will be planted in the new year – these include spinach, rhubarb, kohl rabi and some more peas, beetroot and cabbage. Staggering the planting will give us a chance to eat what we grow! This year, of course, I do also have the pressure canner, so any that we can’t eat can be preserved for later.
The potatoes will be planted into the grow bags in January, and then in February we have loads of seeds to start off! I hope to make better use of the space we have this year by continually harvesting and then sowing again so there aren’t bare patches for months in between planting.
We’ve also started growing more herbs, but have decided to do most of them in pots near the house – much easier when I’m cooking! But we’re also planting marigolds, thyme and basil in the veg garden to repel insects – nothing better than picking fresh tomato and basil at the same time for tea – making my mouth water already!!
We would love to have more room to grow more veg, but we would have to start cutting down trees to achieve this – I think we’ll see how we get on with what we have now, and think about expanding the veg garden maybe next year. We do have a lot of trees, but the land would actually serve us better growing our own food rather than a ton of oranges … we’ll see – it’s an ever evolving life living here!
It’s quite strange … it doesn’t seem to matter how much we do, or how many things we tick off the to do list, we never get to the end of the list! For every three things we do, we think of five new ones to add!
Many of the things we have to do here are time bound – certain things have to be done at set times of the year whether we like it or not! We were finding that we weren’t utilizing our time very efficiently, and so we weren’t making all the improvements that we said we wanted to do when we first bought the finca.
So the other week Roger started a to do list – now this wasn’t going to include doing things with the trees or veg – we know now when these need doing – but it was for all the other stuff that needs fitting in in between the trees and veg stuff. The kind of things that are the continuous improvements to what we have here – the rebuilding, changing where things go, mending things that have broken etc.
It’s actually quite amazing how things here need re-doing after about two years! In the UK it’s the wind and rain that do the damage, but here it’s the relentless sunshine and heat that undo our hard work. This goes especially for painting – whether it’s the outside walls of the house, or the glossing of the window bars and gates etc. We did everything the first year we were here thinking that would do for 5 years, but no, it all needs re-painting again!
It’s all too easy to get wrapped up working on the trees and forgetting about the other stuff.
The weather is perfect at the moment for working outside, and since we started the to do list we are actually rocking through it at a pace! It gets light at about 8am and gets dark at about 6pm. We still make time for our leisurely breakfast, and stop at lunchtime for a break. Once it gets dark, the fire goes on, the door closes and we’re done for the day! We never miss our afternoon walk with the dogs and make sure there’s time to enjoy the beauty of where we live. You know what they say, all work and no play …
Of course, the big difference this winter is that I’m not working, and I love having time to work outside with Rog instead of being cooped up inside teaching.
But saying all of that, I was walking around the finca today and I actually thought about just how much we have achieved since we got here, and the changes we have made to the place – it’s actually quite amazing what we’ve achieved in a relatively short space of time. I would love the previous owner, Pepe, to be able to come for lunch – I think he’d be stunned at the place – unfortunately, his wife is so unwell that he’s not able to visit us – hopefully one day soon he’ll be able to visit again.
Even though we’re not employed any more, there are things we can take from our old working life to make sure we stay on track here – namely the 5 P’s – Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance! We start each week with a run through of what we want to achieve – the big difference of course is that if we don’t get it all done, no one tells us off any more 😂
So, to give you a taste of the type of things we get up to here, here are a few of the jobs currently on our list:
Chop more wood, re-paint gates, re-paint side wall of house, render the shed on the 3rd terrace, take down garage wall before it falls down, build new garage, put trellis back up on side of house, strimming, water proofing on terrace, split and re plant vetiver on banks, re-do steps up to terrace, and make Alice in Wonderland signs (don’t ask!) … and that’s before we’ve cut the olive trees, harvested and cut the mandarin trees, harvested the oranges, pruned the orange trees, washed all the trees and grown any veg! Well, we wouldn’t want to get bored would we …!
I mentioned to a friend that I might do a video of what we do with our olives once we harvest them, and she thought it was a good idea, so here we go …!
Now I do these vlogs just on my mobile phone, one take, no script and no editing (I know, it shows!), so I’m not going to try and get clever by editing it into one video – I can taste the disaster just thinking about it 😂
We started using a reverse osmosis water filtering system back in the UK. The tap water where we lived in Whittlesey, Cambridgeshire, was ok, but tasted horrible. We were also really concerned about drinking water (or using products) that contained fluoride.
So, what does an RO system do? Well basically, it makes the water totally pure and balances the pH levels to make the water 7 on the scale – neutral. Most tap water is maintained at around 6.5 to 8.5 pH. Now there are some disadvantages to some types of RO systems, depending on the type you buy, which I’ll come on to.
You generally see 3 stage or 5 stage systems, and there’s a very important difference between the two, and that’s the re mineralization stage. If you have a 3 stage system, it is possible to add a remineralization filter between the system and the tap, so it means you don’t have to buy a whole new system at least!
So, why is remineralization so important? We’ll, drinking totally pure water is not actually that good for you. Because it doesn’t contain trace minerals, the water will actually leach these minerals out of your body as it passes through. Not good! The remineralization stage also puts back some taste into the water too.
So, on the upside, a reverse osmosis system is an excellent way to drink very healthy water. They are particularly popular here in Spain as town water doesn’t taste that great. As a result they are fairly cheap here compared to what we paid back in the UK (around £300 plus £60 each year for filters compared to roughly half that cost here). We had one back in the UK mainly to filter out the fluoride, as this can calcify the pineal gland.
Our pineal gland is tiny and sits deep in the brain. It produces melatonin and is the biological representation of our 3rd eye, connecting us spiritually to the universe. To be honest, this subject is a blog of it’s own, but I couldn’t talk about filtering out fluoride without some explanation as to why that is important! On a biological level, melatonin regulates our sleep and affects our mood – I have seen some studies suggesting links to various illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia, but I’m not a doctor, so I’ll leave that there! There are lots of other things, such as dairy, that can also contribute to a calcified pineal gland too.
From personal experience, all I will say is that I saw a huge difference in myself when I stopped drinking water with fluoride – everything became very clear in my mind. It was not long after changing to RO water that we threw everything up in the air and moved to Spain, changing our lives beyond recognition!
So, what are the downsides? Well, there’s the initial cost, and annual cost of replacement filters to consider. This is a no brainer for us though, as without the RO system we would have to buy bottled water … and the cost of that would far exceed the cost of the RO system, never mind the plastic etc that we would be using. There is an amount of waste with an RO system – it takes 4 liters of water for every one liter of actual drinking water out of the tap. Now we have our waste water going out into the veg garden, so ours isn’t actually going to waste, but it’s something to be aware of.
After owning a couple of different systems over the years, here’s a couple of top tips that we’ve learned the hard way!
1. Most DIY stores etc sell these systems – when choosing one, check to see if you can get spare parts and replacement filters online! We bought a system from a big store here, and after a year they stopped selling that make, and we can only buy filters, no spare parts! The company don’t have a website, and despite searching everywhere, we cannot find a thing for this make!
2. Shop around – the prices can vary wildly.
3. Check the dimensions of the system and the tank before buying to check it will all fit under your sink.
4. The system requires its own tap, so make sure you have somewhere it can go.
5. Check your water pressure and the minimum and maximums for the systems you’re looking at, and decide whether you will need one with an electric pump (not an option for us, but we do have high water pressure).
On a final note, it is also possible to buy whole house systems, so that all the water out of every tap will have gone through the system – we decided that we didn’t need this, as our water goes through 3 other filters before it gets to the RO system, and having measured the parts per million, it’s perfectly acceptable for washing etc.
Personally, I can’t ever see the day where we don’t have one of these systems!
Back in the UK we used to have three large wheelie bins – one for composting , one for dry recycling and one that would go to landfill. All three were emptied every two weeks, and we tried really hard to recycle whatever we could.
Our rubbish consumption has plummeted since moving here I’m happy to say, and we just keep one small black plastic bin here that we take to empty once a week, separating the different rubbish in the back of the car before we go, so that we can recycle as much as we can. We were amazed to read that Almeria province manages to recycle 93% of all waste.
Rubbish collection works a little differently here – houses don’t have their own wheelie bins. Instead there are large communal bins around the village, and you can take your rubbish to them after 5pm. As well as the large grey bins for landfill, there are large bins for glass, cardboard and plastic.
We try to use less plastic – we now have net bags for the veg stall which we can use again and again, and we still have our bags for life that we bought many years ago in the UK, so it’s very rare that we need a carrier bag from a shop. Simply not eating meat or processed food reduces our rubbish hugely. Any jars get washed out and reused for the homemade marmalade and chutney. There’s no egg boxes these days as we never buy eggs.
As for other stuff that many might consider to be rubbish, well, we try to use as much as we can here. Cardboard boxes are great when flattened for lining the bottom of the dogs kennels – they’re good insulation. Any food waste (not that there is much)gets composted or given to the chickens. And if something gets delivered on a pallet, wow, happy days! The things you can do with old pallets is amazing! Even if it’s old and a bit the worse for wear, it can still be firewood. When the new fridge was delivered it was surrounded by polystyrene – which we’ve used on the back of the bodega door (which is metal), to try and stop the heat in the summer. Whist in an ideal world we wouldn’t have ended up with a load of polystyrene, we really did need a new fridge, and it’s better that the packaging gets reused than thrown out!
When we moved in here the whole finca was littered with rubbish – bits of old kitchen under the trees, piles of old tiles that had sunk into the ground, loads of pipes, bits of fencing, it really was a mess … and that was just outside! The house was crammed full of stuff – old beds with mattresses you really didn’t want to touch, wardrobes full of clothes – it was like they left one day and then just never came back! Sorting out an 87 year old man’s dirty Y Fronts may have mentally scarred me forever 😂 I’ve never been one to use marigolds for cleaning, but I went through several pairs in just the first week here!
It took months to sort through properly. We salvaged things we thought might be useful then took the rest a little at a time up to the bins each day. Roger spent days gathering up the piles of tiles, and these were invaluable! When we did up the bodega, our builder used them to tile the walls and floor – ok so it’s a bit of a crazy pattern, but that’s fine by us! It did the job!
There were 8 old IBC’s up on the third terrace, which used to be used for storing water before the finca was hooked up to irrigation water. These have proved invaluable for all sorts! One is used to catch rainwater off the roof terrace, which we can use to water the plants, then there’s the dog kennels and the chicken coop and run! The top of the chicken run is made from a pergola that we tried to have on the roof – despite it being bolted into the roof, the wind ripped it apart. Makes a good roof for the run, and the rest of it made a nice handrail up the outside stairs!
We do occasionally decide that something needs throwing away though … the other day we had to move all the tree nets. Whilst heaving them around, we commented that in almost three years we’d never used them! So they’re just taking up valuable space! We picked out a few of the best ones to keep just in case, and piled the rest near the gate to take down to the bins on the next run. We’ll that’s plan has changed! Persi and Luna have taken a liking to them … they now have a day bed!
We have now set up our own reclamation yard in one corner of the finca, and it’s piled with all sorts of things ‘that might come in useful one day’ – sure beats going out and spending money on new stuff! It’s great fun too getting imaginative and creative using the stuff we have!
Summer living on solar power is easy peasy! Day after day of brilliant sunshine for 14 hours a day. The batteries are usually fully charged and the system floating by 9am. Piece of cake!
Winter requires a little more … management! The odd cloudy day is fine, but it’s when we get a run of days without sun that it starts to get a little harder!
Yesterday was cloudy, rainy, cold. We left the inverter off for most of the day to let the batteries boost so that we would have some power for the evening. We got about an hour in the evening before the batteries started to struggle!
Today is really cloudy again, and the forecast doesn’t look great for the next 3-4 days. Thankfully, over the past 12 months we have made sure we have different options for when the weather turns.
We have two solar lights in the main room, each with their own little solar panel up on the roof. These don’t need too much sunlight to charge, so at least we have light in the evening! And then there’s the backup candles if need be! We also found some fantastic rechargeable lights in Bricodepot recently, which we bought for mum to have over the bed while she was here – they are simply charged on a usb and we get about 10 hours out of one charge. We try to keep them fully charged as a back up option.
We have two battery lights in the bathroom, which last ages, and a rechargeable light in our bedroom. We can easily get a week out of the bedroom room light, so rarely get caught out with that.
So really, the only thing we need power for in the evening is the wifi – and it’s no great problem if we have to turn that off – a good book, a game of chess, bit of crochet – it’s easy to find other things to do. Keeping our phones charged can be tricky – we both have battery packs that we charge up on sunny days, but they’re a bit old now and don’t last too long, so more than two cloudy days and they’re empty. I do FaceTime Mum and Dad every evening, so it means trying to keep enough charge to make that call – sometimes it has to be a quick check in call only!
Our only heating is the wood burner, so no power required for that!
We do have a back up petrol generator for emergencies, but the only time we had to use that was when I was teaching, as it was critical to be able to run the computer and wifi for the whole day – again, no problem in the summer but the winter was a problem!
There’s always the option of bumping up the solar system – more panels, bigger batteries etc, but it’s an expensive option, and personally, we’d rather manage with what we’ve got! We have talked about raising the panels up on a frame with a turntable so that the panels will track the sun, and get the sun for longer in the winter. During the winter at the moment we lose the sun off the panels by about 3pm, which is not ideal. Making what we have work more efficiently would be a good thing I think.
So in the winter we just have to be a bit organised – when we know there’s some bad weather coming, we make sure stuff is charged up so we’re ready for it!
But now that we’ve been here for a while, it’s amazing how easy we find it to just not have power! It sometimes feels a bit like camping, but that’s fine, we always liked camping 😂
Since we moved here we have discovered muscles that we’ve never used before, and also that this is, at times, quite a dangerous lifestyle!
We are advocates of safety gear – hard hats, safety glasses, steel toe capped boots etc, but we do still have the odd accident…
It started with Rog cutting off the top of his finger in the wood chipper – the lesson there was don’t keep working when it’s really hot and you are dehydrated! It makes you do daft things like stick your hand in the bottom of the chipper to clear it out instead of using the stick that’s in the other hand! It was … messy. I don’t usually panic, but my reaction to his accident was to literally spin in circles saying ‘oh my god oh my god’. At the hospital they asked where the missing bit of finger was – errrr, under a tree somewhere? The hospital did a great job of sewing up the top of his finger, but it was months of backwards and forwards to the doctors and the hospital.
Roger’s head and back are covered in scars now from where he’s scraped himself on trees, and I have the odd one here and there – you get to know the trees, where branches stick out etc, and then you cut them … changing their shape … and then forget that you’ve cut them 😂 You dive underneath in the usual way, and out comes the iodine again!
Then there’s too many muscle sprains and strains to even mention. I think we might have to make a concerted effort to do more yoga to get fit and flexible again, as we haven’t done it too often since moving here.
Cutting the dead wood out of the trees is an evil job, as tiny splinters always fly off, and invariably I’m always left trying to get a piece out of my eye, even with safety glasses on! I think I’ll end up looking like this eventually to do this job …
The latest one has laid me up for a while. The veg garden needed rotivating so I, as always, tried to help. We’ve just had it serviced, and boy is it different! The bloody thing nearly dragged me across the farm, but I wouldn’t give up! I should’ve, in hindsight! Eventually Rog just waded in and finished off. Later that day we were irrigating, and I bent under a tree to check the nozzle and felt a pop in my side. It was ‘ok’ for a few days then started to get so bad that I relented and went to the doctors … it is muscular but pretty bad … lots of anti inflammatories, painkillers and diazepam to try and let the muscles relax. Typical when we do actually have lots of jobs planned! We’re midway through redoing the veg garden so the plan for tomorrow is for me to sit on a chair in the middle and direct – don’t you already feel sorry for poor Rog! 😂😂
I do have a proper first aid kit these days – lots of dressings, bandages, a tourniquet, sterile water for washing eyes etc etc, because, despite our best efforts, we do keep hurting ourselves!
The first year we were here we actually remarked on the fact that there were four very distinct seasons here. This was a stark contrast to the UK where it goes: more grey and cold to less grey and cold, with rain at any time. Interjected, of course, with the odd heatwave which invariably lasts about a week, before descending back to grey after some thunderstorms!
Over the last 12 months we’ve seen a change here – last winter seemed to go on forever, and then it was suddenly summer – spring was barely noticeable. This summer was hot, with some times that were not just hot, but almost unbearably hot – we’re talking 30 degrees at night hot, and heading towards 50 degrees in the day. This year though, summer stayed with us until almost the end of October, and then pop! Winter! Boots on, jumpers on, fire lit every night, and with little or no warning. Is the climate really changing that quickly or is it just an unusual year?
We’ve been watching the events at COP26 closely, and it’s pretty much played out as expected – I fear we’re doomed. I don’t agree with Greta Thunberg about much, but I do think there was too much ‘blah blah blah’ at the conference. World leaders know what they have to do, but they’re too interested in money and power to do it. Well that’s great, they will be able to sit in the middle of a wasted planet surrounded by all their money within a couple of generations. (Imagine now I’m doing a slow hand clap).
Of course, there’s lots we can do as individuals, but again, there are too many people who still don’t want to make changes or sacrifices – saying you recycle all your rubbish just isn’t enough anymore!
I have a feeling that if we were in a scenario where there was a meteor heading straight for earth, but that we could stop it by, I don’t know, hopping on one foot for example, then I think we’d see everyone out hopping on one foot! What we’re heading for is the same destination but just slower and by different means. We all know what sort of things we can do to play our part, and it’s time we showed the politicians and corporations that it really is important to us. Shame them into action. The planet will bounce back after we’ve gone – maybe it would be the best thing for Mother Nature if we weren’t here?
So I sit here wondering how our climate will change further over the coming years, and whether there will be a habitable place for us and future generations? I really do hope so …
It’s getting harder and harder to be able to live without technology, and we were talking the other day about people who can’t access it getting left behind in society. And then there’s people who want to spend less time on devices, not more! Reports abound about kids spending too much time on screens, yet it’s getting harder to do anything without them. It makes me wonder where technology will be by the time our grandchildren are adults 🤔
Take traveling at the moment … the need for technology was brought home when I was organising mum and dad’s trip here. Mum has an iPad as with her sight problems it’s the only way she can see the TV, and she does really well with it – she can navigate around her programes really well now that she knows where the buttons are. But move away from the familiar sites and she really struggles. Dad also has a little android tablet – only used for horse racing results and playing backgammon! He is a self confessed dinosaur and proud of it.
So I booked their plane tickets on the easyjet app and downloaded the boarding passes – these were then emailed to a friend who printed them out for Mum. Then came the locator form for arriving in Spain – again, I completed it and emailed it over for printing. Mums neighbour went in and downloaded their vaccination certificates (which sounded like a total faff) and printed them out.
Going back, I completed the UK locator forms and printed them here. Everything had to be paper for them still – there’s no way they would’ve managed to find everything online at the airport.
Before they traveled I booked their Day 2 PCR tests for them. As far as I am aware, you can only access the providers on the Gov.uk website.
Now I’m guessing this would be pretty common for my parents generation – some knowledge, maybe owning a tablet or phone, but get quite worried about using online stuff in real-time at an airport. So what happens to that generation where they don’t have an army of people helping them? Sorry, you just can’t travel anymore? That doesn’t seem right or fair to me.
We watched a program about 5g the other night, and how it’s going to revolutionize how we live – everything automated, machines calculating and making decisions for us … is it just me or is everyone else terrified too??? We have often said we would love to go down to the beach and throw our phones into the sea … but how would we talk to our families, do our banking, pay our taxes – it’s already too late, we have to have them to be able to live in this society … we can’t get rid of the bloomin’ things!
We do have wifi here (when the sun is shining!), which is satellite WiMAX, and we get a speed of 12mbps – but do you know what – it works!! Out of curiosity I looked up what the cost of Elon’s Starlink – wow! It’s like £90 a month after you’ve forked out £500 for equipment and set up! The service promises astonishing speeds, reliable service etc – but why has everything had to get so fast?
I saw an article about technology in Japan – they are already so far ahead of many countries – coffee shops run completely by robots – I can only hope it never happens here. What happens with human interaction, having a laugh and a joke? And the people that used to work in the coffee shop – now unemployed – or now employed to build robots to put other people out of work! I fear that technology is more like a disease, and one that’s spreading faster than Covid. And don’t even get me started on the ‘metaverse’…
So I mentioned at the start about the people in the world who will get left behind as this new technology rolls out – whilst I’m kinda hoping we’re in that group of people, on the other side of the coin there would be a huge division and technology will make the gap between the haves and have nots much wider. I think it’s too late to stop it, but maybe what we should be doing is identifying friends and family who struggle with this brave new world and try to help and support them – it must feel so bewildering after all.
So now that Mum and Dad have gone back to Blighty it’s time to pick up the tools and crack on!
It was lovely to have a break, spend some time with the oldies and do some different stuff, but we’re both happy to be going back outside, working with the trees and getting the next lot of veg ready for planting!
First things first, the trees need cutting back to get rid of the dead wood, washing again (we’re still fighting off the scale insects) and puffing with sulphur powder. The cuttings will need to go through the wood chipper to make more mulch, firewood needs chopping, and then there’s a ton of work to do in the veg garden to prepare for the winter planting!
We’re just a few weeks away now from the olive harvest too, and it looks like it’s going to be a good year. Between harvesting them and taking the olives up to the factory, we can pretty much kiss goodbye to a week just for this one job – although I have to admit it’s one of my favourite things to do here. There’s just something very satisfying about stripping the olives off the trees!
We’re taking down the huge frame we built in the veg garden last year and will rebuild it just up one end of the garden – we know now what veg grow best here, and which ones need the framework to grow around – mainly tomatoes beans and peas. We are going to put more support posts into the new framework, as I found myself having to weave string between the posts this year for the tomatoes to give them extra support. Doing this will also make getting around the veg easier – it was a bit krypton factor this year!
Before we build the new one, we need to rotavate the garden – we have several large holes that have appeared, and the best way to deal with them is to rotavate and then fill.
There’s not too much to plant before Xmas but in January loads of veg will be going in – and this year I’m planning it better so we don’t end up with 50 cabbages, 50 kohl rabbi and nothing else! I bought a big plastic box which I’ve sectioned into the months of the year, and then sorted the seeds into each month – at the start of each month I can simply check the box and instantly know which seeds need planting – we’re getting there! 😂😂
The other thing we really need to do is sort out the chicken coop – sparrows and rats are both getting in so we need to sort that out! When we built it we could only get a larger size chicken wire, and the sparrows could squeeze through, so we covered the whole coop with olive netting, which had tiny holes, but they’re still finding a way in! The rats are coming in by digging under, so we’ll have to dig down further and push the fencing further into the ground to try and stop this!
Well, Mum and Dad arrived a week ago, and it was dark by the time we got back to the finca. This meant of course, that they couldn’t see anything of the views on the way here, or anything outside the house, so Tuesday morning was like ‘the big reveal’!
So, what did Mum think of the house? ‘Ooh it’s lovely, and bigger then I thought!’ – this line on its own from Mum got me doing a little happy dance!
On Tuesday morning Dad came and had a walk around with us – unfortunately, it was a bit difficult for Mum to do this, but we did manage to get her up to the roof terrace to see the views and at least look out across our land. Dad is quite taken with having a sit on the roof terrace in the afternoon sunshine for his rest!
They love it here, and are already talking about when they’ll be coming back!
Dad has always owned motorbikes from the age of 17 through to when he retired, and he made a remark the other week that he’d love to have a go on my bike! So on Thursday afternoon Rog and Dad went out for a little tootle around – at least that’s what I thought they were going to do … an hour and a half later they came back and Dad had the biggest grin on his face – they’d been up all through the mountains and had a stop at the cafe on the way back! It was lovely to see Dad so relaxed and happy!
They have experienced the weekly market and the relaxed late breakfast at the cafe, and met lots of the locals, who have all welcomed them to the village!
On Sunday we went to Fort Bravo to see the film sets used in lots of spaghetti westerns, had a ride in a horse and cart, and watched two shows – a punch up in the saloon and a bank robbery out on the street – both were done with such humour and the actors were great! Lots of horses and guns! And even though both shows were totally in Spanish it was easy to get the drift of what was happening! I’d really recommend this for a day out if you’re in the area.
Mum and Dad are managing well with our limited electricity – we make sure their stuff is all charged up in the day and bought some rechargeable bright lights for their bedroom. It’s a shame Mum can’t wander around the whole finca, but she has a chair outside the house so she can enjoy the sunshine. And mum has definitely taken a fancy to long relaxed lunches at the cafe, trying lots of different tapas!
We’ve still got lots planned for this week, but I think it’s fair to say that it has put mum and dads minds at rest now they’ve seen where and how we live. Dad actually said last night that they couldn’t be happier for us!
Finally, after placing the order back in January, the pressure canner has arrived! Hooray!!
These are almost impossible to buy in Europe, but are really popular in the US, so I ordered mine from Lehman’s Store – famous for working alongside the Amish, and off grid specialists. The only problem was that because of the pandemic, the company that makes them were totally out of stock, so I had to wait until July for it to be shipped, and another two months for it to finally arrive here!
The one I’ve gone for is the All American 915 – after reading lots of reviews, I bought the one that everyone said would be a once in a lifetime purchase – and to be honest it’s likely to outlive me from the reviews!
So, why is this a game changer for us?
It means I can preserve and bottle pretty much anything – this size isn’t recommended for fish, but bottling fish doesn’t really appeal anyway so not a problem! But where we produce more veg than we can eat, it means that we can enjoy them all year round, rather than eating cabbage until we’re sick of the sight of it followed by none for 10 months!
In the Spring we had a complete glut of cabbages and kohlrabi, and this summer we could’ve filled the pool and had a swim in tomatoes! I ended up giving loads away so they didn’t go to waste, but the whole idea of this life is to be able to provide as much veg for ourselves as possible. There’s only so much tomato chutney you can make, and our freezer is too small to be able to preserve anything that way. A chest freezer would be great, but we don’t have enough electricity to run one. So this pressure canner will allow us to achieve our goal. There’ll be no more holding back on planting veg now!!!
They are similar to a pressure cooker, but definitely not interchangeable and a little more technical to use … you need to use a special weight on the top and altitude makes a difference – I will definitely need to do some thorough reading before I start using it – I have visions of blowing the house up at the moment 😱. I have a good stock of clip top jars as these cookers require proper preserving jars such as Le Parfait or Mason jars. If using the clip top jars then the seals need to be replaced after each use, and if using mason jars then the inner lid part needs replacing each time – but these are pretty cheap to buy. There is a distinct lack of these jars available in Spain, not sure why, and the ones that are available are a fortune. Luckily some friends were driving over from the UK so I bought a load at wholesale prices and they delivered them to me!
Bottling (or canning as it’s known in the US) is the only surefire way to remove the risk of botulism and safely preserve vegetables – I have done some tomatoes just in a water bath this summer and it can be a bit hit and miss as to whether the jars seal properly – everything gets very closely inspected before it’s eaten!
We’re at the end of the tomatoes and peppers from the garden now so there’s nothing that needs bottling urgently … not a bad thing as it will give me time to get thoroughly acquainted with it before I have a load to do … but I can’t wait to get started!!
Yes, you read that correctly, and no, it’s not because of my old OCD cleaning regime – you really do have to clean the trees!
We took delivery yesterday of this mighty fine machine …
This pressure washer holds 100 liters – today we’re using water and washing up liquid to clean the trees, but it can be used to apply horticultural oil and the like too. Soapy water will not only clean, but also kill the scale that have been tormenting us all year, and sort the leaf curl. Blasting the scale into oblivion is so very satisfying I can tell you!
Up until now we’ve been using backpack sprayers. The problem with these is (a) there’s very little pressure so it’s difficult to get really great coverage – missing loads of problems is really easy and (b) they really knacker your shoulders after 3 tanks.
On a fun scale of 1-10 this sits at about 38!
We found the best technique so as not to get soaked through very quickly – start inside the tree and work outwards!
Now we just need to wait and watch to see if this does cure the problems that the trees have … I’m feeling confident!
Now that they’re clean, we’ll cut out any dead wood today and give them a lovely long watering overnight tonight – they’ll feel so loved!!
Now you know me, I’m an animal lover, and we need all sorts of animals to create a balanced eco system … but there is a list of animals in my head where my attitude is ‘you leave me alone and I’ll leave you alone!’. At the top of that list here for me is the rat…
I remember our neighbour Paco saying to us ‘you know there are rats and snakes in the campo don’t you?’ – to which we replied of course, it’s the campo! You have to accept there’s all sorts of creatures out here!
Over the last few years I’ve caught the occasional rat out of the corner of my eye, but recently they’re getting bold and brave. Rog had one that made a nest in the shed, so he cleared out anything that could be used for nest building, leaving just a few rags in a drawer . After doing up the caseta and laying a floor, the droppings became very clearly obvious – and we think they’re mithering the chickens as they try to get the chicken food.
But this week, just the worst thing imaginable happened to Rog…
Whilst in the shed, he reached over to get a rag out of the drawer … stuck his hand in and grabbed a rag … which then started to move in his hand 😱😱😱
The shock of having a rat in his hand instead of a rag meant he dropped it and the rat made a run for it. Rog said he was annoyed with himself for dropping it as we could’ve had one less here … not a problem Mr C!!! Definitely forgive you that one!
To say I’m nervous about going in the shed is an understatement – I needed to get my pruners and gloves out this morning, and I thought, be brave, you can’t keep asking Rog to get everything out for you. So, like a ninja, I picked up my pruning shears and used the blade to open the glove drawer very gingerly, and only when I was sure it was rat free would I pick up the gloves 😂😂
So I’ve made some poison using chicken feed, peanut butter and salt, as well as sprinkling salt around their haunts. It’s the best way to deal with them when you have other animals – this won’t harm the dogs or the chickens, but should kill the rats, as their bodies can’t deal with salt. Melting their insides … sounds good to me!
Our 37 year old Suzuki Santana has started costing a bit of money for repairs, and is just getting a bit, well, old …
It’s a bit agricultural to drive, still has a manual choke and no power steering etc. It has been a wonderful thing to own, and perfect for here, but a couple of months ago we started looking around .
The problem we have here is that the road to our house has a really tight corner and the road is really narrow, so we’re a little bit limited on what sort of car we can have. We looked at a modern Jimny – but they’re really expensive! That would be the best option – they are a great little 4×4 with fabulous ground clearance. In fact, all second hand cars here are really expensive compared to the UK!
Both of us have always wanted a Land Rover Defender but they were just completely out of our price range, so we stopped looking at them and tormenting ourselves – you’d need to spend at least €15,000 for a decent 30 year old one!
So we had about six different cars that we thought would be suitable for here, and that would fit up the drive without too many problems, and so started having a serious look about.
We were just getting to the stage of pulling our hair out when our lovely mechanic, Fran, sent us some pictures of a Jimny and some Vitaras that were in a garage in Roquetas. Now this place only sells to the trade, not normally to the public, and Fran knows the chap very well.
So off we all went in a jolly this morning, and we decided to go for the Jimny – it’s only 16 years old and has just 107,000 km on the clock – it has been in a slow accident and there’s a bit of cosmetic damage, it needs new tyres and a service – but an absolute bargain at €5,000 – half what we’ve seen the others at. Even better, we can still take the entire roof off this one, the same as we can with the Santana – a real must for us! Rog and Fran took it for a spin and when they came back the verdict was ‘buy it!’. A quick phone call to our insurance company, and five minutes later we had a cover note.
But here’s the hilarious bit … we drove it away without paying the man a penny! ‘No problem, pay me later’ he said! Really!!
We stopped at the gestorias on the way back to sort the paperwork to change the car into our name – that costs just over €100 here. Top tip – never ever bother trying to do this yourself – always get a gestoria to sort it – it’s well worth the €50 fee! We tried to do it ourselves when we bought the Santana … no, no, no, never again!!! At one point I actually stamped my feet, and was close to tears of frustration!
We’ve taken it straight to Frans garage for him to sort the required work over the next few days or couple of weeks, depending on the queue for the body shop!
The temperature is starting to drop (down to 30 degrees 😂) and it’s getting dark a little earlier now – the door is closed by 9pm. Time to roll up our sleeves and crack on with preparing for the autumn and winter months … and there’s lots to do!
Rog has already started getting our stock of firewood ready – he’s doubled the size of our old woodshed and repurposed an IBC cage, adding a roof, for extra wood storage. We’ve been caught out in previous winters and ended up scrabbling around for wood on cold days. That’s not going to happen this year – we learn a bit more with every passing year here!
The trees need spraying and fertilizing, and we need to plan for the food we will grow over the winter. We’ve been having terrible problems with scale on the trees this year – we’ve sprayed and sprayed, but just can’t get rid of them. We asked a neighbour at the cafe the other day and he said we need a jet washer with a tank of water and washing up liquid and to ‘clean’ the trees. So we’ve bitten the bullet and ordered a petrol jet power washer with a 50l tank so we can get to all the trees. It comes on a little trolley that you can wheel around. This is going to be so much easier than staggering around with a 16l backpack on, which we currently do, and it knackers my shoulders! It will be much more effective too, and that’s what counts at the end of the day. There’s some things you can scrimp on or take shortcuts with here.
Last year we built a large framework in the veg garden, which, now that we’ve actually used it, we know what we want to change about it. Unfortunately this does mean taking it down and starting again, but doing this will allow us to rotivate the whole area before the next round of planting. I’ve already bought loads of seeds, and plan to grow a bigger variety of veg over the winter to harvest in the spring. Last spring we were overrun with cabbages and kohl rabi but little else – they were everywhere!
In the house, there’s decorating to be done – everything has to be redone every two years here! We did our bedroom this week, and the next job is to tank and then paint the spare room. Pretty much all cortijos in Spain suffer with damp, as there’s never a damp proof course in the houses. For us it’s especially bad in the spare room as the back is built into the hillside. Most of the plastering and painting we did two years ago has fallen or flaked off the walls in there, so we’re doing it properly this time. Brico Depot had a special offer on ready mixed tanking slurry so we now have a huge tub of that to try and stop the damp coming through.
And the spare room needs to be ready for the end of the month for two VIP’s – yep, my parents are finally able to come over in October and see the finca for the first time since we moved here! Can you begin to imagine the cleaning that will be taking place the day before they arrive 😂😂
So, the next three months are going to be pretty busy! It’s actually nice now that it’s cooled down a little now so we can crack on again! There’s a lot of just sitting around doing nothing when it’s 40 degrees!
Having just returned from 11 days with my parents in the UK in their ‘normal’ house, it got me thinking about what we’ve given up to live off grid. It also gave me a good opportunity to evaluate whether there’s any stuff that I miss …
Of course, the big three are unlimited electricity, piped gas and water that you can drink without an armful of filters!
So: no electric kettle, hairdryer, toaster, microwave, washing machine, tumble dryer, coffee machine, iron, or in fact, anything with a heating element – they’re all a big no no on solar. No kitchen gadgets like bread makers, food processors etc. You have to accept a limited number of lights will be available, especially when you most need them in winter. And certainly no unnecessary lights – pretty corner lamps just to make the room look nice, or lights in the dresser! Oh, and no heating or air conditioning.
The great news is that we don’t really miss any of them! No hairdryer, just stand outside in the sun. No iron; hang things on the line carefully so you don’t get peg marks in obvious places. No toaster – just use a griddle pan on the stove. Microwave – well I only really ever used it for my morning porridge anyway, which I now just make the old fashioned way on the stove. No washing machine – wash by hand (I’m actually in the process of doing a video of the off grid gizmos I have for washing clothes!). There’s always an alternative way of doing things!
Lighting – thanks to the development of solar lights, we actually do really well here for light. We do have ‘normal’, wired ceiling lights, but rarely use them now. We changed the bulbs in these to 12 volt led strip lights, which don’t use as much power though. But, we bought two individual lights that each have their own solar panel with a battery that charges during the day. The little solar panels are up in the roof and the wires come in through the corner of the window and across the ceiling – not the prettiest solution, but we do have plenty of light in the evening from these. We also have another light that can be charged up during the day that we use in the bedroom at night – it has a built in blue insect light too, which we leave on all night. This only needs charging every 3-4 days!
Kitchen gadgets – I do still have my electric food processor, but as I have to put the generator on to use it, it’s now gathering dust in the back of a cupboard somewhere! I do have a manual pull cord processor / chopper, which works brilliantly. I also have a sieve with a handle do I can mince things (it’s probably got a special name but I have no idea what that is!). Everything else is done the old fashioned way with a wooden spoon and some elbow grease!
Having a generator is a great back up, but it’s mainly used for power tools – Rog does have a battery powered drill, but there are times he needs to get ‘the big drill’ out, or to use other tools that aren’t battery powered. The really big stuff, like the chain saw and rotavator are all petrol.
The solar does generate enough power to run wifi, although sometimes in winter we can only have it on for a couple of hours – better than nothing though! Because we have WiMAX rather than broadband, our speeds reach the dizzying heights of 11-12 MB’s- but it’s enough to do the blog, play a few games and watch a film! My son was telling me that he gets 350mb in the UK 😱. It’s a different world!
We don’t have a TV but as we’ve spent the last 20 years looking and saying there’s nothing on the telly, we can’t say we miss it! We have a tablet to watch a film in the evening. The theme here is we charge stuff up in the day to use at night!
For our gas appliances (cooker fridge and boiler) we use gas bottles, just like everyone else in Spain. It does make you very conscious of using the oven for hours at a time, which would never have crossed my mind back in the UK. We buy our gas bottles locally, and always have 1 spare one outside, so when something goes we can put the new bottle on and then go and get a refill. Only occasionally do we get the perfect storm of two going on the same day!
In conclusion, yes, we’ve given up plenty to live here – no more big comfortable cars (wouldn’t fit up the drive), and most things being done manually.
BUT, what we have in return makes it so worth it! Living in an environmentally way makes me feel at peace – there’s no guilt about leading a life that’s bad for the planet. It’s fun too – working out different ways of getting things done. Not having to go out to work anymore – priceless. Going down to the garden to pick our own food – this just makes me so happy I can’t even put it into words.
Would we ever go back to living on the grid? That’s hard to answer truthfully – there may come a day when we’re too old or unwell to be able to live like this, but even if we do end up in a house in a village, there will be lots of lessons that we’ve learned here that we’ll take with us … but I might just have a washing machine 😂
We planted 25 tomato plants in the spring. This is my first ever attempt at growing tomatoes, so we bought 3 different varieties to see which would work well. And the answer … they all did very well!!
So we’re sitting here with a mound of tomatoes around us! We’ve eaten loads, given some away, and used any ‘iffy’ ones for the chickens.
Unfortunately, the pressure canner I ordered back in January still hasn’t arrived from America, although it has at last been dispatched. The good thing about preserving tomatoes though is that you can just use a water bath to seal the jars (you can only do this with very acidic food!).
So I thought I’d share how to make your own bottled / tinned tomatoes. Since doing this I actually hate eating shop bought tinned tomatoes – they just taste like metal! So if you see a special offer at the supermarket, or decide to grow some of your own in the back garden, go big and plant lots, as by preserving them you can enjoy them all year round!
You don’t have to chop and cook the tomatoes before you bottle them, but I prefer to as they’re ready to use straight from the shelf then.
So you start by peeling the tomatoes. The easiest way to do this is to boil a big pan of water and then, using a knife, make an X on the bottom of each tomato and drop them into the boiling water for 1 minute. Use a slotted spoon to remove them from the boiling water and dunk them straight into a bowl or sink of really cold water to stop the cooking process. As soon as they’re cool enough to handle, take them out and the skin will literally slide off.
Next, chop the tomatoes (I like to cut away the tough stalk bit), keeping as much juice as you can.
Pop the chopped tomatoes into a big non reactive pot, bring to the boil and simmer for about 30 minutes until they start to thicken.
While the tomatoes are cooking, sterilize the jars. Many dishwashers have a sterilize setting now, or you can wash them and pop them in the oven in a low heat for 30 minutes. The other way is to put them in a pan of water and boil for 10 minutes. The rubber seals or lid tops also need to sit in boiling water for 10 minutes. You need to use either clip top jars or mason jars for this (not jam jars!).
Put half a tablespoon of lemon juice in the bottom of each jar, and fill the warm jars with the cooked tomatoes, leaving 1/2’’ headroom. You can add half a teaspoon of salt to the top of each jar if you wish (I don’t).
Bring a large pan of water up to the boil, but before it reaches boiling point, add the jars of tomatoes. It’s really important that the jars don’t stand directly on the bottom of the pan, and they mustn’t touch each other. I use old tea towels to protect them from the bottom, and wind another round the jars to stop them touching. The water needs to fully cover the tops of the jars by about an inch. Bring the pan up to boiling and then turn down slightly and process for 40 minutes. You will see bubbles coming out of the jars as the air is sucked out – this is what seals the jars.
Remove the jars and place on a cooling rack and leave them for 24 hours to cool – don’t even move them! You can check that the seals have worked by unclipping the jars – they shouldn’t spring open! If they do, then they need to go into the water bath again. With the screw top jars you can check that they have sealed by unscrewing the top – the middle part of the lid should sit tight on the jar.
The first time I preserved tomatoes it felt a bit complicated, but it seems much easier the second time around, I promise! Set aside a whole morning for this, especially if you’ve got a lot of tomatoes like we have!
The resulting bottled tomatoes will last at least 1 year, but should be used within 2 years.
When you first start preserving food, there is a bit of an initial outlay for a preserving pan (I ‘borrowed’ Mums a few years back!), some jars, a pair of jar tongs (really wouldn’t be without them) and a thermometer for jams etc. The jars are quite expensive but will last for years – you just need to replace the lids or rubber seals, which don’t cost much. My expensive purchase is the pressure canner – they’re not very common at all in the UK, which is why I’ve had to buy from America, but having one of these will enable me to bottle any fruit or vegetable (and you can do meat, fish etc too) – it’s what all the preppers use for their zombie apocalypse bunkers!
And apart from tasting better, preserving your own food is environmentally friendly too!
I started meditating a few years ago now, and at first I found it excruciating! I just couldn’t get my mind to stop thinking about things – stupid, random stuff. It left me feeling a bit of a failure and very frustrated. How hard could it be to just sit still and think of nothing for a while?
Prior to that, many years ago now, I did do past life regression – not via hypnotherapy, which is the norm, but via a guided meditation. Someone sat with me in the room and guided me via simple instructions and it worked really well. I had an amazing experience, but that’s another blog fir the future!
So this got me thinking that maybe a good way to start would be via guided meditations. There are hundreds, if not thousands, on YouTube. There are so many apps on the App Store and Google play too. So how do you choose which ones to start with, and do guided meditations actually help you to achieve the ultimate goal of this:
I think it’s a very personal choice, and a good way to start is to try a couple of different ones. Don’t be tempted to pay, most of them have free versions so you can try them out. The really irritating ones for me are the ones that get you all relaxed and ‘in the zone’ and then make you jump when out of nowhere the voice says ‘don’t worry if you’re still thinking thoughts’ or similar! Well, thanks mate, I was doing really well until you made me jump out of my skin! There are also ones that just play nature sounds or tinkly music – I find these quite good because you can focus your attention on the sounds, which helps to stop your ego from running wild thoughts through your head. And that’s the ultimate aim, to hush the ego that constantly tries to steer you away from living in the present and just being by making you think about the past or the future.
Headspace, Oak and Calm are three of the apps I have used in the past, and found them to work well. It’s useful to have one where you can set a timer otherwise you end up thinking well is that my 10 minutes nearly up yet – how long have I been here???
If you don’t fancy trying a guided meditation, you could try this: sit comfortably in a quiet place and breathe just slightly more deeply and slowly than normal, and be aware of your breath. If your mind wanders, just return your concentration back to your breath again. On every out breath think ‘1’ – you’re not counting upwards, just use the number 1 – this does help to stop your mind wandering.
As well as counting the number 1, you can also recite mantras, silently in your head. Sat nam is one that I use. Sat Nam is a seed mantra, which awakens the chakras. It means ‘I am truth’. As you breathe in, think Sat, and as you breath out think Nam.
Once you get to grips with this you’re ready to move on to the next stage … just concentrate on your breath but don’t think of ‘1’ on each out breath. It’s also good to focus on your third eye – the space between your eyebrows, as this is the area we want to open up and bring alive – if you can, whilst your eyes are closed, turn them upwards to look at your third eye – this might feel a bit odd and uncomfortable at first, but give it a go as it does help to focus the attention.
After that, you’re working towards the breathing happening without being conscious of it, and without thinking about work, family, what you need on the shopping etc! When you get to this stage, this is where the magic happens. Often you will experience images – for me it’s flying through the universe, passing stars, planets and galaxies. This too is where you may start to get messages – for me it was all about living the life that would make me happy. It was a very visual experience, and the hard bit is to just accept these images and messages, but don’t think about them while you’re still meditating – just accept them into your being.
Rog took to meditating like a duck to water, and he too saw that our life could change totally, and that it would be a good move for us. It was almost irritating though how easy he found it!
Having a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed is important – and as long as you’re comfortable, you don’t need any special equipment. You don’t have to contort yourself into the lotus position – you can sit cross legged on the floor, using a cushion if that’s more comfortable, or you could just sit on a chair. Aim to start for five minutes initially and build from there.
The om symbol is recognizable worldwide, although there are variations. Om will help to connect us to the universe, and has a calming effect on the body. It’s a great way to start your meditation.
Mudras are hand positions that you can use whilst meditating to enhance your experience. There are so many mudras, so here I will just tell you about some of the most common ones to help you to meditate. Mudras can also bring many health benefits, and there are lots of books available and a ton of information on the internet.
There are so many more mudras that you could use, but these are well known and I think they are good for starting out with – shuni will give you the patience to keep trying to meditate and not get frustrated, and we could all do with some inner peace these days!
The techniques that you learn as you start to meditate don’t need to be confined to a particular time each day and nowhere else. If you’re at work and having a difficult day, just closing your eyes for a moment, breathing deeply with your hand in a mudra will really help – escape to the loo if necessary!!
Meditation is a massive subject, and this is by no means a comprehensive guide, but hopefully it’s enough to get you started. If, like me, it becomes life changing, you’ll want to read more, learn more, and master the art (which I am still far from doing!). Most of all, enjoy it – it’s your time to look after yourself, and the better you are, the more you will have a positive effect on those around you too – it could just spread like the best pandemic ever!
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.
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:
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!!
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!
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 …
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!
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:
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!
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!
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!
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.
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!
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!
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!
I’ve always been very house proud, I mean for goodness sake I used to iron dusters! Ive always tried to look my best too – I’m no stunner by a long chalk, but a bit of makeup, clean styled hair etc, nice clothes etc were always important.
Now, things are …. well, different!
Before we moved here we had a weekend away in Limoge in France – we’d made the decision to move to Spain but this weekend break had been booked for some time. When we got to the airport there was a really scruffy, quite mad, Englishman, looking for his wife who was supposed to be on our flight. He was pretty dirty, and had what we now refer to as an ‘off grid air’ about him! I said that we would never go out looking like that when we live off grid! But here we are, killing it!
So, my personal appearance – I think feral would be a good word 😂. Don’t get me wrong, we are clean of course, but now I haven’t worn make up for over 2 years, and I’m less concerned about clothes. I actually threw away my last few bits of make up at Christmas! That was a liberating moment! I haven’t been to a hairdressers since we moved here – Rog sometimes cuts my hair, and sometimes I do it myself! Living here our clothes need to be functional. You tend to look and say, will these show the dirt or doggie paw prints two minutes after getting dressed? Without heating, clothes are things to keep you warm in winter. Without air conditioning, clothes are things to keep you cool in summer. We do still have some nice going out clothes, but they get worn less and less the longer we’re here. The last time I wore a pair of high heels or proper shoes was December 18th 2019 – my last day at work back in the UK! These days it’s steel toe capped boots, wellies or flip flops!
Onto the house. This is more challenging as we avoid using any chemicals on ourselves or in the house. We live just over 10 miles from Europe’s only desert, so we do get pretty dusty here and it can also get very windy. Then there’s the dogs running in and out, often after they’ve played in a field full of water or in the river. Then there’s us – it’s just not a ‘take your shoes off at the door’ kind of place (like our old house in the UK was!). The result is that you are literally fighting a losing battle to keep the house spic and span.
I’ve had to learn to be less fussy – you dust here and ten minutes later it looks like you haven’t bothered for months. Being a small house it’s not all beautifully organised with a place for everything and everything in its place – but it’s comfortable, and it works for us. A certain level of tidiness is required or we just wouldn’t fit our stuff in. We have no storage, so the bed linen and towels have a long shelf in the spare bedroom. Photos and everything else are in boxes stored under the bed – it’s amazing how valuable the space under the beds has become!
I have to say, it’s been a revelation learning not to be so fussy – I never thought I’d hear myself say that there’s more to life than having a perfectly clean house!
But I do now have some clever cleaning hacks using natural products that I thought some of you might like – I have shared some before that you’ll find in the recipes, tips and ideas page, but these are my daily go to favourites.
Buy an old fashioned feather duster – they are amazing! I have a long handled one which means I can do the ceiling and into the corners.
A lemon, some vinegar and some bicarbonate of soda will clean most hard surfaces in your home (not wood furniture though!). Sprinkle some bicarb around your stainless steel sink, rub half a lemon around, and if still not clean, splash some vinegar and gently wipe. Amazing results. Use in kitchen cupboards too! Never use vinegar on natural stone, like marble or granite, or on wood or cast iron.
We have tiled floors, and just use a mop to clean – I use vinegar in the warm water and a few drops of lavender essential oil. The result is that you get lovely clean floors which smell great too. The added advantage of the essential oil is that spiders and bugs hate the smell of lavender so stay away! If you don’t like lavender substitute for an oil you do like! Bugs hate the smell of peppermint too!
For wooden chopping boards and bread boards, you can clean them with toothpaste. Put a generous teaspoon of toothpaste on your hand and work into the wood thoroughly, rinse and wipe dry. Not only does it clean the wood, but will kill off any bacteria lurking in the surface. Half a lemon dipped into salt also works really well for chopping boards, and smells great too!
For the laundry I do buy some environmentally friendly detergent, but also use soapnuts. I boil up the soapnuts in some water for 20 minutes, strain, and use the liquid just like ordinary detergent. The smell isn’t great though, so I add just a tiny bit of the detergent to the wash too. The soapnuts work out to be very cheap – I buy a kilo for around €11 and they last me a year – can’t complain at that! Because I only use a tiny bit if the detergent, I use maybe 3 litres in a whole year – I used to use that in a month back in our old life!
I have recently bought some of these new detergent strips – I’m using the Tru Earth ones. You get 32 strips in a pack and just pull one off and use it in your wash. Obviously, I cut mine down to a smaller size. There’s no plastic, they’re environmentally friendly and good for people with sensitive skin. The only downside I can see at the moment is the price – they work out about 3 times the price of traditional detergent. More companies are launching their own versions, and as they become more popular I’m sure the prices will come down. So far though, in terms of cleaning, they’re really great, and take up almost no room at all!
When I change the bed sheets each week I give the mattress a quick spray to deter any bugs that might want to set up home in our bed (we do get a lot of insects here and it’s my mission in life to keep them out of the house!). I use alcohol with some lemongrass essential oil in a spray bottle – we buy cleaning alcohol here – it’s usually 80/90% strength. I give the mattress and pillows a quick spritz and leave it for 10 minutes. The bed smells lovely and we can sleep soundly at night knowing there’s no bugs in there!
The cleaning alcohol is also really useful in the garden to clean the pruners and shears etc. It’s a good idea to clean these in between working on each tree so that no diseases are transferred from one tree to another.
Lastly for today, a kitchen cleaner. Grab hold of some citrus peel, pop in a jar and add equal amounts of water and vinegar. Let it sit for two weeks, strain and it’s ready to use.
Not only are these environmentally friendly, but you’ll find that you’ll save an enormous amount of money too! I’m always looking for new hacks so if you know of any please leave a comment!
At the moment we have 5 hens, and average 4 eggs a day from them. We were getting slightly overrun with eggs so decided to start selling some. The problem is, they’ve become so popular we’re struggling to meet the demand!
Here’s a picture one of my customers sent, with the message ‘guess which two eggs are from your hens!’ 😂 – easy peasy!
So we have a couple of choices – just keep one or two customers; put three more hens into our existing coop (which will realistically be the most we could add for the space we have) – or build a second coop and get another six or so hens … I think we all know my preferred option! 😂😂😂
We don’t really want to limit our customers. If we add three hens into the existing coop we’re looking at six weeks of bickering and very few eggs. Option number three it is then – a second chicken coop and run with another batch of chooks!
We’re clearly doing something right for our hens to be producing such marvellous eggs. Every morning they get chopped up vegetables, including peelings from the kitchen, and which most days include some fresh parsley (excellent for egg production). They also have a really good layer food, plus extra corn in the winter when it’s cold. Corn is high in fat and helps to keep them warm. They also get crushed up oyster shells to munch on. Hens use so much calcium from their bodies to produce eggs that it’s really important for them to have extra calcium in their diet. And lastly, they get mealworms every day to keep up their protein – again, essential for egg production.
Most days they do get out of the coop and can free range around the finca for a while – they like to dig a little hole and have a dust bath – a natural way for them to clean their feathers and keep any mites at bay. We also use diatomaceous earth in with their bedding too to make sure no mites can get at them. We grow vetiver here on one of the banks to stop soil erosion, and when we cut the vetiver we add some to the nesting boxes as they are a natural insect repellent. I love utilizing everything possible here!
So we’ve picked a spot at the end of the third terrace – the run will need to be triangular to fit in the space, but it will be a bit bigger than the first one. We need to do some planning and decide whether to build a wooden coop, buy another IBC or buy a ready made coop (which is the most expensive option and not the preferred way for us). I think we might also try another breed of hen this time too! Variety is the spice of life!
I think we’ll get the kitchen finished first, and then it will be watch this space!
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!
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
We now have a regular supply of eggs – 4 or 5 each day. Clearly too many for us to eat! Until now, we have been giving eggs away to friends, but I really want to start selling them now I’m not working.
I need some egg boxes, I thought. Checked with our local place where we buy our chickens thinking they’re bound to have some, but no! Finally found some online but they cost 50 cents each! I have ordered a pack, but clearly there’s got to be a better way!
Now my friends and family on Facebook know that I love the chickens, so tend to tag me into anything that’s daft and chicken related -things like a harness and lead to take your chicken for a walk, swings and picnic tables! My stepdaughter Katie sent me a picture of a crochet egg collecting apron – I’m totally serious 😂 – here it is …
But it got me thinking, and after a bit of research I came upon a picture of an egg basket. Now this would be more sustainable than an egg box as it could be used over and over, and it gives me something else to sell alongside the eggs. So the idea is that people can buy one of my sustainable egg baskets with 6 eggs in it, and then when they want more eggs they just bring it back to fill up, paying just for the eggs. It totally fits in with our sustainable living! So, here’s the first one – not perfect but it definitely works, and even has little carry handles! Some of our eggs are enormous so I might have to make them a little bigger!
I might also make some reusable bags so people can also buy marmalade, chutney and jam when they come for their eggs! I’m actually quite excited at the thought of our little cottage industry!
I mentioned the other week that we were going to try using house plants to improve the humidity in the house when Rog got ill.
Well, we’re a few weeks on now, and I can reveal whether this method has been a success!
The short answer is a resounding YES!
In our main room, which serves as kitchen, dining room and living room, we have two reed palms and three peace lilies. Then in the bedroom we have another, slightly larger reed palm and a mother in laws tongue. We have also bought a Himalayan salt lamp for the bedroom, which we put on for a couple of hours in the afternoon – we don’t have enough electricity to have it on longer, but combined with the plants, we can both really feel the difference.
We have a weather station here, and one of the things it measures is indoor and outdoor humidity. A comfortable range is 30-60% humidity. A few days after I put the plants in, we started to monitor the humidity more carefully, and for the last two weeks it’s hardly gone over 60% indoors! We had a day last week where the humidity outside was 97%, but we we’re still all good indoors!
The fact that the house now rather resembles Kew Gardens is a lovely bonus!
It’s been a perfect example of thinking outside the box. Not having access to unlimited electricity means you have to find other ways, and I think you’ll agree that these are much better than running some ugly, noisy dehumidifier!
I was also planning to try making a home dehumidifier by placing one pot inside another and adding rock salt to draw the moisture in – I haven’t managed to get my hands on any rock salt yet so haven’t made these, but I’ll let you know how I get on if I do manage to get some!
We need to go and get some more plants now for the spare bedroom, which is the worst room in the house for damp!
It’s a wonderful thing to grow your own food, but even with the best planning you will always end up with a glut of something at harvest time. So, what to do with it all?
Well, there are several options – keep eating it every day to use it all up; swap with friends and neighbours for other goods or services, or preserve them.
We’ve done all three to some extent 😂. Believe me, there is only so much cabbage two people can eat! Our lovely friend and neighbour, Pepe, dropped over some beans the other day, and we were delighted to give him a massive cabbage in return. Before we had fresh produce to share, we would give him a jar of homemade chutney or marmalade in return for the veg he brought us. It’s a great system!
Now I’m really getting into preserving food. There’s quite a lot to learn as there are so many ways you can try – freezing, pickling, canning and dehydrating to name just four. There are loads of excellent books and information on the internet, and I am creating my own recipe book as I try new things – if they go well they go in the book. If they’re not so good they get tweaked, tried again, and when they’re perfect they make the book.
Freezing isn’t really an option for us. Because we have a gas fridge freezer, the freezer part is really small. It’s actually quite unusual to get a fridge freezer that runs on butane, and as far as I’m aware there’s just one company that makes them – Butsir, based in Brazil.
Dehydrating using just the sun is on my wish list for this year. We will have to make a frame that is covered with netting and off the ground to stop the beasties getting at the tomatoes whilst they’re drying. The process takes a couple of days, but there’s something really appealing about making your own sun dried tomatoes! Many people use a drying oven, which takes around 24-48 hours – again, not an option for us on limited solar power.
That leaves pickling and canning, and I have dabbled since we moved here with quite good success. I have ordered a pressure canner from the US, but due to the pandemic, the manufacturers can’t keep up with the demand, so it’s likely to be months before it arrives.
So, what does a pressure canner do, and how are they different to a pressure cooker – the two are not to be confused! A pressure cooker cooks food quickly. A pressure canner will also cook food, but it’s designed in a slightly different way in order to seal preserving jars, like Le Parfait and Mason Jars. Without sealing the jars, nasty bacteria can cause serious illness! With a pressure canner, pretty much any food can be preserved. They come in lots of different sizes and can be pretty expensive, but it’s likely to be a once in a lifetime purchase. The pressure required and the length of time that you put the jars in for are based on what you are canning and the altitude you live at – most good preserving books will have charts in them.
Then there’s pickling and chutneys. Because vinegar is used in these, any nasty bugs get finished off in the cooking process, so don’t need canning. Today though, I have pickled our harvest of beetroots using Le Parfait jars, and finished off with a water bath – yes, yet another method 😂. A water bath seals the jars, but not to the extent a canner does – this method is fine for acidic foods, like pickled beetroot or tomatoes, and just means the shelf life is extended. A water bath is very simple to do – you just need a large saucepan that enables you to cover the jars with water, bring it to the boil and boil for 20-30 minutes. I always put a cloth on the bottom of the pan and in between the jars to ensure the glass jars don’t crack. If you’re using a twist lid (jam) jar rather than a preserving jar, then no water bath or pressure canning is used (things will explode!), but the jars must be sterilized thoroughly before filling.
It was with some trepidation that I started preserving food – if you get it wrong you can get quite ill! You do get the odd jar that goes off because it didn’t quite seal right – making sure everything is sterilized properly is so important – that, and having a good look and sniff when you open a jar of course! The slightest hint of mold and it has to go straight in the bin!
When it goes right it is a very satisfying thing to do, and I love seeing the rows of jars in the bodega that we can enjoy throughout the year!
When my pressure canner finally arrives I will do a post just on pressure canning once I’ve had a play with it!
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.
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.
I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who reads the blog! This month has been record breaking for us, and it’s quite humbling that so many people in so many countries are reading it.
My first blog post was just before my 50th birthday – we’d made the decision to move and we were trying to sell the house and our belongings – it seems like a lifetime ago now, but it’s just shy of three years.
I hope in that time that we’ve provided a few laughs, a bit of inspiration and some sound advice. It’s certainly lovely for us to have a record of our journey so far. So much has happened in such a short space of time that it would be easy to forget some of those moments (although some will be totally unforgettable, like the snake in the bedroom!).
Hopefully over the next year we will be able to make some more informative videos about what it takes to live this sort of life, how to grow vegetables, and what life in this part of Spain is really like. We’ve come a long way in a relatively short space of time and it’s a lovely thing to be able to share our adventure.
So, thanks again, and I hope you continue to enjoy reading!
It’s 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!
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.
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.
It’s two years this week since we bought the finca. Before we came here, we had a vision in our heads and certain expectations about what life would be like. However, at no point did we imagine this though … 😂
So, have our expectations been met, is life how we imagined it, and what advice would we give to others embarking on a similar journey …
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.
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 👍🏻
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!
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 …
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.
I never thought I’d hear myself say this, but I’m quite excited at the prospect of rotivator shopping …😂
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?’ 😂😂
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.
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!
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!
No matter how carefully we use resources, there will always be some waste that we have to get rid of – grey water from the bathroom and kitchen; kitchen food and packaging waste; our ‘personal’ waste; the list goes on.
Back in the UK we were furnished with three large wheelie bins – one for recycling, one for general waste for landfill and one for organic matter for composting. Each bin was collected every two weeks, and there were some weeks where the bins would be overflowing, especially the recycling one. As for other waste, such as grey water or the loo, well, you don’t think twice about it do you? You pull out the plug or flush the loo and it just goes away like magic!
There are no wheelie bins here, and no magic drains or sewers – we have to manage everything we need to get rid of. The previous owner of the finca didn’t manage this very well, which is why the place was in such a mess when we bought it – old kitchen cupboards under the trees, worn out shoes, hundreds of mismatched tiles just sinking into the ground – it took months just to clear the rubbish away so we could start the real work.
We do have access to large bins in the village – there’s an array of recycling bins and then the big grey ones are for household waste. So now we have one small dustbin outside, which we empty in the town once a week. When we go to the market on a Wednesday we sort all the rubbish into piles in the back of the car and work our way round the bins in town. I’m quite proud that we only produce two small plastic bags of rubbish for the grey bin – everything else is cardboard or paper for recycling and then our milk cartons, which are also recycled here. We don’t pay for using these bins – if we lived in town then we would pay a quarterly charge of about €30 but as we’re in the campo in a rustic house, the system won’t let them produce a bill for us – fine by me! I was really impressed that about 93% of all the rubbish in Almeria gets recycled.
Food scraps are no problem at all – we have a second small bin in the kitchen for any food scraps that the chickens can’t eat, and these simply get buried in the ground under the trees.
When we prune the trees we obviously have the cuttings to get rid of. Any larger branches go in a pile to dry out and get used as firewood. The smaller stuff gets wood chipped and put back under the trees. Some cuttings, such as the olive tree branches, don’t chip very well, and so we have a couple of fires after we’ve done those trees, and then use the ash as fertilizer. When we cut down the pine trees at the front of the finca, obviously we had an abundance of twigs covered in pine needles and fir cones – both are excellent firelighters!
So this leaves us with the grey water and human waste. When we bought here we knew there was a pozo – a cesspit, but it became apparent very quickly that it wasn’t big enough for two people living here all the time. The day came when we had to uncover it and see what was going on as we had raw sewage floating on the ground – not pleasant! So the pozo was a small hole in the ground, lined with old tiles – that was it! We still use this for the grey water from the bathroom. We did consider making a proper cesspit using IBC’s, but we would’ve lost a mature orange tree, and we would’ve needed a digger up here for several days, so we decided to find another way – and that was to buy a composting loo.
The grey water from the kitchen and from the outside sink that I use for washing clothes was the next challenge. We decided to deal with these separately, so we have the water spread out rather than all going into one area. To deal with these, Rog dug holes and made two French drains. Now a French drain works a little like a pozo – the pipe goes into a hole lined with stones, but with the addition of a largish bowl upside down. The whole lot is then covered with earth. These have worked really well, but I do have to be careful how much washing I do in one day, as the water needs some time to drain away. After heavy rain like we had the other week, we do have to be mindful of how much water we put down the sinks as it’s not going to drain as well or as quickly as in the summer months.
I think the most important thing we’ve learned is … is it really rubbish? Can we repurpose this, or does it really have to go in the bin? As an example, there were a couple of old tea chests outside, a bit the worse for wear. Take that, some pallet wood and a drop of varnish and Ta da! A new cupboard for the kitchen! It gives me a small worktop next to the cooker and hides the ugly bright orange gas bottle!
Finding a pallet when we’re out makes us so happy! There are sooo many things you can do with them! It’s the same with IBC’s that hold water – we’ve used all the ones that were here already for other things – dog kennel, chicken coop and run, rainwater collection … the list goes on!
The management of these systems is on going – you can’t just put them in and forget about them! Rog spends much of his week on maintenance, adjustments and repairs. He’s definitely a busy boy!!
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!
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!
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.
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!
In America there is an annual publication that has been going since the early 1800’s. This farmers almanac gives information on timings for growing crops, moon phase dates and lore as well as natural remedies.
I started a project book when we moved here, and it’s actually fast becoming a kind of perpetual almanac – when to harvest the different fruit, when to prune, recipes etc. But there was a missing piece to the puzzle – sewing and harvesting dates for many of the vegetables we want to grow.
We’ve been feeling our way through this over the last year, but then this week, our lovely neighbour Pepe dropped in a spreadsheet which has everything we need to know – hurrah!! It has the plant name, when to sew the seeds, the spacing, when to plant out, when to harvest, optimal temperature for germination – everything! I need to make this man a lot of jam and marmalade!
The weather for the next few days is set to be awful (it’s already so cold we’re sitting less than a foot from the fire with blankets over us!) so we have the perfect opportunity to update our own almanac!
Here’s to a more successful harvest throughout 2021!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
After we lost Maureen the other week, I said I’d like to get a new hen to replace her – but it can be difficult to add just one hen into an existing flock. So Rog said, let’s get another three then! I do love him – he says all the right things!
So Rog has built a temporary extension onto the other side of the chicken run so that we can keep the new ones separated from Atila, Balti and Ethel for a couple of weeks to avoid a bun fight. They can see each other, so they should get used to one another fairly quickly.
Balti has definitely let them know who is the boss already! All three of them made a right racket and then Atila and Ethel decided to go and sulk in the nesting box, leaving Balti to lay down the rules.
So the important bit – the names! My sister said a replacement for Maureen had to be Maureen the Great, so that’s one decided. The other two will be Gerty and Daphne I think. The new ones are quite hard to tell apart at the moment though! When they come out of hiding in the next few days we’ll get a proper look at them!
So that takes us to six hens, which realistically is the most we can have with the coop and run we’ve got – and to be fair, even I think that’s enough!
I love this time of year – when you look across the valley the trees look like they have jewels all over them!
The oranges are not ready yet – but they are ripening nicely. The harvest around here generally starts in January and goes on until the end of April / beginning of May. Last year we got the call in mid March from the cooperative for our oranges.
We don’t earn a lot from the oranges, which is why you see people just letting their oranges fall to the ground – the time and effort needed to grow the oranges doesn’t feel fully rewarded by the payment you get! There are two types here – eating oranges and juicing oranges. The only difference is whether you hold an ecological certificate for your finca – if you do then you can sell them as eating oranges and you earn more money. Needless to say, our small finca doesn’t have a certificate, and to be honest, we can’t be bothered with the rules and regulations and soil testing that would be needed to get the certificate. The process would probably cost more than we could earn in 3 years selling them as juicing oranges. For farmers with large fincas it’s absolutely worth it – but for half an acre with 35 trees? Nah!
The first year we were here we didn’t have anywhere to sell our oranges – we sort of moved in just at the wrong time really! We didn’t want rotting oranges littering the finca so we’d pick up the fallen ones each day and then at night take them to the bins in town. We did try to eat as many as we could, and we had fresh orange juice for breakfast each day – it’s a wonder we didn’t turn orange! We gave away what we could to friends back on the campsite, but there were still an awful lot of oranges left to get rid of. I hate wasting food, and throwing them away really bothered both of us.
Last year though, it was all very efficient. Got the call, harvested the oranges over a few days (well, Rog did as I was in England when the call came!) and then we delivered them to the co-op. All done in a week or so.
Learning how to look after the orange trees has been a bit bewildering at times – too much water, not enough water, what fertilizer and when, how to cut them. We’re nowhere near experts yet, but we are learning how to look at them and figure out what they need … we think!
And next month I’ll be stocking up on sugar and jars ready to make a ton of marmalade in January! There’s nothing quite like homemade marmalade with big thick chunks of peel in it!
The next post on the oranges will be when we harvest them!
A thoroughly enjoyable day, despite needing a hot water bottle on my back and a couple of ibroprufen at the end of it, but the veg garden is full! Kohlrabi, cabbages, beetroot and several types of beans are all in. I did stand back at one point and think ‘we’re going to need a bigger finca’ as there’s loads more I’d like to plant, but my aching back disagreed! There are other, smaller areas around the finca that we can utilise, although we’d have to protect the veg from the chickens!
We planted seeds in trays back in September while we were preparing the veg patch and building the frame. The onions didn’t take at all, but we can buy some seedlings really cheaply locally. The beans were donated by a neighbour Pepe, who has really taken us under his wing.
I’m really looking forward to having some excess veg that we can give to Pepe next year. He has been so generous giving us tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and squash from his finca this year. It will be lovely to return the favour.
So the next thing to consider is how we preserve all this veg when it’s ready to harvest! The climate here isn’t great for storing veg in boxes with sawdust as nowhere is really cold enough. The alternative is canning. I did can some tomatoes this year, just using a water bath to seal the jars. This is fine for highly acidic food, but not for other veg such as potatoes etc.
The answer to this problem is to buy a pressure canner, which isn’t to be confused with a pressure cooker! It’s almost impossible to get one outside of America, where they are really popular. They sterilize and seal the jars properly so the food is good for years. The downside is the cost – they’re around $300 to buy, but then the shipping and import fees doubles the cost. The undisputed champion on the market is the ‘All American Pressure Canner’ and it seems from my research that one of these would last the rest of my life! It’s definitely on the wish list as it would enable us to have homegrown veg all year round. They do look a bit scary … but all the blurb says they’re easy to use!
Pickling is also a good way to preserve, and I have done 6 jars of green peppers today. I made the pickling liquid with apple cider vinegar, water and olive oil. Alongside the peppers in the jars I added salt, garlic salt, peppercorns and coriander seeds for extra flavor. Because the vinegar, oil and salt are all natural preservatives, these don’t need pressure canning – a quick 10 minutes in a water bath does the job to seal the jars!
At some point I will do a more comprehensive post on the different ways to preserve veg, as it could be useful when there’s a buy one get one free offer on at the supermarket – you don’t have to grow your own to preserve food!
Spain certainly seems to have different building regulations to what we’re used to in the UK, even more so when you buy a cortijo on a Finca.
Many cortijos were built without any permissions or sign offs at the end of the build – think along the lines of building a shed in your garden!
Most houses don’t have a damp proof course, so suffer from some damp and paint peeling off the cold cast walls.
When we bought this cortijo were went in eyes wide open and knew what we were buying – and also accepted that some work would need to be done to live in it all year round. And I think we’ve been pretty lucky – the house has been way better than we thought it would be. Some of the electrics and plumbing have been ‘interesting’ to say the least, but Rog is handy in both of these areas so with a bit of hard work and some choice swear words, we’ve had everything working ok.
But there, in the back of our minds was ‘what’s going on under the shower tray?’ We took the decision to leave it well alone while it’s all been working ok.
But a couple of weeks ago we had a problem with the hot water – there was literally a trickle coming out of the taps. Knowing the water here has loads of calc we called Emilio, our gas man, to clean out the boiler pipes with the special diluted acid to get rid of the calc. But then disaster struck!
We turned the hot water back on and even though the taps were off, we could hear water running in the house – there was a leak somewhere. The leak had been plugged by the calc so now the pipes were clean, the leak could flow freely! At which point I buggered off to the UK leaving Rog to sort it out!
It turns out that the water pipes were laid and then the concrete floor was poured. So Rog had to dig down and around to find the leak, taking out the shower as part of the process. He had to dig fairly deep …
So the good news is we do now have running hot water, but the bad news is we have no shower or bath! So, we called our builder (also called Emilio!), who once again looked at something in our house and simply said ‘Madre Mia!’. The situation has forced our hand to get the bathroom totally re-done (which was on the list for some point in the future). We’ve been and bought all new tiles and new fixtures and fittings for the bathroom now in case we go back into lockdown like other countries in Europe, but Emilio can’t do the work for a month … it’s going to be a very long month I think!
We’re turning it into a wet room and have chosen tiles we actually like 😂. It’ll all be worth it when it’s done!
Only three chickens came back tonight … Maureen was missing. After half an hour of searching and calling her Rog found her. She had gone through the fence into the next finca and had been attacked, probably by a dog – the attack didn’t kill her directly, we think she died of fright.
That’s the reality of living out here … but I have shed a tear or two – love my girls.
So after cutting down 4 small orange trees and rotavating the end where we plan to have the veggies, we did a big of digging. Now I’m just going to say it was pretty hard work digging in 30 degrees! But I’d rather be doing it in 30 degrees than in the cold, pouring rain!
Rog then ran an irrigation pipe around the edge of the garden with several large outlets so we can flood the trenches.
So then it was test time – would the irrigation work?
The next step was to plant some seeds in trays to get them going so we can plant them in November – we planted cabbage, kohlrabi, onions, spinach, beetroot, beans and some herbs to start us off. We will also go and buy some seedlings from the local garden centre nearer the time. I have a large plastic box divided up into the seasons, with packets of seeds filed away in the relevant sections for when they can be planted – once an administrator, always an administrator! The plastic box also stops the pesky mice from eating all our seeds in the shed (learned that one pretty quickly last year!).
And then the building of the frame began! We had a drive up to Canjayar as they have a metalworks place there so we could buy some really long metal poles for the corners. I do find shopping for agricultural stuff quite exciting these days! Canjayar is only about 10km from us, higher up in the mountains – lovely little town, so of course we took the opportunity to have a nose round and a coffee while we were there!
We put the metal poles in the corners to support the rest of the frame – they’re a long way into the ground so should make the whole thing really sturdy. Then we started building the rest of the frame from river grass. Now the river is at the bottom of the valley of course, so the walk down there is easy peasy- not so easy coming back though, especially with a huge bundle of bamboo stuff that’s about 8ft long! We still needed more, so the next trip was in the car! Alleluia for having a very narrow car which happily goes down the lane to the river (which is still dry and has been since the end of May!).
So with all this bamboo and masses of wire, we started constructing the frame …
And the finishing touch is a particularly ugly scarecrow to stand guard! Had to be done!
When you live in a ‘normal’ house with an unlimited supply of electricity, you don’t even stop to think before you plug something in – at least, we never did. I was a great lover of lamps – we had so many around the house, all on timers so they went on and off automatically. Kettles, irons, microwaves, telly, stereo, hairdryer, food mixer, coffee machine, slow cooker, computers, bread machine, toaster … the list of electrical items we use is endless, and nearly all are probably considered necessary for daily life.
So when you live on solar panels you have to totally re-think what you use, and not just what you use, but when you use it.
The biggest enemy of solar power is ‘the heating element’. Heating elements drain power at an unbelievable rate – I was really taken by surprise by the amount of power they use. So that rules out an awful lot of things – the kettle being the big one for me (being a tea lover!). No iron, no microwave, hairdryer, coffee machine, bread machine, heaters or a toaster – they’re all a huge no no! Instead, we have a stove top kettle, and do the toast in a griddle pan (my new cooker has a grill, which I was quite excited about, but was totally underwhelmed the first and only time I used it). As for the other stuff, well we just don’t have them anymore!
When we were learning about solar systems it became obvious very quickly that it was not as easy as it looks. There are different parts to a system, and balancing out the different parts and calculating what power you think you might need had us producing pages and pages of mathematical equations, and we spent several months of planning before we attempted to install anything.
The house had a very simple control panel, one 100 watt panel, a 150 watt inverter and six 2 volt batteries to store the energy. This set up was used by the previous owner to run the tv for an hour once or twice a week. We were clearly going to need more! We found the original paperwork for the installation of this original system and discovered that everything was 15 years old. Only five of the batteries were working, and the rest were bulging, and definitely at the end of their life. So, we were starting from scratch basically.
On the Internet there are lots of methods of calculating how big your system needs to be. We started by listing what electrical equipment we NEEDED (not wanted!). We needed to know the wattage, voltage and amps of each item, and estimate how long we would use each item each day / week / month / year. Once this calculation is done, you then look and see what items might need to be on at the same time, and from that you can calculate what amount of power you need in any given day. Now, as you can’t discharge the batteries by more than 50% you have to build a system that gives double what you actually need.
So step one – we bought a 2000 watt inverter. We have a 12 volt system here and so we need the inverter to change the current from 12 volt to 240 volts. That was around €800 – wow! You can get much bigger ones, but we calculated that we could run what we needed on this. The big problem with most electrical items is, it might say it’s 5 amps, but to get the item going it actually needs triple the amps. So something you think is pretty light on power can still cause a problem.
The power coming into the inverter from the solar panels is controlled by … the control panel. Now there are two main types of control panel – MPPT and PWM. We chose an MPPT controller as it’s more flexible. MPPT stands for maximum power point tracking. This type of controller looks after the life of the batteries better as it gives just a little more power than you need for what’s on, and the rest is used to maintain the batteries. That may be over simplifying it a little, but you get the drift! When you turn something else on in the house, it diverts the extra power you need to the inverter. The control panel wasn’t too expensive – around €140. You can also buy a combined inverter and control panel all in one now.
So then there’s the solar panels. There are two ways to connect the panels to the controller – in series or in parallel. Always so many choices to decide on when installing a solar system! We have three solar panels totaling 745 watts. The maximum we could have for our controller was 760 watts. Solar panels have come down in price massively and so this part cost around €400. Again, there are different types of solar panels – polychristaline or monochrystaline. The big problem with solar panels is how quickly they lose their effectiveness – we’re probably looking at replacing the panels every 6-7 years.
Lastly, you need batteries to store the energy so you can have power when it’s dark. These are expensive, and need changing about every 8-10 years. We bought 6 batteries which cost about €1100, but they are a decent size. Again, there’s a huge amount of choice of type and size of battery. The control panel’s job is to maintain the batteries – when to pull in power, when to stop, when to stir the batteries to refresh them etc etc.
Now at this point, I will say that Rog did 98% of the research, and all of the installation! I just couldn’t get my head around volts, amps and watts, so was sitting there chipping in ‘can I run a food processor then?’
All was well, and as we’re in Spain we get a decent amount of sun for much of the year. It is harder in the winter – it gets dark at 5 o,clock and so the batteries get drained much more than in the summer. This is where the candles, oil lamp and solar lights come into their own! We have fitted low energy LED lights in the house, but they are still a drain, and so only use them briefly when we need to rather than leaving them on all evening. We can charge up the solar lights in the day and bring them in the evening. We also have a light we can charge up in the day via usb to use in the evening, which has been more successful than the solar lights! We have to plan what needs charging in the winter on cloudy or rainy days as we can’t have everything plugged in together like we can on a summers day!
So last winter we asked ourselves what we could do to boost our power on cloudy days – and of course, the solution was a wind turbine! It was surprisingly cheap at €130 from Germany. Now, this is where it got complicated. Solar panels output DC power which comes into the control panel and is then converted to AC by the inverter. Wind turbines produce AC power! We wired the wind turbine into the solar panels (I can say we here ‘cos I did actually help!) so all the power from both the solar panels and the turbine combine as they come into the house. This meant fitting a small controller between the wind turbine and the solar panels. This changes the current from the wind turbine into DC to join up with the solar panels, and then the controller / inverter changes it all back to AC. It makes your head hurt doesn’t it!!
The net result is that we have enough electricity to live a simple life. We can produce about 7 amps. The average house in the UK has a supply of at least 50 amps to put that into perspective! Most of Roger’s power tools need to run on the generator as the solar system simply can’t handle them, but much of what we do is manual so this doesn’t need to happen often. We are fortunate to have satellite WiFi so I can work, and if we do have a bad weather day, there’s always the generator (a back up is a must have in our situation) – it costs about €1 an hour to run so not too bad. There are days when we literally turn everything off during the day so that we have some power after dark, but the benefit of living in a sunny country is that we don’t have too many days like that!
So, that’s all there is to installing an alternative power system!
In April I wrote a post showing the little baby oranges that were appearing as the blossom fell away from the trees.
So here we are nearly at the end of September, and the oranges are coming on nicely. The weather has been really bad for fruit this year – we had far too much cloud and rain followed by really hot sunshine in the spring, which meant that a higher percentage of babies fell off than normal.
We have also watered less this summer. We lost quite a few oranges at the start of the year simply because they were so huge that the tree couldn’t hold on to them. When we had the builders here last December they thought our oranges were absolutely hilarious, so we decided to put less water down, and they are a better size this year.
Over the last 18 months we’ve been ‘playing’ at growing veg, with a bit of success. We’re novice veg growers who have watched quite a lot on the Internet, but nothing replaces hands on experience – and it’s going to take us years to learn this properly. The veg garden wasn’t the top priority initially as we had to learn about looking after what we already had (the trees) and get things like the house, water and power sorted first. Now the other things are pretty much there we can turn some of our attention to growing our own food. Vegetables from the market are pretty cheap and really fresh, so it’s caused us no problems buying them for the last 18 months, but of course, the long term aim is to grow as much of our own veg as we can.
When we moved here there was a spot that was the natural choice for growing veg – yes, it was dotted with smaller trees but it had more open space than anywhere else on the finca.
Having tried growing in raised beds, directly into the ground, using seeds for some things and plants for others to see what would and wouldn’t work, we now have a bit of a plan …
Step one involved cutting down four orange trees, which we did last week – they were really small compared to the others so weren’t big producers. We still need to try and get the stumps out, but if they prove really awkward we can actually work around them if need be. We’ve read that an average orange tree will put their roots down 3-4 meters, and there’s no way we’ll get a mini digger up here! But having a clearer patch of land now means we can start to develop this end of the finca. We have left two orange trees, a lemon, peach, níspero, citrus finger, two almonds and a chirimoya down that end, but they shouldn’t get in the way too much as they’re along the sides and at the end. We’re expecting some rain and so will rotavate after the rain (by the end of the summer the earth is like concrete where there’s no irrigation!). The bird table will need a new home!
So the plan is to build a framework out of river grass canes – they’re a bit like bamboo and grow wild at the river – so best of all, they’re free! In between these rows of canes we will dig trenches so we can irrigate the roots of the plants, which will grow up the framework. The big problem we’ve had here is that the water runs away so quickly, so digging trenches should mean that the plants get what they need. Rog has set up new irrigation pipes down there all around the edge so we can run pipes off to literally flood the trenches a few times a week – it’s the method everyone round here seems to use. Using this method we should be able to grow pretty much everything we want to down there! That’s the theory anyway!
The aim is to grow tomatoes, peppers, corn, beans, cabbage, kohl rabi, spinach, potatoes, squash and beetroot to start. I’ll also be doing a herb garden on the new decking in pots – we have several types of mint already, but I want to grow garlic and parsley as I use loads in the kitchen. The chickens also love fresh parsley and it increases egg production!
The vegetable garden part 2 should be in the next few weeks once we’ve got the framework in place!
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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
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 …
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.
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!
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!
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?
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!!