Winter vs summer on solar power …

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.

You can make a system whereby the panels will move around to follow the sun and automatically change the angle to receive the most light. I think this is going to take some research and planning!

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 😂

It’s Fiesta week!

Back in 2019 we experienced our first fiesta, and it was brilliant – carnivals, the evening dedicated to carrying the huge statue of Santa Ana all the way around the village, lots of gatherings, eating and drinking, and more fireworks than you could shake a stick at.

Starting around the end of June, each village has its fiesta, generally starting Thursday through to Sunday or Monday. You can see all along the valley as each village takes it’s turn to celebrate.

Fast forward to 2020 and the height of the pandemic – everything was cancelled.

So we were interested to see what we would be able to do this year for the fiesta.

We’ll, I have to take my hat off to the ayuntamiento! Although the celebrations are slightly different, with masks and social distancing , they have managed to come up with a variety of ways to celebrate.

It started with a children’s competition for decorating their shoes, followed by the same competition for adults. We were having a coffee at the cafe one day in the week, when this group of children walked by:

Good job we don’t get much rain here with all that papier-mâché!

Sunday was a bike ride around the village – a great way to get people together safely! This was followed by an art exhibition by a local artist who died earlier this year. There has also been summer cinema showing films outside and a music group performing traditional music (that didn’t start till very late and we’re rarely in the village at night!).

Today (Monday) is Santa Ana day, and her statue was carried into the middle of the village this morning, accompanied by the village band, where she waited until 9pm for an outdoor mass and a lot of fireworks, before being carried back into the church. (No easy task when you see the size of the statue!). The street was lined with people, where they would normally follow behind the statue as she is carried right around the village. So something very close to normal for Santa Ana day. All carefully organised to make sure people stay safe. 👏👏👏

Whilst we’re not religious, you can’t help but be impressed with the pomp and ceremony here on holy days.

This is a link to a video on Facebook of the statue being carried through the streets earlier today:

https://fb.watch/6_SfIImhgR/

I love the feeling of community here – it’s very special and I hope we never lose it.

Heatwaves and wildfires

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tips for surviving hot weather!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have cool, but not cold showers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here comes summer!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A very different way of life!

Humidity

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

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

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

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

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

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

The peace lily is known to help dehumidify houses.

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

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

My favourite time of year …

Spring has always been my favourite time of year, not too hot, not too cold, and I love seeing everything starting to come back to life after the winter.

I see a change in myself, too, as the seasons change – something I’ve never noticed before.

As the cold weather has relented in the last couple of weeks, I feel more energetic, I seem to be coming out of my winter slumber just like the plants. I find myself buzzing around the farm doing all sorts of things – all with a big smile on my face! Getting into bed at night feeling physically tired instead of mentally tired is a wonderful thing.

March and April can be changeable here, but not being under the continual pressure of our old life, we can take a day off if the weather is rubbish. It’s an opportunity to hole up in the house with a nice fire and a good book, or plan what we’ll do next when the weather improves. I’d never consider that a wasted day!

Of course, the orange trees are lush and green all year round, and the fruit is definitely ready – we’re just waiting for the call from the cooperative. This week though, we noticed buds on the apricot and almond trees, and the very next day they sprung into life with gorgeous blossom.

As soon as the blossom appears, so do the bees, and we hear the familiar buzz all day again now.

The vegetables are doing well – the weeds went mad, but they’re cleared again now. We tend to get lots of wood sorrel and chickweed, which are good for the soil as they give out nitrogen, so it’s a case of just pulling up handfuls if it from around the veg, but you can leave the roots down. And the great thing is that the chickens go mad for both, so even the weeds get recycled here!

Lovely greens!

We’ve always had a keen interest in the weather, so we decided to treat ourselves to a home weather station – and with the very changeable weather at the moment, it has really come in handy! It gives a pretty accurate 12 hour forecast, which helps to decide whether we need to irrigate or not!

The weather station. A very clever bit of kit – a battery operated digital base station indoors tells us wind speed, wind direction, indoor and outdoor humidity and temperatures, rainfall, air pressure, 12 hour forecast, and all sorts!

And of course, the best thing about Spring is that the winter is over! I do really struggle with the cold, although this year I seem to have been much better than our first year off grid I’m happy to say! Definitely toughened up!

The crazy weather continues …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Extraordinary weather!

You may have seen the pictures in the news of storm Filomena, which has brought much of Spain to a halt! Roads closed, blocked with snow, airports shut, and so far four people have died. Last winter was the coldest here in 40 years, but at the moment this winter is beating it hands down!

Madrid on Saturday!

We’re not doing too bad in this little corner of Spain – we are now in our fifth day of this storm, and rather than snow we’ve had rain – lots and lots of rain. Temperatures have been the lowest we’ve ever experienced here and we are truly living in a quagmire. We have had a massive hole open up on the first terrace, so once this rain stops we’ll need to take steps to sort that or we’ll risk losing the back of the car down it. It’s not unusual for this to happen here with the amount of water that we’ve experienced.

Obviously, living off grid in this sort of weather gets a little tougher … there’s been no sun and no wind, so no electricity to speak of. The house doesn’t have a damp proof course, insulation or heating. So, how are we coping?

Well poor Luna and the chickens are sodden! Luna hates the rain so has mainly stayed in her kennel, coming out now and again to check if we’re still alive I think! The ground in the chicken runs desperately needs raking out once it’s stopped raining – the poor things look so bedraggled! As well as their layer food and lots of veggies, the chickens get corn to eat – because corn is actually very fatty it helps to keep them warm, plus a bit of extra protein by way of meal worms helps too.

Thankfully we have the back up generator so I was able to work on Saturday! It is very noisy so we tend not to use it all day though, just while I’m working. We are well set up now to cope for a few days without electricity – we have lights that will work for several days once charged up, the fire to keep us warm, and I’ve read two books in the last few days! Well it’s not like you can do much outside! It’s felt a bit odd sitting around doing nothing, but quite nice at the same time. I think this is one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned since being here – just roll with it, whatever is happening!

The house does feel pretty damp, especially the spare bedroom which is where I work, that’s probably the worst thing to deal with. Luckily we went to Sweden a few years back, which was a trip that required us to buy lots of thermals! I’m currently wearing two or three layers of clothes as I really do feel the cold – I remember packing the thermal clothes when we were moving and thinking I’ll probably never need these, but we’ll take them just in case … thank goodness we didn’t throw them away!

I really could do with a hot bath or shower, but we’re now in our 11th week of not having a bathroom to speak of – just the loo and the sink is left in there. Our builder lost a family member to covid so they all had to quarantine, leaving him 3 weeks behind at work. Fingers crossed we’ll have a bathroom by the end of January! Another thing to just roll with!!

So we’re actually counting our blessings – looking around Spain it could’ve been a lot worse! I think we picked a good spot to live!

And the forecast from Wednesday onwards is back to wall to wall sunshine!, if still a little chilly – that I can deal with!