2017 reflections

When a New Year begins and you glance back on the year that’s passed, its easy to feel like not much has been achieved! Its simple to feel like you’re sanding still or, looking at the big picture, that you didn’t achieve what you set out to.

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I’ve been doing a little reflecting and actually 2017 was a good year for us!

So, in an effort to feel good about the past year and head into this New Year with positivity, here’s a chronicle of what we HAVE achieved this year!

A big portion of time last year was spent planning a wedding! Yes, we got married! I feel this is a pretty big achievement. 22885816_10155969227335087_1607766196530696372_nWe planned a whole wedding, pretty much via WhatsApp and it was the most fantastic day! Friends and family all made a huge effort to come to Spain and celebrate with us and we couldn’t have felt more blessed. We are both lucky to have such amazing friends and family surrounding us, not only on our wedding day, but to feel their support in everything that we are doing with our choice to move out here. Most people came to visit the land and our project, and whether or not they think we are crazy, they all showed us a huge amount of love and enthusiasm for what we are doing. We had the most amazing time celebrating with everyone and although we were absolutely shattered by the end of it all, it was definitely the highlight of 2017!

Our second biggest highlight was just after the wedding. Our first olive harvest! SONY DSCBeing part of the process, learning how to harvest and process the olives, as well as being part of the hub and buzz of ‘olive talk’ in town was super exciting. And at the end of it all, we have litres of liquid gold to see us through for a long while! The olive oil we produced is truly out of this world; and yes, we could possibly be slightly biased, knowing the days of hard graft that went into producing the stuff, but it really is the best olive oil I have ever tasted!

Another big achievement this year has been a feeling of really being part of our community. We have been quite insular as we have so much to do on the land it can be so easy to go days without seeing or speaking to anyone else. But I have since joined a singing group in town, were I have been embraced wholeheartedly by the girls I sing with that I feel truly honoured to be part of their chorus! We sing four part harmony barbershop and its loads of fun! I’ve also joined a band where I sing backing vocals.

wazifaWith both groups we’ve been practising and gigging and it not only gets me off the land twice a week but I also have performances to attend (usually at fun things, like, Christmas markets, or in a Tea garden or an Art gallery). Its introduced me to two groups of bloody lovely people, a mix of people from all over the place and I have made friends for life this year in our little town! We get out and about much more to see friends nowadays which is great. The husband has also joined a Capoeira class and so he’s also been introduced to some lovely people while doing something he loves!

Overall a truly positive 2017 in terms of making friends, being social, going to parties, singing, dancing and generally enjoying life. Never underestimate the value of community. Or friendship. Or even just saying hello to people on the street. Yes, it makes popping in to town a much bigger mission, because you bump into several people every time you go in, but it’s so worth it. We love that we need to allocate at least an hour-and-a- half when we head into town just because we are bound to stop for coffee with someone….twice!

This year was also cause for celebration when we finally got our water rights! Huzzah!

Full Alberca
Full Alberca

Not only did we get them, but we also got into a good rhythm for flood irrigating, and then, in turn, had bumper vegetable crops as well as harvests from the trees (olives, figs, pomegranates, and almonds). We flooded the land every three weeks for an hour and a half. The white water comes down the ascequia so quickly that it was hard to initially control the flow (cue hysterical laughter through the fence from our Spanish neighbours) but by mid summer we’d cracked it and we got the biggest prize of all…..a big smile and a thumbs up from Antonio through the fence! Winning!

Our garden this year has been pretty epic! We had some successes and some failures, but overall, a very successful year. We grew a mountain of veg, enough to keep us going from May until October and we were hoping to get a good winter garden going to continue with our success! But…..getting married and then the olive harvest all happened one after the other after the summer garden finished producing and so we haven’t had any time to get anything in the ground. We are OK with this. It’s not like we weren’t occupied at the time (flat out more like it!!!!) We are still hoping to get some garlic in soon for next year though. Last years garlic harvest was great!

Garlic bed
Garlic bed

We had never grown garlic before and we are still reaping the rewards of this gorgeous pungent bulb! We also tried growing sweet potatoes for the first time, which we forgot about, and remembered to dig them up yesterday and they look great. They are sun-drying right now. Can’t wait to try them. I also sun-dried our constant flow of tomatoes. They worked really well, I’ll definitely be doing this again this summer.

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Pumpkin
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Our avocado trees

 

We also harvested our almonds for the first time too! There is so much pleasure in growing your own food. Whether its annual vegetables or fruit and nut trees. Knowing everything is organic and grown with love is really something special. The almonds are harvested with a good whack of the tree (just like the olives) and we sun-dried them and then, in true cave-man style, bashed the almond between a big rock and a little rock! Bam! And out pops this little nugget of joy! Can’t beat it! Bryn has his own style of cracking almonds and even though he has huge paws, he manages to crack the almond with his teeth, then hold the nut in his paws while he nibbles the nut from its shell!

Bryn hiding his almonds
Bryn hiding his almonds

The almonds are really delicious, and Bryn is happy with the whole box of almonds that got scattered in the long grass due to a strong gust of wind! He doesnt have to walk as far to get his almond fix!

Another big deal this year has been us moving rapidly into the 21st century. It all happened so quickly. There I was, one week, hand washing our clothes in a bucket and then using that same bucket to heat water in our house on the hob and then lug it into the land and into the yurt to wash ourselves……to the the next week, standing under a glorious stream of (instant…ish) hot water coming out of a real shower that was coming out of a real wall! AND then sitting on the floor watching my new washing machine go round and round and round and loving the fact that my poor hands and back don’t need to hurt any more….well, not due to these tasks anyway! I am so over the moon with our hot water situation. It also means that the lugging involved with heating water and then bringing it into the land to wash dishes has suddenly become much easier too! It really doesn’t take long to get used to living very simply. In fact, I really enjoy it. But the genuine happiness I felt when we got the shower and the washing machine was pretty overwhelming. I guess that means that I’m happy living simply, to a point! It was never our plan to live extremely basic but only as a means to an end. But it has taught me to be grateful for the small things in life. Water, hot water, technology that enables you to get on with something else, electricity!!!!! We are not quite living in luxury yet! Not by a long shot, but the week we got hot water and a washing machine, I felt like the luckiest girl in the world, living in the lap of extreme luxury!

25532260_10159890134150089_6147655570927118987_oAfter the hustle and bustle of 2017, we ended the year in total tranquillity. Christmas was the quietest, most stress free Christmas ever, and New Year came and went without a party or fuss. Just me, the husband and the dog! What more could I ask for?

And so here I am, after reflecting on our year, only to feel a sense of major self accomplishment. We achieved a lot this year and we should be pretty damn proud of ourselves! So here’s to moving into 2018 with positivity, energy, motivation and a smile. And I’ll look forward to seeing what we can achieve this year!

Happy New Year!
Happy New Year!

 

 

 

 

Late summer garden memories!

Our garden looked fabulous this summer, and we got bumper crops of everything! We have, this last month or so started having to buy veg again for the first time since May. I’d definitely say we’d had success this year!

Dahlia decorativa
Dahlia decorativa

We’ve grown flowers as well as fruit and veg and we are hoping that this next spring lots of the perennials will come back and there’ll be less to do (wishful thinking I think, but we live in hope!)

Pomegranate
Pomegranate

 

We managed to get our irrigation water into a better rhythm this year so watering in 40 degree heat wasn’t as labour intensive as last year! We found that we could flood irrigate once every three weeks and then water in between using the water from the Alberca (our water storage). Some things could deal with only being watered once every three weeks but some plants, like the tomatoes and herbs, needed to be watered way more regularly. We hit the sweet spot from June til August where we had more veg than we could cope with. I sun dried lots of our tomatoes (which were super yum, but we’ve already eaten them all….so much for summer tomatoes all year round!) I also sun dried our figs, which didn’t turn out so well. About a week after I’d jared them up I went for one, only to find them full of maggots! Blergh! Ah well, you win some, you lose some! Another failure this year was the corn. We grew three varieties and all of them were rock hard. The ears looked ready, they had fully formed cobs but they were totally inedible!

Artichoke
Artichoke

A success though was our peppers and chillies. They grew really well and also an aubergine plant from last year came back quite late in the season and we’ve been eating beautiful white aubergines! Our artichokes grew really well, even after an initial aphid-farming ants disaster!

We grew Cosmos, and Dahlias, Pansies, Canna, Zinnias, Gypsophilia, Iris, Amarillys and a few others! My intention was to grow flowers for our wedding in October but that didn’t quite go to plan!

The garden really did look pretty special, and by the time our wedding rolled around there were still a few hangers on showing the remnants of a successful summer garden!

A few months off now, quiet garden time before jumping back into action for Spring. Can’t wait!

Never get tired of this view from the yurt!
Never get tired of this view from the yurt!

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Zinnia
Zinnia
Pumpkin
Pumpkin
Canna seed pods
Canna seed pods
Cosmos
Cosmos
Margarita
Margarita
Lemongrass
Lemongrass

Olive harvest numero uno!

We did it! Our very first olive harvest! And we’ve got some of the tastiest organic, cold pressed olive oil I’ve ever tasted!!!!!

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The process is pretty rewarding! A long week of hard graft, hand picking olives from our trees and at the end of it all, watching our own olives be weighed, cleaned, pressed and then bottling it ourselves is pretty special!

The olive harvest around these parts can be heard and smelt. The sounds of trees being beaten with sticks, pruned by chainsaws and braying donkeys moaning under the weight of olive sacks. The smell of burning olive prunings can become quite overpowering. The whole landscape is shrouded in cloudy smoke every morning while farmers burn their garden waste. The fresh olive leaves and the freshly cut olive wood has a lovely smell and the whole thing could be described with some heady romanticism. But it really is hard work!

There’s a sort of calm before the storm feeling. The olives are ready but ideally, you don’t pick your olives until five days before the milling. And until you have your appointment at the mill, there’s not much you can do apart from clear the land under the trees and cut out any new growth from their bases. Then you get your appointment and its all hands on deck, non stop olive picking until you’re done….or you run out of time!

In our case it was two pairs of hands on deck with an extra day of help from our lovely friend. Our technique developed over the week and by the end we had a good rhythm going, but initially it was pretty tough! We started with the tallest, oldest tree in the the most awkward place. It also hadn’t been pruned in about 20 years, so two days after we started the tree, we decided to move on. There are still a shed load of olives on that tree but the tree definitely beat us!

SONY DSCLaying out the nets properly is key! If you don’t have the nets flat and semi taut then your olives will roll everywhere, and its a waste of time…..or very time consuming trying to pick individual olives from the ground!

Once the nets are set you whack the trees with a stick, hard! Its pretty brutal but we’ve been reassured that olives are pretty tough and can cope with being bashed about a bit! Or you prune higher branches and then comb the olives out from the floor!
Our big old tree that we spent days on got the pruning treatment! Its was a long slow process that we got pretty fed up with! There were old dead branches preventing us from giving the tree a good ol’ whack and they also stopped us gaining access to prune! After the ordeal of pruning and then combing, you need to clean the olives of leaves and sticks as best you can! Our neighbours were harvesting their olives at the same time and would come and watch us doing it wrong and laugh at us for a while before finally he took pitty on us and lent us his olive cleaning machine. SONY DSCWow, what a revelation. Its a pretty simple device but oh my does it speed things up! We were away! We had a system! Lay the nets, whack the tree, prune the tree, comb the tree, gather the olives, clean the olives, bag the olives and…..repeat! This sounds pretty tedious, but we really enjoyed our week in the garden. Yes, maybe we enjoyed ourselves so much because it was our first year harvesting, but it really was lovely! We got to spend days in the garden in glorious winter sunshine. We chatted with our neighbours and each other and really revelled in the process.

Once all the olives were collected, we lumped them all to the mill where we then unloaded them into the giant jaws of the olive mill! We then got to enjoy watching the process of our beautiful organic olives being turned into glorious olive oil!

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After being cleared of twigs and leaves their bounced into the next part…..the smushing!
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Being mashed and ground.
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and in the end, beautiful olive oil!

After a full day at the mill (with a sneaky tostada from the local venta to fill our bellies while we waited) we finally had litres and litres of the most beautiful olive oil! We feel completely shattered but so so lucky and grateful that we are able to produce such a luxury product from our garden in the Alpujarras!

The garden, one year on!

19055657_1865513100435479_5471137978631549677_oSo we have prioritised making a garden before building a house to live in…..makes total sense right?

Last summer we managed to get some veg in the ground having not long arrived, but this year we have really gone to town! We have a mix of flowers, plants and vegetables as well as our established fruit trees.19093045_1865514447102011_5616438970873155913_o

Digging what seemed like a million veg beds in the hard, dry, stony Spanish soil seemed never ending! And the amount of seeds I had growing (as well as buying plug plants from the garden centre – oops!) didn’t help relieve the pressure of digging beds.

We have a variety of vegetables growing, and in different situations around the garden….a little experiment if you will…..

Herb garden
Herb garden

We have three different varieties of corn (glass gem, black and standard yellow maize) some planted in full sun as a wind break and some in a shadier more sheltered spot. As it turns out the more exposed corn is doing so much better than the protected corn and so as the black corn is now wanting to go into the ground, we are planting it in an exposed sunny spot.

We are growing three different types of pepper; a standard large pepper, padron peppers and jalepeno (we also have some chillies on the go, chilli lombardo and another variety from the local seed bank). Although our neighbours told us ‘mucho sol’ for the peppers, we have found that they are doing much much better in a slightly shadier spot….bare in mind that nowhere is really that shady here!IMG_20170509_115631580_HDR

We have been harvesting tomatoes for a few weeks now, and they are super delicious! They are growing in full sun and are loving it (although our shady tomatoes aren’t doing too badly either). We are growing cherry tomatoes and corni de cabra, as well as some small yellow tomatoes but the name escapes me). We have grown tomatoes for quite a few years but they’ve always ended up in a jungle-type situation and we end up with bad tomatoes. This year, we have followed Antonio’s advice that’s been hollered over the fence and sure enough we have some awesome tomatoes growing and there’s plenty of air getting through, the tomatoes are sweet and juicy and we are revelling in the lack of  jungle this year!

Some other veg we are growing/have been growing this year are….IMG_20170607_184028971

We planted garlic in December and we harvested yesterday (planted it on the shortest day, and harvested on the longest day). We’ve never grown garlic before, the bulbs are a decent size and smell pretty stinky. A successful harvest!

Habas!
Habas!

Alongside the garlic we had planted spinach and broad beans. The broad beans were a roaring success but the spinach bolted soon into growing (lesson learnt, need a shadier spot) the leaves were tough too due to the amount of sun they had had.

Our lettuce and peas have come to an end now as we don’t have a shady enough spot for them, its just too damn hot! But they were yummy while they lasted. Next year we will know to plant them much earlier as they will have a longer season before it gets too hot.IMG_20170501_192235384

We have courgettes just coming in now, corn, sweet potatoes, artichoke, potatoes, celery, aubergine, strawberries, cucumber, onions, chard, watermelon, leeks and a bed full of herbs (chives, black basil, dwarf basil, rosemary, lemon balm, mint, and oregano) as well as our fig trees, pomegranate trees, nispero, grape vines, almonds and olives.Basically we have our hands full! But its so much fun! Everything just grows here like magic….just add water!

We are hoping to create a food forest eventually and I’m pretty excited to report that the citrus tress we planted last year (orange, lemon, mandarin) all have fruit on them this year, and our avocado trees tried really hard to flower this year but we heartbreakingly picked them off to concentrate on getting a good root system! Although I am pretty desperate for our own avocados.

And so this is our vegetable garden! Productive, satisfying and it keeps our bellies full.

I have also been growing flowers this year; my plan is to grow our wedding flowers for later in the year, but that’s another tale for another time!

Adios!

Hot water you say?

By the power of the sun….we have hot water!

Hot water that comes out with excellent pressure to wash ones manky, dusty self! Oh it is wonderful. It´s not posh.
It´s not stylish. But it sure is the best shower I have ever had.  IMG_20160528_150342594_HDR[1]

We bought 100M of black water tubing and coiled the tube on the roof of our outhouse. The water tube then drops down to our lower terrace and is connected to a tap and a shower head. There is an old shower tray at the bottom with green tarp around four posts for a little modesty.
The water heats up in the sun and gives you a great pressure, hot water shower for about 7 minutes.
While showering amongst the olive and almond trees (and adjacent rubble pile) you can see the hill opposite, the Sierra Nevada and the Sierra Lujar. I´d exchange our little solar shower over the poshest bathroom any day! Apart from maybe in winter when I won´t be so enthusiastic and the water, not so hot.
For now, this is a more than adequate way of keeping clean. It’s luxurious in fact. And the best part is that the water heats up again in about twenty minutes.
Winner!IMG_20160528_150410210[1]

Compost toilet

I’ve explained the mechanics behind the toilet in a previous post. But just wanted to show IMG_20160528_150418359[1]you our makeshift toilet. Its pretty sweet. In you pop. Do your business. Cover with sawdust. close the lid and off you go.

Bucket full? No problem. We have a four bucket system. One bucket is full. Place the lid and clips on. Place a new bucket with sawdust in the bottom. And away to go.
Once all four buckets are full, we follow the steps to compost our humanure. Click here for full post.

Humanure compost toilet

You do WHAT with your poo?

We made the decision to have humanure compost toilets inside and out! We like them; it means we are dealing with our own waste, you get compost out of it at the end (returning veggie scraps and food waste back to the earth). We´re also not wasting gallons of drinking water every time we flush and also we haven´t got to worry about plumbing for black water. Sounds like a winning decision if you ask me!!!!

We already have an outside toilet (well, a bucket with a toilet seat on top). We just needed to create our compost bays, gather the materials, and set ourselves up to be able to begin composting our humanure.

We used wombled pallets (x3) to create the bay structure. We placed these on top of a ´bowl´we created in the earth and screwed them together in a u-shape.IMG_20160310_134126268

We filled the bay with a bale of straw (loose).IMG_20160310_141541472_HDR

As an aside, we were massively proud of ourselves for getting the straw. Someone told us there was a man named Paco on the road out of town that sells hay and straw. They were our only directions. Well, we only bloody went and found Paco on his tractor in a field and managed to buy some straw from him! I don´t think I´ve been that proud of myself in some time!

Ahem, anyway, after filling the bay with straw and supporting the front with planks, the bay is ready to receive some caca! Although, of course, this being us, we hadn´t really thought through the position of the compost bay (we thought we had. We were wrong) and decided to move it to a shadier spot before filling!

The compost toilet itself is really simple. There´s a wooden box with a toilet seat on it. Inside there is a bucket. You do your business; toilet paper, urine and solid waste into the bucket and you cover your ´doings´with a good amount of sawdust. When the bucket is full. Put the lid on it and take it to the compost. You also need a good amount of kitchen scraps (veggie peels, egg shells, dinner leftovers etc) as well as green material (weeds pulled from the garden) when adding to the bay.

Down at the bay you make a hole or bowl in your hay (carbon material),  empty your kitchen scraps (broad range of nutrients and micro organisms), then layer your weeds (nitrogen material, plus broader range of nutrients) and on top, empty your humanure from the bucket. Cover the ´bowl´with plenty of hay and water and leave it do its thing. We keep a compost thermometer in the mound to check that the compost is reaching the correct temperatures.

And there you have it, pretty simple.

You collect into this bay for one year or until it is full. And then you simply begin a new bay. I recommend reading the Humanure handbook by Joe Jenkins for the ins and outs of creating a humanure compost system (it´s well written, funny and has all the information you need. you can also read it chapter by chapter online). Recommendations are that you leave your humanure for two years before using it. You can get a sample checked in a lab (there is a place in town here with us) to check for any remaining pathogens. We have decided to work on a three year cycle just to be sure, and to cover ourselves in case anyone is ill during the year that those extra nasty bugs are properly gone.

We currently just have an outside toilet, but eventually we will have additional ones in our indoor bathroom as well as just off the bedroom.

We were a little worried about smell. But we have been surprised by the total lack of smell. Nothing from the toilet, and nothing from the bay. And it has been hot. We are in the south of Spain with very little rain and so we were expecting at least a little whiff. But nope! Nada. Zilch!

Doing my business with a view like this, while recycling waste and not wasting water has made me feel rather smug!IMG_20160310_162905840

Garden

Hmmm…it’s difficult to know where to start with the garden as there’s so much we want to do with it. And so much that has to be done before even starting.  I’ll start by describing what is there now.

Upper terrace
Upper terrace

The land we have with the house is about 1250 square meters, split into 2 roughly equally sized terraces. There is a big differnce in height between the two terraces and there is a pathway down one side to link the two.

Alberca
Alberca

On the upper terrace there is an alberca (water storage) and an outdoor bathroom. I use the term bathroom lightly. It’s a bit of a shack with a shower cubicle and a black hole toilet. I am having nothing to do with lifting the lid on the toilet, I am petrified of what I might find. So Matt has kindly offered to do that one. Phew! We dont know if there’s water connected to the shower but its definitely do uppable!

Outdoor 'bathroom'
Outdoor ‘bathroom’

The land itself has asequia rights (ancient Moorish irrigation system that uses the snow melt from the Sierra Nevada) for water to irrigate the land, but the land hasn’t been watered for about 4 years. This makes us sad, but our neighbours have reassured us that as soon as we start watering, most things will come back! Huzzah! We are really lucky in that we have organic farming neighbours who seem really happy that we’ve come to tend the land, and have offered their help with anything we need; if only our Spanish was good enough to understand them (sigh) but gesticulating seems to be working for now.

When we were over in September we feasted on the fruit from the garden (despite nothing being watered in years). There were pomegranates growing like weeds laden with fruit. There were red and green grapes and loads of ripe figs. We were mega happy and running round like kids in a sweetshop!

Fresh pomegranates anyone?
Fresh pomegranates anyone?

As well as these trees and vines we also have 11 olives. They are ancient, and they’re all split at the base having been copiced years ago. We’ve been told this is because way-back-when, olive farmers used to be paid by the number of olive trees they had, and if a tree was copiced they would be paid per new offshoot. We love our old wonky olive trees and cant wait until next November to do our first harvest (and then probably lose them all due to not really understanding brining or storing, but its all a learning curve).

Oh, and we also have the saddest looking citrus tree. Its so sad we can’t tell if its an orange, lime or lemon, and we’re not holding our breath for it to come back to be honest. We can all but hope and give it love.

Prickly pears
Prickly pears

On the lower terrace there is a row of really healthy looking old cacti. Prickly pears. They bear edible fruit, but their prickles are really prickly so we need to work a way around that one!

I think that’s it in terms of where the land lays. I think it’ll all have to begin by tackling the long dry grass that covers the land. That’ll be fun IMAG3338I’m sure!