Tuesday, January 25, 2011

update 07 26.01.2011 Last Summer

At the end of June Mooch, Becky and the dogs went on a mini camping trip to Serra de Estrella in Portugal which is about three hours drive away. It was a fantastic break and we freshened up in various river pools and took in massive views over half of Portugal. If you are looking for somewhere rural, cheap, isolated and refreshing for a holiday, give it a go… we love it! The break was well deserved after much work in the huerto and escuela (Becky´s full time work as an English teacher at least affords a 3 month summer holiday). Anyway, shortly after that we were joined by new volunteers Ebony, Doug and Janet. Ebony from Melbourne and Doug from NZ had travelled from Australia and Janet from the US of A. Aside from general work here at Pan de Trigo the guys spent a couple of days with us in Alburquerque, in the scorching midday sun, painting the newly finished patio white, which is kind of akin to torture. At the end it looked fantastic… good work people!

Now then, we are lacking a detailed account of what was happening in the huerto at this time because, apart from not having a camera, Mooch was busy wrapping the project up ready to let the house to our first customers, who were due to arrive towards the end of July for the (not quite but almost world famous) Contempopranea Festival in Alburquerque… Becky said that everyone was very busy, in fact when Mooch returned Doug proudly announced that he had finished strimming, and he meant it… he had strimmed everything… a job normally reserved for donkeys or sheep. By this I am not implying that donkeys and sheep have the uncanny ability to operate an industrial strimmer, just that he strimmed what they would otherwise eat. Either way it was a huge job, thanks mate! Meanwhile Janet was continuing her journey across Europe, partly inspired by the vegetarian fare she ate here, and has since taken to photographing every amazing dish she prepares and sharing it on Facebook… I can feel a book coming on Janet! Ebony and misses Mooch continued enthusiastically with weeding and general jobs around the farm amidst the madness of the football world cup, balmy temperatures and impending festival madness.

Spain won the World Cup and we all watched it in the Plaza de España in Alburquerque. They deserved to win and it was fantastic to share that with the locals and our volunteers from other parts of the planet. At the end of July Mooch worked on the pop festival as a roadie/ stage hand and ended up being pulled in to do live translation for a national radio interview with The Primitives (remember them?), which meant that the whole of Spain was able to listen to a rather sketchy traducción de Mooch! Still, that effectively put me well and truly on the radio map… local show, national feature… woohoo! (err let´s not get carried away Mooch)

Just to bring us back to all things agricultural, you can see we grew sweet-corn, well it looked like sweet-corn, and it grew very quickly, but even the chickens had second thoughts about eating it. Oh well, there´s always next year. We almost forgot to mention that Eb and Doug crafted us some fantastic steps and a stone bench between the huerto and the garden, hopefully one day they can enjoy it again. And just one thought to leave you with, well one image really… Mooch in all his fashion glory sporting broken wheelbarrow and curious hat, another normal day in the garden.

Friday, January 14, 2011

update 06 14.01.2011

OK OK! …as Mooch has a habit of saying on his show de radio, which if you fancy, you can tune into whilst reading the blog… Just click here to hear or download the latest show. It´s a world music show presented in English and Spanish, yes we know it´s got nothing to do with the huerto but that doesn´t matter. Mooch is currently trying to reduce the size of his organic pumpkin headphones so he can use them for DJing.

Enough of that. However, on the subject of technology, you remember that the trusty old Canon camera gave up. Well, growing organic vegetables and living fairly frugally in a field means that one can´t just nip out and buy a new camera, so we had to wait until one was donated to the cause, the Fisher Price/ Sellotape model was rather annoying… and thanks to those sensible hard working people in England (you know who you are!) we were able to procure a redundant Nikon compact in exchange for a very small amount of home-made stuff, but not until almost September, so we can´t show you many pics of life here during July and August.

So, as we finished the last update Ma and Pa Hancock had arrived to ´muck in´.

Dave spent a large amount of time watering and weeding, whilst Rita gathered and de-stoned cherries (and ate a few). Our lovely vecinos Portugueses (the neighbours just over the border in Portugal) have quite a big cherry orchard and the fruit is sold locally, but their main client had taken a long trip to ´the big cherry in the sky´ earlier in the year so Mooch stepped in as cherry salesman, and distributed a few hundred kilos throughout nearby Spanish villages. We turned most of our own cherries into jam and licor de cereza.

Now, we had never really thought of making liqueurs, but the glut of cherries gave us a chance to experiment, and in no less than 3 weeks we were sampling the most fantastic sweet red ´after dinner juice´ which could just as easily be consumed for breakfast(!). We followed a local recipe and since then we have adapted it to make other fruit liqueurs including plum, blackberry, pomegranate (did you know that the word pomegranate in Spanish is granada?) … and the ´piece de resistance´, fig liqueur, which is incredibly good and really should be sampled. At the time of writing this we are attempting to simulate Grand Marnier liqueur with our own oranges… woohoo!

The problem with leaving the blog update for such a long time is that there is simply too much to say. Not to worry though, Mooch likes talking.

Rita and Dave returned to blighty, rather cherried-out… then Ma and Pa Mooch came to visit. Knowing how much he likes to work we sent Papa into the garden with some sticks and string (we don´t call him Papa, that is for the benefit of Mooch´s niece and nephew Holly and Joe, the grandchildren… to us he is Dad, or John!), anyway he got very busy creating a super high tensile structure to support the tomatoes, which were starting to grow like triffids. Meanwhile, grandma Joanie (which she will be delighted to see in print, not!) took every opportunity to advise, and of course to help out. One of the photos shows Joan and John (just to be sure of who we´re talking about!) holding some freshly plucked onions… the very same onions planted by grandson Joe in February, which is a nice thing to happen, planted by the young´n, watered by the wally and harvested by the elders! The allotment looked fantastic when they left and the tomatoes were very organised, although only a month later the weight of the fruit was proving too much even for the carefully engineered superstructure implemented by JVA! In 2011 we shall learn a bit more about the best ways to do things… less fruit, more plants!

Around this time Mooch was carefully administering the odd helping of neem oil spray to the vineyard and orchard in the belief that it was doing good, based on what we have read about organic gardening. Neem comes from the Indian tree of the same name and is an organic pest and fungus controller, it seems to work for us… but we are still learning and we don´t really have a benchmark. If you have any, please send us any hints or tips on organic gardening and farming through the comments part of the blog, thanks!

You can see from some of the other photos that we were enjoying all sorts of fresh produce from the garden during June, including sweet peas, mange tout, rocket, potatoes, onions and lots more. We had hardly any apricots, but the abundance of cherries, medlar fruits, figs, tayberries and early blackberries made our morning smoothies rather tasty. Living from mainly fresh food harvested from the garden really is the good life. Hard work, but good life. To think that three years ago this was all but a dream, it is still sometimes hard to believe…

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Update 05 05.06.2010

Phew! It´s hot and loads has happened since our last update. Mooch often thinks of witty, informative and interesting things to write about in the blog when he is digging, planting, watering or just pottering, but when it comes to writing it down things always get forgotten… we shall do our best to include the best bits! Plus, the trusty Canon camera has given up so we are back on the Fisher Price model which takes actual batteries and has to be held together with tape, so if you have an old digital camera that you would like to donate to the blog please let us know.

So, since our last update lots of nice butterflies and flying things have arrived but chasing them around the allotment trying to get photos proved to be a job best left to experts with big things on their cameras, still, we have some photos which we are saving for our special blog de bichos, which will appear in the future.

The most exciting addition to our little empire of natural wonders is bees… lots of them, too many to count. Mooch brought them home in the car one evening at the end of April, a full working colony of about 30,000 bees. They settled in well (under the mimosa tree, not in the car) and we have constructed a new hive for them next door for when they fancy a change of environment. We have lots of photos and lots to write so we will do a separate blog de las abejas soon. Hopefully we will be robbing some honey in the near future. Thanks to Mum, Dad, Claire, Tim, Joe and Holly for the bee equipment, what a nice birthday present. Mooch also bought a bamboo bicycle for some reason... this should feature again sometime in the future. Confused? Becky was.

It is incredible how quickly things grow when it has rained a lot and the warm Spanish sunshine gets to work. We had WWOOFERS Alex and Danny from Southport (near Liverpool) staying with us for a couple of weeks in early May, they had their own elevated luxury accommodation (la caravana) and helped out loads at one of the busiest times in the huerto. You can see from the photos how much everything is growing and the main work at this time was prepping the final beds for planting, weeding the ones we´d already planted and watering everything to make it grow more (including the weeds)… the joy of organic gardening is weeding you know. The guys also became very experienced in the fine art of strimming, in fact they strimmed nearly everywhere… we really must get a mower or tractor one day. Not only did they help us out with the allotment and the land, they also house-sat for us while we sloped off to the WOMAD Festival in Cáceres with friends Riccardo, Trish, Jacomo, Noah, Helen, Sarah and Marsha for the weekend. The family of Nardi are always fantastic company and a great help when they come to stay, and the highlight of their stay was a bonfire in the garden… Fantastic company, great food (thanks Marsha), wonderful music and loads of fun… we miss you all. If you are reading this and you fancy the idea of house-sitting for us in the future, please contact us, it´s fairly easy and a nice way to relax in peaceful surroundings.
Just as the early May crowd were leaving new WWOOFERS arrived from Austria. Franz and Dagmar are doing a six month tour of Southern Europe by motorbike. They managed to make it up the long bumpy track to Pan de Trigo despite carrying more than a hefty amount of luggage on each bike. We spoke English most of the time but also some Spanish and German, making it a very international experience. We quickly realised that Franz was allergic to Pan de Trigo and he couldn´t breathe or sleep properly in the countryside, even after a healthy dose of Dagmar´s magic herbal concoctions, so we decided to get busy on the house in Alburquerque instead, Franz and Dagmar stayed in Alburquerque for most of their visit. There is little in the way of organic farming to be done in the town house so we made the most of Dagmar´s tidy painting skills and Franz´ carpentry knowledge. They both worked incredibly hard for us and helped Mooch to really make a difference on the house, in fact with a few more hard days work, the house will finally be ready to rent as a holiday home, we have our first guests arriving in July and the website will be online very soon. The biggest job was laying the first half of the patio in the garden, which was only possible due to the Austrian tradition of starting work at 7am, about 3 hours before the Spanish… Vielen dank Franz und Dagmar!

To finish off this little update you can see from the pictures that everything is growing well and we are already aprovechando from the fruit and veg that is ripening all around us. We are eating fresh lettuces, rocket, pak choi, cherries, strawberries, mange tout, sugar snap peas, spinach, oranges, medlars, onions and we have just started eating the best new potatoes ever (we would say that wouldn´t we). Ma and Pa Hancock have just arrived to help us out in the garden and to make some jam, and we bought two new chickens from the market last week… look out for the chicken blog update soon.

Other snippets. The bees came from a nice man called José in Alburquerque, he has over 600 hives. Expert herbalist and grower José (a different José) has been over to excitedly advise us and bring us some rare vegetable species to grow including Mexican vine potatoes, wow!

Thanks for reading. ´ta luego!

Just one last thing, if anyone knows of a better BLOG programme than this one please let us know, doing a blog is meant to be relaxing and fun... using this software is extremely frustrating, it has taken over two hours to publish this little update... rubbish! We are hoping to transfer our blog to another page soon if that is possible, please let us know if you know how to change blog host, thanks!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Update 04 20.04.2010

Volcano Affects Progress.

This weeks ´pro´ helpers Ma and Pa Vicker could not make it due to volcanic activity in Iceland. This is a real shame because we have our own eruption happening here, although it is in the form of excitable birds including bee eaters, nightingales and hoopoes, spring flowers and buzzing bees (who need to watch out for bee eaters)… no volcanic ash to report. This means more work for us, but things seem to be in hand. Last week friends JP, Cate and Lily B came to help out and soak up some early rays. We planted more potatoes, later than anticipated due to yet more rain, which we can’t complain about as water is essential
to the success of our work here. We have started transplanting plantitas from the semilleros and we have already started losing hours to the delightfully therapeutic task of weeding. Not to worry though, the days are getting longer and it’s great to be busy outdoors until past 9pm.
The fruit trees are in full blossom but it is interesting to note dramatic changes against last year, the apricots seem to be having the year off, whilst the greengages and plums are looking really strong. Fingers crossed for buckets of fruit soon. We have planted lots of fruit tree saplings, planning a future of prolific jam making. But most exciting is that it looks likely that our first
bees will arrive in the next week or so. We have a new hive and we have finally made contact with an experienced apicultoro José Cárceles. José lives in Alburquerque, he is an experienced herbalist, Reiki expert and has an enviable allotment (we used to covet cool bars, restaurants and shops, now we have allotment envy). Originally we wanted to visit self sufficiency gurus Mario and Carmen at Alternatura to talk bees and get started but a combination of rain and closed campsites meant we had to abandon the trip. Still, we hope to visit soon as their farm and way of life is a great inspiration for us (Mooch assures us). Our bees are coming from Salamanca so they should be quite cultured, let’s hope they appreciate our location and learn to make the most of life on the frontera and bring us the best Portuguese and Spanish nectar.

Everything in blossom.

Lake full.

Eating fresh spinach, lettuce, rocket, pak choi and coriander from the garden (yes bringing it indoors, we don’t sit and eat in the garden).

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

update 23.03.2010

Things are warming up. The seedlings are popping up and learning how to be plants and the chickens are laying some tasty eggs and enjoying the joys of free range living, maybe a bit too free range comfort… check out our chicken blog here.

We are balancing things at Pan de Trigo with time spent in Alburquerque finishing off the house we have there, ready to rent it out as a holiday home (we’ll let you know when the website and the house are ready).

While we were gone last week, a lot of poo arrived, goat poo, ready to dig in to the new vegetable patches, now it all needs to be moved to each different area. Where are the WWOOFERS when you need them?

So, potatoes. Growing potatoes means lots of digging, even after ploughing. Of course you need good seed potatoes too, we have a Dutch variety from a bag we split with the neighbours and some old potatoes that look like aliens which have sprouted in our little store room over the last few months. We have picked a fresh patch of land to grow the potatoes on and of course we have dug in loads of that fresh fertiliser. We’ll carry on with that next weekend.

Chicken Blog

We got our chickens from Portugal, we’ve got them on a kind of long term loan from a Portuguese breeder. They arrived at Christmas and started laying a few weeks ago, and they provide us with about 20 very tasty eggs every week. Unofficially they are called Whitney, Britney and Courtney but we talk to them in chicken language so we don’t use those names. Recently they have been getting a bit over confident and been seen hanging out by the pool practising their synchronised chicken dance moves. Most people’s chickens run away when you go near them, ours kind of squat and wait to be stroked, is that normal?

To house the chickens we invented and patented the Vicker Swinging Chicken System which is ergonomically designed to give the chickens optimum feeding and lounge space, and includes a suspended Japanese style love hotel with individual cubicles for each chicken to do its eggy thing. Two south facing windows ventilate the accommodation and provide pleasant views of the nearby cork oak tree. The whole thing is made from recycled bits found around the farm, including chicken feeders made from chimney pipes and tin lids and the door which is made from salvaged bits of wood and things. The chicken residence includes an olive leaf carpet which, combined with a scattering of ash provides comfort whilst reducing bad chicken smells. All three hens seem to enjoy their Big Brother style chick pad and can often be found lounging in their favourite spot.

As more news arrives on our chickens we shall update you, although we are not sure what could possibly happen that might be of enough interest to add.