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.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Update 10.03.2010

Finally the rain stopped two days ago, it went out with a flurry of snow and more freezing conditions on Monday night, most unseasonal. Yesterday, the Nottingham Society of Unofficial Wwoofers arrived (Debs, Sophie and Kathy) and Debs presented us with the Biodynamic Planting Calendar (Maria and Matthias Thun) to guide us in sowing planting and harvesting in line with lunar things. Luckily it is the right time to sow courgettes, squash, cucumbers etc which is good because that was on the list as today’s job.
We made a third semillero and sowed more seeds including organic bell peppers from our local friend Agustin Paloma, organic sweet peppers from our Portuguese neighbour, squash and melon seeds we collected from last year’s crop and other packet seeds listed below. The first semillero is doing really well and the second still warming up for action… if only I had the lunar planting calendar a couple of weeks ago…

At the weekend we met an interesting lady called Kate Jackson who told us about Sonic Bloom, a growing technique using sound to enhance the yield and health of vegetables grown in the huerto. Mooch is currently preparing a DJ set to get the plants grooving through the night.

We are interested in the idea of permaculture which we also discussed with Kate but have a lot to learn as it is a holistic concept for living that we are only partly geared up for, however, there are many good values and ideas that we can take on board. For example, companion planting to enhance plant growth and prevent disease, this is something achievable and part of the permaculture philosophy, so more research required… we now know we should have planted our garlic in rows in early winter ready for potatoes to be planted in between in spring… something to remember for next year…

Sown in semillero today: gourds and squash (various), peppers (various), melon, (various), cucumber, pumpkin, aubergine, artichoke. Also planted sugar snap peas and mange tout straight out in rows.

Mimosa in blossom.

Lake full.

Eating preserved Jerusalem artichokes from last year.

Update 03.03.2010

Things are already astray in terms of planning and working on the allotment; from time to time we might call the allotment a huerto because that’s what we call it in Spanish. Last year it didn’t rain in February or March and this year it hasn’t stopped so far. The huerto is too heavy to dig and prepare, although we did manage to get it ploughed during a few dry days, so that was lucky. Also, our massive supply of goat poo which is coming from a Portuguese farmer is very wet and heavy and difficult to move at the moment but we haven’t got a picture of that.
Luckily during February we had a visit from expert gardener Joe Skaptason (my 5 year old nephew) who helped get the spring onions in while Holly (my 3 year old niece) ate biscuits.

We made a couple of basic semilleros or mini greenhouses in part of the allotment using old irrigation pipe, plastic sheets and rocks. It’s technical stuff you know. We sowed a mixture of seeds under the semillero including donated organic seeds, packet seeds, saved seeds, all of these will be grown organically even if some aren’t technically organic. The first batch (sown 20th Feb) included organic welsh onions from Holy Isle, Scotland. They sprouted within ten days. The second batch (sown 2nd March) included organic tigre verde and cuelgo tomatoes from local specialists and some pak choi which is also from Holy Isle. We’re still eating the pak choi that was sown in late autumn, mm… (thanks Jenny)

We have had volunteers here, Jeremy from NZ and Tim from Australia, and to kill time whilst not being able to dig we did some land clearance by the orange grove and made marmalade which was fun, although they did have a bit of trouble getting a bonfire going in the rain. Even so, they’ve been a great help to us. Thanks guys.

We also relocated some young fruit trees and we’ve been harvesting our oranges to make marmalade and mixing them with stored kiwi fruits from last year (from our Portuguese neighbour) to make juice for breakfast. Antonio the neighbour thought it was hilarious to give kiwi fruit to a Kiwi.

Sowed mid February: coriander, onions, leeks, spinach, rocket, lettuce, pak choi.

Sowed beg March: courgette, squash, gourds, tomatoes, lettuce, peppers, chillis.

Ideally some things could be sown straight into the huerto but as we can’t prepare the ground we’ve sown them undercover.

Pan de Trigo Blog.

The blog is a diary of what’s going on here on our smallholding in Spain, it´s pretty much an allotment blog starting in March 2010 and looking back to before then from time to time to show some earlier experiences too.

We live in Extremadura, which is in the bottom left part of the country, we are near to the cities of Badajoz and Cáceres but near means over an hour from here…

Our house is called ´Pan de Trigo´, it means ´Wheat Bread´, most of the houses around here are called that, we are number 3. Our house is right on the very edge of Spain so we also have Portuguese neighbours, their house is called ´Pao de Trigo´ which I won´t explain, you can work it out. The time is always different for us and our neighbours because we are separated by a one hour time difference, but that doesn’t affect our vegetables.

The area is said to have an interesting micro-climate making it quite possible to grow anything from potatoes and peas to peaches and passion fruits.

We moved here in September 2008 and have had one year to experiment in the garden and the allotment. The plot is two hectares, it has over 150 olive trees, a small vineyard and a fruit orchard, we have some chickens for eggs and hopefully soon we’ll have bees for honey.

The allotment and our lifestyle will one day be fully organic but for now we are doing our best. Sometimes necessity, opportunity or courtesy prevent us from doing what might be seen as the right thing, but we are here to learn.

If you like the sound of what we do from the blog you can even come and stay here as a paying guest or as a volunteer. Have a look at our website to find about more about spending time in this area and if you are interested in volunteering to help us out we are members of WWOOF and Help Exchange which are both international volunteer exchange schemes.

Before we begin we would like to acknowledge Javier from Huertas de Abrilongo just down the road from here. He has been doing a blog on his family owned organic allotment for over a year, we have recently discovered it and thought something similar might be worth doing in English. Have a look at his diary, the photos will give you a good idea of what they do throughout the year even if you can’t understand Spanish, you will see why he is a great inspiration for what we are doing. Also thank you to the many interesting and helpful people we have met in the area especially our neighbours at Pan de Trigo and friends in nearby Alburquerque and La Codosera.