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 www.holaextremadura.com 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.