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…