Catching Up

Just to say the gap between posts isn’t down to it being a boring month, quite the opposite – a busy one, involving work trips to someotherplaces, the help and good company of two volunteers, a ‘near death’ wasp experience (think man flu), good times wading and swimming through the Genal Valley, some late night kayaking, many distinctly pleasant nights at the houses of friends eating fine paellas, padrones and alcachofas, my third and successful trip to the lumberyard at Coripe and the near completion of the terrace, quite a bit of farming business, the twice-daily irrigation of pomegranates (which aren’t bursting before they ripen this year, but are being consumed by birds), spotting one of the original sleighs from Dr Zhivago under a straw basket at the back of a prop store in the Tabernas desert, my first ever experience of an official 48 degrees (Nijar, Almeria), another lovely visitor who enjoyed himself, the attempted rescue of sparrow chicks, mastering plastering, and the arrival of a new dog which is going to be called Belle.

The War on Wasps

I’ve kicked off my summer reading with Wasp and Bee Management on Grapes by Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann, PhD, NYSIPM Program, Cornell University. I liked the bit at the end where the wasps eventually swarm around a bit of fish suspended over a bucket of soapy water, fall in and drown, although the heading Bald-faced Hornets are Aggressive has stayed with me. Things of concern to grape-growers are, apparently, yellowjackets, paper wasps, the bald-faced hornets, European hornets, and bumble bees. I don’t even know if we get these things here; avispas and algo como avispas, wasps and something like wasps, is about as entomological as we local farmers get. Bees I know and love. They can stay, and if they needed the grapes that badly, I’d let them have the lot. (Save The Bee)

I really, really don’t like killing things, however this farm with its water, fruit and vineyard is an ideal habitat for human beings and the wasps (whatever sort they are), and despite my best efforts to be tolerant, we don’t rub along. In fact, a certain person got bitten on the hand, developed a trout pout, and went all funny only yesterday. He thought he was going to die, but he didn’t.
I’ve knocked a lot of nests down from under the roof tiles, but over the last week the level of buzzing in the trees nearest to the vineyard has gone up a few notches. It seems they have finished hunting out there somewhere, and are now scavenging round here so I’ve been studying the various methods of getting rid of them. So far the most tempting include:
Plastic bottles part-filled with some sticky drink suspended from branches. Wasps go in (either though holes punched in the sides, or, if you’ve lopped the neck off, from the top) and they get sticky and don’t come out. There’s an ingenious variation on Tipnut in which the top third of the plastic bottle is inverted and shoved down into bottom to make a nice funnel entry. Beer, Coca-Cola, and Fanta orange are listed among the most alluring choices of bait.
The bucket, soapy water and suspended fish method (as outlined above), although ham is also effective – good news for us in the Sierra de Cadiz.
Inflated paper bags dangling from vines and fencing. Wasps think they are the nests of a rival faction and skedaddle . . . although this method has failed with the ones here which are clearly more perceptive.
Writing on, Tricia recommends a spray containing lemongrass oil, clove oil, rosemary oil and geranium oil, and spraying after dark and early morning when wasps are sluggish while wearing ‘long sleeves, long pants, gloves and a veil’. Interestingly, instead of bashing the nest down with a stick and stamping on it, she suggests removing nests at night, putting them in plastic bags and shoving them in the freezer. The idea of forgetting about them until you happen to be rummaging around for something to eat six months later is pretty nasty. That’s the sort of thing that could happen in my freezer.
The classic jam jar trick gets a mention on Cut a small hole in the jar jar lid, smear the underside with jam. Pour some nice orange juice inside the jar, and pop the lid back on.
‘Point the nozzle at the nest, shoot and watch ‘em die,’ says Howard Russell of Michigan State University Diagnostic Services, who takes a more direct approach. ‘Small, exposed paper wasp nests are easily controlled by aerosol wasp sprays that produce a concentrated stream of juice that has a range of 15 to 20 feet. Paper wasps do not cover their nests in a paper maché envelope like those of yellowjackets and baldfaced hornets, so their brood cells and workers are exposed and vulnerable.’
Avoid the plants which attract wasps, suggests who read that in Cornell University’s Attracting Insects’ Natural Enemies. These include Queen Ann’s lace, parsley, dill, dahlias, daisies, asters, cosmos, tansy, and yarrow. Instead, grow the stuff that repels them, says ‘Plants such as wormwood, eucalyptus, mint and citronella are natural wasp deterrents’.
‘Hang a sandwich filled with water,’ is the second, more cryptic, piece of advice from ‘This will make the wasps think there is a spider web on your door which can trap them.’ No matter how many times I read that, I can’t begin to imagine what they mean, but it sounds effective.
‘There may be a way to physically bar the wasps from entering the vines’ fruiting zone by using very fine-mesh nets over the vines,’ says Wes Hagen of, who adds that Grape Pest Management (next on my reading list) produced by the University of California, suggests doing “wasp battle”  i.e. finding and eliminating nests at night with a flashlight covered with red cellophane as a safety precaution. ‘Wasps are much less active at night, and the red light should be invisible to them, giving you the advantage of safety and stealth.’

Having failed with a hose-pipe, my preferred weapon of choice is a rolled up magazine. Dress appropriately for war action, try to attack when wasps are drowsy (i.e. early mornings, late evenings), and attempt to hide a bit because if they see you, they’ll go for you.



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Week of the Apricot

DSC04375I watched them grow, and most mornings for at least a month, I tried eating them green. One evening when the apricots had developed a faint yellowy hue, there were four of us circling beneath the tree looking for something edible. Then I went to Huelva on a work trip, and by the time I got back – just four days later – most of the apricots had ripened, fallen and rotted. I took a massive tub of them across the field to the donkeys in a wheelbarrow, and collected about twenty kilos more to cook. I didn’t, so the next night took them in a wheelbarrow to the donkeys as well. The donkeys looked fine, appreciative, which was a relief. I’d been concerned that with all the fermenting fruit they might have blown up, or got drunk, or that I’d have to roll them over and lance them, like Gabriel Oak did with sheep in Far From the Madding Crowd, but they were their usual belligerent selves, and, actually, keen for more.

I’m not sure how many kilos they got through over the four days the fruit continued to fall. Eventually, with bad grace, I made chutney. This involved dragging dry branches to the ‘summer kitchen’ and breaking them to feed the fire, and the fire irritated the nesting wasps, two of which shot up my shirt and stung me while I stirred the noxious mix. It was meant to be a Martha Stewart recipe. I love Martha who used to appear on US TV showing people how to fold napkins and, by all accounts, got on well with her wing mates in the county jail where she later did time for tax fraud. But anyway, what with the stings, the heat, the smoke, and the fact I was going out and still had to boil the jars, I did everything fast and wrong. I’ve got 6 large jars of vile-looking slop which should keep for a year when I’ll probably throw it out and re-use the jars . . . perhaps for apricot chutney. I guess this is what living off the land is all about.



Romería Time

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I’m starting to think driving along in first behind a procession of riders, saints on floats, and horse-drawn and tractor-drawn houses is normal. The end of May is peak pilgrimage season, most processions setting off from the village church to picnic in nearby fields. This from Algodonales, went to a grassy riverbank clearing under a bridge on the Ronda-Seville road, and much fun was had. Last week I went to El Rocío in the neighbouring province of Huelva, destination for one of Spain’s greatest romerîas, attracting around one million revelling faithful from far and wide. Everyone had long gone, but it’s a great place to visit anyway and I’ve put it under highlights of Huelva in the piece I’m just writing for The Guardian.


Bastard Owls

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My neighbour Fernando and his cousin Antonio have been helping me build walls (landscaping rather than fortifying). Tonight we were talking about foxes and although I’ve held onto the faint hope that my dear Bob cat who disappeared in March is suffering from amnesia and enjoying roast pork twice a day, I let slip that sometimes, occasionally, it crosses my mind that it’s not impossible a fox had taken him. There’s a massive silver grey fox that hangs around this hamlet; I often see him on the track in the beam of the headlights if I’m driving late at night.
‘Oh no!’ they said in unison. ‘You’d have found bits of him scattered around.’
‘No, for sure it was a búho real, an eagle owl,’ said Fernando.
My heart sank. There are eagle owls left and right of the house, hooting on and on, night after night, and I’d let Bob out around 4am on a full moon night.
‘They are completely silent, swoop down and pick up big stuff,’ said Antonio. He mimed an owl picking up something like a small cat. ‘No, it’s sure it was an owl.’
I had to turn away because my eyes were full of tears. I still have the psycho cat Joan, but I just loved that Bob from the moment he arrived. He chose to go with me and stay with me wherever I was, (obviously except that last time). So while I understand nature is all about predators and prey, and the owl is a beautiful thing, I don’t want to hear it hooting and hunting for quite some time.

The Artichoke with Tender Heart

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‘The artichoke, With a tender heart, Dressed up like a warrior, Standing at attention . . .’
The wondrous Ode to the Artichoke (Oda a la Alcachofa) by Pablo Neruda follows in full below. Obviously I’m an old fool, but I have to confess it always brings a tear to my eye, and I can’t see my own artichokes, heads poking up above the vines for a view of the fields, without thinking of it. They are extraordinarily fine-looking things and I find it painfully difficult to cut them down. As I like the look of them, much more than the taste, I’m going to let the majority stand. I’ll never make a market gardener.

The artichoke
With a tender heart
Dressed up like a warrior,
Standing at attention, it built
A small helmet
Under its scales,
It remained
Unshakeable . . . ,
By its side
The crazy vegetables
Their tendrils and leaf-crowns,
Throbbing bulbs,
In the sub-soil
The carrot
With its red moustaches
Was sleeping,
The grapevine
Hung out to dry its branches
Through which the wine will rise,
The cabbage
Dedicated itself
To trying on skirts,
The oregano
To perfuming the world,
And the sweet
There in the garden,
Dressed like a warrior,
Like a proud
And one day
Side by side
In big wicker baskets
Walking through the market
To realize their dream
The artichoke army
In formation.
Never was it so military
Like on parade.
The men
In their white shirts
Among the vegetables
The Marshals
Of the artichokes
Lines in close order
Command voices,
And the bang
Of a falling box.

With her basket
She chooses
An artichoke,
She’s not afraid of it.
She examines it, she observes it
Up against the light like it was an egg,
She buys it,
She mixes it up
In her handbag
With a pair of shoes
With a cabbage head and a
Of vinegar
She enters the kitchen
And submerges it in a pot.

Thus ends
In peace
This career
Of the armed vegetable
Which is called an artichoke,
Scale by scale,
We strip off
The delicacy
And eat
The peaceful mush
Of its green heart.
Pablo Neruda.


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