The Orange Cycle

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Now they’ve shown me what they can do, caring for my orange trees, even the ones with clusters of rigid spikes, will be an honour this year. When the first fruit ripened, I picked as much as I could stuff up my jumper and hauled it inside where some of it rotted. Eventually relaxed into country ways, and every morning since late October I’ve been standing under them, watching the grass grow, listening to birdsong, and eating night-chilled oranges for breakfast, then wiping the juice off on my jeans, or now the weather’s better, my legs. Obviously that’s not something you want to do in wasp season. I remember as I stood gorging myself in late November wondering whether the oranges would still be any good when George came for Christmas. They were. In January and February, assuming the trees were going to stop producing, and the oranges start rotting, I made more juice than usual. (If I’d known I would be making industrial qualities of juice, I’d have invested in something more substantial and modern than a hand-carved, olive wood twizzle stick.) And in March, I thought I should probably use them up, and made litres and litres of sorbet which I thought I’d save for guests, but have actually been eating out of the containers while deciding what to eat. Now it’s late April and there is still good, bright, firm fruit on the trees, as well as brilliant lime shoots sprouting from the trunks and waxy white clusters of orange blossom all over.
At times, the scent of the blossom settles over the entire farm and fills the house, sweet and heady. It brings back memories of my sister’s wedding; the first bath oil I was ever given: orange-scented in a dark green square embossed glass bottle which, at the age of 10, and living in Africa far from shops which sold such elegant, sophisticated stuff, I treasured; and reading in a garden on the Amalfi coast when I was pretty rich and wore white dresses and drank wine at lunch time. But mainly my sister’s wedding, the blossom pinned to her coat, and how happy everyone was around the long wooden table.

It seems strange, but it’s the way of most things out here in the natural world. The arrival of the blossom is reassurance, confirmation of the ever-turning cycle, that things go, but they always, always come back. And at the same time the arrival of the blossom and the memories conjured up in its scent are an inescapable and poignant reminder of summery things that have gone and won’t return.

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INVADERS


Last year when we moved into the farmhouse the only occupants of the grain loft were house martins and house sparrows. I waited and waited until all their eggs had hatched, and all the hatchlings had cleared off, and then quite a long time to be sure, before starting to reclaim the space and turn it into somewhere to sleep. Glass was put in the windows, and to prevent birds from flying into it, I strung a whole load of CDs together and dangled them from the frame. Twisting and turning in the bright light they were pretty discouraging, and disconcertingly hippyesque.
One year on I woke to find birds flying round the room. If it wasn’t for the cats – that is, cat, I might have been tempted to share the space, but I closed the window. And every morning for the last couple of weeks they have been doing irate fly-bys, shaking a metaphorical fist through the glass at the invader.

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This Month’s Blossom

Daisies below the hen house. Unfortunately, eventually, I’m going to need to clear some in order to create a space where I can put lettuce and tomatoes seedlings. However, 6ft daisies are a great cover for wildlife, including hares, and there must be about 2 or 3 acres of them, so I’ll be leaving plenty just standing wild.
These mountains on the edge of the Sierra de Grazalema National Park are covered in flowers right now, and will be for the next couple of months, although the different species will take turns to shine.

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Last Month’s Blossom

No reason for this pic, other than having spent the weekend taking pictures of daisies in our fields, I wanted to give a last shout-out for the blossom of this beautiful apricot tree which brightened up my March before it fell off, and I moved on to celebrate the sea of smiling daisy faces.

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Hee-Haw: Lawnmower Delivery

The house is barely visible now, except through the windows of a light aircraft. By July I’ll be dragging a hose over rock solid rubble trying to resurrect green things and hoping the well doesn’t dry up. These days, I go to sleep at night wondering whether the vegetation will have broken through the foundation by morning. The track is undetectable, the donkey house, the hen house, and I forget what else is out there, all submerged along with wheelbarrows, loungers, shoes, shears, umbrellas, football, rolls of wire fencing and other white trash detritus. The wild flowers have trunks, the poppies are over my head; large animals have made tunnels. Tough grass is hoovering up the water and nutrients meant for the olives and orange trees.

It doesn’t seem right to measure the farm in acres; most of the growth is vertical. Each acre is 43,560 square feet, and the stuff growing on it is, on average 4 foot high. That equates to 174240 cubed feet of problem per acre. I watched Arturo fix an ancient tractor he bought secondhand in Seville. He made it look easy which obviously it isn’t. We don’t have a tractor. We do have a strimmer which is a bit like going to war with a peashooter, but after half a day of getting it to start it lasted precisely 6 minutes before giving off smoke and its bits melting, and so it’s currently in the probably can not be fixed pile in the shed. And I have a kind of scythe which I like using but which is slow and dangerous.

The obvious solution is to fight nature with nature. Juan, a sprightly 81, and father of every farmer in a 20-mile radius bar Fernando and Fernando’s cousin Fernando (and who, incidentally, once owned this house and land and therefore keeps a critical eye over proceedings), has located a small herd of sheep for me. Unfortunately what with the paperwork and everything, they are not going to be ready to make the journey from distant Olvera, until July when all the grass has dried up and become an unappetising fire hazard.
However, as an interim solution, Fernando has lent me Canalita and Saltalinda, his bolshy and belligerent donkeys. They arrived with Fernando and Fernando’s cousin Fernando, full of attitude last week, having finished all the grass on Fernando’s side of the fence. The difference to our own fields is so far imperceptible, although I did notice they had eaten a Cuidado con el Perro sign, part of a cat litter tray I’d left out to deter mice from the car, and a glove, and that they are considerably fatter.

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HERE COMES THE RAIN AGAIN

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Springus Interuptus. Everyone’s been doing rain dances and they appear to have been successful. This farm is close to Grazalema, famously the rainiest place in Andalucia. Everything currently looks lush – even the asparagus is up to my armpits, but there hasn’t been a drop of rain since Christmas and we need a lot of it to trickle down through the soil and counteract the long, dry, scorching summer. So bring it on . . . I suppose.

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