Category Archives: Farming

Ma Belle-dog

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Fernando my neighbour, Fernando his cousin, and Antonio his cousin say that a house is not a home without chickens. But after five years of fantasising and one hour of arm-twisting and emotional blackmail at a dog refuge, I have a puppy instead. A Spanish mastin puppy now so big at 5 months I can barely lift it off the lounger or settee, or get it in my car, particularly as it – she – does not like the car, or anywhere that cars go. As she likes me, and I – occasionally – go in cars, she has arrived at a compromise which involves running behind it ignoring all expletives, something which adds a couple of hours to any journey time.

Her name is Bloody Dog. No, her name is Belle, although she doesn’t respond to it, and it doesn’t suit her. She’s more a big mucker of a dog, a sloppy mud-roller and fly-snapper, partial to digging holes with her shovel paws, high-speed lolloping rabbit-style, the licking and scratching of hindquarters, breaking into bins and dragging stuff out of the house. She is an Outside Dog. However as a refuge dog – found abandoned on a road with her tail hacked off – she has endearing foibles (she barked and bared her teeth at Dave for two weeks) and insecurities. If she were more introspective, manipulative, and if she could talk, she would ascribe the total destruction of the house to stuff she went through in her first 9 weeks, but actually the sight of her gentle sad face through the window on that first night as I sat inside eating sausages was sufficient for her to be promoted (perhaps unwisely) to Indoor Dog. She is always by my side, and sleeps, whether I like it or not, beside the bed,  furtively gnawing shoes and licking the cow skin rug.

The cat Joan who had been picky about her food and wallowing in inert self-pity following a hot summer, has been given a new raison d’etre: loathing. Regardless of what heinous things she’s been doing all night, she finds the energy to fall in behind me for the dawn fruit tree watering, effectively taking the dog role. When I walk Belle at night, she follows for miles mewling and acting pitiful. When the dog indulges in an unhinged, jubilant, pre-dinner bound around the yard (‘hunt the sausage’ is her favourite game, in which she sets off after Dave), Joan hops down softly from the freezer, comes outside and proceeds to stroll and stretch nonchalantly or roll provocatively in her path, doing whatever is necessary to provoke a chase which will end with the dog being told off.

Yet there’s a mutual fascination there. The cat watches Belle’s attempts to chase a ball with scathing interest, and trails her, spying from behind furniture. The dog is full of panting admiration for Joan’s ability to leap from branch to branch, get food on demand, sit on laps, catch mice. Sometimes she cautiously approaches, tail wagging, and attempts to lick her.  The cat will take just about so much before batting her a good swipe.

But I think everyone’s sort of getting along. I still might get chickens.





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September in Cadiz is not autumnal, but it is not summery either. Not summery like the hairdryer hot, tarmac melting, heat hazy Andalucian summer that held steady right through July and August anyway. Everything changed on the very first day of the month – how’s it do that? So far in September there has been something chilling in the evening air, a delayed delivery of dawn, a right old soaking of dew, plus wind – albeit hot wind, scudding clouds – clouds! – and, two days ago RAIN. Rain: the first in six months, and it came with thunder. Storms caused chaos and flash floods and accidents further east and north, so I can’t congratulate myself too much on the efficacy of my rain dance, but here it watered the oranges, limp figs and pomegranates enough for me to have at least a couple of days that didn’t start with dragging hoses over rough ground.
The cat is no longer sleeping on an ice tray wrapped in a towel.
It turns out the dog isn’t lazy; it was just hot.
And the light is phenomenal. It’s like the sky has been dusted and polished, and the evenings are honey-coloured. For two whole months of summer it felt like nothing changed. Now it’s like time’s been kicked-started and the year’s moving on again.

Restoring a Farm: The Befores

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We moved in a year ago. There have been times since when I have wondered what exactly I was doing, whether electing to buy a barely accessible semi-ruined farmhouse in the middle of a country I didn’t know, was a mistake. The idea had been to find something cheap – and that didn’t happen, and to knock it into shape fast while carrying on with the day job – and that didn’t happen either. I completely overlooked the ‘farm’ element, even though the clue was there in ‘farmhouse’, and the fact that farms need farmers. And on a more superficial level I didn’t realise I’d get calloused hands, resigned to handling dead rodents and live snakes and barely wear anything decent again. I’m debating whether to post After pictures because we’re not at After. However, sometimes now I can look around a room without reaching for the To Do list, and just admire the light moving on thick plastered walls.
Just the basic cleaning took two of us a month (maybe two months); hosing, disinfecting and clearing the floors of rubble with a shovel, wearing rubber boots, rubber gloves and face masks. For a month more the bathroom, fashioned from a partridge shed, had no doors or windows or bath or shower. We still have no kitchen, or no modern kitchen with oven or hob; I thought it would be interesting to learn to cook in traditional Andalus style i.e. on iron tripods or esteves over wood in a hearth and then couldn’t be bothered with the whole effort of renovation and so cook over wood is what we do. Or eat salads.  With hindsight etc.
Anyway over the course of the months, things emerged – the kitchen’s flagstone floors, the old wood of the double doors, and a slew of interesting problems – pipes which led somewhere, pipes that led nowhere, nesting swallows, nesting sparrows, leaky flues. I learnt many useful things: the standard height of doors, shower heads, shower taps, the standard height of sinks, standard width of irrigation pipes, how to mix concrete, the various merits of decalcification units, the power output of well pumps, the sand to concrete ratio of grout, the standard dimensions of roof timbers, the relative merits of aluminium and iron, the three stages of plastering, how to lay traditional tiles, brick-laying, standard glass thickness, the fact that replacing glass panes is not my thing, and the Spanish vocabulary for all the tools and hardware associated with the above.

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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