Thursday, June 30, 2005

Organic gardening

Late spring days to those of early fall, witness the passing of the Shepherds and their flocks of up 500 sheep. Accompanied generally by two Catalan sheepdogs - Gos d'Atura Català, though often these days, the dogs may be mongrol. The shepherds walk up to 20 kilometers per day, guiding their charges as they forage on the grass and weeds which sprout between barley harvests, or along the hedgerow. In their wake they leave a carpet of droppings which look like someone spilt a tin of giant sized caviar. Older gardeners swear by sheep droppings as fertilizer for tomatoes. Mayby I should follow in their wake with by brush and pan

We invited Francisco one of the shepherds to graze his flock on our land. We thought that in return for the free grass they would take care of the weeds for us; and fertilize the land with their droppings as they walked.

Francisco explained that the sheep could not graze on the land because of the pinchon , a yellow coloured flower on a mass of prickles. So we had the arduous job of hand weeding the pinchon, to make matters worse we are unable to burn the weed because of the fire risk.

Although these very particular sheep would not co-operate by eating our weeds, they eat all of our potted plants and seedlings. Including my prize Ginger plants.

The prospect of 14,000m2 of hand weeding was a nightmare. So we purchased a McCullough strimmer; and hoped that by cutting the weeds down before they reached the flowering stage we would prevent seed formation and ease the burden for subsequent years.

We faced two further problems; though the strimmer was excellent for cutting through the weeds, amongst those weeds were large field stones. The sort of stone used to build ancient chuches and settlements. Each stone had to be dug out with a pick or mattock, collected and then barrowed away and there were literally tons of them, it must rain stones here. The stones will be used to construct garden features in the near future, although it appears we may have enough to build a small basilica.

The second problem we faced whilst cutting the pinchon, was that they seemed to harbor the worlds collection of caragols or snails. If like me you find the thought of eating them abhorrent then strimming is not for you. By the end of any period of strimming your clothes are covered with debris from the snails. Try it without a face mask and you will find that your eyes become magnets for the shells, whilst the soft parts find their way into your mouth. You can tell a happy strimmer, by counting the number of dead snails on their teeth.

Monday, June 27, 2005


Wearing boots all day whilst working the land takes it's toll on the lower limbs. So the change to sandals is a cooling, refreshing and pleasant experience.

Or at least it was until I noticed I have grown Hobbit's feet. This has come as a shock to me. My feet were always on the large side (size 10), but they were extremely suitable for dancing.

But now look at them they hug the ground like clams, and would rival those owned by any ship of the desert. If I notice the toes becoming any hairier then I will call for medical intervention.


The paleta has taken his siesta, as always, on the stroke of one o'clock. Tiling the floors of the entire house and two full bathrooms is heavy work, and with the weather becoming increasingly hot and humid he feels the strain. Each day after his meal he tends to need to lie down and rest his back, often sleeping for the entire two hours of the siesta, before returning to his task.

Outside on the balcony the Paleta can feel the effects of a welcome and cooling breeze, blowing gently across the Mediterranean sea.

A battered transistor radio, permanently tuned to radio Tangier, plays the music of his homeland. Eating traditional food he sips at his mint tea, and sings along with the melodies of a far away land. Mustapha is enjoying a Moroccan moment!

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Ladder Snake Posted by Hello

Night of the sorrowful countenance

Tuesday had been another long day. As well as working on the land I had also moved a lot of rubble from the construction work Exhausted though I felt, it was now 3:30am and I had been unable to sleep.

With the bathrooms still out of commission I had to return to the darkness of the underworld.

Emboldened by the previous night’s success in my skirmishes with the Terminator, I called out to the toad as I reached for the light switch,

‘If you are down here there is going to be trouble’

The light flickered on and there in the middle of the floor was the toad.

‘Right you’ve asked for it’ said I, reaching for my cardboard shield.

I moved towards the creature, but as I neared my quarry it began to uncoil. Toads do not uncoil not even Terminators. No this must be a snake, a snake oh no now we've got snakes in the house.

A snake but what type of snake? Not a grass snake no the colouring was more like an adder… but they are poisonous, that much I knew. I decided to photograph the snake in case the doctor should need it for identification when searching for the correct antivenin.

I photographed the coiled snake and the camera flash light roused the resting creature, which slithered across the floor looking for a new hiding place. With my cardboard shield at the ready I scoured the underworld for a new weapon. I took up a sweeping brush and advanced on the snake. Using the brush like a lance I pushed the snake towards the door, while shielding myself with the cardboard. Soon I had the upper hand my superior weaponry was proving to be decisive. With the snake pinned back with the broom I lowered the cardboard shield to open the door; at that the snake made a lunge at the broom’s bristles jaws open wide. Then, were my eyes deceiving me? It started to disappear into the brush but emerged through the bristles and the back of the brush towards my hand.

I dropped my lance and shield and retreated. It seemed as Falstaff once put it that,

The better part of valour is discretion, in the which better part I have saved my life.’

The snake moved away, at once I seized upon my weapons and with renewed energy rejoined the battle this time ready for any serpent trickery. The snake was soon subdued. I trapped it between my lance and shield and removed it from the underworld.

The snake slithered away into the night. Adieu then my worthy adversary!

6a.m. wide awake. I decide to check the under build in case the snake has returned.

No there is no sign of the snake. But wait what is that moving in the shadows… it was the Terminator toad! Another battle but this time my quarry was soon beaten. My skills honed in combat with the snake were too much for Terminator.

As the toad ambled towards the long grass beyond the underworld I called out to him,

“You had better watch out there is a snake out there!”

I swear the toad stopped and changed direction, glancing back towards me he didn’t have to say anything, I knew he’d be back.

Between a rock and a hard place.

The Finca has a surface area of 14,000 m2. It is weed infested and consists largely of clay, much neglected it has been compacted by the constant traversing of horses.