Monday, 27 August 2018

Quinta for Sale

My website www.oldmcdonaldsolives.com now has the details of our smallholding which we are offering for sale due to retirement plans.

Monday, 6 August 2018

Selling the Quinta

Those who follow the blog will have noted I have not posted this year., and rarely last year too. Unfortunately I am slowing down as I age and non-farming activity has been very restricted due to lack of time to spend upon such acrivities - including writing for this blog.

When visiting our son and his family in the UK for Christmas 2017 I had a bad fall whilst walking down a steep hill (I eventually hit the ground after hopping at an increasing speed) and have not fully recovered. I am not crippled, but much less agile than before the fall.

I now need assistance with heavier tasks, so employ people as and when necessary. We could continue to do this, and are prepared to do so, but we prefer to do things ourselves. Some time ago my wife and I decided that the sensible thing to do is to offer the quinta for sale and move to somewhere with a lot less land. Our thoughts are the Azores, where I might cut back to just a garden and do some fishing in my spare time. I do intend to have some spare time. So, Old McDonald will still be in Portugal for a while yet, although we do eventually intend to end our days in Scotland.

Having had three estate agents view the place we reached the conclusion none of them knew anything about a working smallholding and we decided to advertise it through an online site. Unfortunately those I contacted are not prepared to do business with me following the EU regulations of accepting that selling a working farm is a legitimate business expense and therefore the advertising costs are VAT free if the site is based in another EU country - which they all are. They will accept the sale as a private non-business one, but that is not the case, it is the sale of a business asset.

All we can now do is to put the particulars on here and/or my website and try to draw attention to it through other advertising. Naturally I would be delighted for anyone to assist in the publicity.

As soon as we are organised I will post again with details of the sale.


Sunday, 10 December 2017

Olive Leaf Extract

The cost of buying Olive Leaf Extract products is extremely high. I make extract very cheaply.

I have my own leaves of course – almost 500 trees full of them. I also offer the leaves for sale on my website www.oldmcdonaldsolives.com so anyone interested can make their own extract too if they do not have access to olive trees. NOTE: DUE TO ADVERTISING THE QUINTA FOR SALE I NO LONGER OFFER LEAVES ON MY WEBSITE. 

The method is simple – 20g of dried leaves, or 40g of fresh ones if you have them, are whizzed in a kitchen blender with one quarter bottle (strictly 187.5 ml, but near enough is good enough) of 40% vodka. Other spirits could be used but they will give their own flavour to the tincture produced. Put the mixture into a sealable container such as a jam jar. Glass jars with screw on lids are ideal for the purpose. Keep it somewhere handy, and preferably in the dark – definitely out of direct sunlight. Give it a good shake or stir (007 notwithstanding) once a day for two weeks. It is now ready to use.
I do not do it, but the leaves can be strained off the liquid if preferred, remembering to squeeze as much as possible out of the leaves. I simply take out a spoonful of liquid as required until there is none left. I also like to keep enough jars going that the leaves are immersed in the vodka for longer than the minimum two weeks which are required for the alcohol to extract the “goodies” from the leaves.

How much you take is entirely up to you. I have a dessertspoonful once a day part way through breakfast. It is not a good idea to drink even a tiny amount of spirits on an empty stomach. A dessertspoonful is more than many other people take, with some suggestions of only a half a teaspoonful.  Others suggest even less and taken at more frequent intervals. You decide.


There have been many studies on the beneficial effects of olive leaf extract. I make no claims about whether or not it does you any good, although I tend to think it helps my aged joints. It certainly does not appear to be doing me any harm. Coming up to 74 I still farm full-time, with a lot of manual work, particularly involving my olives, 800 almonds and smaller numbers of other fruit trees.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

2016 - not the warmest year on record

It was not far off though. A mean of 16.33ºC for the year was marginally lower than 2015's 16.67.

A cool spring and occasional summer rain kept the maximum temperatures below those we have experience in recent years. Overall our mean of over 16º for the last three years, and close to it from 2010 to 2013 shows a definite warming trend. Ten to 12 years ago our mean was closer to 14º. Now I do not want to be alarmist and claim this is an indication of global warming, it is the result for one spot on the whole planet, although I accept that global temperatures appear to be gradually creeping up too.

The higher mean for recent years have come from higher minimums rather than higher maximums, and this has made life much more pleasant - not too hot in the summers and not too cold in the winters. We went from 9th February 2015 to 31st December 2016 between recording a minimum below zero. It has been very rare to record over 35º in the summer for the last few years, whereas the first few years after we arrived in 2003 gave us minimums of minus 6 on a few occasions each winter, and a maximum of 39º on a couple of occasions in the summer.

The olive harvest in 2016 was slightly lower than the previous year despite the trees still being young and continuing to grow. The exceptionally dry 2015 when I spent several months doing nothing but hand watering our 500 trees (losing two from dehydration) meant there was very little growth that year to produce the 2016 harvest. Nevertheless the big old tree in a very favourable spot next to the house had been given extra water through 2015 when it cropped exactly 59kgs, and with more favourable natural conditions in 2016, plus irrigation, managed to just top 60kgs. I have given it a fairly severe pruning because it was becoming too tall and very difficult to harvest the higher branches, so 2017 will not be a bumper year for it.

The annual pruning of the trees is behind schedule, because instead of beginning pruning immediately after harvest, I spent that time planting 814 almond trees. They are the self-fertile cultivar Soleta and I imported them from Spain. It was one of the cultivars bred by Sr Rafael Socias Company at CITA, Aragon and he was kind enough to have an email discussion with me regarding a choice of cultivar to plant. I had set myself a target of Christmas to complete the planting, and it was looking doubtful a week before that due to weather disruptions, but a few long days meant I planted the 814th about 20 mins before dark on Christmas Eve.

I then started on the olive pruning, but again, weather has delayed that (more rain today and much more forecast for the next two weeks) so I am hoping for a good spell of dry weather as the days lengthen over the next few weeks. Differentiation between flower and floral buds on the olives is about mid February and I like to be finished pruning before then. If I go on later I always feel as if I am cutting off fruit. I suppose we farmers are never satisfied with the weather. We need the rain, and we need the sunshine. We want both when it suits us and not at other times.


Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Cats

I am sure that many people reading this will be aware of Winston Churchill's statement "Dogs look up to you, cats look down upon you, but pigs treat you as an equal".

I think it is particularly true of cats. If they stay with you it is because they want to be there, and not from any sense of loyalty to the person who feeds them. Wherever we have farmed we have had cats. Never in the house, but always in the farm buildings. Cats are our vermin controllers.They always have ad lib good quality cat food and fresh water available. My opinion is that well fed cats will hunt for the fun of it.

Earlier this year our resident population of two females had a total of 10 or perhaps 11 kittens. I do not press them to be pets and the kittens always tend to run and hide when I am near them. The adults become friendly enough and seem content to be close without being petted. The numbers fluctuate from time to time due to natural causes and predators, but we have always managed to keep a few about.

At the beginning of July all of them simply disappeared overnight. No sign of anything. Then, at the end of September I had a sighting of one of the adult females crossing the river towards us. The level is low due to the long dry summer, and cats frequently cross it. Two days later both females turned up along with three, by now half grown, kittens. They settled immediately back in the large shed they had formerly occupied as their resting and sleeping place.

Obviously I have no idea where they have been, and not to sight them for about twelve weeks seems almost impossible if they were still in the vicintiy. I am out and about for most of every day and there is a good view of surrounding land from the house windows.

All were rather thin but not in poor condition, except one of the adults had lost her tail. She now has a stump about an inch long. I was really pleased to see them back, because the rains have started today - as can be expected at this time of year, and vermin will be looking for winter quarters. I have 700 bales of hay in this shed, and rats and mice would create havoc by chewing through the bale twine.

Where they have been, why they went away, and why they chose to return will always remain a mystery I suppose, but cats being the free spirits they are, I can only hope they stay.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

2016 to date

2015 ended with warm and wet weather, resulting in our hottest year to date, with the annual mean at 16.67ºC. This is the third year in a row that temperatures have beaten the previous annual high. Despite the wet end to the year we also recorded our lowest rainfall at 492mm, which included 148mm in the last few weeks of the year. As I have previously mentioned, yearly distribution is as important as annual total, sometimes more so. Both mild and wet conditions continued into 2016, and we went through the whole winter without experiencing a temperature below freezing point. By early May we had passed last year’s total rainfall.

Temperatures fell below recent years’ ones in April, and the annual mean is below the last two years as of the end of July. We also had a fall of rain measuring 26mm on 6th July with a very prolonged bout of thunder and lightning. We have never measured more than 16mm for the whole of July before, and some years none at all. After last year’s watering problems I am very pleased to be switching on pumps rather than having to fill my boom spray tank and then go and hand water the trees as I did last summer. I expect to run short very soon, but the olives will manage until the autumn rains.

Unfortunately there was rather too much rain when the trees were in bloom and pollination was not as good as I had hoped for. Nevertheless, the trees are almost all young and many have a reasonable crop for their age. There are a few trees with no crop at all. I will only know for sure how things turn out when the harvest is weighed and sold. This wet weather had a devastating effect on people growing top fruits – apples, pears, cherries, peaches, apricots, etc. and whole crops were lost in many cases. I do not have a single peach on any of my trees or any apricots either. Only one tree is bearing apples, and I have a single pear and a single plum. Grapes also appear to have suffered badly with very little fruit set. Fortunately all these fruits are just for our own use, but I do feel sorry for those growers who rely on them for an income. All farming is the same I suppose – extremely weather dependent.

I did have a good crop of hay on the few acres I cut. So good in fact that I am desperate for space. The crop, two small fields, was double the average yield of other years. I do not have any bale collectors or pick-up equipment so I have to pick up individual bales by hand and then stack by hand. I carry 11 bales at a time in the link box and 642 bales meant quite a few journeys to the field and back to the shed. It was hot work, especially when I was stacking close to the roof, but Patrick came and helped me with the last hundred or so because rain was forecast - and it did happen. He more than earned his couple of beers after we finished. Without him it would have got wet. It would have dried again, but also been just another unnecessary little hassle. Everybody needs good neighbours.

The major project for this year is planting almond trees and I have ordered 850 for early October delivery. Hopefully I will be able to plant them all before the olive harvest begins towards the end of that month. There is a lot of work in getting the land ready for them – they will be planted on raised berms and I do not have a machine to form them, so some experimentation with Patrick’s mouldboard plough has resulted in quite effective berms once I sussed out how many furrows to plough and in which direction so as to maximise the finished height.


I am also reclaiming a few hundred square metres of land that has never been cultivated before, and that means moving a lot of stones and earth. Again no machinery to automate the job, so hand stone picking and using the tractor link box as a mini-bulldozer is doing the trick. It is not yet finished, but will be by the time I need to plant trees on it.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

A Vegan Farm

The following is a shortened version of part of my book How not to make millions – but still enjoy a rich rural life. I thought it might make an interesting blog for vegans and vegetarians to read.

I have never met a farmer who is a vegan. It rather runs contrary to the notion of what a farmer is, but, just to show that I am willing to try to help those who want to grow food by alternative methods to my own I have given some thought to setting up a vegan farm. I felt I should do this because despite my own views I accept that some vegans might want to produce their own food – and sales to other vegans could be a lucrative business. I know there are smaller scale vegan producers, but I am thinking in terms of a bigger farm.

Whilst grassland (or the herbage naturally appearing due to non-cultivation) that is cultivated for a while and then allowed to return to a grazing area appears to have been around as long as there have been farmers, the  4 years grass/4 years cropping rotation is, I think, a little over 100 years old. It may be older but I have not seen it documented in detail before that. It is my favourite for a truly sustainable (that overused word again!) system of farming. Robert H. Elliott developed this way of farming at Clifton Park on the Scottish/English border and it is commonly referred to as the Clifton Park System. His book is available on line if you search. It is called The Clifton Park System of Farming and is well worth acquiring by anyone interested in maintaining the fertility of their land.

I regret I cannot advise a suitable location in many countries of the world, simply because I have only farmed in four. The land must be capable of growing grass without burning off in summer or killed by low winter temperatures and since there will be no livestock all land has to be cultivatable, with the ability to grow a wide range of crops. This restricts our vegan farm to favoured parts of only some countries, but it is essential to realise it will not work if the land is not suitable. Livestock cannot be grazed on ground unsuitable for cultivation as in a normal farm.

Size is not critical for the purpose of the exercise. Let us just assume it is big enough for everyone to recognise it as a farm. There is no upper size limit. We will further assume that it has been well maintained in the past so the land is in a good state of fertility, and that the new vegan owner has the knowledge and experience to operate the wide range of machinery and equipment required. It should be noted that this would be a labour intensive farm even with a full complement of modern equipment. Land in poor condition will take a long time to become ready to use the farm in a veganic way.

It is of paramount importance to maintain the Organic Matter content of the soil across the whole farm. I would split it into eight equal sized blocks, and crop each block for four years then four years in pasture in each rotation. It may not be possible in a stockless situation to have as many cropping years as pasture, so longer in pasture and less cropping may be necessary, with perhaps an increase in the number of blocks, but we will try 4 + 4. I say blocks because to equalise the size of the areas there might be a different number of fields in each block. That is not important so long as they remain within their own one eighth of the total area.

Additionally, since I would want to avoid buying nitrogen fertilisers if at all possible I would try having the pasture phases as a pure stand of white clover. I have no experience of using just clover for this purpose, and I doubt if many other people have either, but it is worth attempting if you are a vegan. White clover will persist easily for the time required; it forms a good ground cover and roots deeply. It is also easy to keep clover mowed short (sow a prostrate variety) as it would need to be in order to allow the mowings to be dragged underground by our friends rather than smother the living plants. It is also easy to kill out for the cropping phases. It would be necessary to buy any nutrients that soil analyses show are required, and also of course to replace those used by crops that are grown. This is to ensure it remains a sustainable system. I would prefer to test before and after the pasture phase to give an indication of nutrients removed during each phase. I would make as much compost as I possibly could.

What crops are grown will determine the machinery and equipment required. The first decision is probably whether or not to grow your own fuel oil. A lot of fuel will be used in the constant mowing of the pastures phases in addition to the cultivations and harvesting of the arable crops. I think I would grow my own, partly to be self-sufficient in fuel (some tractors can be run on straight vegetable oil) and partly to avoid using fossil fuel. A reasonable crop might leave a surplus to sell so there could still be some human food derived from the crop. I must point out, however, that I would never consume these refined vegetable oils myself. I have an inbuilt aversion to any food that needs a manufacturing process to make it edible. I also point blank refuse to consume food that is fortified with vitamins or minerals, and would never take supplements. I want my food to provide all I need. In suitable areas olives could be grown for human oil needs.

The oil would be the first crop after clover, and if I did not grow it I would make the first crop a cereal. Perhaps half and half might even be a better idea. Wheat could be grown in countries where bread making quality is achievable without high nitrogen inputs. A failure to reach this quality usually means the wheat goes for stock feed, which vegans would not want to happen. The reason for using these two crops is that I would use a grassland mouldboard plough to turn in the clover, burying the clover top growth at the bottom of the furrow and leaving it undisturbed during the first year of cropping. Very shallow cultivations to prepare the seed bed are therefore necessary. Both the oil and cereal crops would benefit from the accumulated nitrogen from the clover growth. If the area is not suitable for bread making quality wheat, then an alternative cereal crop could be grown. The choice may be limited by climate but maize, oats or rye for human consumption are the most likely.

Throughout the cropping phase there will be a decreasing level of available soil nitrogen each year, so I would have years two to four growing crops that more or less allowed for this. I would avoid the very high nitrogen demanders such as cabbage and the oriental brassicas and some of the possibilities below are more likely to be grown in the kitchen garden. This is where I would have all perennial crops including fruit and nuts. Again another reason to choose a “soft” area. Many fruits and nuts need warm conditions.

Potatoes would be a good choice for years two and three, spreading the disease risk by growing some earlies as well as maincrop. I am making the assumption that vegans are also opposed to the use of herbicides and fungicides. I would use half my available second year arable land for the maincrop potatoes and use half my available compost on them. Leeks, all the leaf beets and beetroot fit in here too, and if you had the labour force available to harvest them, and the market, you could grow some on a field scale.

The third year I would grow only early and second early potatoes on the half of the land that did not grow potatoes the previous year and use the other half of my compost on these. This way one quarter of the cropping land is in potatoes each year – spreading the machinery over a long season. There is always a market for quality potatoes, they will use the compost to best advantage, and the whole area receives some compost in either the second or third cropping year. In year three the other half (that had potatoes the previous year) could take most of the non-cabbage brassicas plus squashes, pumpkins and lettuce. Year four is for the lowest nitrogen demanders – a big range, beans, all alliums except leeks, and all the root crops except potatoes and beets. Even less demanding of nitrogen are garlic and peas. Then back to pasture.


Whilst I do believe this would work for individual vegan farmers, and using correct fertilisation techniques would make the yields undoubtedly better than organic farming and more on a par with conventional farming, it is still a low productivity farm because the land is only producing food for half the time. The same system with grazed livestock produces food every year, so the vegan system is not a good one for feeding the whole world.