Friday, 27 November 2015


I know it is not quite the end of the year, but it is a long time since I last posted, and the year end is going to be rather busy so I decided to write a synopsis of the events of 2015 now, at least in so far as my tiny piece of the earth is concerned.

It began very dry and rather cool although overnight minimum temperatures were just under freezing point with -2ºC being the coldest. It continued to be a year of low rainfall and it may well be the lowest annual precipitation since we came here in 2003, but 150mm before the end of the year will take us past the lowest we have so far recorded and that was 2004’s 541mm. We thought rainfall was generally under 600mm because that was what we received for the first 5 years we were here – with the exception of 2006. The last six years have been somewhat better. Of course distribution throughout the year is really of more consequence, and 2006 was also very dry, but 539mm in October and November of that year resulted in a total of 983mm. A misleading figure.

The weather has been the reason for the long delay in making another post. I was frantically irrigating so long as the water lasted, but supplies for irrigation ran out at the end of June. The next three months were a constant long day after long day battle carting water to the young olive trees to keep them alive. I lost four of the most recently planted and the crop from another three slightly older, but fortunately managed to get enough to the rest to keep them alive. Mature trees, with a similar mature root system, can withstand these few months without rain. That is the great advantage of olives; they will grow under arid conditions once they attain a reasonable size. They might not crop particularly well without supplementary water, but they will survive. For anyone familiar with real droughts as in Australia etc. it should be noted that we experience a few months of dry weather each summer, and there is always some rain in the autumn and winter.

We did not receive any really hot weather, four days at 36º being the hottest, but the nights were warmer than most years and this has resulted in the mean temperature for the year being above any previous one. 2014 was the hottest we have recorded and this year is on track to beat that, although a cold spell next month could reduce the annual figures, just as a lot of rain could alter that annual total.

Fortunately we received sufficient rain prior to the olive harvest to allow the fruit to reach a good size. Allowing for the young ages of the trees I was well pleased with the result. The quality was excellent and we sold every olive we picked. My wife and I picked 941kgs of olives individually into buckets held around our necks with bungee cords. This is the way to achieve the best quality. It also meant we did not need to run the crop over the grader to remove twigs, stems and damaged fruit.

If quality is down I need to accept that I can only take oil in exchange. I was also especially pleased that two old trees (that I retained when we grubbed out an old orchard) both topped 50kgs. A few years ago I would have considered that impossible, but as with all other crops I feed them liberally and control insect pests and fungal diseases. Many “authorities” around the world consider fertiliser should be restricted. I fertilise to replace nutrients removed in the previous year – prunings as well as the crop have to be taken into account, and the trees also need to grow and produce the current year’s crop too. Just like animals, plants need to be fed, watered and kept disease free if they are to thrive.

I kept the two trees because they had yielded consistently well in the first few years we were here, and had estimated crops of between 20 and 30kgs every year. The boxes we use for containing the olives between picking and delivering to the buyer hold 17kgs when full, and they are manufactured in such a way that each box is equally marked in three parts. If I want to know an approximate weight harvested from a particular tree it is easy to start a fresh box for that particular tree – and hopefully need another one too.

2014 showed a heavy crop on both so I decided to accurately weigh the crop from each tree. The result was 38.24 and 40.22kgs. The heavier yielding tree is quite a bit bigger. This year they yielded 53.33 and 59.00kgs. The bigger one was originally 58.98, but it is very difficult to hand pick every last olive on a big tree and when I had completed the weighing searched the tree for missed fruit. Sure enough there were a few so I managed to reach the 59kgs. I noticed two olives still on the tree yesterday, but I am not prepared to organise things for two olives. Next year will not be so heavy because I have reduced the height of them both, and pruned some branches that would lead to overcrowding in the canopy next year if left unpruned.

I built a picking platform (with safety rails) to fit in the box for the three point linkage of the tractor – along the lines of the platforms often referred to as “cherry pickers” and which you see being used to assist with putting Christmas lights in place in towns, or for maintenance of street lighting. I do not have the height lifting capacity of the machines used for these purposes and I do not need it. The platform I stand on is about shoulder height from the ground and sufficient that I harvested all trees without the need to use ladders, bending over branches too high to reach comfortably. Tree height will be kept to this maximum.

The lack of irrigation, and the necessity of keeping the olives alive, meant that the kitchen garden was a disaster. A few tomato plants kept themselves alive and that was the sum total of this year’s garden harvest. Weeds, as always, managed to keep going, and the garden is currently in a mess. Hopefully I will be able to get back to more normal management of the place over winter.

The last thing to suffer from my summer of water carting was getting in wood for the heating stove. Fortunately we have not yet had to light it, so it should be a short season for its use, and I do have some wood already prepared, so I just need to keep pace with its use and we will get through. I am still using the stumps of old olives we grubbed out a few years ago. I bust these up into suitable sized pieces with a heavy block splitter and steel wedges. Heavy work, but it is a better workout than using my home gym.  I am sure I will live longer by doing this type of work – and, of course, following the Mediterranean peasants’ usual diet of lots of meat, animal produce in general in fact, and plenty of wine.  Olive oil, fruit and vegetables are also consumed, and I have the extra of generous helpings of butter at every available opportunity. 

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Simple Unhooked Living

“The Truth About Simple Unhooked Livng” is a book by Estar Holmes and published through Smashwords – the same people as my own book, and it can be purchased either by going through the link on here to my book (when I get a very small commission without detracting from the author’s share) or direct through Smashwords.

You know the expression “Been there, done that”? Well this lady has. My pet hate about lifestyle books, particularly those involving rural life, is where people with a journalistic background and friends in the right places to promote their books get an international publishing house to publish and push their writings on something they have as an idea about, or only limited years of experience. This is not one of them. Anyone who publishes with Smashwords does not have a publishing company behind them – apart of course from the unstinting help of the Smashwords team.

Although aimed primarily at the USA resident, virtually everything suggested by the author (she does not ram things down your throat and say you must do it this way) is applicable globally. All good, sound, practical advice from an experienced person. Much of it is essential reading for those people in urban areas where they are reliant upon electricity to run their homes. One power out without the information in the book will cost you a lot more than its price.

I have practiced what might be called “Simple Hooked up Living” for decades and still learned from the book. My wife and I have had the need to collect, melt and boil snow for a cup of coffee; we have had need to make 190 miles round trips for shopping; bathed under roof runoff in a rainstorm, and a waterfall, etc.; but we prefer an indoor bathroom and toilet (yes, we have carried buckets of water for flushing it too) and my wife likes her washing machine and dishwasher. We have never had to do the things Estar Holmes has merely to survive. I admire her, and others like her, who either by choice or necessity have managed to do so, and I thank her for the information on the numerous things included in the book that we have not had to do. I hope we never need to, but at least we are now armed with the information if the lights go out quicker than I planned for in  earlier posts – Dec. 2012 and Feb. 2013.

Estar gives a very generous free sample, but as with all books, this necessarily includes the background and introductory portion – nevertheless with very sound information and advice. There is a wealth more in the remainder of the book. Go on, buy it. Then read it thoroughly, even twice as I did, and then remember and apply the information in there that will take you through the next failure of your electricity supply. A few readers might even take things further and decide to follow either my planned survival strategies for longer term power failures, or even Estar’s no fail methods whatever happens.

One of the highlights of the book for me was the ability to get by in life with the minimum use of potable water. The world at large wastes more than it uses, and there is a shortage. It is even affecting parts of mainstream USA at the present time. Think about how you can help to conserve this dwindling essential of life.

I take every opportunity to try to persuade everyone that a daily morning shower is one of the worst modern phenomena ever to have been inflicted upon the planet. I grew up in Britain, being born at the end of WWII at which time enormous numbers of houses did not have a bathroom, many not even running water, and those that did, did not have a shower. Sometime in the 1970s or 80s people began to fit various contraptions above the bath and were able to shower. When we bought our Australian sheep and cattle property in 1979 the house had two bathrooms containing a bath and sink, but no shower. No indoor toilet either. That was soon fixed. There were people around about who we knew did not have a shower in the house, sometimes barely enough water to drink either, but it was commonplace for them to say “I am off home for a shower” as if it was expected of them to say so.

My present house did not have a shower cubicle until 2 years ago when we extended the living space and added an ensuite bedroom. There is another bathroom with a shower head over the bath. It was 1993 before I owned a house that had a shower and that was a house we had built for us. None of us died from not having a shower. So far as I recall nobody smelled particularly bad either.

I have recently had the misfortune to be hospitalised for a few days (not life threatening and I will recover) and it was considered essential that every patient had a shower immediately upon rising in the mornings. Since tens of thousands of Portuguese houses do not have running water it seemed weird to me that they expected people who had never showered in their lives to suddenly have to have one every single morning. Obviously I did not comply with the expectation. I did wash thoroughly. I was spending the day lounging about on a bed in a pristinely clean environment so how could I become dirty enough to need a shower every morning? I was really impressed with the place. Apart from the cleanliness, the food was good, the staff were good, and the beds were comfortable and fully adjustable by the patient for inclination and height.

For those of you who do shower every day, why do you do it? I suspect peer pressure began it all. Somebody somewhere decided they would boast about their new shower a few decades ago. Everybody else has to keep up with them, then somebody decided they would claim to shower every day. Soon everybody had to claim to shower every day and some people thought they actually had to do it. Talk about lemmings!!

Potable water is not in infinite supply. It is extremely costly and wasteful of other finite resources to make some supplies from really unsuitable water sources. Take a stand. Stop having as many showers (or baths) and encourage everyone you know to do likewise. I am not looking forward to the time when I expect that the lights will go out, because the world is using its resources far too quickly, but running out of potable water is certain death to all it affects. We must have water to survive.