Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Up grading the solar electricity system

When we bought this place in 2010 we had no power at all. If you have read any previous posts you will know we bought a cheap second hand 12 volt system to get us started.We added panels and a second set of batteries over 4 years. Our problem was that we lost so much power in conversion from the panels to the batteries. Let me explain. We bought enough solar panels for the roof to make 2.2KW of energy at peak times but the 12 volt system only ever supplied us with 1.1KW maximum. This left us with a range of problems that we had to deal with on a daily basis.
1.) The pool pump could not be on for long enough each day and so the pool was constantly going green. This is not good when you have regular visitors in 40ÂșC heat!
2.) We always had to run the generator if we wanted to use power tools, iron or hoover up!
3.) Our pump that supplied the water to the house had to be really low power consumption and so the pressure was really low.
4.) No digital appliances would work on this system, they kept going wrong. This was especially hard with the washing as I had to purchase a twin tub that was meant for a caravan. It meant almost a full day every week was taken up with washing clothes, getting them dry and the like.
5.) We had to have a gas fridge. It kept going wrong and smelt really bad at times. It was put outside so as not to gas us but it just didn't work very well. Food would constantly go off. The freezer was a box on top of the fridge, not very helpful when wanting to store lots of meat and vegetables.
In 2014 we decided to upgrade our system. We thought about going to a 24 volt system but out friend said that it would be better for us in the long term to just go straight to a 48volt system. We talked about the added expense this would mean and we could only afford one bank of batteries on this system, but our friend assured us we would not need 2 sets as we would be almost doubling our power intake and it would be easy to add a few more panels if need be.
So in August of 2014 we had 3 men round and within a day the whole system had been changed over. I had been researching the invertors on the internet and decided to go with the Outback range. The reviews were all positive. We could have got cheaper but we just thought it was worth the extra cost! I think in total we spent about 5000 euros on the upgrade and to say it has been life changing is a bit of an understatement.
We had 2.2KW upon the roof and now at peak times we get in 2.19KW. Our possible power had doubled over night. This meant I could use every thing without worrying about the power so much. We upgraded our water pump to the house and now have amazing pressure. I can run a digital washing machine (low water and power obviously), I can put the pool pump on for at least 4 hours a day in sunny weather and we have only ever once had to use our generator. This was after 2 weeks of no sunshine, we ran out of power but luckily the next day the sun came out!
I now have 2 fridges, again low energy consumption and 2 freezers to store all my meat and garden produce for later use.
I can hear you saying a lot of money...for us it has freed up so much time that the money was well worth it. No longer is a whole day given up to cleaning clothes. Much of my time was taken up in the summer with trying to keep the pool nice...I have spent hours on it...it almost got to the point where I would have been happy to fill it in...but not anymore.
I am so glad that we went with the 12volt system first as this taught us all about solar and having to be careful when using appliances. This has stood us in good stead for the upgrade and allowed us to save at least 100 euros a month on gas to run the generator. Add that up and it has paid for itself in 5 years monetary wise, but it has been priceless in giving us more hours in a day.

Monday, 23 April 2018

When the rain finally fell.

After almost 2 years of next to no rain at all, it finally rained last week. Normally it rains for short periods, short bursts of heavy rain but not last week. It rained constantly for 5 days and now our water tanks are full. They hold 60,000 litres and we would think about 50,000 came from this rainfall. This is fantastic news for us but it gave us some serious problems at the time. These are problems that we thought we would never face and now the rains have stopped we can laugh about them...but for the last day of rain we were getting a little worried. Intrigued? Then enjoy reading on.

If you read my other blog post... water the source of all life... you will know to what lengths we have gone, to save water and ensure we have a store through the summer.

Day 1 - It rained steadily all day and night. The ground now looked soaked...everything in the garden looked very green again. Kev dipped the tanks to see how much water had been collected when it rained and we were surprised to find that the first back tank was full and feeding into the front tank. This made us very happy indeed to think that so much water had been collected over such a short time. Kev had been collecting the water from the shed roof and every so often would go out and bucket it into the water butts. (In the rain of course!) After the first 24 hours of rain all of the butts were full so he had to fix a pipe from the roof directly into the main water store to ensure we could catch as much water as was possible.
However, it was still raining.

After 48 hours of rain our second tank was full and feeding into the main tank. This tank was almost empty and was now 1 quarter full. As you can imagine we were now jumping around the room with delight. The tanks had never been so full since the day we bought the house. We could see the vision of not worrying about our supply, at least for this year and if the rains come again in September we will be set and it was still raining!

Day 3 - This is where it all started to go a little bit wrong. We noticed that the hole where we put our shower water collector was filling up with water. The collectors would not fit in as they floated. This meant that the shower water was going straight into the hole and adding to the rising water level. Our garden is set on bedrock and because there had been so much rain the water had no where to go once the soil was sodden. So it ran across the rock face under the soil and stopped at our shower hole. Every time we wanted a shower Kev had to bucket the water out to lower the level so that our collector would fit in...within minutes it was full again and we were getting worried that this much water would flood the garden. Also as the water level was above the outlet pipe for the shower there was actually no where for the water from the shower to go and we had visions of the bathroom flooding with muddy water from the hole. Bucketing the water into containers was all we could do. We were fighting a loosing battle too. Kev removed 1000 litres from that hole in 3 days and that was just wanting to have a shower. Kev went and dipped the tanks again...the main tank was now half full and still it was raining.

Day 4 - In the morning it had stopped raining and the sun was shining. We surveyed our garden and everything was well and truly soaked. Kev was very happy, no watering while it was raining and no watering for at least another couple of days. It has been very rare that he has had a day off from watering...so almost a week was like a holiday to him.  At midday it clouded over and started to rain again. To say we were getting a little fed up is a bit of an understatement. It felt like we were living back in England with all the rain. The only thing that kept us going was the fact that by the end of that day our main tank was 25 cm away from over flowing. Trouble was we noticed that the pool water was rising too...it was 3 tiles away from the coping stones and still raining. By now we had filled every single water container we had available so we couldn't even pump any out. We just had to keep an eye on it and hope that it didn't overflow. If that had happened we would have been flooded on the covered terrace too and straight into the kitchen and the house! We were getting a little worried by the time we went to bed as it was still raining.

Day  5 - Got up and it was still raining...the pool only had 2 tiles to go. We were trying to think of ways that we could pump the water from the pool onto the land! (This was so against the grain you would not believe, the heart ache we had thinking this may have to be done!) By midday it had stopped raining and the sun shone once more. The garden was flooded in places and we were still bucketing water from the shower hole for another day. Slowly everything returned to normal and our lives went back to working outside. The only difference being now...we are not worrying about our water supply.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Our Sunday...a day in the life of...

When we bought this house and land...we had no idea about how our life would change. We have been living here now, for almost 4 years and this year I gave up work to be at home full time. It now makes me wonder how I ever managed to fit a job into this life or this life into a job!

We start our Sunday at 8am...the alarm goes off and it always feels like we have just got into bed, not been there for 8 hours!
We get up, the kettle goes on and our day starts with sorting out the food for all the animals. We feed them a mash at the moment and so the food sits for half an hour to absorb the water it is mixed with. This is our time to have coffee and get ready for the day ahead.
At 8.30am we brave the cold (as the sun is still behind the mountains) and go to feed. It now takes both of us for this job as the turkeys are so big. Kev feeds them, while I feed the chickens and the ducks.
After this chore is complete and while the animals are still busy eating, we set about cleaning them all out. I do the rabbits and the palettes where the turkeys roost.  Kev cleans out the chickens as we now have 2 chicken coops. All the manure is put onto the compost heap to break down. This job takes at least an hour but it has to be done every week without fail to ensure the health of our poultry.
The next job for me is to clean out and relay both of the fires in the house. We have a large wood burner in the front room and a range in the kitchen to cook with. Obviously with us being true English people, we have what is called a Sunday roast. This is a big meal that takes about 2 to 3 hours to cook but we can only do this in the winter as it is way too warm here to cook it in the summer.
Once both fires are cleaned and relayed the floors have to be swept as this job is a bit messy!
While I am sorting out the fires, Kev spends about an hour chopping wood. This goes onto the wood pile ready for us to use in the week for the fires.
We had a whole pig delivered, from a local farmer, last week. From this we make everything, sausages, black pudding, meat loaves, brawn, chorizo and bacon. Everyday we have to salt the bacon to ensure that it changes from pork into the bacon we want. We use a dry salt cure, mixed with sugar and herbs and this process takes about 2 weeks. We got a bit carried away this year, we have 4 hocks, 2 slabs of back and 1 belly salting. So every day we spend at least 30 minutes sorting this out.
The next job is normally something in the garden. This week it is to build the rock walls for the terracing. Our soil at the top of our vegetable beds is only about 2cm deep, so the idea is to build the walls to fill with top soil to enable us to produce more vegetables over the year. These terraces will almost double the available space for food production.
I will take the corn out to the turkey feeders around 11.30am, to boost the food available for them. We did not foresee having to do this but as the rains have not come, if we want them big enough for Christmas then it is a must. Had the rains arrived there would have been enough plant life to fatten them up. We ummed and arghed about doing this but gave in mid November when we knew the rains would not come.
Around 12 noon we have to stop what we are doing and come inside. This is the day for talking to our families. We have a good chat, eat our lunch and have a drink at the same time. Around 2pm we can start again.
At 2pm we normally finish off the gardening job, the wall building. We spend about another hour and a half outside. At 3.30pm its time to light the fires in the house and make the animal food again. We try to feed them about 4 - 4.30pm so that the animals go to bed with full crops. We also feed the rabbits too. They have pellets and a vegetable treat that needs to be pulled from the garden.
Once the animals are fed, I start to cook the dinner and make the bread for the next couple of days.
Kev is still outside watering the plants and collecting the logs for the night. This will take Kev about an hour, maybe a little bit more depending on what is still growing in the garden.
We will sit down to eat our dinner at about 8pm all being well. This is when the bread will go into the oven. After dinner we clean up and finally sit down at about 9pm. We sit and chat about how the day has gone and what has to be done the next day.

In the beginning I said we didn't realise how our lives would change. It has been a gradual process, developing the garden and adding different types of poultry along the way. As you can see from our Sunday (that is a relatively easy day for us) we don't stop. We are always tired at bed time and sleep well. We make sure we get at least 8 hours sleep as our bodies could not function as well on anything less.
As for the future, we want geese, goats and pigs too so I guess it will only get busier! The best thing about this way of life is it is for us. We are not working for anyone else, have no real time constraints, only the available day light hours and we love every minute of it!

Monday, 28 October 2013

Carobs and the powder episode!

This blog post is a bit different today. This post has been in the making for almost 2 years now and finally, we have succeeded in making carob powder from foraged carobs.
I have never seen anything on the internet related to making carob powder at home, only the commercial heavy machinery stuff. I tried looking for a machine to use but had no luck what so ever. So I thought I would do a post on how we do it here, so if any of you want to have a go, you have some idea of what to do.

It all started 2 summers ago when Kev found a carob tree near our house that had carob pods on it. When I say carob pods, I mean about 50kg of pods (not to be sniffed at when free!)
We had never seen a carob pod before, although I had used carob when cooking a sweet, but I can't say I liked it that much.
First thing we had to do was to find out what we could use it for. Animal fodder seemed to be a good use, but I also found lots of recipes adding carob powder to cakes. So that was what we set about making.

We knew we had to bash the carobs and remove the beans. We tried a plastic bag and rolling pin...but this took forever and we didn't get all the beans out.
Next we tried a hammer and bag but all this did was pierce the plastic bag. So we tried smashing them in a pestle and mortar. This did remove the beans but bits flew every where, we just couldn't contain them inside the bowl.

After breaking them up we needed to grind them down. I bought a small coffee grinder but the carob just clogged it up. To get even half a cup of powder took about 3 hours of cleaning the grinder between grinds.
I tried putting them in my multi-processor machine that I use for everything! This would not touch the carob pods. They came out slightly smaller but not powdered. We gave up, fed the pods to the animals and spent the year thinking about it.

This Summer we collected more pods. Dried them in the sun for ages (about 6 weeks) as we couldn't decide how to process them.
Last week I decided to get a metal roasting tin and started to hit the individual pods with the pestle...this seemed to work. The seeds came out and the pods were smashed into smaller bits.

The carob pods

Broken by hand into smaller pieces.
Hit with the pestle
These are the seeds from inside.
The bits broken up with the pestle
Now it was broken up I decided to put it into the only machine I had not tried. The liquidizer. I put the bits in and switched it onto full and hay presto it worked.
I put the contents from the liquidizer into a fine sieve.

Stirred it with the end of my pastry brush to help push the powder through into a bowl.
And this was what I got! Carob powder.
This powder is raw. I have also roasted the pods before breaking them up with the pestle. This comes out a darker brown and when tasted is a cross between dark chocolate and coffee.
This is what I made in one morning, a couple of hours work.
I think that it is very time consuming but the recipes that you can add this powder too are plentiful. I make a beetroot and carob cake that we just love and if only for this, to us it is worth the time and effort.
If anyone out there has a better / faster method for making this powder please leave a comment below, I would love to hear how you do it.



Saturday, 21 September 2013

Improving the soil...a developing quest!

When buying this house and land 3 years ago, we had no idea what we were letting ourselves in for. We just had this dream that we could produce all our own fruit and vegetables organically. We stupidly thought we would plant the seeds, plant out the seedlings and they would grow into healthy, happy, productive plants. Oh how wrong could two people be!
For starters we came from England, where it rains all the time and water is never an issue. The soil in my garden needed improving as it was clay, but nothing adding manure and compost wouldn't cure in a couple of seasons. However, we soon found out this garden was going to be a longer haul.

The first mammoth task was to clear the over-grown weeds. This was so that we could actually see the soil in all its glory! We laid down cardboard and weighted it with bricks. We waited two weeks and hey presto all the weeds had died! Great! How impressed with ourselves were we!
Now we needed to dig over the soil. Keeping in mind that it is now May and getting to 25-30 degrees and had not rained for two months, this was not an easy task. Adding to the hardship was the bedrock that was hidden 5cm below the surface of the soil.
During the two week wait we bought one ready made compost bin and soon realized it would not be big enough for our needs. We built another two out of old bits of worktop and bed frames that were left in the house. Not very pretty but functional and that was all that mattered.

We knew that we would never be able to grow anything in the soil as it was and we needed a quick fix in order to plant out all the seedlings we had grown on. We decided on making a makeshift raised bed that we could add compost and the like to. We used old telegraph poles and grey building blocks as the walls for the bed but needed something to fill it. Waiting for our compost to develop was not really an option.
Luckily, behind our house is where a shepherd leaves his flock over night. From December to April they stay at this corral.  We asked the shepherd if we could use the manure for our garden and he said help yourselves... so we did. About 50 barrows where wheeled up and down the slope to fill the raised bed. This raised the soil level to about 30cm so would easily be deep enough to grow most vegetables.

 Obviously we knew we wouldn't be able to plant the roots in this bed, as they hate manure. So we set about making a small patch for them. We just moved soil from different places around the garden and added it to our root bed so that it was deep enough that carrots, parsnips and beetroot would grow.
The first year we went mad and planted every vegetable known to man in our two beds we had created. In the photo above you can see they are growing really well. Then the summer hit us. Temperatures of 30 - 40 degrees during the day and 20 -  25 at night. To say the veggies suffered would be an understatement. We were watering them twice a day and still they withered and died.
The shepherd kept stopping his car as he drove past. He would get out and say..."It's too dry, too dry!" shaking his head. I think he just thought we were stupid English that wouldn't last the distance. It felt a bit like he was right.
As September came around and the temperatures dropped we realised that this would be a good time to plant, a second spring is what the weather was like. Unfortunately all that survived were the beetroot and brasicas that were hardy to the colder weather, but on a positive note, we had learnt a big lesson about when we plant our crops to maximise production and reduce watering.
In the Autumn of that year we built another raised be that we filled with manure too. This would be for the brassicas the following spring and the beans and 'others' as they are known would go in the first bed.

After the first disastrous year, we knew we needed to improve the soil to enable it to hold water when it was hot. Also if we wanted to grow crops during the hottest part of the year we would need to give the plants shade.
Kev built a load of planters out of palettes that we could keep around the back of the house. In the summer this part of the garden is always in shade until the sun starts to go down. This worked for the salad crops but we would never be able to become self sufficient on how much we were able to produce in planters unless we covered the garden in them!
When we planted the seeds that year we used cardboard tubes and paper pots made by yours truly. This was to enable the seedling roots not to be disturbed when planting out but also the card and paper holds water when buried. This worked reasonably well but still not well enough to keep the plants alive in the Summer.
Drastic action was taken this last Winter. We built two new rock planters, one in front of the shed and one in front of the water store. We used thick cardboard as a layer to suppress the weeds and the added paper on top. We added a mixture of garden soil and compost and planted the summer salads in them and crossed our fingers! We were hoping the card, paper and compost would help to hold the water and with shade constantly being on the bed, evaporation would be at a minimum.

This is the salad bed this summer. It has tomatoes and peppers growing up the trellis on the wall. Beetroot and spring onions at the front. As you can see everything in the garden is brown and dead but this bed produced all summer. So finally we had achieved our goal. Now we just need to make it on a bigger scale. 

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Turkey update

For those of you that haven't read the previous blog on our turkeys, I will give you a quick outline. We were given 2 turkeys that were in a very bad state, May 2012. We named them Cranberry (the hen) and Paxo (the tom). These were hopefully going to be our breeding pair. Paxo was so fat he could hardly walk and had to roost on the floor. Within 3 months he had lost weight, was walking fine and even flying up on the coop every night to roost.

February 2013 we found our first egg in the turkey house. We were excited at the prospect of rearing poults naturally and allowed Cranberry just to get on with it. She laid 11 eggs and then went broody. We wrote down the date that she started sitting and worked out when they were due. Everything was going fine. We had a problem with the chickens going into the turkey house and so we started to shut the turkeys in the run to keep the chickens out.
The largest egg is the turkey egg, the other 2 are hens eggs.

Cranberry was appearing to be a brilliant mum, only coming out once a day for food, water and a dust bath, normally at feeding time in the afternoon.
One day Kev (who is normally at home all of the time) had to go out. When he returned Cranberry was outside the pen pacing trying to get back in. It's funny how she could fly over the fence out of the pen but hadn't worked out how to get back in! We didn't know how long she had been out so we just opened the gate and let her back in.
When the due date arrived and nothing happened, we decided to candle the eggs. They all looked like they had started to grow and then stopped. This must have been the time Cranberry flew over. We were very disappointed, mainly for her as she had sat for 4 weeks and nothing would come of it. We took the eggs away and just gave up on the idea for this year.

About 2 weeks later we noticed that Paxo was mounting Cranberry again at every opportunity. We crossed our fingers and hoped, without really believing, that Cranberry would lay more eggs. Within 4 weeks of taking the eggs away she was laying again. This time we took 2 of the eggs and put them in the incubator. We were determined to get at least one poult this time.
Reading on the internet rearing poults in the incubator is a very hard job. The eggs needed turning 5 to 7 times a day. This was impossible with our way of life, plus we had a hen die while she was sitting so hens eggs were placed in there too. We turned the eggs 3 times a day as we did the chickens eggs. The chickens eggs hatched within a week and then we candled the turkey eggs. Yeah they were both growing fine.
At this time Cranberry had got her clutch up to 11 eggs again and started to sit. She was a week behind our eggs in the incubator. This time if we went out we made sure she had water and food inside the house and we shut her in for the day.
We had visitors the week the incubator eggs were due and they got to watch them hatch. The first thing that we noticed was what massive feet they had! Both eggs hatched and we had 2 little poults, fantastic!

This one had splayed legs so a splint was put on. Within hours it was walking.

A week later was the due date for Cranberry. On the Friday we wanted to see what was going on and so in the evening at feeding time we waited for her to come out. We were going to sneak in and have a look to see what was happening. She came out of the house, ate a little food in front of it, walked around the house 3 times and went straight back in. We were so frustrated! We wanted to know if she had hatched any!
The next day we were working in the garden when we noticed Cranberry outside the house. We went running and inside the house were 7 little turkey poults. Wow, fantastic, none to 9 in a matter of a week!

Cranberry was the best mum, protecting her little brood at all times.  She brought them out at 2 days old to meet us and their dad. He was displaying all over the place. He wasn't bothered at all by the poults allowing them to run around him. Feeding time was funny as the little poults were copying dad eating but whilst standing under him.
All of this was an absolute pleasure to see. The poults have been taught well by mum and dad. They forage for themselves and are now almost 4 weeks old. Mum is happy to let them roam at a safe distance too.
The poults were 2 weeks old when we noticed Paxo mounting Cranberry again. At 3 weeks old Cranberry started laying another clutch of eggs. This will be her 3rd clutch this year! We are keeping our fingers crossed that she will hatch another brood successfully.

These are the 2 poults from the incubator. I am mum and they follow me around and call to me if they can't see me. This is them at 4 weeks old roosting on the gate we have on the terrace. This week they will be put outside on the land and allowed to free range.
Photo: Look what I saw tonight...first night roosting with babies under her wings...fantastic!
Cranberry roosting with her poults under her wings.
We are so happy that everything has worked for us and our breeding pair seem to be happy and content with their lives. It has been a roller coaster of a ride at times, but to see mum and the poults out on the land doing what nature intended is just a priceless experience!

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Outdoor fly problem...old method for reducing flies.

Flies are a real problem living here in the campo in Spain. Everyone complains that you can't eat outside in the Summer without the flies swarming your food. We thought that all the vegetation in the garden, when we first bought the house, was the problem, so we set about changing the garden, removing weeds and trees too close to the house. We re-planted more trees that we removed but in a place away from the house.
The following year the flies were less but still unbearable when sitting out on the terrace. Trying to eat out there was just a no no. Something had to be done!
One of our Spanish friends told us that his parents used to make fly catchers. They used to use bottles with 4 holes in the top, half filled with water. In the water you place a small piece of raw meat and hang the bottles outside. As the meat goes off the flies are attracted to it. They crawl in through the small hole and cannot get out again. They then drown in the water trying to get to the meat! We thought about this. We were sure the bottles would stink to high heaven, but we were game to give it a go. If it meant we would get our terrace back it had to be worth a try!
We set about making 2 bottles. We used the plastic pop bottles and put 4 holes in the top with a hot stick from the bar-b-que but you would get away with using a soldering iron. Make sure you do this outside as melting plastic fumes are poisonous. The 4 holes have to be big enough for the flies to get in but small enough so that they can't find their way out!

We added a little water and dropped in a little raw chicken. We then hung them out on the terrace. Within 2 days the bottles were swarming and there was no smell with them.

We have since made about 20 more bottles and hung them out on the terrace posts on the outside. We have also placed them around the garden too. They work brilliantly and now we can sit on the terrace without a swarm of flies annoying us!