After the rain come sunshine & hard work

After the rain come sunshine & hard work

You might have heard it – we had quite a wet and foggy winter. Which meant that despite our best efforts, work wasn’t really progressing well… For every day we were out and about making things happen, there were at least two or three days when our (clay) soil was too compacted, the weather too rainy or just too plain cold to do what we had planned.

However, that all changed in the middle of February… Since almost ten days we have volunteers staying with us and neighbours helping us out, and things are going so fast that it makes my heart leap with joy. We have about two more weeks of work in front of us, and then it’s time to clean up and get everything ready for our first bed & breakfast guests to arrive; we’ve already got a few bookings between March and October and we’re very much looking forward to it.
In the mean time, I thought I’d share a few pictures of what’s going on here…

At the back of the house

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Last year, a lot of earth was dumped at the back of the house. Nothing much grows there at the moment and it gets muddy all the time – so we’re doing some landscaping…
First, we poured a 1m60 border of concrete along the back wall. Not only can this serve as a base for a recycling unit, a wood storage, gas storage, gardening / working station and chicken coop – it’s also much easier to walk on when the weather isn’t perfect.
The wood storage was built in one day by our volunteers Laura & Pietz – and the day after, they tackled the recycling tower (done in just a few hours!) and now they’re working on stone stairs towards the solar system shed.
Our friend Katrien is working at a brand new (and super fancy) chicken coop, with the help of our Belgian volunteer Brecht. It started out as a coop, then became a chicken house, the idea of building a castle came and went and now it looks like it’s going to be a chicken cathedral. Guess we’ll have to call our next rooster “Cardinal”.
In the next few weeks hopefully we’ll be able to continue on the chicken coop, finish the stone stairs and maybe start on preparing the back yard and setting up fencing for the chicken run. It’s going to be bigger than before!

Around the house

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You might have seen that we’ve been working on a terrace wall in front of / around the house since May (2016). I’m very proud to announce that it’s almost done now; it only needs some finishing touches, and it does need to be filled with a lot more soil. Which should happen on Wednesday, with the help of our friend George. Once the soil is in place, we’ll add on manure, planting soil and mulch – and we’ll be all ready to start sowing and planting! I’m very much looking forward to that part.

The side entrance to the guest rooms has been tiled (thank you Dan!), and Axel has been doing a few repairs and improvements to the guest balconies. As we speak, Axel and Brecht have started on the front yard; we’ve been discussing the design for weeks and hope it will be both convenient for me to work in, and beautiful to look at. We’re loosening the earth first, but we’re building raised beds on top of it anyway. The garden beds will be filled with herbs and edible flowers (or just vegetables with beautiful blossoms), and maybe some berry bushes.

The vegetable garden

The vegetable garden is a work in progress – but work is progressing, for once. After the last two seasons, we decided on building hexagonal raised beds – only time will tell if this is the right decision, but so far we think it’s going to look fabulous. The idea is to make a few raised beds every now and then, so in the end it will be all raised beds – and paths in between. So far the fig, kaki, plum and two apple trees have gotten their own raised beds – so we can plant a “guild” of other plants around them. We also bought all the accessories for a watering system… now only to install it before the heath of summer.

This year, we’ve sown the seeds for the vegetables inside… in the living room… Axel made me an extra big table that will hold four of those big polystyrene seed trays. I’ve got plenty of seedlings now: corn, tomato, kale, cabbage, onions, lettuce, more tomato and cauliflower… more to be sown next week. And soon we’ll have to plant out a few of them at least. So much to look forward to!

The chickens

Ah, the chickens… there’s highs and lows there.

First, there’s the incubating. I did a lot of that; I had an incubator with our own eggs + one of Kurkum Farm hatch in January, four little brown-layers-with-feathered-feet (chicks of Fatima & Ramon) and one little peeping Tom are now hopping around happily, they’re about four weeks old now.
After this, I borrowed our friends Dan & Mell’s big incubator and put in another batch – this time it contained our own eggs, Dan & Mell’s Brahma eggs, some eggs from Kurkum Farm and some eggs from Tierruca (the place we’re buying our alpacas at). There were 25 eggs in total… However, due to several different reasons, only 7 hatched. It’s a pretty diverse little group of Brahma, bantam and feathered-feet-layers though, and I hope they’ll be everything I’m hoping for.
At this moment, I’ve got seven Silver Brahma eggs in my small incubator (due around the 11th of March), and 15 more Brahma eggs + a few of our own in the big incubator (due about 5 days later). Fingers crossed for a bunch of healthy and happy chicks!

The adult chickens have been on rotating pastures since the beginning of the new year, with the help of an electric fence (which is super easy to move) and the chickshaw (moveable chicken coop). I love this setup, and am definitely going to write a review on the chickshaw soon… we’ve had it almost a year now. The chickens seem to love it as well; they’re safely inside the fence, and they get a new bit of land to scratch up and explore every few weeks. What’s not to like? They’re getting lots of kitchen scraps, 99% organic food and of course bugs and weeds from out there. Our eggs are now bright orange and very, very tasty.
On the bad news side, there’s something wrong with Tita. She’s been in quarantine for a week now, but we can’t seem to figure out what her problem is… she’s not really weak, but has trouble walking (or flying) straight and falls over at times. She’s getting some supplements and we still have some hope left… not much though, as she doesn’t seem to be getting better (not getting worse either, but she’s not fit enough to join the rest in the run). Fingers crossed for her!
Last but not least, we’ve said goodbye to our very beautiful but very useless Brahma rooster Ramon a few days ago now, I’m writing a separate post about this (and about the uses and uselessness of roosters). Tito is now head honcho but he’s not sure how to handle that – he’s always been a bit insecure and being left with two older hens (Fatima and Ramona) doesn’t do much for his self-esteem… as long as he behaves, he can stay though – or until one of the little chicks steps up and becomes big boss. We still have several months before that.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this small update – it’s so nice to get feedback and hear how so many of you are following our adventures here in Spain. There will be many more to follow!

Simple Living Holidays: from idea to reality

A rather short post today… I am very proud to pitch to you my next “baby”: Simple Living Holidays.
Many of our guests, visitors and Facebook-followers told us they’d like to know more or even experience our way of life. We call this lifestyle “Simple Living”: it’s all about making things less complicated and making time for what’s really important. For us, it’s a way of taking back control of our lives.

Around here, we’re meeting more and more people who set out to do the same. They come from all over the world (although most come from other places in Spain and Europe), and they all converged here, in Matarraña. All of us have slightly different ideas and priorities; some keep farm animals, others work relentlessly on the vegetable garden, others take better care of their inner self and for some, the technical aspects of off-grid living are the big challenge. Most of us do a mix of everything.

As a first step, guests at Mas del Encanto will be able to attend workshops next season – from animal husbandry to vegetable gardening, from harvesting almonds to cooking and baking with produce off the land. Our guests will be able to include some unforgettable experiences in their holiday.

 

You’ll be pampered and well taken care off: staying either at Mas Katmandu (outside of Cretas) or at Mas del Encanto (between Cretas and Lledo), food and drinks will be included. Most workshops and visits to local projects and farms are included in the price, but you can choose to attend them or not; if you want to skip a workshop (or a meal) and go out to town or stay in for a change, it’s your vacation!
Some (more specialised or intensive) workshops might be offered for an added fee.

This is a very tiny and newborn baby still – our heads are full of ideas and we’ve created a list of over 50 workshops we could offer around here… now it’s a matter of selecting the workshops people want to attend, talking with the people that can host those workshops, and put a price tag on everything. To help us in the process, I’ve set up a survey. It would help tremendously if you could take a few minutes to answer a few questions!

Edit, December 2016: there is more information now on this page. You can now help us by pre-registering (it’s quick and easy and doesn’t mean you actually have to participate in the end); this will also give you a discount if you actually decide to attend a holiday or some of the workshops. Click here for more information!

Last summer, some of our guests made marzipan with almonds from our trees

Lazy Sunday

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As everybody seems to loathe Mondays, let’s talk about Sundays! Yesterday was a Sunday like they’re supposed to be: I got to do something I loved and got a lot of energy and new inspiration from. I helped somebody out, ate good and healthy food, walked in an astonishingly beautiful piece of nature, and I learned a lot – all in one day!

Lots of people around here are not originally from here, but have come here from other places; from other parts of Spain, or some (like us) even from abroad. Most of these people have a finca (piece of farmland) with a lot of work on, some are building or renovating a house, some are working on their life’s work… All of them came here to live a different kind of life, closer to nature and to who they really want to be – like us. It can be hard work though, and sometimes it’s good to have a community backing you up; so once a month we all come together – on the last Sunday of the month (only this one was moved to the first of the next month because of last week’s snow). It’s an initiative from the people at Kurkum Farm EcoVida (who are still the driving force behind the whole thing), but it’s getting beyond that now that more and more people are getting involved.

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Each month, we go to somebody else’s finca. In the morning, we start with getting some real work done; that is usually some big thing the owner of the finca just couldn’t do (quickly) on his own – like giving the veggie garden a make-over, putting a roof on a barn, assemble a whole lot of stones to build something with, or (today) clearing an intricate irrigation system from the 13th century in a breathtaking gorge, so the orange and olive trees in the field would not need mechanical irrigation any more. Today (like last month) dozens of people showed up, which gives a whole new meaning to the saying “many hands make light work”… Ok, it was still hard work, but it went so fast!

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Then there’s the lunch, to which everybody brings something (usually very nice) to eat. The food all gets placed on a big table and then there’s the vegetarian banquet… Before my first “Encuentra EcoVida” (that’s how the meetings are called) I had no idea vegan / vegetarian food could be so good and varied. (And to be honest, despite my wonderful old Vegetarian Cookbooks I recently got from a friend, I’m still struggling with it a bit… But getting better every week). Today, as we were working on an orange grove, we had buckets and buckets of oranges to make orange juice from – oh, if only the microclimate there extended all the way to here! Alas, it does freeze just a tiny bit too often on our finca.

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After lunch, it’s time for the circle: we talk about what we need, and what we could do for each other – about an alternative economy, alternative power, alternative medicine, basically everything alternative. It is very inspiring to be part of a community that is growing stronger every month – and although my first circle was a real struggle (besides being a bit ill, I didn’t understand half of what was said) as my understanding of Spanish progresses, so is my enthusiasm about what is being built up here.

After the circle today, we got an extra treat; a guided tour through the orange and olive grove first (our host David gave us loads of useful information during that tour), followed by a bonus tour through his extensive vegetable garden. There was a lot of talk about soil – I love it when people who grow food are passionate about their soil! Learned lots of other things as well… By the end of the tour, the sun had gone behind the hills and the wind had become stronger, so we were very glad to find ourselves back in the car back home –  cold but very satisfied after a full day out.

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I can’t wait for the end of the month, and the next get-together – in La Portellada (closer to home) this time.

November update

It was only when reviewing my last post (I was in a philosophical mood) that I realised I haven’t been posting updates for a very long time… Now the winter months are upon us, I am writing this in the comfort of a nice house in front of the fireplace, and I can finally reflect on those crazy summer months.

Jabba & the chickens

Jabba & the chickens

As you have probably already read in my blog, we had guests almost all of the summer (happy campers!), and before the last one even left we welcomed our first workaway-volunteers. In the last two and a half months we had help from 7 different people: M. & S. from New Zealand, F. the Dutch Canadian and A. the wandering German, V. & L. from Belgium and M. from the UK. We have learned that works really gets done when there’s people around: 1+1 = more than 2 when it comes to farm work. We had the almond harvest in September (a rather poor one, as expected, but we still got loads of almonds and not sure what we’re doing with them this year); pathways were created, fences destroyed and erected (in that order), we finally finished the entrance to the maset cellar (no more building stuff everywhere), and we harvested a lot of blackberries, figs, acorns, tree strawberries, chickpeas, tomatoes, zucchini, squash, pumpkins, melons,… the only harvest we’re still looking forward to is the olive harvest (probably around the end of November, and probably a poor harvest as well this year after the wet spring).

The beginning of a food forest: 20 fruit & nut trees

The beginning of a food forest: 20 fruit & nut trees

We now officially have a (young) orchard: we planted 20 trees – nectarines, peaches, plums, kakis, white figs, medlars (mispel / nisperos), apples, pears, pomegranate, raspberries, and our newest additions are hazelnuts and pistachios. Those trees will probably take a few years before they start to produce – in the mean time, we’ll make do with our (blue) figs, grapes, quinces, blackberries and trees strawberries.

More help is coming at the end of November; after (or around) the olive harvest, we want to start building the stables and the chicken coop. Now we’ve got loan chickens, we’ve gotten used to our daily supply of fresh eggs – when their owners come back in February, we’ll want to get our own flock.

 

Looks almost finished (but not quite...)

Looks almost finished (but not quite…)

The construction of the house is going very well, as far as we can tell: the roof looks almost finished. Soon, one team should start finishing the outer walls (with local old stones) while another team tackles the electricity and plumbing; after that it will be time for us to start on our part – floors, bathrooms and kitchens. And decoration, of course (so much to do, so little time!).

We’re still working towards an opening party in May – if nothing crazy happens, we’ll be able to welcome the first guests to our casa rural in June 2016, and stay open all summer. Very much looking forward to that!

Summer in the country

We came back from a holiday in the North last week and one thing is very clear: summer has arrived. Temperatures are usually around 35 degrees during the day (a friend registered 44 degrees around her house yesterday!), and it just feels too hot to do anything worthwhile. Not that we don’t have any projects running – on the contrary, the plan is to move to the maset somewhere next week, which means that we should be building a storage *now* to put all the stuff in that is crowding the maset… But it’s just too hot.

Walls going up!

Walls going up!

That makes it so much more amazing to witness the construction of our house. Josep and his team seem to be working non-stop (on week days) – every time we go up to take a look, something has changed. The support beams were there when we came back from our holidays, but we’re starting to see walls now, we’ve been told the floors will be constructed this week, and in a few weeks it’s time for the roof… if somebody had told me this in March, I wouldn’t have believed it! You can already walk through the house and see the different rooms and balconies… it’s at the same time much bigger than we anticipated, but still nice and cozy. I think we’re going to like our house 🙂

First zucchini

First zucchini

In the mean time, most of our plants seem to be doing great. A lot of them didn’t make the first stage (I really need a greenhouse of some sort, next winter!) and since I planted most plants too late and too small, I wasn’t expecting much… but the results are overwhelming. The one single zucchini plant that survived on the straw bale bed is not making beautiful big zucchini’s (well.. one so far, but more are on their way). The little tomato plants I planted way before frost was over, are now producing beautiful (still green) tomatoes. And the ones I planted in June just started to flower.

I’m most proud however of the crops I put the least time and effort into. A few months ago, our neighbour Enrique taught us how to farm with plastic. In May, I tried to adapt his teachings to what I had – I planted a row of very small plants, too late into the season. Corn, beans, chick peas, pumpkins and melons were looking very sorry indeed in their plastic covers… and Enrique looked worried when he saw the result… especially since I planted too many plants, too close to each other (I didn’t expect even half of them to survive)… To our surprise, those little things thrived! I planted two more rows (paprika’s, more pumpkins, tomatoes and a few unlabelled things) just a day before we left on vacation – and then I left the whole thing alone for two and a half weeks, in the heath with no water. The plants didn’t care! I’m planning to do this again on a much larger scale (and earlier in the season) next spring, so we’ll be able to eat a lot more from our garden. Yeay!

Rows of corn, squash, pumpkin, peans, chick peas, melons and much more - 'dry gardening'

Rows of corn, squash, pumpkin, peans, chick peas, melons and much more – ‘dry gardening’

Next thing on our list, is the acquisition of some chickens and rabbits. I’m especially looking forward to the chickens; an egg a day keeps the doctor away, doesn’t it? We’ve postponed the other animals (sheep, fish, ducks, what else?) to at least next spring… that way we’ll have more time to prepare – build proper stalls and coops, invest in some sturdy fencing, and (most importantly) be there full-time once they’re here.