Autumn 2012

Still life in those fresh vegetables

This is my favourite time of year. The weather is still good but not too hot and we get to eat all the vegetables that we’ve planted throughout the year. I’ve been meaning to write a list of things that we are/have been self-sufficient in and no longer have/had to buy so here goes:

lettuce, onions, leeks, garlic, potatoes, aubergines, courgettes, marrows, pumpkins, popcorn, tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, red peppers, green cabbage, white cabbage, broccoli, kale, Chinese leaves, radishes, fennel, beetroot, strawberries, figs, apples, quinces, walnuts, almonds, olives (and olive oil), watercress and herbs such as mint, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, sage, parsley, thyme

Projects for next year include bees so that we can get our own honey.

Stringing up red peppers

“Ristras” of red peppers hanging on a neighbour’s house

Around this time, houses in the village are decorated with strings of red peppers which are left to dry and then used throughout the year to add flavour and colour to stews.

There’s a bit of a knack to tying them up but the idea is to have a loop at both ends so that can be turned upside down every week so that every side of the string gets its turn in the sun.

To make a string, cut a length of 120cm of strong thin string and thread a large needle. Tie a knot at one end and then make a slip knot so the loop doesn’t come undone.

It’s easiest to sit on a step with the knot at your feet, arranging the peppers on the ground as you thread them onto the string. Stab the needle through the stalks of the red peppers, arranging the first to the left, the second to the right and the third to the centre. From time to time, press the peppers to the bottom of the string. Continue until the end of the string and tie a slipknot and knot the end of the string as you did at the other end. Hang up to dry.

Feeding Purslane to Chickens to increase the Omega-3 in the eggs.

Two chickens eating dried pursulane.

A prolific weed on our  vegetable garden is Purslane. I was told by the neighbour that chickens love eating it. After looking it up on the internet I discovered that it has a very high omega 3 content. After further research I found out that if you feed Purslane to chickens it increases the omega 3 content of the eggs. There seems to be scientific proof.
Here is a link to the abstract and we quote the conclusion.

“CONCLUSION: This study showed that adding dried purslane to the diet of laying hens significantly increased egg production and egg weights although there was no reduction in the egg cholesterol concentration. This study also showed that inclusion of purslane into diet enriched eggs with omega-3 fatty acids and decreased the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 in the yolk.”

I tried two ways of feeding the Purslane to the chickens. The first one is to pick the Purslane and then leave it in the sun to dry. It takes a long time to dry because it is a succulent and is designed to resist dessication. However after 3 or 4 days it does eventually go dry. The thick stems take a little longer. I put the dried pursulane through a garden riddle (sieve with 1cm holes)  and with a bit of scrunching up it forms a nice  mixture of particles most of which are about 3 or 4 millimetres long. This is ideal for adding  to the normal chickenfeed.  Below you can see the  initial test with the chickens eating from a plastic cup of dried purslane. They seem to like it. In the scientific study mentioned above  purslane is added at 10 or 20g per kilo. If that is a good guide for the proportion needed then only a modest amount of dried purslane would be enough to last the winter.

The plastic cup contains dried purslane.

The second method is to give the chickens fresh purslane.They love it if you hold it up to them and they attack it ferociously.

Chicken eating fresh pursulane

They seem much more interested in the purslane if you hand it to them but also it is a good idea to hang it up.

Chicken eating purslane

Don’t forget that you can add purslane directly to salads for human consumption. It has a pleasant lemony taste. I now look upon purslane as a welcome plant rather than a weed.
The omega 3 enriched eggs you get from the supermarket have a fishy taste. Maybe the use of purslane to make omega-3 enriched eggs will become more popular.

There is more info about the plant here


Self-seeding Godetias

Godetias in a Pot

Godetias in a Pot

The other day I found a flower pot full of self seeded Godetia seedlings. I planted them about 6 years ago and they have survived in the pot on their own. The temperature in winter  gets well below 0C and in the summer it is very dry and well over 40C. The flowerpot has formed a tiny ecosystem and by an evolutionary process they have managed to survive.


Godetia Transplants

I have transplanted 18 of them into plastic modules and also planted the seeds which were in the dried seed pods into a pot.

I would like to make a self seeding area of Godetia plants which will come up every year. As they have survived for 6 years in very hostile conditions they should be able to cope with the harsh conditions at the Cortijo.

Notes: There are very precise instructions in Spanish for growing Godetia on this page
They germinate best at 21C, sowing in January will produce flowers in May/June.

I learned today that plastic modules in Spanish are called charolas

Godetias are actually called  Clarkias.



The Godetias looked very nice on the table for a long time.

The modules that I planted died after forgetting to water them during a weekend.
However the little seedlings that I planted in other pots were lovely. The Godetias flowered for about 4 weeks and were really lovely.

Creating a Vineyard from Scratch

Vine CuttingsIt is my plan to create a vineyard. We have a large price of land which has good soil and gets lots of light.

There are a lot of vineyards between our Cortijo and the next large town and the wine they sell is a pleasant Cabernet Sauvignon.

Rather than buy vines I have decided to plant cuttings. In December there were a lot of vine cuttings at the side of the road on the way to the nearest town and I threw a load of them into the back of the van. There was nobody around to ask so I don’t know exactly what sort of grapes they are.  It looks like they are being grown commercially so I just hope they will make good wine.

I looked at several websites to see how to make the cuttings. In the end I cut about 90 of the  vines into 30cm long pieces, dipped them in cutting hormones and then pushed them into pots of soil.  This happened on the 12th Jan 2012. Some of the pots have deeper soil than others. If they take I will transplant them into individual pots or plant them into the ground.  Most other websites say that you have to put them into a trench but I am using pots because we are down on the coast until March and they will be much warmer.

To be continued…….


Grafting is one of the projects that we both want to try one of these days and is on the list of possible projects. While walking in the Valle de Lecrin one day we spotted this most amazing tree which had had grapefruit, orange and lemon grafted onto the rootstock. When I took this photo, all three fruits were in season. Unfortunately citrus fruits would never survive up at the cortijo, but this would be my dream tree if they did.

30 December – Seed Planting

Seed Pots

Seed Pots

This may seem a strange time to plant seeds. The reason why I can start seeds off now is because we have a place on the coast and one up in the mountains. The average temperature on the coast is about 14C and in the mountains it is 5C .The idea is to get the plants going and then transfer them to the mountains after March.

All the seeds here are plants that could cope with some low temperatures at the start.

I have planted several pots. If any of them germinate I will transplant them into pots or modules. Very tiny seeds are just sprinkled onto the surface. Bigger seeds are mixed into the soil with the ends of my fingers according to size. The soil is normal potting compost and at the top of the pots there is some finer seed compost which was bought at a garden centre.

Petunias (fire chief) wiki
Petunias are great flowers. They cope well with the hot sun and the don’t get too upset by an occasional lack of water and also they flower for ages.  Petunias normally only cost about 1.20 euros each for a potted one but it will be good if we can get loads of them to use in the summer. Petunia seeds are very small so they are just spread on the surface of the flowerpot.

Snapdragons - Antirrhinum

Snapdragons Antirrhinum wiki
These are the sort of hard as nails plants we like at the cortijo. There are some snap dragons alive and flowering  at the moment in the cortijo and the temperature has been down to -5C. A good quality about snaps is that they self-seed themselves and once there are a few growing they will establish a colony.



Tudela Lettuce (cogollos de Tudela in Spanish) wiki
Cogollos de Tudela are a really good Spanish lettuce that form very compact hearts. If you go to a Spanish restaurant you can order “cogollos” which is normally lettuce hearts drizzled with a sort of garlic oil. They are very healthy to eat and you can make a very quick almost 0 calorie snack by slicing  a cogollo lettuce heart into 4 laterally and drizzling on some extra virgin olive.

Capers (capparis Spinosa) (alcaparras in Spanish)  wiki
This is probably a waste of time because caper seeds are very difficult to germinate and require stratifying. They probably won’t germinate but you never know.

Parsnip (Pastinaca) (chirivía in Spanish)  wiki
These were some seeds that I has in an old packet. Let’s hope they germinate.

seed traysI have also planted lots of plants into seed trays. The trays cost about 2 euros. It is the best way of raising lots of small plants for later transplanting.

I normally buy my plants form a shop called Bolivar in Granada. (they cost about 8 cents each) This year I am going to try to grow some of them myself.

I have the following plants in the seed trays.
Cauliflowers  (coliflor in Spanish)  wiki
Cauliflowers do very well at the cortijo.

Spring onion  (cebolleta in Spanish)  wiki
The was a packet of White Lisbon which came free with Grow Your Own  magazine.

Kale (Black tuscany)  (col rizada in Spanish)  wiki
There were some seeds in the bottom of a packet. It is a type of Curly Kale with purple leaves.

Leek  (puero in Spanish)  wiki
I bought these seeds from Al Campo supermarket.

Brunswick Cabbage  (Col Repollo)  wiki


Propagating Geraniums

Every year I have to buy more Geraniums because at some point the temperature gets down to about -10C and kills them.

This year I have decided to propagate some geraniums by planting  cuttings at the house on the coast which has a mild climate.

I simply cut off the main stems from the parent plants and then protected the originals with garden fleece so that they might survive the winter.  I made cuttings about 15cm long, making the cut just below a node.  I left one healthy leaf on each cutting. I didn’t use any cutting hormones. (because I had forgotten to buy any). I used a plastic tray module.I did  this on the 28th December 2011. They were left in the open air. The climate is mild and rarely goes below 10C.

Blog post continued on 6th March 2013.

The picture below shows the overwintering geraniums from last year and new ones being propagated. Last year’s ones were a big success.
Propagating geraniums is easy.  The most important thing to do is spray them every 3 weeks to stop the stem boring caterpillars.


Easy way to prepare olives

Olives in Salt

I have had many attempts at preserving and preparing olives but none of them worked very well until I found this simple technique.

When olives are prepared by any method we are basically doing two things. 1. Stopping the olives rotting. 2. Getting rid of some of the bitterness from the olives.

My technique is very easy. Just pick some black olives (the later you pick them the more oil content they have) then put them in a container with sea salt. It is best if the container is totally open at the top and it is good if the sun shines on them to evaporate some of the liquid. Mix them around every few days with a stick or with your hands. At first a lot of liquid collects at the bottom of the container. You can pour this off.

The salt draws the liquid and most of the bitterness from the olives. Eventually after about 6 weeks the olives become totally dry.

Separate them from the salt with a garden riddle or any other type of sieve. After this you have dessicated olives which you can store for as long as you like.

Every couple of days put a handful of olives in a glass jar of water in the kitchen. It takes anything between 8 and 48 hours for them to re-hydrate.  Put a handful of the re-hydrated olives on salads, pizzas or anything you want. If you put them in a bowl and them put a few drops of olive oil over them they taste and look  like the Greek olives I used to buy when I lived in Finsbury Park London.


The Goji Berry Project

In August 2010 I bought some dried Goji berries. At that time they were being touted as the ultimate super food, capable of lowering cholesterol, lowering blood pressure, cleaning the blood and a whole list of other health benefits which it seemed would lead to almost everlasting life.  I checked them out on many websites and their growing conditions matched the climate of our cortijo. The can put up with cold down to -15C and also they don’t mind strong sun and drought conditions, I realised that  this is the sort of tough as old boots plants we need in the sometimes harsh environment that we have at the cortijo. After some more research I decided to grow some.

The first step was to soak the seeds in water for a day and then break the berries up with my fingers. Then the seeds were put in a kitchen sieve and put under a jet of water. It was easy to separate then from the pulp. I then spread the seeds onto the top of some potting compost in a flowerpot.  When some of the seedlings were about 1cm high I transplanted them to  plastic growing modules.

Some of them died but I kept replacing them with other ones from the flowerpot until I had about 50 viable plants.

Most of the plants had reached about 8cm by October. We then took them down to the coast which has a mild climate with no frost. During the winter they did not lose their leaves but they seemed to be in a dormant state and did not grow much. Supposedly the dormant state was influenced by the hours of daylight.

We started planting the Goji berries into the ground on the 2nd of May 2011. The holes were about 30cm deep and we filled them with a mixture of manure, bags of garden soil form the garden centre and a little fish blood and bone mixture.



Peter designed a  system to protect the young plants from rabbits or other unwanted predators. Peter made tubes out of chicken wire which were held in place by bamboo sticks. The advantage of this system is that the wire mesh can be easily pushed up to enable weeding.



Goji berry just after being planted

Although the plants had been in a mild climate on the coast with a fair amount of sun they were only about 12cm high when we planted them.

They were mulched with composted almond shells.




Cathy Goji BerryGoji Berry Grown on the Coast The photo below is a plant that I gave to a friend from the original batch who lives on the coast near Malaga. She kept the pot in a garden and watered it well. This is much better than any of my plants. This just goes to show that the environment is very important.