Life in the country

Our weather has been awful this month. According to the local paper we have had nearly a whole year’s rainfall in just 2 days! For the first time since moving here we are actually thinking of not watering the farm as we have had so much rain. How different from last year when we saw no rain at all in the three month period December 2009 to February 2010. Let’s hope this is not a permanent state of affairs as the solar powered drier we built has not been capable of drying any fruit recently.

Apricots drying in the sun last month

The other day we were driving down one of the dirt roads to our farm when, passing a neighbour’s farm entrance, we saw their grandson waving us down. So we stopped and out came the neighbour, the family and all their dogs. After discussing the weather, horses, fruit prices, the lack of irrigation water, local gossip, the problems with teenagers and watching the dogs all play in the sun, they finally got to the reason they needed to stop us. Their tractor battery was no good and they needed a jump start very early  next morning so they could go cutting alfalfa.  It is a different rhythm in our part of the country as well as very different ( and politer) customs. How nice to be able to chat for nearly 2 hours before asking someone a favour. So different from the rush of modern city life.

The road to our farm

However, one not nice thing in this part of the world, especially around holiday times, is the number of pets abandoned by their owners in the country. We have seen many dogs by the side of the road and have come across wild dogs passing through the farm. Working near one of the irrigation ditches a couple of weeks ago we heard loud meows and went to investigate. Crawling out of the public irrigation canal were two very young kittens. We fed them and left them for a couple of days in our woodland, then Mary and Fred went all soft and we brought the cats home for them. The kittens are settling in but appear to be a little on the wild side!

The two abandoned kittens just out of the irrigation canal

There is a family of woodpeckers on the farm who have raised young. As they get used to us moving and working on the farm it is not unusual to have one perched close by.

One of the woodpeckers keeping an eye on us

Our vines plant should be pruned so that they do not produce grapes this year. Instead they are meant to put all their energy into growing. But we let a couple of plants grow a bunch or two so we could see and taste our first home produced grapes. As these are wine making grapes the skins are quite tough and full of taste (tannin) and very, very dark.

Our first bunch of real wine making grapes on the tractor bonnet

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Tipsy Hummingbirds, Parasols and Spiders

This month, after harvesting our apricots, we have targeted the weeds growing on the farm.
San Rafael seems to have had the wettest Spring for years and all this rain has triggered growth in dormant seeds all over the fields. Some areas of the farm are now being regularly irrigated (vineyard, melon patch, apple trees and forest) for the first time in many years.
This has resulted in an explosion of weeds which we are trying to combat by manual and mechanical means. Neighbours recommend that we use “kill everything in sight” weed killers, but we are reluctant to do so. Therefore every day we are slashing, chopping, ploughing and strimming in the worst places.
And when it is not raining it is HOT, hence the rather natty canopy on the tractor!

Fashion setting on the farm

A lot of our apricots were lost due to violent storms bringing down  soft fruit and badly bruised it. No problem for the local bird life though. We spotted this green humming bird perched quietly on a branch, which seemed unusual as it was so still.

Waiting for the bar to open

Totally ignoring me, it flew down to my feet, stuck its beak into a soft fallen apricot and collapsed, drunk, into the fermenting fruit… and lay there completely blotto!

Totally blotto

When not leading hummingbirds astray, setting new heights of tractor fashion or weeding, we are sun drying our apricot crop in our home made solar powered drier which works a treat.

Sun drying apricots

Although this year is only a few days old we continue to see more and more animal and insect life. Most times the camera is not to hand or the animal does not hang around long enough to photograph. We have spotted an Ocelot, a very large black cat (possibly a Puma), two Skunks, an Iguana and a large lizard (possibly a “Lagarto Overo”) plus scores of beetles and spiders.
On the border with our neighbour, at one edge of the vineyard, there is an area which needs urgently cleaning of poisonous spiders. There are scores of abandoned tunduque holes in which black widows have put webs across. Holes which wolf spiders inhabit and one small patch of ground in which I have twice seen a tarantula.

Are you lunch?

Common sense says to plough up the whole area, use insecticide to kill everything in sight and then sleep easy. But it is difficult on two counts, we do not want to kill everything in sight, and also some of the holes are inhabited by toads!
When we water the vineyard the toads (sometimes in pairs) emerge from these holes and then return as it dries out. To plough the area and destroy their holes would kill them as they could not survive in the hot sun. So, for the moment, we wear boots and tread carefully in that part of the farm.

In the evening we practice our new hobby, archery.

Robin Who?