Archive for category Olives

How the other half lives

Frankly, I’ve had enough of the world. Wherever I look these days there are people determined to make life difficult for others. If it isn’t the impact that Brexit will have upon people like us (and European immigrants in the UK) it is the petty minded individuals who do what they like and b****r everyone else. At times like this I fall back on my natural feeling that others are not to be trusted; the government (naturally) – all governments, actually, can be relied upon to act in a way which causes citizens despair, and people who were supposed to be friends just act in a totally selfish and self centered manner, abusing carefully built up trust along the way. To hell with the lot of them, say I.

Living here in the middle of our patch of greenery makes me feel that solitude is the only way of life for us, and we are very fortunate to be able to escape from other people. I remember only to well how difficult it could be living cheek by jowl with suburban neighbours with whom we didn’t always see eye to eye and I’m really thankful that we no longer have to do so.

We are now in the season of crossing fingers and hoping. The olive trees have been flowering fairly well, but it has been very hot the last few days, with a strong wind, so all we can do is hope that it hasn’t affected the fruiting. Next week the temperature is due to take a dive and rain is forecast – we will see!

I have plants ready to go into my veg patch, but am holding off if there is rain due, as that will be a better time to plant. We’ve ordered water for the olive trees on Thursday, so that’s when it will probably rain! I intend to buy tomato plants to put in pots for starters, so my seedlings will go in the ground later. The theory is that there will be a succession of fruits, but who knows whether or not it will work. I’ve already been pulling radishes and my cut and come again salad leaves will be ready in a week or so. I guess I need to sew more of those as well. These things have to be in pots, as the soil is so bad here, but it means I can easily cut/pull them as I need them. The potatoes should be ready in a couple of weeks more, hopefully – can’t wait for “proper” salad potatoes!



Ode to Autumn

No, this is not a Keatsian moment – no season of mists and mellow fruitfulness here in Crete. Autumn here means a welcome reduction in temperature – now in the mid 20s rather than the low to mid 30s, and a chance to catch up with some of the outdoor jobs which have been put on hold through the summer months. It is a beautiful morning here, and one could almost forget what a dire situation we are living through. There is a general strike today, so there are bound to be large demonstrations in the big cities – I just hope that there is no violence; we heard on this morning’s news that there had been trouble in Spain, with police firing rubber bullets. It is all too easy for demonstrations to get out of hand when people are feeling (rightly) very emotional, and the results can be tragic.

One (welcome to us) result of the crisis is that we have fewer people hunting in the area around here. When we first came we were taken aback by the numbers blasting away at tiny birds, in the name of “sport”. We are both people who are opposed to hunting for sport anyway, and certainly didn’t want animals being killed on our land. After a few differences of opinion with those who thought that they could come on our land and kill things the message eventually got through. We don’t have too much of a problem with people exercising their hunting dogs here out of season (though it drives our own dogs crazy), and walkers are ok, too. The hunters, these days, seem to be only those shooting for food, (which is acceptable to us and keeps the rabbit population down) and there are fewer of them, given the price of cartridges. This is a very emotive subject, of course, and has raised an awareness of a difference in “attitude” between us and local people. Initially we were inclined to feel very “British” and want to keep people off “our” land, but we understand that this just isn’t a concept which Greek people understand, so now we go with the flow – most of the time!

The way in which individuals view land is interesting. In the UK we have a concept of privately owned space which seems at odds with the way in which Greek people treat their surroundings. We have seen this in different ways, not only the habit of ignoring boundaries. It is quite normal, for instance, when moving into a new home for British people to show visitors around. We did it here, and our British friends found this quite normal. Our Greek visitors found it slightly odd; one said “but this is your private area”! So – the concept of what is private is, in a way, much smaller in Greece – just the parts of your home not on normal display to visitors. I wonder if this is a remnant of the way in which “traditional” houses are built, around a courtyard (public space), with bedrooms etc. being tucked out of view. For Brits, the notion of private space is every bit of property you own, unless you choose to share it with others.

We’ve now lived here 6 years, and we are still, frequently, coming across differences in attitude which surprise us and which, on the face of it, make little sense. Giving it a bit of thought usually brings an understanding of why we do or say what we do. We are very much aware that we will always be outsiders, but we try hard not to cause offence by being too “British”!

One of the ways in which we really do feel part of the community, though, is the olive harvest. Round here, virtually every family has at least a few olive trees, and all are busy preparing for the harvest in November. It looks as though the harvest will be early this year, as many olives are already ripening. I hope, for all our sakes, that it will be plentiful!

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Red tape

Had a call the other day to say that we are due for our annual “biological(organic)” inspection. This is normally a simple procedure – we have to adhere to some fairly straightforward rules in order to maintain our status as organic farmers; we have to produce a diary to detail how we deal with the land throughout the year – when we water, what fertiliser we use, when we prune the trees etc. I make up the diary as a spreadsheet in English & Greek, so that it is clear to whomever inspects us! I’m not sure that my Greek is always totally correct, but it seems to be comprehensible. We have, also, to produce all the receipts showing what we’ve bought in terms of fertiliser (of the appropriate kind) and insecticides, ditto. The inspector usually checks that we have tape marking the boundaries (to show that we are “biological”-to avoid our neighbours over-spraying), and asks us about what oil we have sold and to whom. I just hope that whoever comes speaks at least some English – we can muddle through between us if they do. If not, it will be sign language time!

The inspection is fairly stringent, but I think this is important. Organic products attract a premium price and those who pay deserve to know that the rules have been followed.  We have been very fortunate in our dealings with the organisation which oversees the certification – they are incredibly helpful; our first inspector lived locally and spent hours with us at the place where we had to do all the original paperwork, and gave us masses of advice. The second chap we had was also local and runs a shop where we can buy fertiliser etc, so we always know we are getting the right stuff.

Sometimes living here and dealing with Greek bureaucracy drives me crazy – everything seems to take so long! When we are dealing with people like the organic lot, though, it looks different. There are so many kind people here who have been willing to help us through all the red tape, that it has made it possible to get our certificate. Just hope this year will be the same!

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How much do we change?

One of the things I like best about living here in Greece is the connection we have developed to the land. We were “townies” in the UK, though we’d both been brought up in the country and wanted, more than anything, to get away from suburbia. Our main criterion, therefore, when we were looking for a place to live, was that we should be able to have sufficient land around us to grow a few vegetables and have space to “breathe”. Little did we know that having land would become so important to our wellbeing – both in terms of being able to produce some of our own food, but also economically. Our olive crop has taken on far greater significance than we could possibly have imagined, and we are very aware, at the moment, of keeping an eye on the development of the olives and looking out for signs of disease. We water them regularly, and once it is a little cooler we will be starting work to prepare the land for harvest. In the meantime all the summer vegetables are over, so the garden needs sorting out as well. The heat means that most of these jobs need doing at the beginning and end of the day, which has altered our “normal” timetable. It is surprising how long it has taken to adjust to living with the rhythm of the seasons, but it now makes sense. I still can’t do the late night Greek hours, though!

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What a week

I have to admit something which makes me “different” from a large part of the general population – I HATE noise! Last weekend was characterised by joyous Greek Easter celebrations. There were fireworks at midnight on Saturday, but these were over relatively quickly, and I know they are “traditional”, so that is fine. On Sunday, our nearest neighbours were partying most of the day – again fine, and I enjoyed the music coming across the fields as it was (mainly) of the “traditional” Greek variety, and I love Greek music, though I did find the reggae take on some of the songs a little strange! What spoiled the day was the continual letting off of firecrackers and some shooting. I’m at a loss to understand what this is about. I have tried very hard to absorb Greek customs since we’ve been here; although we will always be foreigners we feel welcome, and we understand the thinking behind most of what goes on, but the firecracker thing drives me nuts. We have dogs who are either terrified by it or view it as a challenge to bark at – all in all Easter Sunday was not a good day for us. Having said all that – in the UK we were in a built up area where there seemed to be more or less constant fireworks for some reason or another from Halloween until after New Year – why??

Just as we were recovering from that lot of noise then the wind got up – Tuesday night was the worst since we’ve been here. The forecasting websites we use said that the wind speed/Beaufort was force 7 or 8. I do not believe this – more like 9 or 10 was nearer the mark. Absolutely terrifying in its destructive power; I lost all of my precious seedlings and had some smashed pots, but we were lucky. The frames for the canvas awnings at our local branch of Lidl were bent in two – that is scary. We’ve seen the canvas ripped off in the wind several times, but never that.

Yesterday was a lovely day, and we managed to burn a lot of olive prunings, but it is windy again today, so can’t work outside. We have only until the end of the month to burn things, so just hope the wind will drop enough for us to finish. There are really stiff fines for having fires during the summer months, but there are always some people who do so – I wouldn’t dare risk it, even without the fine; after the wettest winter on record the ground is now quite dry and undergrowth would catch very easily. We’ve seen a couple of bad fires since we’ve been here and are very, very wary about the size of ours, even if it takes much longer to get the burning done.

The fields are covered with wild gladioli & orchids now. Since we’ve converted the land to organic production the number of wild flowers has gone up considerably. They are truly beautiful.

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Winning the household battle

One of the things which I enjoy most about living here is the sense of exploration which is entailed in the simplest of daily tasks. When we first arrived “permanently” it was necessary to get to grips with shopping for boring stuff (like cleaning materials) rather than just the type of thing I’d bought when we’d been here on holiday.

Most language guides tend not to give you the Greek words for cleaning products – tourists & business people generally don’t need to buy this stuff. Some serious supermarket exploration has taught me what is what, of course, but I’m still fazed by the fact that there are some products which seem to be totally unavailable or which cost the earth. For instance – why are soft toilet rolls so expensive?  Most people are aware of the problems with the drains here, and that you should put used paper in a bin, rather than down the loo, but this shouldn’t have a bearing on the cost of the stuff, surely. Kitchen paper is a mystery, too. Either dirt cheap, in huge rolls, and useless for any task involving water, or horribly expensive and effective. Nothing in between.

Washing powder/liquid – I’ve found that Lidl’s “own brand” stuff is fine – if a bit highly scented for my liking, and around half the price of “branded” things.

Given the economic situation, I’ve decided that this is one area where I can beat “them” at their own game. I bitterly resent spending my hard earned cash on cleaning materials, with 23% VAT added, so I’m making my own where and when I can. The simple solution and wonder product is vinegar which will, it seems, clean virtually anything – either on its own, or with other ingredients added. Malt vinegar isn’t available here, but wine vinegar is plenty cheap enough – 75c for a litre. I use it neat for cleaning windows & other shiny surfaces. I steep zest from a kilo of lemons in 1 litre of vinegar for 2 weeks. Remove the lemon peel & decant the liquid. This can be used in a spray bottle as an all purpose cleaner – great on the mould which is ever present in Greek houses at this time of year – or diluted for larger tasks, like washing floors.

My favourite discovery, though, is using a half & half mix of this liquid & olive oil as furniture polish. Pour a small quantity of each into a jam jar & shake (like vinaigrette)! Apply very sparingly, allow to dry for about 10 minutes, then buff with a clean cloth. Best to make in very small quantities as you need it. I normally use either one teaspoon of each ingredient (for a small piece of furniture) or a tablespoon for something larger. You can soon gauge how much you will need. The end result is beautifully shined furniture, a pleasant fresh (rather than artificial) smell, at a cost of virtually nothing!

The olive oil comes from these trees!

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Happy Saturday

The last few days have been quiet weather-wise, after a truly horrible winter. Now the sun has been shining for a while there is a chance to catch up with the weeds which have grown in abundance, thanks to all the rain. Here in Crete we are blessed with a dramatic landscape, and at this time of year the wild flowers turn large areas into carpets of vivid colours – mainly yellows in the early spring – first oxalis, then broom, gorse & mimosa – then pinks in April & early May – rock roses, wild gladioli, orchids (of many types) and the beginning of the oleander. There is blossom coming on the olive trees, and the almonds are already past their best. It is a wonderful time of year for visitors who are keen botanists and we’ve seen our first tourists this week – a welcome sight!

Those of us who work on the land – even just in a garden – are hard at it. The olive farmers are frantically cutting back the trees and burning the debris before the end of April, after which fires are banned (on pain of a large fine) until the end of October. The hills all around us at the moment look like something out of an old-fashioned Western, with the “natives” sending smoke signals. Some of the fires are slightly alarming to people like us, and we have seen horrible bush fires in previous years when they have got out of control. Our fires are much, much smaller than most of our neighbours’ and it probably takes twice as long to deal with our olive prunings, but we prefer to be safe! We should have plenty of wood to heat the house next winter, which is the main thing. Growing olives is a mixed blessing – free firewood and fantastic olive oil, but very, very hard work! We grow organically, too, which means that keeping the land clear is more labour intensive, but worth it for the abundance of wild flowers and wildlife.


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