The following article is taken from Eye on Spain,

Life On The Farm Part 6 - Clive And June's Story

Life on the farm 1Autumn in Spain can be a lovely time of year, but we are always aware that winter is just around the corner.  The horses definitely become more of a chore, once the rain arrives – back to the mud and cancelled riding.  Muddy cat and dog paw prints everywhere all add to the fun. The first rains always take us by surprise.  We often get our straw covered by the skin of our teeth, when we have a freak day of rain in August.

From being on a high, having had such a successful and happy summer with the horse riding, things naturally become quieter, with less holiday makers and un predictable weather. Our new venture this summer, the barbeque and swim ride was a huge success with lots of very happy customers, but is difficult to continue through the winter, even without the swimming, as the weather can let us down at the last minute. Bad enough to have riding cancelled, but food prepared for nothing is another matter.

One September, a few years ago  now, we took on the task of separating the mums from their foals, to wean them.  With three of them turned a year old, and Leo turned four and still feeding, it was time to do something about it.  We had tried to separate Picasso from Capri already, as Capri was getting too thin.  We decided that we would take her to our friend’s house and leave her there with their horses for a few weeks.  We didn’t want to do it, but felt it was best for her. 

Would you believe it, just hours after we left her there, she was standing outside the horse’s field, having made her way home, approximately two kilometers, all on her own.  After that we decided that the best option was to put all the mums in an adjoining field, so that they could still see their youngsters but couldn’t feed them.

Life on the farm 2We planned to keep them apart for four weeks, but an early morning thunder storm just over three weeks into the separation had us giving in, and putting them back into the main field with the others, so that they had shelter.  Thankfully the separation worked, though typically, it was Leo who made the most attempts to feed again!

I must admit to enjoying getting back into my jeans and wellies, after months of sweating in shorts and vest. I don’t worry now about the horses getting cold as winter draws in, as they quickly get their warm winter coats and cope very well.  I have converted their stables so that they can go in and out as they choose, with open doorways and also archways knocked through to link the stables, providing escape routes, should things get a bit rowdy.  As they all live together, things are generally very relaxed.  They all eat together and have a lovely relationship, with a definite herd hierarchy.  They each seem to accept their place in the herd, though the youngsters push the boundaries (and mostly get away with it) cheekily sharing Hercules’ food.

I do enjoy the novelty of the cold weather when it first arrives, it’s lovely and cosy when you have that first log fire, but with the extra cold winters of the last couple of years, firewood (or lack of it) soon becomes a worry.  Its incredible how much you get through isn’t it?  We do not have central heating. Our house is very old with thick stone walls and keeps quite warm. It would be a shame to spoil the old walls by installing pipes and radiators, so we cope with open fires and gas heaters and the odd electric panel heater – a brilliant new find.  They are a square plate that fixes to the wall and can be painted to match your décor.  They simply plug in and use only 400watts.  Of course you do need enough electricity – something a lot of us struggle with.  We only survive now as we have had our own transformer installed to upgrade our supply.

Our summers are always hectic and tiring, with lots of friends from England visiting its one long social whirl.  Its always great fun and we wouldn’t have it any other way, but keeping up with the late nights (shooting star watching competitions by the pool) and still getting up early to see to the horses takes its toll.  Autumn brings a bit of a rest in comparison, though I always feel a bit lonely, though it was worse when the kids were all at home, and went back to college. 

Life on the farm 3With Clive out working I am suddenly back to being on my own.  I usually solve my boredom by starting a new decorating project.  A few years ago, when John left for England for his brief spell in the army, he suggested that I could knock down his bedroom wall and extend the kitchen. Of course I said don’t be silly, and assured him that his room would always be there waiting for him.  The trouble was, the seed was sown, and I soon started to like his idea.  Within weeks of him leaving I had knocked down his bedroom wall and had a lovely new kitchen!  Little did I know then, that fourteen months later he would be back, with no bedroom to come home to.  We solved the problem by converting the kids den above Clive’s shed to a little studio apartment for him, so he did alright out of his clever  idea in the end.

The d.i.y over the years has been continuous.  Though our house was perfectly habitable from the start, it lacked character and modern conveniences.  We were lucky when we moved in that my parents were having a new fitted kitchen installed.  We had their old units and once painted with new marble worktops they had just the right farm house kitchen feel.  Inside the house there wasn’t much more to do, just building wardrobes and extra bathrooms and generally giving it a homely rustic feel that it lacked. 

Outside was a different story,  over the years as well as converting the barns into the guest cottages and building the stables and pool, we have gradually knocked down outbuildings to extend our courtyard and landscaped the gardens – just a pea field when we moved in.  It has been constant hard work, but very rewarding.  We like to think that one day we will finish and sit back to enjoy the results but I doubt it.

Life on the farm 5In hindsight we have realised that it is a good idea not to rush straight into things.  Ideas we had when we first arrived were put on hold for one reason or another, but actually turned out to be for the best, as new ideas were much better.

The garden is now taking shape, but with the water shortages of the past few years we have had to concentrate on just providing enough water to keep the plants alive, meaning that they haven’t flourished as much as they could have done.  One thing that grows in the winter time is grass.  To start with this was a problem as we did not intend to have any and saw it as a nuisance, forever trying to weed it out from between the plants.  I finally realised that it would be best to stop fighting it and started to keep it strimmed down. 

It now provides us with a lovely green lawn effect between the shrubs, the mix of grass and weeds all looking the same when cut short.  Of course by June it is yellow until the first rains of the autumn but it still looks neat and tidy. Its a nightmare in early spring though, when I do the first cut as I am literally down on my hands and knees sifting through the grass looking for bulb shoots, so as not to strim them down. Of course I never find them all and sadly cut a few bulbs down which is such a shame. This year I have taken photos of all the bulbs to use as a guide next year.

We had a very strange and annoying incident last spring – I have planted bulbs in the verge outside our house, daffodils being one thing I miss from England, I was keen to see them flowering in my garden.  Unfortunately someone else thought they looked pretty too and actually dug up a whole clump, still in flower. I was so upset, I wish I could have seen who did it.

Life on the farm 6Another problem we have to contend with in the garden is the chickens.  I love the way they wander around, pecking the ground, they look so funny, but they can be so destructive.  When I bought my first lot of hens I was asked if I wanted their beaks cut, something that horrified me and I said no.  These hens were a menace and cut off all my flower heads using their beaks like scissors.  When I had to replace them I could only buy hens with cut beaks which at the time saddened me but I feel very guilty to admit that they are so much better for the garden!  Now my flowers stay in one piece, but they still love to dig the soil and often dig up anything newly planted.

Clive’s biggest bug bear is the horses eating the garden.  We have grown a mixed hedge around their field and sometimes when the wind blows they are able to reach the trees and bite the tops off.  They are also fond of taking a bite of any tree they pass when we set off to ride, Hercules being the keenest tree eater.  Clive despairs of ever having a decent garden –he really has the patience of a saint, especially as he is not quite the animal lover that I am.



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