La Huerta = the Vegetable Patch
(Sorry no photos – I lost my camera 🙁 after taking the pictures)
Back in the Spring, when the heat of summer was just a dream, when it was raining cats and dogs, when the wind was blowing a gale… my neighbour, Ursula, asked if she could use a area of our land for a vegetable patch.
Our land is a sort of triangle – the base of the triangle is where the house is and it then runs 2 longer sides down the slope to a blunt point – 3 olive trees in a row. Three rows of olive trees run up starting with these 3 trees and splaying out to make room for the house, thus making the triangle … so there is an area in the middle – triangular! – that has no trees on. Our neighbours’ land is squarer so has trees in neat rows all across.
Then, water is a consideration – they have a well, but it is dry, whereas we have 2 wells which both have water. This may be due to the fact that their land and well are further up the mountain than ours and so when the water level drops in the summer … guess who gets the water! Furthermore, I have a strong suspicion that there is a spring under/near our well because in a wet year the water runs right out over the top.
The deal with the vegetable patch was that we would provide the land, water and electricity to run the pump, and they would provide all the seeds, plants, pump and labour. Then we would share the proceeds.
This struck us as a reasonable deal so we agreed … and waited to see what would happen. Nothing happened for quite a while then one evening, half an hour after sun-set a tractor rumbled up the road. It was Ursula’s brother come to plough the patch – in the dark! You see, where we are, once the sun goes behind the mountains to the west, it goes dark … none of those long, twilit evenings. Ursula had heard the tractor too – sounds travel well – and came to supervise. So we all stood around trying to avoid being ploughed along with the land – as Vincente made several passes in every direction imaginable in the dark with only the tractor headlights to illuminate the proceedings. All done in less than 15 minutes!
More weeks passed with no progress and then Ursula’s brother-in-law showed up with a rotovator – during the day, this time. He worked up and down, all over and finished making nice neat rows. Ursula and husband Juan then arrived with 2 metal barrels and lengths of irrigation hose. They stood the 2 barrels on some pallets at the top of the patch and ran the hose from each barrel to a joint then a single hose up and down the rows of earth – simple irrigation. The barrels would be filled from the well, necessitating minimal use of electricity to run the pump. The water would then drip slowly on the vegetables. The first trial failed due to dust in the barrels clogging the irrigation holes, so a simple filter was fitted – the toe section from a pair of tights. Now everything was good to go.
Ursula and Juan planted tomatoes, green peppers, French beans, aubergines(egg plants), courgettes and … water melons! They put each plant in next to a hole in the irrigation hose so it got its own supply of water. Well, you should have seen the plants grow. In the UK you start many of your plants inside, protecting them from cold and slugs before easing them outside – then they take a while to adjust to the new conditions before finally getting underway properly. These plants just seem to grow while you watched – talk about watching grass grow! This had nothing on that!
I had to return to the UK for a spell at this stage but when I arrived back, Ursula was down in “la huerta” every other day filling the barrels from the well (the water level of which is well down now), picking vegetables and pressing them on me! I resorted to tomatoes for breakfast, lunch and supper. Fried marrow (the courgettes grew so fast they got to marrow size before you could blink!) and aubergine added to breakfast (with an egg from Ursula’s hens). There was a “fiesta” to which everyone took a dish so I made a bean salad – and spent the rest of the week eating the leftovers! I’ll tell you about one of these fiestas sometime and then you’ll see why there were leftovers!
Sadly, by the time we realised the watermelons were ready, one had split its skin and spoiled. But that provides a lesson – don’t just look at the top of the melons, look underneath!
If we have enough water next year, I’m sure we’ll repeat this exercise and I must make a note to be there for the whole season. Interestingly enough, Ursula and Juan only think to eat what’s in season – with no apparent interest in preserving the excess for the winter. Maybe I’ll introduce them to tomato chutney, and… Yes, I could freeze beans … if I had a freezer – so maybe I’ll look into bottling! But what can one do to preserve courgettes, green peppers and aubergines? Any ideas?