Almost spring

But for the chilly wind, today would be a perfect late winter/early spring day. (However, the prediction is for more wintry, possibly even snowy, days ahead.) On my favourite walk to the nearby olive grove, I came upon the first wild paperwhite narcissus (Narcissus papyraceus) in bloom.

First paperwhite narcissus cropped g.pngThis is just one of the many Spanish endemic species of narcissus. Apparently Spain is the center of biodiversity for narcissus. The paperwhite is noted for its fragrance, but I couldn’t get close enough to detect any. Next time I shall make sure to crouch down lower (though getting up once that far down may be a bit of a struggle).

Walking just a bit further, I came upon two almond trees with pink blossoms. No one seems to bother to pick their fruits, as there were plenty of almonds still hanging on the branches. I picked a few, and cracked one just now. Though the nut is small, it was sweet with a strong almond flavour.Almond blossom olive grove cropped.png

Everywhere on the olive grove, the ground was strewn with black olives, mostly squashed underfoot. The wild boars may have been feasting on them — just imagine the flavour imparted by ripe olives to these scavenging boars’ flesh! They’ve been rooting all over the orchard as well for bulbs and wild fungi growing underground. Everywhere there were holes that could only have been made by boars desperate for food at this time of year.

Boar hole w fallen olives.png

The owner of this grove does not seem to care much about his or her olives. Sometime in mid-January, we saw someone spreading a collecting net under one tree. I asked if he was the owner. He wasn’t. The owner lives in Valencia, he said, and only remembered about the olives being ripe this week. The past year has been a very productive one for olives all over our region, and the harvest had begun early. Some people had begun harvesting in late October, but those further inland went on until the end of November. The olives that were still on the trees in January had shriveled up like prunes. In Greece apparently, there are those who prefer oil from very ripe, wizened olives. We’d been told by Gardener Alex, and also from our own reading we’ve learned, that olive oil tastes best when pressed from olives that are mature but still green, or just beginning to take on a purple cast. And so we harvested at that time, and still got 28% oil content, which is considered quite high for the variety of olive trees that we have (Villalonga Manzanilla). (It seems the riper and older the olive, the more oil it contains. But then we’re after quality, not quantity.)

To be sure, the cost of labour has gotten ridiculously high that it’s undoubtedly more cost-effective to buy oil than to pay a crew to gather olives by hand and haul them to be pressed and bottled. It makes this newbie farmer’s heart ache to see such waste though. It seems such a sacrilege to deliberately let nature’s bounty go unharvested, especially when she’s been exceedingly generous, as she has been this past year.

I see the same profligate neglect all over on our walks in the yards of those who only spend summers here. Apples, persimmons, lemons, grapes — all left untouched to blanket the ground beneath the tree. Why not place a sign saying — ‘Help yourself, Neighbour’? And it’s not just here either. There are orchards in nearby towns like Xeraco where oranges and other citrus, as well as persimmons, are left unpicked. I suspect leaving the fruit to rot like that encourages all sorts of pests and diseases to proliferate and infect the trees. Enough of my spring rant. I hope I prove to be a better steward of our own fruit trees.




Spring song


For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone;

The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.

— Song of Solomon 2:11-12, King James Version

The flowers in Solomon’s song most likely refer to almond, as they are the earliest trees to blossom in the region of the Mediterranean. And when the almond blossom is out, you know that spring is just around the corner. There may still be the occasional days of chilling winds and even a hail storm, as we had unexpectedly for the third time this year a few days ago, or, like last year, snow at the very end of February. But these unseasonal phenomena are rather like winter’s half-hearted attempts to claw itself back in. But even it too is aware that it’s time to move on, and let spring have centre stage and reap its fair share of glory.

And after such an unprecedented winter, according to locals unused to extended weeks of rain and hail and thunderstorms and snow, this year’s spring blossoming is truly glorious. All along the lowland roads leading to the coast, and scattered hither and yon amongst the dark green of orange orchards and the silver grey of olive groves, beam gigantic bouquets of white and pale pink and brilliant pink. So cheering!

Up here in the mountains, spring blossom is always delayed by a couple of weeks at least. This year it’s obviously been a colder winter than last. I took this photo on the road descending to the Vall de Gallinera on the 4th of February last year.


On the 5th of February this year, on the very same spot, this was the state of bloom.

Lorcha almond cropped.jpg

But just a few meters below, in a more sheltered spot, was this marvellous sight.

Lorcha pink stunning almond cropped.jpg

The backdrop of this gloriously blooming almond — the Vall de Gallinera — is stunning.

Pink almond vs dark dry mtscape vg_5408.JPG

What other unmistakable signs of imminent spring have there been? I’ve been hearing the enchanting song of the Mediterranean golden oriole off and on over the past week. I haven’t got a photo as it’s extremely elusive. We were fortunate enough last year to catch a brief glimpse of it perched on one of the pines.

Other birds I’ve never seen in the garden before have been flying in in small flocks. They shelter in the belt of tall pines at the back of the garden and swoop down several times a day to peck intently at the grass and pebble path. For what? Surely not seeds — too early. Perhaps larvae of grass mites? (That would be a great help indeed. I’ve momentarily forgotten that with the hot weather come insects of all kinds — mites and mosquitoes, as well as the dreaded mosca negra.)

These could be passerine birds, here for a brief stopover to fatten up, before flying further northwards. One flock look remarkably like sparrows — same size, but with rust-coloured chests and greyish brown caps. Another flock has red-barred cheeks with bright yellow streaks leading to their tails. Beautiful! Those stayed only for a couple of days. The sparrow-like flock seems to love it here, especially since M has set up a feeder for them with mixed bird seed.

The seed mix was supplied by our favourite provisions shop in Gandia — a rarity nowadays. It looks like a grain- and spice merchant’s shop from previous centuries, with open sacks of beans and maize and all manner of nuts and grains in a high-ceilinged locale just off the Mercat del Prado. They had some prepared mixes for parrots and canaries, but when we said we were feeding wild birds,  the proprietor took a scoopful of lentils, another of hulled cereal, and another of cracked assorted grains, and mixed them all up. Perfect.

I haven’t seen nor heard a turtle dove yet — the ‘turtle’ in Solomon’s song. The only doves around are white ones kept by our nearest neighbour. And as for the rain being over and gone, the weather forecast for the weekend is rain; for which I and my garden are glad. I hope the rain won’t be over and gone yet for another month or so more.