THERE is a plan. Moving to Andalucia wasn’t just a random decision. We have a goal other than seeking sunshine and high rocky mountains. That goal is to become self-sufficient – grow our own fruit and vegetables; make our own wine; keep hens; attempt to reduce our carbon footprint . . .
Don’t anyone make any Richard Briers jokes – El Buena Vida and that sort of thing. I’ve been growing fruit and veg on a double allotment plot for the past 17 years. I might not know much in the grand scheme of things, but at least I know my onions. Caulis and cabbages too.
The looming challenge is to transfer a lifetime of horticultural experience gained in the cold, wet north of England to the hot, dry mountainsides of southern Spain. Helping your father and grandfather plant potatoes in black earth beneath a Cumbrian railway embankment is one thing. Cultivating potatoes in parched ground at an altitude of 1,000 metres is another. But it can be done, and I’ve just met a man who does it well.
This morning I’m sitting in a rattly car that’s clawing its way up the side of a gorge above the town of Lanjarón. Somewhere below the offside wheels, the Rio Lanjarón tumbles over rocks and courses through ravines – but the gorge is so sheer I can’t bring myself to look. I’m on a steep learning curve in more ways than one.
The driver is former Royal Navy matelot and allotment gardener Peter Rogers who, along with his wife, Sue, has established a self-sufficiency centre at the 1,000-metre contour in the Sierra Nevada mountains. It’s like growing your own stuff on the summit of Snowdon, he tells me. Actually, it’s a bit warmer than Snowden and certainly less crowded.
The couple run courses in self-sufficiency, organic gardening, cooking your own produce, making cheese and bread, soap-making, growing and using herbs, natural dying, and pickling and preserving. They have transformed a series of neglected olive terraces into a fully-functional market garden where even the most stubborn – or delicate – of northern European vegetables thrive.
Pete and Sue have tailored a one-day course to suit my requirements. I am taken on a tour of the growing beds, polytunnels, beehives, hen hut, olive grove, and irrigation system. I am tutored in the finer details of cultivating food organically and in a Mediterranean climate. I am plied with cups of tea, beer, delicious beetroot burgers, pasta with peppers, salad, and delicacies too numerous to mention.
And by late afternoon I am no longer an allotment-holder peering from his shed door hoping for a glimpse of an English sun between scurrying rainclouds – I am a tiller of fine soil who harbours hopes for the future.
All I need now is some land of my own. And someone to drive me down this mountain.
FOR Pete and Sue’s website, click here