Cracking the problem of removing a dead almond tree

When do you give up on an old Mallorcan almond tree? We have a few on our finca and they’re past their prime. In spite of that, they are covered in beautiful blossom in the early weeks of each year and offer a reasonable crop of almonds in the autumn. They may be old, but we love them, so they can live out their years in rural Mallorca without fear of a chainsaw massacre.

Mallorcan almond blossom

Blooming lovely!

Sadly, two of our old almond trees were badly damaged in September 2014, when a mini-tornado cut a swathe right through our field. We removed the broken branches then and left the trunks in the hope that there would be some regrowth.

Three years on there was no sign of any life remaining in these two trees. One is set within a stone wall, so must stay (or the wall will tumble down). The other has stood in the middle of the field looking rather forlorn – but removing it would require more than a bit of brute human force. We were pondering this very challenge just the other day, having coffee in the field, while The Boss supervised yet another bonfire. (Fire. It’s a man thing).

I’ll say this for The Boss: he gets things done. I was sitting writing at my computer – my back to the French doors facing the field – when I heard a loud unfamiliar noise. I turned around and our neighbour Lorenzo was in the field on his tractor, pushing the old tree trunk over. He’d been trundling up the lane and stopped for a chat; The Boss asked if he’d be able to pop in sometime to remove the tree (we’ve paid him to do tractor-related jobs before) and Lorenzo said he’d do it there and then. It took just moments to do.Almond tree felled

Down…and destined for the log store

Fungi on an old tree

The tree was dead but the fungus wasn’t!

It is a truth universally acknowledged that any man in possession of a large field must be in want of a tractor – or a kindly neighbour with one. Thanks, Lorenzo (and Jane Austen).

©Jan Edwards 2017

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Almond blossom time on Mallorca

The Boss and I have just come indoors after having lunch on our rural Mallorca home’s small front terrace. It’s something we’ve been able to do more than is usual for January, as the weather has been surprisingly warm and sunny for the time of year.

Today’s home-made guacamole (from creamy avocados grown on Mallorca) served with a medley of crisp raw veggies (sounds like I swallowed a recipe description here!) was more the type of dish we’d eat in spring or summer; it was too warm today for home-made soup or a steaming jacket potato fresh from our Jotul log-burning stove.

This winter is proving to be like none that we have experienced since we moved to Mallorca in April 2004. Back then we started to record temperatures and weather conditions in a new five-year diary. It’s been interesting to look back occasionally at what we experienced in those early years:

January 26th, 2005: High 6 degrees C. Low of zero degrees.  “Woke to a covering of snow.”

And the same date in subsequent years, highs and lows as follows:

2006 – 11/4 degs C; 2007 – 12/6 degs C; 2008 – 13/6 degs C.

Today our outdoor thermometer (which stands in a shaded position) has registered 18 degs C.  And our rural part of Mallorca is often a few degrees cooler than, say, Palma de Mallorca, the island’s capital. We’ve had quite a few similar temperatures since winter officially began – and only a couple of short cold snaps.

The downside to the unusual amount of warm sunshine and blue skies is the lack of rain. Farmers are having a tough time with their crops and, this week, the Balearic government has announced measures to help the agricultural community during this time of drought. Other sectors are also being affected by the unseasonable weather: yesterday I heard of a heating company that has done hardly any business so far this winter.

Mallorca’s dry warm winter has both good and bad sides, but one positive has been the early blossoming of the almond trees across the island. This beautiful, delicately scented blossom never fails to make me smile in the winter months – whatever the weather.

Almond blossom Majorca

Captured on camera today.

Majorca blossom

Almond blossom from 2014 – when the sky wasn’t quite as blue as today’s!

 

If you’re on Mallorca in early February, it would be a pity to miss the Fira de la Flor d’Ametler (the almond blossom fair), which takes place in the town of Son Servera on Sunday, February 7th, 2016.

 

September storms on Mallorca

It’s the last day of September and, although we expect storms on Mallorca this month – after the long hot summer – we seem to have had more of them than usual. And along with high temperatures, the high humidity has made things uncomfortable at times.

We’ve also had three lots of visitors staying with us during September. The first visit was from our friends Duncan and Kristina, who were surprised to find it so hot and humid – having stayed at the finca with us before at around this time. During their stay, we spent the best part of one day with them in the lovely coastal village of Banyalbufar (enjoying an excellent lunch at 1661 Cuina de Banyalbufar – a most-visit restaurant if you’re ever in that part of the Mallorca). The sun had shone all day and was still shining as we approached home. One thing was evident though: puddles were everywhere.  Clearly it had rained, but stopped in time to give us a warm and sunny end to the day.

A trail of destruction

The weather, in our absence, turned out to have been more than a heavy shower.  As we drove through the gates onto our drive, we noticed that the dishes under all the flowerpots were full of water. That was the only sign there that there’d been a storm. But when we opened the shutters at the back of the house, all was revealed: two teak dining chairs blown over; a parasol (on a stand) lying on the ground, and another parasol broken and blown some distance from its original position. And down in our field, two almond trees had suffered severe damage. We now have a couple of almond tree trunks standing forlorn and without branches and leaves.

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One broken almond tree

One broken almond tree

Flying chairs

Flying chairs

Another broken tree

Another broken tree

We found out later that there had been an intense hailstorm, with severe winds. It seemed that a mini-tornado had whipped its way through our garden, leaving its calling card in its wake. We checked out our Swiss neighbours’ garden (in their absence) as it appeared to be on the trajectory of whatever had passed through our garden, but the only damage suffered there was a potted plant that had been blown over.

Mallorca’s green and pleasant land

This was a very localized storm, and there have been quite a few of those on Mallorca over the past few weeks. Every day we’ve checked various weather apps, finding the forecast of more storms. Our visitors this September have not had quite the weather they’d expected. We’ve now had enough rain (hopefully) to top up the reservoirs depleted during the summer months. Mallorca is looking green again, with an enthusiastic showing of early weeds in our garden. But the most unexpected sight in our garden – due no doubt to the continuing warmth and all the rainfall – has been almond blossom on one of our several trees (undamaged by the storm). We don’t usually see that until January/February. It’s been a strange September . . .

 

 All photos courtesy of Duncan Matthews.

 

 

‘Snowing’ on Mallorca

We were talking earlier on the phone to The Boss’s elderly aunt in Birmingham (UK), who told us it had been snowing there this morning. Two years ago this month, Mallorca also saw a lot of snow – the most since the ’50s, we were told. The Boss’s cousin and wife had come over at that time for a walking holiday, staying in Camp de Mar. They were somewhat shocked to wake up one morning to find quite a lot of snow outside the door – and the wrong kind of walking gear in their wardrobe.

Although snow does usually fall on the Tramuntana mountains a few times over the winter, it doesn’t often make it to our part of the island; not that we’re complaining. We do, however, have a very special ‘snowfall’ on the island, which usually happens this month.

In the past few days, we’ve had some strong winds and quite a lot of rain. As a result, the almond blossom – a notable feature of the Mallorcan countryside at this time of the year – is coming to an end. A ‘snowfall’ of the delicate petals arrives with every strong gust of wind, and soon the ground will be littered with drifts of them. Goodbye almond blossom, hello new green leaves.

'Snow' drift on the terrace

‘Snow’ drift on the terrace

Mallorca + February = almond blossom

Almond blossom's delicate beauty

Almond blossom’s delicate beauty

February can be a cold month on Mallorca, but it can also be one of the most beautiful. This is the month when Mallorca’s thousands of almond trees burst into blossom (and show a hint of the new green growth that will rapidly follow). Those who know the island as a summer or autumn destination, but have never visited in this particular month are missing one of Mallorca’s most impressive natural events.

For those who do visit Mallorca at this time of year, a tour of the island’s rural interior offers plenty of photo opportunities and the delicate scent of almond blossom on the breeze (or, sometimes, the howling wind).

What could be more lovely on a clear day?

What could be more lovely on a clear day?

Mallorca has fiestas and fairs throughout the year and many of these firas are dedicated to produce from the island – including herbs, olives, sobrassada, honey, melons and, of course, almonds.

Step back in time

Today was the almond fair in Son Servera and, never having been before, we went this morning. We knew it was taking place in an old finca, and assumed it would be in the countryside outside the small town. Back in 1780, when it was built, it would have been. Today Ca s’Hereu has become incorporated into the town itself, with newer buildings around it. But once through the gates, the modern face of Son Servera is soon forgotten.

As you’d expect, stalls were selling a variety of products made from almonds, but there were also other foodstuffs available, as well as handicrafts. Wandering musicians played traditional Mallorcan music, and the local television cameras were there to capture it all. Perhaps you’ll spot us on IB3 TV news tonight? Just for a change, we weren’t caught on camera eating. We once appeared on the front cover of a couple of local Manacor magazines, gorging ourselves on ice cream at the town’s September fair; we only found out about that when several people we know in Manacor told us about our ‘starring role’.  Thankfully, we never did see what sounded like an embarrassing photo.

We decided to save our almond-munching until this evening, in the privacy of our own finca. What could be more delicious than a few roasted Mallorcan almonds with a pre-prandial drink? And more evocative of spring than the clouds of almond blossom decorating the island’s many orchards?

The venue for Son Servera's almond fair

The venue for Son Servera’s almond fair

Music, maestros, por favor!

Music, maestros, por favor!

Agricultural implements were on display.

Agricultural implements were on display.

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One day our own almond trees may be this productive . . .

One day our own almond trees may be this productive . . .

All photos by Jan Edwards

 

Dressed to impress

Blossom on one of our almond trees

Blossom on one of our almond trees

We don’t make a habit of having people to stay at our finca in rural Mallorca during the winter months, because the weather can be a little unpredictable. But with the new roof having made a big difference to the comfort levels indoors, we were happy to accommodate our best friends from Oxford when they asked if they could come over for a long weekend. At least we knew they wouldn’t have water dripping through the ceiling in their room if it rained . . .

All dressed up and somewhere to go

They chose a good time to come, because it was carnival this weekend and, in Manacor, this is an event well-supported by the local population. It seems as though most of the locals take to the streets in fancy dress, to parade and party to live bands and wandering percussion groups playing batucada. Undeterred by the bitterly cold wind, we donned our own costumes (dressing as Brits going out for a winter walk) and pitched in with the party people. I just love the creativity behind some of the amazing costumes and make-up that we see every year at this event, and worn by everyone from a baby in a pushchair to a sprightly octagenarian.

Mallorca’s ‘snowflakes’

But it’s not just the people who were dressed up over the weekend. Mallorca’s almond trees are currently at their height of loveliness, swathed in the beautiful blossom which attracts visitors to the island at this time of the year. When a gust of wind blows, petals flutter like snow to the ground. And sometimes, there’s even a little real snow . . .

If, like our friends Duncan and Kristina, you’re not too worried about what the weather might do, these winter months can be a very special time to visit Mallorca.

Nuts about Mallorca

Our neighbours prepare to harvest their almonds

The repetitive clink-clink coming from the direction of the nearest farm means that it’s almond-harvesting time again. Mallorca’s countryside is renowned for its numerous almond orchards and, in particular, the magnificent sight of the almond blossom in late January/February. The locals say their almonds are the best in the world, and I wouldn’t dare disagree.

Fill ‘er up

Almonds have been a fantastically useful crop for a long time here. In the corner of our dining room is an old Hergom stove (sadly no longer operational) in which almond shells used to be burned to heat the house. I’ve even read that, back in the 50s, some people here ran their cars on burning almond shells. I have an image of passengers shelling almonds furiously as the driver progresses, so that their final destination could be reached. Given the record prices of petrol and diesel right now, it could be time to return to this practice.

Let them eat cake

The almond is a highly nutritious nut and the Mallorcans have plenty of recipes incorporating almonds – one of which is one of the island’s best sweet treats, known locally as gató. This is a delicious almond cake, usually served with almond ice cream. It should be made without flour, making it suitable for those on a gluten-free diet, but if you visit Mallorca and want to order this when eating out, it’s wise to confirm that no flour has been used. My father is a coeliac and during his visits we have sometimes come across versions that have some flour in them – presumably because flour is cheaper than almonds.

Almond oil can be used in cooking and also makes a wonderful natural moisturiser for the skin. I recently paid less than 3 euros in a pharmacy for a bottle of almond oil and a little goes a long way (especially if, as I did, you knock the bottle over and spill some!).

Bringing home the harvest

There are several ways to harvest almonds and most of the folks in our valley use the traditional methods: large nets are placed on the ground around the tree and long metal poles are used to bash a hailstorm of nuts to the ground. It looks like the kind of job that ought to require a hard hat, but health and safety rarely seems a consideration here. The more sophisticated farmers – or those with large orchards – use a tractor fitted with a device to shake the tree and a strange attachment resembling an upside-down umbrella, that catches the nuts.

As for us, we have nine almond trees on our land, although not all produce the sweet variety. Being the main consumer of almonds in our household (I have them every morning with fruit and yogurt for breakfast), it falls to me to harvest our nuts. Any day now, I’ll be out there, knocking the almonds from the branches using the plastic handle from my kitchen broom. No chink-chink here . . . more of a dull thud and a curse when an almond bounces off my head.

And then comes the laborious task of removing the nuts, first from their fibrous husks and then their shells. Given the speed at which I manage this part of the job, it’s a good thing we’re not depending on the shells for car or home-heating fuel . . .