Mediterranean menace preparing to march

Not the underside of a bird, but the home of a Mediterranean menace!

Not the underside of a bird, but the home of a Mediterranean menace!

If you go down to the woods today, it’s not a teddy bears’ picnic you’re like to find, but the nest of the processionary caterpillar – at least, if the woods are mainly pine trees. These are the habitat of this crawling Mediterranean menace and these strange almost candyfloss-like nests are where they plot their manoeuvres. At around this time of year, they’re preparing to leave the nest to pupate in the soil and when they do, watch out!

We first saw these on the appropriately named Pine Walk in Puerto Pollensa. We hadn’t a clue what they were then (it was our first spring on the island) but watched in fascination as these hairy striped beasties marched across our path, nose-to-tail (do caterpillars have noses?), like a well-disciplined army corps.

Keep your pets away

They look like the sort of thing that a small boy would want to collect and keep in a shoebox under his bed. But processionary caterpillars are definitely to be avoided, as their hairs are irritant to humans and potentially dangerous to pets and other animals. And you don’t even need to come into physical contact with a caterpillar: when under threat, they shed hairs which can be unknowingly ingested.

For the time being, we’ll be giving pine trees a wide berth . . . and joining the teddy bears’ picnic on the beach instead.

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Rain stops play . . . and work

The Boss is a list-maker. And The Big List is the one detailing all the jobs (large and small) that need to be done at our finca in rural Mallorca. I think he started it before we even moved to Mallorca, and it’s been ongoing ever since.  While recovering from his recent surgery, he sat down to do a full review and update of the list, adding lots of new jobs. If I had a list of my own outstanding jobs I’d be completely overwhelmed, but The Boss seems to thrive on having this list to spur him on. Must be the Virgo in him.

Rain, rain, go away . . . 

Since being ‘fit for purpose'(!) again, he’s worked very hard, striking through completed jobs on his handwritten list with pleasure and satisfaction. But progress has recently ground to a halt: unusually, it’s been raining almost solidly here on Mallorca for the past week and all the outdoor jobs on the list (some of which I was going to be helping with) have been out of the question.  Our plans to paint the persianas (our wooden shutters) on the north-facing side of the house have been scuppered by the wet weather. It’ll probably be spring before they dry out enough to re-paint.

Illuminating experience

The weather’s been so bad that we have barely been outside and that’s sharply brought into focus what we love about living in rural Mallorca: being outdoors and surrounded by nature. And, although we could dress ourselves appropriately for the weather and go out, the indoor jobs are looking much more appealing. Currently, it’s an audit of the light bulbs in the house . . .

Read about a gift from the Mediterranean – harvested here on Mallorca – on my other blog: http://www.eatdrinksleepmallorca.com

A prickly harvest

A common sight in Mediterranean gardens like ours

The Mallorcans call them figues de moro, or Moorish figs, but I just call them dangerous. The prickly pear cactus or Opuntia ficus-indica, if you want to go all Monty Don, is a common sight in rural Mediterranean gardens. Some people grow vast ‘bushes’ of it around the perimeter of their property, as a kind of burglar deterrent. A not unwise choice, since the large flat leaves of this prolific plant are covered in tiny spines that can be extremely irritating if they get into your skin. I speak from personal experience.

We usually avoid going too near our large prickly pear cactus, which borders a short stretch of the lane that leads down into the valley. Funnily enough, when our outdoor cats were kittens, they used to leap from leaf to leaf without any apparent problems, but on the occasion that I stood up from weeding the ground underneath our plant and my forehead hit a leaf on the way up, I had no such luck.

I rushed into the house and looked into the mirror, expecting to see the tiny spines sticking out of my skin. I couldn’t see anything, but if I brushed my hand over my forehead, I could certainly feel them. Dozens of them. The Boss spent a patient half hour or so with a magnifying glass and a pair of tweezers extracting the irritating little devils from my skin. Not an experience I wish to repeat.

Which is why, at this time of the year, when the prickly pear fruits are ripe for the picking, you won’t find me harvesting them. I’ve never eaten one (which I perhaps should rectify) but have heard mixed reports: some people say they’re pretty tasteless, others describe them as delicious. I have a recipe for prickly pear sorbet, but doubt I’ll ever make it. You see, the fruits also have these nasty little spines, and the job of peeling the fruits puts me off.

Last week, a large old Mercedes stopped outside our gates, and the driver hooted for our attention. He turned out to be a passing Moroccan who had spotted our vast crop of prickly pear fruits and wanted to know if he could have some. It seems a pity that they go to waste, so we told him to help himself to as many as he wanted. I hope his wife had some good thick gloves . . .

Handle at your peril!