Sunk tractor 7

Over Easter Janet and I spent a couple of weeks in England having some great family and friends time. On our drive back home to our quinta through Spain we stopped to look at a waterfall we hadn’t seen before. A Spanish man stopped a minute later to look too, and he told Janet there was a lot of rain over the previous three days. The next five days were rainy with only short dry spells and in total we had five inches of rain; this has been a record wet month. In one interval I was able to mow the 12”high weed patch at the front of the house so it would look a bit like a lawn – it took two hours! The rain stopped on Wednesday morning and the sun came out. Janet was out with a friend so I decided to mow the vineyard before the rain returned.

I attached the corta-mato (topper) and mowed the weedy veg gardens as a mulch then in the sunny dry afternoon headed off to the vineyard. There was surface water all over which was to be expected. The job went smoothly and by 4pm I was on the last line of mowing, feeling very pleased with myself. The tractor suddenly slowed moving forward so I shifted it into neutral and looked down to see that the left back wheel had sunk into a patch of mud. I reversed out of it but the wheel just turned and sank. I tried forwards more slowly and the wheels just turned and sank some more, and the mud now covered the depth of the tyre and water oozed over the wheel rSunk tractor 2im.

I looked away from the wheel to see that the tractor was now tilted sideways at quite an angle -this was looking serious- and the tilt was quickly getting worse. I shoved the mower hydraulics downwards to try and take weight off the wheel but nothing improved. In fact it was sinking quickly and was now in almost to the axle. The right front wheel was off the ground and abandoning the tractor was a balancing act at that slope.

Sunk tractor 1Janet arrived home and, after a cup of tea, we went down to put a pine pole and planks under the wheel; with a dose of optimism, four wheel drive and diff lock it should be out.

“Oh,” we thought when we saw it. “No. Not looking good at all”.

Janet said, “You can’t get that out. We need help”.

“No, we’ll give it a go”. And we did, and it dug itself into the very deep mud. It was a fluidised mudhole. We needed help.

I rang the garage where I get my agricultural diesel fuel. He was sympathetic and said he’d send his mechanic round at 8am tomorrow. It began to rain again. I reluctantly left the tractor embedded in the mud as night drew in.

Sunk tractor 3Sunrise, tractor sunk deeper now, then 8am, then 9am and still no mechanic.

I rang again, “You need a light bulb?” he asked.

“What? No, my tractor is sunk in mud and I need it pulling out”

“My lad hasn’t turned up to work. Isn’t there anyone near you with a tractor?”

“No, one neighbour’s at work and the other isn’t there today. Wasn’t yesterday either.”

“Ring me after lunch and I’ll see what I can do.”

Well that was less hopeful than yesterday. Janet suggested we ask our friend N for the phone number of the builders he used who have a JCB. He rang us and said they were round at his place this morning but to go soon as they would leave at lunchtime. I was off like a shot. It was raining when I arrived and the guys had already loaded their small JCB and were packed up for the day as it was too wet for them to continue. They looked at the photographs I’d taken and doubted that their small digger would be able to do the job. Their large digger was in a village an hour’s drive away. I convinced them to come and look anyway.

Sunk tractor 4Sunk tractor 5They followed me to our quinta and did the same as Janet and I the previous day. Then they dug a ramp for the tractor to climb out but had to disconnect the corta-mato to make the tractor lighter. They unloaded the digger off the lorry, I brought a chain and they attached their towing strap. Running in low gear, with a pine pole levering against the sunken wheel and the little JCB tugging hard, they were able to pull the tractor out. Yaaaay!Sunk tractor 7

Sunk tractor 10Then they dragged the corta-mato out (oops! I hadn’t realised that to put it away I’d have to reverse up to it, back into the mud). The pine pole near the centre of the picture is over seven feet long. The fact that less than three feet of it is visible shows the mudhole is liquified to at least four feet depth, enough to submerge the whole tractor wheel. It isn’t wide enough to take the tractor, though, I think. They told me (afterwards, thankfully) that they had attempted to do another like this previously but this one was buried to the same depth with both back wheels stuck – ours had only one. They had tried by hand and failed, then brought in a JCB a month later when the ground was less sodden but the JCB sank in the same place. They had to leave both vehicles for another month until the ground was dry before trying again with another JCB which also sank (!!!) and finally a third JCB which was able to extract the other two and the tractor.

Sunk tractor 11The saving grace for us was the fact that the mud pool was on the very edge of the vineyard, and N’s quick response was so helpful. For the workmen (Nelson, Paulo and Jaime) the whole procedure including transit time was just over an hour which was an impressive achievement –thanks, guys!

 

May and early June is the time of year when the olive trees are flowering. Their pollination is not done by insects but carried in the air because the flowers are tiny, so each tree makes thousands of them. The pollen is a common cause of an allergic reaction with symptoms like a bad common cold – sneezing, runny eyes, lack of energy and so on. Janet has developed this allergy so for about six weeks she tries to stay in and can’t do much; she is fine in the morning but deteriorates until in the evening she really suffers.

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I have to mow the grass in our olive groves because it dries out to become a fire hazard. When I do it the pollen and grass dust fill the air – I can only cope with it for a couple of hours before I have to quit, come indoors, sneeze and have a shower to wash off the dust. I have mown only half our fields and groves up to now, because other jobs have become more urgent.

The weather here becomes seriously hot and dry, and I have to be out early to get in four hours work before lunchtime. It is very easy to become dehydrated so I come up to the house and drink half a litre of diluted fruit juice every hour.

P1040617 C hair abefore

P1040617 C hair afterNow I know how the vines feel – I spend a month at this time of the year watering them and giving them a haircut – removing excess shoots and tying the good growth to the wires installed over the past two years. The pictures here are of the vines beside our house, bordering the veg plot, before and after trimming.

Last year half of my vines were on wires and the vindima took only three days compared to well over a week in previous years; it was much easier as the grapes were more accessible.

vines after cropLast summer I had two men put a hundred posts in the vines abefore croplarger of our vineyards to make twelve more lines of wiring. The large vineyard is now all wired so this year all the vines are tied to the wires, getting them off the ground, making pruning and watering easier. Watering used to take at least two hours a day under the hot sunshine, lugging around seventy metres of hosepipe, from May until September.

irrig 1 tubingDrip irrigation is the way forward, which is what I’ve been installing for the last couple of weeks. This is what a hundred metres of irrigation tube looks like, and I’ve used quite a few of these!

irrig 3It required digging a trench in the hard baked earth and laying a heavy supply tube into it. Then I had to drill holes into it, fit connectors and a fifty-metre drip tube for each line, clip each 16mm tube to the bottom wire, and finally put in a dripper above every vine.

For over a hundred vines it took many hours, and there are two blank lines ready for planting more vines in the autumn.. The system had to be tested once the pipework seemed finished – a third of a mile in total – before refilling the trench. All this would be only a few days’ work if I didn’t have my basic jobs to do first – making the irrigation is what I do when I’ve finished watering those same vines with a hose! Now it is all done, watering the vines is almost as easy as turning on a few taps, and the pump is solar-powered and silent. It is lovely to work slowly in the vineyards, carefully pruning each vine, tying the best growth to wires to train and support it, listening to the water dripping and knowing the vine will use it to give us lots of lovely wine!

A week ago we finalised an arrangement for the two workmen to start work today (Thursday) and at that time a little rain was foreseen. Yesterday the weather forecast was 90mm of rain on Thursday and it had already started when we got up. I speculated that work would be delayed by a day but Janet said they will work in any weather. She was right. In pouring rain and dim light Luis and Jorge arrived, unloaded stout wooden poles and metal posts, and set to work placing end poles to wire my vines into lines.

First end pole

aligning metal posts

aligning metal posts

Dressed in waterproofs and wellies, I went down to the small vineyard and met them. I explained exactly what I wanted and they carefully measured out where the metal posts should go.

P1030500a  Posts are hammered in using the cylindrical hammer which Jorge is carrying in this photo. How does he know when to stop driving the post in? Use one’s built-in marker aka nose.

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When all the metal supports were in, the end poles were secured to the ground to resist tension in the wires by screwing helices with a strong metal tie-rod (pictured) 50cm into the earth, starting off in a hole 20cm deep.

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P1030511aWhat is not conveyed in these pictures is what it’s like working in heavy rain. The gritty soil from the hole slips back in from the spades as you try to lift it out, the rain goes into your eyes when you’re trying to look along the line of posts, your hands slip about on the tools. Twice the rain rate touched 8cm (3 inches) per minute; working outdoors has to stop in this.

P1030520a By late afternoon the rain stopped. The men fixed the horizontal support wires which will carry the vines tied to them.

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Each wire is tensioned with a ratchet at one end.

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The sky became dark grey to the south, it was 5pm and time to knock off. Our damp but tenacious workmen left. Two minutes later the heavens opened and down poured 2cm of rain in half an hour.