Ionia Guest House

Luxury accommodation in the Aegean countryside

Tag: olives

Hello again

Well that was quite a gap between updates. Sorry! Not that it’s any excuse, but I was ill with a mystery bug and didn’t feel like making blog posts or doing anything much else for a while. Feeling better now though, cheers for asking.

We were also busy with guests, which is a good problem to have. Thanks especially to the growing group of people who’ve stayed with us more than once. It’s a fantastic vote of confidence when people want to come back.

Pool still looking inviting in November.

Or sit, have a drink, and watch the sun set.

Latest news on the construction front is that, by mutual agreement, Koray is no longer working with us. He was on the job for over two years, he did a huge amount of work, and we’ll always be grateful for his contribution. We wish him all the best in his new worm-compost business.

Of course there’s still a lot to do before rooms three and four are guest-ready and before we have a new house. And now it’s all on us (with some help from family and friends). Exciting but also a little scary. For example, lifting the big beams into place on previous buildings was always a job for Koray and me. With half of that team gone, it pushed us to think about how on earth we were going to get the beams and rafters into place on the new house.

So we went out and bought rope and pulleys in order to set up a block-and-tackle system. Probably should have done it years ago actually. Three pulley wheels at the top and three at the bottom makes for a six-times mechanical advantage, not counting friction on the rope. And they work really well. I know this is not exactly new technology but it does feel very cool to be able to lift a 180kg beam a couple of metres into the air with one hand.

Lifting one of our largest beams with the new block and tackle.

In fact it was Sirem and Çisem who did the actual lifting when it came time to put up the heaviest two beams in the whole project. I had the easy job of shepherding each end into place and getting some safety screws in to hold them there.

Here’s a shot of both beams in place. The one on the left is down the spine of the house and has the important job of holding up a column that will support the ridge beam for the roof. The one on the right is to make a pair of them so we can build a catwalk upstairs, heading out over the double-height space of the main room. All just so people can appreciate the view from the south window up there. Anyway, I’m sure the cats will enjoy it one day.

Support for the roof beams and a catwalk.

Catwalk completed!

The catwalk is not the safest place to be right now, particularly after it’s been raining, as there are no railings yet. The view is worth it though. And it provides some much-needed scaffolding for the roof work that’s coming soon. Currently we’ve put up the upstairs columns, so the next step is to get the ridge beam up. After that it’s the 48 rafters, then planks, membrane, tiles, and voilà, we’ll have a roof.

Upper-level columns going up with plenty of temporary diagonal bracing.

You can just about see what the roof line will be like.

We’re rushing to get the roof onto our house right now because it would be great to get the timber frame protected (parts of it have been up for about a year) and a covered space would be very handy for storing equipment and straw bales. Before that, though, we did get room three to a habitable condition: here’s the bathroom looking a lot more civilized than the last time you saw it.

Bathroom looking better now.

Room three front door. Changed the design a little.

Room three feels so habitable now that we are in fact inhabiting it. Such is life. It’s good to no longer be competing with our own guests for winter accommodation in rooms one and two. And getting back to work on room four (which is currently plastered but doesn’t have windows) is the next big part of the project once the house has a roof. We’ll get there.

We took time out from house-building the other day for a minor safety improvement to building one: we have this loft space above the kitchen (which will be even more useful once we put some better shelving in). It’s been dangerous to be up there as there was nothing to stop you from falling down the ladder back into the kitchen. So, some angle iron, a bit of welding, a bit of painting, and we have a safety railing. Backing down the ladder doesn’t feel nearly so weird now.

New safety railing for the kitchen loft; should stop us breaking our necks.

It hasn’t all been work. My old friend Richard came to visit, and to celebrate we all went to the beach in Dilek National Park. I’ve known Richard since 1995 and have missed a few important developments in his life since moving here, so it was great to be able to catch up.

Richard came to visit. Wow, I really need a haircut.

Candid shot of Sirem and me. (Thanks, Krista, for both of these photos.)

And the national park is always a relaxing place to be. Plenty of things to point a camera at certainly.

Still good beach weather in late September. Well, maybe not for actual swimming.

Finally got a good shot of the wild pigs that live in the park.

What else has happened?

Because we are such publicity hounds, we said “yes” last summer when CNN Türk asked if they could come and film the crazy straw-bale people. Their program aired a few weeks ago and they did a fantastic job with only a couple of hours of raw footage to work with. In particular they took some great drone shots that showed our work from an angle we’d never seen before. The program is available on YouTube if anyone is curious. Obviously you’ll get more out of it if you speak Turkish, but the drone shots go beyond language. :)

Also in the publicity department: a week ago I finally made a “hey, we built a straw-bale hotel!” post to reddit/diy. And then sat at the computer for 11 hours answering people’s questions and comments. It’s nice to get feedback though and the feedback was almost entirely nice.

And, déjà vu, the olive harvesting season has come around again, a little early this time as it was a dry summer. I admit I did absolutely no work on this important job, because I was building the catwalk. Or something. The hard-working olive pickers were Sirem, Çisem, their mum Nadire, and local farmer Mustafa who was our hired expert.

Gently shaking the olives from one of our trees onto a sheet.

Sirem and Çisem doing it old-school: picking up fallen olives from the hillside.

Shaking the trees and gathering the olives is the hard part. It gets a lot easier and more rewarding when you take your crop to the local factory to be pressed into olive oil.

Rainy day at the olive oil factory. Each pile of bags is from someone’s olive farm. Our pile was very small compared to these!

Our olives going into the system.

Leaves and branches blown away, only the olives remain.

Recently the factory has brought in fancy new pressing equipment from Italy to make cold-pressed olive oil possible. This gives nicer oil but a lower yield than the standard warm-pressed method. Decided to give it a try and we couldn’t be happier; the oil is really magnificent.

Where the (cold-pressed) magic happens.

You might remember from last time that we adopted a little white puppy called Nina. She has turned out to be all-labrador, or we’re pretty sure she is anyway. She is wonderful and beautiful and extremely naughty and likes to chew on things that she shouldn’t. And she grew so quickly! I should never have given her all those eggs and all that milk…

Nina a few months ago.

Nina now: huge!

And just for some dog-cat balance, here is a photo of Suzie. She’s been with us for ages but you don’t get to see pictures of her very often as sometimes she decides she is shy, and disappears for a week or two.

Suzie looking soulfully into the distance.

And finally a couple of photos to try to show you how nice the light gets around here as the days get shorter and the air hazier.

I know, I know, like the world needs another sunset photo. But look at those rays!

View of distant hills.

Will try not to go quiet for so long this time!

Ground-breaking news

Since the last post a lot has happened. So many months of planning, waiting and worrying have finally started to bear fruit. Such a relief!

For some reason the council insists on the entire plan being printed on one long sheet.  This leads to much slapstick comedy when the wind is blowing.

The first job was heartbreaking but necessary: we had to cut down some fig trees.  :(  We lost about fifteen of them and had to relocate three olive trees.  Olive trees, we were told, are very tough and will tolerate relocation as long as you prune them hard and give them lots of water afterwards.  Time will tell whether this advice is correct.

Looking up the block at some of the lost fig trees that had to go in order to make way for the foundation slabs.

The second job was improving the driveway.  With last winter’s rains we had some erosion and it had become more like a goat track than a road.

Our driveway: the “before” photo.

We needed to do something if we were going to get heavy machinery, cement mixers, and delivery trucks up there.

Starting to dig

Excavator starting on the driveway.  Jason really wanted a turn but was not seen as responsible enough.

Gravel to make a nice compacted base

One of twelve truckloads of gravel to make a nice compacted base for the drive.

The “after” photo: from goat-track to motorway.  We like it a lot and it’s so wide that it immediately solves some of our future parking problems.

A view from the top, showing how the drive curves around to allow access to the cafe.  This was about halfway through.  More truckloads of gravel were dumped on the right side of this picture.

Then the excavator moved up the hill to start digging out the soil for the three buildings’ foundations and the pool.

Digging out the base for the cafe and first two rooms.

We had mountains of soil that we didn’t know what to do with.  At first it just got pushed over the edge of our hillside, but there was so much of it we were in danger of causing an avalanche onto the road.  So we had about 20 lorry loads worth of soil taken away, and lots of neighbours turned up with tractors and helped themselves to a bit.  We did keep some, though, for the mud plaster.

“And you could have it all, my empire of dirt…”

Battling machines

Rise of the machines.

The guys worked incredibly fast and before we knew it they were putting formwork, steel reinforcement, and the first loads of concrete in.

Early layer of concrete.  This not the real slab, just a bottom layer to make a good surface for the concrete formwork.

Early layer of concrete. This not the real foundation slab, just a bottom layer to make a good surface for the concrete formwork.

Pool starting to take shape.

Pool starting to take shape.

Formwork for the second bungalow.  One day this will be rooms three and four.

Formwork for the second bungalow. One day this will be rooms three and four.

Underlay slab for our house, right at the top of the hill.

Underlay slab for our house, right at the top of the hill.

Solid reinforced concrete beams that will support the restaurant.  The step up in the slab is so that rooms one and two will sit a little higher and not cut too deeply into the hillside.

Reinforced concrete beams that will support the restaurant. The step up in the slab is so that rooms one and two will sit a little higher and not cut too deeply into the hillside.

Improvised tent so there's somewhere dry to store gear and make tea on rainy days.

Improvised tent so there’s somewhere dry to store gear and make tea on rainy days.  The workers were sceptical of Jason’s plan to build this out of scrap wood but so far it is holding up.

Panorama from the top of the orchard, looking west.  Click for full size.

Another big job that is now done was to lay 66 metres of concrete pipe in the ditch next to the main road and then cover it over.  The idea is to carry away the rain water that comes down the hill, and also to stop our new driveway from acting as a dam.  Each pipe section was 1.5 metres long and 80 cm in diameter.  I am so glad that this job is over now as it was the scariest and most dangerous of all the work done so far. Watching the excavator lift and swing a very heavy concrete pipe in the air, hanging from a chain,  44 times in succession while traffic was still passing on the road was very nerve-racking!  I don’t think we remembered to take a photo of this job because we were so busy watching it nervously.

“Before” photo, taken in March 2014.

After: you can’t see it, but there’s 66 metres of 80 cm concrete pipe buried on the right-hand side of the road there.  Smoothing it over afterwards makes more handy parking spaces.

During these exciting times we had my parents and Jason’s uncle John and aunt Marg staying with us.   In the evenings one or two drinks were had in order to celebrate the start of the building work.

John and Marg inspecting the site.

Jason tells me I have to add cat photos to a blog post or people will complain.  So, here they are.  The kittens are getting bigger every day.  They have names now, but we are still trying to adopt them out.









All together.

All together.

And finally, a big thanks to JP who sent us a wonderful 24mm lens that took most of the photos above.  Cheers, JP, we love it!

Olive oil update

Just some quick details on the process of turning our recent olive harvest into olive oil…

It turns out we picked over 400 kg of olives.  We kept about 50 kg of the biggest and best for eating, and those are in the process of being repeatedly washed and salted and weighted down. There were seven sacks (323 kg) of normal-quality olives to be pressed into oil. And finally a small sack (38 kg) of poor-quality olives that we took from the ground beneath the trees.

Our local olive-oil factory.

Our local olive-oil factory.

We took our eight sacks just around the corner to the Yıldırım olive processing factory. We sold the one bag of lower-quality olives to the factory, and the money we got for that was enough to pay for processing all the rest. This seemed like a good deal.

Sacks of olives in the factory yard, waiting their turn to be pressed.

Sacks of olives in the factory yard, waiting their turn to be pressed.

The olives are washed and the leaves are filtered out.

The olives are washed and any remaining leaves are filtered out before pressing.

A line of machines for crushing the olives and filtering the oil.

Machines for crushing the olives and filtering the oil.

The guys at the factory are incredibly busy right now, as everyone brings in their olives around the same time. So we had to come back the next day to see the results.

A tough and slippery job. (Our batch was a little over one of these containers.)

A tough and slippery job. (Our batch was a little over one of these containers.)

The juice, the precious juice, was hidden in the vehicles.

The juice, the precious juice, was hidden in the vehicles.

Our 323 kg turned into 67 litres of beautiful cloudy green oil. We’re told it has good, low acidity levels. I would try to describe the taste but I don’t have the adjectives. I can tell you that it is very, very good for dipping fresh bread into.

Testing began immediately.

Testing began immediately.


Harvesting olives for Christmas

Winter is really here now, and with it has come the rain. Christmas has come and gone. We hope you are all having a relaxing break, wherever you are. We plan to give ourselves the next few days off, but right up until Christmas Eve we’ve been busy with the olive harvest, and also painting and tiling one more bedroom in time for a visit from Sirem’s dad.

Winter sunset looking towards Mount Mycale.

Winter sunset looking towards Mount Mycale.

Every month I learn something new about Mediterranean agriculture. Previously, I had no idea olives were harvested so late in the year. Apparently it’s all about leaving them on the tree for long enough to produce a lot of oil, but not leaving them so long that they start to fall off. From early December onwards, all the hillsides around the village are dotted with the white nylon sheets used to catch the olives when the trees are beaten with sticks.

Olives on the tree.

Olives on the tree.

We have about 15 trees, which is not many by local standards. But being non-experts, we decided to get some professional help in anyway. Thanks to Mustafa and Leyla we got our olives down from the trees in a single (long, tiring, back-breaking) day. And then another day to sort them and get them all into sacks.

Freshly harvested olives.

Freshly harvested olives.

Sirem choosing the biggest and best olives for eating: the rest become olive oil.

Sirem choosing the biggest and best olives for eating: the rest become olive oil.

I couldn’t believe that only 15 trees produced about 350 kg of olives. We can’t possibly eat that many, so most of them are going to be pressed into olive oil at one of the local processing plants. It takes about 5 kg of olives to make one litre of oil, which means we should be set up for olive oil for the foreseeable future.

Most of our olive harvest (a few more sacks added later).

Most of our olive harvest (a few more sacks added later).

The biggest and juiciest olives are put aside for eating, but you have to pick them out manually and that takes some time. Right now our best olives have been washed and salted and are sitting in sacks under the weight of some bricks: it will take a month or more before they’re ready to eat. We know they’re going to taste good though, because we’ve already tried some early-harvest olives we picked a few weeks back.

Here's some we made earlier: pressed, salted olives in oil and oregano.

Here’s some we made earlier: pressed, salted olives in oil and oregano.

We also made time for a trip to the nursery. We love our orchard, but we don’t want to grow only figs and olives up there. We bought all sorts of things: a cherry tree, some oleander bushes and trees, different kinds of cypresses, a bay tree, rosemary, lavender, and more. Currently they’re all sitting in pots in the courtyard, but we need to get them into the ground and start the long job of landscaping what we hope will be a wonderful garden some day.

A selection of trees and shrubs.

A selection of trees and shrubs.

I’m in two minds about mentioning our progress on the kitchen, because I’m a bit embarrassed about how long it’s all taking. But things are progressing and we will get there eventually. We’re very proud of having made our own drawers, and people who’ve visited us already will know how much of a big deal it was to finally have a sink in the kitchen.

Drawers! Actual working drawers!

Drawers! Actual working drawers!

Our long-awaited kitchen sink.

Our long-awaited kitchen sink. (Ignore the worktop: that’s just plywood and will get tiled soon.)

Christmas Eve was exhausting, because we had to grout the new tiles in the oldest bedroom before Sirem’s dad arrived on the 25th. This came after a day of olive harvesting, of course. It was worth it, because now we have another warm and welcoming bedroom — but we don’t want to do it again in a hurry. It was nice to relax by the fire on Christmas Day, watching our dinner cook in the coals, and enjoying a few glasses of distinctively named Turkish wine.

Christmas dinner cooking in a clay oven.

Christmas dinner cooking in a clay oven.



Moving to Turkey

Photo of us Hi, and welcome to our blog. Some of you will already know us, and will have heard about our crazy project in great detail.  For those who haven’t met us before, we’re Jason and Sirem.  We’ve had enough of our jobs in the UK and are about to move to rural Turkey to build a hotel.

Semi-detached Southampton house This is the house in Southampton we’ll be leaving behind. We’ve been here for seven years and it’s been a great place to live, but it’s time to go.

And here are some photos of where we’re going.  We bought a small farmhouse and about an acre of fig orchard on a hillside near the village of Hıdırbeyli.  Which is near the town of Germencik, just inland from Turkey’s Aegean coast.

The orchard as it looked in March 2014.

Sunset from the orchard, looking towards Mount Mycale.

Looking out across the olive groves.

We’ll be about half an hour from ruins of Ephesus, with many other archaeological sites only a short drive away (e.g., Priene, Magnesia, Miletus, Didyma, and Aphrodisia). We’re also about half an hour from the beach.

All that archaeology gave us the idea for what to call the hotel.  We’re right in the middle of what was once Ionia, one of the colonies of ancient Greece.  So our place will be the Ionia Guest House.

The plan is to build a small hotel with about six rooms around a central garden courtyard and pool.  We want it to work as a base for visiting the attractions of the Aegean coast, and at the same time give people a taste of the Turkish countryside. We plan to grow our own fruit and vegetables, to use great local food, and to raise chickens for eggs.  We want to build the place in a sustainable way (timber-frame straw bale construction, covered in local clay plaster). It’s going to take us a couple of years to get it all up and running, so the blog is for keeping people up to date on our progress.

Thanks for stopping by.

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