Thursday, April 16, 2015

They're only cats...

We've had a difficult few days with Wentworth (Black) and Gawber (Tabby) the cats. About 10 days ago Wentworth came home from his daily wanderings and was obviously sore on his tail and whimpered whenever we went near him. This is a sure sign he had been in a fight with another cat during his nightly adventures. This isn't the first time he has had such problems and we are very used to the process of bite, abscess formation, localised hair loss, abscess bursting, cleaning, scab formation and healing. This time it was a bit different.

After three days the abscess grew and grew, hair loss was significant in and around the bite/s and Wentworth became subdued and generally unwell. It was clear from the amount of scratches on his body and from closer inspection of his tail, that this time it had been a significant fight and he was suffering much more than usual; a trip to the vets was indicated. On examination he had three puncture wounds on his tail and three abscesses. He was given antibiotic cover and a pain killer before having them drained and flushed out with hydrogen peroxide. With instructions to remove the scabs as they formed and continue to drain any puss formation we took him home, grounded him and continued with the treatment regime. Poor little thing (he is only very slight for a male cat), he was very sore and hated our interference with his very inflamed tail. With regular anti-inflammatory medication and wound cleansing his tail began to heal.

We became concerned that despite healing well, he was sleeping for much more than usual and he had developed very watery eyes, sneezing and a build up of mucus in his upper respiratory tract. Apart from the odd bit of yogurt and water, he wasn't eating. We did some research and talked to the vet and concluded that it could be a viral infection passed on from the cat which he had fought with. The antibiotics would give him cover for any subsequent bacterial infections so it was just case of tender loving care and wait and see. Unfortunately we suspected that if it was viral, Gawber, his brother, was also at risk. Sure enough two days later Gawber started becoming unwell.

At first he just seemed to have a bit of a cough and would sit with his neck slumped and his mouth open. He went off his food and wouldn't drink. It was weekend and by the Sunday we were really concerned for his prognosis without intervention, so the emergency vet was called. On examination Gawber was found to have an extremely inflamed pharynx resulting in difficulty swallowing, a lot of pain and respiratory difficulties. Injections of antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications were given. With instructions to contact the vet if he should deteriorate, we set about trying to keep him hydrated and comfortable along with his brother Wentworth. When ill, cats can deteriorate very quickly.

Gawber's condition deteriorated rapidly and on Monday we took him back to the vets where a decision was made to give him a stat dose of steroids by injection. It was a worrying 24 hours and distressing to see him gasping, vomiting and extremely subdued. Thankfully he began to show signs of improvement by Wednesday and began to voluntarily drink water. He is now back eating soft food and beginning to recover well as is Wentworth. They both now have runny noses, weepy eyes and frequent sneezing but are doing well. We've been back to the vets today and she is pleased with Gawber's progress. With a couple more weeks of TLC, good food and a few extra vitamins there is no reason why they shouldn't make a full recovery.

They're only cats... This has been said in one of several forms a few times over the years by a few people who really should know better. To set the record straight, the cats are not children substitutes, they are not pampered or spoilt, they are not treat better than humans neither are we wasting money on good quality food, shelter or care. We took the decision to take on the responsibility for the guardianship of two independent, domesticated animals. To us they are not pets, playthings or trophies, they are fascinating, intelligent, graceful and endearing creatures who require us to act as their advocates when it is required. We owe them the best care and treatment we can provide and we will continue to love and respect them as unique and intelligent animals. In our opinion, if you are not prepared to work in this way with another animal, you really should stick to a life without one.

On a final note, whoever developed these multivitamin tablets for cats has obviously never product tested adminstration....

Friday, April 10, 2015

Knowing your onions...

When something works, why meddle? 

Onions have always cropped well for us, granted, some years have been better than others but on the whole we usually grow enough onions to last us most of the year. We use a lot of onions in cooking, in chutneys and pickles and in salads. This year like previous years we have planted 150 early onions, 150 red and 150 white. Together with spring onions and leeks we will, mother nature willing, have enough at harvest time to last throughout the year.

The ground is prepared by ensuring it has lots of compost and green manure dug in and left for a few weeks for the worms and micro organisms to start their work. We buy our main onion crop as small plants from a local grower who has a stall in Ribadesella market. Although they are not organic, we will grow them on using organic principals. We bought 400 onions and 12 lettuce from him for 20€.

We look for a good green and strong plant that has been well watered and not left to grow too leggy in the plant module. We have always been pleased with the quality of his stock.

We give the onions a good start in the ground by supplementing the rich soil with extremely well rotted manure. We have found a source near to us from a local farmer who has a few cows and horses. Over the years he has just piled up the manure and it has turned into black gold. We usually drop him off a bottle of home made liqueur based on Orujo and orange which we know he likes. We take the car up, fill a few sacks and off we go.

Heaps of black gold

A small trench is dug and filled in the base with black gold and then watered. The onions are laid out about 15cms apart, the trench filled and the onions bedded in. A final watering is pretty much all there is left to do and apart from a bit of light weeding from time to time and spraying with a natural fungicide, the onions will grow and swell without little interference from us.

Knowing our onions, the conditions they like, when and when not to spray and when to harvest works for us and results in a year round supply of delicious red and white onions for cooking and preserving. What are your tips on onion growing, maybe leave us a comment below or a link to your blog and we'll check them out? I bet they're not as big as ours.... ;-)

Sunday, April 05, 2015

An update from Toriello

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It has been full on here for the past seven days with lots of gardening, general maintenance, cycling challenges and visiting family.

This recent spell of bright sunshine and warmer weather has brought everything on at a pace and we now have lots of blossom on the peach and greengage, the pear is just about to bloom and the orange tree is full of tiny white buds. The vegetable plot now has 100 potatoes planted, several rows of peas and mange tout, a new lavender hedge (for the bees, soap and hand cream making) and, the remainder of the compost has been added around the raspberry canes. The ground also is prepared for the onions which will be planted next week. We are currently harvesting broccoli, leeks, celeriac, ruby chard and the last of the kalettes.

Luis' brother and his family came to stay this past week as Ruben planned to join Luis on the first of his challenges in the Caring for Rosie challenge (read more here). Last Tuesday Luis and Ruben set off from home at 8am and caught the train to Arriondas from where they commenced their cycle ride to the Lakes of the Picos de Europa mountains. They decided to start from Arriondas as there was a strong head wind on the day and they needed every drop of energy to tackle the 12 km ascent and the other 90 kms of road cycling.  They completed their epic ride and in total covered 100km with a total ascent of 2,827 m. So far We have raised over £750 for the Donkeys but with two further challenges to go I am confident we can meet our target of £1000.

It was good to spend time with Ruben, Veronica and the children and show them some of our local beaches and sights. The baby, Sara, is delightful and such a content and happy child. Kelan and Haizea are full of energy and really enjoyed playing in the garden and running wild on the sands. As for Luis and I, time to rest and recuperate over Easter in preparation for a busy Summer ahead.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The first grass cut of the season.

The grass has taken a bit of a beating over winter with excess rain and a few rare frosts. The growth has remained stunted but it has given dandelions and daisy plants time to gain a strong-hold and proliferate now the better weather is here. After a couple of warmish days and light breezes, the grass is ready to be cut; the first of the season.

The grass cuttings are layered with dry material in the compost bins and overtime it will rot down and be put back into the garden. We try to make as much compost as possible; if you grow vegetables, you need as much compost as you can produce and more.

We don't have a lawn as such, the land used to be an old neglected orchard and meadow. It would be impossible to create the perfect lawn as we are surrounded by fields and meadows, plagued by land voles, abused by the wild boar and use the garden as a work, rest and play area. This suits us and as long as the grass/weeds/mosses are kept in check, it really doesn't look too bad.

We have just had the strimmer serviced and it is starting and stopping when it should, I think we really should have the petrol lawn mower serviced and sharpened as well as it is chugging along at times and takes some battering.

We have left most of the borders as they are filled with celandine's, primroses and narcissus. We also have a few wild orchids that are yet to show their heads so we will probably leave the grassy borders until May or June when we will strim or scythe and let the grasses and seed heads dry and fall before collecting.

It is a real pleasure to feel the warmth of the sun on your back again after what has seemed a really long and dull winter. We are looking forward to the months ahead in the garden and hope to finally finish the front gardens and driveway.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Sourcing and storing wood for Winter 2015 - 2016.


This year we had had a colder and wetter Winter than what we normally experience at La Pasera here by the Asturian coast.We are still using the central heating other than on the very few warm and pleasant days when burning a few logs in the evening helps remove what otherwise would be a chill in the air as we relax at home in the evenings. During the day, daytime temperatures can reach into the lower 20 Celsius.

We occasionally are given an old fruit tree from a neighbour's orchard that would supplement the bulk of the wood we buy from a local wood merchants. After several months of firing our log burners in the lounge and the workshop/studio. we have ordered a load of wood that will finish drying over the coming months for us to burn next Winter. We are also expecting another big load over the next few days, a mixture of oak and birch wood that probably we will not start burning until Winter 2016 - 2017. Storing wood this far ahead ensures the logs we burn are dry and burn efficiently.

Over the last few days we have also finished chopping the hazel we coppiced from one of our boundaries and the small branches and twigs we gathered after pruning the fruit tress. This is ideal kindling. Some of the hazels had grown too big shadowing areas and depriving them of light; some of the hazel had not been coppiced since we arrived at La Pasera. Chopping the hazel and twigs for kindling is a job I particularly enjoy at this time of the year when Spring starts to come into life. The robins are never too far with their beautiful song while patiently waiting on a nearby perch to see if there is something for them to feast on.

A special froe traditionally used in Asturias to coppice trees and clear hedges along with a log used as a chopping block are the ideal tools for this job. The use of knee pads is something I would advise using when kneeling on a hard surface for long periods of time.

Now we only need to store and protect from the rain the chopped kindling wood and wait for the hot and drier weather to draw out most of the humidity so that it is sufficiently dried when we come to use it to start the fire. The next load of wood will be stored under cover in readiness for burning in the future.Gawber and Wentworth will certainly appreciate the warmth of the log burner in the workshop during cold Winter evenings.

In the garden, the proliferating daisies and dandelions not only herald the warmer weather but also the need to start cutting the grass after the cold weather. Cutting the grass has been a job we have delayed for a few extra days so that we could empty the compost bins before we start adding fresh grass clipping and organic matter that will guarantee next year's supply of compost. a valuable resource for the vegetable plot. What are you up to in your plot?

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Walking in Asturias: Carria Peak in Winter

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This is one of the latest Winter walks I recently did with the  Peña Santa walking group as part of my ongoing training for the three challenges I will undertake this Spring to raise money for the Donkey Paradise.

Going out with the group when your orienteering skills are not very good is a good opportunity to walk across some beautiful valleys and mountains as was the case with this stunning walk I did on a beautiful and sunny Winter's day in the area locally known as Ponga which lies next to the Picos National Park.

In Ponga the mountains are lower that those found in the Picos National Park and in Winter the snow soon melts so as a group we have an area where we can go out walking without the need to use crampons, snowshoes or skies, equipment that will be a must for those venturing at this time of the year within the higher peaks.

The drama when walking in the Ponga area at this time of the year resides primarily in the stunning beauty of its alpine meadows and woodlands surrounded by impressive lime stone mountains and ridges. The wild daffodils, of which in Asturias there are 4 native varieties, soon herald the colourful carpet that the warmer weather will bring over the next few weeks. In addition to the beautiful and brave occasional clamp of daffodils, I particularly like the vivid colours of the mosses and lichens so prolific within Ponga's limestone and, stunning at the moment as they are fully hydrated with the melting snow and rain.

Today's walk would take us to Carria Peak at 1431 meters high and was the last of a series of events the Peña Santa walking group had organized on a yearly basis and  as part of a week full of different presentations and exhibitions that celebrate the many outdoor activities that can be enjoyed in the mountains and as a result, the number of people doing this walk was slightly larger than usual.

The walk took us across some stunning scenery and as soon as we gained a bit of altitude and were out of the woodlands, we were rewarded with impressive views of the coast to the north and the snow covered peaks in the National Park to the south without forgetting the stunning area of Ponga itself.

Coming across the occasional bit of snow proved to be too great a temptation not to have some fun as was the case when Cori and Noelia decided to let themselves fall backwards and draw angels in the snow. Who could blame them with the Picos National Park as a backdrop.

The peaks are often crowned with a sort of letter box usually detailing the name of the peak, its altitude and who the sponsor for the box was. As you can see, Peak Carria had a letter box attached to a cross. There is a tradition for people to leave a note in the letter box indicating the name of those who conquered the peak, the date and any other information they may wish to share. The walking group usually leaves one of its publicity cards.

Reaching the summit is always a good opportunity for admiring the views and it is always interesting to hear from those who know the mountains very well, about others walks or when they point out some interesting detail about local history.

The second part of today's walk after leaving the summit would takes us across some areas still covered with frozen snow as we made our descent towards the lowers slopes where we eventually found a suitable place to stop for lunch.

After a short break for lunch we all felt rested and ready to undertake the descent down towards the Beyos Gorge just over 1000 m below where the bus would be waiting for. We walked down the terraces that many centuries ago were created across the mountain side to provide pasture for the livestock. These pastures supported life in the now abandoned and rapidly becoming derelict village of St Ignacio. Other than for one elderly shepherd who occasionally uses one of the huts and gathers the hay as Winter fodder for his animals in a traditional Asturian manner around a long pole, the village and grass terraces are rapidly been reclaimed my nature, an indicator and consequence of a rapidly disappearing way of life.

We came across a lady who as a child would have to walk up the slopes to gather the animals and whose knowledge of the area is invaluable and one of the reasons it is always nice to stop and talk with them as they are a great source of information as Jar, the main group leader would tell us.

Here is the link to my sponsorship page, please visit and if possible make a small donation or help us to promote this worthy cause. Many thanks.