Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Simple pleasures...

It was Luis' birthday this week and we celebrated in the way we have become accustomed: each choosing what you want to do for your own day. We stopped buying presents many years ago and believe that if we really want something and can afford it, we buy it at any time of the year, the same applies for Christmas. It fits in with our thinking that: life is short; we should all make the most of what we have; less is often more. Somehow, we seem to need less and value simpler pleasures.

The day started well with our friend Birgitta arriving with a glorious chocolate-covered birthday cake with candles. Later in the day we visited Birgitta and Manfred with the cake and took tea in their garden, chased chickens, fed geese and harvested salad leaves.

Luis chose to visit Santa Cristina de Lena, a pre-romanesque church south of Oviedo and to have a picnic lunch and short walk... A bit of background might help here if you do not know about pre-romanesque architecture (which I didn't until coming to Spain). Pre-romanesque architecture is found only in Asturias and is also known as the Asturian monarchy architecture.

We parked the car and walked the rough track that leads to the church which is sited on a hill jutting out from a larger hill/mountain. As we approached, tethered goats and their young kept the grassy entrance and hedges that led to the church, cut and managed. Two elderly ladies sat chatting and told us that this was their daily walk before lunch. A perfect spot for a catch up and intrigue...

The church was attended by a guide who helped point out the features we should look for, chiefly the stone carvings that adorned the pillars, medallions and walls.

Originally, the church would have be painted and highly decorated with brightly coloured murals, motifs and religious texts; reflecting the beliefs and loyalties of the times. This no longer exists and the church has had two known major renovations in the 1800's and, just after the civil war in Spain (1936) when it was badly damaged by artillery.

I am personally not into churches but you cannot but admire and appreciate the grace, simplicity and tranquillity of an 8th century sanctuary. It is not hard to imagine a distant time when the ecclesiastical elite and the noble families met for worship and intrigue amongst other things.

We called at the visitor centre which was housed in the old and rather dour looking railway station: La Cobertoria. This exhibition was particularly well executed with panels and photographs explaining the period in history, setting the context of the church within the other centres in Asturias and further afield in Europe, in addition the panels had English translations which always helps.

We didn't know of any local picnic areas so we decided to head back to the coast and call at La Isla, always a favourite beach to wander. We ate a great lunch, watch the para gliders descend from the Sueve mountain range and with great precision land on the narrow strip of beach. We took a walk along the beach as far as we could (high tide) and looked at pebbles.

Simple pleasures...

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Horse racing on the beach in Ribadesella

Horses have always been a part of the landscape in and around Ribadesella. As far back as pre-history, images of horses were drawn with primitive paints in the Tito Bustillo cave in town: one of which has been adopted as a logo for tourism.

Rodrigo De Balbin Behrmann / AFP/Getty Images

Horses have worked the land for centuries and have coped well with the heavy clay ground and rocky outcrops that feature widely in the landscape. There are still working horses around the village and many roam the fields and pastures throughout Asturias. Sadly a few of these are destined for the horse meat trade - appearing in a pie near you. In addition, there are still herds of semi-wild Asturcon horses roaming the local Sueve mountain range; a great sight should you be lucky enough to spot them.

Many local fiestas feature horses competing in cintas (riders charging with a small lance to hook loops and ribbons for prizes), dressage events, endurance and strength competitions and parades. The horse, in its many forms, is interwoven into traditions and local customs. A more recent tradition which is growing in popularity is the annual Carrera de Caballo on Santa Marina beach on Viernes Santo (Good Friday).

The crowds gather along the promenade and watch the spectacle of beautifully groomed horses, racing in a circuit along the beach. This year I had to stress my camera equipment was for press purposes to be allowed onto the beach...well the blog is a form of reportage isn't it?

There are only three races but the excitement and expectation from the crowds is electric. The event is growing each year with dressage taking place today (Saturday) and many associated celebrations around town including a spectacular computerised projection onto the facade of the town hall - sadly we missed this as it wasn't advertised but managed to catch up with it via social networks and Youtube.

Here is a short film I took a couple of years ago of the racing on the beach:

Monday, April 14, 2014

Update on vegetables and fruit

Anyone who grows their own produce will know that there is always something to be done if you are going to crop anything decent during the year. From sowing seeds, to digging over the soil, pruning, pricking out seedlings, weeding and watching for infections or infestations, it takes the full 12 months of the year to keep the garden productive.

The pear trees are beginning to flower but the greengage is still struggling after all this time. The orange tree is beginning to get fruit of note and lots of it. The fruit bushes are doing reasonable well to say we re-planted the raspberries and blueberry bushes. Red and black currants are sprouting new leaves and the rhubarb continues to give us delicious ruby red stalks.

We planted 100 potatoes which are now growing their leaves and seem to be doing well. The early onions although battered with hail stones and now scarred, are swelling nicely and it won't be long before we are harvesting along with lettuce. The leeks, Swiss chard and mange tout are harvesting well and the pea crop has taken and will shortly need their perfect twiggy pea sticks once again.

There are trays of seedlings lining the steps including tomatoes, peppers and chili peppers, kohlrabi. fennel, cucumber, lettuce, pumpkin, marrow and beans.

Elsewhere in the garden new life is finding its place in the grand scheme of things....

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The terrace is finished...well almost.

One of the first tasks we undertook in the garden way back in 2007 was to mark out the main access into the garden and a large terrace where we could sit, with space for friends and dining out. We have made it, after all this time it is nearing completion. All we need now is to plant Esquisetum in what was to be a fire pit, and construct a couple of benches from beams we have for seating.

The path leads from the top terrace through flower beds and rockery onto the large terrace. Punctuated with mosaic fish and water-lillies, that lead you to the small wildlife pond.

We are already enjoying the new space which acts as a central vantage point of the pond and distant fields to the north,  the orchard and vegetable garden to the west, the Cueva Negra mountain to the south and La Pasera to the east.

Now that the warmer days are here, I can see many a happy hour spent occupied or unoccupied on the terrace, accompanied or unaccompanied.

We found the perfect pebble for the birdbath....

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Mosaics in and around our garden.

Those of you who follow our blog will know by now that I am passionate about all things mosaic related. My mosaic journey really started when following a holiday in the Greek island of Rhodes where we visited numerous sites with beautiful mosaics Ian got me a book on pebble mosaics written by the British based artist Maggy Howarth.

During our time at La Pasera, I have had an opportunity to explore the technical and aesthetic aspects of mosaic art both relating to pebble and roman style mosaics. My abilities as a mosaicist continue to evolve with each individual piece I design and make.

In my journey into the mosaic world as a self taught mosaicist, I enjoy reading books and publications relating to mosaic art and greatly value the information and sharing of ideas with fellow mosaicists and artist via the Internet based mosaic groups I belong to.

Thanks to these groups, I found that there is a two yearly international mosaic exhibition in the Italian city of Ravenna which I visited last November. Taking part in Ravenna Mosaico 2013 as a visitor was an incredibly valuable experience during which I was able to admire contemporary mosaic art and some of the most beautiful Byzantine mosaics dotted across the city in several World Heritage Sites. This submersion in the mosaic world was very inspirational and on returning I started to create a Byzantine style mosaic representing Prometheus, the titan that Greek mythology tells us that as a protector and benefactor of humans presented us with the gift of fire, a myth that has always fascinated me.


The making of Prometheus gave me an opportunity to explore some technical and aesthetic aspects relating to this beautiful art and craft that help me to gain the expertise that enables me to create more complex mosaics not only to adorn our garden but also when I get a mosaic commission as is the case with the latest one I am working on at the moment. It is a mosaic intended as a 50th birthday present for some keen birdwatchers who have commissioned me to do a kingfisher for which I am using vitreous paste or smalti in order to achieve the bright colours of this beautiful bird.


My first mosaic

Recently, we have also completed the paving of the patio and the path leading down to it in which we have incorporated a series of 19 small mosaic fish and 4 lily pad mosaics directing your attention towards the pond area creating the illusion of a stream. We have also set within the patio two more mosaics depicting a bird in full flight and a lizard. The step from the patio down into the grass area is also paved with a simple but beautiful pebble mosaic; this is the very first mosaic I ever made and which originally adorned our garden when we lived in the UK. This is a very important mosaic for me and I value the opportunity to enjoy it here at La Pasera.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

How we grow onions

Onions are a vegetable we simply adore and with the exception of last year when due to adverse weather conditions we lost the entire crop, we tend to be self sufficient throughout the year. We use lots of onions in salads, cooking and in the home-made pickles and chutneys we enjoy and share with friends and family.


Growing onions is relatively easy as they are a fairly trouble free vegetable provided that you use a rotation system so that you avoid growing them in the same spot for at least 3 years. The rotation system we follow at La Pasera means that it is on the fifth year that we plant them in the same spot. Avoiding growing them in the same spot on consecutive years helps to minimize the chances of onion fly infestation not only destroying your crop but also of your soil becoming depleted of specific nutrients.

Onions can also be susceptible to downy mildew in particularly wet seasons as it was the case here at La Pasera last year. In spite of applying a fungicide based on horse tail they failed to thrive and we lost the entire crop so this years we are hoping for a better growing season. Time will tell.

Onions can be grown from seeds sown by late September, alternatively you can buy onion plants or small bulbs (onion sets). We normally buy young onion plants at the local weekly market from a local grower who grows varieties that will better withstand our temperate but humid climate during the Summer months; besides, the little plants are already used to our local climate conditions as opposed to those grown in other parts of the country.

We grow four hundred onions, enough to see us through the season and to share with friends and family after they get strung in mid Summer. We find that the red and white onions (150 of each variety) keep very well and usually are ready to be harvested by mid July while the early ones will start cropping in May.

This year we will soon start cropping the ones the planted in November, so far they look great.

We aim to have dug the green manure in the bed where we plan on planting the onions by late January or early February. After 3 weeks we also dig in our own compost. This ensures a good supply of nutrients and will maintain soil humidity during the hotter Summer months.

We also collect some bags of very well rotted farm manure from a farmer who lives in a nearby village. This is a very crumbly and black substance with lots of worms that will provide fertility to the small onion plants and also helps to improve the soil structure.

Planting onions is a job I enjoy in spite of the effort and few hours it takes to complete. The day we plant the onions, we use some wooden planks  to avoid compacting the soil by walking on it and after creating a shallow drill we add some of the well rotted farm yard manure before we water the soil with rain water we collect from the shed roof. The onions will then be gently pushed into the wet ground before their roots get covered with soil. This is the only time we will water the onions as the rain fall will provide the moisture the onions need. Local farmers say that onions are a crop that should not benefit from rain fall during August. In other words, in Asturias it is advisable to harvest the onions before August. Ours have never lasted past mid July.

This year, both Wentworth and Gawber came down the vegetable garden as I was working and provided me with a good excuse to have a break. Wentworth enjoyed rolling over the soft soil before going onto the shed's roof and Gawber filed his nails on a wild cherry tree before going hunting and coming back to present me with the land vole he had caught.