Thursday, July 24, 2014

Vegetables, salad and soft fruit crops we are growing: 2014-15

We thought it might be useful to make a list of the vegetables we are growing in 2014 through to Spring 2015. It will be useful for us to document it and also give our readers some idea of the range of food that can be grown in a temperate climate that has all year round growing conditions.

We use a crop rotation system that makes the best use of companion planting in the two large and two smaller raised beds situated past the orchard at the bottom of the garden.

Feb 2015
October 14
Since April through to February 2015
Tomatoes, Spring onions
September onwards
Cauliflower, Broccoli, Flower Sprouts
November onwards
Turnip, Swede and Chard
November onwards
Aubergine, Peppers, Butternut Squash
September onwards
Beans (various)
Basil, Parsley, Coriander
September onwards
Lemon Grass and various herbs
Ongoing until early Spring
Marrows, Cucumber and Kohl Rabi
Ongoing until September
Chili Peppers
Raspberries and Blackberries
Red and Black Currants
Cropped and frozen
Peas, Onions and Potatoes
Cropped and stored
Winter Lettuce
November onwards
Crop Failure 2014
Horse Radish

No doubt we will be challenged with black fly, aphids, opportunistic intruders, mildew, watering, wild animals and birds but with careful management, pest control and natural defences such as companion planting, we should be able to provide more than enough fresh vegetables, salad crops and soft fruit to see us through the year for eating, processing into jams and pickles and, for preserving in the dehydrator or freezer. The excess we will distribute amongst friends or compost and return the goodness to the soil.

In addition to the vegetables we also grow a range of fruit including peaches, oranges, apples, pears, plums, greengage, rhubarb and physalis as well as a range of plants we will use in hand-creams, soaps and herbal teas: lemon verbena, lemon balm, mint, calendula, lavender, comfrey, sage and so on...

Lemon Verbena - harvested for drying

There is little doubt that growing your own food is hard work and never ending but the rewards are worth the effort. In our experience, it tastes so much better and we can be confident that no harmful chemicals have been used in its production. Friends often say that they wish they had the space to grow food, our reply is always the same: a window box, tub or series of plant pots can produce quite a bit of food. If you've thought about growing your own but never got around to it, it is not too late, have a go and let us know how you get on.

Geraldine the Hedgehog - slug control...

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Asturian Prince - Wentworth

The Internet attracts a lot of criticism for all sorts of reasons but it can also be a wonderful resource and mechanism to connect with people you would not normally come across by other routes.

We have developed friendships with many people over the years via the Internet both through our blog and through various social networks. It never ceases to surprise us both how generous these virtual friends can be.

One such friend offered to make us a portrait, in mosaic, of Wentworth, our beautiful black cat: named after an area of South Yorkshire where we used to live. Jeannot Leenen is a mosaic artist from Belgium Luis initially met through one of the Internet based mosaic groups they both belong to. We have always admired her beautiful work and over the years Luis has became very good 'pen-pal' friends with her via the Internet. Her kindness and generosity both as an artist and a person are boundless and later on this year Luis plans to meet up in person when they both visit the internationally renowned mosaic exhibition that will take place in Chartres, France.

Words cannot express how magnificent this portrait is. She has captured his character, his posture and his ever-changing black glossy coat as it reflects and absorbs the changing light - absolutely stunning.

Jeannot knows how pleased we are with this gift and it will be a lovely moment when Luis can meet with her in person and share their passion for the art of mosaic.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

An Asturian tale...

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We read that there was to be a celebration of the recent restoration of a 13th century romanesque church near Ribadesella in the area of Monte Moro: Iglesia De San Salvador.  What was more interesting was that the church had well preserved wall frescoes from the 16th Century not discovered until the civil war in the 1930's. A trip to see them was planned...

The church has recently been renovated and partially restored mainly due to the perseverance of local people who for the past 78 years have struggled to get their simple but significant church protected from further decay.

The story goes that the church was built in the 13th century to serve the local agricultural population from the nearby villages of Sardalla, Dezangos, Nocedo and Tresmonte which nestle in the rich green pastures and mountains just off the coast. As well as addressing religious affairs, the church would have served as a meeting place to discuss local issues and for trading goods and local gossip.

In the 16th century, a priest, bishop or wealthy patron commissioned a series of wall frescoes depicting God as the saviour, the last supper, the passion of the Christ, the ascension to heaven and the wrath of the devil. As most people were unable to read or write, the frescoes served as strong symbolism to reinforce the word of the church.

Some time between the 16th and the 19th century, the frescoes were covered in a lime wash, probably to disinfect the building following an outbreak of disease that was decimating the local population. The meeting place was recognised as a possible source of contamination. An extension to the original church and bell tower was added in the 19th century.

The frescoes faded from memory until 1936 when the church was partially destroyed by fire during the Spanish civil war. Parts of the lime wash began to crumble and expose elaborate wall paintings underneath.

The local parishioners continued to worship in the church despite the roof of the extension being open to the elements. If it rained, they would open their umbrellas and continue with their prayers.

The church has been renovated but there is still work to do. A new roof has replaced the charred remains of the extension, some of the frescoes have been further revealed and cleaned but there is much more to do and reveal. Drainage has been improved around the church to reduce humidity in an effort to preserve the delicate paintings and the walls have been rendered on the outside.

The rear of the church floor remains covered in very uneven limestone flags whilst the original building's floor has had a horrible scree of concrete lain. I only hope this is a temporary fix as it really does detract from the naive beauty of this piece of Asturian history. Apparently, on excavation, graves were found from the main doorway through to the alter. When money permits, further restoration work will be done to the frescoes and further renovation work done to the church. Let's hope the floors are restored as opposed to renovated, concrete just doesn't work.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

It's pickling time again... this week walnuts

A really good way of extending your harvests is pickling. Pickling certain fruits, nuts or vegetables means that not only can you enjoy your crop fresh, but also some months later, pickled. Walnuts are a real treat pickled or fresh and something we enjoy throughout the year if we can gather enough. This year we gathered about 4kg.

Normally, gathering enough walnuts for pickling or to eat fresh isn't a problem here as the tree grows well in Asturias, wild and abundant. Last year was a poor year and we only managed a very small harvest but 2014 looks like it's going to be a bumper year.

The key to pickling walnuts is to gather them when they are firm, plump and fresh but before the inner shell has started to form and harden. It's usually around the end of June for us when the walnuts are in their prime for pickling.

This is the recipe and method we use and adapt from year to year depending on the spices and vinegar we can source here in Asturias or that we bring over from the UK. This year's recipe is as follows:

Make brine by dissolving 225g salt in enough water to cover the walnuts. Wash the walnuts, clean and prick with a fork. Cover the walnuts in a brine solution for 2 weeks. Change the brine after one week. We wear gloves because green walnuts can seriously stain your skin.

After the two weeks, carefully drain and leave to dry. The walnuts will turn black if not already black. This is perfectly normal. Prepare the pickling solution.

Pickling Solution:

1 litre of malt vinegar
500g dark brown sugar
1 tsp all spice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves
1 tablespoon grated ginger

Bring the vinegar and spices to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the walnuts and take of the heat. Leave 15 minutes then decant the walnuts into clean sterilised jars and top up with the pickling vinegar. Seal and label. They will keep for about a year or until consumed. Great in salads, with cheese or savoury dishes.

We are also looking forward to wild harvests of hazelnuts, avocados, blackberries, figs and sloes....

Thursday, July 03, 2014

July in bloom

Flowers are an important aspect of any garden, from the insignificant to the big, bright and bold, flowers are special.

Flowers attract insects, aid pollination, create scent, display colour and provide structure and form and, they are beautiful to look at.

The flowers at La Pasera change throughout the months but July is certainly a time when the brightest, boldest and showiest blooms arrive. So much so, the smaller, delicate flowers often get overlooked.

The next time you are in the borders, look a little closer, stare a little deeper and you just might see a diamond amongst many other gems, a bit like life really...

Sunday, June 29, 2014

We harvested the potatoes and look what we got...

Way back in March we planted 100 Desiree red-skin potatoes. This is the first time we have planted this variety. The previous few years we have been trying various others which have been OK but yield, resistance to blight and taste have varied widely with mixed results.

We took the opportunity of an extended dry spell to harvest ours, 14 weeks after planting. So far so good, no blight. We have been applying diluted aspirin on the potato and tomato crop to prevent blight and up to now it appears to have helped but the weather hasn't been too damp and misty so...

The important thing is that this year we have had a bumper crop. Over 100 kgs of tasty, clean skinned, red potatoes.

We will dry them for a few days, clean off any residual soil and store them in a dark, cool area of the store. With the right conditions they should last us for the next 6 months. They are a valuable crop as we will use them for Spanish Tortilla, Moussaka, baked, new and soups plus a few we'll pass on to friends.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Visiting Asturias?

The holiday season is beginning to take hold here in Asturias. The majority of the year it is very quiet, with the main holiday season being 10 weeks from mid-July to Mid September. Outside of that there is only a small influx of visitors on weekends and bank holidays. We always wonder why the holiday season isn't longer? Outside of the main season, Asturias is still stunning and worth exploring.

We rarely promote third-party sites on our blog but through friendships, social media and blogs we have come across several sites/resources we think are worthy of mentioning... should you be considering a visit this year.

Outdoor activities are a major attraction here in Asturias with endless walking routes for all levels, unspoilt beaches for swimming, surfing or relaxing, rock-climbing (at all levels of ability), cave and geological exploration and numerous other outdoor pursuits. With over 200 km of unspoilt coastline, the Picos de Europa mountain range and a plethora of woodlands, river courses, valleys and streams, if you enjoy and value unspoilt landscapes, you will be spoilt for choice.

Beaches: This free App lists all the beaches in Asturias and provides information in Spanish and English. Maps, directions, photo-galleries, amenities and much much more - worth downloading and really easy to use.

Walking: This site is written by Nigel Burch proprietor of the eco-friendly hotel and farm Posada del Valle. He is a keen mountain and lowland walker and maintains this personal blog which provides information on mountain and coastal graded routes. Certainly worth checking out if you enjoy walking.

Climbing: Neither Luis or I are climbers but we often come across climbers on cliffs near our local beach or up high in the Picos de Europa and we stand in awe of their agility, strength and passion. This bi-lingual book has been put together to highlight climbing opportunities in NW Spain including Asturias, Cantabria and Leon. Definitely worth investing in if climbing is your thing.

And finally...

We are conscious that as a destination Asturias is still relatively unknown. Personally we like it like that but recognise that the economy needs tourism and to get people here tourism needs promotion. One company that has made some great videos and news reports about the area is Where is Asturias?  The website is not always the easiest to navigate in my opinion but with a bit of perseverance, you will discover some gems.

We hope to see you soon...There is so much more to discover.