Friday, July 29, 2011

Maintaining the Septic Tank

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This year the summer in Asturias has yet to fully bloom. It's warm but a distinct lack of daily sunshine has been upon us now for a good few weeks. We have had more rainfall than average and periods of stronger winds resulting in cooler temperatures than to be expected however, it is still very pleasant.

For some reason, days like today, subdued and dull, bring to mind routine maintenance jobs that need doing around the place. It was on a day like today when we noticed a slight odour coming from the septic tank. Normally there is nothing.

Living so far from mains services necessitates a septic tank which like many other things around the house and garden needs regular maintenance if it is to work effectively All the grey water and sewage is deposited in it and rain water is either collected for the garden or drained into it's own sump. Every six month or so we inspect the septic tank and make sure it is functioning and not in need of emptying. This time, it did.

A quick phone call to Benito and within 30 minutes he is here with his huge tractor, tank and pump. Now I am sure that he quite likes coming here because unlike many of his other customers, he gets help. Luis is always eager to get involved and helps him with the extension pipes, lifts the drain and tank covers, gets him the clear water ready and generally assists. Twenty minutes later, after the system is flushed, Benito and Luis dismantle the gear, we wave goodbye and then swill down the paths and drive. They don't really need it but somehow it feels better for doing it. Then shower.

Other maintenance jobs we tackle at this time of year are making sure locks and hinges are given a bit of WD40, checking sealants and draft excluder, dusting off electrics in the workshop, checking the house for painting jobs, maintain the dry stone walling, check drains, repairing lawns from rato damage, checking waterbutts....and so on. Jobs such as these tend to get forgotten if we are not careful but if kept in mind can save a whole bundle of time in the long run.

Futher afield Ribadesella is once again buzzing with a large influx of people and much preparation work happening ready for the 75th International Canoe Descent of the River Sella on the 6th August. Many thousands of people descend on Ribadesella and Arriondas for the weekend bringing much needed revenue into the area. We'll report back on this years anniversary event.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Jazz Festival in Ribadesella

 Every July in Ribadesella around this time there is a Festival de Jazz in a square outside of the town hall. A substantial stage and marquee is erected completely covering what is normally a small stone square with a few benches and trees, and a covered news stand.  This is serious business. You know from the PA system, lighting rig and team of technicians that this is going to be a pro gig.

Arriving in town around 10pm we join the throngs of people sat outside bars, eating in restaurants and promenading up and down one of the three main thoroughfares in Ribadesella. The dozen or so craft market traders who had set up along the sea front are packing up and discussing how good or bad business has been during the weekend-long event. The smell of the Churros permeated the night air mixing with many aromas from a range of traditional kitchens as the sea breeze changed direction and as we turn around corners.

Outside Café Bergantin, friends and familiar faces mixed with hoards of incomers all busily swapping stories of their day and greeting friends not seen since last season. Council workmen dragged out stack after stack of plastic chairs and arranged them diligently in front of the stage as technicians conducted final checks on lights, mics and smoke machines.
Nick and Gilda

People began to gather as we neared 11pm and the reserved front row filled with the Lady Mayoress and her entourage. The atmosphere is buzzing as several hundred people eagerly await the obligatory opening speech by the same guy each year, his identity still remaining a mystery to us after 5 years worth of events. Two things we do know about him is: he says the same thing each year and, he obviously enjoys the limelight.

To a rapturous applause, the fist band comes on stage and without further ado, start the evening off with a rousing blues guitar instrumental. This year we had the absolute delights of two great outfits. On Saturday it was, The Zac Harmon Blues Band and Sunday brought yet another Gospel choir in the shape of The Late Show Gospel Chorale featuring Lady Peachana. Yes, Lady Peachana, she has been around many more years than her singing 'sister' Lady Ga Ga.

Zac Harmon

This year the festival has only taken place on two nights whereas previous events have been three. Budget cuts I suppose. Never-the-less this free concert is a great event for the town and enjoyable to boot. Although it is advertised as a Jazz festival, it rarely is pure Jazz. Blues bands, gospel choirs and the odd contemporary jazz outfit work hand in hand to make sure everyone has a good time. Judging by the number of people dancing at the front, jigging up and down on the sidelines or stood clapping and singing, the bands seem to be working their magic.

The Late Show Gospel Choral

A couple of links here for you to check out sometime:

Zac Harmon

Lady Peachana

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Mosaicos La Pasera


Luis has a mosaic on display and for sale at the Artisan Centre in Poo near Llanes. The gallery asked him to submit a piece prior to his first full-scale exhibition in September. The centre has offered him as much space as required to exhibit both his Roman and pebble mosaics. Ranging from garden features designed and hand-crafted out of pebbles and other materials such as slate, to art in the form of contemporary wall plaques and insets for occasional tables. He will also take various commissioned house signs as examples. We are currently designing the setting of the mosaics and have secured a great section of a chestnut door complete with hand-crafted nails that is over 100 years old. Once cleaned and prepared, it will look stunning and become a great background for a house plaque or similar.

The centre will organise and pay for all the associated publicity, arrange press briefings and promote the exhibition. Needless to say Luis is busily making further mosaics for display including a large plaque called 'The tears of a clown'. There are other opportunities on the horizon but cannot say too much about it at the moment....ha ha!

We will keep you up to date with developments and will report back.

Visit his new mosaic site here:

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Preparing for Winter crops

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One important aspect of vegetable growing is thinking ahead to ensure a steady supply of vegetables throughout the seasons. At this time of the year we start thinking of the numerous jobs that need to be completed in order to ensure a continuation of crops all through the Summer and into the Winter months.

As soon as the onions are lifted over the next few days, the ground will be dug over to plant the winter crops that were seeded in trays and potted up some time ago such as cabbage, early and extra early purple sprouting broccoli, celeriac, fennel, celery, swede, turnip, beetroots and winter lettuce; cauliflowers and leek plants will be purchased from one of the local growers. These vegetables will be planted in accordance to our rotation system and then any remaining empty beds will be sown in early Autumn with oats, our preferred green manure.

The marrows are producing well and in past years we have noted that the humid conditions we get living so close to the coast cause fungal attacks and the plants are lost in early September. This year we have been treating susceptible crops with horsetail. This year we have grown second lot of marrow plants that we raised from seed in late June to hopefully provide us with courgettes and marrows well into the Autumn and thus ensure we can enjoy cooking with fresh marrows for a longer period. We will let you know what happens.

The beetroots are producing bumper crops and the latest sowing, the fourth, is growing well in the half drainage pipe we sow them in before they get planted out on the ground. At this time of the year with the heat of Summer, we will need to shade the young plants once planted on the ground until they get established, this will take about two or three days.

Elsewhere in the garden we are enjoying a great show of wildlife from the pond and bog garden with numerous acrobatic displays from damsel and dragon flies as they jockey for position to lay their eggs.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Review of the vegetable garden in July

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On a cool summer's morning, before the heat of the day sets in and whilst the song birds are in the last throws of their dawn chorus, there is nothing more uplifting than strolling down to the vegetable garden to harvest fresh vegetables and salad crops in preparation for lunch, dinner and the pantry. It always amazes me to see how fast the courgettes swell, how spontaneous the beans appear and how quickly fresh green tomatoes start to blush.

Songs at dawn

July is the beginning of a time of plenty for us here at La Pasera. Our season is slightly earlier than in the UK and with lots of help from mother nature, Luis' planning and planting over the past few months is clearly producing results. The onions are performing well with large swollen bulbs protruding above the soil with their fresh green leaves just beginning to show signs of fatigue. Our summer, early onions have been cropping for a few weeks now and it won't be too long before we think about harvesting the main crop of red and white, in preparation for drying and storing to last over winter, 400 in total. The first crop of beetroot is slowly diminishing as we pick and eat sweet and tender young beets almost on a daily basis. No worries there though, as two further plantings are right behind and will ensure plenty for the coming months.

Summer onions, french beans and marrow

The peppers, aubergines, sweetcorn, leeks and squash are growing well and weekly inspections for black fly, aphid infestation or mildew ensures they remain healthy and at the first sign of attack, treated with our home-made organic remedies. The marrow, cucumbers, beans and tomatoes need attention on a regular basis to help their fruits ripen and swell in the best possible conditions. This requires staking, training or tying the plants, harvesting young fruits to encourage further production and watering at regular intervals, if necessary, to avoid undue stress on the plants.

Ripe and sweet

Lettuce and rocket continue to provide enough leaves for a daily salad and as the chives come to an end, the basil is beginning to grow with its shiny, bright green leaves and pungent aroma.

Bumper harvest 

The soft fruits have done reasonably well this year and we managed a great cop of red gooseberries - already processed into mustard seed and gooseberry pickle and a yummy gooseberry crumble. The day to day work of growing our own food continues with preparations already underway for autumn and winters crops, something we'll cover in the next post so why not subscribe by email to ensure you receive notification of updates.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Introducing Ribadesella - a town of two halves

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When we were looking for property here in Spain, we drew a line on a map of Asturias of the area where we would be happy to live. Having visited several times previously, Ribadesella was almost in the centre of where we would prefer to settle. We ended up just 5km away in a quiet village, 1km from the coast. Ribadesella was always a favourite destination and one we never tire of.

Picture from Ayuntamiento de Ribadesella calendar 2011

Ribadesella is a small municipality of which the capital is the town of Ribadesella. It lies in the east of Asturias sited on the estuary of the river Sella, on the green coast of Northern Spain flanked by the Bay of Biscay. It is a town of two halves. The eastern half is the main hub of the town and the western half, across the bridge has a small marina, the main beach (Santa Marina) and a large residential area including hotels and holiday homes...and the high school. Out of season, the town has a population of about 4,500 inhabitants.

For 10 months of the year Ribadesella is a quiet Asturian fishing port where out of the ordinary things rarely happen. There is a small market on a Wednesday morning, many of the restaurants, hotels and shops close for long periods out of season and the small number of residents carry on with their day to day lives occasionally being interrupted and entertained by a coach full of day trippers or some out-of-season pilgrims resting as they make their way along the Camino de Santiago.

High days and bank holidays see increased numbers of incomers staying in their holiday homes or strangers wandering around the town, admiring the three storey Asturian buildings with their splendid glass galleries and busily exploring the nooks and crannies of the old town. Strolling along one, of two promenades is a daily past time for both locals and visitors, either down past the small fish dock along the old harbour wall or to the other side of the river along the promenade that cradles the beautiful Santa Marina beach arriving after 1km or so at the dinosaur footprints that can be viewed at the farthest point of the bay.

July, August and the first half of September see a huge change in the day to day life of Ribadesella and the area in general. Large numbers of tourists descend bringing with them healthy appetites, full wallets and the lust for all things Asturian. Hotels, rental property, campsites, shops, restaurants, bars and street traders take off the dust sheets and fling open their doors in readiness for business. Suddenly, there are few places to park, prices appear to creep up a little and inconsiderate strangers invade our usual chairs and tables at the Café Bergantin.

The main attractions in town include: the Tito Bustillo cave complex with cave paintings dating back to 22,000 BC; Santa Marina beach; architectural delights such as the Indiano houses that are dotted along the beach front and in and around the surrounding areas; easy access to the Picos de Europa national park; a plethora of fiestas and celebrations; and of course the highlight of the year, the International Canoe descent of the river Sella  which takes place the first week in August. In addition, Ribadesella is a centre where a range of outdoor activities such as canoeing, surfing, quad biking, horse riding, walking, caving and climbing can be arranged.

Ribadesella has a rich history, from pre-history to the present day, the town has many stories to tell and even more secrets to discover. It once was a busy port for whaling, salt, and fishing, it played an important role in the war of independance and in the late 1800s and early 1900s many of its residents emigrated to Cuba, Central and South America, making their fortunes, returning home and investing their money in lavish residential status symbols that are still enjoyed today.

Ribadesella's location, its quiet, small town feel, its colourful Celtic history and traditions, its proximity to the Picos de Europa and its spectacular landscapes make up for the few overly busy weeks in summer when we prefer to stay at home for coffee and shop in other nearby towns. It is easy to forget that the incomers and strangers are the life blood of the town, without them, unemployment would be much worse than it is and the traditions and unique culture of this part of the world would probably disappear and be forgotten. A town of two halves i.e. the holiday resort and the residential fishing town, it maybe but each half is co-dependant and co-exists in tolerant harmony year after year.

More information can be found here: