Friday, June 29, 2012

Walking in Asturias 10: Vega de Ario

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Vega de Ario is an area in the Western Massif within the Picos National Park that I simply love. There are magnificent views of the mountains and valleys as you walk along the path and the wild fauna and flora you encounter along the way are special.

Setting off from La Pasera, the Picos de Europa lakes are a 40 minute drive up mountain roads. They never fail to impress. Arriving and parking up at Lake Ercina I took a well signed-posted path towards Majada de Belbin, a little green and luscious valley with numerous stone huts where in the old days, the shepherds would spend several months tending the herds and making cheese; these days there are only two of them used in this way and the rest are weekend retreats.

From Belbin I followed a hill side path that eventually takes you down into a valley and up a small stream where newts gather in the few shallow pools that are fed by water from the melting of the last Winter's snow. At this point I had to climb up to meet the main path that takes you up the mountains and towards Vega de Ario. Most people join at the base of Lake Ercina but I prefer this beautiful detour.

Once on the main path, after about 1 hour of a steady climb, the landscape opens up and flattens slightly and you come across one of my favourite spots within the National Park. There are some fantastic views towards the Central Massif. In this area, the abundance of alpine flowers blossoming at this time of the year within the limestone crevices create a colourful carpet.

At the end of this path there is a manned mountain refuge that people use as a base to explore the surrounding area.

During this walk, I came a cross a group of biologists researching how the area's bird population is affected by the increased numbers of parasites they get as the climate changes with a loss of colder areas and a lack of permanent snow. I also talked to a group of cave explorers from Cambridge University that were exploring one of the several 3000 feet deep caves there are in this particular area.

Just before heading back, I walked towards the edge of the top of the Cares Gorge, the most popular walk in the National Park and the path leading to two peaks I intend to climb in the near future and as part of my learning about mountain orientation and strengthening my map reading skills.

The return along this path takes you directly back to Lake Ercina and the occasional breeze was very welcomed on a very hot and sunny day.

Luis x


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Insects in the garden


Insects are an important element in a healthy garden and play a crucial role in keeping the eco-system in balance here at La Pasera. OK there are some we would rather do without and discourage but on the whole things seem to be in balance so we must be doing something right. Not using chemicals must surely help the diversity of insect life we see.

The numerous visiting bees are wonderful and play such a crucial role in pollination. It is worrying to constantly here reports of their decline through pesticides and parasites. We have a pyracanthus bush which attracts hundreds of bees a day which in turn pollinate our fruit, vegetables and flowers. Other garden flowers serve as magnets for pollen collectors and pollinators.

We have some magnificent beetles around the place. Stag Beetles fly at dusk, whirring their way like miniature helicopters eventually coming into land and carefully avoiding two curious cats. Ladybirds, leaf, click and longhorn beetles fascinate as they make their way across vast distances, only to disappear into underground burrows or take flight in their search for food.

Butterflies and moths are a constant source of wonder with their camouflaged patterns or brightly coloured displays but they are so difficult to photograph clearly as they soon spook and take flight.

The pond and bog garden are havens for the wildlife and especially for insects. Spiders, water skaters, water beetles, dragonflies and damselflies are regularly seen going about their business, feeding, laying eggs or scavenging.

In the garden and the vegetable beds we occasionally get infestations of black-fly and aphids but it is great to see increasing numbers of ladybirds about this year which will help reduce their numbers. The birds have been very active feeding their young grubs and caterpillars, spiders and moths. The cycle of life is all around us.

The woodlice and other scavengers have been busily recycling our green waste and leaves, helped by the worms and beetles. Helping us to produce heaps of nutritious crumbly compost for the garden and rich peaty leaf mould that goes into our home made potting compost. Elsewhere, stick insects, glow worms, ground bugs, flies, crickets, grasshoppers and hundreds of other insects inhabit every conceivable nook and cranny.

With over 1 million different kinds of insect documented on planet Earth, you will never be short of something new to seek out and observe. Why not make a start in your own garden, you might be surprised with what you will find.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Visiting Gijon Sunday Market

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The Sunday market in Gijon is a great way to spend a few hours. The market was particularly busy this week with people jostling for position in the huge car-park next to Gijon football club. The market keeps relocating but this time it was at the rear of the large sports centre opposite the football ground. It seems as though that will be its home for the foreseeable future.

The market is split into two halves: new and second-hand. We went specifically for the second-hand market as Luis was looking for interesting dishes that could be mosaicked and used for garden birdbaths. We get so many more birds in the garden since we introduced bird baths.

The market was very busy but relaxed. The Spanish don't rush, they stroll, parade and meander.

The second-hand market is like a UK car boot sale but the difference here in Spain is that all the sellers have to be licensed and registered. The tat is much the same as you would find in the UK but prices probably higher. Saying that, haggling needs to be mastered if you are to get a bargain as they can spot you are not a national and will charge you top whack. Luis usually does the negotiations with me prompting him when required.

The last time we came to the Market we bought a wonderful artist's palette that is now displayed in the lounge. At the time I wrote an account of our purchase which can be found here:  The Palette

Sadly on this occasion we didn't find anything but that's the nature of second hand markets I suppose, sometimes you find treasure and sometimes you don't.

We wandered round the numerous other stalls and ended up buying some wonderful sweet deep red cherries at 3 Euros a kilo and some linseed. Clothes seemed to be getting cheaper with lots of buy three offers and other incentives. The range of goods is not as good as some markets but the competition does help with pricing.

The cherries were wonderful...

After we had toured the market we took a long walk through Gijon's main park where there are numerous birds, some free and others in semi-captivity. Then onto the promenade that stretches for several miles in each direction. We walked, we sat and had a picnic lunch, watched the world go by, commented on the sights we saw and discussed a couple of new ideas. There is nothing like a break from the routines of life to get creativity flowing.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

You say potato and I say...

Growing potatoes in our temperate but high humidity climate during late Spring is a challenge we face every season in the veggie plot at La Pasera. The results of this challenge vary every year but in the main we are always pleased with the crop we get.

The potato growing season commences during Winter with the digging in of green manure (oats) we have sown several weeks earlier. This not only provides nutrients for the developing potatoes (a hungry crop) but also helps to improve the texture of the heavy clay we have here at La Pasera. If you remember, earlier on in the year we created some raised beds and we imported several tons of sandy soil to help improve our soil.

With the soil warming as the sun got hotter, we planted about 100 seed potatoes and this year we tried an early variety called Espunta we sourced from a local agricultural shop. We tend to bury the seed potatoes deep into the soil, about a spade's depth which slightly delays their sprouting but means we do not need to worry about earthing them up later on. This practice enables us to grow more potatoes when space is at a premium.

Our main challenge with potatoes is keeping the crop blight free. Blight comes quickly especially on the dull damp days of late spring when sea mists roll in from the coast. As we try to grow our vegetables in an organic way, we only spray the potatoes with copper sulphate prophylactic-ally and our own home made fungicide based on a horse tail infusion. In spite of this, it comes a point when the potatoes just succumbs to the blight and within a few days the plants just deteriorate rapidly by which time, according to some village people, you need to harvest the crop otherwise they will rot in the ground. This year we harvested about 75 kilos on total.

Over the few years we have been growing potatoes at La Pasera, we have found out that if we plant the potatoes early enough, by the time the humid sea mist season starts the potatoes have been growing close to three months and are developed enough for us to harvest them. We always seem forced to do the harvesting as the plants start blossoming. Some locals cannot understand our reluctance to apply a chemical fungicide on a weekly basis to guarantee a trouble free crop like theirs. For us, it is a question of choice and a desire to grow vegetables in a manner that would cause the least impact on the environment and for health reasons.

This year it was nice to notice a greater number than ever before of ladybirds, always a much welcomed ally in the garden. The orchid season continues with beautiful Bee Orchids punctuating the meadows and hedgerows.

After drying the potatoes for a few days in a dry and cool environment, we will store them in paper sacks  check them from time to time as there are always a couple that may need disposing of as they start deteriorating.

We would like to hear about your experiences growing and storing potatoes as well as any other tips regarding potato blight. Home-grown potatoes, I love to eat them, fresh out of the ground, cleaned, boiled with a sprig of mint and eaten with a blob of butter.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Donkey picnic at el paraiso del burro

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This weekend we went to visit our old friends at the Donkey sanctuary El Paraiso del Burro in Arobes. It's a while since we were there and as it was one of their planned open days we decided to pop along and show our support. Marleen, the owner, and the volunteers work so hard providing a safe and caring environment for the 24 retired donkeys, several horses, a mule, dogs, cats and whatever else happens to stroll into paradise including visitors...

The sanctuary is set amongst 8 or so hectares of lush Asturian valleys and hills. The stunning setting really makes it feel as though you are miles from civilisation but in fact you are only a few kilometres from the town of Arriondas and the village of Arobes.

We were really pleased to see that a quite a few people had turned up for the open day. There were quizzes, refreshments and cakes, t-shirts for children to draw on and colour in, gifts to buy and best of all 24 very individual donkeys to fuss over.

About 1.30pm, the donkey picnic was laid out in readiness for the onslaught. Carrots, bread, cabbage, cauliflower, apple and a few other bits were on offer, all of which donkeys devour with gusto. Marleen and some of the volunteers wandered off into the pastures and meadows to lead the donkeys up to the waiting feast.

One by one they jostled for position and soon cleared the tables. Luckily, there were further supplies tucked away under the tables. Not surprisingly, some of the donkeys had already discovered the secret stash and were already helping themselves.

Samantha (a volunteer) and I went into the fields to feed one of the Donkeys that was too lame to make the journey to the picnic tables.

The donkey sanctuary has its own website and blogs (English and Spanish) so please check them out here: El Paraiso del Burro.

Marleen dishing out extra supplies

Their work is funded by Marleen, by donations and sale of goods. Raising funds is difficult here in Spain, especially here in the north where donkeys are still viewed as working beasts that when they can no longer work, are worthless. If you can help with a small donation, there is a page on their site for you to contribute. Mention our blog when you do. It is useful to know where contributions come from.