Monday, January 30, 2012

Planning for Spring - restore, review, repair and re-plant.

The winter months bring plenty of opportunity to assess where you are and where you are going in relation to planting schemes, hard landscaping and garden maintenance. Our grand plan of what we would like to do with the plot haven't changed a great deal over the past 6 years but we have added several extra flower beds and extended the vegetable garden.

Earlier today, we took inspiration from our friend at Mellow Fruitfulness and had a wander around the garden and took the opportunity to take a closer look at what was happening. Mellow Fruitfulness took a container and foraged interesting and colourful items from around the garden. We decided to do the same. If nothing else this allows you to take your time, review the jobs that need to be done and to prioritise them accordingly. The bonus of course is it also allows you to enjoy the warm winter sun, listen to the birds, spot things you might have missed and to daydream about the fast approaching season of Spring.

We did however break the rules by picking one or two flowers (but only on plants/weeds we will pull, move, eat or divide).

This is our haul:

Foraged, fruit, flowers, fallen leaves and seed heads

Plants to be moved or divided - we need to do it now before the Sprint spurt of growth...

This is our list of urgent jobs:

1. Create raised vegetable beds - wood ordered and to be delivered today - watch this space.
2. Plan the crop rotation for the vegetable garden.
3. Paint the shed - a coat of paint now will help prolong its life we hope.
4. Move several perennial plants that are growing in the wrong place.
5. Split several plants and relocate to other parts of the garden or to friends.
6. Prune/coppice several of the Hazel trees.
7. Regenerate the fedge (picture below).
8. Repair the compost containers as the wood is beginning to rot.
9. Service the equipment - sharpen the chain saw, lubricate and sharpen garden tools, ensure the mower and strimmer are up to a busy season.
10....where to stop!!!

Shed, compost bins and the fedge. Some of the Hazel that needs coppicing. 


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

How to advance the vegetable growing season: germination of vegetable seeds.

Advancing the vegetable growing season at La Pasera without the use of a poly tunnel or greenhouse is something we have always worked towards. This year we are starting slightly earlier than previous years. Living close to the sea helps as we generally have much milder weather than further inland. We have already started to germinate beetroot, peppers, chilli peppers, tomatoes and sugar snap peas.

Germinating seeds outdoors from mid January without the aid of additional heat or protection is something we are trying this year. Normally a greenhouse or heated propagator would be required. In the past, we have started raising vegetables from seed in mid February. In essence we are advancing the season by 3-4 weeks.

This year we hope to start eating beetroot, peas, sugar snaps and mangetout from early April; we are hoping the milder than usual weather helps a bit. To crop so early, we start by kick starting the germination process indoors. The seeds are then sown in soil, in seed trays. The method we use loosely draws upon hydroponics. It is more time consuming than direct sowing or traditional seed sowing but it guarantees a greater rate of germination whilst advancing the season.

This is what we do:

The seed is soaked in a bowl of water at room temperature over night or until the seeds are rehydrated. Once the seeds have swollen, you need to sandwich them between the moist folds of a cloth that is then placed in a plastic covered container. This needs to be kept in a warm place, the kitchen is a good area for us. The cloth will keep the seeds moist and in a dark environment until the root starts to sprout. Once the seeds have germinated, sow the germinated seeds in a freshly prepared seed tray or half pipe taking good care not to break the tender root. Cover with soil, water and place against against a south facing wall. Once the seedlings are big enough to handle, you need to prick them out and plant in individual pots or plant directly into the soil in the vegetable garden.

Sprouted beetroot seeds

Sugar-Snap Peas

One disadvantage of this method, is the extra time it takes to raise vegetables, not a problem if you enjoy gardening like me and take the opportunity while working around the garden, to enjoy the birds singing in the background, witness the beauty of the first wild flowers in bloom and the scent of both wild and cultivated flowers at La Pasera and the surrounding meadows. The days are now getting longer and time spent in the garden will no doubt increase accordingly... and maybe we'll find the time to visit the local beaches for a bit of beach-combing.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The winter flowers

We are fortunate here at La Pasera in so much that we enjoy a coastal micro climate. The village is sited on a coastal plane with the sea 1 km away in one direction and a 750m mountain, 1 km in the other direction.

View of the coastal plane from El Fito - Toriello is behind the peak!

This results in a mild winter with temperatures rarely dipping below 2 degrees which means no snow and rarely, frost. In winter, day time temperatures vary from 10 - 22 degrees with the odd day either a touch higher or lower. We experience strong winter storms and gusting winds can come with much force from the Bay of Biscay but generally speaking apart, from the occasional prolonged rainy period, the weather is tolerable and often mild enough to enjoy lunch on the terrace.

The weather affects our growing season in all sorts of ways and we still continue to learn about how plants grow differently to what we were used to in the UK. Wandering around the garden yesterday it was strange to see such an array of plants and flowers in bloom.

The Christmas Rose was a nice surprise as this particular plant originates from a division of my Great Grandma's plant from over 50 years ago. Propagated by my Mum then by me and eventually relocated to Spain, we were worried that it might not survive. Apart from snail damage, it has grown consistently for the past few years but rarely gets much bigger. We have divided it twice as an insurance policy so...time will tell.

In the wilder areas of the garden, Aconites, primroses and wild dianthus are blooming well and the hellebores are showing signs of flower. The crocus are showing through and several early ones are flowering.  Narcissus are pushing their fresh green leaves through and if you look very carefully the wild orchids are beginning to gain strength.

In complete contrast to the first signs that winter is leaving, the planted areas of the garden continue to produce flurries of colour such as training purple aubretia and the self-seeded white alyssum as you can see in the picture below. Marigolds give a very vibrant display most of the year and self seed in abundance. Incidently, the purple fleshy plant in the background is the frost tender purple aeonium which manages to survive outside here in the milder winters.

Friday, January 13, 2012

What a difference a day makes

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Our nearest sandy cove is Gaudamia at Llames de Pria, about 30 minutes stroll from our house through country lanes or 45 minutes if you take the cliff side walk from our village, Toriello. The small secluded beach is at the end of a long tidal channel that leads to the estuary of the Gaudamia river. You can just about see it in the distance on the first photograph.

The weather is very changeable at this time of year in Asturias and we can go from cool storms and wild windy weather to glorious warm sunny days overnight. High tides combined with strong winds can facilitate a spectacular display of the force of nature.

The limestone cliffs along this part of eastern Asturias are peppered with blow holes or as they are known here: Bufones. When high tides are present the bufones start to breathe. A loud roar is heard as air is forced through fissures in the rocks. As the tide rises, sea water is forced into the fissures and is expulsed at great force causing 100m high plumes of water droplets into the sky. Numerous bufones can be seen as the tide relentlessly rises and falls.

The cliffs are about 60 meters high and provide terrific views and coastal walks. The day after the storms, the cliffs and cove were once again calm and bathed in warm winter sunshine. The fishermen return and perch on the cliff tops and cast their rods into the sea below. If you look carefully below you can see two fishermen enjoying their vantage point and hoping for a good harvest.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Planting peas ready for spring harvest

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In December, peas, mange tout and sugar-snap peas were sprouted in a moist cloth and then grown on in compost using the half a drainpipe method (as seen in picture). This gives almost a 100% result with strong healthy plants. When large enough to handle, these were then transplanted into the ground and with good luck and fair weather they will be ready for harvesting from early April. We have grown many more peas this year as they freeze well and will see us through to the next season.

Lambs lettuce and little gem lettuce has also been sown using a similar method and should be ready for first harvest around the same time as the peas.

The land vole has become a nuisance yet again and destroyed several winter lettuce, eaten away at a few of the celeriac and continues to undermine the leeks and strawberry plants. We are going to try a newly discovered deterrent to keep them away from the vegetable plot which is peppermint oil on cotton wool stuffed into their burrows. Eradication is impossible as they are so numerous, a three pronged approach is the way forward....we think. Wentworth and Gawber's hunting skills, peppermint oil and short grass.

Shouldn't you two be out catching voles?