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.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Blue tits nesting in the garden

We wrote some time ago about making new nesting boxes for the garden. Last year great tits nested as they have done for the past 5 years in the existing box but the two new ones were inspected, but not used. This year however, we have blue tits.

Two new nest boxes sited in 2013

One of the boxes is sited on a very old and leaning cherry tree that we can see out of the lounge window. The other morning whilst cleaning out the stove, I looked up and spotted a pair of beautiful blue tits flitting from branch to branch and eventually one of them, landing on the box and entering with nesting material.

A good minute or so past, the other bird kept watch nearby.

The blue tit re-emerged and spent another 20 seconds or so looking around before hopping out and flying off again only to return a few minutes later.

Having lots of birds around is important to maintain a natural balance in the garden. With a bit of luck, a good brood of chicks and frantic feeding regimes we'll have much fewer of these little caterpillars to contend with in the coming months.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Soft-fruit manoeuvres

Next to the vegetable beds we have a long and narrow bed for soft fruit: raspberry, gooseberry, blueberry. We have never been happy with the soil in this bed as it is mainly the original clay from the meadow with very little else mixed in. This year we decided it was time to upgrade it by forming a raised bed.

We constructed the bed out of the same wood the vegetable beds are made of; this allows us another 25cm of soil to be added. The bed now measures 9 m x 1.2 m.

We added lots of home-made compost and horse manure. The raspberry canes were sorted and a few decent ones re-planted. The blueberry are a pretty sorry sight but we'll give them another go and if they do not take off, we'll replace them at the end of the year. The gooseberry is one of several we have dotted around the garden and they seem to do well. We'll put some rhubarb leaves under the bush to prevent sawfly and hope for an abundant crop. Hopefully we'll have plenty to make our favourite gooseberry and mustard seed pickle.

Meanwhile, we have cut the red and black current bushes back, creating the classic goblet shape and we need to tackle (trim and tie) the blackberries that run 6 meters along the fence.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

A photo walk to the coast

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Some of you will know that we live near the coast of the Bay of Biscay. As the crow flies, it is about 1.5 km, but to get there you need to follow one of the many old paths and caminos (tracks) still used today by farmers and villagers to access pastures where they graze their animals and grow crops. The land is not used as much these days and many of the fields have been left to over-grow. Boundary walls have collapsed and the deep ruts of the limestone paths have eroded further, but it still has a charm.

Walking from La Pasera (late afternoon) we headed down the camino which starts in the centre of the village near Angel's goats. This is a typical Asturian haystack. The track twists and turns and is bordered by many small apple orchards, still maintained for cider apple production.

There are small wooded areas and large areas of bramble and it is not uncommon to spot deer. There are a few pastures given over to horses, cows and goats. It is not unusual to spot a small vegetable patch tucked away in a corner of a field.

The track leads to a path that stretches along the cliffs leading to westward to Ribadesella and eastwards to Guadamia.

The ragged limestone is constantly honed by the weather and rough seas and in places has collapsed resulting blow-holes both large and small.

This time we walked down to Guadamia and returned via the lanes and villages. Following several days of wet and cool weather it was really good to get out for some fresh air.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Time to make more hand-cream

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Hand-cream makes sense for men and women alike. It protects the integrity of the skin by moisturising and helping keep the skin elastic and flexible. The better the condition the skin, the less likely you are to get cracked and broken skin, especially around the nails and with less opportunity for infections. Good skin condition also helps small cuts and injuries to heal quicker.

With the building work, constant gardening, joinery projects and Luis' mosaic work, our hands take a battering so a good dollop of a hydrating cream helps tremendously. Made with calendula infused oil, lavender infused oil, almond oil and natural un-purified beeswax, our cream is healing and nutritive.

The recipe can be found here and is an adaptation of one or two recipes we have read about and tried. This particular cream keeps well and is relatively quick to make. It is so much better than commercial creams that are full of preservatives, colourings and refined oils and waxes.

Luis made two generous pots today which will see us through the busy Spring we have planned.