Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Come rain or shine, there is work to be done...

We've had a couple of weeks of very mixed weather here in Asturias. One day bright sunshine and the next, torrential rain, hail and strong winds. There is snow in the mountains but at least here on the coast, that never causes us problems apart from the chill factor. The fields around us are flooded, there are several trees down and on the coast there has been damage to the promenades and tonnes of wood has been brought down stream in the swollen rivers and has now been deposited on the beaches.

It is always depressing to see such a large volume of plastic amongst the wood on the beach. Why can't people just dispose of water bottles and such, responsibly rather than just tossing them into the void that is apparently also their brain?

The rain in Asturias is relentless at times. Last week we had around 106 litres of rain (per square meter) with most of that coming down in short sharp bursts.

At this time of year we try and coppice the hazel that borders our land on the north side. We have a fence that was installed when the house was built sited just inside of an old limestone wall that has now fallen into disrepair; this wall is the actual boundary. One day we will restore it and remove the fence. About half way along, this wall becomes a retaining wall for our garden which drops down nearly two meters into the field below - hence the name La Pasera meaning the stepping stones. Along this dividing wall, hazels are prolific and thick but provide something of a wind-break from the storms that hit the north coast from the Atlantic and bay of Biscay. Never-the-less they need keeping in check or they become too impenetrable and a nuisance. We are about half way through now and when the weather allows we will continue behind the shed and compost bins. The coppiced wood will be chopped, left to dry and used for firewood or for plant supports in the garden.

In between the storms we have made a start on thinning out the hazel and where possible just leaving a few main branches to break the wind and prevent damage. The cats love the coppiced hazel and spend their time pouncing on the dried catkins, scent marking the twigs by rubbing their noses along the length and hiding from each other amongst the piles of cuttings ready to pounce when the opportunity arises.

On wet days, Wentworth and Gawber take refuge inside but use every opportunity on finer days to explore the surrounding fields and cuetos (rocky outcrops) in search of mice and lizards. Come rain or shine, there is always work to be done.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A new log burner for the workshop

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The workshop (The Towers) is an important space for us.

The old fire

Amongst its many functions, it plays host to Luis' studio, a store room, a workshop to make and mend, a space for exercising in cooler weather and last but by no means least, a home for Wentworth and Gawber. When we had it built we designed it so it could, if necessary, be easily converted into self-contained accommodation. With the mezzanine floor it has approximately 75 sq m of floor space and a very high ceiling. We initially installed a cheap and cheerful wood burner that has served us well but that has always caused a few problems, the main ones it being a top loader and it's small capacity. We decided this year to upgrade the fire to one that gives out more heat and is easier to maintain.

The fitting was easy as there is no internal chimney so a flue was able to be taken directly up through the roof to an existing external chimney and sealed with fire retardant rock wool and a steel plate. We are really pleased with how it draws air in, the efficiency of burning and the heat it produces. It will certainly make activities in the workshop much more comfortable during the winter months and cool autumn and spring evenings. Needless to say, Wentworth and Gawber have adapted very quickly as in addition to the extra heat, they have a warm, golden glow to accompany them in their catnaps.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

If you're looking for a new vegetable to grow or eat....

Look no further. Introducing the Kalette or as we know it, the flower sprout.

We have been growing this winter crop for a couple of years now and are really pleased with the results.  According to the newspaper they are quite the latest fad amongst the celebrities and food fanatics boasting high levels of nutrients and vitamins. One reason perhaps why we should not grow them but... they really do taste great.

This new vegetable was developed in the UK as a cross between brussel sprouts and kale, hence the name flower sprouts, now changed to kalette presumably to steer away from the sprout element that sometimes suffers from bad press in the UK.

These small kalettes grow well during winter and grow much the same as sprouts and in very similar conditions. They have a sweet, nutty taste and for us, they are best eaten after being steamed until just tender. Apparently they can also be boiled, roasted, eaten raw or stir-fried.

If you grow vegetables look out for the seeds to sow in early spring. The only problems we have had with them are: an attack of white fly early on but this was soon resolved using a spray of soapy water and alcohol; and needing strong supports as they do tend to get blown about in the wind. Definitely worth a try.

Ocean Mist

Recent press

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The forces of nature

Situated on a coastal plain we have the sea to the north and mountains to the south. We are vulnerable to weather fronts that come in from the Atlantic and Bay of Biscay or from the Picos de Europa mountain range. Following several warm and sunny days, today we are experiencing severe winds battering us from every direction with each new sequence of gusts growing stronger and increasingly forceful. I have been out and moved the most vulnerable of flower pots, watered smaller pots to give them weight and moved garden furniture to prevent damage occurring where possible.

The uncollected fallen leaves are scurrying around the garden and some now litter the pond. The remaining leaves on the hazel have finally succumbed to nature and the high branches of the dying cherry tree are creaking and occasionally breaking under the strain of gale-force winds.

The cats are sleeping and manage to switch off from distractions. They seem to instinctively know that their day of lazing in the sun, hunting and patrolling their territory is not going to happen; choosing to retreat to the safety of the spare bedroom and comfort. The roar of the Bufones (blow holes) and the waves crashing against the rocks doesn't seem to trouble them as they lay together, snug and safe.

Rain is on its way and as the skies lighten and darken rainbows appear and disappear. We rarely see snow at this level (49m above sea level) but in the distance, when the clouds clear, we can see the distant peaks of El Sueve dusted with snow.

The fire is lit and the log baskets are full. I think I'll take a leaf out of the cat's book and retreat from the world and enjoy a lazy day.


Friday, January 09, 2015

Thinning and pruning

We don't have a massive piece of land, about 1500 sq m in total but what we have is certainly enough to keep us busy throughout the year and especially in winter. When we bought La Pasera we asked the builder to leave in situ, the existing orchard trees and any trees and shrubs that were on our borders. One of the first tasks we accomplished was bringing plants from our garden in Yorkshire to Asturias, some of which were successful and others not. After creating various planting beds, rockeries and borders, adding our UK stock and planting more plants, trees and bushes over the years, we have learnt a valuable lesson: living in a temperate climate makes things grow, spread and multiply with such vigour. This week we have been cutting back, pruning, thinning and disposing of many plants and shrubs that had become just too big or cumbersome for their allocated space.

The two dying apple trees - leafless

Sadly, two of the old apple trees have also come to the end of their life after hardly any leaf and no fruit last year. The woodpeckers have been visiting daily and stripping the bark and feasting on the grubs that have taken up residence in these dying trees. Fungus has claimed their bases and it will be sad but necessary to chop them down and replace them with young apple trees that will provide us with lots of fruit.

I have been trying to prune lots of our bushes that over the time have been cut back and have subsequently grown in not-so-pleasing shapes. It'll take a couple of seasons but with time they will grow into better shaped and more pleasing to the eye specimens. We need to tackle the north border of our land that has hazel, blackthorn, hawthorn and pyracanthus, all of which grow with great gusto and apart from the useful coppiced hazel, are difficult to handle and dispose of due to very sharp thorns. We will probably burn this in the garden as it is almost impossible to process into useful firewood. In Spain, it is recommended that you apply for a license to burn even the smallest amount of garden rubbish. If you burn without one, if your fire spreads you can be held liable for costs and fines so a (free) license is advisable... I'm really not sure as to why a free license and registering protects you but if nothing else it raises the issue of the dangers of fires in rural and wooded areas. You can only use the license between October and May which makes sense due to the cooler and wetter weather.

We will process the wood for kindling and firewood which will take up to a year to dry sufficiently. The plants, weeds and leafy off-cuts will be composted and provided us with much needed nutrients to add back into the beds in a few months time. Working in the garden is therapeutic on many levels and helps us fine-tune our ideas. It is now nine years since we bought La Pasera and looking back at old photographs certainly reminds us of how much has been achieved over the years.


Tuesday, January 06, 2015

The Three Kings on the Epiphany

This morning, all over Spain, children will be wakening to find presents left over-night near their shoe. Last night, the three Kings, Melchior, Casper and Balthazar arrived on their camels and left gifts for the children on this night as they had done over two millenium ago for the baby born in Bethlehem called Jesus.

In towns and cities all over Spain early yesterday evening people lined the streets and squares to witness the arrival of the Kings and their ever growing entourage. These are a few pictures from the grand parade in Gijon where thousands of children, parents, grandparents, friends and visitors lined the 5.5km route. The weather was great (11 degrees), no rain and a clear full moon, perfect. The atmosphere was electric as the children waited in anticipation for the arrival of Melchoir, Casper and Balthazar. The police came on their motorbikes, horns blared, whistles and screams of delight permeated the night air and the many marching bands started to play. The children (and adults) weren't disappointed.