Saturday, September 24, 2011

Midsummer review – Tales from Toriello

1 comment:
Asturias is once again quiet. The beaches are empty, the car parks have spaces, hotels, bars and restaurants are subdued and the villages are almost back to their usual peaceful existence. It is good to see an influx of people during summer but being able to enjoy our environment without lots of holiday makers is better.

The vegetable garden is producing well after a disappointing start. The tomatoes, aubergines, peppers, cucumbers, beans, squash and marrow plants are weighed down with fruit and the winter crops of cabbage, swede, fennel, celeriac, celery and cauliflowers are well ahead of schedule with ample summer rain and warm weather helping them on their way.

Luis has been busy repairing cane and rush seating with a steady flow of work throughout the summer. In addition he has just been given a huge piece of work that involves blind re-caning an antique bergere three piece suite from the 1920s. This is likely to take him the best past of 4 months as each piece of cane has to be individually cut to size, woven and secured. The next chair recaning course takes place in October and there are still places available. If anyone is interested get in touch. He has also completed several new mosaics in readiness for his exhibition that will now take place in October, and another mosaic has been commissioned that he is currently designing.

I have been busy with my photography and writing with several projects on the go and several more in the pipeline. Earlier in the month I was surprised to be highly commended in a short story competition run by the Bat Conservation Trust, The stranger on the bridge is one of eight winning pieces now published in a pdf booklet:   Bat Tales

Together with our friends John and Be, we managed to capture some great night time images in and around La Pasera including a stoat, fox, beech marten and rato topo (being captured by the marten) and a couple of neighbouring cats.

Wentworth and Gawber and sleeping most days and active most nights due to the heat. Wentworth manages to catch and eat several land voles each night leaving just the head and entrails on the doormat for us to see each morning. Gawber catches as many but rarely eats them, just the odd nibble to the hind leg or flank. Young lizards continue to entertain them both and can be often seen tailless warming themselves on rocks and pavements.

All in all it has been a productive summer with some great walks, many ongoing projects and numerous fiestas and events. We are looking forward to autumn which is often much nicer than summer with warm sunny days and beautiful diffused light. I am currently in the UK and hoping to photograph a whale, dolphin or porpoise from the deck of the ferry.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Growing onions successfully


Onions are a vegetable that do very well at La Pasera in spite of the heavy clay soil we have and the high humidity we tend to experience in June and July. The heavy soil does not allow us to sow seeds directly onto the soil in September as many of the locals will be doing in the next two weeks. These seedlings will grow over the Winter months and will be planted in their permanent position in early Spring.

At La Pasera, we prepare the soil by digging it over and incorporate organic matter and compost that we have produced during the previous 12 months. This will help to break up the clay and provide a valuable source of organic matter that will help towards increasing the water retention capabilities of the soil and increase the fertility.

As the soil warms up with the arrival of Spring, we will purchase 400 onion plants including red, white and early ones from a local grower that has a vegetable plant stall at the local market held on Wednesdays in Town. We plant the onion seedlings in a way that gives them a very good start and ensures they grow strong and healthy to be able to stand better when the humidity levels are persistently high. For this we will open a drill on the ground, about 3 inches deep, to which we will add a good amount of very well rotter manure. Once the manure is put along the drill we water well the soil before gently pressing the onion root ball and small bulb into the wet, well rotted manure, this helps the roots to settle in. At this stage the onions are resting on the ground at an angle and about 10 to 15 cm apart. Once completed we back-fill the drill with soil and wait a few days before we see the onions are starting to grow straight.

The day we plant the onions is the only day we water them as onions are a crop that require very little if any watering other than the water they get when it rains. As the onions grow we weed them regularly to remove any weeds that will be competing with the onions for water and nutrients. Hoeing the soil also keeps the soil nice and loose. Care should be taken not to cut the onions as they will not sprout again.

Up to now we have found onions to be a trouble free crop and crop rotation does help to prevent soil borne diseases. With a watchful eye you can remove the occasional pest that may graze on the young onion leaves.
By June the early onions are ready to start harvesting. Something that surprises me is how mush sweeter home grown onions are than those we purchase from shops.

This year we sprayed the onions during the high humidity period with a horse tail spray we made ourselves as it is a good organic way to control fungal diseases that proliferate with high atmospheric humidity.
By the early July the onion bulbs are swelling up above ground and the leaves are staring to die back mainly due to the fungal infestation that the horse tail has helped to slow down. Onions should normally continue to grow in the ground well into August. We find that if we get the onions big enough by early July, it does not matter if they are cropped a few weeks earlier than expected. The onions are walked over to knock the stalks down so that they stop growing and they are left on the ground for a couple of days providing that it does not rain otherwise they get brought in and left to dry in a dry and well ventilated area. Once all the leaves are brown and dry the onions get strung before we hang then up in the loft where they will enjoy the rising hot air on the days we are working in the workshop with the wood burner on. This heat seems to ensure the onions last well for months.

This year it was early May when we ate the last of the onions we harvested the previous July. Needless to say that a few always sprout. In time we hope the structure of our soil will be good enough to be able to grow our own onions from seeds.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Visiting the traditional market in Porrua

1 comment:
One thing that Spain does very well indeed is the fiesta and the traditional markets. One recent find was the traditional market and fiesta in Porrua near Llanes about half an hour from home. We have been here nearly six years and only just discovered it.

One thing that Spain does not do very well is marketing. It is often after the event or the day before the event, that posters or publicity is available.

We had heard about the market from a friend in the village who has a butcher shop in town. She was having a stall at the market selling meat based snacks. Scheduled for the last weekend in August to catch the remaining holiday makers, we checked on the internet only to find several sites advertising a range of dates. The only thing for it was a trip to Porrua to make enquiries before the event.

Porrua is a large village nestled in the foothills of the Cuera mountain range. The village is a favourite for holiday makers as it is not far from the coast and it is close to some lovely walking areas. The market was the highlight of the fiesta with over 40 food and drink stalls selling everything from tortilla, chorizo, roasted BBQ ribs, cakes, cheese and of course, cider. There were over 40 craft and artisan stalls selling leather goods, pottery, puppets, hand made notebooks, toys, clothes, blankets, metal work made by a blacksmith doing a live demonstration, and much much more.

Luis took the opportunity to chat with ceramicists about making him a range of none-glazed coloured tiles that could be used in mosaic making. Needless to say he has a pocketful of contacts now and we will be visiting one or two of them to make arrangements for test pieces to be fired.

One of my favourite photographs from the day
Street entertainers, dancers, musicians and sideshows, donkey rides and the chance to travel on an ox and cart kept young and old alike, amused, distracted and delighted throughout the weekend of events and activities. If you are ever in Spain during fiesta time and get the opportunity to visit a traditional market, I can highly recommend it. Here is a short slide show of some of the highlights.