Monday, March 26, 2012

Potting up seedlings

If you are a regular visitor to this blog you will recall that this year we are trying to advance the vegetable growing season. We are thinking about investing in a greenhouse but until that day, all seedlings are raised in a small propagator against a south facing wall.

The seeds were sown in January and have been slightly slow to grow due to the colder weather we have experienced by the coast this year but eventually they sprang to life and needed potting up in a soil mixture we mix ourselves at La Pasera.

Our potting compost mixture varies according to the specific vegetable requirements in terms of drainage, moisture retention and fertility but the basic mixture contains a proportion of our own heavy clay soil, leaf mould we produce from the leaves we collect from the garden and perlite or vermiculite to improve drainage. If the are to be grown in the pots for more than a month, we add some fertility to the compost in the way of organic fertilizers. Our aim is to avoid the use of commercially produced compost and this year we are only using it for seed germination.

Our home-made compost was recently used to pot up the tomatoes, chilli peppers and Isla pepper (a fleshy pepper variety that does well in the cooler northern climate and that tastes sweet even when still green before it ripens).

In relation to the tomatoes, this year we are growing the Alicante tomato that we like and does well in spite of the high humidity we experience during Summer - being so close to the coast we can experience sea mists which can devastate tomato crops if not careful. In addition we are also trialling three further varieties of tomatoes that are supposed to be very tasty and that someone sent us in a seed exchange. This varieties include Marmande, Black Krimea and Ramallet a tomatoe variety from Mallorca that you harvest while the fruits are still green and hang up as if they were onions for them to ripen over several months. It will be interesting to see how they do with the high humidity. We will be spraying the tomato plants with a horsetail mixture and copper sulphate in an attempt to minimize the possibility of blight. So far the plants continue to grow slowly and over the next few weeks we will prepare the soil were the tomatoes will be planted and grown under partial cover. All this talk of tomatoes makes me start thinking of tomato and garlic or tomato and basil salads....Mmmm.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Flowers, plants and trees in Asturias - Winter

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One of the joys of living in Asturias near the coast is the milder winters and year round lush and verdant landscapes. The winter this year has been particularly mild with below average rainfall and less snow in the mountains than usual.

As you walk along the country lanes, mountain paths or river estuaries, it is forever pleasing to see the rich and colourful range of flowers, plants and trees. It always surprises people that there is so much colour at this time of year. The richness of the landscapes are truly beautiful. Here is a short slideshow of just some of the flowers, plants and trees that can be seen during winter in Asturias... and the flowers, for Mums everywhere including my mum. Happy Mother's Day (UK).

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The big experiment: Can you train a cat to ring a bell?

Wentworth and Gawber normally reside in the studio/workshop and have free range to come and go as they please through a cat flap. We reckon that most cats around here would not know how to use a cat flap and to date, it hasn't been a problem. The problem lies not with other cats but the beasts they drag through either with the intention to eat or the desire to play with. Voles, mice, slow worms, lizards, birds and crickets have fallen foul of them both. It is fair to say that usually, only the mice and voles are eaten, the rest tend to escape or we set them free.

The thoughts of the house turning into a food larder or playground for beasts has so far prevented us installing a cat flap in the house. The cats do like to spend time in the house and often come in either during the day or at night for a couple of hours. Sometimes, if we are occupied with other things, they can be sat by the back door unnoticed for a long time. Occasionally Wentworth will come and find you but more often than not they wait until noticed.

We are experimenting. We have installed a small chrome budgie bell at the back door on the inside and have started to demonstrate that bell ringing = open door. The first time it was demonstrated, Wentworth went into "there is a strange alien shiny monster mode" and would not pass near it, Gawber on the other hand, sniffed, looked up and strolled out. I hope they learn to use it or are we wasting our time? Cats are notoriously awkward if they want to be... We will report back.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Making orange liqueur

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Each year we make several types of liqueur for consumption and for gifts. Cherry, liquorice, milk and lemon, sloe and blackberry amongst others. We don't drink all we make but it is useful to have in for when friends and neighbours visit or to take to people as a small token of our appreciation.

One of the most scrumptious liqueurs we make is Orange. Each year around Christmas time we buy lots of very sweet oranges that have not been dyed or waxed (commercial oranges are usually waxed and dyed...Orange). Luis buys them in Palencia through a wholesaler who sources the best fruit available. Besides eating many, we usually make about 3 litres of Orange Orujo.

Orujo is a rough raw spirit that is derived from the distillation of the solid remains left after pressing the grape. Cheap to buy (about 5 Euros per litre) - 50% alcohol (100% proof).


To make the Orange liqueur, this is what we do:

3 litres of Orujo
rind of 9 oranges (absolutely no pith as this makes it taste bitter)
juice of 18 large oranges
600g of sugar

The mixture is left to mature and infuse for one month, strained then bottled. Served in ice-cold shot glasses. A small amount of sediment is simply mixed before serving. We have our own oranges but unfortunately we don't get the hot weather required to sweeten them like the ones we buy.

Orange liqueur is a firm favourite of ours and is warmly welcomed by all who try it. Salud!