Thursday, May 31, 2012

Top soil and manure

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This last week saw the delivery of a further 3 tons of top soil. That makes 13 tons in total we have added to the vegetable beds. It sounds a lot but it doesn't go that far. We are trying to improve our heavy clay beds by adding a sandy top soil, well rotted manure and home-made compost from the bins. It is working but we could do with more manure.

Many of the small dairy farms with antiquated faciities have been closed down by the EU, so our local supply has dried up. There are no stables nearby or any that can readily supply an accessible supply of manure however we have found a huge mound of black gold. We walked past one day and Luis spotted a 3 meter high pile of around 25 sq m. It was overgrown with weeds but one corner had been dug so we could see the layers of extremely well rotted manure crumbling away. Luis asked the owner of the plot if we could have some. He just happened to be related to a lady in our village (so he already knew of us), he said we could take as much as we wanted at any time and was pleased to be making space to add yet more. We have bagged and transported a couple of estate cars worth and need to continue collecting over the coming months.

Spot the cat...

We have two large compost bins that take grass clippings, fruit and vegetable waste, cardboard, dried grass or straw and anything else that remains from vegetable growing, pruning or reduction. Two bins for leaf collection provides a source of nutrient rich leaf mould.

Preparations for young vegetable plants

Our two neighbouring houses are holiday homes and the gardens are mainly lawns. Both sets of neighbours are happy for us to have their grass clippings which will help increase the volumes. A third supply of grass clippings is delivered by some other neighbours from the village who visit their Asturian home regularly otherwise it would be binned as they have no use for it.

Since boarding the vegetable beds and adding sandy topsoil we have noticed less slug and snail activity and fewer problems from land voles.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Birthday treats - walking in Asturias

For many years now both Luis and I have celebrated our birthdays by forsaking unnecessary presents and choosing a favourite walk instead. This past weekend I celebrated my birthday in style by choosing to set off from La Pasera along the coast towards Cuevas del Mar.

There are so many walks in Asturias it is difficult to choose just one but the fact that we could set off from home and leave the car helped me make up my mind.

After a leisurely start, we packed up lunch, plenty of drinks and a few essentials: camera, binoculars, sunscreen... The weather forecast was good with plenty of sun and a slight breeze, perfect walking weather.

Leaving home

Setting off around 10am we decided to walk the caminos (country lanes) and footpaths through local villages and return via the coastal path. It was good to see that many of the holiday and weekend homes were occupied and that one or two new houses were being built and several renovations of older properties were in progress. Despite the downturn in the economy, Asturias still attracts many Spaniards from the cities who have holiday homes here or who rent apartments and village houses for short breaks.

The small network of caminos that connect the villages are very quiet and provide a good vantage point for the numerous vegetable plots, orchards and meadows along the way. Luis took the opportunity to compare onion size and blight progress as we walked and was heard to say on more than one occasion "mine are bigger than them..."

The Roman Bridge

The hedgerows and fields were busy with birds and insects, with numerous lizards soaking up the sun's rays or making a mad dash across the road as we approached. Bird song and the sound of strutting crickets accompanied us and the heady scents of orange blossom, mint, wild roses and roasted meats wafted in and out of our space.

We arrived at Cuevas del Mar around 12 noon after stopping en route several times to look at birds, take photographs or to chat to people we met along the way. Being such a small community means that most permanent residents know who you are or know someone who knows who you are... In general, they are a friendly bunch and the chance to chat for a while is welcomed by both parties (although I often lose my concentration or cannot understand their strong accents so I revert to the fixed half smile and nodding head syndrome with the occasional Si, Bale, or shrug of the shoulders...).

Cuevas del Mar

The water is still very cool

We explored the beach and rocks for a while, took refreshment and decided to commence our return along the coastal path where we could find a shady spot for lunch. Along the route there is a pond with shade where a few ducks and geese have taken up residence. There is something really nice about nibbling your favourite snacks and foods outside on a summer's day whilst enjoying the sights and sounds of the countryside.

We made our way back and stopped for ice cream in Llames de Pria arriving home about 3.30pm. It isn't a long walk, probably about 14 miles but never-the-less we welcomed the chance to relax in the garden with Wentworth and Gawber back at La Pasera with a cup of tea and a large slice of Luis' apple and walnut cake. A great birthday treat.

Nearly home

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

What's hot in the plot?

Asturias is renowned for it's unpredictable and changeable weather patterns. May this year has been unseasonally cool with lots of showers and days of chilling north easterly winds. This has resulted in plants and vegetables being a bit behind compared with other years but a few days of warm sunshine last week caused a sudden spurt of growth and vigour. The plot is looking hot and it's always exciting to see the results of planning and preparation.

In the vegetable garden, the addition of boards to create raised beds plus lots (but never enough) of well rotted manure and 8 tonnes of sandy top soil seems to have helped with the soil structure. Following where possible our crop rotation system, we were able to plan what goes where thereby minimising the chance of infections and poor growth. Luis keeps a record of germination dates, planting times and space allocation which helps a lot in keeping track of when to do what.

The potatoes are growing well and to date, there isn't much evidence of blight so fingers crossed they will continue to grow and produce a decent crop. The 400 onions are looking perky and beginning to swell and with a bit of regular weeding, they should do well over the next few months.

We are trialling 4 kinds of tomatoes this year and have planted 4 of each. Due to the climate and the possibility of sea mists, we grow the tomatoes under plastic supported by a metal frame. Just enough ventilation to keep an air flow but not constrained as to promote fungal infections. It seems to work well.

Coppiced hazel has been used to erect two sets of bean supports and we will be growing twice the amount we grew last year to harvest and dry. The peas, mange tout and sugar-snaps are still producing well and the challenge now will be to keep the Jays and Magpies away.

Sage flowers

Salad crops are blissfully happy and we have so much self seeded rocket, I might have a go at making some jars of rocket pesto for use on pasta and bean salads. Carrots are a first for us this year as until the soil was improved it was impossible to get them to grow in such heavy clay. They seem to be growing well and we look forward to fresh young carrots. There is still a lot to plant out including: squash, marrow, cucumber, aubergine, celery, fennel, peppers, celariac...and so on.

We have just ordered another 3 tonnes of sandy soil to complete the work needed on the vegetable beds and hopefully the weather will continue to improve so we can get the young vegetable plants in and established before the heat of summer.

Elsewhere in the garden the peach trees are setting fruit as are the apples. The pears this year seem disappointing but it is early days so we will see. The flower beds are looking good with lots of colour and many visiting insects to help with pollination. 

Thanks for the kind emails and messages, we do appreciate them. As always we would love to hear from you and hear about what's hot in your plot.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Enchanted Path - Walking in Asturias

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In a green luscious valley not too far from La Pasera is a magical, enchanted path. In the tiny village of Puente Nueva, a hollow wooden tree full of climbing Imps marks the start of the walk. If you are very, very lucky and start the walk early, you will be greeted by Chisin the fox terrier. After having sussed you out, Chisin will, or will not accompany you on your circular walk around the enchanted path.

The fox terrier is one of several village dogs that have discovered the delights of visitors wishing to explore their beautiful valley. Although we have walked the path several times before and once before with Chisin, today he also decided to enjoy our company.

The walk climbs the valley side, twisting and turning on woodland paths and country tracks. Along the way there is a series of beautifully crafted carved wooded statues that represent the mythology of Asturias, each having a story to tell or a secret to hide. Passing through sleepy villages and rustic farmsteads, the enchanted walk provides lots of opportunities to enjoy the views of rolling hills and luscious meadows.

As we descended along an ancient roman road towards lower lying villages we were somewhat baffled when we were joined by another Fox Terrier who also decided to join our party. We later learnt her name was Guindilla (Red hot chilli pepper).

Arriving at Rio Caliente we picked a perfect spot next to the river for our picnic lunch. Chisin and Guindilla wandered off or a few brief moments to check out a few other walkers they spotted in the distance before settling down next to us on the river bank. I wonder if the aroma of tortilla and home-baked bread had anything to do with their decision to stay?

Having shared our meal we set off along the quiet country lanes back the the car. Chisin led the way whilst Guindilla meandered off in another direction, probably back to her pick up point for more walkers. We arrived back at the car and said goodbye to Chisin and thanked him for his company, his dignified companionship truly did make the path enchanted. The walk is about 10km and we hear that Chisin may do the walk several times a day.



Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mange tout recipes and ideas

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We planted peas, sugar-snap peas and mange tout this year. The sugar snaps have not performed that well, the peas are swelling daily and the mange tout are cropping abundantly. Each day we are collecting a good bowl full. This year they are particularly sweet especially if eaten soon after picking.

In addition to eating them raw in salads, they are so tasty we have been processing and cooking them in a variety of ways.

At their simplest, the mange tout are lightly steamed until tender but with some bite. Served as a side dish with a drizzle of minted vinaigrette or a dash of butter the are a delicious accompaniment to nut roast, lentil loaf or home-made spicy bean burgers.

We used today's excesses to make a fresh vegetable soup comprising: mange tout, carrot, celery, onion, rice, stock, oregano, mint, sage, salt and pepper, a dash of vinegar. Cooked until tender, then take out about a third of the finely chopped vegetables and stock, blitz with a liquidiser the remainder, add back the third you removed, mix and re-heat. Served with fresh crusty bread and a dash of good olive oil, there is nothing tastier.

Stir fried with a splash of oil, then quickly sautéed in a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, great as a side dish.

We will freeze some and also dry some in the Excalibur as a trial for use in soups and stews later on in the season. If you have any recipe ideas for using mange tout please get in touch, we would love to hear from you.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Salad days

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Being able to walk around the garden and harvest a mixture of fresh salad leaves is a treat. Our temperate climate means that we can grow salad crops most of the year however, now is the time when we get an abundant crop of leaves such as various lettuces, rocket, young beetroot leaves, chives and fresh herbs. Plenty of variety readily available to make the basis of a good fresh salad.

Crisp and vibrant mange tout add variety and sweetness to any salad and are best eaten within an hour of picking if you are going to get the full benefit of the natural sugars.

We eat a lot of salad during the year and I enjoy coming up with new ideas to try. This weekend we put together a Chestnut and date salad with an orange and garlic vinaigrette. Served on a thick bed of lettuce, cooked, chilled chestnuts and dried dates were topped with rocket and orange segments. A generous helping of Orange and garlic vinaigrette is drizzled over the salad. We also added some sweetcorn but it really wan't needed.

The orange and garlic vinaigrette worked very well as it cut through the dryness of the chestnuts and its slight acid taste worked well with the sweetness of the dates.

With a glass of wine, home-made bread and a lovely sunny terrace, what more could you ask for?

This is the vinaigrette recipe is really worth a try - I usually make up my own recipes, and adjust to taste, as I go on but here are the approximate quantities for two servings:

2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon of honey
1 teaspoon of English mustard
1 glove of minced garlic
Juice of half an orange
Salt and black pepper to taste.

Mix ingredients well and leave to infuse for 30 mins before using.