Sunday, June 29, 2014

We harvested the potatoes and look what we got...

Way back in March we planted 100 Desiree red-skin potatoes. This is the first time we have planted this variety. The previous few years we have been trying various others which have been OK but yield, resistance to blight and taste have varied widely with mixed results.

We took the opportunity of an extended dry spell to harvest ours, 14 weeks after planting. So far so good, no blight. We have been applying diluted aspirin on the potato and tomato crop to prevent blight and up to now it appears to have helped but the weather hasn't been too damp and misty so...

The important thing is that this year we have had a bumper crop. Over 100 kgs of tasty, clean skinned, red potatoes.

We will dry them for a few days, clean off any residual soil and store them in a dark, cool area of the store. With the right conditions they should last us for the next 6 months. They are a valuable crop as we will use them for Spanish Tortilla, Moussaka, baked, new and soups plus a few we'll pass on to friends.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Visiting Asturias?

The holiday season is beginning to take hold here in Asturias. The majority of the year it is very quiet, with the main holiday season being 10 weeks from mid-July to Mid September. Outside of that there is only a small influx of visitors on weekends and bank holidays. We always wonder why the holiday season isn't longer? Outside of the main season, Asturias is still stunning and worth exploring.

We rarely promote third-party sites on our blog but through friendships, social media and blogs we have come across several sites/resources we think are worthy of mentioning... should you be considering a visit this year.

Outdoor activities are a major attraction here in Asturias with endless walking routes for all levels, unspoilt beaches for swimming, surfing or relaxing, rock-climbing (at all levels of ability), cave and geological exploration and numerous other outdoor pursuits. With over 200 km of unspoilt coastline, the Picos de Europa mountain range and a plethora of woodlands, river courses, valleys and streams, if you enjoy and value unspoilt landscapes, you will be spoilt for choice.

Beaches: This free App lists all the beaches in Asturias and provides information in Spanish and English. Maps, directions, photo-galleries, amenities and much much more - worth downloading and really easy to use.

Walking: This site is written by Nigel Burch proprietor of the eco-friendly hotel and farm Posada del Valle. He is a keen mountain and lowland walker and maintains this personal blog which provides information on mountain and coastal graded routes. Certainly worth checking out if you enjoy walking.

Climbing: Neither Luis or I are climbers but we often come across climbers on cliffs near our local beach or up high in the Picos de Europa and we stand in awe of their agility, strength and passion. This bi-lingual book has been put together to highlight climbing opportunities in NW Spain including Asturias, Cantabria and Leon. Definitely worth investing in if climbing is your thing.

And finally...

We are conscious that as a destination Asturias is still relatively unknown. Personally we like it like that but recognise that the economy needs tourism and to get people here tourism needs promotion. One company that has made some great videos and news reports about the area is Where is Asturias?  The website is not always the easiest to navigate in my opinion but with a bit of perseverance, you will discover some gems.

We hope to see you soon...There is so much more to discover.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Restoring a garden bench and making a rustic one from recycled material

We like sitting in the garden. Typically the weather allows us to use the garden much more than when we were in the UK. We have various areas dotted around where we sit and watch the natural world go by.

Some years ago I came across an old wrought iron bench that was in urgent need of repair. The wooden slats were rotten and the wrought iron had broken and was in need of welding (not an easy job).

After sitting around gathering dust, we managed to get it repaired by Luis' brother-in-law and we sourced some new hard-wood slats which we treated with white spirit and linseed oil. A coat of paint and with new slats fitted, it looks great and is a welcome addition to the terrace.

The other bench we made this week was from a discarded beam someone had dumped on the roadside. We cut it in half, fastened it together with a couple of metal plates either end and stood it on two old terracotta chimney pots we have had lying around for some time.

This week we also decided to site the mosaic coffee table Luis made several years ago. He now needs to get on with making a couple of matching mosaic pedestals on which to stand it, in the mean time bricks will do.....

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The march of the midwife toads

The midwife toads (alytes obstetricans) are on the move. They were spotted carrying their eggs, navigating the limestone rockery, trailing plants and inquisitive cats. Here in Spain they are currently listed as 'Near Threatened' on the ICUN Red-list (International Union for Conservation of Nature).

We are lucky that the midwife toad is plentiful here at La Pasera, the rockery is a perfect habitat for them as there are many moist crevices where they can hide from the heat of the day. Most of the year we can hear them sing out once the afternoon sun starts to set. Their high pitched whistle-like sound: poo...poo...poo is repeated every one or two seconds and other toads will join in, signalling their presence.

If you are unfamiliar with this toad it may come as a surprise to learn that it is the male of the species that carries the eggs; up to 170 eggs at a time, sometimes originating from different females. They have peculiar mating habits with the female and male engaged in a mating ritual, the male inserting a toe into the females cloacae thereby enabling the release of eggs which he then sticks his legs through, sprays them with urine and sperm and carries them for 3-6 weeks until he finds a safe spot to release the eggs.

We have several water sources in the garden but the one the midwife toads prefer is a small half barrel filled with water, plants and a rock. It is permanently teaming with tadpoles thereby ensuring the next generations of this wonderful creature.

The midwife toad is small, 4-6 cm in length with the males being slightly smaller than the females. They live approximately 5 years if not consumed by their natural predator, the viper or large birds. Their diet is mainly spiders and beetles with a few flies and worms when available.

Further information can be found here:

IUCN Red-List


Sunday, June 08, 2014

A Hawkmoth emerges from its cocoon in the ground.

Those of you who follow our blog know that we are keen observers of nature in all its forms including insects. We try and maintain a broad variety of natural habitats to encourage biodiversity and to maintain the natural balance of our plot. We have areas that we leave wild, wood piles, rockeries, ponds and a bog garden, amongst others, to create natural habitats for a range of insects, birds, mammals, amphibians, molluscs and reptiles. Many of our inhabitants can be found on our other blog: Smaller Tales from Toriello.

Smaller Tales from Toriello
We often inspect these areas to see what has taken up residence. One natural resource we rarely think about are the large areas of lawn (grass meadow cut and maintained short). It came as quite a surprise this week to stumble across a Hawkmoth emerging from its cocoon in the ground just near the tool shed. Luis' brother spotted it, just a dark brown head emerging from between blades of grass. By the time I had retrieved the camera from the house the moth was almost out.

A few minutes later, the moth started to expand its wings in the warmth of the afternoon sun. It was about 5cm in length and 3cm across at the base of its wings. We think it was a privet hawkmoth due to the stripes on the base of its body. They feed on, amongst other things, Ash of which we have several surrounding La Pasera.

Gawber the cat (increasingly bored) was curious: what are these humans looking at and is it worth eating?

We protected the moth with a rake and watched from a distance only to find the moth clambering on the rake and resting. We placed the rake in a safe position away from feline eyes and left it alone expecting that it probably would not take flight until dusk or nightfall. Sure enough, the next morning it was gone.

We retrieved the cocoon from the ground out of curiosity and wondered how many more would be emerging around our plot that we will never spot.

We will certainly look out for the caterpillar this coming year and keep our eyes open for other signs of life in all areas of the garden.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Whales and Dolphins in the Bay of Biscay

We have recently returned from a trip to the UK via ferry. Always preferable to flying (in my opinion), the ferry takes approximately 24 hours from Santander to Portsmouth. I find the journey a little dull, especially when you have made it numerous times. There is on-board entertainment, several bars, a couple of restaurants and a cinema: apart from that there are several decks you can wander and stretch your legs. The saving grace is the probability of spotting a large range of cetaceans.

In the Bay of Biscay it is possible to find a third of the species of cetaceans in the world including many species of whale, dolphin and porpoise. Having made the crossing many, many times over the years I find myself increasingly drawn to observing the vast sea from deck 10 of the ship with the hope of seeing one or more of these beautiful creatures.

This year we were fortunate enough to be accompanied by volunteers from ORCA who are monitoring the bay for cetacean activity, numbers and trends. You can find out more about their work by following the link.

On both the outbound and inbound leg of our journey Luis and I were fortunate enough to see: bottle nose dolphins, common dolphins and pilot whales. The ORCA volunteers and other cetacean spotters spend much more time on deck and are better equipped and dressed to see so much more including Fin Whales, Yellow-fin Tuna, and numerous pods of dolphin and porpoise.

They are not easy creatures to photograph as they dive and skim the surface, darting from side to side, under the bow of the ship and in and out of deep waves. One couple from Portsmouth who regularly do the crossing simply to spot cetaceans estimated that from 7am in the morning until 7pm evening time they had spotted up to 150 dolphins in various size pods and 6 whales... they were however dressed in warm clothing and had a range of equipment with them including GPS, binoculars, scopes and cameras with long, long lenses. Ten decks up, they seem tiny despite the dolphins being 2 meters in length.

There is something rather special about seeing these creatures in their natural habitat and their inquisitiveness brings them near the ship as it traverses the deep shelf that hosts the fish, plankton, krill, octopus and squid on which they feed. It is sad to know that irresponsible disposal of plastic is a major cause of their demise, often mistaking it for food, the cetaceans are slowing killed as their stomachs and gullets are filled with non-digestible and poisonous plastics.