Tuesday, 28 June 2011

The vegetable garden in early summer.

Florence fennel ready for harvest

Summer officially arrived this week and with it a spell of hot weather with temperatures over the 30’s. The warm weather means there is a lot to harvest in the vegetable garden and it also means there is a lot of watering to do.

Garlic drying in the warm weather

This year we are doing more trials in the vegetable gardens particularly variety trials and planting date trials. The information we gain, which varieties are most suited to our conditions and the optimum planting times helps us to continually improve our cropping systems, which basically means bigger, better and more reliable yields.

Courgettes, courgettes and more courgettes.

The greenhouse we built last autumn has come into its own; amongst other things allowing us to produce the different plants and varieties necessary for the trials we’ve been conducting. It has also meant we have been able to sow earlier and produce larger plants which we planted outside when the warm weather came. The idea of using larger plants at planting time is to start harvesting earlier, and we’ve just started picking our first peppers which reflects the success of this system.

Large plants ready to plant out.

We are now picking a wide range of crops including; sugar peas, french beans, fennel, cabbage, calabrese, romanesque, lettuce of all shapes and colours, leafbeet, beetroot, carrots courgette and more. Also for the first time we have an excellent crop of cherry tomatoes coming from the greenhouse and we’re now picking well over 1 kg of fruit every day. Here we have two varieties a red and orange variety, both selected for their flavour which is outstanding.

Tomatoes in the greenhouse, now ripening high up the plant

Flavoursome gold and red cherry tomatoes

Although we call the ”huerta” our vegetable garden it’s also where we produce our soft fruit and this year there’s an abundance of all sorts of berries including; strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, tayberries, boysen berries and blackcurrants. The hotel restaurant hasn’t been able to keep up with the influx of fruit even though there have been three or four different types of soft fruits desserts on offer each night. I often wonder what we would do without deep freezers to soak up the excess berries.

Boyesenberries on the plant

Boysenberries on a cheesecake

Strawberries in abundence

Blackcurrants ready for picking

There are still a lot of different vegetables growing in the garden which we haven’t started harvesting yet such as cucumbers, pumpkins and aubergines, but it won’t be long before we start. And although the vegetable garden is full of crops waiting to be harvested like nature we can’t be complacent and we have to be preparing for the coming seasons; autumn, winter and spring. So we now we are preparing young plants for crops such as autumn and winter cabbage or purple sprouting to crop in February and March. We are also making the last sowings of French beans for September and October harvest as well as sowing beetroot for harvesting throughout the winter.

Preparing plants for autumn and winter cropping.

Finally we shouldn’t forget the essence of life; seeds, so important and yet so often taken for granted. We try to produce seed from some of the different crops and varieties we grow. Priority is given to saving and maintaining varieties which are of local origin such as our land race of onions which we estimate has been kept in this area for over 40 years. When saving seed we select the healthiest plants with the characteristics we consider interesting and then let them “go to seed.” So it’s quite common to walk round our vegetable garden and see a large plant often looking rather out of place. These are the plants we have chosen for harvesting seed and if only in a small symbolic way help keep seeds in the hands of farmers and small communities where they belong.

Saving seed; leek flower heads.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Changing the Ram

"Navito" The ram who was with us for the last two years and who has just left to be with new females.

Our ram is a lucky guy with not much on his mind other than roaming freely with the forty odd females that comprise our flock of sheep. What’s more every two years just when he could start to be getting bored with the females that surround him, he is moved on to a new flock of sheep with a totally new set of females, and that’s when we get a new ram for our sheep. The reason we change our ram every couple of years is so that he doesn’t end up mating with his own off spring with the consequent degeneration of the flock associated with inbreeding.

Navito and two of his offspring; one white and one black.

The sheep we keep are Xaldas; the indigenous breed of Asturias which was on the verge of extinction. There is an association ACOXA which cares for the recuperation of this breed and controls the breeding and purity of the race. There are various “good” rams which circulate between the association’s member’s flocks, but this year we wanted a ram with “slightly” different characteristics.

Our flock of Xalda sheep

In past years when we shear the sheep we have thrown the wool away which seems so criminal. We have always wanted to find a use for the wool and so are extremely happy with the recent development of its use for felting by our daughter Samantha and a neighbor Jenny. Within the xalada race there is a huge variation in the characteristics of their fleeces and wool. Not only does the colour vary from white to black but the thickness and the length of the wool fibers vary considerably. Some of the wool types are much easier to clean and untangle than others and some are more suitable for felting than others. So this season when we decided to select a new ram we wanted to take into consideration the characteristics of his wool.

The variety of fleeces and wool types from the Xalda sheep

Another important factor partly influenced by genetics is the quantity and quality of meat on our lambs. We sell most of our lambs for meat and the Xalda sheep are small by nature, so we like a big ram who will produce offspring which accompanied with good grazing will fatten up well.

One of our large rams from 4 years ago.

Sam with local farmers looking at possible new rams.

We have just spent a couple of weeks visiting other breeders of xalda sheep looking at their young male lambs to see their suitability as the new ram for our flock. “Well built and long haired” were major features we searched for. Sam came along looking at the rams and feeling their wool giving her opinion on the suitability for working the wool.

Tronco, the new small ram just before he was introduced to our heard.

At last we’ve opted for a young ram, slightly smaller than I would have hoped for but with good wool characteristics. Our previous ram went to a new flock a couple of weeks ago and the new ram was introduced to our flock last week. Hopefully he will now grow big and strong enjoying our tasty flora rich pastures preparing him for the work ahead. Then all that remains to be seen is the quality of his offspring next spring; that is assuming he does his job well this summer!

Monday, 6 June 2011

Eco -Workshop Gathering

Yesterday the 5th of June was The World Environment Day, a day which is meant to stimulate awareness of the environment. Coinciding with this Gaia y Sofia organised their first Eco-Workshop Gathering at the hotel. For us it was a very special event to have organised at the hotel, an event which gave people the opportunity to share insights and experiences, stories of sustainable livelihoods and participate in a gentle agenda of activities.

The floating maize made out of painted gourds

With the help of the artistic intervention and two beautiful sunny days the setting was stunning; a landscape born of the marriage between art and ecology. Carmen a local artist created 23 pieces of landart for the event, made from materials found in the area, no nails, screws or glue were used, just balance and equilibrium. These were carefully placed around the farm under the hotel and the effects were brilliant. She also created a “floating maize” made out of painted gourds and there was a colourful tree of wishes where people went and wrote a wish on a piece of coloured cloth then to be tied to the tree.

Landart waiting to be discovered on the farm

The tree of wishes.

There were 3 workshops; the Gaia workshop, the creativity workshop and the artisan workshop. In the Gaia workshop there were short walks and collective experiences telling stories of the earth and living things, looking at the interconnection between all living beings, including ourselves and ecosystems.

More examples of Carmen's landart.

The setting

Part of the Creativity workshop

The Creativity workshop helped the participants guide the artistic expression inspired by the environment. Here people painted together making representations of the place and experiences of the group, trying to express their feelings and memories related to the sounds, smells, etc. that surrounded them. The pieces of paint work will move on with the different eco workshops and eventually help form part of a mosaic made of all the different works produced at the different eco workshops, which along with the land art and its audio visual representation will form part of an art exhibition

Sculptures in equilibrium contributing to a landscape born of the marriage between art and eceology

The idea of the Artisan work shop was to bring people to connect with local resources, cultural identity and nature that make the environment of the Hotel Posada del Valle. Here the participants were involved in the craftsmanship of wool, from the beginning looking at the xaldas sheep on the farm to felt carding and processing. Participants had a good chance to experiment with wool themselves, relate to it and share experiences with people who work the wool, self-taught, available to anyone.

Experiences with wool; the artisan workshop.

The event took place during two days; the Saturday and the Sunday and judging how happy the participants seemed at the end of each day Sebastian and Lidia who organized the event should feel very pleased about the success of the event. Joe and Andres did an excellent job (as always) preparing the breakfast and lunch for the participants and Samantha and Jenny also did a great job with the imparting the artisan workshop.

A time for sharing experinces

This was the first of the "Eco-WorkshopGatherings" and in total there will be four such events held the first weekend of the month at different establishments belonging to the Foundation Ecoagroturism and organic farms in Asturias. The next Eco workshop gathering will be held the 2nd and 3rd of July at La Quintana del Foncalada in Arguerro Villaviciosa and there the artisan workshops will be on ceramics and the natural taming of horses. More information about the Eco workshop gathering in spanish.


Hotel Posada del Valle is a small hotel in Asturias Northern Spain surrounded by its own organic farm and where we are passionate about organic farming, food, and sustainable livelihoods. In this Blog those of us who live and work at Hotel Posada del Valle open a door to share with all of you who are interested in what we are doing.