Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Joe's Flower Garden

Whilst Nigel looks after the fruit and vegetables, it’s Joe who produces all those lovely flowers you find in the hotel. Nigel has a very organised and planned vegetable garden with lots of straight lines and ordered cropping beds. Joe’s flower garden is the opposite, spontaneous, organic and with lots of different shaped beds. That’s how she likes it and she gets a lot of enjoyment from it. She also manages to produce lovely flowers for the hotel most of the year.

A couple of Joe's flower arrangements from the dining room today

This is from the upstairs lounge today.
So its not just the meadows at Posada del Valle where the flowers are!

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Flower rich hay meadows

"The flower-rich hay meadow is a masterpiece of the pastoral art. Like the great cathedrals, its construction has taken over a century or more. Like them it is a handiwork of generations of unknown crafts people - the shepherds and stockmen who grazed the autumn growth, knowing exactly when to bring on the animals and when to take them off again; the scythesmen who laboured in the summer heat to harvest the sunlight locked up in the sugars of fresh, green leaves; the army of women who raked and turned the drying foliage, finally pitching it high on to the harvest wagon." - Graham Harvey, The forgiveness of nature, the story of grass (2001).

Last week we finished cutting hay in “La Castañarina”, the largest part of the farm that we manage specifically for flora and fauna diversity. “La Castañarina” is divided into two parts, the lower part, which is cut for hay in early summer and then grazed in late autumn and the upper part which is grazed twice a year; in early summer and late autumn.

Most of the hay we have cut this year has been cut by hand using a scythe. Both Hugh and Sebastian were keen on using a scythe as it is more sustainable and the traditional form of cutting hay in this area. (Last year we cut the hay using a strimmer fitted with a special blade for hay cutting)
As you are dependent on good weather for drying the hay it is necessary to cut it when you think there is going to be a period of good weather for drying, with no risk of rain which may spoil the hay. This means there is often a lot of hay to be cut in a short period of time, or put another way a lot of hard work when it is normally very hot. Cutting by hand takes longer so that’s even more work. There is a local saying; “La hierba no sabe ni siesta o fiesta” which translates as hay doesn’t know parties or naps and means when its hay time you have just got to get on and do it.. A really big thank you to both Hugh and Sebastian for doing such a good job this year and cutting it with a scythe.

In Castañarina rather than making a hay stack we bale the hay as we can get a tractor into the meadow. So once the grass has been cut it is left to dry and turned a few times. Then it is raked into long strips ready for the tractor to bale it. Donisio from the next village bales our straw. He works about 18 hours a day when straw has to be baled as all the small farmers want their hay baled at the same time, that is when the hay is dry and before any chance of rain.

After the hay has all been baled Juanra our neighbor came with his small tractor and helped take all the bales to our stable ready for the winter. It’s a lovely feeling when all the hay is in the stable and the hardest job on the farm has come to an end for another year.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Behind the scenes

Just a few photos to show some of the staff, some of whom don’t always get seen so much but with out their help we could never operate.

This photo shows Montse and Maria, the two new staff this year

Montse took over from Mari Jose who had been with us for 8 years, but stopped working with us when she moved to Arriondas. Montse is from Collia and works in the evening in the kitchen cleaning up after the messy cooks (and guests) and at weekends with the cleaning.

Maria (with darker hair) helps Joe in the kitchen making bread and with food preparation in general. She is from the Basque country but has been living in Gijon (Asturias) for the last couple of years.

In the photo above Mari Carmen and her daughter Patricia.

Mari Carmen has now been with us for 10 years (poor Mari Carmen) and works full time all the year round. It’s her job to prepare breakfasts, help keep the hotel clean and tidy, receive guests in the afternoon. In the winter when we are shut she paints the hotel from top to bottom!

Patricia has been with us 3 years, she mostly helps with the cleaning but like all the staff covers for other jobs including breakfast, recepcion and evening meals once a week.

Finally Mari Carmen with her smile waiting to meet new guests.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Our annual hay stack

For the last 5 years we have made a traditional Asturian hay stack (known as a “palancar” or “bala de hierba”) with some of the hay we cut from our meadows, and this year was no different.
First the hay has to cut and dried, and collected close to where the hay stack is to be made.
The long post has to be prepared, in this case from a eucalyptus tree at the top of the farm and taken to where the stack is to be built.

The post has to be dug in about 1 meter in the ground and then raised.

You can see the piles of hay ready here and last years stack in the background. A wooden base is prepared (to allow air circulation under the hay) before the hay is slowly placed around the post.
The hay is compressed down by standing on it as it is placed around the post. There is a rope attached to the top of the post which is used by the person on the top for holding on.

The sides of the stack are raked to try and keep it in shape and line the strands of hay in the same direction pointing downwards so the stack is more water resistant. The hay is lifted/thrown to the top of the stack with a pitch fork.

The finished product; tired workers and food for the sheep in the winter months!

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Late Lambs; unpredictable nature

Lambing time on our farm normally peaks in the first or second week of January. We sometimes get our first lamb born as early as the first week in December and “first timers” (one year old sheep which give birth for the first time) can give birth as late as March. I believe that in natural systems the lambing period is predominantly a day length response which affects the sheep’s hormone levels and the onset of the conception period. As the day length decreases so the conception period starts. The sheep’s gestation period is about 5 months so our early January lambing peak corresponds to mating in early August when day lengths are noticeable shortening.

So what a surprise we have had this last week when ten sheep have given birth to their second lamb this year. All we can assume is that the very good winter weather this year has some how influenced. The locals have told us that what we need to be careful of is that when the mother calls her new lamb, the elder sibling born 6 months earlier doesn’t come and feed from the mother thus depriving and possible starving the new born lamb!

In the photo you can see a white mother with her new black lamb expressing concern about me photographing her lamb!


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.