Monday, 24 November 2008

Mulching, compost and humus

Cabbages in the process of being mulched.

Although there has been a fair bit of rain recently I have still been able to get out and work in the vegetable garden, and I have been mulching some of the vegetable beds over the last few days.
Artichoke beds mulched on Friday

Mulches are an integral part of our no dig growing systems for the hotel vegetable garden. We usually apply the mulches at the beginning of the crops growing season, and the most common mulch we use is our compost. First we remove the smaller weeds from the vegetable bed and then apply 10 to 15cms of compost carefully spreading it around the plants.

Mulching the larger pepper plants.

The mulch has a wide range of benefits including stabilizing soil, suppressing weeds, retaining moisture, and increasing the organic matter content of the soil.

We avoid mulching very small plants as our compost at times can be quite “coarse”, but having said that, the effects on the crops we mulch with our compost can be quite spectacular. I often admire the plants a few weeks after they have been mulched and ask myself what is it that makes them respond so well?

Courgette plants basking on their compost mulch.

Could it be the humus? This makes up a large portion of the dark material in compost and is very valuable for improving the chemical and physical quality of the soil. Humic substances are a large range of complex molecules, but you can actually buy soluble “humic acids” from the chemical companies, sold as wonder potions for intensive crop production. In my previous career as a crop productionist I used them, but never found them to work.

Our compost; much more than a single component.

To me these soluble humic acids produced by the multinationals are rather like the “wonder health food additives” such as; eggs with Omeg 3, milk with added Calcium, yogurt with Danacol etc. May be the scientists trying to isolate the latest wonder molecule should look at my cabbages mulched with compost!

Mulched cabbages coming to maturity

So often it’s not a single factor which constitutes to the health of a plant or person but it is the result of all the different components of a complex natural system, working together, and this is what we should come to respect and appreciate

Monday, 17 November 2008

End of season meal

Every year, after the hotel shuts, we have a meal with all the staff from the hotel and their partners. This year was no different and we celebrated it on Saturday in the restaurant “El Molin de Mingo”

Starting on the left and going round the table the people in the photo are as follows:
Samantha (our daughter) who has been away a lot of the year but has helped when she has been here, when needed. In previous years she has helped in the kitchen, reception and cleaning rooms.
Hugh who works as farm labourer, on site naturalist and photographer.
Alice; Hugh’s partner.
Maria who helped Joe in the kitchen with food preparation and in reception.
Montse who helped in the kitchen and cleaning rooms at weekends.
Sebastian (our son) not only has he helped a lot in the hotel when we were short staffed (particularly when Mari Carmen fractured her foot) but he also contributed tremendously with the new web site and with many different ideas.
Patricia (Mari Carmen’s daughter) who helps with the cleaning and in many other ways including, reception and book work.
Joe; chief cook amongst many other jobs.
Mari Carmen who has been working with us the longest, does many jobs including; receiving guest, preparing breakfasts cleaning and even painting.
Lidia (Sebastian’s partner) also was a great help when Mari Carmen fractured her foot
Eduardo; Patricia’s husband.
Chichi (on the photo below on the far right) Montse’s husband

So a big thanks to everyone who has helped contribute to the success of the hotel and without whose help we would never be where we are today.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Pico Moro

Joe and Samantha climbing the slopes of Pico Moro with the Picos de Europa in the background.

Just over a week ago we finally shut the hotel for this season, and since then Joe and I have been doing a lot of walking, updating and preparing our new walking guide for the area. In this guide we wanted to include a larger range of walks; from leisurely strolls to harder high mountain walks. We also want to increase the number of self guided walks which can be done with out using a car, either starting directly from the hotel or using public transport.

The Hotel and Sueve Mountain range from Pico Moro

The ascent of Pico Moro is a circular walk starting and finishing at the hotel and takes about five to six hours. Throughout the walk there are spectacular views of the mountains and countryside which surround the hotel. Where as most of the mountains in the area are limestone, Pico Moro differs with a predominately silicate based subsoil. As a consequence the flora on the slopes is quite different and in parts there are even small forests of Mimosa trees.

The summit of Pico Moro

Once on the summit there is a rather bold cross made out of metal road barriers and then the descent back to the hotel and the satisfaction of having had a lovely day with our using a car.

The coastline as seen on the descent of Pico Moro

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Dried Beans

Beans or “Fabes” are a very important part of the Asturian cooking, the most famous dish being the “Fabada Asturiana” or bean stew. On our farm we grow several different varieties of dried beans as can be seen in the photo above. Over time we have collected different local varieties from small growers at local markets and evaluated them under our growing conditions. It is one of the crops for which we now save our own seed of the best local varieties.

Some bean varieties are low plants growing no more than 30 cms high and others are climbing plants which we generally train up maize plants as a polycrop. In the year 2008 all the bean dishes we served in the hotel restaurant came from our own harvests.

Young bean plants in the vegetable plot

I often wonder if guests realise the work involved in producing dried beans on a small diverse cropping system such as our farm, with no machinery. All very sustainable but very labour intensive. First the beans must be sown, grown and then allowed to dry on the plant, which depending on the variety, can take 3 to 5 months from sowing. At the end of the season if the bean pods are dry enough (which will depend on the late summer weather) the pods can be harvested individually. If they are not dry enough the whole plant is harvested tied in small bundles and left to dry under cover. Then comes the most labour intensive part of the job; taking the dried beans out of the pods. Most pods only contain 4 or 5 beans so it’s a lot of work.

Shelling beans

Traditionally in Asturias most fiestas were associated with important labour intensive agricultural jobs. An example being the special meals held through out the “matanza” which is the 2 to 3 day process of slaughtering the pig for making sausages. Another example is the “amaguestu," when people drink “sidra dulce” (young cider) and eat chestnuts, celebrated when the apple harvest and pressing the apples for cider has finished.

Excuse for a fiesta.

So following this tradition we decided to make a small fiesta out of the labour intensive job of shelling of our beans, inviting friends around to help and at the same time having a glass of cider and generally having a good time.


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.