Saturday, 28 June 2008

Coastal Fun

With some lovely hot weather and family staying with us we decided to visit the beach and headland near “Cuevas De Mar” for a picnic and swim. This is one of the many lovely coastal areas close to Llanes where geologically speaking the Picos meet the sea. Photos of the same area taken yesterday and in February

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Beer; organic versus local.

Over 3 years ago we came across the beer “San Miguel Eco” the organic version of the Spanish (global) beer. It’s a light lager but very slightly more bitter than the normal San Miguel. It is made in their production plant in Lerida and is the only organic beer made in Spain at the moment. In 2007 we stopped offering the normal San Miguel and only offered the Eco version, and most customers seemed to enjoy it. However I wasn’t totally convinced, not only coming from such a large company, it only comes in a 250 cc non returnable bottle format. Having said that, the other organic beers available in Spain tend to be made in Germany or Belgium and also come in a non returnable format.

So we have been looking out for an alternative beer for some time and first came across “Belenos” The Asturian beer. Whilst I was speaking with the salesman for the beer (and about to order a considerable quantity) I asked him; where it was made, wondering what part of Asturias it came from. So he told me; it was made in Belgium! Ah – but the recipe is from Asturias so that it is why it is an Asturian beer!! So I cancelled the order.

Just over a month ago I was very happy to be presented with an empty beer bottle from Seb (my son). It was a special artesian beer called “La Xana” and produced in Noreña Asturias by a small family company who also distil liqueurs. After finding a full bottle we sampled the beer, enjoyed it and soon got in contact with the company who make it. We have now been offering this beer for just over 3 weeks in the hotel. It comes in a flip top 500 cc bottle, is unfiltered and has a secondary fermentation in the bottle. In its production they only use malted barley, hops, yeast and water, following the German beer purity law. It’s considerably more expensive than the San Miguel Eco which we sell the 250 cc bottle at 1.25 Euros compared to the Asturian La Xana beer at 4.50 Euros for the 500 cc bottle, (and we make less money selling the Asturian beer at this price!)

What has surprised me has been the reaction by our guests. If people ask for a beer I (the barman) explain the two types we offer and their comparative prices and I don’t try to push one above the other, but the Asturian beer is outselling the San Miguel Eco despite its price. People obviously like trying the local products (I think it’s to do with authenticity) and are often rather wary of global brands even if they are organic.

I personally think it is positive when the global brands have organic products, although I am very concerned about their influence on standards and legislation. However when possible I would always support a diversified (ecological) cropping system rather than a large monocrop, and encourage people to do like wise. Diverse cropping systems are much more sustainable and better for the environment than mononcrops.

One final advantage with the Asturian beer is that as the bottle comes with a flip top and lots of people from the local village are keen on taking the bottles to use them for storing different drinks etc. So rather than getting recycled the bottles are getting re-used; now that is good.


Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Learning how to use a scythe

In previous years to cut the hay meadows we have used a strimer fitted with a multi toothed blade, special for hay cutting. It works well and in 2 days full work we can cut almost 2 hectares of grass. The difficult part of hay making is the weather, as you need a minimum 4 good days of drying weather. So this means when the weather looks good you want to cut the hay fast so there is plenty of time for it to cure in case the weather changes.

This year, with sustainability in mind we have been considering using a scythe to cut some of the fields, so the first step was to organise a “course” on how to use a scythe or “guadaña” as it is called in Asturian language. We called along our neighbour old man Victor (78 years old) to show us how to use a scythe as has been done in this area for many years. The three students where; myself, Sebastian and Hugh. Joe also came along for the introduction

There are 3 major processes to using the scythe:

Flattening the blade i.e drawing the blade out by hitting it with a hammer on a special metal device. This is known as “cabruñar” in the Asturian language and peening in English

Sharpening the blade with a wet stone or honing . In Asturias the stone is actually kept in water in a small wooden container which hooks on to your belt.

The actual cutting process.

Sebastian and Hugh both getting well into it

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Wild boar on the farm

The hotel farm is part of the national game reserve of the Sueve Mountains which are just behind the hotel. Most years we see signs of the wild boar where it has been rooting around the meadows digging up plant tubers and roots and looking for food in general. They love the roots of the plant Lords and Ladies and in early spring the boars go through the farm systematically digging up these plants. Unfortunately they also love orchid rhizomes which can be particularly annoying as they can up root 20 or 30 orchids in a night.

Up until this year we have only ever actually seen a boar on the farm, three or four times throughout the 13 years that we have lived here. However this year in April we sighted a large boar a number of times around our house and Joe even saw it late one night in her flower garden when returning from the hotel.

But two weeks ago we had the first sighting of the mother boar, now with 6 young boars! Since then the sightings have become a lot more regular with many guests having seen the young boars playing in the upper farm meadows in the early hours of the evening, as can be seen in the photo.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

First Strawberries

In an effort to try and increase the percentage of food we produce on the farm for serving in the hotel restaurant, we decided to plant some soft fruit this winter. We have a slightly basic soil so we planted; strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, gooseberries, redcurrants and blackcurrants. We planted a couple of different varieties of each type of fruit, this is to try and extend the cropping season and also following our belief that diversity is good.

Like our vegetable beds, in the fruit beds we have adopted a no dig system, using plenty of compost and manure to mulch the plants. This helps suppress weeds, improove soil structure and increase soil life in general.

The combination of plenty of moisture after a wet spring, some warmer sunny days which we are experiencing now and plenty of horse manure, the strawberries are looking quite grand and producing their first fruits, not bad from a January planting. We started serving these luscious organic strawberries in the restaurant today. Hopefully we will also harvest some raspberries in the autumn, but for our full range of freshly picked soft fruit I am afraid guests will have to wait till next year.


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.