Wednesday, 28 January 2009


Reineta Eating Apples

January is the month when I prune the apple trees in our orchard, so I thought it would be appropriate to talk about the different types of apples we grow.

Colaridina cider apple tree waiting to be pruned.

Nearly all the trees we have in our 7 acre plantation are Asturian cider apples. There are probably over 300 named Asturian cider varieties of which 20 varieties have been selected by the local apple and cider research centre and are now considered the “best” varieties for growing and producing cider. When we planted the apple trees over 10 years ago we planted 7 of these recommended varieties, and the ones we have are: Coloradona, De La Riega, Durona Tresali, Solarina, Xuanina, Ernistina and Limon Montes. We also have a few trees of the traditional Asturian eating apple Reineta, and a few very old trees of “unnamed” Asturian cider apples. If I had to plant the orchard again, I would probably plant a larger range of varieties, because we believe biodiversity is good and some of the “non-selected” varieties are starting to be lost.

The different types of cider apple are classified according to their taste. The major “technical” groups are; acid, sweet, bitter-acid, bitter, bitter sweet, and semi-acid. According to the local apple and cider research centre to make a good cider it is necessary to have the correct proportion of each technical group. What most traditional cider producers believe is that the best ciders come from a good mix of varieties and Antonio who presses our apples for apple juice also likes to have a mix of varieties.

Some different cider apple varities from the farm:

De La Riega; Semi acid, harvest time November.

Solarina; Semi acid, harvest time late October.

Limon Montes; Acid, harvest time November

Ernestina; Sweet, harvest time October

Xuanina; Acid harvest time October

Duroni Tresali; Acid,harvest November.
Enjoy the Apples!

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

The Sueve Mountains

The Sueve Mountains are a coastal mountains range with the highest point “Pico Pienzo” at 1050 m altitude and only 3 kms from the coast. This is the mountains range which can be seen behind the hotel.
The famous Mirador del Fito considered by many as the most amazing viewing point in Asturias on the Eastern edge of the Sueve range and about 4 kms from the hotel.

View from the Mirador del Fito (Fito viewing point)

Of all the walks which can de done from the hotel with out using the car the most spectacular with out doubt must be the walk from the Mirador del Fitó to the Pico Pienzo. There are a many variations on this walk; from a gentle stroll from the Mirador del Fito to a demanding circular walk starting from the Hotel taking in both the Mirador del Fito and the Pico Pienzo summit. One of the most popular options for this walk is taking a taxi from the hotel to the Mirador del Fitó and walking back to the hotel along the mountains and down the valley, with the possiblity of taking in the 500m ascent to the Pico pienzo summit.

Walking and admiring the views in the Sueve mountains.

The Sueve Mountains were the home to the last remaining population of Asturcon Ponies. Due to their small size these indigenous ponies unappreciated by many of the local farmers were on the verge of extinction. In the 1970’s a small group of naturalist started an association with the object of maintaining and increasing the population of these ponies. Today the association continues and the ponies are no longer considered on the verge of extinction. Various types of horses including Asturcon ponies can easily be seen roaming semi wild on the Sueve Mountains.

Asturcon ponies on pastures in the Sueve Mountains

The Sueve Mountain forms an important physical barrier to the coast, and the predominant north westerly winds coming across the sea. This often gives rise to very specific microclimates around the range and interesting meteorological conditions. Thermal inversion quite often occurs on the southern side of the range producing the very spectacular “sea of clouds” which can quite often be seen lower down in the valleys in the morning

Winter dawn from the Sueve mountains with snow and a sea of cloud over the valleys

There is an important yew forest on the northern side of the range with over 2000 trees many of which are over 500 years old. Unfortunately there has been no regeneration of the forest due to overgrazing by cattle and deer. The importance of this forest is slowly becoming recognised and measures for its protection are being discussed.
An Ancient yew tree growing out of the limestone on the north side of the Sueve mountains.

The hotel with the Sueve Mountains in the background.

Monday, 12 January 2009

First Lambs

Mother looking over her new lamb.
The first two lambs were born on Sunday, coinciding with the full moon. We normally have had a few lambs born by mid December and peak lambing time is generally around the first half of January. We assume lambing has started later this year due to the fact that we had many mothers giving birth twice last year in January and again in June. Of the two lambs born on Sunday, one was white and the other black with a small white mark on its forehead; characteristic of the Xalda race.

The mothers are normally quite protective staying by the lambs most of the time. Xaldas evolved along side wolves and this is part of the reason why they are so agile and wary of unfamiliar beings. There are no wolves on this side of the river valley, but we do have a big problem with foxes which come and try to take the young lambs (as well as the chickens.)

The (proud?) father.

Like a lot of Europe we have been having extremely cold weather with minimums of minus 4ºC , some snow on the farm and lots of snow on the mountains. The lambs and mothers don’t mind the cold weather and you often see them sleeping outside completely covered in frost when they could have slept inside the stable if they had wanted to.

Sheep eating from the hay stack, with frost on the ground and snow on the mountains.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Seeds and food biodiversity

Different types of Asturian maize; for seed and for cooking.

This is the time of year when we start sowing seeds for the vegetable garden. So I thought it opportune to talk a little about the importance of seeds, food biodiversity and what we are doing on the farm with respect to local varieties.

Seeds are a gift of nature, which have been saved and used by past generations and diverse cultures. They are the first link in the food chain, the embodiment of biological and cultural diversity, and the repository of life’s future evolution. We should therefore think of it as our responsibility to protect and to pass seeds on to future generations.

The free exchange of seed among farmers over the millennia has been the basis of maintaining biodiversity as well as food security. Today the diversity and future of seed is under threat. Of 80,000 edible plants used for food, only about 150 are being cultivated. The erosion of diversity has been propelled by industrial agricultures drive for homogenization.

The criteria for selecting plant varieties under modern industrial agricultural systems are very different to those for small mixed farms. Varieties for modern industrial agriculture are chosen for characteristics such as their ability to ripen simultaneously and withstand harvesting equipment; for a tough skin that can survive packing and shipping; for an ability to have a long shelf life in the store. Only a handful of hybrid varieties of each fruit and vegetable meet those rigorous demands, so there is little genetic diversity in the plants grown, and locally adapted seed varieties are dwindling very fast. We are witnessing unprecedented impacts as a result of food being seen primarily as a commodity. In contrast, locally develloped food systems that value sustainability and balance have the potential to reconnect us to each other and to the land as well help preserve local varieties and food biodiversity.

Small local mixed farms grow a huge number of varieties to provide a long season of harvest, an array of eye-catching colours, and the best flavours. Many varieties are heirlooms, passed down from generation to generation, because they taste good. These old varieties contain genetic material from hundreds or even thousands of years of human selection; they may someday provide the genes needed to create varieties that will thrive in a changing climate. Local food preserves genetic diversity

So if we are interested in preserving food biodiversity we can help in a simple way, by purchasing food directly from local producers and processors. We can encourage restaurants and grocery stores to buy locally and directly from farmers by asking for local products.

Our local food market at Cangas de Onis, a show of food biodivesity.

The slow food movement through the slow food foundation is a major defender of food biodiversity. If you are not familiar with the movement do have a look at their web page to get an idea of the tremendous work they are doing. Their “Ark of Taste” project aims to rediscover, catalogue, describe and publicize forgotten flavours, and you can find out what products they have recognised from different countries.

At Posada del Valle not only do we supporting local producers but we are maintaining local varieties of maize, beans, peppers and onions through a cycle of growing and seed-collection. Our onion variety came from Mari-Jose’s family vegetable-plot in Collia, where they have grown and selected it for over forty years. It is well adapted to local conditions and consistently out-performs marketed hybrid onion varieties. Maize is a very important part of the traditional Asturian and we grow and produce seed of two local varieties. Beans were also an important part of the traditional diet and we grow trial and produce seed of different bean varieties. We are also producing our own seeds of lettuce, chard, parsley, chervil, coriander, basil, and other herbs.

Onion seed heads ready to collect the seeds, a gift from nature, growing in our vegetable garden.

The freedom of seed and the freedom of farmers are threatened by property rights and new technologies that are transforming seed from a common resource to a privatised “pay-per-view” commodity monopolized by corporations. Many people argue that patents and property rights are necessary to provide an incentive for the large companies to invest in research and investigation and obviously some type of incentive for investigation is necessary. However something must be going wrong when companies can patent plants which have been selected and developed over generations by indigenous farmers and then forbid those farmers from saving and using the seed from these “patented” plants unless they pay the company a royalty. The current struggle over seed rights is considered one of the most important issues in world agriculture.

If you are interested in this topic you may find the following small book interesting: “Manifestos on the future of food and seed” edited by Vandana Shiva featuring essays by; Prince Charles, Carlo Petrini, Micahel Pollan, Jamey Lionette and Vandana Shiva.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Happy New Year

Yesterday we came back from the UK having spent Christmas with our families We got back in time to celebrate the New Year with our Spanish friends Jose and Paloma and with Sebastian’s and Samantha’s partners Lidia and Andres.

New Years Eve or Noche Vieja is a very special celebration in Spain with lots of partying and celebrating. At twelve o clock every one has to eat 12 grapes, one to coincide with each chime of the equivalent of big Ben. At midnight all the Spanish families and friends stand around watching the clock strike twelve on television and stuff the grapes in their mouth with careful coordination.

Here’s Samantha proudly showing her carefully prepared packet of 12 grapes.
Apparently this custom started in the 1880’s when grape producers from Murcia had a glut of table grapes. They calculated that if everyone in Spain ate just 12 grapes it would solve the problem of overproduction and that is where the custom developed from.

Inside the packet; 12 grapes with their skins and pips removed to make easier eating!

Everyone carefully watching and listening to the clock on television, so as to eat their grapes at the right moment.
Any way Happy New Year to you all and I hope to have a more serious blog entrance next week.


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.