Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Orchids on the farm

We have recorded ten species of orchid on the farm and at this moment there are seven species in flower. Here are photos of the 10 species found on the farm:

Man Orchid

The rarest orchid we have on the farm is the man orchid of which there are at least 5 in flower at the moment. These can be found growing in small pockets of soil in the cracks in the limestone.

Provence orchid, there are over 20 in flower at the moment

Woodcock ophry (growing 5 meters from the hotel itself)

There are 3 types of Serapias found on the farm. The tongue serapia is the most common with well over 100 examples in flower, the heart serapia is less common, and the small flowered serapia the hardest to spot and flowers a little later.

Tounge Serapia

Heart Searapia

Small Flowered Serapia

Dull orchid, we’ve only seen one of these this year.

The heath spotted orchid not in flower yet is normally found in the wetter parts of the farm.

The autumn ladies tresses orchid flowers late August to September

The early purple is the first orchid which flowers on the farm.

Enjoy the farm orchids!

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Shampoo and Body Gel

For a long time now we have been looking for a shampoo and body gel to have in the bathrooms for our guests use, and that fit with our buying policy. This means we wanted the products to fulfil the following criteria: quality products that people enjoy using, which are not tested on animals, are made as local as possible and predominantly with organic ingredients, and to be made in an artesian way as opposed to industrially manufactured.

It’s not been easy to find such products, but we are really happy to say we are now using products from the company Olea Cosméticos in Jaen in southern Spain.

Olea Cosméticos is a company dedicated to the artisan production of totally natural cosmetics and whose principal ingredient is Virgin Extra Olive Oil from the Natural Park of the Sierra Mágina in Jaen. The company is formed by five women and all their products are produced in a totally artisan way in their work shop situated in Pegalajar in Jaen.

The products we have chosen to supply in the hotel are a medicinal plants shampoo and an herbal body gel. The shampoo is made with essential oils of; lavender, rosemary and marjoram and the gel with essential oils; of lavender, rosemary and thyme. Both products are made with organic olive oil. The gel and shampoo are to accompany the soap we provide also made with organic olive oil and lemon verbena grown on our farm and produced by an artisan in Gijon Asturias.

The dispensers we use (normally situated in the bathrooms)

The shampoo and the gel come to us in 5 litre containers which we use to fill the dispensers we have in the bedrooms. (We have avoided using individual packed toiletry sachets for 4 years now.)

The products really are of a an excellent quality and smell lovely and we have also some 250 cc containers of the shampoo and the gel for sale in the small hotel “shop” where we sell locally and environmentally friendly products.

Our small "shop" where we sell locally and environmentally friendly products.

Hope you enjoy these products as much as we do. More information on Oleo Cosméticos and their products on http://www.oleacosmeticos.com/index_flash.html

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Riverside Flora

Ramsons growing by the river at the bottom of the farm.

Although the hotel farm isn’t so large (about 8 hectares) it contains a mosaic of habitats. Dry south facing limestone slopes predominate but there are also small areas of woodland, a little wetter marshy land and even some riverside; this diversity in habitat contributes to the large range of species found on the farm. Here are examples of riverside flora photographed on the farm over the last 2 days.

Kidney Saxifrage. These plants with their delicate white flowers on long stems grow on rocks close to streams and rivers.

Celandines. These plants provide a broad splash of gold in the spring in the damper parts of the farm.

Pendulous Sedge. A rather tall striking plant.

Opposite Leaved Saxifrage. This is the sort of plant you easily overlook or stand on whilst your looking at something else.

Greater Cuckoo Flower. This is very similar to the Cuckoo Flower which is much more common on the farm and grows on a wider range of habitats.

Wood spurge. As the name may suggest this plant grows in damp woodlands and not just by riversides.

Thursday, 9 April 2009


With Easter fast approaching it seemed very appropriate to write a little about our chickens.

We brought our first chickens in 2003 and they were the last animals we introduced to the farm, long after the sheep and horses. We made them a small “house” where they sleep at night and return from the fields to lay their eggs during the day. They have no set “run” and are free to roam around the farm as they like. At night we shut them in their house to protect them from the foxes and let them out first thing in the morning. Having said that, most years we still loose a couple of chickens to the foxes during the day time.

The chickens are Joe’s responsibility; she cleans them out, looks after them generally and collects the eggs each day. The numbers we have fluctuate and at the moment we have 15 chickens and 2 bantams, (we brought 7 new chickens just two weeks ago.) We use to have quite a lot of the Asturian breed known as the “pita pintas” which are slightly smaller, but the fox seems to prefer them to the other types and so at this moment we only have one left of this kind. The others are the common brown type and the Catalan black breed which are quite popular in Spain.

Our last Asturian "pita pinta" chicken
When the chickens are outside during the day, they roam around looking for worms, grubs and all sorts of other bugs to eat. They love having “dirt” baths where they lie down and rub themselves in the dirt so as to clean themselves and look very content in the process. The eggs they lay are amazing with a very dark yellow yolk and taste fantastic, (there is no comparison to the eggs you buy in the shops.)

When comparing traditional to industrial farming techniques, for egg production, the differences with the two systems is one of the greatest in every respect. With open range eggs, like ours, the flavour and healthiness of the eggs are so much better, the animal welfare conditions infinitely better, and the environmental contamination less, (the manure from our chickens is used in our compost.)

Our chickens like roaming around with the sheep in the apple orchards and form a perfect example of a mixed diverse cropping system.

I would like to be able to produce more eggs in this way and have plenty to sell to guests and local people who might want them, but that’s a project which will have to wait.

In the meantime here are some of the delicious eggs waiting to be collected.

Happy Easter.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Farm Work

Farm-work is hard, there’s no doubt about that. I read once that in farming, if a job seems too easy, it’s because you’re doing it wrong.

The farm here at Posada del Valle has become more and more central to the hotel’s (and to the family’s) ethos, thus requiring more and more manual input. So in 2007, a dedicated farm-labourer’s position came into being. I arrived here in August 2007, and have just worked the first day of my third season.

Lessons on how to use a scythe by a neighbouring farmer

When the alarm-clock goes off at 7am, and it’s still dark outside, but you can hear the Asturian rain beating on the roof, you don’t always feel like dragging yourself out of bed to get out there to spend the day cutting back brambles, or pulling up nettles, or humping buckets of stones up steep hillsides, or dealing with fifty miserable soggy sheep. Then again, it could be a lovely sunny day (or better still, cloudy but dry), to spend building a dry-stone wall, or weeding and planting in the vegetable garden, or turning the compost, or working on the path alongside the river. Every day is different, and every day has its rewards. When people ask what sort of work I do here, it’s difficult to answer, because the job is so varied. There are only two definites: the hay harvest at the beginning of summer (cutting, turning, drying, humping, stacking); and the apple harvest in autumn (picking, sacking, humping). The rest of the time it could be walling, fencing, painting, weeding, cutting the grass, pasture maintenance, shovelling manure, chopping firewood, and whatever else needs doing on a farm.

Assessing the work, a dry stone wall

And then, when I’ve done my six hours of hard labour (most farms have tractors, here we have a wheelbarrow), I head out into the meadows and woodlands with camera and notebook, identifying and recording the flora on the farm. These days the farm is bursting with spring flowers: a few bluebells that the wild boars haven’t managed to dig up and eat the bulbs of; the first three orchid species of the year to flower; the long golden bells of tubeferous comfrey; a carpet of celendines down by the old rectory ruins; spring squills; cuckoo flowers; buttercups and daisies and dandelions and speedwells; while the winter flowering hellebores are going to seed. And as I search out the flora, I keep an eye out for brambles that need cutting back, rocks that need moving, fences that need mending, patches of nettles that need pulling out, a post that could be useful, or a sheep with visible signs of diarrhoea.

Not all physical work, taking photos for the farm flora guide.

Dusk is now settling on the mountains, and the cats are miaowing for their supper. Time for me to go and recharge the batteries for another day.

Nigel also does his fare share of the hard physical work, humping sacks of apples

This entry written by Hugh Taylor, 1/4/09.


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.