Saturday, 27 June 2009

Hay harvest and appropriate technology

After 4 days of intensive labour last Wednesday we finished the first part of our hay harvest. Inspired by the success of using our hay as fodder for the sheep last winter, this year we wanted to harvest as much hay as possible, even though the hay harvest is the most demanding work we have on the farm.

There are different ways of cutting the grass (and storing it when dried) and this is where the dilemmas come; deciding what is the most appropriate method of cutting the grass and how best to store it.
You need to take into consideration that only a small part of our farm is suitable for tractor use, most of the farm is on a steep slope and some fields have a many small rocky out crops. Hay harvest needs to be done whilst there is good dry weather and you never know how long the good weather is going to last. So once you have started you want to get it done as fast as possible in the case the weather changes, (the hay will most probably spoil if it gets too wet.) In choosing a cutting method we also take into consideration how sustainable the chosen method is, its environmental impacts, and the culture and tradition behind hay harvesting.

This year we used three different methods for cutting our hay, they were a hand held scissor mower, a strimmer fitted with a hay cutting blade and a scythe. The method we used in each area depended principally on the terrain.

José Luis (Andres's father) with the scissor mower.

Andres’s father came to cut our largest flattest field with his scissor mower. The machine (over 15 years old) is very well suited to moderate slopes, and it is by far the fastest way of cutting. One person goes in front to check the grass being cut doesn’t clog up the machine, one person guides the machine and one person goes behind clearing the grass which has been cut from the grass to be cut. It uses a relatively small amount of petrol for the amount of hay it cuts. This enabled us to get a large area cut at the beginning of the good weather period and start the drying process as soon as possible.

Dried hay waiting to be bailed

.I used our strimmer fitted with a special blade for cutting hay, this was done mostly in the areas where there are stony out crops. It would be impossible to use a scissor mower here and hard going with the scythe. The strimmer is the least environmentally friendly method and one of our more questionable practises, but it does help us maintain some of the species rich habitats and helps get the job done when time is a premium.

Nigel useing the strimmer in a stoney area

The scythe is the traditional method for cutting the hay and many small fields in Asturias are still cut by scythe. We started using a scythe last year for cutting the meadows and this year cut well over a third of the total area with the scythe. It’s a pleasure to watch a person use a scythe and is the most sustainable method. Most places can be cut with a scythe except in amongst the very rocky areas.

Hugh cutting with a scythe

We wanted to bale as much hay as possible this year as it can then be easily transported and stored. A tractor comes to bale the hay, but we only have one small meadow which is accessible for the tractor. The hay we cut from the other meadows we transported by tractor this year (as we were moving it up hill) where as last year we used a wheelbarrow to move about 300kgs of hay!

One of many journeys last year with the wheel barrow moving 300kgs of dried hay.

Jaunra moving 300kgs of dried hay in one journey this year

When you start to think about the different possible ways of cutting, transporting and storeing hay it’s a good point to reflect on appropriate technology.

Appropriate technology (AT) is technology that is designed with special consideration to the environmental, ethical, cultural, social and economical aspects of the community it is intended for. With these goals in mind, AT typically requires fewer resources, is easier to maintain, and has a lower overall cost and less of an impact on the environment compared to industrialized practices. The term is usually used to describe simple technologies suitable for use in developing nations or less developed rural areas of industrialized nations. It is also often used by communities more interested in a sustainable lively hood. Appropriate technology usually prefers labor intensive solutions over capital intensive ones.

The term intermediate technology (coined by E. F. Schumacher) is similar to appropriate technology. It refers specifically to tools and technology that are significantly more effective and expensive than traditional methods, but still an order of magnitude (one tenth) cheaper than developed world technology.

Tiggy (one of our cats) inspecting the hay
So what’s the appropriate technology for us to use to cut hay?

Sunday, 21 June 2009

“Endemic” flora on the farm.

Anthyllis vulneraria ssp. iberica, ladies finger (a subspecies of kidney vetch) – endemic to the coastal zones of western Europe.

“Endemic” is a word that gets bandied around quite a lot, yet by itself it tells us nothing. If a species is endemic, it means that the species is unique to a particular area (or habitat/ecosystem), and does not occur naturally outside that area, and for this to be meaningful we need that area to be defined also. Some defined areas can be very small (northern Spain) or very large (continental Eurasia), and the habitat/ecosystem can range from localised (the Fynbos on the southern cape of Africa) to extensive (the Mediterranean basin). In reality, any species can be referred to as endemic if we broaden the definition enough – even the omnipresent annual meadow-grass (Poa annua) is endemic to Planet Earth (probably!).

Now that the dry science is out of the way, we can get down to the farm. Of the 345 flora species we have recorded so far, none are endemic to the farm! But the natural ranges of several are restricted enough for us to refer to them as endemic, as long as we define the area. One species and one subspecies are defined as being “endemic to the Cordillera Cantabrica” – the Cordillera Cantabrica being the 480km long mountain range that runs from País Vasco (the Basque Country) to Galicia, via Asturias. Four other species and two subspecies are defined as being endemic to larger areas than this, but are still quite localised when viewed from a global perspective.

Saxifraga canaliculata (a saxifrage with no English name) – endemic to the Cordillera Cantabrica.

Crepis albida ssp. asturica, the Asturian hawksbeard (unofficial English name) – endemic to the Cordillera Cantabrica.

Helictotrichon cantabricum, the Cantabrian oat-grass (unofficial English name) – endemic to the Cordillera Cantabrica, Pyrenees, and the north of the Iberian peninsula.

Linaria triornithophora, the three-birds-flying toadflax – endemic to the northwest of the Iberian peninsula.

Teucrium pyrenaicum, the Pyrenean germander – endemic to southwestern France and northern Spain.

Genista hispanica ssp. occidentalis, the western subspecies of Spanish greenweed – endemic to southwestern France, and the north and centre of the Iberian peninsula.

Narcissus bulbodicum, the scented narcissus – endemic to southwestern Europe (southwest France, Spain and Portugal).

But, however you define endemic, there’s always plenty of stunning flowers to enjoy on the farm!
Entry by Hugh Taylor

Monday, 15 June 2009


Tempting desserts served in the hotel restaurant; strawberry and hazelnut slice
With the aim of trying to increase the proportion of food we produce for the hotel restaurant we planted various types of soft fruit including strawberries in the winter of 2007. Last year we harvested a small crop of strawberries from those plants which then had only been planted six months. This year with the strawberry plants eighteen months old we are getting bumper crops, picking over a kilo of fruit a day.

Strawberries in the vegatable garden waiting to be picked.

It’s actually quite a lot of strawberries for us to use fresh in the restaurant at the moment even though it is almost full most nights. So as well as serving fresh strawberries, Joe is making a lot of mouth watering deserts such as a strawberry and hazelnut slice or a meringue biscuit with strawberries and a kirsch cream. She is also preparing strawberry ice cream and strawberry sorbet and even strawberry jam which can be used later in the year.

Freshly picked strawberries

When we have a lot of one particular produce coming from the garden Joe is very talented and imaginative in finding different ways of serving it. So last week strawberries were even included in the salad bar in a rather adventurous dish consisting of strawberries in modena vinegar with asparagus, an asparagus and mint jelly and leaf beet. All very tempting.

Imaginative salads

Buen aproveche.

Monday, 8 June 2009


Samantha working in the hotel kitchen.
At the end of last year our daughter Samantha decided that when she finished her studies she wanted to work in the hotel this season. She had been studying social and cultural animation studies in Gijon and finished her 6 month training period at the end of March. During this training period she worked 3 months at the gipsy association in Gijon, 2 months at a farm school near Oviedo and at a special needs school in Italy for a month.

So at the beginning of April Samantha started working in the hotel, primarily helping Joe in the kitchen making the breads and cakes amongst other culinary delights. She has a natural flare for cooking and is a great help for Joe. She also helps serving in the restaurant and in reception receiving guests when necessary. It notices that her animation studies have helped her gain confidence when dealing with people, but she still has a lovely spontaneous natural way with people.

Samantha on top of a mountain.

Samantha has been a vegetarian for four years now and has an interest in vegetarian cooking, and would like to learn more about it, when she finishes working with us in the autumn. She also has an interest in artisan crafts and enjoys walking. Her boyfriend Andres comes from a family of farmers who keep animals which graze the mountain pastures in the summer.

Samantha and her boyfriend Andres.

Finally I must say I think she is doing very well this year, having to work and live with her parents, it can’t be easy


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.