Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Summer vegetable harvest and diversity

Different aubergine varieties in the vegetable garden.

Late summer is always a good time of the year for home grown vegetables and here at Posada del Valle this year is no exception. This is the time of year when there is the greatest variety of produce to be harvested and we are certainly harvesting a lot of lovely different vegetables for the hotel restaurant.

There are the root vegetables; carrots, beetroot, parsnip and potatoes, the leafy vegetable; lettuce, cabbage and spinach beet. Then there are the onions, leeks and beans and finally the warm weather vegetables; cucumbers, aubergine courgettes, peppers and pumpkins. But it’s not only the range of different vegetables which add interest and diversity to the vegetable garden it’s also the different types and varieties of the particular vegetable which are available. The peppers, aubergines and pumpkins we grow are an excellent example of the type of diversity which can be found with in any one crop.



Leeks with a beetroot dressing!
This year on the farm we are growing four different types of peppers, three of which are particular to the north of Spain. The first to come in to harvest is the “Pimiento de Padron” which gets its name from the Padron region in Galicia. It’s a small pepper which is normally just fried and eaten whole, very often as a tasty tapa (a small snack). Normally this pepper is not hot, but just occasionally you can get a very spicy one which can blow your mind, so it’s a bit like playing Russian roulette when eating them! Another pepper we are already cropping is the Basque or “Gernika” pepper. Although it looks like a fearsome chilli pepper, if it is eaten young and green it has a lovely flavour and is not hot at all. If you allow it to ripen and use it when red then it can have a kick to it.

The Basque or Gernika chilli pepper

The third variety we grow from the north of Spain is called “la Isla” and originates from Cantabria. It’s very similar to the standard blocky California type which I assume it has been selected from in the past. The fourth pepper we grow originates from the Landes region in south west France; it’s fairly long and tapering in form with a thinish wall. It grows well in our area and we have been growing it for many years now. We save all our own seed from these pepper varieties and have been doing so for some time.

"La Isla" blocky peppers.

We started harvesting our aubergines about two weeks ago and this year we are trying three different varieties. One is the standard “commercial” hybrid variety “Bonica” (meaning pretty) and the other two are non hybrids. At this moment the two non hybrids look very promising, they are producing beautiful fruits, but slightly different to what you normally see in the shops. One is Rosa Bianca (of Italian origin I assume) which is producing round pinkie white fruits on a short sturdy plant and the other Tres Hative de Barbentane (presumably of French origin) producing long thin dark fruits on rather a tall plant. If the two non hybrid varieties are successful under our conditions then we will be able to save seed from them.

Standard commercial hybrid "Bonica" aubergine

Longer slender fruits of "Tres Hative de Barbentane"

Pinkey fruits of Rosa Bianca

Another crop where we are trying different varieties is pumpkins. We grow both the Potamaron and the Butternut squash varieties as standards, as they keep well and can be used in winter and early spring. We’ve grown these two types for many years now as they normally perform very well.

Potamaron pumpkin, one of our standards

Butternut squash; the other standard.

We are also growing vegetable spaghetti or “Cabello de Angel” as it is known in Spain for a second year. In Spain the pulp from this pumpkin is preserved like a very sweet jam (which sticks to your teeth) and then used in sweet pastries and cakes! We will most probably serve it as a vegetable like a marrow, though we may do a few experiments preserving it.

Vegetable spaghetti or “Cabello de Angel”

We are trying a new type this year, the Vasca-Mallorca type, (variety Marina.) It appears to be the highest yielding of the different varieties we are growing producing lots of large dark green fruit 60 cms long with a brilliant orange flesh. The first fruits should be ready to pick in a couple of weeks and as they are meant to be very tasty so I cant wait to harvest one to see if it lives up to expectation. If they don’t taste good there will be lots of them to feed to the goat

The big Vasca-Mallorca pumpkin

One of the many problems with large industrial monocropping is that the number of varieties being grown of any crop is being reduced drastically. However with small diverse cropping systems it is possible and beneficial to grow lots of different varieties, many of which are no longer of interest to the commercial growers but very often are culinary delights. Growing different varieties helps maintain agriculture diversity which is so threatened today and incorporates resilience into the cropping system. The popularity of trying heirloom varieties with amateur gardeners these days is an encouraging sign of the renewed interest in tradition and diversity and may also reflect a rejection to the excess of uniformity industrialised cropping brings.

Harvesting fruit and vegetables ready for the evening meal, enjoy diversity!

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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.