Friday, 11 March 2011

Fruit and Nuts

Hazelnuts waiting to be harvested.

We’ve been enjoying a week of lovely sunny weather and I’ve been working a lot in the vegetable garden making sure there will be a good supply of fresh vegetables for when the first guests arrive. But its not just vegetables that we have been planting this winter, we’ve also planted a diverse range of fruit and nut trees.

Its an important part of our philosophy to produce in a sustainable way as much food as possible for the restaurant and to help achieve this we’ve been planting different types of fruit for many years now. Some types of fruit have been more successful than others and with time we are learning which fruit and which varieties are better adapted to our farm.

First shoots on the newly planted "Polka" raspberry bed.

Tempting fruits!

Raspberries have always been very successful with us producing abundant crops of tasty fruit and so this winter we planted a third raspberry bed with an autumn fruiting variety Polka which we had already trialled. In January we also planted a new strawberry bed to replace one we planted three years ago. After a couple of years strawberry plants start to age so now we replant a bed each year to keep production up and maintain a good supply of quality fruit. Not all our soft fruit has been successful; this year we grubbed our gooseberry bushes having been defeated by “sawfly” a nasty little fly which lays its eggs on the gooseberry leaves and whose lava leave the bush embarrassingly devoid of any foliage. This winter we also pulled out our blueberry trial. Our soil isn’t sufficiently acid and rather than getting a bumper harvest of juicy blueberries we only had some sickly yellow plants with no fruit, but that doesn’t put us of trialling new types of fruit!

Newly planted strawberry bed.

The major trial we have planted this year is kiwis. Asturias is a region which has quite a lot of kiwi plantations, particularly by rivers and in the warmer coastal area. We’ve planted two types of kiwis; the better known fuzzy kiwi and the smaller hardy kiwi. Both are sensitive to late frosts which may be a problem in our area and both are thirsty climbers and will need some form of irrigation. If all goes well the fuzzy kiwi will provide us with fruit over the winter and early spring when the hotel opens and the lesser known hardy kiwi will produce a smaller red fruit ripening in late summer.

Tender bursting bud of the fuzzy kiwi.

New shoots on the hardy kiwi.

Hazelnuts are an integral part of the Asturian landscape and have various uses. As well as producing nuts they are used for making “green” fences and they are also regularly coppiced to produce poles. A few years ago we planted a number of bushes on the edges of the meadows ready to make a living green fence, but this year we have planted some hazelnuts in the orchard with the principal idea of harvesting the nuts. This is assuming the badgers and wild boar don’t eat the nuts before we harvest them.

Hazlenut ready for copiceing

We have often been told by the local villagers that many years ago our farm abounded with walnut trees but sadly one of the previous owners brought the farm with the exclusive purpose of felling and selling the walnut wood. Luckily walnut trees seem very content with the shallow soil and limestone rock which predominates on our farm and the red squirrels have done an excellent job planting the walnuts and there are now mature walnut trees on the farm once again. To accompany these indigenous walnuts this winter we planted some grafted trees but I think it will be quite a few years before we get a chance to sample the nuts.

Mature indigenous walnut tree by the hotel.

Immature walnut fruit

Over the last two years we have lost quite a few apple trees from our orchard and this is most probably due to voles which relish on eating apple roots and the presence of a mystery fungal disease. So in the apple orchard we will leave some areas with out trees and in other parts we have replanted with different types of fruit trees including; Nashi, figs, plums, persimmon as well as the kiwis and hazelnuts. This will make the orchard more of a “patchwork” and with more edges which is always good for biodiversity. Hopefully some of these different fruit trees will adapt well in the orchard, be less attractive to the voles, and in years to come we and our guests will be able to sample their fruits and enjoy a more diverse orchard.

Plum trees in flower in the apple orchard!

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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.