Monday, 23 April 2012

Fruit from the Farm

Over the 16 years we’ve lived in Asturias we have planted many different types of fruit on our farm, some have been more successful than others. 

Harvesting our cider apples in the autumn

Without doubt the most important has been the 7 acre extensive cider apple orchard which we planted in the winter of 1996. We now harvest about 10 tons of apples year and they go to make apple juice, some of which we serve in the hotel.  Our flock of xalda sheep grazes under the apple orchard and this mixed extensive production system has been reasonably successful and has since been copied by other small farmers in the area. 

Delicious black cherries
In the early years we also wanted to plant some ornamental trees around the farm but we were reluctant to plant non indigenous specie. Wild cherries abound in Asturias so we decided to plant some grafted cherry trees around the farm. As well as producing delicious fruit they have lovely blossom which delights the countryside in April and then in late summer they produce gorgeous autumn colour. The trees are now growing well although it can be a challenge to harvest the fruit before the birds eat them.

 Abundant harvests of raspberries


 Physalis or cape gooseberries

It was about eight years ago when we decided we wanted more home grown fresh organic produce for the restaurant and that’s when we planted a large variety of different fruit to see what would grow well. Most of our soft fruit has been very successful and we now have abundant crops of raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, black currants and physalis (cape gooseberries) all of which are used to make no end of delicious desserts. Gooseberries, redcurrants and blueberries were unsuccessful and were grubbed after 3 years of trials. The gooseberries and redcurrants were continually defoliated by saw fly and the blueberries always looked a sickly yellow colour as the soil is not acid enough for them. 


.....and strawberry desserts

Of the tree fruit we planted at that time, the persimmons have been very successful as have the plums. The pears and Asiatic pears have done quite well and we also harvest a few meddlers from our slow growing meddler tree. We have however had no harvest from the loquat, peach of fig trees we planted; maybe we are just too impatient.

 Plum blossom

In recent years we are having big problems with voles in the apple orchard. These horrible creatures which are a huge problem in the whole of Northern Spain live under the ground eating amongst other things the roots of apple trees which they seem to love. With damaged or no roots the trees soon fall over and die. We have now lost about 25% of our apple trees and so have started to look for other trees (which have less appetizing roots for voles) to plant in the orchard. We have planted trials of kiwis and “kiwinos,” time will tell if these will crop well on our farm and survive the voles.  We have also planted a small plantation of hazelnuts to see if they will be affected by the voles. We started planting different varieties of hazelnuts several years ago and they crop well on our farm. 

 Kiwi trial

 Large fruited hazelnuts from the farm

So as time goes on, with certain ups and downs and a continual learning process, we are producing more and more fruit on the farm.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Pasture Maintenance

At this time of year many of our pastures and meadows are starting to burst into flower. The photo above shows the mass of spring squills flowering in the hotel meadow at the moment. The pastures don’t look after themselves though. If we didn’t maintain our pasture it would start to revert to forest, which for us would initially mean brambles, accompanied by other species which our livestock find unpalatable. Our pastures are grazed by sheep, horses and chickens, and some are cut for hay but they also require human intervention to maintain them.

Sheep grazing the hotel meadow in autumn.

Horses helping maintain the pastures.

There are three main reasons for pasture maintenance on our farm. They are; to provide our animals with food, to conserve natural biodiversity and to control vegetation in the orchards. Each of these three reasons has a different maintenance approach, and combinations are also possible

Hay harvest; preparing animal food for the winter

When a pasture has been grazed, the plants that are left untouched are the ones that the livestock won’t eat, such as brambles, nettles, bracken, thistles, and gorse. If these are left unchecked they can take over, gradually eroding the edibility and therefore usefulness of the pasture, which can result in the pasture being lost. It’s a vicious circle. This is where the maintenance comes in, removing the unpalatable (undesirable) species so that the palatable (desirable) species can grow. Removal of undesirable species can be done by hand or machine, depending on the species and the extent of the problem

Sheep grazing in the Cuevona Meadow

Three areas of our farm are managed particularly to maintain natural biodiversity, in particular of wildflowers, with the secondary objective of providing food for the sheep. Here the pasture maintenance follows traditional practices and cycles; we cut the meadow for hay in late June and then let the animals graze the re-growth in early winter. Many species of flora have adapted to these traditional practices and respecting these traditional cycles allows this diversity of flora flourishes.

Full Beauty of biodivesity in the CastaƱarina Meadow

The chief objective for the three orchards is to produce a commercial apple crop, and the secondary objective is to provide grazing for our sheep. Luckily these go hand in hand, with the sheep eating the vegetation beneath the trees, thus making our task of collecting the apples a lot easier.

Picking apples where the grass has been grazed

If your interested in pasture maintenance you will find a document in the how and why section of our web page where it discusses pasture maintenance in more depth.

Our horses enjoying the pastures.

(Blog entry originally posted in April 2010)


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.