Sunday, 28 April 2013

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Living Food

No, this isn’t a blog entry about indulging in eating live oysters; this is about freshly picked “living” fruit and vegetables grown on soils rich in organic matter and abundant in life.

I used to work as a “professional” horticulturist growing vast acres of tomatoes on hydroponic systems. The plants were grown in sand and watered with solutions that contained all the necessary nutrients the plants could need.  Any weeds were controlled with weed killers and a weekly spraying of pesticides would keep the plants free of any bugs. Plants produced in this sterile lifeless environment might look good but I am sure they were lacking.

Hydroponic tomatoes in sterile lifeless conditions
Tomatoes growing in our vegetable garden with lots of life rich compost.
 Now I am a small scale organic grower and amongst other things I regularly mulch my vegetables. As I fork the compost around the plants I am amazed  to see all the different types of life crawling around; worms, centipedes, spiders and many insects I have no idea what they are. Then there is all the life in the compost and soil that you know is there but can’t see; fungi, bacteria, protozoa, nematodes etc. All this life or “biotic mass” is present in our organic soil living in harmony with the plants and making an array of different organic compounds available to them. The soil looks so healthy and full of life, and so do our vegetables growing in it.

Healthy vegetables in a healthy soil
There are studies which say food produced in sterile hydroponic systems is as good for you as organic food. I don’t believe it! The problem is; on farms like ours with soils rich in organic material and full of life there are just so many different components present its difficult to understand how they all help to make a healthy crops. But what is for sure is that healthy living soils produce healthy living food and healthy living food produces healthy living people.

I often look with concern at salad packs with a 15 day shelf life sitting under a neon light on a supermarket shelf. The salad leafs were probably grown on a sterile soil dosed with pesticides and then packed in a bag with a modified atmosphere. Can that really be healthy eating? 

Freshly picked vegetables
 Here at the hotel I normally go to the vegetable garden about four o clock in the afternoon and pick the vegetables from our living soil. By eight o clock our team of cooks has prepared these vegetables into an array of delight full tasty salads and then the first guests start to serve themselves. 

The hotel salad buffet
Now that’s healthy eating.

Monday, 1 April 2013

The vegetable garden this Easter

Mange tout peas yesterday.
Easter has come early this year but the vegetable garden is well under way despite heavy snow three weeks ago. Here are a few photos to show some of the jobs we have been doing and some of the changes underway.

Potatoes and weeds!

With longer days, plenty of sun and rain  everything starts to grow fast, weeds included, so a lot of time has to be spent weeding. 

The same potato beds a couple of hours latter just after weeding and earthing up.
Our vegetable garden is dynamic, some crops and varieties do better than others and we try to grow the best tasting varities that are most suited to our conditions. We have been growing the standard strawberry variety Selva for some years. It produces lots of firm large red fruits but the flavour is a big disappointment. So we when we got offered some suckers from a local organic grower of the flavour full variety Albion we jumped at the offer. We over wintered the suckers in pots in the greenhouse and have now just planted them out in a new bed. In the existing strawberry beds we are interplanting with artichokes and more raspberries with the idea of removing these strawberry plants after they have fruited this season.

The new strawberry bed just planted.
Artichokes interplanted in one of the old strawberry beds
Raspberry canes interplanted in another of the old strawberry beds
One of our established autumn raspberry beds shooting well.
At this time of year some crops are in their prime for harvesting and some of the best plants we select for seed production.

Asparagus ready for cutting
Abundance of late purple sprouting ready for harvest
A superb swede plant selected and left for seed production
From the greenhouse we are cutting lettuce and we will soon be planting tomatoes where the lettuce are. However at this time of year the majority of the greenhouse is dedicated to producing plants for planting outdoors.

Lettuce in the greenhouse ready for cutting
Pepper plants in the greenhouse house
On a farm like ourse there is always plenty of maintenance to be done

Andrés repairing the compost bins

Like much of Europe we had more snow than normal this winter with a big snow storm three weeks ago. The dammage from the snow wasnt from the cold but from the weight of the snow.

Three weeks ago; tree branches next to the hotel broken under the weight of the snow
Two weeks ago broad beans flattened under the weight of the snow.
Yesterday; the broad beans fully recovered from the snow and enjoying the warm weather.
Our early potatoes yesterday only 3 weeks away from cropping and showing no signs of snow dammage.

 Happy gardening and healthy eating!


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.