Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Visit our vegetable garden and see how we try to work with nature

The hotel vegetable garden 
So what can you see or learn from our vegetable garden lost in the mountains of Asturias? It certainly provides the hotel with many lovely ingredients for the restaurant but is our production system for vegetables really of any relevance to those who live and grow your vegetables so far away?

So many different vegetables coming from the garden
In my earlier years I worked in different countries advising on how to grow vegetables on a large scale, but that was using “industrialised” techniques where you try and “control” everything and work against nature. In these systems you try and use a one recipe fits it all ; plant a mono-crop, use one seed variety, control the weeds with herbicide, fertilizer with inorganic fertilizer and apply pesticides as much as needed (which is normally a lot.)

No artificial fertlilzer used here! just manure and compost
Times have changed and now I am lucky enough to have a small mixed diverse farm where the vegetable garden is a very important part of the enterprise. Now I try and work with nature, looking at what’s around me, trying different things and adapting to what’s best suits our particular site. Small scale diverse farming / vegetable growing is very site specific, one recipe doesn’t fit all locations.

Different young seedlings protected from the cats.
So when you come and visit our vegetable garden as well as seeing lovely vegetables waiting to be eaten (hopefully) your see; crops, techniques and planting dates which are specific to our site but when you want to work with nature there are a lot of general principles and practices which are valid for most organic vegetable gardens.

Here are some of the principals which I think are important to nearly all sites;

Most important plant the crops and choose the varieties which are best suited to your site. Do try different crops and varieties and see which perform best for you.

The yellow plant on the right is a blueberry but our soil isnt acid enough for it so we now have stopped trying to grow bluberries

These are "caiguas" the seed came from Nepal but they grow very well in our garden and now form a part of our cropping system

This leafless plant is a gooseberry but it gets devasted by saw fly so we have stopped growing them

This is amaranthus sometimes known as chinese spinach, in the dry summer it grows like a weed on our vegetable garden so we often leave patches and harvest it as a spinach.. and it's delicious

Plant a diverse range of crops. Nature inherently dislikes mono-crops and inevitably tends towards diverse systems.

Not only do we plant different crops but we plant different varities to increase the diversity and resilience of our plot. Here are different types of lettuce.

Use organic mulches as much as possible. This is nature’s way of fertilizing the land; leaves fall on the top of the soil, animals defecate on the soil surface and then this organic matter is slowly incorporated in to the soil by an amazing array of living organisms.

We make as much compost as possible; excellent for mulching

Organic matter, the more the better!

A coarse mulch being used for the pumpkins
Plan and follow a crop rotation to prevent the build up of pests or the soil becoming “tired” of any one crop.

Avoiding standing on the soil particularly when it’s wet. The physical structure of the soil is really important for root growth and biological activity so don’t damage it by compressing it unnecessarily.

Good soil structure prodces good crops
Use cover crops and avoid leaving the soil bare. Bare soil doesn’t exist in nature and is prone to leaching

We use oats as a cover crop in the winter
Look and learn from your own crop experiences and learn to understand what plants are saying to you. This takes practise but for example look how plant's appearances change according to different circumstances eg. how dry they are, time of day, how close they planted, when growing with lots of manure etc.

Two courgettes of the same variety; one is a lighter green than the other, what is it trying to tell you?
Also have a good long look at your site and try and understand any minor differences there may be; different amounts of shade, soil types, orientation, frost pockets etc. And take this into consideration when thinking about the positioning or suitability of any crop on your site.

Part of our vegetable garden gets more shade than the rest, here we tend to plant summer fruiting raspberries which dont llike it too hot.

Working with nature.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Inntravel Discovery Day 2014

All ready with the stand prepared and ready for the people to enter
I got back from the UK yesterday where Sam, Andres, Joe and I had been to exhibit at the Inntravel Discovery day. Inntravel is the major travel agent with whom we work and they specialise in independent holidays, with a bias towards people who are interested in walking, good food and authentic accommodation.

At the end of the day once it was quieter
Every three years they organise a travel fair where all their suppliers (destinations and hotels) are invited to exhibit their products. This year they celebrated it at the Harrogate International Centre on Saturday the 6th.

Our own apple juice and Cabrales cheese for the people to sample
In total there were about 70 stands (including ourselves) and it was attended by over 1,400 people, not bad considering entrance is by invitation only. The hotels supply information about what they have to offer; the accommodation, destination, activities etc. and normally have some products for the people to sample. This year we took our own apple juice and some local blue Cabrales cheese and homemade apple jelly for people to try.

The gala dinner in the evening
All in all I think it was a very successful event, with lots of interest being shown by people about Asturias and what we are doing. In the evening there was a gala dinner with music by the excellent New York Brass Band (from York) and all in all we had an enjoyable, if not tiring, time.

The New York Brass Band

Thursday, 23 October 2014

The 3 Senses Gathering

Satish and Ignacio talk for the guests and the radio at the 3 Senses Gathering
Last week we celebrated a most amazing event at the hotel; the 3 Senses Gathering with Satish Kumar. This multi-lingual and intercultural gathering was organized by our son; Sebastian and his partner; Lidia and inspired by Satish Kumar’s life journey and his grand new book; “Soil, Soul and Society.”

Relaxing and talking around the hotel

Relaxing and talking around the hotel

There were various activities for the participants including walks through some of the beautiful Asturian Landscape, creating art, helping with the cooking and in the vegetable garden, as well as meditation and yoga and not to forget, enjoying lots of lovely food.

Eating and talking over the evening meal

Open circle under an ancient yew tree a short walk from the hotel

The major message from Satish is that we are members of a one earth society and caring for the earth and the soul is interrelated.

Ignacio Abella leading an inspiring walk in a beech forest

Ignacio Abella a local author whose works embrace many books on trees including “The Magic Life of trees” accompanied us some of the time and also led an inspiring walk in a local beech forest.

Playing "games" in the forest

At the train station ready to start the pilgrimage to La Ventuca

The culmination of the gathering was on the Saturday with a full day event for all the public at La Ventuca in Coya and included talks by Satish Kumar, Ignacio Abella and Gustavo Duch a writer on food sovereignty. There was also an eco espicha where everyone brought along some food and shared it at lunch time.

Satish talking at the gathering at La Ventuca

Pouring cider at the eco espicha

With over 170 people attending the event on Saturday it was a great success and everyone appeared to enjoy the gathering.

Enjoying the eco espicha 

The National radio programme El Bosque Habitado (The Inhabited Forest) was covering most of the events with different bilingual interviews and talks.

Time to enjoy the coast

We hope to be able to repeat the event, may be next year and bring together again so many wonderful people to share their love and care for the earth.

The participants of the 3 Senses Gathering outside the hotel
For more information on our son's company Gaia Y Sofia which specialises in non formal education click here.

Monday, 29 September 2014

A few High Peaks

La  Torezuela  2322m one of the many peaks in the Western Massif of the Picos de Europa
September is normally one of the best months for summiting some of the higher peaks here in the Picos de Europa. So here are a few photos showing some of the peaks in the Western Massif.

Pasture land  just above the lakes
The normal starting point is the lakes of Covadonga which are at about 1,100m. The slopes just above the lakes are gentel  with some pastures  but get steeper and rockier the higher you go.

This is the view from Cotalba 2026m where you can see the grassier lower slopes and the more rocky higher land.

For many of the peaks there is the danger of falling stones from fellow climbers (particularly when climbing up gulleys) so it is best to wear a helmet if you want to climb these high peaks.

The stoney landscape in the higher peaks

Getting up and down can be quite challenging! On the way down from Torre Santa Maria de Enol 2480m (the second highest peak in the Western Massiff)

Looking at Torre Santa Maria de Enol from the summit of the Canal Parda 2350m

Mountaineers post boxes are often found on the summits where mountaineers leave cards stating the route they have climbed, the date and the weather conditions

Peña Santa 2596m the highest of the Peaks in the western massiff, as seen from Vega Huerta

People often do strange things when the reach the summit, like here on the summit of Piedrasllenguas 2295m

The view towards the central massiff from the summit of Piedrasllenguas

Chamois are very often present at these higher altitudes, carefully watching what you do.

To reach the summit of some peaks involves scrambling along an aerial crest like on this one; La Roblliza 2227m 

The aerial crest up to the summit of La Robliza, not for everybody!!

Depending on the year even in late summer there can still be some snow on the sides of the higher peaks (Photo of Torre Santa Maria de Enol taken mid august)

The same peak (Torre Santa Maria de Enol) taken in mid feburary

But if reaching the high peaks in late summer is challenging, reaching them in winter is even more so!

Enjoy the mountains, but take care!!


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.