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


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.