Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Insects in the garden - Summer

There are some stunning insects in the garden at the moment. The recent spell of rain followed by hot dry weather has certainly tempted them out into the open to feed, breed, build their nests and lay their eggs.

The butterflies deposit their eggs and drift from flower to flower in search of ambrosia whilst the bees collect pollen until they can carry no more. The bright green grasshoppers remain well hidden until they stop of for a nibble of a tender rose petal. The ants scale momentous heights in search of aphids from which they will harvest sweet nectar.

The ponds attracts many insects throughout the day. They fly past to gain their bearings, scan the water surface then dip collecting enough water for their needs. The horseflies settle on lily pads resting in between their quest for flesh to bite.

The stag beetles take off in flight at dusk and land in the most inappropriate places. Occasionally they get caught in the web of a waiting spider but being the size they are they escape its clutches but invariably get tangled in the strong remains of spider silk web. The cats listen to the stag beetle's erratic and noisy flying, trying to jump and catch one as it passes by like an out of control para-glider.

This one bit though my glove when I was freeing his back legs which were wrapped together in web

The lizards keep watch for passing insects on which to snack before taking shade and drinking much needed water. The great tits, now feeding a second brood, harvest grubs and insects from the nearby apple trees and the young wrens and robins venture out alone in search of food but always within earshot of watching parents.

The damsels and dragonflies navigate the edges of the pond in an attempt to deposit eggs into the water and let them settle out of the way of hungry fish and beetles. Moths rest in cool shade and gain energy before they head into the night sky.

As you walk around the garden or sit for a while, take a few minutes to take a look and see who's keeping you company. You might be surprised at what you see or hear. 

If you click on the pictures you should be able to see bigger versions of them or a slide show of images.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A summer update from La Pasera

Summer is a busy time for us here at La Pasera. Crops are coming thick and fast with beetroot, carrots, marrow and courgettes, lettuce and herbs producing very well indeed. The onions have been a disaster this year with an early onset disease stunting growth and producing little but we'll plant more leeks and use them where possible. Fennel and Kohlrabi are also doing really well so lots of crunchy salads planned.

We have harvested our green and red gooseberry crops and made a totally indulgent 10 kilos of Gooseberry and Mustard Seed Pickle. This pickle was the reason we bought gooseberry bushes. This year we adapted the recipe and used red currants instead of bought dried currants, simply because it had cropped really well and we find them a bit acid. First taste test is good but a few months maturing will help as always. We've pickled walnuts as well but few this year as the trees have produced little.

We drink a lot of infusions instead of coffee these days so we are busy collecting and drying lemon verbena, mint, chamomile and various herbs. These will be used alone or mixed into teas with the addition of spices.

We had a couple of great nights out recently, firstly we went to see Carmina Burana in Oviedo. It was a superb production with imaginative use of projections and imagery to accompany the singers and orchestra. It was also The Ribadesella Jazz Festival this last weekend, sadly just over two nights now whereas it used to be four. It's a free festival in town and really worth a visit. Janice Harrington was the main act on Saturday with a brilliant four piece Jazz band.

Luis has made another Escrino, this time for use to use as a bread basket. It's lovely and just the right size.

The badgers are still visiting nightly and feeding off the fallen cherries. Gawber is fascinated by them and consequently we have treated the cats for prevention of fleas just in case. We have built a small natural water hole near the badgers as an extra source of water for visiting animals and birds; much needed in this hot weather.

Ribadesella is getting busier as the season progresses and there are many fiestas and events up and coming. We fancy going to one of the classical concerts held in a large subterranean cavern at the Tito Bustillo complex if we can get tickets but no-one knows when they will be issued.

The garden is looking good with lots of splashes of colour in and amongst the green bushes, foliage and grasses with many shady spots for the cats to rest during the heat of the day.

A few visitors for us over the coming weeks, a street market to prepare for, lots of processing produce and more building work to complete so lots to keep us occupied and interested.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Badgers visiting the garden for fallen cherries

We live on the edge of the village which is great as we are surrounded by fields and woodlands. There are a few natural caves dotted around and many untended plots which have reverted to scrub-land that are slowly becoming naturalised with native trees once again.

We see a lot of wildlife in and around La Pasera such as wild boar, deer, pine marten, voles, field mice and red squirrel in addition to the numerous insects, birds and reptiles. We have often seen dead badgers on the main road and knew that they were around but never thought they would be visiting our garden.

At the bottom of the garden we have always left an area as natural as possible. The area is dominated by an old cherry tree, with equally ancient oak, walnut and hazelnut trees. We recently set up our wildlife camera to capture any nocturnal adventures and we were delighted to see a group of badgers foraging on the fallen cherries.

We initially filmed three at once but over the past few night only two have been visiting. We were surprised to see what we think is one of our cats Gawber spying on a foraging badger. It is one of his favourite hang outs and with the weather being so warm at the moment the cats spend most of the night outdoors. You'll spot Gawber's eyes at the top right hand side of the video clip.

We have added a You Tube video page to our blog where you can access short clips we have filmed here in Asturias - check them out sometime via the link at the top of the page. We'll be adding more in the near future so subscribe for updates.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Limestone in the garden and extending the limestone rockery

One thing we are not short of in Asturias is limestone. Around here the dry stone walls of the past are made almost exclusively of limestone but alas, they are falling into disrepair and no longer being maintained. There is an abundance of limestone bedrock that surfaces in many fields and pastures. Some has been cleared over the past few hundred years whilst others are left as they are far too problematic and expensive to clear or remove. Pastures or fields and hills that are littered with protruding bedrock are know as Cuetos. We are fortunate to have a couple of areas in our garden.

When we came to La Pasera we inherited quite a bit of dry-stone walling most of which has not been rebuilt as yet, mostly just repaired where necessary. We also had access, from good neighbours, to as much limestone as we needed to build a rockery. We built the first section about 3 years ago but recently decided to extend it and attempt to re-create a naturalistic looking limestone gully and rockery.

Some of the rocks weighed much more than a human so we had to manoeuvre them using a wheel barrow, levers and gravity. We're pleased with the finished rockery and once the plants have established in the nooks and crannies, it will begin to look even better. We now need to move on and pave the winding steps and terrace area which will be another few months work.

There are many fissures, cavities and pockets of air in the rocks and it is an ideal habitat for lizards, toad, beetles and crickets. We will plant a few native plants and also encourage naturalisation of ferns, mosses and alpines. The rockery is south west facing so it is hot with deep pockets of shade.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Local sea bass for dinner

The Asturian coastal stretch near La Pasera presents us with stunning limestone cliffs we regularly enjoy walking. At times we see local fishermen perched on precarious rocks while they cast their fishing rods into the seas. Apparently the fishing is always better when the seas are very rough. Fishing is a hobby I seldom practised in my younger years but Ian used to go regularly with his Dad who was a keen fisherman.

Living such a short distance from the coast, we often see neighbours walking past our front garden carrying their rods on the way to the cliffs. This was the case with one of our near neighbours who likes to go fishing during the weekends or holidays spent in a cottage a few yards up the lane.

You cannot imagine our delight when the other morning our neighbour called over the wall and offered us a beautiful large sea bass he just caught a few hours earlier as a way of saying thanks for me wishing him a good catch as he walked past on his way fishing. A totally unexpected gesture of gratitude. The fish weighed 1 kg and had already been cleaned and de-scaled.

Ian is vegetarian so wouldn't eat it. I cooked the sea bass for my dinner that same day to ensure it was as fresh as possible and baked it in the oven over a bed of new potatoes, kohlrabi, fennel and onion with a good drizzle of olive oil, black pepper and a generous serving of white wine. After covering it with tin foil it was cooked it in a hot oven for 30 minutes, until the potatoes were soft. A nice Ribera del Duero, white wine was the perfect accompaniment for this delicious sea bass. I have never tasted sea bass this good before, it is all in the freshness of the fish; just a few hours between it being caught locally and being served at the dinner table. Buen provecho as we say here in Spain or enjoy your meal as you would say back in the UK.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

How we restore cane seated chairs in Bergere cane work. Part 1.

Some of you will already know that Luis restores cane and rush chairs. He learnt how to do it whilst in the UK and has continued both skills out here in Asturias. We brought a large stock of old chairs from the UK to Spain in anticipation of continuing demonstrations and restoration work.

Iris Publishing Ltd. MCMXCII

This pair of chairs we purchased at Newark Antique fair a few years ago, probably about £10 for both if that. As you can see they had been altered some years ago when the original cane seat was damaged. In the 20's, travellers would travel round and either repair the cane work, which was probably expensive, or nail in place a pre-formed replacement plywood seat. I stripped and repaired this pair in preparation for Luis to re-cane for an upcoming street market in August.

Mostly these seem to have been manufactured throughout Northern and Eastern Europe. Most are decorated or perforated as can be seen in these two examples.

The chairs were given a new seat over the remaining cane and have not been restored since. The backrest on one of the chairs had partially snapped but this was easily repaired. The cane holes are cleared and ready for re-caning with new rattan cane in a seven-weave pattern.

They will be cleaned with linseed oil and white spirit, waxed and polished, re-caned and put on sale at the market along with a few rush chairs already completed.

Bookmark or subscribe to this site now and we'll update you on the finished chairs in a couple of weeks time, including photographs.
 If you'd like to take a look at some other restored chairs, click here:  http://artesanialapasera.com/

Friday, July 05, 2013

Making dolmades from local vine leaves

One of the great benefits that come from blogging are the friends you make along the way and the many things you can learn from each other. One such blog friend is Andrea at Casalinho in Portugal. Andrea and Jeroen run several permaculture courses each year and take volunteers from all over the world to help and to gain experience on their 10 hectare plot.

Recently one of their volunteers made Dolamades for everyone and they looked so good we decided to have a go. We used Nicola's recipe and fine-tuned the ingredients to suit our taste.

The first challenge was to source vine leaves. Asturias isn't known for grapes but we were sure we'd seen vines growing locally when out on one of our walks. Sure enough, a walk around the villages and we found a whole load of them trailing over a disused wall and plot. Being late in the season we collected the medium sized ones so they would be less tough and used the following recipe:

Dolmades by Nicola

We cooked ours in the pressure cooker for about 15 minutes then in the oven with some home-made tomato sauce - Served with a few black olives, they were absolutely delicious and we will certainly be looking to make more next year but perhaps earlier in the season.

Don't forget to check out Andrea and Jeroen's blog, courses and site: Casalinho

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Summer fruit and vegetable harvests

Summer is always a busy time here at La Pasera with many crops producing in abundance. We always grow more than we can use fresh but the remainder doesn't go to waste. We will process many of our crops into pickles, soups, jams and burgers whilst others will be frozen, dried or bottled.

We have had a slow start to summer which has meant most things are about a month behind from previous years. The beetroots are at that stage where they are small but sweet and tender, perfect for salad, delicious in beetroot and coconut soup and absolutely brilliant just simply juiced fresh.

We are trying Kohlrabi this year, a first for us and we will probably eat it in salads. It seems to have split a little, probably due to erratic watering or fluctuations of temperatures. I'm a bit disappointed with the taste but Luis likes it. I might try pickling some to spice it up a bit.

The sugar-snap peas are a little disappointing and no where near as sweet as previous years. Instead of eating them raw in salads we will probably use them for soup. The carrots are beginning to crop and so far seem sweet and quite a size.

The gooseberry crop has done really well this year and has not suffered due to gooseberry sawfly. We made sure that rhubarb leaves were placed under the bush whenever we cropped it and this acts as a physical barrier as ell as a natural insecticide, it works. We will make as much gooseberry and mustard seed pickle as possible as this is one of our favourite accompaniments to bean-burgers, cheese or savoury and Indian dishes. The big challenge has been to keep the blackbirds away but this year we put netting up early which seems to have worked.

Elsewhere the raspberries and redcurrants are producing well and we will shortly be harvesting these for the freezer or to make fruit leathers in the dehydrator.