Friday, August 30, 2013

Building a new path into the garden.

The garden at La Pasera slopes down for 8 meters or so then flattens out. We had already planned to create a gently winding, and sloping set of four stages. We had laid out the design some time ago. The path is bordered on the one side with low growing terraced beds and on the other side with the newly extended rockery. The path leads to a 6x5 meter terrace.

The path follows the natural left to right slope of the land and the four steps are built to mimic the inclination and slope. This past few days we have been able to set it with crazy paving quartzite stone. We have incorporated sets of mosaic fish which lead you as you journey on your way through the garden, to the terrace and the pond.

The path feels like a great addition to the garden and we are now looking to complete the terrace in the very near future. There are more mosaic fish planned to lead your eye to the small pond and the garden beyond.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Tomato wars

We are never that successful growing tomatoes down here on the North coast. The sea mists, high humidity in spring and early summer, and frequent rainy spells are just not conducive to healthy plants and high crop yields. This year we had a poor start with blight infection early on. We grow under plastic but have recently changed to grow under half a plastic shelter to increase air flow whilst giving partial protection from the mists. This seems to have helped.

We are really pleased with their progress in the past few weeks. We sprayed with a natural fungicide, stripped the affected parts of the plant and continue to remove any diseased leaves immediately. They are producing well considering and we have already eaten about 3 kg of them.

We normally rely on Luis' sister Rita for the main supply of tomatoes as she grows about 150 plants and we can take as many as we wish. We would make our year's supply of tomato pesto and pisto which is brilliant. Sadly, this year her crop was ruined with a massive hail storm with hail stones the size of golf balls destroying most crops over several square miles in Palencia. Fortunately she also grew some in the new poly tunnel which was also damaged in the storm but at least she will have some for her own family's needs. In the mean time we'll be thankful for the few tasty toms we have managed to grow at La Pasera.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Smaller tales from Toriello

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We both take photographs and enjoy showing them on our various blogs. We get some brilliant feedback from people both in the comments and via messages or email and would like to thank all of those who take time to do so.

The garden at La Pasera is about 1500 sq meters and comprises various areas of manicured borders, rockery, wild areas, vegetable beds and orchard. The amount of life in the garden never ceases to amaze us both and we are constantly surprised by the variety of flora, fauna and insect life we see on a daily basis. There are far too many photographs to feature on Tales from Toriello so we have started another blog Smaller tales from Toriello where we will feature some of the photographs we take in and around the garden at La Pasera.

We hope you enjoy the new blog and subscribe to posts or share these pictures on your own blog, twitter or facebook. The permanent link can be found above. If you don't already do so, take a closer look in your garden whenever you get the chance, you just might be surprised what you find.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Summer update from La Pasera: 2

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The tourist season is well and truly under-way here in Asturias with the last two weeks of June, August and the beginning of September being the main season. Outside of those few weeks it is very quiet and tranquil. There are many fiestas around and it seems like almost nightly, we can hear the rockets exploding that mark the start and finish of the celebrations.

There are many markets around at this time of year. We went along to Posada where there was a street market and a vegetable produce, small mammals and bird show. There were demonstrations of cider making, free trees to be taken to plant, a collection of around 50 very impressive bonsai trees and many craft and food stalls.

We had a stall at a local Rastrillo (street market) and managed to sell all of our stock of chairs by 2pm and quite a bit of old pottery and glass. Luis handed out a fair few business cards for chair restoration and it is likely that many of them will be in touch over the coming months if past experience is anything to go by.

The vegetable beds are doing well with most crops, and apart from a disastrous onion harvest, we will have a bumper year if the warm weather continues. Chard, squash, marrow and courgettes, beetroot, basil, kolrabi, beans, fennel and carrots have all done exceptionally well. We are busy making best use of the produce by making lots of soups for the freezer, jars of basil pesto and plenty of fresh salads using raw shredded vegetables and salad leaves. The tomatoes have come on well despite an early attack of blight and with a bit of luck we might have enough to make a few jars of tomato pesto.

We have just taken delivery of 50 sq meters of stone and 3 cubic meters of sand to pave the winding path and terrace. Luis has made a series of mosaics to be integrated with the this space. We have paved half of the path and hope to get the remaining two sections completed in the next couple of weeks. The terrace will take a little longer due to its size.

The wildlife pond continues to attract animals, birds, amphibians and insects. We managed to capture deer, more badgers, a pine marten and hedgehog on night camera. I have included the film of the deer but you can watch the others by clicking here or by subscribing to videos to get new uploads. Stick with the video as the deer come back into shot near the end.

We recently had a large family meal in Palencia where the majority of Luis' brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews and their respective partners (24 or so) came together for the first time in many years.  Luis' sister Rita made a very large Paella and roast chicken, I took veggie food and nearly everyone brought desserts. Luis' brother Oscar was over from Venezuela where he lives as a Marist Brother and teaches in the Orinoco Delta. He is on his way to stay with us for a few days which we are looking forward to, after which we have a few visitors due to come over in August and September so it will be a perfect time to share our plentiful harvests.

Luis y Oscar

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Walking in Asturias: The Reconquest Path


For me (Luis), one of the main challenges I face when walking in Asturias is following the intended path as the way-marking on some of the walks isn't very clear. Frequently the way-marks can be difficult to spot when they comprise of a fading yellow dot painted on the rock or a pile of limestone that can easily be missed.

To compound this situation, I need to add in to the equation my poor sense of direction. Normally I am dependent on others to go out and enjoy the numerous maintain walks off the beaten path within the Picos de Europa National Park. Having said that, I have started looking at maps closely so that I can build up some confidence in my map reading skills that will allow me to venture further into the mountains and thus discover some remote areas while occasionally enjoy the solitude of a solo walk.


I recently ventured out on a beautiful 9 hours walk, my first solo walk along part of a well known route that crosses the length of the National Park, The Reconquest Walk. This is a very long walk that normally comprises two ten hour walks with an overnight stay in one of the mountain refuges; for those who want to walk its entire length.

My walk started in an area I am familiar with and I had previously seen the path in the distance while on a walk with someone else who was in charge of navigation.

Having told Ian of my intended route and the latest time by which I was planning to return home, my main safety consideration was to ensure that I would always find my way back to where the car was before venturing further up into the mountains or across the valley before me.

The Reconquest path starts at the church of Covadonga where history tells us how the first king of Asturias, Pelayo, was told in a dream by the virgin Mary where to hide before defeating the Moors in a big battle and thus starting to reconquer the Iberian peninsula from several centuries of Muslim rule.

After driving up to Lake Ercina, one of the mountain lakes within the park, I walked familiar territory to Belbin, alpine pasture land where I would join the Reconquest path on the way towards the Cares Gorge.

You cannot imagine my excitement as I was able to pinpoint my position within the map. A series of shepherd's huts among lush pasture provided me with the reassurance I needed to proceed up the mountains and across the valleys knowing I could always trace back my steps to where the car was.

After several hours enjoying my walk in solitude across dramatic landscapes that took me across meadows, wide valleys and steep hills, I reached an area known as Oston where shepherds spend the Summer months tending their livestock and making cheese.

The Oston area is impressive with magnificent views towards the central Massif and into the Cares Gorge also known as "The Divine Gorge"; its beauty does justify the name.

From Oston I decided to take the zig-zag path that descends about 600 meters into the Cares Gorge and have my lunch knowing I would return back up in the midday heat but the effort was worth the views. On the way down, the scent of wild oregano was incredibly strong.

On the return I could not resist the tranquillity and beauty within the Belbin pastures and thus stopped for a while to take in the views and celebrate finding my path without getting lost other than for the 30 minutes detour I took by mistake. As a result I ended conquering an additional small hill which I did not really mind as I had an opportunity to admire lots of butterflies feeding on the alpine Eryngiums (Sea Holly) that were in full bloom at this time of the year. I wonder where my sense of adventure will take me next?

Sunday, August 11, 2013

How we restore cane seated chairs in Bergere cane work. Part 2.

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If you follow our blog you will recall that In July we posted about restoring cane seated chairs. These Victorian chairs had seen quite a lot of wear and tear over the years and sometime in the 20's or 30's had their seats replaced with plywood when the cane had broken.

We purchased these and many other chairs back in the UK to restore here in Asturias. We will take them to a local street fair and market later this month where we will demonstrate cane work. We will also take several other cane or rush chairs and hope to sell them.

I cleaned and restored the chair frames and Luis has re-caned them in a seven weave pattern; the stronger of the possible patterns. The chairs have been waxed and with care and attention they should last another 40 years before they need restoring once more. I wonder if Luis will still be doing it then?

The restored chairs - repaired, cleaned, waxed and re-seated.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

The Midwife Toad makes an appearance - amphibians

We have seen and heard many toads of all shapes and sizes in and around La Pasera. Our midwife toads sing nightly. With their high pitched woop, woop, woop sound resonating at regular intervals we can more or less locate their presence in the rockery, bog garden, fedge or dry-stone walls. Their song is easily distinguished from that of the frogs and other toads which croak or rattle for several seconds at a time.

Common Toad

Our most distinguished visitor up to now (although they are all rather special) has been a St Anthony's Tree Frog (European tree frog - Hyla arborea) which we have only seen a couple of times and only managed to photograph once, after a storm, where it suddenly appeared clinging to the house wall. They are so small and well camouflaged it is no wonder they are hard to spot.

Whilst working in the garden yesterday we came across this wonderful Midwife Toad; so called because it is the male of the species that carries the eggs on his back. We found him in a bag of rubble which we are using for building so we carefully relocated him to a newly created small pond we have constructed in the wild area of the garden. He sat around for a few minutes and then quickly made his way into the water and disappeared under a half sunken tree stump.

Midwife Toad

We have noticed tadpoles appearing in a half barrel of water and plants we have on the terrace. Some of these tadpoles have been there for many months and are very slow to grow. We now know that these are the off-spring of the midwife toad. Let's hope they grow up with ravenous appetites for slugs.

Here is a short film from wikimedia of the Midwife Toad's call:   Link

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

Friday, August 02, 2013

Drying and gathering herbs for infusions - What's your tipple?

We are making the most of the hot dry weather and gathering supplies to make a range of infusions to drink. Luis has always taken infusions but for me, there is nothing like a strong cup of coffee.

On a recent Skype consultation with Lucy Jones from the Myrobalan Clinic, part of the advice offered was to drastically reduce my caffeine intake as she felt it was partly to blame for a range of minor health problems I had been experiencing. Since reducing my coffee and switching to herbal infusions, and increasing my hydration generally, most of my symptoms have subsided and I am feeling much better.

Whilst the growing season is in full swing we are gathering and drying: Lemon Verbena, Lemon Balm, Mint and Chamomile. These will be stored in air-tight jars and will last us most of the year.

There is a problem with our chamomile though - by itself it has a really bitter after taste. We were sure it was the German Chamomile and not the English which can be bitter. I will probably source another plant when I am next in the UK just in case.

We also use rosemary, wild fennel, green and black tea, sage and dried liquorice. We have started blending our own infusions and making note of combinations that taste refreshing, warming or restorative as required.

In addition, we are growing for the first time, Stevia to dry and use as a sweetener. We managed to buy a small plant in Oviedo and up to now we are pleased with the results. We rarely use refined sugar and normally use honey sourced from a vet who keeps bees. We pay around €5 per kilo and order 30 kilos a year for home use. Introducing Stevia will help reduce the calorie intake a little.


I have read about adding spices such as cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg or cayenne so I will be experimenting with these in the coming months.

What's your tipple?

Do you drink infusions?

If so, what do you recommend? I'm sure we have lots more usable plants and herbs in the garden but we are a bit unsure what to try...Suggestions?

Coffee breaks have been replaced with tea-breaks, cake or biscuits replaced with foraged nuts, what could be better than iced tea on a summer's afternoon...

By the way, if you are looking for a consultation with a Registered Medical Herbalist, I can recommend Lucy Jones who I found to be really thorough, helpful and insightful. Myrobalan Clinic