Coming home to Paradise

Exiting Asturias airport, travellers pass a huge hoarding displaying a beautiful panoramic photo of the Asturian mountains and the caption ‘Vuelve al Paraíso’ – come back to Paradise. For us, it certainly feels that way; there is such a lovely sense of homecoming and, nestled back in the peace of our green valley, it is hard to believe there is a world of hustle and bustle, cars and concrete out there! It’s even better when there is such a definite taste of spring in the air.

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It is raining today, torrential downpours that swamp the mountains in cloud and skitter off the barn roof in huge raindrops like marbles. No surprise, it is only the beginning of February, after all. That said, ‘winter’ here is nothing like we would recognise or consider normal – it’s short and sweet, very mild and gentle and the days when we can’t get outside are few and far between. Recent days have been truly beautiful, warm and sun-drenched, so naturally the garden has beckoned.

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The polytunnel has been officially finished for some weeks and we wasted no time in putting it to work. Roger made a path edging using old timbers left in the barn, then laid a path using stones we dug out when levelling the patch for the tunnel and a top layer of broken roofing slates.

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The staging is an old door, freshly painted to keep it waterproof, sitting on a couple of decorating trestles. The whole lot can be removed later in the spring when we’ve raised seedlings and are ready to plant in the ground. So far, I’ve planted trays of ‘Greyhound’ summer cabbage, ‘Litte Gem’ lettuce and ‘Ailsa Craig’ and ‘Bedfordshire Champion’ onions, along with a few tall pots of sweet peas. Roger has asked if there’s a reason why I planted more than 100 cabbage seeds when there are only two of us and one cabbage easily does more than one meal . . . Whoops! Put it down to the sheer excitement of having a new polytunnel, my love, and remember that cabbage is really, really good for you. 🙂

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Yes, I will probably have to rein in my exuberance if we aren’t to drown in vegetables this year but what a happy sight to see the first little crops appearing!

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Beyond the tunnel, we’ve had one of those satisfying weeks where lots of big jobs have been done – not the general ticking-over maintenance sort of things, but structural changes that make such a difference and help to tidy the whole place up. I’ve finished forking over the entire vegetable garden, tickling in the compost I spread a few weeks ago. Oh my word, what a great job the worms have done for us; the soil is beautiful and I’m itching to plant. (Patience!) I cleared a scrappy patch of grass and weeds at the top of the main veg patch and Roger made a path edging from old terracotta roof tiles; here we’ve planted our beautiful ‘For Your Eyes Only’ anniversary rose which I hope will be happy to put roots down into the ground at last. We will be able to enjoy its exquisite beauty from our seating area (also on the list for a makeover this year). It bloomed three times last year – what a star!

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We’ve also been planting fruit trees, something that always makes my heart sing. We have had to take out several old fruit trees which were diseased or dead and planted in silly places but it has always been our intention to more than replace them. Creating an orchard area and extending the range of fruit we grow here is an ongoing  priority. So, we have put a ‘Royal Gala’ dessert apple and a ‘Reine Claude d’Ouillins’ yellow gage plum in the larger orchard area and a ‘Conference ‘pear and a Spanish ‘Picota’ cherry variety below the house. They are all very sturdy trees, almost as tall as me and at eight euros each, tremendous value for money. Fingers crossed for some beautiful blossom and delicious fruits to come . . .

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Another ongoing project is creating terraces to make gardening easier. In many ways, we have become used to working on a steep slope but terraces certainly help, not least to keep the soil at the top of the garden. It’s hard work, especially as all the stone has to be hauled, but Roger has made a great job of replacing a temporary earth bank with a smart stone wall at the top of what was the ‘squash patch’ last year. That now gives us three decent terraces and a large slope below for planting in this area of the garden, as well as my little ‘salad patch’. Needless to say, I have already filled it all in my mind . . . and that was before the gift of some unusual squash seeds from my lovely Finnish friend. This will be an interesting project to compare crops at opposite ends of Europe, but if I am to do it full justice, something tells me I might need to borrow a little bit of field from the cows!

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We have also started to tackle the fencing down the side of the lane. This is very typical of the messes we inherited here, no bedsteads this time (thank goodness) but the usual pickle of rotten posts, metal building props, sagging wire mesh, rusty barbed wire and piles of building rubble. Having laid the hazels into a hedge further down, we are planning to take out the old fence and open up some more garden to the lane but the top part needs to be fenced off to keep wild boar out. We are putting in a simple wire fence which will look much tidier and also create a strip of border on the lane side just perfect for flowers. Hopefully, a splash of colour will look far more attractive than the previous eyesore.

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On the subject of flower borders, I’ve been busy trying to sort out the area on the horreo path ready for planting. Roger told me I would never dig out that huge hydrangea root and although we both knew he was right, my own particular brand of pig-headed stubbornness saw me passing several hours in the trying. Eventually, I had to admit defeat and no wonder: in the end, it took a crowbar and rope attached to the tractor to heave it out!

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The ‘border’ hasn’t been gardened for years and is a complete mess of brambles and other horrors, as well as the inevitable piles of building rubble (how can one property have so much rubble?) so it’s slow-going. It’s interesting, too, teetering on the edge above the courtyard – no time for vertigo – but bit by bit, a border is appearing and I am having a happy time planning the planting. Nothing too tall or boisterous, just lots and lots of gorgeous colour and scents. First, however, there is another hydrangea root to tackle where I’ve parked my fork in the photo . . . oh, good.

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One of the benefits of the mild winters is that we are never without flowers or insects visiting them, but this week there has been a noticeable increase in activity: the garden and surrounding countryside have been alive with honey bees and bumbles as well as large yellow and peacock butterflies. How can I not let pak choi go to seed or borage set itself where it wants when they are such valued food sources for these busy beauties?

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The birds are busy, too. There are several resident robins outsinging each other in glorious competition, blackcaps trilling in the kiwi vine, great tits and blue tits flirting and fighting over nestboxes, resplendent bullfinches nipping the buds off the peach trees, a host of little green warblers fidgeting through the trees and mistlethrushes calling loud and clear from the woods. The valley below echoes with the rush of the river, the sound of lambs and the gentle murmurings of village life as folk tend their gardens and turn faces to the sun; in the soft, evening light, clouds of tiny insects dance and a flock of long-tailed tits chatters merrily around the garden. Ah, Asturias – paradise indeed!

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Tunnel vision

We have been enjoying such lovely mild weather of late that there was nothing for it but to down the carpentry tools and paintbrushes and head outside. Even though the real winter is still to come, there are little signs of spring everywhere.

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It has been truly wonderful to be able to eat some meals outside, too. We enjoyed a barbecue to celebrate New Year and al fresco lunches have been a lovely bonus: spicy squash, leek and bean soup with spelt and seed rolls make a perfect gardeners’ lunch at this time of year!

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With sound progress being made on the house renovation front and the vegetable garden more or less under control, it’s been good to turn our thought to other outdoor projects. There is so much we would like to do here – years and years of ideas, in fact – it’s a case of prioritising and making a Grand Plan for what we would like to achieve this year. High on the list is sorting out the courtyard area between the house and horreo and it was a great feeling to chop and stack the last of the old roof timbers and give the whole lot a good tidy up.

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We have saved some huge slates to make a tidier seating area at the garden end and I have plans for lots of troughs and tubs of flowers, as well as some hanging baskets to pretty the area up. The concrete steps and path up to horreo need attention but I decided to start with the ‘border’ that runs along the top of the wall.

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The large concrete tank behind takes water from the spring to the cattle trough so it has to stay but is due a makeover – removing the ivy and giving it a coat of white paint to match the house. It will make a good backdrop for planting: there are already some decent clumps of calla lily and a lovely selection of wild flowers directly beneath it but the border in front needs a complete revamp. I’ve talked about the hydrangeas here before: where they grow in huge swathes of indigo and magenta, I love them . . . but ours are a very insipid bluey white and just two of them dominate that whole border and make it very hard to get to the horreo (believe me, that path is tricky enough as it is!). So, I’ve cut them down to ground level and now begins the difficult job of digging them out – this could take me several weeks! My plan then is to clear the whole area, feed the soil and plant smaller things for a much greater and prettier splash of colour this year.

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Plastic bottles seem to be something of a hot topic at the moment and walking up the lane I was reminded once again that there was still one fence line strung with bottles that we had yet to clear. When we moved here, there were bottles like this everywhere, hung to deter wild boar (which is a bit of a joke, since there is a very clear and well-worn trotter track right under this particular line of bottles!). It’s a job that’s been needed doing for ages and was done in a jiffy: string cut and removed and bottles piled in a trailer and taken down to the village recycling point. That’s better!

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There have been a few general garden jobs to do, too, such as pruning damaged branches from the peach trees, a good bonfire to get rid of old growth I’d cleared round the garden that was too big to compost and some repair to the squash terraces (more stone walls going in this year). I had a good tidy up in the little herb patch at the entrance to the veg garden and was pleased to find the mint is spreading just as mint does under the peach tree and new little seedlings of chives and parsley popping up everywhere. We have been picking herbs here without a break, the coriander happily self-sets over and over and the chervil has gone berserk!

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This is such a cheerful little herb, so delicate to look at but mighty tough in character; I’ve grown it outdoors all through British winters so it’s very happy here. We don’t eat huge amounts of it but it’s perfect for a little pinch of fresh, green flavour and I love it in winter slaws. It has created quite a carpet, though, and will have to be reined in to make room for other things when the time comes.

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Another job this week has been pushing twiggy hazel sticks in around the early peas. I’ve held off as long as possible as we had such big problems with blackbirds last year; they had a magnetic attraction to the hazel ‘hedge’ and had a lot of fun pulling up the tiny plants. Luckily, they do seem otherwise occupied at the moment, marauding through the kiwi vine in the belief that they have first shout (as if there isn’t enough fruit to go round!) so I’m hoping the peas will be safe. The broad beans have been lagging behind a bit but my goodness, they have caught up rapidly over the last few days.

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We are still eating regular helpings of leeks with plenty left to come, and there are some other delicious delights to enjoy, too.

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So to the biggest story of the week . . . our new polytunnel. We are great polytunnel fans and this has been on our to-do list ever since we moved here, but it has taken time to organise the ground for it (remember the kiwi prison camp we had to dismantle?) so we have needed to be patient. This is the fourth tunnel we have put up and being the smallest with ready-shaped polythene, it should have been the easiest of the lot. Ha bloomin’ ha! I don’t mean it in a boastful way, but we are pretty practical people; between us we can renovate a house, strip down an engine, sew a bridal gown, grow all our own vegetables and turn them into interesting dishes . . . but this one really had us stumped at times.  The instructions optimistically stated that it would take two people 30 minutes to complete the construction, using only the toy spanners included in the kit. Even as seasoned polytunnel builders we felt this was highly unlikely . . . and after the allotted half an hour had come and gone several times, downright impossible. To be fair to the Chinese manufacturers, I understand that when selling their product worldwide it makes sense to dispense with languages and use diagrams and numbers for the instructions instead. However, it helps if there are plenty of diagrams and they are clear to follow. Also, I’d be interested to know if the alleged 30 minutes included the time needed to fetch a drill and punch out missing holes or fetch a file and file off many, many metal spurs which prevented the tubes from fitting together (neither of these steps were indicated in the diagrams). The base went together fairly swiftly; you can see how this 3m x 4m model is the absolute biggest we can squeeze into the space, the sum total of our flat land here!

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Ah, then for the rest of the frame and more frustrated moments than I care to mention. Not for the first time, I thanked my lucky stars that I am married to an engineer because when things like this go wrong, my inclination is to kick them, then stomp off with a sore toe to put the kettle on. Roger, on the other hand, calmly ponders the problem and applies rational mathematical reasoning and practical logic; he, too, then gives it a hefty boot but in just the right place and with precisely the amount of force that the stubborn thingummy drops perfectly into alignment without another thought. Somehow, against all odds and with many coffee breaks, the frame was finished.

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Now for the polythene and I’d like to share the instruction for this phase . . .

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No, very definitely not OK! This was the stuff of nightmares and quite honestly I found myself wishing for a good old-fashioned rectangular sheet of polythene to wrestle and stretch and pleat instead of this ready-shaped beast. Eventually – obviously we had to make up our own instructions so this all took time – the cover was on and stretched as much as is possible with this type of model. In the illustrations, the bottom of the polythene sat tidily and happily on the ground, ready to be rolled up and slotted neatly into the S-hooks when extra ventilation is required. Now this might work well on paper or in a showroom but on the side of an Asturian mountain? Really? One decent gust of wind and the whole lot would take off and fly up the valley. Time for Modification Number 27 . . . bury the base and polythene edges under plenty of soil. We’ve never had a side-opening tunnel anyway as open doors work well enough for ventilation. I removed the S-hooks and relocated them to the central roof bar where they will be perfect for starting hanging baskets off (and Roger will bang his poor head on them and curse every time he goes into the tunnel, it’s a sort of tradition we’ve had over many years). So there we have it, one brand new polytunnel ready for action.

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Thirty minutes? Try a day and a half! Anyway, now the chaos is over what we are left with as far as I’m concerned is twelve square metres of planting paradise. I had hauled in several loads of well-rotted manure before we started and as the ground has been dug over several times, the soil is deep and teeming with worms which always makes me joyful.

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We will make a stone path down the middle, as narrow as is practically possible to maximise planting space. We have plans for a removable trestle bench so that we can start off trays of seedlings and young plants in spring with early salad crops in the ground, then once the bench is out, plant up with the summer heat lovers: tomatoes (last chance for them this year), peppers, chillies, aubergines and melons. Summer over and we will plant some more patches of salad crops for autumn and winter. Oh yes, I do love a polytunnel . . . but please don’t ask me to put up another like that one, at least for a while! 🙂

 

 

Seed time and solstice

Things have been a bit on the seedy side here this week, if you pardon the expression. Seeing the spent morning glory vines dripping their seeds onto the ground below, I remembered that I had collected a tray of various seeds earlier in the autumn; surely by now they would be dried and ready to sort and bag up?

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I love collecting seeds, it is such a rewarding thing to do with that promise of good things to come again in the next growing season. With the colourful lure of glossy seed catalogues and online seed shops, it’s easy to forget that there is still very much a place for collecting our own seeds as well as buying new ones. For this reason, I really rate The Real Seed Catalogue and the philosophy of the people behind it: all their seeds are open-pollinated so can be collected to plant again; this might seem like a bit of a loss leader – a seed company that encourages customers to collect seeds rather than buy more?! – but I think it is brilliant and we have grown some interesting crops from their collection (I’m not being paid to say this, just speaking as I find).

The bigger the seeds, the easier they are to collect. The ‘Douce Provence’ peas I planted a couple of weeks ago were saved and dried from the last of this year’s harvest and in the same vein, we have a good bag of white Asturian beans to plant in the spring. No good trying to save seed from the ‘Crown Prince’ or butternut varieties of squash we grew this year as they are all F1 hybrids . . . but the ‘Guatemalan Blue’ is open-pollinated so we will definitely be saving some of their huge seeds. (By the way, we love this squash: it might be a bit of a thug but we had four enormous fruits from one plant and the flesh has a fantastic texture, colour and flavour). I don’t mind sorting out smaller seeds, too; it’s a bit of a fiddle, but well worth the effort. So, back to my tray of seeds and the first thing I realised is what a complete numpty I had been for leaving them in the barn under the house instead of making the effort to climb up to the horreo. Something – I strongly suspect of the small, furry rodentesque type – had scoffed every last one of my sunflower seeds and left just the husks! How rude. I do find this a bit ironic seeing as I left so many sunflower heads in the garden for the wildlife to enjoy but it’s my own silly fault. Luckily, the other seeds hadn’t proved attractive so I had a happy time organising them into seed bags ready for spring.

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Where flowers are concerned, I’m not sure I will need to buy any new seeds at all this year. I have always been happy to let things set themselves around the garden; it’s lazy gardening, I know, but why not? The Big Three – calendula, borage and nasturtiums – seem to go round in constant cycles here so we always have flowers, seedlings and seedheads at any one time. I love them all and would be perfectly happy if nothing else grew! This year, Californian poppies, phacelia and poached egg plant have joined the party and I suspect there will be poppies, cornflowers and sweet peas popping up all over the place, too. That suits me just fine.

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The arrival of our new polytunnel is fairly imminent so I decided it was time to dig the patch over again in readiness. Not wanting to waste such a good (and FLAT) area of garden this year, we planted sweet corn, Asturian beans and summer cabbages and calabrese and enjoyed hearty crops from them all. Latterly, it has been a riot of nasturtiums but unfortunately the couch grass had moved in, too, so time for some serious digging. The invernadero will make a huge difference to us in the garden; yes, we enjoy a wonderful growing climate here, but being able to extend the season (salad crops all winter, for example) and have a cosy shelter for young plants in early spring will be a massive boon.

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I dug over the whole area except for a patch of self-set mizuna; along with komatsuna and peas (also both self-set), it is providing us with some tasty, crisp salads at the moment so it can stay for the time being. It’s also a great example of how allowing seeds to do their own thing in the garden can be hugely beneficial.

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I have a lot of respect for the permaculture principle of paying attention to margins. We have always tried to use the margins of our garden in a way that is beneficial to the whole local environment: planting native hedges including fruit and nuts; planting swathes of native wildflowers; creating ponds and wetlands; making foraging areas for the hens, placing beehives or slipping in extra bits and pieces for the kitchen. As I dug this patch, it was clear that the strip along the lane side was in danger of becoming a useless and messy wasteland once the tunnel goes up: better to tackle that now! I started by digging out the ‘nuisance’ weeds – couch grass, creeping buttercup, dock and the like – but left the established daisies and red deadnettle, both still flowering. I then planted a clump of lemon balm at the barn end; this is a small root from the parent plant but will spread like stink, covering a rough area and binding the bank without causing any shade problems for the tunnel. At the gate end, I planted hyssop and verbena bonariensis, both grown from seed this year. In between, I relocated a couple of self-set hollyhocks and introduced a few calendula and borage seedlings, scattering seeds of the same, too (might as well cover all bases). There are already plenty of nasturtium seeds in there and the little stick of  spring-planted clematis ‘Polish Spirit’ has made a good start up the fence. Hopefully, this will now be an attractive area bustling with colour, life and edible things that will draw plenty of pollinators in to explore the delights of the polytunnel. Even better, it didn’t cost a penny.

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One of the most prolific self-setters we have here is mustard. Put it this way, we are in our second year here and have never planted it yet it comes up everywhere, even in cracks in the concrete. We’ve tried eating it and it’s truly horrid; no good as a veg crop, then, but I wasn’t too disheartened to see a mass of plants colonising the area where we grew potatoes this year. I’ve chopped them down this week and left them on the ground to wilt; next job will be to dig them in as a green manure. No waste here!

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Another thug – second only to the kiwi, believe me – is the comfrey. Remember that indifferent little root I planted a year ago? Oh my goodness, did it grow . . . and grow . . . and grow, which is all very well except it was encroaching on too many things around it, including the asparagus bed. I’ve been waiting patiently for it to die back before moving it but it has ignored my request and instead has started sending up new growth from the centre. Time to get tough. I cut back the older growth and added it to our newly-turned compost heap where it will be a great accelerator, requested Roger’s muscle and a fork to lift it (there is no way I could move the monster) and relocated it next to the pear trees. There it can romp away as much as it likes, bringing great pleasure to the bumble bee population and providing me with a regular source of fertiliser for other plants. With the comfrey gone, I cut back the asparagus stems and mulched the crowns, then cleared the rest of the ‘salad’ patch ready for spring planting (although a little patches of self-set komatsuna, leaf celery and borage remain).

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We have enjoyed some lovely photos this week of our little grandchildren having a wonderful time in the snow, and of course building some very impressive snowmen! No snow here, but we do have a couple of snowman-like features in the orchard . . .

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. . . our young lemon and orange trees, newly wrapped in fleece to protect them more from possible wind damage than anything else. They have grown so well this year after an initial bashing and there is a chance they might even fruit next season, so it’s worth keeping them snug.

Just four days until the Winter Solstice and as always we are planning a candlelit feast to celebrate. I know the coldest months are still to come but I always feel such a sense of immense joy at knowing that the days will soon grow longer and lighter, that spring and seed time will return, that there will be another season of warmth and growth and harvest. Like a handful of seeds, it is a wonderful, wonderful  promise that makes my heart sing, no matter how many times I experience it! 🙂

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November notes

The last day of November: how on earth did that happen? I know we have been busy and spent ten days away but somewhere I seem to have lost a couple of weeks along the way. Time, then, for the quickest of updates on life in our little corner of Asturias before the year tips into its final month.

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For much of November the weather has been warm, sunny and very dry; in fact, this time last week Roger was outside soaking up the sun in just his shorts. The last few days, however, have brought a distinct change as the wind has swung into the north and heralded the first frosts of the year and slightly whiter stuff on the peaks of the distant mountains. It fascinates me the way we can stand up here and watch the frost travel up the valley through the morning, before the sun melts it in moments. The good news is that with our new roof, chimney and stove we are as snug as extremely warm bugs in the house and a daily session with the chainsaw sees the log shed grow ever fuller – we’re getting through the huge pile of old roof timbers and there will be something quite satisfying about ‘recycling’ them into warmth.

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With Sam and Adrienne flying in tomorrow for a few days here, Roger has been going flat out to get the stairs made. As carpentry is absolutely not his favourite thing and there was nothing I could do to help (except supply mugs of coffee and sympathy  now and then), I have been spending my days outside. I’ve never been one for a big ‘autumn tidy’ for several reasons (I like to leave stems for wildlife shelter and a bit of structure over winter, apart from anything else) but a few areas of the veg patch have needed a bit of attention if they are to do the business again next year. After a couple of seasons of cultivation and feeding, the soil is wonderful – rich, deep and loamy and a joy to turn over. After much hard work, we had reached exactly the same stage in our last two gardens at which point we moved house and country (Roger points out we always do that when the log store is full, too) . . . it’s a lovely, reassuring feeling that this time will be different!

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The soil lightly forked and raked, I planted a couple of long rows of early peas and broad beans for a spring harvest; these grew so well last year that it makes sense to grow a few more. I love this time of year when traditionally we look back over the year and decide what was successful, what not so good and make our plans for the new season. Florence fennel will definitely be on the list again, it is still flourishing and truly delicious in so many dishes; komatsuna, golden pak choi and spinach are providing a reliable crop of mixed greens – the secret here is to plant them very late (as in late October).

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Something I have really struggled with this year is kale: last year, I couldn’t stop it growing, this year has been an uphill battle and one I truly thought I’d lost. I know that’s how gardening goes, it’s all part of the ‘fun’ but a bit disappointing if we are left without what is usually a pretty reliable vegetable. I love kale: it seems to ooze good health and nourishment in the darkest, meanest months and it’s such a versatile veg, too. We eat a lot of it braised in olive oil and balsamic vinegar, but it’s great fried like crispy seaweed or shredded and stirred through a risotto or pasta dish, too. What I don’t understand is the trend of piling it into a posh blender with blueberries and pulverising it to a gelatinous pulp; call me a dinosaur, but I’d rather chew on my veg than drink them any day. Aaaaaanyway . . . this is how the sad story of our kale has gone. First sowing (in seed trays way back in the summer) – nothing germinated at all; second sowing (in seed trays, fresh compost, later in the summer) – only one variety germinated very sparsely, then most of the seedlings died. The valiant few then sat in their tray doing nothing for several weeks, despite much encouragement from the gardener; eventually (heading rapidly into autumn), said gardener became fed up at looking at the miserable little things and planted them (all six) in the ground; cue every bug and beastie from miles around deciding that tiny kale seedlings were their very, very favourite food and despite the gardener’s very best efforts (honestly, short of putting up a tent and sleeping with them, I couldn’t have done more to protect them), only three remained. Having reached the ‘Okay, I give up . .  . we didn’t want kale anyway’ stage a couple of weeks ago, how very happy was I to find this on our return home last week . . .

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. . . yay!!!! 🙂

Something we don’t have any problem growing here is leeks and once again we are luxuriating in a tremendous crop of monstrous beauties. They are a mix of ‘Musselburgh’ and ‘Blue Solaise’, both giving the other a good run for their money in the Best Leek in Patch award. Some are a spot of rust, others are a tad slimy on the outer leaves but overall they are fantastic and pretty much appearing daily on the menu. This little haul was heading for the soup pot . . .

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Talking of soup, our other very favourite ingredient is squash – roasted in spices then combined with leeks, borlotti beans and chillies (both from the freezer) in a homemade stock, they produce a soup to die for and one that we are very happy to eat for lunch or dinner, especially with walnut bread and melting cheese. There is something so very satisfying about eating a meal almost completely made from homegrown ingredients. The squash enjoyed their few weeks of sunbathing on the horreo and emerged with wonderfully cured skins, so we have moved them inside now, tucked up on crumpled newspaper to keep them aired and hopefully prevent any rotting over winter. We decided the time had come to tackle one of the giant Guatemalan Blues to join the leeks in the soup mix and I can confidently report that it is a terrific variety with lovely firm, orange flesh and truly, truly tasty.

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Keeping the squash company in the horreo is the first picking of kiwis – yes, it’s that time of year again already. Unbelievably, we seem to have an even bigger crop than last year and some of the fruits are huge. I’ve picked as many as I can reach, but most of them are high up on the pergola so I need to wait until Chief Carpenter can help as I’m not a fan of wobbling around on ladders. Still, I’ve made a good start with nearly 200 picked – just several hundreds more to go!

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At the end of the squash sunbathing balcony is an area where we put walnuts to dry after harvesting and then overwinter; it’s a bit of a wriggle getting to them, but the system works perfectly. Shimmying up there this week, I was, however, reminded of just how big a project we have taken on here and how much we still have to do. There should be an unfettered view up the meadow to the woods where the chestnut leaves are a blaze of gold against dark, glossy holly and silvery-blue eucalyptus but instead there is this . . .

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When we were told by the previous owner that it was to stop birds from stealing nuts, my imagination went into overdrive wondering what on earth could be such a threat. A squadron of vegetarian griffon vultures  swooping down like something from The Dam Busters? Giant killer ostriches with a nut fetish (and very lost, obviously)? Or maybe wild boar with strap-on wings doing a Daedalus and Icarus number? Roger has started to remove the layer upon layer of welding mesh, chicken wire and plastic netting but it is a painstaking job given how everything is twisted together with miles and miles of rusty barbed wire; the irony is that the area is now completely open to avian terrorist attack at one end and the only thing helping themselves to the nuts is . . . us.

Good nuts they are, too, and we use them often in the kitchen (in fact, Roger is sprinkling some over the top of a pear streusel cake as I speak). I have put them in our mincemeat this week and they are also playing a starring role in the granola I’ve made for the weekend – I love having visitors, it’s a great excuse for cooking.

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Now for the final piece of news and I think this ta -dah! moment requires an imaginary drumroll because . . .wait for it, folks . . . yes, we have STAIRS! Hurrah for the cake-baking carpenter! I know they aren’t exactly finished yet as in there are no spindles or handrails and they need painting (as does the stairwell) but now we no longer have to climb up and down a ladder and for the very first time we can have visitors to stay without us having to camp out on the kitchen floor. Oh, happy, happy days!

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Now if you will excuse me, I’m off to make a batch of mince pies in order to celebrate. 🙂

 

 

 

Autumn gold

October has been a truly golden month here, with bright blue skies, hot sunshine and deliciously soft, warm air. Even the roses are having another flush, their third this year.

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The meadows are still lush with grass and filled with the gentle lilac haze of autumn crocus, such fragile and beautiful things with their sunny saffron centres.

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It has been a joy to be outside in the fresh air and I’ve had a happy time of it pottering about the patch and doing a bit more end of season tidying. The compost heap and bonfire have both grown steadily as spaces open up and we start to plan the planting scheme for next year.

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Having reached this stage of the year we are happy that we have more than enough planting space which is a relief as the idea of carving out more from the mountainside doesn’t fill me with a lot of pleasure! I’ve loved the flowers mingling in the veg patch and crowding each other along the fence, definitely one to do again next year. I’ve been collecting seeds as I go but I’ve left most of the sunflower heads for the birds to clear up.

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It’s lovely to watch the flocks of various finches arrive every evening to feed although frustratingly they have so far evaded my attempts to capture them with the camera. No worries, they are certainly doing a great job.

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Despite the summery weather, there has been a subtle shift in what’s on offer from the garden this week. We ate the last aubergine, and we are down to just a handful of peppers. Lovely to see them ripening, though, and a mixed dish ‘padron’ style was a delicious (and rightly warming) tapas dish earlier in the week.

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We had the first savoy cabbage of the year, only a small patch of these to come but they always do us more than one meal so that’s no problem.

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Likewise, the parsnips: I’m not sure why I worry about how small the row is, when they’re all this big we really don’t need too many!

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No shortage of chard either, this kept growing all last winter. I just love the way the sunlight illuminates those gorgeous stalks.

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Away from the garden and the renovation work has been coming on apace once again. Much of our life is spent overcoming problems (it’s good for the old grey matter) and this week was no exception: how to transport sheets of plasterboard safely and without damaging them. After a busy time in his Man Shed, Roger came up with the perfect solution, a customised plasterboard carrier fashioned from old doors strapped to the trailer.

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Sadly, he’s yet to find an easy way of carrying them up fourteen steps then lifting them into the attic on ladders. At 26 kilos each, we felt we’d had quite a workout by the time we’d shifted fifteen of them!

On the upside of Plasterboard World, we decided to combine our DIY shopping trip with some time off to enjoy and explore several beaches en route. Well, why not, given the gorgeous weather? It was such a perfect day, the sea a deep blue but rolling and boiling with those classic Asturian waves that the surfers love so much and were certainly enjoying. In fact, there were several people swimming too, and we wished we’d thought to throw our swimmers and towels in. Never mind, it was lovely just to walk along the beaches, watching the white water throwing up rainbows and luxuriating in the wrap-around warmth. So very beautiful. What a stunning place this is.

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We weren’t the only ones enjoying it, either!

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Hard to believe it’s nearly November . . .  🙂

 

 

 

Contrasts

What a week of interesting contrasts! Weatherwise, it has been summer all over again. The mornings have started misty and moisty, the valley stuffed with candyfloss cloud.

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Bright blue skies and unbroken sunshine have followed . . .

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. . .  and then some truly stunning sunsets.

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Of course, we have felt it our duty to get out and enjoy the lovely weather so we happily awarded ourselves a few breaks from house renovation, packed a picnic and sallied forth into the sunshine.

Our first walk was along the Ruta Hoces del Esva; we did a circular walk there with Sam and Adrienne last year but this time opted for a 5 mile / 8k out and back trek, following the path until it swung away from the beautiful  Esva river. It’s a fascinating walk and quite a good physical workout, too, starting high above the river, then dipping up and down the gorge several times. There are boardwalks in places, and a few rocky scrambles, as well as flatter paths at river level. We’d hoped to catch a glimpse of the otters that live there: no luck, but the dippers put on quite a show for us instead. It is such a truly beautiful place, so peaceful and tranquil (we didn’t see another soul), and we sat under the trees eating our picnic and listening to the birdsong and chatter of the river.

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In contrast, admitting that we really had to face a supermarket this week, we did our favourite trick of turning the day into a coastal walk and picnic with a bit of shopping on the side. I’m beginning to think it’s always cloudy in Galicia, or maybe just the days we choose to visit? No matter, it was blissfully warm and it was a joy to eat lunch watching the waves crashing against the spectacular rock formations.

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I love that fresh ozone seaside smell, there is something so invigorating about it . . . and somehow the choice for dinner that night was an obvious one!

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All change again, and this time a 8mile / 11.5k hike through Somiedo Natural Park. It was hard to believe that last time I walked there it was through snow! It is such a wild and stunningly beautiful place with incredible views in every direction – not surprising, really, considering we were at a height of 1750 metres.

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Roger knew just the place for our lunch stop, a rocky outcrop with unbelievable views of the valley below (the one we walked in snow, in fact). Sitting in the hot sunshine, tucking into homemade peach and blueberry streusel cake and drinking in the view and mountain air, it felt so good to be alive. We stayed for much longer than any lunch break ought to be!

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Warm, sun-drenched evenings have meant plenty of outdoor cooking over wood. What a great excuse to tuck into more of our sweetcorn; if you’ve never eaten it this way, I urge you to try – believe me, it is a world away from any that has been boiled in water or tipped out of a can.

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It makes a delicious and substantial starter, so we’ve been following it with small main courses based on crisp salads from the garden. Florence fennel, pear, baby carrot and spinach dressed in olive oil and lemon juice then topped with fennel fronds, marigold petals and walnuts has tasted so fresh and seasonal; other versions have involved golden pak choi, green peppers and sweet young peas (remember those little self-set plants I rescued a few weeks ago?).

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We have harvested the last of the walnuts but that’s no problem;  the chestnut season has well and truly begun and everyone is out gathering.

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We have been peeling them for the freezer and throwing them into trays of roast veg (scrummy!) but decided to have a go at something a bit different and made this  chestnut and mushroom pie . Oh my word, talk about autumn comfort food! It was utterly delicious and very filling, a thing of complete gorgeousness. There was ample for three meals so the rest has gone into the freezer for those days when the weather is more suggestive of the need to eat pie

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Back to the renovation (it’s not all play here). Despite our wanderings, this week has marked quite a turning point in house renovation world. There are still a lot of fiddly finishing bits and pieces to be done (not to mention stairs, bathroom and an attic bedroom) but suddenly we appear to have a living space that is clean, bright and comfortable . . . and the sofa is back, hurray! I’m not sure how we will cope without the nailed-down brown lino and weeping damp walls but we’ll give it our best shot. Bit of a contrast in the before and after shots, don’t you think?

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Finally, my new personal challenge. After 15 months of setting myself physical challenges  – Walk 500 Miles in five months, then the half marathon – I’ve decided to opt for a contrast this time and set a challenge based on writing. I’ve started a second blog in response to people asking us why and  – more to the point – how we are living as we do and what it takes to lead a simpler life. It will be a different approach to writing in some ways and I’m very excited about it. I’d be delighted for you to have a look, please feel free to visit and comment whenever you want.  This Simple Life  Of course, I will carry on with the same old nonsense on this blog, too! For the time being, however, the temperature has hit thirty-one degrees outside so it’s time to go and luxuriate in that lovely warmth. Hasta luego. 🙂

 

October ramblings

There have been several comments this week from family and friends in Britain that it is ‘feeling autumnal’ and thoughts are turning to putting the heating on and reaching for comfort food recipes. It’s certainly looking like autumn in places here, too. There is a subtle turning of the leaves, a haze of yellows, oranges and browns drifting through the deciduous woods in the same way the soft green fuzz of new growth does in spring.

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A huge benefit for us, though, is that light levels may be falling along with the leaves but the temperature stays up. We are still enjoying temperatures in the twenties during the day and mid- teens at night; our windows are open day and night and when (from necessity in the face of a broken electric oven) we lit the Beast, we ended up cooking ourselves as well as dinner! There is a simple equation that, even after living here for 16 months, I still find hard to grasp: cloud plus gloom plus rain does not mean cold weather. It might be damp and grey but it’s still warm enough for shorts and living outside. It’s one of the (many) things I love about Asturias.

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No excuse, then, for not heading out for some walks to see what nature is up to. Ah, yes more evidence of autumn . . . and several not-so-subtle reminders of how dangerous it is to walk under the chestnut trees at this time of year. Ouch!

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In contrast to the woodlands, the roadside verges are still blooming with a mass of colourful flowers: heather, gorse, knapweed, hypericum, wild carrot, scabious, red clover . . . all pretty as a picture and buzzing with insects.

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PICT0821Plenty of colour in the garden, too. Now I know that I have already included several photos of the morning glory in previous posts but I just can’t help adding a few more as I am SOOOOOO delighted with them. I have tried for years to grow them with only partial success and much frustration; it seems I just needed to be in the right place because a few seeds casually thrown in very late have turned into plants of great enthusiasm and beauty. They are making a grand job of covering the veg patch fence, scrambling through old sweet pea tripods and wrapping themselves round sunflower stalks as they go. What has really thrilled me is that this week the very deep indigo colour so typical of wild plants here as appeared. Stunning.

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Also beautiful are the dahlias grown from seed. They have certainly been one of the big success stories of the year and seem to go on and on. I was tempted to pick a bunch for the house but practically every one was housing a foraging bee of some kind so I decided to leave them where they can be enjoyed by all. Couldn’t resist a snap of this gorgeous claret number, though. Hide my wool, please – I’m itching to make something this colour!

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I’m not a huge fan of hydrangeas but they are very typical of Asturias and ours are flowering extremely late, possibly as a result of the rather savage pruning I gave them in the spring. I wish we had the deep magenta and purple varieties, those I will admit to liking. Ours are all white and pale blue, a bit insipid to my mind, but that said, on close inspection they do have a rather delicate beauty.

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Going back to the subject of bees for a moment: having spent several weeks feasting on rotten peaches, the honey bees have now turned their attention to fallen figs. I still find this behaviour fascinating and love to watch them tucking in.

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At the food end of things, a mild autumn means we can carry on happily growing crops outside without any danger of frost. Things are slowing down a bit of course, but we are still picking peppers, aubergines and courgettes – the latter having now left the garden and started off down the lane.

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There are plenty of ‘new’ foods, too. Earthed up, the Florence fennel is fattening into some lovely plump bulbs.

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The canellini beans, specially bred for a very late harvest, are doing what all beans seem to do here naturally – growing like stink.

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As well as komatsuna and golden pak choi, we have a good crop of spinach; forget lettuce, these are our multi-purpose salad-cum-cooking leaves of the moment.

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We haven’t grown sweet corn for years, and even when we did it was always a touch and go crop in the polytunnel. My oh my, are we enjoying this harvest! The secret is to get the cobs from plant to plate in a matter of minutes while the sugar content is high. Flame-grilled or barbecued over wood is our favourite cooking method – a great tip we picked up from street vendors when we lived in Cyprus – then smeared in butter and eaten in fingers straight from the cob. The contrasting sweet and salty flavours are sublime: think sea salt and caramel, bacon and maple syrup . . . surely such simple, priceless pleasure is why growing vegetables is such an amazing thing to do! 🙂

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Squashed!

I love this time of year. For reasons I’ve never quite pinned down, I always have a tremendous burst of creative energy in early autumn which normally finds me dashing about planning all sorts of new activities: decorating, gardening, woolly things . . . you name it, I have a new project in the pipeline. I’m not sure why this happens. Maybe it’s a natural extension of our busy squirrel behaviour at this time of year, harvesting and storing food for the future, or perhaps just a change in light levels that triggers something deep within me. I feel a heightened awareness of colours and textures around me that just makes me itch to do something, make something.  Anyway, this year I am trying very hard to keep a lid on it; I have so many things on the go at the moment, I really, really don’t need anything else to do (tempted though I am to dig my spinning wheel out of storage and indulge myself with the lovely feel of fleece flowing through my fingers . . . no, no, no!). That said, I can still enjoy the inspirational sights that have appealed to my senses this week, whilst sitting firmly on my hands!

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Our last tripod of Asturian beans was ready for harvesting this week, yielding quite a pile for the freezer.

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With the beans gone and summer cabbage long over, I started to clear the site for our planned polytunnel. Considering this was such a rough and stony patch, the soil is deep and rich after cultivation. I can’t clear the whole lot yet as the sweetcorn is still going strong. I love the way those sunny nasturtiums have self-set themselves and are rambling quite happily below the corn. They – like morning glory – literally grow like weeds here, and I’m thrilled to see little plants popping up in the most unexpected places; we also have two lots in a year, one in May and one now. Suits me fine!

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Something else having a second go are the figs. The local bird population is giving them a lot of attention (I can’t blame them really) but there is a big enough crop to go round. We are experimenting with a few different fig recipes but quite honestly I think they are at their best eaten sun-warmed straight from the tree. I am certainly enjoying them for breakfast with Greek yogurt, a sprinkling of our walnuts and a drizzle of village honey. The latter is pure indulgent decadence on my part: the figs are oozing with sweetness (and I don’t have a sweet tooth at the best of times) but there is something so good about that raw honey flavour. Mmm!

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I admitted several weeks ago that as far as the squash patch was concerned, I had lost complete control. A few days ago, one of the Crown Prince decided to harvest itself and break free; Roger found it halfway down the bank below and rescued it, along with a Guatemalan Blue which was causing a bit of a stir in the lane.

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Now this is a bit of a problem with our garden: heavy squash under the influence of gravity on a steep mountainside in danger of taking out several of Antonio’s sheep as they bowl down towards the village. In the name of maintaining good neighbourly relations, we decided the time for the Great Squash Harvest had come. Roger waded manfully into the jungle (definitely a wellies and knife job) and passed the squash over the fence while I hauled them away in the wheelbarrow.

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By my own admission, even I am asking just how much squash two people can eat . . . and this was supposed to be a scaled-down -I’m-only-planting-a-sensible-amount year. To date: 4 Guatemalan Blue, 9 Crown Prince, 9 golden butternuts (Harrier and Hunter) and 14 ‘Barbara’ butternuts, not to mention the few we’ve already eaten and the pile still to be harvested (yes, they are still growing). I spent a happy but energetic hour wiping them off and carrying them up to the horreo where they are now basking on the sunlit balcony like a bunch of bronzing beauties.

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So . . . next year, as well as keeping a grip on my creative projects, I think I better have a more sensible squash planting moment, too! 🙂

 

A sense of balance

I always think of the equinoxes as perfect points of balance, a few moments of equilibrium between dark and light before we tip into longer or shorter days. Looking around the garden, fields and woodland this week there is certainly a sense of balance in all things, as though we have one foot planted firmly in both seasons.

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The swallows and their friends are still piercing the evening skies with their arrowhead silhouettes but the garden resounds with the robins’ autumn song once more. We are still enjoying sitting out and eating on warm, sunny evenings but the mornings creep in a little cooler, a little mistier, a little later.

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The fields around us are still lush and green . . .

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. . . but the woodland whispers of a subtle shift in seasons.

There are plenty of sights that still sing of summer . . .

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Young carrots, Florence fennel and French beans: could this be June?

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Our third crop of dwarf beans this year.

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. . . and those that hint at the changes to come.

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In terms of what we are eating from the garden, a game of blindfold ‘guess the season’ would be interesting at the moment. A salad from the last outdoor tomatoes, a young cucumber, several types of sweet pepper, a yellow courgette, young Florence fennel, mint and chives was a crisp and colourful palette of summery flavours. A tray of roast vegetables – more courgettes and peppers, onion, garlic, aubergines – felt summery in a ratatouille sort of way until the starchier heavyweights of potato and butternut squash made their presence felt. Spiced red cabbage braised with pear and toasted walnuts and a dish of buttered leeks . . . ah, now that definitely suggests autumn is in the air. What a wonderful, delicious time of year it is!

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Season’s eatings.

It’s a busy time of harvesting. We have spent several hours picking and podding kilos of beans for the freezer. These will be one of our main staples in the months to come; they are such a versatile and nutritious food, whether cooked and cooled for salad bases, thrown into soups and stews or made into hummus-style dips. We love fabada, the regional pork, chorizo and bean stew, and it’s comforting to think that this winter’s version will be all the more authentic for having grown our own crop of creamy white Asturian fabas.

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Bean counter: French dwarf, borlotti and Asturian.

The first walnuts are falling and it’s a case of beating the wild boar to them, not easy when our main stand of trees is across the meadow and out of sight. They have certainly been partying like pigs if the rootlings and snoutings under the trees are anything to go by but we don’t begrudge them their nightly feasts, there is plenty for all!

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We have  a tremendous crop of pears this year, the branches are drooping under the sheer weight of fruit. Research tells us the best way to keep them is in a very cold fridge and as we just happen to have a spare one of those under the house (one of the more useful things we were left here) we have been filling it steadily over the last few days. Having tried and failed to grow decent pears in the past, these are such a treat and will be our main hard fruit over winter.

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Mind you, we are still enjoying a good crop of summer fruits and of course, the mighty kiwi harvest is waiting in the wings.

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Something else which has been waiting in the wings is our new stove, aka Beast III. It has been installed for several weeks now, sitting proudly beneath its new state of the art slate-clad chimney (a final little creative flourish from our builder!) but we still need to finish decorating around it and obviously it has been far too warm to even think about lighting it. Cue one blown element in our electric oven this week and suddenly the Beast has taken centre stage, warm weather or not. Oh my goodness, what a difference to the old stove and chimney set up we have been struggling with. Here’s a novelty: all the smoke goes up the chimney, all the heat comes out into the room, it is hot enough to cook on within minutes of lighting and maintains a steady heat. Gentle enough to simmer a rich slow-cooked sauce, hot enough to bake bread and crisp homemade pizzas, constant enough to keep the kettle singing merrily. I’m singing, too; I don’t want to rush towards cooler weather but we are going to be so snug this winter, it makes me smile just to think about it. 🙂

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Returning to the theme of balance. One of the things I love about travel and living abroad is the opportunity they offer for cultural exchange, opening eyes and minds to new possibilities and broadening horizons. It fascinates me how similar human beings from different parts of the world can be whilst at the same time, even the tiniest cultural differences can define us in interesting ways. Seeing and experiencing the ways in which different nations live and work helps to put everything into perspective, to maintain a balanced view of my native country and others I have spent time in. I have never understood the view that just because someone does something in a different and unfamiliar way, it’s wrong. No, it’s simply different . . . and maybe we should try it ourselves? On our long car journeys of recent months, Roger and I have often joked that if you could take the silky smooth surface and camber of a French road, add the super-visible road markings and signage of a British road and the courtesy and patience of Spanish drivers, you would have the perfect car journey!

So where is this going? Well, one of the things I have noticed since moving to Asturias is the distinct lack of litter compared to the other countries in which I have lived; yes, there is some in places but on the whole, people here work very hard to keep their beautiful principality clean. Rubbish bins and recycling points are plentiful in public places and are used and emptied regularly, even in more remote areas; popular beaches are litter-picked and raked daily; you simply don’t see people throwing litter down on the street or out of their cars and that’s what makes the difference. There is a deep pride and respect for the environment that I feel is sadly lacking in other places. Stopping for a picnic lunch near Bordeaux last week, I couldn’t help but take a photo of a bag of rubbish that had been dumped on the grass in a litter-strewn picnic site. The site had an empty, lined rubbish bin that no-one seemed capable of using. The irony of the message on the bag can’t be missed. What a strange species we are.

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Over the finish line

‘A comfort zone is the most dangerous area anyone can stay in. It is a place of no growth and no challenges.’ Brian Cagney

The older I get, the more I agree with the quotation above. Turning fifty last December gave me the opportunity to ponder the dangers of slipping into a comfortable middle-aged stagnation, just allowing life to pass me by in a predictable march of time. Life is such a precious gift and I am determined to live it as fully as I possibly can. So, during a sunny birthday walk along our local coast path, my plan was hatched: time to run a half marathon and raise money for a charity very close to my heart.

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Older but possibly not wiser . . . time for a challenge!

When choosing which half marathon to enter, Lake Vyrnwy was the obvious choice for several reasons. First, apart from the first mile and last short stretch, it is almost completely flat or downhill (sometimes I’m not quite as daft as I look!). Second, we lived locally for many years so it’s familiar territory and a much-loved spot; we have spent many happy hours walking, cycling, having picnics and even wild swimming in a deep pool at the top of a waterfall there. So many happy memories! Third, it would be a beautiful place for my support team to pass a few hours and if all else failed, I knew I would at the very least have a long walk in stunning scenery.

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Ironically, it all looked rather more stunning than I’d expected at this time of year. The water thundering over the dam wall is a tremendous sight but can only mean one thing. Water. Lots of it, pouring out of the sky and filling the lake to overflowing. Good job I’d had my Drowned Rat training run at home in Asturias because the land of soggy trainers was beckoning once again. Well, I’d wanted a challenge . . .

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Trying to keep dry and not look too nervous before the race . . . and failing miserably on both counts.

The race was pretty much everything I’d expected it to be: pre-race nerves jangling and a long queue for the portaloos – I don’t want to do this; a slightly claustrophobic feeling in the starting crowd – I really don’t want to do this; very soggy running shoes within minutes, thanks to the sheer amount of surface water on the road – yuk; hitting a bit of a ‘wall’ between nine and ten miles and feeling some serious self-doubt creeping in – count to eight over and over, sing ‘King and Lionheart’, picture Lewis’s sunny smile, tell yourself you can do this, come on, come on, come on; losing all sense of what my body was doing at 12 miles – just put one foot in front of the other . . .  and repeat, don’t think – just move; an enormous sense of relief as the finish line came into sight – I’ve done it! and an overwhelming sense of joy at the sight of family and friends (and a completely delicious chunk of chocolate brownie!) – I am very blessed to be so loved (and so well-fed!).

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And we’re off: just 13.1 miles to go.

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The finish line: made it!

Soaked to the skin, cold, aching from head to toe, tired and very footsore . . . not a comfort zone in sight. It felt fantastic. Truly fantastic.

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Piece of cake!

Back in a noticeably less soggy Spain and reflecting on this personal challenge from start to finish, what do I feel? The overwhelming initial feeling has been one of gratitude to all those wonderful people who have supported me with their unstinting encouragement during training and braving the awful weather to be there on the day. I am indebted to everyone who has sponsored me so generously with their donations: the amount raised for Rachel House Hospice currently stands at £752.50, 150% of my initial target and more than I ever imagined possible. Thank you!

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My coach!

I feel a deep sense of achievement but not in a boastful or big-headed way, more a feeling of fulfilment and contentment and self-belief. If I can run a half marathon, anyone can – please be inspired! If I can run a half marathon, what else can I do if I try? What has surprised me during the last week more than anything is an incredible feeling of balance and calm, as though the hard physical and mental challenges of the past months have picked me up, shaken me out and set me down on firmer ground. It’s hard to express adequately in words but I feel stronger and tougher yet more relaxed and pragmatic. This shift has already changed my outlook. I’ve always been a nervous flyer and was secretly dreading our return journey  – the first time I have flown for seven years – until I stopped and asked myself why I was nervous. If I can run a half marathon, surely I could cope with a 90-minute flight? Yes, of course I could . . . and I did. I’d even go so far as to say I enjoyed it and I’m looking forward to next time! Perhaps I’ve grown up at last? What a great gift!

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Running in memory of Lewis has changed me for the better!

So what next? I will certainly carry on running a couple of times a week as the benefits can’t be denied, but I don’t plan to run another half marathon, just enjoy it as recreational exercise. For now, I’m planning to catch up on things I’ve been neglecting during training – gardening, walking, yoga, Spanish study – to name but a few. However, part of me suspects when early December comes round once again, there will be another whiff of madness in the air and new challenges taking shape. Well, I don’t want to let myself get too comfortable now, do I? 🙂