The whisper of spring

‘Never lose a holy curiousity. Stop every day to understand and appreciate the mystery that surrounds you, and your life will be filled with awe and discovery to the very end.’ Albert Einstein

There is a definite whisper of spring in the air this week. Head down digging and lost in thought, I am aware of the sounds around me: the bleating of lambs gambolling around the neighbouring field; robin, chaffinch, wren, great tit, wagtail and chiffchaff singing their hearts out; bumble bees and honey bees working the banks of spring flowers beside me. The air has a luxurious warmth and softness about it and carries the smell of pollen and cut grass. Forgetting where I am for a moment, I find myself scanning the sky for the sight of the first swallow. Ridiculous thought! It’s only the beginning of February, after all – but seems more like mid-April to us. When will the swallows arrive, I ask myself? We have so many new things to learn here. 

In terms of what we have already learned, this video clip to me sums up so much that is inspirational about Asturias. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-38731808

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No swallows yet but a couple of days ago the sky was full of vultures, about twenty of them floating on the thermals and spiralling down the valley in majestic silence. They were accompanied by a motley crew of kites and corvids which seemed diminutive and raucous in comparison. What an incredible sight.

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We have been picking and eating fresh fruit since last May with barely a break: raspberries, plums, peaches, apricots, pears and kiwis. It was interesting to see the extensive new planting of kiwi vines on the flat fertile valley bottoms on our journey home from Somiedo last week; they certainly grow like stink and are obviously a profitable crop. Roger gave our vine a good pruning this week, it is such a thug and was threatening to take over the barn completely.

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Most of the fruits are now in storage in the horreo but there are still a few stragglers to be picked; we are eating several each every day and they are truly delicious.

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One of our long-term plans here is to develop an orchard area and extend the variety of fruit trees we have. We made a good start this week, planting a bare-rooted ‘Naranja de Cox’ (Cox’s Orange Pippin) which hopefully should go well given that this is apple country.

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We also planted a pot-grown ‘Eureka’ lemon tree: it’s three years old so getting close to bearing fruit.

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It is a thick-skinned, pink-fleshed, highly fragrant variety and I’m very excited about it; I’ve spent much of the week rubbing and sniffing the glossy leaves which have a fantastic lemon scent and the first blossom will be a cause for celebration.

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The 90-day yoga programme I’m following included a quotation this week to the effect that people who ‘know it all’ will never understand why they don’t. I like that. It’s so easy to be such experts and lose the ability to learn new things or keep a mind that is open and receptive to new ideas. One of the things I loved most about teaching was that I spent my working day looking at life through the eyes of children; with their endless sense of curiosity and wonder about the world, they bring a fresh perspective to ‘known’ things. This approach underpins so many facets of our life here: we can’t possibly be experts in a region, climate and language that are all new to us. As gardeners, one of our biggest and most fascinating challenges is knowing when to plant in an environment of unfamiliar weather patterns and growing seasons. This year is certainly all about learning! Our neighbour Vita tells us this is definitely the time for potatoes and onions to go in, and we have plans for parsnips in the ground and onions and leeks in trays. I’ve sown a tray of lettuce seeds – four different varieties – as I have seen small plants being transplanted already in local gardens; in the warm weather they will surely go well now.

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Certainly, the late autumn plantings of peas and broad beans are well ahead of where I would expect them to be; with their flowers set to open this week, when will we be eating the first broad beans, I wonder?

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The broccoli has started to come thick and fast, both green and purple varieties.

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The leeks are still growing and some have gone beyond monstrous but amazingly they are still tender with no signs of hardening or going to seed. What a great vegetable they are.

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It’s always exciting to dig out the propagator and start the tender plants off. This week I have planted three varieties of aubergine. ‘Haflange Violette’ and ‘Bonica’ we have grown before but the dark green Spanish variety ‘Berenjena de Almagro’ is a new one for us and I’m interested to see how it does, especially as it is apparently well-suited to growing in the mountainous areas of Spain. The purple varieties are old seed so I’m not sure how successful germination will be, although I think they are viable for up to four years. Knowing my luck, it will be all or nothing – watch this space.

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There are plenty of veg to follow in the propagator queue: peppers, chillies, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, melons, courgettes . . . but for the time being, I’ve sneaked in a tray of geranium seeds. Well, why waste all that space and warmth? Of course, we need more geraniums, commented Roger, doing a quick head count of the many plants outside. Yes, we really, really do: I’m aiming for an unashamedly brazen splash of colour here this summer. I’ve also planted trays of French marigolds and dahlias on the kitchen windowsill so the flower garden is well and truly under way.

On which subject, I’ve spent several days this week clearing a ‘border’ down the side of the lane.

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Like the other side which I did earlier, given the number of roses, marguerites and fuschia plants I’ve unearthed (and pruned) I feel this must have been a beautiful border at some point and I’m determined to restore it to its former glory. It is very slow-going. For every metre I clear, I am hauling out a trug of weeds and several buckets of stone and building rubble: I’m not sure whether this qualifies as gardening or mining.

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Still, my annual seed collection is looking healthy and I think they will be forming the bulk of this year’s colour. (Yes, my love – we really, really need borage, too! 🙂 )DSCF7693

Aware of how fast and furious plant growth is here, we decided it would be a good idea to start painting the outside of the house while the climbing roses are pretty bare. The white paint will have to wait until the new roof has been done but the brick red will at least start to smarten the place up a bit.

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With the days stretching out quickly we have been staying outside later in the evenings and I don’t seem to have spent much time on woolly projects. I have finished knitting the first hiking sock in the green-which-should-also-be-blue-and-yellow wool, though.

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It seems to have taken quite some time but then look at the size of it compared to my size 6½ Jacobs wool sock: talk about Big Foot!

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My next planned sock project will be far smaller, daintier and complicated in comparison; the ‘Happy Blues’ Romney/silk blend is spun, plied and ready to go.

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I’m slightly nervous about the pattern I’ve chosen as it’s a completely new way of working for me but that comes back to the willingness to try new things. It’s interesting and fun and keeps my brain ticking over – and what’s the worst that can happen? It’s just a pair of socks, after all. 🙂

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2 thoughts on “The whisper of spring

  1. Kiwis, lemon trees and broad bean flowers on 1 Feb – it all seems very exotic! I was excited to see the first asparagus pushing up today, with a much bigger diameter than last year. Definitely no flowers on the broad beans here yet. But I’m also planning to get the propagator out this week, for my polytunnel trials of early pak choi, beetroot and lettuce, plus spring cabbage, spignel and leeks. Still busy pruning berry bushes and sticking lots of the cut-offs into the ground. We might have a lot of currants soon…

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  2. Ah, do I sense vats of currant ice cream to come in the summer? 🙂 Your polytunnel trials should be interesting, we were always amazed at how early we could enjoy certain crops from ours – they certainly extend the season like nothing else. We’ve started clearing a patch to put up a small one in the autumn, life just doesn’t seem right without one even if the climate here is so kind!

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