Spring in the air

What a strange sense of déjà vu, writing yet another post on the back of a UK trip . . . and we certainly chose our week, the worst weather of winter there so far. I really struggled with the cold this time despite being wrapped up in thermals and woolly socks, and the heavy dollop of snow meant we had to seriously curtail some of our plans (although thankfully we did manage to visit everyone we had hoped to see, if only briefly). Driving home from northern France was like moving through one of those time lapse films as we steadily went forward several weeks in a few hours. The weather here in our absence wasn’t overly warm for Asturias but spring in all its glory has certainly arrived, even though it doesn’t officially start until 20th March (there’s a countdown clock on our local weather forecast!) We’re back to stunning sunsets, for a start.

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There are primroses everywhere: carpets and carpets of them tumbling down banks and clothing the grass verges with their pale beauty. They have spread themselves around our patch like crazy since last year and have popped up in some unexpected places. I love their sweet, optimistic faces and gentle scent and find myself wandering purposely past them to breathe in that evocative sense of spring. What a precious little moment of mindfulness!

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There was plenty of bird activity in the garden before we left but that seems to have changed up several gears in the last couple of weeks. The dawn chorus is ringing across the valley loud and clear and there is much frenetic activity around our patch. We have a great bird’s eye view of part of the kiwi from our kitchen window; as you can see from the photo, the vine is still literally dripping with fruit – we have been harvesting them since November.

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I have been distributing them in their hundreds around the neighbourhood again this week but we still we have far more than we know what to do with. The birds are certainly helping out with that one though, and the vine is heaving with blackbirds, great tits, robins and blackcaps (less raucous species choose to eat more privately behind the barn); what amuses me is the way that some of the blackbirds seem to expend far more energy belligerently defending their chosen kiwi than they gain from eating it!

Something they definitely refused to eat were the summer raspberries which were growing here when we arrived. I’ve given the fruit every chance but last autumn, I decided to lift and compost the canes. The fruit was totally tasteless (the blackbirds were in agreement on that one) and, much as I like raspberries, eating them seemed a fairly pointless activity. This week, I’ve replaced them with a couple of ‘Autumn Bliss.’ Mmm, now we’re talking! I actually far prefer the deep colour and heady flavour of autumn raspberries anyway so I’m very happy to have them back; also, they don’t need all the faffing about with training up things that summer varieties require and they should provide us with a fresh fruit straight from the garden that fills the gap between the last picking of pears and the first kiwis. The plants are small but I suspect they won’t stay that way for long given our fabulous growing climate. Perfect . . . just don’t tell the blackbirds.

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Something else we’ve planted this week are a few Jerusalem artichoke tubers. We’ve grown these for years and have always rated them as a great winter vegetable, happy to sit in the coldest, wettest, most frozen ground and provide a delicious, starchy, versatile food that is always reliable. I love that caramelised thing they do in a roasting tin! In our Shropshire and mid-Wales gardens, they were serial spreaders; in France they reached for the sky and flowered in a glorious burst of sunflower heads. I am ever so slightly nervous about unleashing them in an Asturian garden, but we have given them their own terrace so hopefully they won’t go too mad and we shouldn’t need the machete until next year.

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Sticking with tubers, I planted the first batch of potatoes before we left – ‘Pentland Javelin’, ‘Divaa’ and the local spud (variety unknown) – and this week Roger has added a few rows of ‘Maris Peer’. All early varieties, there’s no point in growing maincrop because of the blight problem here. Ditto tomatoes, which have their absolute last chance to perform this year. The plan is to plant them in containers of sterile soil as we did last year and keep them under cover in the polytunnel, protected from that warm blight-bearing mist. I’ve planted eight different varieties in the propagator and it will literally be do or die for them in the summer. To be honest, if we can’t grow our own tomatoes it really isn’t a big thing; we live in a country that grows spectacular sun-drenched tomatoes in every shape, size and colour imaginable and they are as cheap as chips to buy. Far more important and exciting that we can stroll out and pick our own peppers, cucumbers, melons and aubergines – on which note, the latter have gone ever so slightly berserk while we were away. All three varieties have germinated and we have around 30 healthy little plants (which is waaaay too many, really). They look so happy, I don’t have the heart to tell them that the awful out-of-the-propagator-and-toughen-up moment is looming . . .

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No need for pampering the roughty-toughty peas, the batch I planted before our trip is already pushing fresh green shoots through the ground. So is something else and I am soooooo excited about this. Having nurtured these plants from seed and carted them around several gardens, at long last I think we might just get our very first asparagus harvest this year. Now that will definitely be something to celebrate. 🙂

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Of course, with gardening (and life in general), there is usually a fly in the ointment: for us this week, it came in the shape of Storm Felix which announced its energetic arrival by tracking up the coast at 140km/h. Amazingly, there was no damage at all here but 6am on Sunday morning found us having to lash the polytunnel down by torchlight in a bid to stop it taking off down the valley.

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Oh, how we wish we had left the wretched thing in the shop and stuck to the tried and trusted designs we’ve had in the past; at the time, it seemed like the perfect tunnel to squeeze into the tight space we had and let’s face it, the location in theory couldn’t be more sheltered. Ha ha! Once again, thank heavens for the resident engineer who has redesigned and modified various aspects as well as hauling several tonnes of soil from the field with which to well and truly bury the not-generous-enough polythene sides. Fingers crossed, it will stay put for now . . . we are planning a major rethink in the autumn. At least everything inside is looking rosy – including the ‘Red Rosie’ romaine lettuce.

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So back to happier things . . . and what a truly heart-warming sight greeted our eyes on our return. True to his word, Jairo had left us a big pile of manure, the mucho cucho we had discussed last year. Once again, I feel so very blessed to have such kind neighbours here. I love a pile of muck and was quite happy to get stuck in with Roger, moving it to a couple of locations in the garden where it can sit and rot down over summer. I love the fact that this has come from cows eating the grass grown on our fields and the immediate surroundings; it’s not ‘waste’, but a wonderful raw, organic material, perfect for feeding the soil and the essential life it contains. In turn, it will encourage strong and vigorous growth in the vegetables we plant, which will then provide us with fresh and healthy nourishment for our bodies. What an amazing reminder of the connection and interdependence of everything; what a true affirmation of the wonder of life itself. Yes, I really do love a pile of muck.

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I also love a pile of purple sprouting broccoli and our handful of plants has developed into a mini forest of gorgeousness over the last fortnight. No such thing as too much, I could eat this stuff until the cows come home.

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The tulip bulbs I was given for my birthday in December hold much promise of spring colour; they have grown steadily over the past months but what a surprise to find the first flower already! It’s a beautiful bloom but in its enthusiasm to flower, it seems to have forgotten about growing a tall stem first!

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On the subject of gorgeous things, the first delicate blooms have opened on the peach trees. They have such a simple beauty and somehow seem too fragile to cope with even the slightest breeze, yet alone the attentions of the bumble bees which adore them. I’m no longer deceived, though – these are tough little beauties which promise such sweet, delicious, golden treats in the summer. Treasure indeed. 🙂

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7 thoughts on “Spring in the air

  1. So many treasures here! You might have saved the best til last with that gorgeous blossom, but I loved your perfect primrose and purple-sprouting. Agree with you re: raspberries. Our autumn-fruiting ones have such a depth of flavour, kind of floral as well as fruity. Oh, and the sky! Wonderful!

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    • Mmm, I am definitely not a winter person so it’s lovely to be back in some mild weather and a landscape that is blossoming despite the storms (another due in tomorrow!).For me, one of the best things about living here is that we have so many familiar plants – there are daisies, celandines and speedwell amongst the primroses – and then the more exotic beauties, too. Possibly not paradise, but not far off . . . and I spend far too much of my time wandering about with my nose in nature! 🙂

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  2. Glad the tunnel stayed put! Congratulations on the first of the well-travelled asparagus, it looks amazing. Don’t give up on maincrop potatoes. We grow some, even though they always get blight. But we plant them early (at the same time as the earlies) and cut down the haulms around 1 August. Even if there’s some spots of blight, once you remove the haulms and leave the tubers for a few weeks, they’re fine. I recommend this variety: http://sarpo.co.uk/portfolio/sarpo-axona/ Also the Blue Danube from the same organisation. That kiwi of yours is something else. I wonder if kiwi would make a nice fruit leather? Our two-day spring has just come to an end. Another beastie from the East is coming, bringing gales and possibly frost. Bah.

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    • Well, we have carried out Operation Tunnel Rescue again today, it is so buried in soil that I really would defy it to go anywhere now . . . but with the next storm due to blow in tomorrow, we shall see. Quite honestly, if it decides to lift off once again, I think we will be calling it a day and managing without! Good luck with the next beastie, we might have wind but at least we don’t have the cold to contend with here.

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  3. Good that you made the return trip safely! It doesn’t look very springlike down there – much more like summer (according to the standards here).
    We’ve had today (and tomorrow) an amber warning of traffic weather – blizzards, sleet, high wind, ice; all the works, in fact. Went anyway to the city as needed a few things from there. In our opinion it was otherwise a normal winter weather with all the abovementioned (nobody would have bothered to warn you against it, say, a dozen years ago) but admittedly, at places it was difficult to define where the road actually was running – no sunshine, no shadows, just whiteness everywhere.

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