Monday, 9 December 2013

Living with History

Galician culture is very old, Galicia was first inhabited by humans during the Middle Palaeolithic period, and it takes its name from the Gallaeci, the Celtic peoples living north of the Douro river during the last millennium BC. Today I finally got round to cleaning up an old knife that was found in the muck on the floor of one of the stables. I managed to get it open and it was clearly well used and had been sharpened repeatedly over many years, and it got me thinking.
Our house is hundreds of years old, we don't know how old but a neighbour has told me it was owned by her extended family for many generations and was the original farmhouse for the big house in the local village.
When we moved in we were surrounded by the tools and equipment of previous generations.
Where we can we are keeping and using them. The wood fired cocina above still heats the kitchen and works well, the chimney running down under the floor and up the back wall. I love the saw horse below (if that is what it is) it is just a bit of well used tree of the right size and shape with various slots and holes cut into it. In the background you can see the two man saw and shaving horse. The hay fork is in the front, all of them have hand made handles and probably blacksmith made metal work. We have scythes, wooden ladders, hay rakes etc. etc. all made by hand.
I think the tool below is to do with potatoes, either earthing up or covering over. It is probably oxen drawn. We also have ploughs and harrows.
One of the star finds was the fabulous and huge wine barrel in a locked shed in a barn. We are still not sure what we will do with it but we might put a cheap litre or two of wine in it to keep it moist and stop it splitting.
We will never be Galician but we live with the previous generations whose spirits are still here. People here are still melded to the earth in a way that has so often been lost in the UK. I grew up in a succession of council houses, my history was all verbal but here history is all around, in the tools I use in the water I drink and the food I eat and the wood that heats me. I feel more alive and part of nature here, than I ever did in the UK. Long may it continue.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Winter Cold

We have had a very long run of bright clear sunny days and freezing nights. Heavy frosts have become the norm and we haven't had any rain for a few weeks now. Galicia looks very beautiful in the sunshine.

The pansies are continuing to bloom but the nasturtiums have yielded to the frosts.
I planted some chard in a container for winter vegetables but the freesia foliage started to grow amongst it, luckily the frosts have stopped them developing any further.
I am now eating brussel sprouts, cabbage, broccoli and parsnips from the garden. I am carefully preserving the last few leeks for Tims homecoming next weekend and our Christmas Lunch. In Spain there is a pest called a mole rat. They behave like moles except they eat vegetables and mine are very active and enjoy leeks amongst other things. They eat them from underneath and all you see is a stunted plant with yellowing leaves. When you pick it up you realise there is nothing left just the top leaves in a hole.It is looking like I will have to grow vulnerable root crops in containers or raised beds with netting over the bottom next year. Having looked at the weather forecast it looks like more blue skies and freezing nights.
I feel very fortunate compared to northern Europe which is still clearing up after the recent storm and flooding.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Autumnal Delights

Our jamon is a year old and I took it out of it's drying cupboard to inspect it. It looks beautiful and tastes lovely. Tim and I are very proud of it. It is slightly salty to my taste but the salt was needed for preservation and it is very edible without the use of any cooking or refrigeration so the whole process has been a success.
My beans are still drying, some for cooking and some for planting next year, most of the seed saving is over for this year and I am starting to plan my planting schedule for next year. Just more of almost everything. I want to try more pulses in the new year, lentils and chickpeas perhaps, I shall have to consult online to see what is suitable for the Galician climate. Flowers continue to bloom, these chrysanthemum cuttings were a gift and they are stunning.
  The veggie patch looks very different now, minus the climbing beans, achocha and exploding cucumbers, it all looks much flatter. I have been continuing to plant over wintering beans, brassicas and lettuces. My leeks looked great until the mole rats started eating them from underneath. There are a few left, hopefully enough for Christmas lunch. The parsnips are thriving and I am looking forward to my first ever taste of salsify, I have two thongs growing.
 The hens have produced 8 lusty chicks this year which are growing fast but proving fascinating to the dogs, the terrier in particular, so I am keeping them apart until the chicks get a bit bigger. The terrier feels the cold so he sometimes sneaks into beds when he is not supposed to. Family have been here for a fortnight and they were letting him get away with everything.
Caught on camera, he can't deny it.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Remaining Positive

I haven't blogged recently because my husband Tim has been here for the last three weeks both working and holidaying. We both find it difficult to be apart but time spent together at Petas refreshes us both spiritually and physically. He reminds me of how much progress I am actually making, fruit trees cropping, meals eaten on the patio and grown here are extra special. It has been said before but fruit and vegetables which have just been picked are really completely different from the mass produced offerings from supermarkets wrapped in plastic. The blackberry jam is superb and breakfast usually includes stewed fruit (in season) and watching the sun rise over the trees and the changing view as the light changes is magical.
The vegetable garden is becoming very Autumnal now, the squash has been uprooted, the superb field beans have been harvested, saved for seed and resown to stand over the winter. The butter beans are drying nicely and today I saved some more seeds which have been hanging from the porch roof drying for a while.
I have bare patches where summer crops were, which are waiting to be planted up with the seedlings I have raised, kale, chard, quick growing broccoli more kohl raabi and various other brassicas and some more lettuces. Winters are milder here, still some frosts but many veggies make it comfortably through to Spring, as indeed I hope I do.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

A Late Summers Day

The buddleja is in full bloom, along with the oregano, carrots and mint and with the warm sun on them, the air is full of scents and alive with the humming of bees. Five minutes in the garden with a camera and I saw too many butterflies to count, bees of all kinds and sizes and several humming bird hawk moths.
Most of the butterflies will not stay still for long enough for me to identify them but there are lots in all shapes and sizes. Since I have been here I have deliberately been planting bee friendly and wildlife plants to provide both nectar and food for the caterpillars.
This one did sit still for me to get a good picture, it is a swallowtail butterfly, incredibly rare in the UK but more common here. They are very large and eyecatching.
This is a painted lady butterfly, I also saw peacocks and many others of all shapes, sizes and colours that I couldn't identify.

There were also several humming bird hawk moths,once seen never forgotten. Humming loudly they look just like humming birds but their wings move so fast, and they dart so quickly they are very difficult to photograph.
This is a picture of one I found on the internet showing you some of the detail.
I think I might be the luckiest person on earth as I seem to have found the garden of eden.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Seed Saving

It is that time of the year where I save seed for next years crops. It is one of the most rewarding activities I do and the precious seed is more valuable than gold to me. The recent attempts by the multinational corporations such as Monsanto to make the selling of unregistered seeds illegal in Europe, highlights how precious the seed is. The more local strains and varieties we have, the more likely it is that they will be able to adapt to climate change and the diseases proliferated by a monoculture mentality of modern industrial agriculture.
The carrot flowers are very beautiful and attract beneficial insects into the garden.
I love rainbow chard and the flowers have turned into seed heads. I am waiting for the to dry so I can save them.
It has been my experience that fresh parsnip seeds germinate much better than old ones and you can't beat a roast parsnip.
A wide availability of seeds mean that I can choose species from anywhere in the world to see if they suit the Galician climate by trial and error. Here my Achocha is growing well. This year I am trying Exploding Cucumbers, Amaranth, Quinoa, Field Beans and Water Melon, to name a few. If they grow well and taste good I will try to save seed and grow them again next year.

My developing forest garden will also be stocked with a wide variety of perennial plants from all over the world to ensure I have a bio-diverse and robust ecosystem growing, able to resist the worst that the changing climate can throw at it. In any one year some plants will thrive and some will struggle, I am spreading my bets making me less dependent on any one crop.
This year is looking good for pears so far and the apples are not far behind.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

A Galician Craft Fair

On Sunday Cath and I went to Parga which was holding its annual tripe fiesta with associated crafty entertainments. The sculptors were given a block of stone and asked to carve something by the end of the day. There were demonstrations of weaving and spinning, viewable bee hives, live woodcarving and turning.

Lots of local food was in evidence including the beautiful blue veined cabrales cheese wrapped in vine leaves.
All of the permanent stone tables had been requisitioned for family picnics by the river.
And a huge number of the men had arrived on traditional transportation, their horses. There must have been over 50. As is usual here many still use horses as transportation at weekends. I assume that as well as being pleasurable, you can't get stopped for drink driving on a horse.
And finally, Catherine and I were particularly taken by this handsome mule, perfect for our small holding we thought, and very gentle. We resisted his charms and those of the tripe being freely offered to all.

Friday, 12 July 2013

The Heat Wave Continues

Life has settled into a summer routine. It really is too hot to work outside for more than an hour or two in the mornings. It takes forever to cool off in the evenings as well. Siestas are the order of the day, helping top up the missed night time sleep and the nights are still so short at this time of year.

I am tied to daily watering of the vegetables. Although some areas are mulched which helps water retention the soil is still so poor that it dries out in a few hours. two years ago it was cattle pasture over granite, last year much of it was still being dug or under black plastic, It will need a few years of mulching, composting and green manure before it can hold the moisture sufficiently for me to slacken the watering regime.

The roses continue to bloom, the poppies are beautiful and many flowers have self seeded in our wild life area. I have eaten my first tomato from the garden this year and we have plenty of peas and mixed herb salads. The harvests are behind this year as it was a cold slow start with many seedlings perishing in the cold spring and needing to be resown. The puppies have managed to dig up some of the seedlings and bury some of the melons I had planted out. We suffer from moles which delight in digging under my veg beds as this is where the earth worms are found (working on the newly introduced organic matter). The dogs love to excavate the mole holes but are over enthusiastic, wiping out any surrounding vegetation.

Finally there is a huge sense of expectation in goaty world. Tensing pictured is due to give birth around Monday with her daughter Pixie due to drop around 5 days later. Catherine and I are keeping a close watch over them as they will be our first (fingers crossed) kids. We are ready to boil water and rip up sheets at a moments notice as I believe that is the correct way to aid a safe delivery (it worked for the Waltons).

Friday, 5 July 2013

Heat wave

The temperature is currently in the middle 30's and expected to stay there for a few days. No rain is forecast for the rest of the month except for occasional thunderstorms. My outside tap and hose extension are a godsend as I try to keep the vegetable plants alive.

It is at times like these I appreciate the design of the traditional Galician stone houses. They have walls a metre thick, no windows on the south side at all, and the windows they do have are small with shutters.

 Even with the current heat wave they are cool and pleasant inside. I have just said goodbye to family visitors so I am trying to catch up on some of the gardening when the temperature allows.

This morning Catherine and I were up before 7am and working on the land until 10am planting out the latest plantlets and harvesting gooseberries. They are a little unripe but past experience has taught me that birds can strip fruit bushes in just a few hours. I have made four jars of gooseberry jam and look forward to my first new jam sandwich of the year. The taste of the residue on the pans promises that this will be a good one!.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Permaculture Goats

Tim and I try to follow permaculture principles. Permaculture or Permanent Agriculture/Culture has been defined in many different ways but  essentially it:

 "tackles how to grow food, build houses and create communities, and minimise environmental impact at the same time. Its principles are being constantly developed and refined by people throughout the world in very different climates and cultural circumstances."

Our goats are a good illustration of how you can get multiple outputs from one element in a well designed system.
Food costs are very low as apart from small amounts of bought in maize and barley they are fed from our land. They eat all of the rough grazing, brambles and ivy and some vegetable garden waste saving us the effort of scything. In the future I hope to grow food crops for all of our animals so the bought in grain input will no longer be required.

Catherine and I have just spent a few days making hay the traditional way, scything the grass, turning it by hand and gathering and storing the dry results. We should now have enough to last through any bad summer weather and the period immediately after the delivery of their kids. 

We use their manure to fertilize the vegetable garden and all being well we should get some milk from them to be made into yoghurt  cheese and ice cream as well as delicious meat from any male kids. Once we have enough goats we can always sell any excess female kids once they are old enough, to give us much needed cash. 

They also provide us with endless entertainment and some of my best memories involve walking the goats around the Galician lanes on sunny afternoons and sitting on warm grass filled with wild flowers, dreaming the afternoon away, whilst they eat their way through the nearest bush or tree. 

What's not to like?

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Lush Growth

At last I am making more progress on the land with mother nature doing most of the work. My runner beans are up and starting to climb, for once I appear to have parsnip seedlings, slugs are on the move but I am hoping that some plants will survive the onslaught. Lettuces and herbs have continued to crop throughout the winter and garlic is slowly making progress. Peas are shooting up but no sign of the asparagus crowns that I planted over winter.
The red currents are looking promising although they were transplanted this winter, the copious rain seems to have revitalised them. It seems to have suited the other currents and immature gooseberries are in abundance. The weather at the moment is hugely variable, hot and sunny one day, dull and cold the next but the use of my hosepipe extension is helping seeds germinate and transplants establish.
This year I am trying straw mulches around suitable plants to try to conserve water and improve the soil. Yesterday was very hot and whilst planting young basil plants between my tomatoes in an old builders sack, in our south facing courtyard,  it was amazing how much difference there was between the surface of the straw and the cool moist soil beneath.
The lemon tree continues to thrive, the largest lemon has been hanging on the tree for nearly a year now and will soon be ripe enough to pick, meanwhile the tree continues to flower profusely and is covered in more lemons in varying stages of development.
The comfrey is just coming into flower, much to the delight of the bumblebees. We seem to have a huge variety of bumblebees here, small ones, some with orange bottoms, some mostly yellow. The native honeybees are completely black.
The biomass and basket willow slips we planted this winter are sprouting well but they are going to need some competing vegetation cutting back regularly until they establish fully. They are in a very wet area of land with a cardboard mulch around it but competition for the light is intense.

Chard is one of my favourite vegetables and the few plants I grew in the tyre tower over winter have given me so many delicious meals and they are just beautiful. I love this time of year.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Mixed Blessings

Sunday I woke up to a light covering of snow all around. Today it is very sunny but with gale force north easterly winds, it would be so lovely if it wasn't so cold.
My daughter Catherine has come to stay with me for the summer to give me a hand and to assume responsibility for the livestock. If she enjoys it, her stay may become permanent. She has bought an incubator with her and 12 hatching eggs, Marans and Barnvelders. Both of these breeds are utility birds and should produce meat and eggs for us. We also bought a second puppy, Toby, to keep Sam happy which Catherine will take under her wing and train. So far he has been very well behaved although Sam is exhausted with ensuring he doesn't take anything belonging to Sam. Sam being a terrier is fully in charge, and is clearly senior dog. The cats to our surprise, seem to be fine with the new addition as well.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Warmer Weather At Last

Finally the weather has improved, mixed days of clouds and sunshine and a gusty wind today. The plants are trying to make up for lost time and the new peach tree is in full blossom.
Due to the very wet and cold winter I haven't been able to do very much to the vegetable beds and so they are very overgrown with weeds. I need to clear a lot of ground before I can get my seeds planted. My second batch of tomatoes also failed and so I will probably buy some plants in from the local market this year. The plastic on my small greenhouse rotted and many of the seedlings inside died from damping off. A poly tunnel is high on my list of wants but it will have to wait until I can save for the materials.
The squashes are also damping off. I also need a cold frame, they go from toasty in the propagator to cold in the house or colder outside with bouts of intense heat in the sun. I seem to end up with one of everything which is not very helpful with plants that need to cross pollinate.

The puppy has been a dream so far. Apart from a slight touch of kleptomania meaning he can't fit in his basket for shoes, string, scraps of bone, twigs and single socks he is wonderful. Great with the animals and good company. His best friend is my 7 month old kitten, Monty. They play tag in the grass for hours.
Monty has now been neutered and seemed to get over it very quickly. He is now mousing freely, his preferred method of dispatch is decapitation but he leaves the rest of the offerings around the house and garden.