Fair weather February

Strictly speaking, we are in the middle of winter and yet, here in this pretty corner of Asturias, it feels like anything but. Somehow it seems that November and January changed places this time round; even the oldest locals say they can never remember a November so wet, with weeks of grey gloom punctuated by violent storms, a complete contrast to the sort of extended ‘summer melting into autumn’ we have experienced in previous years. It might be a bit topsy-turvy but we have been making up for the lack of sunshine and warmth in recent weeks and I am not complaining. The mornings are gorgeous and I find myself drawn outside, pyjama-clad and clutching my first mug of tea, to watch the sunrise; tiny bats whirr through the garden on their last rounds as the nocturnal beeping midwife toads hand over to a raucous chorus of birds. The air smells of sweet grass and spring flowers. It is completely beautiful.

Backtracking a little and the second week of January saw us with fingers tightly crossed for a spell of good weather for Sam and Adrienne’s visit from Norway, both to give us all the chance to get out and do some walking and to allow them to top up their light and vitamin D levels. We weren’t disappointed! It was a pleasure to pack up a picnic and head off on several walking adventures. I loved the Ruta de las Xanas where we climbed a steep and stunning – if vertiginous! – gorge, emerging at the top into sweeping, sunlit meadows. The dog behind us in the photo is a mastΓ­n, traditionally raised with sheep from puppyhood and living with them in the fields to guard against wolves. This one had tried to persuade us to part with our picnic and, having failed, decided to sleep off her imaginary lunch in the shade rather than go back to watching over her flock.

A little further on, we passed through Pedrovaya, such a typically peaceful Asturian village with its narrow streets, ancient horreos and assorted cats.

The circular walk took us back to our starting point through beautiful rolling countryside; with the warmth of the sun on our faces and the verges studded with primroses and violets, it was hard to believe this was January – the only thing missing were swallows!

The lovely weather has continued into February and we find ourselves living an almost complete outdoor life once again. The garden has recovered from the bashing it took in the November storms and it is good to see some colour back again – how I have missed those flowers! The Japanese quince, stripped totally bare of every leaf and flower bud, are now blooming in their full glory; we have two pink ones and a deep red, stunning against the blue sky and literally buzzing with bumble bees.

There is a wonderful sense of everything waking up and stretching in a joyful salute to the sun. The banks and verges are spangled with daisies and celandines, violets, primroses and starry wild strawberry flowers; narcissi are unfurling their fat buds, some revealing dainty white flowers with a heavenly scent, others far less subtle in a froth of yellow frills. There is every chance we will have a dose of winter yet but for now, spring is very definitely in the air.

It’s always a job at this time of year to sit on my hands and not rush into planting everything in the garden but at least there have been plenty of things to keep me out of mischief. Roger has been back on logging duty and – brave man that he is – pruning the kiwi. Oh my goodness, what a job that is! In keeping with our policy of returning everything organic to the land, we are chopping the prunings and piling them up for compost but there seems to be no end to them and there are still several more days’ worth of chopping to come. Away from Kiwi World, it has been a joy to have my hands in the earth once again.

I have been planting out ‘Barletta’ onions, the big silverskinned variety so popular here, and also a row of ‘Kelvedon Wonder’ first early peas to follow on from the ‘Douce Provence’ peas sown last autumn; the latter are doing that strange thing of flowering before they’ve put on much height but if past years are anything to go by, they will shoot up suddenly and produce a heavy crop – the bees are certainly doing their bit to help on that score.

We’ve dusted off the propagator and planted aubergines, sweet peppers and chillies, and started off trays of tomatoes, lettuce and summer cabbage in the polytunnel. I’ve also sown a pot of New Zealand spinach, it failed to germinate in the ground last year so I’m trying Plan B now; I’ve been told by those in the know that once it’s established, we’ll have it forever so I’m hoping for good things. The salad and oriental leaves in the tunnel have reached jungle proportions and we’ve had the first picking of baby spring onions from there this week, too. Who says winter salads are boring?

On the same subject, the clever idea I had of sowing a patch of outdoor salad leaves in the autumn all went to pot when my poor seedlings were completely vaporised in the mother of all hailstorms (this is where a polytunnel has a distinct advantage . . . as long as it doesn’t get blown off down the valley, of course. πŸ™‚ ). What a happy, happy moment, then, to discover this week that some of the brave little troopers have fought back: to date, half a dozen winter lettuce (‘Arctic King’, I think) and a modest patch of mustards and mizunas. What little stars they are.

Happiness has also come in the shape of oodles and oodles of purple sprouting broccoli. Forgive me if I repeat myself every year but I adore the stuff and will be in PSB heaven for the next few weeks, eating it daily in as many ways as is humanly possible. I think this is the best crop we have ever had and personally I’m putting it down to the snug blanket of green manure planted underneath it.

Well okay, maybe it has nothing at all to do with green manure but I rate the whole ‘no bare earth’ thing so much that I am planning another season of the same. Not that it will require too much thought as nature seems to be doing a pretty good job without any help and a drift of soft blue phacelia flowers to drive the bees to distraction is imminent. The feathery leaves of volunteers are popping up all over, even squeezing themselves into tight spaces like the patch of beetroot below. Other people may see it as mess, I only see beauty.

I am currently reading Patrick Whitefield’s Earth Care Manual and I am completely engrossed in his take on permaculture in a temperate climate. Here is a book I shall be dipping into for the rest of my life and I am already feeling inspired to try many new things in the coming months and years as well as revisit or simply revel in old ones. For instance, this week I was inspired by my reading to wear my glasses in the garden. That might sound slightly ridiculous but I honestly resent my specs; I know I’m lucky to have them and they are essential for reading and fine work but otherwise I hate every moment they spend perched on my nose so I never wear them unless I have to. However, what a fascinating time I had looking at things close up and properly: the tiny particles and minute life forms in our soil, the golden ratio spiral in a snail’s shell, the intricate network of veins in petal and leaf, the woody wrinkles of a peach stone, the tiny hairs on stems and roots, the infinite shades of colour and nuance of pattern all around me. All this wonder already and I still have 300 pages to go . . .

For us, good weather and lighter evenings can only mean one thing: time to dust off the barbecue. Cooking outside is one of our favourite things to do and it frustrates me that barbecues are so often seen as a summer-only activity, when they can be immensely enjoyable all the year round. In fact, some of the best barbecues we have ever enjoyed have been in the middle of winter. Well, why not? Apart from anything else, it’s a great way of cooking our food on ‘free’ heat as we always use wood from prunings, coupled with walnut shells and a few bits of eucalyptus for sweet-scented smoke. Also, with the provenance of charcoal being an important environmental issue, we can be sure that we are not contributing to the destruction of precious tropical forests whilst cooking our dinner.

Cooking over wood is slightly trickier than charcoal as it doesn’t hold its heat for as long but it doesn’t take much to get used to and certainly doesn’t limit the culinary possibilities. For our first barbecue of the year we opted for local pork which we marinated in olive oil, wine, garlic and herbs before cooking as kebabs and serving with homemade bread and a selection of salads. As ‘flexitarians’ we often have a veggie barbie, too, especially in summer when a rack of aubergines, peppers, tomatoes and courgettes really hits the spot and with plenty of homemade hummus, breads, salads and dips we don’t ever miss the meat. One of our favourite tricks – learnt from a Cypriot friend – is to barbecue foil parcels of feta cheese, sliced tomato (homegrown and sun-drenched, preferably), fresh oregano and a drizzle of olive oil, fabulous as a starter to nibble at while everything else cooks. Go on, try it. It’s amazing. Just be careful not to burn your mouth! πŸ™‚

11 thoughts on “Fair weather February

  1. The weather has been strange , we had 27C last Tuesday then 13 the next day !
    I love your barbecue recipes. It is cook outside time here, most Sundays the paella cooking smell fills the air! We are restricted in the summer because of wild fires! The almond blossom is our spring fanfare. It is beautiful but I must admit to a tiny bit of envy at your daffodils. I tried them in pots our first year here but they just don’t seem to thrive.

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    1. It never fails to fascinate me how different things are at opposite ends of this incredible country! That temperature jump is frustrating – especially for gardeners – but how amazing to have 27C already, we don’t get much above that in summer. Poor daffies, they really don’t enjoy the heat, do they? Have you tried freesias? We grew them in pots in Cyprus very successfully, they like it here, too, but get very confused with the seasons and will be flowering soon – they must think they are in South Africa! I’m slightly concerned that wildfires are on the increase here but as yet, no restrictions on lighting a barbie. None on planting spuds this year, either – hooray! Have a lovely weeeknd. πŸ™‚

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      1. I’m not sure being the technophobe that I am! The comment icon has gone from your post on the reader and there’s no comment box at the bottom of your post. 😦 Beautiful photos, I love those views. You’ve seen more snow than us, the high peaks are white here but there’s no depth of snow, not a good skiing season at all. Good to see the huerto is producing, are you allowed to water freely at this time of year or are there restrictions all year round? Enjoy those oranges and the lovely weather.

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      2. The climate is definitely all askew , we have had 20+ couple of day6this week again. Locals say this is not normal. One of my students was skiing in the Sierra Nevada at the weekend and said the snow machines were needed, very little real stuff. The huerto is watered automatically with a riego, usually twice a day but after the rain and because there is a heavy dew every morning at the moment, we think the administrator is saving water and money! I was working full time when we bought our wee house here and much as I loved our big Scottish garden, on top of my job and elderly relatives it became a chore. Now I have more time I wish we had a bigger garden here with a veggie plot at the door! The huerto is wonderful and a great way to learn about gardening and improve my Spanish but if I fancy fresh kale and have none in the fridge, it’s a 4 mile round trip! The seed potatoes are going in tubs on our roof terrace ! Did you plant yours last week? Did you chit them out first? They don’t seem to do that here ! 😊

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      3. Good luck with the potatoes, at least you won’t have to travel four miles to harvest them! We are chitting ours before planting, it is local practice here, they also cut them into two or three pieces to get more for their money which is interesting because it’s always been such a British gardening no-no which I suspect may have had more to do with marketing over the years than true risk of disease! A friend in Scotland has sent me some Blue Danube to try, they are supposed to be the best roasters ever so as I live with the roast potato king, I’m interested to try that theory out! We had a little spree round the farmers’ co-op yesterday and bought strawberry plants, redcurrant and some fruit trees to extend the orchard so we’ll be having a planting session today. Have a lovely weekend. πŸ™‚

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  2. how wonderful to read your post, spring is returning to you, and how resilient are some plants, nature is wonderful. What did you use as your green undergrowth please?
    I hope your summer is far better than ours here. Mind you in Tasmania south where I live we were spared bush fires this year. Our weather has been all over the place. My tomatoes are slow in ripening and my zucchinis are only producing now. My pumpkins I doubt will do anything, or my cucumbers. I have a feeling it is my soil that is at fault in those areas.

    What a wonderful walk and village. I love the dogs that look after flocks. She must have felt safe to sleep I guess she is on duty all night.

    It is so hard when you feel spring coming and the sap rising in your own body..lol I too have to stop myself from getting carried away.
    blessings for all your garden and seedlings. Love the sound of your BBQ

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    1. Thank you for such a lovely comment! It always fascinates me to think of the seasons on opposite sides of the world – so different in many ways but with all the same joys and frustrations for us gardeners! Thank goodness you have been spared the bush fires, we have them occasionally here but nothing on the scale of Australia. Fingers crossed for some late-ripening crops in your garden, pumpkins and squash are greedy and love a rich soil, I pile a heap of manure and compost into their planting holes here. I have a mix of green manure growing with the veggies: white clover, crimson clover, yellow trefoil and phacelia are all in the beetroot photo, then I will plant buckwheat to chop and drop through the summer and a winter cover mix of Hungarian grazing rye and vetch. I can’t praise it highly enough and would definitely recommend having a go if there is something that would suit your patch in Tasmania. πŸ™‚

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  3. wow what a variety of cover crops. Thanks for the information and suggestion on planting for later in the year to produce a more sucessful crop of pumpkins and squash. I will be researching cover crops now.

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