The world is in crisis, well at least humans are. Mother Nature couldn’t give a fig. In fact, she’s breathing a sigh of relief that we are all being confined to quarters. Whilst I’ve worried myself sick about our grown up children, still in the UK, I am now working out my troubles with my garden, which is rewarding me with peace and positivity.
In the current Coronavirus crisis, many have turned to their gardens, both for solace and with an increasing sense of purpose. A few months ago, when I realised the impending seriousness of this nasty little microbe, I began to consider how my garden might help us through the period of quarantine and isolation. Our garden is full of medicine, for one thing. I don’t want to recommend the use of any particular plant or remedy, and beg you to do your own research, but I have worked with a good friend, Marianne Guerreiro who wrote a book about local remedies here, called “Herbal Hints from the Algarve Countryside” as a typist for her book about how local Algarvians and have gained a good knowledge of the possibilities, backed up by by own research. However, I am not a doctor or herbalist. For the last seven years, I have been creating a garden which, whilst a feast for the eyes and senses, also has herbal and culinary uses. It is full of Rosemaries and Thymes, Lemon balm and Verbena, Aloe Vera and Olive leaf, Calendula and Malva, all of these have their uses, either in a tea or as a tincture.
All the worry I have felt over the past two months, as we have tried to support our children through the overnight loss of their good jobs and how to survive, has given me an acid stomach. Rather than turn to a daily barrage of antacids, I have used aloe vera gel, taken from the fresh plant with only the clear inner gel used and eaten raw three times a day and mint and wild calendula flowers, whenever the griping starts. This has given me huge and almost instant relief and the problem is improving every day. If it continues, of course I will seek medical help, but right now the soothing tea with a local spoon of honey is helping enormously. Whilst I am suffering with acid indigestion, I have sacrificed by daily “bica” or strong coffee, but needing a morning pick me up, I find a Rosemary tea, with a sprig taken straight from the garden with a slither of fresh ginger wakes my brain up just as well as the caffeine. My garden is sustaining me. Whilst fresh leaves are best, I am aware that they won’t be this green or efficacious as the summer is fast approaching, so I pick fresh bunches in the morning and hang them upside down in our cool cellar to dry. A friend gave us some homemade medrohno and schnapps, far too strong to drink without burning our your throat, or your stomach lining come to that, so I have used that to make some tinctures, principally of Herb Robert, a plant much used in a “cha” or tea, to be used in small drops under the tongue, as needed.
Aside from the teas, I am working harder than usual to ensure we have food to supplement what we can buy from the markets or supermarkets. At the moment, we are following the Portuguese Government’s pleas, and indeed legal, edicts to stay in, unless it is absolutely necessary to go out. #fiqueemcasa The main food that would drive us out is fresh vegetables, and for this reason, I have been considering what I can grow with minimum water and in the shortest time.
Whilst I wait for deliveries from local seed companies, I have to confess that I have bought quite a lot of seeds from Lidls, mostly because they are 49 cents a packet and they germinate very well. The terraces that we made in the Spring are now coming into their own. I have struggled to grow roots well, as I have over fertilised my soil with nitrogen in previous years, but I have left our new terraces with no more than a sprinkling of rotted manure and the onions, turnips and beetroots are really taking off. I also grew some lovely radishes in a few weeks, but to my chagrin, realised they really aggravate my acid indigestion, even when cooked. So sadly, since Señor Faztudo doesn’t eat them either, they are boiled and feed to the chickens.
At the moment, I am more intent than ever on not wasting anything. Nettles are turned into fertiliser, as are Malva leaves. Once chopped, they are either mixed with water and left to soak for a few weeks to make a fertiliser to apply to the fruit trees (the “tea” is anaerobic and full of bacteria and shouldn’t be used on ordinary vegetable crops, especially those you won’t cook) or laid straight on the soil. (Nettles laid on the ground also deter slugs and snails)
To feed the chickens, I am soaking whole wheat grain until it starts to sprout a little and then mixing it with the compost in their area of the garden, so they can turn it over and find the sprouts at the same time, more nutritious than ordinary grains. I also feed them any appropriate weeds I can find such as dandelions, chickweed and Bermuda Buttercup, although the latter in moderation, as it is very acidic. All this will strengthen them against the long summer to come, as we will need their eggs. Any spare eggs, I am freezing, after beating them a little, two at a time, or if they are a bit dirty from the coop, during rainy times from their muddy feet, I feed them back to the hens or to the cats. In their coop, I sprinkle fresh rue and artemisia leaves to deter fleas and mites and it seems to work.
For bulk crops high in carbohydrate, whilst I haven’t got much space, I am trying to grow ordinary potatoes, and also to sprout and grow sweet potatoes and I want to grow as many squash and pumpkins as possibly, as they store well. But if the truth be told, there is little space for this. I just have to do what I can. Herbs for cooking such as parsley, coriander and mint will be frozen in ice cubes and then bagged in the freezer. Lemons and oranges remaining will be juiced and the juice frozen.
For quick vitamins, I am growing rocket, which grows very well here, lamb’s lettuce in tubs, mixed baby leaves of all sorts and cress, the kind I grew as a kid on tissue papers. I haven’t started on the bean sprouts yet, but I am thinking about it. I wish I had space to grow chick peas, I tried it once with a few but you need a lot of space to make it worthwhile, although green chick peas are delicious.
And as for flowers, they are beautiful and so many of them are edible, nasturtium flowers, calendula, yucca flowers, they can all be eaten in salads although Señor Faztudo passes on that…it’s a step too far for him and he peers suspiciously into the salad looking for earwigs. And speaking of earwigs, I ate my first globe artichoke this morning and I didn’t see one! But even if I did eat one inadvertently, I guess that is extra protein!
This blog post has not been to teach seasoned vegetable growers or herbalists or permaculturists how to suck eggs, it is more my contribution to new gardeners to help a little on the way to raising awareness as to what is possible, even in the drought ridden Algarve. I have a relatively small space, but in the past, I have produced quite a lot of food in a London terraced house garden. And it still looked beautiful. I hope you enjoy helping your garden to help you, it will ease your troubles and put lovely food in your table and don’t forget to grow a little extra for your neighbours if you can!