Gardening in Portugal – Sow what?

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Some Pak Choi seeds germinated in the bathroom in paper towel and then planted into recycled pots

It’s been seed sowing time! I know it’s not Spring here yet, but many vegetables will grow better in the Winter than the Summer and I intend to make the most of it. I also want to try and grow perennials from seed, because as a retired person, I can’t afford to buy too many plants. However, I’m  not a very meticulous gardener and have had to have a think about raising plants from seeds and the best methods. One of the things that really bores me about gardening is perfect preparation. I cannot be bothered to hone my soil to a fine tilth, get the teeny tiny seeds and sprinkle them carefully into the soil at properly designated intervals, then wait with bated breath to see if the cats scrape them all up or the rain comes down in huge drops and flattens them all…that’s if they ever come up at all! I also find it very hard to distinguish a bona fide seedling from a weed seedling in the early stages.

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A turnip seed germinated and then put into the soil…at least I know it’s a turnip!

I had known  germination can be quite difficult with perennial seed, which often need a period of cold before they will pop their little heads up, so I turned my attention to doing a bit of research on germination methods. And thanks to the wonders of Google, that’s when I found Dr Deno! Norman Deno was a Professor Emeritus of Chemistry at Penn State university and devoted his career to the study of seed germination and practice. He experimented on a huge range of seeds to find out their ideal germinating conditions. He published his findings for the gardening public and they are now available online as pdf documents. I am not going to explain it all in detail, because it’s done wonderfully in this blog.

http://hayefield.com/2013/02/15/the-science-of-seed-germination/

So for the last few weeks, I have been putting seeds between paper towels and using the underfloor heating in the bathroom to germinate them, much to the consternation of Senor Faz-Tudo  who doesn’t really like to share his bathroom with the smell of germinating onions. And Hey Presto It works!  It’s a little bit like Christmas everyday when you unwrap the little packet and find another batch has germinated. The vegetables seeds germinate very easily  in a day or two, ready to put into the mini-greenhouses I have created from plastic bottles, but I have even managed to germinate some old clematis seed and some alstromeira and three pots of aquilegia! This has got me quite excited so I have been looking on the Internet for where to buy perennial seeds. Chiltern Seeds and Jelitto look very good so far and have great websites with germination instructions. My back garden is already beginning to look like Eddie Grundy’s farm with plastic bottles everywhere, but I comfort myself with the beauty that will come forth from them in the Spring.

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Eddy Grundy’s farm!

I am only just getting to understand how my Portuguese neighbours do things. We are in a small village which hasn’t changed much, probably since the Romans, that is until a recent influx of “estrangeiros” from all parts of the world. Gardening and growing things is a common language though and I love to watch my neighbours working their land. At this time of year, farmers plant their favas (broad beans, generally dried and used in stews) and ervilhas (peas,again mostly  dried) The skies are scanned anxiously for rain and after the first downpour in Autumn, the fields are furrowed and the beans planted, along with a handful of “bono” or artificial fertiliser. I will talk more about the lack of organic principles hereabouts later, but here is a picture of the beans coming up in the field next to my house.

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My neighbour’s Fava beans

Unfortunately, lots of things can bring about the demise of these crops. We do have frost here in the Algarve, especially in the valleys and a very dry winter can also be disastrous. There is much talk and shaking of heads if the weather is inclement as to many of the subsistence farmers here, the failure of a food crop is quite a big deal.

I am sure farmers always used to grow their own crops from seed and still do, but several small scale growers are now selling seedlings or plugs in our local markets. These are expedient if you have forgotten to sow your own and quite cheap but very conservative in their variety. Which brings me onto “The Real Seed Company”. For several years I have bought seed from this lovely little UK company, who have made it their business to propagate and support heirloom vegetables.  (There is another company by the same name in Australia who sell cannabis seeds, but I don’t mean that one!) I grew many of them on my allotment in Dulwich, among them a rare Kale from Sutherland discovered in someone’s garden and grown by her grandmother and some wonderful giant peas grown from a few found in a glass jar in a cellar. This company spends years getting these seeds found across the land to the point where they can be sold in small amounts to the general gardening public. And now a European Directive is going to put a stop to that imminently. I do worry about the tendency for large companies to lay claim to their rights to seed; copyrighting and making them infertile and the like. If you are interested in what the RealSeed Company has to say about it or to buy some seeds at very reasonable prices look here:

http://www.realseeds.co.uk/seedlaw2.html

(Update: Unfortunately they have stopped delivering to Portugal)

And speaking of seeds, buying a growing medium to plant them in is very difficult here in the Algarve. We all know peat based compost is bad for the environment, but even if you wanted it, it’s is very hard to find here. I have found a source, but am quite uncomfortable with using it and am going to have to learn how to make my own. All advice gratefully received.

In the meantime, I will go on unwrapping my little presents every day, picking up my lovely little germinating seedpods and planting them whilst dreaming about lovely veggies and a glorious flowery Spring and Summer. That is unless the chickens don’t get them first. But that’s another story!

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Nando-chief seedling stalker

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Please talk to me. I am struggling here!

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