Gardening in Portugal – Don’t pooh pooh poo!

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In this post I am going to write quite a lot about poo. Chicken poo, horse poo, sheep and goat  poo and even bat poo, not to mention a little bit about pee. If you are of a nervous disposition, don’t read on.

I have found that the Portugese farmers hereabouts have largely stopped putting organic manure on their trees and vegetables.  They use the chemical fertilisers, which largely consist of blue pellets or white pellets, clean and easy to use and effective in their eyes. They sprinkIe a little in each hole as they plant their fava (broad) beans and peas. I understand this. I am not a farmer needing to make a living. But I do worry about this and all the other stuff which I see being sprayed all around, including the weed-killing that regularly goes on at this time of year. People believe the stuff they buy in the market is probably organic. Believe me, a lot of it is not.

I want to use organic fertilisers. But it’s very hard to find quality poo around here.

I have a friend who knows someone who runs a livery stable nearby. The owner shows her horses and feeds them on top quality feed, bedding them in good wheatstraw. He kindly brings me a load every now and then and it’s the best present anyone can give me. I get very excited about a present of good manure.

Last year, we found a source of well rotted manure, again from someone who kept horses. It was in a pile in the field. After a while of digging into it and bagging it up,  it seemed to have a load of big fat prawns buried in it. I just couldn’t figure it. How did they get there? On closer inspection  I realised that they weren’t prawns at all (I didn’t know whether to heave a sigh of relief or start screaming!) but huge fat grubs.  Identification later revealed them to be dung beetles, who apparently take years to mature. I did feel a little sad as I tossed them to the chickens, who gobbled them up greedily. But I guess they got recycled.

I added this lovely manure to my lasagna bed, along with coffee grounds from the local café and lots of newspaper. The results have yet to be revealed, but I hope to produce good pumpkins and courgettes form this bed this year as it has rotted down very well.

Despite Senor Faztudo threatening to behead the chickens for pooing on the patio, we have collected a bucket of their little presents  from around the garden and diluted it in water, which I will use as a root feed in the weeks to come. I won’t be putting it anywhere near my salad crops, for obvious reasons, but for our emerging fruit trees, and for the cabbages which won’t be ready for a few weeks to come and will be cooked, it is a useful  feed for the roots. I also clear out the chicken droppings from their coops every morning which are mixed with sawdust and put it on the compost heap. It’s a wonderful circular process. They eat the weeds and any vegetable peelings and turn it into fertiliser, which goes back on the vegetables.

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Sheep poo can also be found, if you know where to look for it. (it always seems to be just out of your reach) It is left to rot into a lovely black crumbly mix over time and is black gold, if you can get it. I am not revealing my source. Great for the roses and the fruit trees.

The other source of fertiliser I have found that comes in useful, is guano. It is the old fashioned fertiliser and although some farmers still use it, it is no longer fashionable. This is either bat or seabird poo, collected from caves.   I have been able to buy this in powdered form until recently, in local supermarkets,  although I haven’t seen it lately. A quarter of a teaspoon around the bottom of a cabbage is like a real tonic. I have found it in huge sacks mixed with soil improver in an agricultural store near here. It is quite cheap and works well.  The smell is the worst thing imaginable and carrying it back in my little van is a torture. It smells like a cross between dead animals, sick and cat poo. It is indescribably awful and you need a mask and gloves when putting it into the soil. But the smell goes in a few days and if you apply it in the autumn, the soil will be ready for Spring plantings.

Unfortunately, comfrey doesn’t grow very well here. I used to grow oodles of it in the Uk and use it to make a comfrey tea. But it is too hot here for it and gets rust easily.  Again, the stink really bad, but it was a very good fertiliser. We have lots of borage and nettles going in the garden, however, so I have been using these, dunking the leaves in water and stirring the pot at intervals. After a month it becomes a real witches brew and need to be diluted in water before applying to the roots of plants.

Finally, I come onto pee. Obviously in a country with little water, weeing and pulling the chain all the time is not very good for the environment and water is also metered here. I have discovered that wee is a plentiful supply of nitrogen. And on tap all the time!  When you first do it, it is sterile. So I have started encouraging Senor Faztudo to wee on the compost heap, although being a city lad he is not too keen.  What I do, I will leave to your imaginations! Don’t worry, I draw the line at the use of human poo anywhere in my garden. That’s goes off down the drain. I am sure someone will try and sell me a composting toilet, but I think that may be a step too far!

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9 thoughts on “Gardening in Portugal – Don’t pooh pooh poo!

  1. Interesting blog. Have a think about what it is exactly that makes the use of human poo so scary ? We have been brought as children to see it as dangerous stuff. Please consider getting hold of the ‘Humanure handbook’ (Jenkins). It may change your life. With a little care it can be treated alot like other animal manures (a resource), rather than flushed away to be treated as somebody elses problem. Feel free to contact me if you would like.

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  2. Thanks Mark. I will get hold of the book, with some trepidation, I have to confess. I think Senor Faztudo may divorce me if I start using my own manure on the garden…he has enough trouble dealing with chicken poo! But I am always willing to consider all possibilities where recycling is concerned!

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  3. Sheep manure will have a lot of Oxalis (lovely yellow flowers, but horrible for lawns and vegetables) and other weed seeds in it, because that’s what you find in their winter pasture.
    I don’t have a garden of my own, but hack the overgrowth for a friend and, by way of contrast, do lawn and hedge manicuring for one villa.
    You might want to go into beekeeping next, with all the lovely lavender about.
    Happy gardening!

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  4. Thanks for your reply Allison. That is useful to know. I collected a van full of sheep poo yesterday and will use it to feed the fruit trees and avoid putting it in the vegetables! I used horse manure from a local stables on the vegetable plot last Autumn in a lasagna bed and very few weeds so far. Mind you many of the weeds here are divine! Bees would be lovely, but still getting to grips with chicken keeping at the moment!

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  5. Thanks for your reply Anna. I have thought of this and indeed there is a beach named Tomato beach near us and I have heard that the farmer in days gone by used the seaweed as food for the tomatoes. I am not sure how much Senor Faztudo will enjoy the car being full of bags of seaweed though LOL!

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  6. Hi Jane
    Just came across your blog. All sounds really interesting as we’re considering buying some where in the hills above Tavira. We have an apartment in Tavira itself but fancy spending more time there when we both finish work.
    As the apartment only has a postage stamp of a garden, I worry about the ability of my liver to last if I don’t find some land to work these idle hands!!
    The similarities are a bit uncanny! We live in south Wales and my partner is a maths teacher whose had enough of all the bureaucracy!!!
    I’ve only read a few of the excerpts but look forward to following the adventure.
    Cheers
    Huw

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  7. Hi Huw, sorry for not getting back sooner, we’ve been back to the Uk to visit friends and relatives Tavira is lovely, and it will be great to have a garden over there, although I guess drought reisistant plants will be vital as it’s quite a bit drier than the West side of the Algarve. I do know some lovely gardens over that side. Do make the move, my liver and heart health has much improved since coming here (although I had to give up the red wine…its just too lovely and cheap)

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