Gardening in Portugal – Eat your garden!

 

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My edible London garden


The idea of eating a whole garden tickles me. I once tried to grow a garden where everything in it was both edible and beautiful. It was in a tiny space back garden of a terraced house in Crystal Palace. See here. It flourished, more or less. We munched our way through it throughout the year and eventually ate the whole garden. It was quite hard work, though (making it, not eating it) After all most vegetables are annuals and need constant attention. It didn’t look great in Winter either, but that didn’t matter too much as out of the five winters we lived in the house, there was some considerable snowfall and it took on a special beauty of its own.

 

 

I have an area in this very different garden devoted to growing vegetables. It takes a great deal of water and Señor Faztudo reckons each cabbage costs us at least 10 euros. But I think if I am going to use water in any part of the garden , we might as well eat what it produces to cut the costs of a pleasurable and delightful hobby.

In earlier posts I showed how I was developing a lasagna bed on one of the terraces behind the house. In the first year I grew cabbages of all sorts reasonably successfully in the clay soil off this terrace, but this year I wanted to plant courgettes, tomatoes and salad vegetables in the space. I threw everything at the bed in the autumn, lots of horse manure and straw which a friend kindly donated, coffee grinds by the shopping trolley full, collected by my Portuguese teacher, along with the newspapers from a local cafe, all the cuttings from the 15 foot high weeds in the orchard to be and eggshells, tea bags and a load of old carob pods I found rotting from a large tree in the back lane. I also used the bedding from the chicken shed, wood shavings mixed in with chicken droppings. I wondered if it would all rot down, but the rain came down in bucketfuls night after night, sometimes for a week and the earthworms did the rest. It became a friable planting medium.

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The lasagna bed with beans and Jerusalem artichokes

 

I dug it over a bit to include some of the clay underneath for better water holding capacity and planted some tomato seedlings, as well as some courgette and cucumber seeds directly into the soil. Last year I made the mistake if growing courgettes in pots and then planting them, but this checked their growth for too long and airy the time the courgettes flowered it was too hot. This year I am already harvesting courgettes.

I am finding it hard to get to grips with the seasons, which are very different to England. This is especially tricky with vegetables and I have found the book” Mediterranean Kitchen Garden-growing organic fruit and vegetables in a hot dry climate” by Mariano Bueno a great help. You can get it on Amazon.

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This year’s courgette plants



So what have we eaten from my very new garden? Not much, I have to say, here is the list, don’t laugh!

Two large servings of fava beans
Two small servings of peas
Two globe artichokes (indescribably yummy!)
A large turnip (three more went woody)
A handful of green beans (most of the flowers dropped off)
Some lovely yellow podded mangetout from The Real Seed Company
Four skinny leeks (the rest look so beautiful going to seed I can hardly bear to eat them)
Seven deformed carrots grown in a pot
Several heads of garlic (there are more somewhere but I’ve lost them underground)
Lots of Portuguese cabbage and kale,shared with the chickens
Four eggs a day mostly, as long as we don’t have any serious hen incidents
Six courgettes
Alexander stalks (foraged from a “weed” growing wild in my garden)
Three little limes
Parsley, Sage Rosemary and Thyme, oh and Basil of course!

I was going to say a partridge in a pear tree, but it was actually a pigeon and the cat ate it.

 

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Globe artichokes, planted from seed

 

Not a bad start, but this year I’m hoping for some tomatoes and peppers. They all grew very promisingly last year until it got too hot and they frizzled and fried.
I look at the hortas (vegetable gardens) hereabouts with envy. Whole fields of favas, enormous cabbages and lettuces the size of serving plates. Growing here is a serious business and much love and care goes into it. But farmers anywhere don’t always have the luxury of growing organically, If they did their livelihoods would be at stake and times here are very hard for people, believe me.
As I am only feeding the two of us, I have time to rub caterpillar eggs off plants, capture the locusts I encounter and spray my vegetable with milk against mildew. My learning is trial and error, mostly error at the moment, with the main stumbling block being temperature and rainfall, either too hot, too cold or too much rain or too little. If I was relying on this garden for food at the moment, we would definitely starve. So it’s lucky we aren’t.
My planting isn’t very organised. I don’t like rows. I know I should have the planting under better control for increased production but I can’t manage it. I was the naughty member of the allotment management committee, always pleading that my nettles were certainly edible and that dandelions were a great salad vegetable. I always used to think if you showed me someone’s vegetable plot, I could tell you a lot about the person. My personality is obviously fairly chaotic with hidden turnips!

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Watercress growing in an old pan

I went with some friends recently to visit a small gardening enterprise run by an old Portuguese agriculturist, now in his 70’s. We met him coming up the road, peeling an orange from one of his trees as he walked. He told us sadly that his gardening days was coming to an end, both his age and European bureaucracy had meant it wasn’t viable any more. He took us to see the last of his trees, rows of beautifully kept olives, figs, pomegranates , amongst others, all grafted onto a strong rootstock by his own capable hands. They will be his legacy, living and producing fruit long after he goes to the great garden in the sky. He invited us to choose a tree and I chose a quince, or Marmelo. They are used here to make a special jam paste called Marmelada, which I have hitherto only eaten in posh restaurants with cheese. I wish I could have spoken better Portuguese to tap some of his wonderful knowledge. I have planted the quince in my orchard and named it after him, Señor M’s Marmeleiro, I am sure it will grow beautifully for many years to come, a tribute to him and the skills learnt in a lifetime gardening.

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A quince tree

Along the valleys near here, huge areas are being cleared for orange groves, likewise the hillsides for carob plantations, the old ways are making way for the new ones. There are threats of golf courses on areas where almond trees have thrived since Roman times. Times must change and so will the farming practices.

The Algarve has  been cultivated for generations and all of its landscape has been affected by human intervention from time immemorial. And so it will continue. We can only hope the young ones have learnt from their grandparents and the rich knowledge and understanding of the trees and plants here, probably handed down from Roman times and the Moors won’t be lost forever.

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Donna Galinha, or Mrs Chicken, who’s decided she’s better things to do than sit on eggs!

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8 thoughts on “Gardening in Portugal – Eat your garden!

  1. What a wonderful post! I learned so much about growing where you are. I am touched by the old farmer giving away his trees and understand. The old ways are dying, not always a good thing! We are farmers and realize when we are gone, likely too, will be the farm. Thank you for sharing a bit of your world! xx

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  2. How very kind of you to read my post and comment on it. I learn such a lot from other blogs and wouldn’t know where I’d without them. Lovely to hear from you.

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  3. A great post. I found your blog by accident when looking up lasagna veg beds. I am growing veg this way for the first time this year and I am interested to learn about other people’ s experiences. You don’ t mention slugs and snails perhaps you don’ t get them there. They are my main problem.
    I am fascinated by your personality’ s hidden turnips.

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  4. Dear Chloris, thanks very much for the kind words. I am so glad you found my blog. The lasagna bed is producing very well at the moment and holding water in a much better way than before I added all the stuff. I am very pleased with it. Yes, we do get alot of slugs and snails, but the population is greatly kept down because the Portugese hereabouts love to collect them and eat them in March through to June, and so do my chickens in the Autumn when I let them loose to eat all the eggs and any juvenile snails. I tried a hugelkutlur bed too but it wasnt so successful, since the rotting process happens more slowly here> It still improved the bed a lot, it was a sort of hugelkutur/lasagna hybrid in the end. Where do you garden? How are your lasagna beds?

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  5. Dear Fellow Gardener in Portugal,

    How lovely to hear from you and thanks for commenting! I love your blog too, and have read it for a long time with interest. Have you got any theories about why your blossom ends are rotting? I havent had that yet, although last year they didn’t flower much as it seemed to get too hot for them. Hope they do give you some courgettes this year!

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  6. I garden in Suffolk. My lasagne beds are coming on fine. I am thrilled with this way of growing veg. Easy to look after and good to look at. I have written about them in my latest post on my blog thebloominggarden.wordpress.com

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  7. Hi Jane! Super post! I’ve no idea how my veggies and other plants are doing as I am away.. . Fingers crossed they are still alive. Yeah, the earth here soaks up enormous quantities of water. Before I was using gardening hose just once at the end of the day but this as definitely a limitation on plant growth. After I put in a drip irrigation pipe the tomatoes seedlings actually began to grow. I think I need to source local seeds in the future as seeds from England germinate into plants accustomed to growing in a much damper environment.

    Thanks Cholris, I’ll read up on your lasagna beds! I am clueless 🙂
    Best wishes,
    Zephyr

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