Waiting for the rain on Faro beach!
Señor Faztudo and I are simply waiting for the rain. So is the garden, it’s desperate.The long hot Summer means everything is hanging on in there, exhausted by the blasted heat of a relentless sun. I can’t recall a hotter summer in 25 years of my acquaintance with the Algarve and I’m very glad my garden is in its fourth year and not its first!
Lately, there’s a cooler breeze and some cloudier days and we did actually have a couple of hours of rain, which staved off the watering for a few days, but only really tickled the surface of the parched ground. But Autumn is definitely on its way.
At this time of year, we’re busy cleaning everything up in the garden for the expected Autumn rain, which can fall in torrents or even stair rods. I’ve been building up a compost heap, interspersing weeds with newspapers, leaves and chicken bedding, laced with their manure. It doesn’t rot at all throughout the summer and you can’t really water it enough, but as soon as the rains fall, the process will be quite fast. I have piled in the middle of the “orchard to be” where it looks like a great big stork’s nest. As soon as it rots down sufficiently , I’ll spread it out over the ground and let the chickens feast on the insects and grubs whilst they dig it in. I get huge satisfaction in this use of all the waste from my garden and the thick mulch of bark I put on top of the orchard has already created a good, dark looking soil up to a few inches on top of the red clay. The worms and chickens mix it in and then it becomes a manageable tilth. I did a similar thing in the vegetable garden a few years ago and when I went to plant some cabbage plugs recently I was pleased with how friable the soil was and how quickly the plugs grew. Here’s a photo of the bed, it’s one of the few things I am using water on, so that I can get a head start and have cabbages before it gets too cold, something which has caught me out in previous years.
Our work in the garden has been punctuated by the “tap tap” of sticks knocking the branches on the carob trees and the cheerful voices of the pickers as they harvest the black pods as they fall. Carobs are an important cash crop to the subsistence farmers, although it’s a tiring job picking them in this heat, but families have been doing it for generations and the carob harvest holds great importance in the minds and hearts of people in the Algarve, many remembering camping out under the stars in their youth, having travelled too far with donkeys carrying the carobs in panniers to return in one day. Husbands and wives pick together, friends help out neighbours and there is a race to gather all the pods before the rain falls and ruins them. We have two or three sizeable carob trees on the periphery of my garden and we pick up the pods to give to a friend.
I’ve been doing my own bit of harvesting too, of the seeds of various plants in my garden, both to replant and share with my gardening friends at a communal “seed exchange ” in November. I’ve harvested the seeds of gaillardia, delphinium, aquilegia, clary sage, calendula, tree mallow, leek, garlic and shallots. I am particularly pleased with the delphiniums, since my collection started with one feral plant growing in my garden and this year I had some lovely plants. I tried growing them in various ways, cosseting them in a pot, growing them in a seed bed and just tossing the seeds around. The plants that grew best were the ones I threw on a pile of garden rubbish, leaves and loose soil under a tree. They clearly loved this habitat and lack of care and grew five feet tall! They like dappled shade and I will be throwing the seeds here again this year. The tree mallow seed pods were full of little bugs that looked rather suspiciously like ticks. I didn’t enjoy winnowing them, so I only ended up with a small pile as I was somewhat hampered by the nasty looking things scurrying over my hands. I don’t mind bugs too much, but my garden teems with all kinds of unusual things I haven’t got names for. In the UK, I had the measure of harmful bugs and plants, but here I’m never quite sure whether they are going to bite, suck or poison my blood!
There has been some talk recently about Facebook and it not being “real” and whether it’s good for our soul, mind, the Universe or Margate, but I must say, I have had huge benefit from being able to make contact with and learn from both gardeners and chicken keepers in FB groups such as “Gardening in Portugal” or “The Funky Chicken PT club” or “Horta em Portugal”
I value the quiet pace of my life in Portugal, but in London I was part of a vibrant community of gardeners on the allotment. I get that same support here from FB groups and although I don’t get to meet people face to face too often, I love being able to check “over the garden fence” on FB and ask for advice or share progress with other gardeners in Portugal. I am a little shy to talk in the Portuguese group yet, but it is wonderful to be able to see what people who live here are growing and my Portuguese is good enough to understand most of the comments. I learn a great deal this way. I try to help where I can with advice on my own mistakes and trials and tribulations, but there are a body of people with huge knowledge of plants, both cultivated and wild, and it’s a privilege to have access to their freely given advice on all kinds of issues.The first Algarve seed and plant exchange is taking place soon and I’m looking forward to meeting some of the people in the FB groups for the first time.
I’ve been reviewing projects for the coming year and we’ve got a few lined up. One side of the garden above the chicken shed is still looking very ropy and we are planning to build a sitting area and a rockery. There are some fruit trees growing there, a cherry, a pear and a fig and I’m hoping this will become a shady area to sit and contemplate the garden in the Summer months.
One day I’ll be sitting on a terrace under this fig tree, looking over a rockery!
I also need to do something where the backwash of the swimming pool comes out as it’s causing quite a bit of erosion. Never having had a pool before, I didn’t realise that a ton of water cascades out, whenever you clean the filter. The water is useful and the chlorine doesn’t seem to cause a problem; in practice it’s probably not much worse than tap water, but I am thinking of making a sort of dry river bed with large stones, to slow the flow of the water down when it is released, which is about once a week. I will plant conifers and succulents in between. Maybe…or maybe I’ll plant something else, my mind changes frequently! But…and this is a big but, we need to get some stones, as unbelievably, on a hillside with millions of them, we have run out of stones of the right size. We are getting a bit old to carry such big stones, although we have done it in the past, so we are pondering where to get a supply.
Señor Faztudo has promised to build me a greenhouse for Christmas, but since I’ve nearly killed him in the garden already and his back is a bit dodgy, it might be a slow process.
As I have finished this post, the rain has started falling, so now we’re really in business! I would be dancing naked around the garden in the rain if I didn’t live in full view of the rest of the village, and there weren’t so many snails to crunch underfoot!