I have often written before about the idea of having an edible garden and eating or drinking it as much as possible. In such a dry climate, such as we have in the Algarve, this becomes ever more important, since water here is metered and quite expensive. We don’t have a personal bore hole and although we have a large cisterna to catch the rainwater from the roof, we are in a state of severe drought, and with a rainfall level of a mere 450 mm during the whole of last year, it’s vital that we make every drop count.
After five years of working on the garden with food production in mind , albeit it pretty food production, we are starting to see results. This year, to my delight, we harvested 11 avocados from the Hass avocado tree that we nurtured for three years and I reached up in wonder at the end of the summer and picked one walnut which had been hiding amongst the green leaves. That walnut could not have been more precious , as it’s the promise of many more to come. We’ve been busy finishing off jams and chutneys produced from last year’s fruit crop in expectation of the next. Even with our young trees, I managed to make loquat, plum and apricot jams and very tasty they were too. The citrus trees have been the most problematic to get started, but we had a small but satisfyingly juicy crop of lemons this year and even a handful of limes. We have also harvested a small sackful of almonds, before we trimmed back the trees. Luckily the almonds were already young trees on the land when we first got the house. The tree work we did has given us the first tonne of wood to burn next Autumn, once it is properly seasoned and dried out, and kindling aplenty.
As well as all the Mediterranean standard trees, I have more unusual fruit in mind too. Physalis, or Cape Gooseberries are dotted about here and there, which are surprisingly easy to grow, although they do need steady water in the summer, so I’ve planted them under a tree so they share the water. I also have a Dragon Fruit cactus and an Opuntia, or as they are known here a “Figo de India “and hope one day to eat the fruits, which although seedy, I find delicious. When I went to Mexico once, we ate the pads, although I am going to have to find out how to remove the spines without doing myself a damage.
On reflection, I think I have planted too many citrus trees and should have planted more figs or apricots, which need far less water. I think the idea of citrus is so attractive to us people arriving from Northern climes and the trees are so cheap in the markets that we get a bit over excited. They take a great deal of water to get established a lot of cosseting, especially in the heavy clay soil of the Barrocal. They also get sunburned trunks and suffer from deficiencies. They are a vexatious tree, but I will keep trying with them, having put so much water, blood, sweat and tears into their care over the past three years.
The chickens are still giving us lovely eggs every day. I am pondering over their feed though as although I thought I could get buy on feeding them scraps and letting them free range, this isn’t enough. I need to feed them some grains. However, the corn here is all genetically modified and liberally sprayed with glysophate and none of the feed is organic, so I am trying to find an organic source of grain at a reasonable price, which is proving difficult. I am not comfortable about eating the eggs every day if they aren’t organic, since this is a main food source for us, so I need to find a solution.
In the vegetable garden, I’m harvesting lettuce, cabbage and broccoli and beetroot all grown from plug plants, bought in the market in October. I also have some potatoes which were left in the ground from last year and reproduced themselves. I am also experimenting with some beautiful kale in five different varieties I grew from seed ordered from the UK. Some have purple or red leaves and I think they will look beautiful in May, before my winter vegetable garden is put to rest for the summer. Everything is growing well, but quite slowly right now as it’s cold at nights and the days are short. I have flat leaved parsley in pots, plenty of delicious thyme, bay leaves, and the tops of onions left behind from last year as seasoning and even the odd chilli pepper which I’m overwintering in my new greenhouse. I didn’t realise pepper plants can last a few years here, like perennials.
The favas, which again self seeded from last year are flowering already and I am hoping there are enough insects about for them to set seed and if they do the wild west winds that tend to rattle around us in March don’t blow off all the burgeoning seed pods. I am growing summer savoury, which when eaten in conjunction with favas are meant to stop you farting. We will see!
I have brined the olives I picked from my biggest tree last October and they are curing nicely, we are eating the green ones already and the black ones are going all wrinkly in their bed of salt as they should. Once they are finished, the skins can be quite hard, so I often spend a morning peeling them and de-pipping them before turning them into a tapenade. Oh the joys of retirement, to spend a whole morning taking olives apart! We didn’t pick enough to make oil this year, but it is something I’d like to do in the future, as we certainly have enough trees to give us at least 10-15 litres, especially if we grafted some our wild olives and made all our trees productive.
The wonderful aromatic shrubs in the garden also have a range of uses and I am learning them. Rosemary and Sage for cooking, verbena and mint for teas, myrtle and fennel to flavour vodkas and lavender to flavour olive oil to make a dressing for tomatoes. Even the weeds can be eaten. I have used nettle tops for soup, as my grandmother used to do and the stalks of Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum) in salads, although they are very scented and Señor Faztudo says its like eating after shave. Nasturtiums also grow well here and I dot them amongst the vegetables and put the leaves in salads, even eating the seeds like capers as they produce a plentiful amount, although they need to be planted on north facing banks as they can’t take temperatures above 30 degrees and shrivel and die off quite quickly in July.
This year I am attempting to grow a patch of chick peas for the first time. The peas need to be planted quite deep after rain and then once up, don’t need further watering. Even if I get a kilo from my little patch, this will give me some hummus, which we both love.
My new greenhouse has been a great pleasure (more of that in a future post) and I have far too many tomato, squash and courgette and pepper plants, waiting for the warmer weather. I also have outside cucumbers, which for some reason, I have never grown very successfully, but I have prepared a special place for them this year, so let’s see.
Reading this, it sounds like I have an enormous vegetable garden or something. I really don’t. I grow my vegetables potager stylie, some time ago realising that they can be just as beautiful as any annual flower garden. Sometimes everything looks so pretty I can hardly bring myself to eat it, but I am getting better at planting things throughout the season to take the place of the things we eat.
So, eat your garden folks! And eat it quickly before something else does. As I speak, the rain is falling steadily outside after months and months of blue skies and no rain and if I listen carefully I’m sure I can hear the sound of the little snails chomping their way through my greens. I don’t blame them, but it can’t be allowed as I need the crop. A good way to deal with problem that might be to eat them back! Now there’s a thought..