Tag Archive | drought

Gardening in Portugal- It’s raining Clay Pots!

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Cântaros

It’s raining buckets, or as the Portuguese say Portuguese “It’s raining clay pots” “Chove a cântaros”  If you had just moved to Portugal, you might wonder why you came, since the view out of my window this morning, is distinctly Welsh, not Algarvean at all. It’s hard not to wish it would stop, when your wheelbarrow has become a wildlife pond, your no dig bed a marshy haven for slugs and your cistern overflow pipe a waterspout, the water overflowing in a fecklessly wasteful fashion away down the hill.

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My garden lush with the rain

However, I am trying hard not to regret my rain dancing, which I did perpetually throughout the dry Winter and early Spring months, when it was so warm and dry you wondered whether it would ever rain again. For one thing is certain, it won’t rain from early June until October, unless we have a real freak of nature, and it will be hot, sometimes up to the 40 degrees C, and we will have to hide from the punishing sun by 11am. So how can I regret the sweet, persistent rain that has been falling since that wonderful moment on February 23rd when the heavens first opened to break the long drought.  Really it’s been raining ever since with the odd day of respite, as the Depressions from the Atlantic, pushed  by a cold weather pattern in the North, sweep in one after the other.

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A Camellia enjoying the rain

I have become slightly weather obsessed, I freely confess.  I have discovered an app called “Storm” which has weather maps all in pretty colours which show you the approaching Depressions. I watch them swirling about somewhere near the coast of Philadelphia , a huge battle going on between the warm winds pushing up from Africa (little orange arrows)  and the cold winds coming down from the North (little blue and green arrows) and then the tail of rain (green and yellow blobs) sweeping our way across Portugal, bringing the rain we so badly need and the less welcome waves to bash our shores, destroying the beach cafes and sweeping the beaches into disarray. Gazing into my IPAD screen at the weather patterns, I feel a bit like Zeus, gazing down on the Earth from lofty Mount Olympus. I just haven’t got the power he had to poke up a tempest here or an earthquake there, luckily!

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The rain on our plain from “Storm” weather app

Along with watching the weather on apps,whilst I am stuck indoors unable to garden,  I have also discovered that our neighbors have a personal weather station which records every five minutes and posts the results on the Internet, with the ability to look up historic weather information in detail. I always enjoy playing with databases, and messing about with it has made me realise that although it has rained and rained, because the Autumn rains failed last year we are still short of the normal rainfall for the season by 100mm. I share the website here in case you want to explore it for your own area, https://www.wunderground.com/wunderstation Just type your area into the “Search Locations” box. And click on “History” for historical data. Some of  dams in the Alentejo, at the time of writing are still only at 59% of capacity and here in the Western Algarve 69%. More rain will not go amiss, no matter how much we are looking forward to the sun shining again, so we can get out in our gardens once more.Here is the link for the dam capacity in case you’re interested.

http://snirh.apambiente.pt/index.php?idMain=1&idItem=1.3

This year though, I do have my new greenhouse to potter around in even when it’s raining or windy and this has made a difference to my attitude to the rain Señor Faztudo made it as a lean-to  against the hippy shed so it’s quite sheltered, especially from the north side and it’s rather nice to hear it drumming on the roof and dribbling into a makeshift water butt, which we have rigged up inside the greenhouse so I don’t have to go outside in bad weather to get water.

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The greenhouse/potting shed

I also have the hippy shed next door, where I have installed a camping stove so I can sit there with a cup of tea and even cheer up the shivering chickens now and again with a blast of loud  music from my hippy shed sound system, aka my digital  radio, as they try find shelter under the chicken shed as this weird wet stuff they don’t have to contend with the rest of their year falls unremittingly.

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The hippy shed…a hark back to my young years

The drought this year has concentrated everyone’s minds on preserving the water when it does rain. People who garden in a dry climate think not only about what they plant, but also about storage for the months when it definitely won’t rain. The torrent of  water is running off the roof right now reminds us of how much we craved it when we didn’t have any. We have a large cisterna collecting rainwater from our roof and also all the rainwater that is running down the drive is directed by the paths down into the orchard for the trees.

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The cisterna and terrace overflow

Having a garden on a hill is a good thing when it rains heavily as you can collect water on terraces at each level, but on the whole, the garden remains well drained. Friends into permaculture techniques dig “swales”, ditches filled with spongy materials  to capture water and then plant on “berms” higher banks alongside them so the plants continue to access the stored water in the drier months. I haven’t really got the room to do that, but the bottom of the garden is certainly flooded with water and as its level much of it remains for the tree roots to access.  I am also experimenting with the idea that Vetiver grass, with its very deep roots may bring water to the surface to make it available for plants as I  have noticed my globe artichokes do better where they are planted next to Vetiver, so I am going to plant some closer to my trees.

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Salvia in full flower in my garden

The most exciting thing will be when the rain stops and the sun shines and the fields around here becomes the eighth wonder of the world as they burst forth with wild flowers in all their glory. I’m poised with my camera, I can’t wait. Watch this space for a wild flower display to beat all wild flower displays! As soon as these clay pots stop pouring water.

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Gardening in Portugal – Growing things to eat in a waterwise way

 

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The first of the plums from my garden

It’s the start of harvest time in the garden, difficult to appreciate when you are used to August, September and October being harvest time in more northern climes. Plums coming out of our ears!

We have just been through a very hot dry June, with the devastating fires that claimed the lives and livings of many in Central Portugal. So very sad and I feel such sorrow the people affected. My fervent hope is that Mother Nature will do her work quickly and start to put up green shoots to soothe the hearts of those who have lost so much.

In times of drought and hot temperatures, water use is a serious issue. I am learning all the time about gardening with less water, including food growing. Water is a limited resource here and not to think about its use is actually socially unacceptable. If you wonder about why ornamental flower gardening isn’t prevalent in the Algarve, it is really because in a country where starvation is still in living memory, to use water on flowers, in some people’s minds, is almost tantamount to a crime. The local farmers’ wives are almost clandestine in their efforts to grow flowers (and flower gardening, for some reason is seen as an exclusively female thing, although that is changing)  Ornamental plants are seen as a real luxury, grown along walls only with the use of washing up or slops water.

However, there are some trees with very beautiful flowers that also produce food. I managed to produced a Feijoa Sellowiana or Pineapple Guava from seed and it’s a beautiful tree, with lovely flowers, as well as fruits. Pomegranates are also stunning in all seasons, with red flowers, lovely young red leaves in the Spring, very attractive fruits and yellowing leaves in the winter. Why not grow a beautiful tree for food and use your water and space wisely?

For us, with our UK pensions and not on subsistence farming money, life is a little less complicated, but we are still using a common and scarce resource. And in the same way I don’t put on the outside lights we have at night except on a special occasions, I want to use water wisely as an act of respect for those around me, because it’s a limited, finite resource in a drought and also because it’s very expensive. Water is metered here and it depends what camara (council) you live in, how much it is per unit. It isn’t the same countrywide. The cost of it also goes up the more you use.

So, back to the harvest and eating from the garden, what can you grow and how do you maximise on water?

The most obvious thing, considering we have a thick clay soil which retains water well, is to grow trees. In times gone by, when wheat harvests failed , the Portuguese lived off bread made from figs and fed it to their pigs. The almonds grown here, whilst not the perfect shape like the Californian almonds, taste better than any in the world. The olive oil produced was used by the Romans in their lamps, although nowadays it’s much too precious for that. Trees, once established, put down very deep roots and can last until the next seasonal rainfall, as long as you choose those well adapted to this climate.

 

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An old olive tree for eating olives in my garden

I am fortunate to have some venerable trees which were already in our garden when we arrived, a mature and ancient olive which gives me enough eating olives for a whole year, some almonds, and a few carobs. I don’t need more, as I wouldn’t  have time to harvest the fruits and process them and I’ve resolved to eat everything in my garden, if I can and not waste anything. I only have about 1,600 square metres of garden, but within that I realised the other day, I have over fifty trees and 19 different types of edible fruit or nut, some producing, some too young to produce yet. Many of those are very drought resistant once established, peach, certain varieties of plum, almond, apricots,pomegranate, olive, carob. The rain, when it falls is very heavy indeed and the clay soil retains the water well and nourishes them.  I also have some citrus trees, but aside from the lemon, I am rather wishing I didn’t plant them. They are very difficult I find, hard to get established, prone to disease and pest and they need lots of water. They are at the bottom of my steeply sloped garden and receive all the grey water from the house through a great filtering system, but without this, I don’t think I’d bother with them. The idea of turning shower water into oranges quite pleases me though, so I persevere!

After three years of making mistakes and probably paying huge amounts for each cabbage I’ve produced, I am getting the measure of how to grow vegetables in my garden. The trick is to use the winter period and natural rainfall  wisely. By planting seedlings in the shade in August and getting them ready for the first rains in the Autumn, or buying plug plants in the market, you can have cabbages, kale and spinach in the Autumn. Potatoes can also be planted in the Autumn, for a cheeky Christmas crop, but you do run the danger of frosts cutting them down in the January to March months, even in the Algarve.

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Last year’s cherry tomatoes-they are more disease resistant then the beef variety

For broad beans, or favas, as they are known here, I always watch my neighbours and put mine in at the same time.  They always plant them after first rains and then they mature by the Spring before the blackfly begin. I also almost always leave some pods to dry on the plants  and drop to the ground, because the best beans in my garden are always those that self seed, since they know exactly the optimum time of year to germinate by themselves. Peas need to be put in during  the very early Spring, as it is all over once the temperatures get too hot and mange-tout work really well here I find. I have yet to find the secret to growing any kind of green beans, they often come to flower and then it gets too hot for them to produce , or the bean rots in the ground before it’s had a chance to germinate. I  don’t  think I’ve hit on the right variety of bean for the Algarve yet, or developed a good understanding of their needs. I tried English runner beans and they flowered, but never produced beans.  All suggestions gratefully received.

Garlic and onions are easy enough if you get them in at the right time. I put mine in very late this year, so they are small, but they are very unproblematic. I buy them as small plants in the market as they are very cheap and the right sort of onion to do well here.

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Peppers in my garden grow best in large buckets or pots. They need early sun and then when it gets too hot, you can move them into the shade, as the afternoon sun in the summer is too hot for them. Planting them in pots means less watering too and you can feed them more effectively. I have also given up trying to grow strawberries in the ground and grow them in deep pots too, the kind you buy trees in, with piles of well-rotted manure at their roots when first planted.

I have been very successful with Globe artichokes, which I love, although dis-infesting them of earwigs is an issue. They also have very deep roots and use natural rainfall well. I now eat them really young at the beginning of the season before I get fed up with them and then leave the flowers to mature as they are so beautiful.

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But the jewel in the crown  this year has been the courgettes and squashes, which I’ve never had success with so far and also beef tomatoes, which I haven’t grown before.The thing is, not to grow too much of anything. You can’t even give them away as everyone has them at the same time as you, so another water saving tip, is to think about how many you need or to grow something different from your neighbour, so you can swap.  Three beef tomato plants is plenty for two people, three courgette plants has given us three of four a day for the past month and I have pickled a lot of them.

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I have written before about my lasagna beds and making soil. My clay soil is full of big and small rocks and any attempt at growing squashes or courgettes in the ground  has meant buckets of water and a complete stop in production if you don’t plant them before it gets really hot. After that, you could water them all summer and it would make no difference at all. And I did. So I ended  up wasting water and eating nothing. A complete folly and rather shameful. So I invented “The patent  Stork’s Nest Water Retaining Squash and Melon Compost bed” or SNWRSMC (!) for short, a 4 in 1 technique which helps you get rid of all your garden rubbish, grow fantastic food, use less water and make great compost”

But more of that in the next blog post. I’m sure you can’t wait!