After a year of keeping the garden going all year at the finca, I thought it would be interesting to look at what worked and what didn’t. And try and work out why.
So this is a mix of an annual review, and a ‘thoughts from exile’ post, as I spent a lot of time thinking, and doing very little, in exile.
First off, the first reason I was able to maintain a garden of any sorts from a distance was courtesy of my neighbour José. When we discovered he had been using his water (metered) by sprinking my veg from his hosepipe, we gave him a key to the front gate so he could use the water butt and the watering cans and the water containers.
Every time we left, we made sure everything was full for him. He watered every two or three days and mainly gave the veg priority, although he likes roses so he probably watered those too, not that they need it in my opinion.
My gardening, like the rest of me, is cranky. I will NOT use pesticides of any type, shape or form. Nor have I ever done. Half or most of them kill off natural predators eg ladybirds, and they aren’t exactly good for my dogs, or for me when I eat the residue in my food.
Anyway, as well as no pesticides, there are no bits of dead animals in my garden, ie no hoof, heel and bone or whatever it is. I do use chicken shit, well composted down. It is extremely good, and probably the best fertiliser/compost you can use as it is very rich in nitrogen.
I learned about this in a fine Self Sufficiency book I have. It’s by John Seymour and was first published in 1976. Highly recommended although not remotely vegetarian or vegan.
Here is an interesting thing. José used to keep chickens at his daughter’s plot and maintained a garden there too. But, he had no idea that chicken compost was good for the garden. When we first set up my small enclosed garden bed, José and Partner went up to get some chicken shit to fill the bed which was an old water tank cut in half. José had worked in gardening for a large part of his life. He has taught me about seed collecting, how to take carnation cuttings, how to take shoots from roses if I was interested (I’m not), how to grow chillies – the list is endless. But born in the late 1920s he’s of the generation that embraced all things chemical and unnatural as it was ‘better’.
Anyway, he was surprised how good the chicken shit was for growing plants. Never too old to learn eh? I think we cleared out his chicken shed at the time. These days, I have my own.
How to make chicken compost:
Put straw on floor of chicken shed/run/outside space. Feed chickens on wheat/corn and fresh veg. Let the chickens do the rest of it. After it has broken down to a fine tilth, shovel it up and add to garden.
So, I follow veganic gardening principles (apart from the chicken shit I suppose) and also no-dig. I can not understand the point of doing lots of digging to get rid of the best layer of soil, which as everyone should know, is at the top with all the nutrients.
Another good book: Veganic Gardening by Kenneth Dalziel O’Brien. Probably out of print.
The last of my cranky but sensible principles is crop rotation. I am sure this does not exist in Spain as I watch them endlessly grow fields after fields after fields of beans. No wonder they need pesticides.
No, it’s not the last, I forgot companion planting. Of which, more below.
This year I started with legumes, then brassicas and went onto roots or shoots or whatever you want to call them. I don’t have space for a separate plot for potatoes or perennials eg artichokes, asparagus, so potatoes have gone in with the rest of the roots and shoots.
Without a doubt, the legumes, in this case, broad beans, aguadulce, were the success story of the year. I got kilos of them. I was absolutely over the moon. I devoted the whole bed to them, which is worth doing for a crop that you use a lot.
The mistake I made, was trying to get a second crop from them, which is possible, but nipping off the tops and letting them shoot back (a bit like you cut a nick in the stalks of spring cabbage and get extra greens) just resulted in a few measly pods and some tired looking plants. Lesson learned on that one, and it also applies to other crops.
So more beans this year, or peas? don’t know. Timing is also another factor, and I suspect I am too late for this year.
After the crop of legumes, came the brassicas. I decided on a mixed plot for these. Cabbage, two types of radish and white turnip.
I picked some early tiny radishes which were delicious. I should have picked the lot as trying to let them grow bigger was a disaster. Weather warming up too much? Not enough water? The white turnips were also crap.
The cabbages were growing quite nicely. I added some companion plants to the plot, tagetes and dill. The dill later died, the tagetes went off to reseed themselves in other plantpots and were still flowering at new year. I have no idea how successful they were in terms of deterring pests but they looked and smelled pretty.
After a good start, the cabbages started to look manky. I had planted them at the right time of year but all the ones in the fields around us were huge. Hmm, maybe some advantage to those nice chemicals after all. Or maybe mine needed more space? Again, I should have taken out a few young ones and used the early greens. Instead I had to chuck some pretty crappy ones, and – to my amazement – the remaining ones perked up and started hearting up.
Second reminder to self – STOP trying to get too much from your patch if it is small and eat some, or all veg, young.
Third sowing of the year
This was a complicated one. I was still loathe to get rid of the few cabbages, so I’d planned carrots and onions down one side (a good combination to deter pests allegedly), backed by parsley, also a good thing, and a few tomatoes.
On the other side I went for beetroot, and a few cucumbers with an aubergine in the middle.
Usual story, rubbish beetroot, either not enough space or not enough water or both. Although a Podenco digging for Australia in that patch didn’t help either. The cucumbers refused to germinate. I think the aubergine has done, either that or I have a dirty great weed in that patch.
Two huge tomato plants grew. I wasn’t around often enough to nick out all the shoots so they grew wildly, flowered, and the only tomato that appeared I blindly trimmed off when I was ripping off the dead shoots. Aaagh! The white onions, Lisbon from sets, were growing nicely. I kept using the greens in soups and salads, but I began to wonder if they were really going to grow into large onions or stay as spring ones. After the previous errors I’ve started harvesting them. I even stole a tiny new carrot. Delicious. As if that wasn’t enough, I decided to plant garlic. It was either five or ten cents for a head – you are supposed to buy it by the kilo, but how can I plant a kilo’s worth? I can’t. They are growing well.
And, nothing daunted, I decided I MUST have some potatoes. The Spanish have a crazy way of planting seed potatoes. They cut them up, so they can have more potatoes per seedy eye. I had no idea how to do this, so I asked José. He cut one potato into six!! I had my doubts I must say. He told me which way to plant them, so I duly followed my instructions.
I held onto the rest of my seed potatoes and boringly chitted them in the dining room deciding to plant them whole, and THE RIGHT WAY UP.
It didn’t take long before my chitted tats had soon outshot the non-existent growth from the cut potato that was lingering sadly in a few pots. I later tried to plant its bits the right way up, and maybe or maybe not it will work. One potato lost, the rest are growing fine.
As far as I understand potatoes, you plant them rose end uppermost, ie with the most eyes and a funny bit at the end. You chit them or not, but as these were Spanish I thought I had better, normally in the UK I wouldn’t chit. The shoots grow from the eyes at the top and the potatoes grow from the bottom. How can they do that if the potato is split into lots of pieces? It is beyond my comprehension.
The parsley has turned into triffids. It has mutated, or at least reseeded all over the place. This is ironic, as I could never grow enough in the UK, and always hated paying a fortune for a lot of it. And despite it being in virtually every plantpot in the veg area, I am loathe to get rid of a single seedling.
The basil has lots of seeds so I don’t understand why that is not self-seeding. Wrong time of year? A little seed collection may call. The leaves were wonderful and it is still producing.
The thyme and the chives are growing nicely but slowly. No prodigious outbursts there despite all books saying they are rampant. Same with mint.
Oregano finally gave up the ghost so I bought a new one. The coriander that wasn’t is still producing parsley, meanwhile I sowed coriander seeds which produced a good crop. More to be sown though I think.
The herb plot is mixed with lettuces and they have suddenly started to look lively, again, a time of year thing I suspect. Warm and damp enough, so hopefully no bolting of stampeding lettuces.
Broad beans – first crop
Rocket and some lettuce
Spinach beet/acelgas/chard whatever it is that just grows all the time
Tagetes – they were and still are pretty
Chives, thyme, mint, coriander
Thinned out cabbages (but awaiting judgement on this)
One carrot! – so far
Beetroot – leaves are good though
Cucumber – not even one germination
Dill and oregano because they died on me
Waiting to decide on:
Final crop of cabbage
Potatoes (although looking good so far)
Growing wrong crops at wrong time of year. Need to balance rotation with Spanish timing.
Not enough water, qv above.
Not enough space.
Trying to do too much.
But it’s been a good learning year. I’d be careful about sowing beetroot and white turnip again, radishes I would do as a quick crop. I’d sow less cabbage, but I didn’t know how well they would germinate and they are slower to germ so hence not wanting to lose time if I lost any.
Herbs are good, so full of flavour and so much cheaper than the SM. Got to go for herbs.
I’ll probably do a single legume crop again, it worked well with the beans. I might think about either total tomatoes or total onions carrots garlic in future. Less is more I suspect in a small space. I’ll always keep rocket and lettuce going.
Cost benefit analysis?
In learning – loads.
In herbs, broad beans, lettuce and rocket, I’ve certainly broken even. And don’t forget with letting some plants go to seed, I collect for the next sowing so don’t need to buy again in a hurry.
Almost forgot – apart from chicken shit, the other brilliant help for the garden is seaweed solution. Saw some in my local shop but the next time I went it had gone. Damn. I would have bought it :(
Any gardening tips for hot climates more than welcome – I’m thinking of you Texans out there in particular.
A quickfix of some Gib news just to show I can write about more than one thing.
The government has put forward a new bill increasing the fines for feeding macaques (Gib monkeys). While I love to see them wandering around the high street, they do cause problems by trying to get into peoples’ homes, frightening vulnerable people, and generally raiding rubbish bins leaving litter strewn around the streets. They do this because people/tourists think they are cute and so feed them. So therefore they come down the town for tasties. Poor macaques. They get plenty to eat in their home on the Upper Rock, but it seems they have a taste for crisps and junk food. Spoilt kids eh?
A Spanish friend of ours was told he couldn’t park in a loading bay – at all – because he has a Spanish reg vehicle. Ouch! Bit of reverse discrimination there. And I’m not sure that is legal either, but he dutifully went and parked elsewhere. Given that he works in construction it’s a bit unfair to expect him to lug heavy materials to get to the job.
And it’s the night of the Three Kings. Readers may remember that I wrote about the somewhat over-protective decision not to throw sweeties at tonight’s parade as the poor darlings may get hurt by a flying missile. Instead it transpires the sweeties will be handed out along the street. Honestly!! I am lost for words. I joke not. More on the parade including pix and vids on the next post.
Instead I will leave you with an appropriate carol for Epiphany by the incomparable Mario. A lovely end to the Christmas period. Have a good twelfth night and don’t forget to take down everything before noon tomorrow.