Success and failures – in the garden

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.

Veganic gardening
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.

Crop rotation
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.

Companion planting
No, it’s not the last, I forgot companion planting. Of which, more below.

First sowing

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.

First of the beans
First of the beans

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.

Second sowing

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.

Second sowin looking tidy and pretty - even if I didn't get many crops :D
Second sowin looking tidy and pretty – even if I didn’t get many crops :D

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.

Third sowing of the year


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.

Herbs, and lettuces, and potatoes, and tagetes, and well, everything really
Herbs, and lettuces, and potatoes, and tagetes, and well, everything really


Outstanding successes:

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

Medium successes

Chives, thyme, mint, coriander

Early radishes

Thinned out cabbages (but awaiting judgement on this)

Early onions

One carrot! – so far


Total failures

White turnips

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?

Macaque down the town
Macaque down the town

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.


44 comments on “Success and failures – in the garden

  1. An interesting read.
    I’d never really had much though about growing my own, apart from two or three successful years of tomato plants until last year.
    Last year, after the high winds destroyed my little plastic shelter, we bought a greenhouse, with big plans for all types of veg.
    The only success I had were with tomatoes and sweet peppers, which stayed in the greenhouse the whole summer.
    I managed to eat the odd lettuce before the slugs devoured them, the cauliflowers never made it past leaves, thanks to the cabbage white butterflies, carrots and radish were attacked at soil level by who knows what.
    I need a big re-think for this coming year, though I have just started my tomato seeds in window ledge trays yesterday.
    Last years exam result – Must try harder ;-)


    • It’s been pretty different gardening here to the UK. When I originally came I brought my left over seeds with me, mainly salads and brassicas. I’ve always been able to grow cabbage, salad greens, potatoes, and at the last place, runner beans, although peas were crap. Never been good with onions. Pretty good on flowers too but you can only eat a few of those (nasturtiums may make their way onto the plate later). I’d never grown toms – no greenhouse and a bit chilly Newcastle way, or pimientos, same reason. So it’s been interesting to have a go with different crops, especially with the challenge of very limited space.

      My dad grew cucumbers and tomatoes in the greenhouse, maybe lettuce too. But he probably used pesticides :( Everything else was outside – carrots, cabbage, sprouts, probably parsnips too. Never grew beans, potatoes or onions, although he may have grown spring onions in the g/h. In his heydey he grew flowers from seeds too, loads and loads of coleus! A real shame he lost interest in it. The first time I got some decent crops of veg, especially potatoes, I was over the moon. It wasn’t difficult and it was so rewarding. Far more satisfying to grow something productive than just have a pretty lawn (for the dogs to destroy) to look at. And veg are pretty anyway, to me.

      Carrot fly? That’s why I grew them with onions and parsley, the smells are meant to deter the relevant pests. Radishes can get bored through by something, not sure what and my gardening books aren’t here so can’t help for now. Have you read about putting something around the base of carrots/rads/etc? eg a small piece of card/carpet underlay etc is meant to do the trick. I saved loads of toilet/kitchen towel insert things for that purpose but didn’t need them so Snowy got them to play with instead.

      Can’t believe you are sowing tom seeds already!! Have you got any outside space for lettuce? Mizuna and rocket are pretty hardy too. Don’t slugs like beer?

      My school report? Probably Satisfactory, (my usual dance/gym score) although promising in some areas (history english etc)


      • Like you, I didn’t want to be using pesticides, so I dug old baked bean tins into the ground and filled them with a yeast/sugar mix (T would never let me get away with filling them with beer), it did attract the slugs, but not enough of them. The ground, even in the height of summer was quite damp, a slugs paradise.
        A raised bed with a copper strip (apparently slugs and copper don’t mix) around the top is the plan for this year, hopefully as soon as we get this cold damp weather out of the way I can start building it.

        I did try toiler roll inners, but they disintegrated in the damp, eventually I used plastic milk bottles, with the top and bottom cut off. This was fairly successful, though is still found slugs that had managed to climb up.

        The tomato seed packet recommended starting in January on an indoor window ledge, the only other seeds I’ve bought so far are cucumber (sow end of February) and sweet peppers (March/April).

        The area we live is very prone to late frosts, so I may even consider a small heater for the greenhouse.

        Roll on the summer :-)


        • Haha, you would have baked bean tins eh? You could always use the slops, or maybe Tony doesn’t leave any? or buy cheap beer unless you have discriminating slugs. I can imagine them looking at a saucer of crap beer and wrinkling up their noses (do slugs have noses?) and saying, ‘we want HIS beer, not this rubbish’.

          I’ve heard about copper. The other one is sand or ashes, or both, as they don’t like moving across the grit. I did use ashes when we had fires, but they are few and far between in our tough old age. I pick out the snails by hand and chuck em in a bag or over the wall. I think raised beds are great, especially for old people (me) who have trouble getting up once bent down. A laughed at me the other day as I was marching ahead of him ‘You look so fit, I don’t understand what’s wrong with your legs.’ Me neither.

          Yes, plastic bottles are another one. Should have used one for my parsley plant here that the seagulls found extremely tasty.

          Hope your cucs do better than mine. Just waiting for all my crops to mature now, which is a bit frustrating as I like to be doing something and growing new ones. My dad had a heater. Had one in the conserve too. Looked like oil, but may have been electric in the conserve, can’t remember about the greenhouse.

          Still looking for the summer eh?


          • I’d forgotten I tried sand too, but it didn’t stop them, I also tried a special lava rock dust that I bought on recommendation, which again didn’t stop them, they must be tough slugs here ;-)
            I remember my mum putting the ashes onto the garden when I was young, also the soot after the chimney had been swept. There’s a lot to be said about old fashioned ways.


          • Have you checked out HDRA (it’s called something else now but if you look up the initials or Henry Doubleday it should come up)? I think I’ve got a leaflet from them on slug/snail prevention, but again … it’s at the finca. I’ve got years of their back magazines stored away :D

            You are right, which is why I get annoyed about trendy modern stuff that serves no purpose. OK, I get annoyed about a lot. But not only are soot and ashes good on the garden, we always used the cinders to put on the snow for the drive (uphill) so my dad could tow out the trailer for work. For some reason it always snowed the night before market day.

            I really yearn for a simple life, but I always have done. I wanted to go and live in Polynesia when I was 13!


  2. Loved reading about your container garden. For what it’s worth and probably not anything- but I would have deeper pots to hold more soil and increase the organic matter. Are the vegs getting a full day of sun?

    Here In Texas we plant garlic bulbs in the fall/winter and I think onion sets too. They can withstand our cold temps here. Every year I have lots of garlic that self sows- I leave some bulbs in the ground. I don’t fiddle with onions since my body does not like them. I also have fennel and cat nip growing very well. It went to 22-24 degrees this winter and all of the fennel, garlic, cat nip, lemon balm are growing up a storm. Lemon balm self seeds from year to year. Those plants were planted in May I think. But having deeper containers I feel would make a difference for you. If you could find an old aluminum wash tub and then drill hole in the bottom that would be good and you could cut back on the number of pots.

    Try the tomato that grows tall and side ways.(salad tomatoes are the easiest) but maybe you don’t care for that kind. These grow past 6 feet tall and will go 4- 5 feet wide if allowed. .


    • The veg get pretty much a full day, in summer it’s too much of course, which is one reason for having netting etc over around them. We face south east, so we get morning sun, midday, and pretty much of the evening sun too as we are a corner plot so the other aspect faces west.

      I tend to try and follow the commercial growers. The only problem is they grow from plants and I grow from seed, so I have to try and be ahead of them planting in the fields, so it means making notes which I forget to do! Potatoes and onions/garlic are easier as the local shop stocks them at the right time of year. ie now. Well October actually.

      Fennel and lemon balm would be good. I haven’t seen fennel sees or I would have bought them.

      No wash tubs around here. Partner has been looking out for a bath for years, but none of those thrown out either. In the UK, using old ceramic baths or butlers/belfast sinks was common practice in the garden.

      I think the tomato issue was timing. Because I do rotation, I need to combine it with Spanish seasons as well. Not quite so easy with limited space. My toms were/are growing pretty tall and wide, although not as wide as you say. I shouldn’t really be growing them in autumn winter, or at least if I did, they should be fleeced I suspect. Anyway, I’ll try them again at a different time of year, spring probably.


      • Too bad that you can’t get your hands on a tub, etc. Why not see if Partner will make you a large trough like container out of wood that has not been painted. Better yet if y’all could get your hands on some posts from a tree with wood that does not rot easily that would be ideal. He would know how to put the post together to make one large container. This would allow for deeper soil and less watering, at least that is my thinking. I’ve seen that done around here and it is quite effective..


        • You read my mind Yvonne! We were talking about making a raised bed on the other side of the terrace from sleepers or some sort of timber. I wanted it in three staggered heights, so I could separate the crops for rotation, and for max sun when they needed it. And then he went back to work :(


    • It seems everyone can grow tomatoes except for me! And I use so many of them too. It would be great to have loads of them in the garden. I didn’t know about deterring wasps, that would be good as we do get a few. Partner is invariably called to get rid of the nests.

      They’ve been seen down the town a few times in the last week. The new puppy is quite fascinated by them.


  3. I’ll start with Mario Lanza. He was, without doubt, my Mom’s favourite. While “We Three Kings” was not one of the most played–she loved Opera–I certainly recall hearing it, along with many others. I’m sitting next to son #2, who is watching basketball (and I dislike televised sports…I dislike live sports too if I’m not the one playing) and I’m as happy as he is annoyed. Love it :-)
    Now, on to the rest. You might recall me posting earlier on about my Father in Law’s garden and so, this gives me something to compare it too. Here are two important differences: (1) you get the benefit of a much longer growing season. Here it’s mid-June to mid to late September (with lots of foggy days) (2) you have a much greater variety. Alex does Potatoes, Turnip, Carrot, Raddish, Cabbage (my favourite) as well as dabbling with tomato in his greenhouse. Now, more importantly here are two similarities: (a) no pesticide and (b) natural fertilizer (kelp and small fish called capelin, similar to smelt). Now here’s my point: I admire you both and hope that both of you continue to practice sensible gardening.


    • It’s funny my mum wasn’t impressed with him. I think her views were coloured by The Student Prince which she obviously thought wasn’t serious enough, she was also a fan of Grand (ie very Grand) opera. As am I. Perhaps she thought he was too commercial, sang too much popular music? And yet, look at Pavarotti (who she did like).

      One of the reasons I like that recording is the wonderful ‘And Melchior/Caspar/Balthazar spoke’ intro to the verses. I love the over-the-top orchestra and chorus accompaniment too. I think his annunciation is perfect and I can’t fault a note. Beautiful. But there again, it does come from probably my favourite Christmas carol LP. It’s actually the only one I played this year. Even Partner suffered it quite cheerfully until I put it on for the tenth time in one evening.

      I remember your comments about Alex and the cabbage :) Kelp would be great, but there is nothing around us in Spain. I might have a look at the rocks in Gib though, there might be some seaweed to snaffle. For me, my gardening is like most things in life, simple, minimalist, cheap. But I could spend all day in a garden. Trouble is, my garden isn’t big enough, so it doesn’t take long to water, weed, trim, transplant, sow etc. Sadly. Seeds are cheap. If only some germinate or produce food, I’ve broken even or even better, got produce for less than buying it, including watering. To me that’s what gardening and growing produce should be. Good fresh food, no chemicals, cheap, no hard work (why make life hard?) and the added bonus of being in the fresh air and getting a small amount of exercise. I love my garden (you hadn’t guessed). One of the reasons we moved house in the UK was for a bigger garden for me, to grow more veg,and for a larger garage for him to play at Land Rovers. Who needs a house?

      Thank you. I actually only know how to garden one way!


  4. It’s all down…and mostly put away.
    Gardening is a real learning process. Leaf Lettuce production for me is annoyingly slow and futile…but it’s the only one that seemed to manage the climate.
    If you have a mushroom farm near you – their soil worked into the garden grows amazing plants – we had a friend that used to bring us bucket loads free..and free mushrooms that weren’t pretty enough to sell to stores.
    We actually may have 8-9 hours of freeze tonight and tomorrow night. Been bundling up plants/palms today – dogs are wild with the fierce winds and odd lumpy things in the yard that weren’t there earlier. We’ll see if the summer flowers finally get the hint to leave…they are on their own. Winter plant damage is not always bad – it knocks back some plants that are getting too big. Paw Waves to Snow and Pippa from two tired dogs here


    • Mine is now down, not yet put away (all down and dusted in Spain) and I’m enjoying a last Christmas candle before noon.

      Some supposingly hearting lettuce bolted like mad last year. Leaf ones grow better for me. Right now I’ve got an epidemic of lettuces, some self seeded and others I sowed. They didn’t seem to be doing anything and suddenly POW! I’ve even been able to use a few tiny leaves in salad. Fingers crossed they will be looking good in a couple of weeks.

      I’ve heard about mushroom compost before. And the answer is no. Not grown in my part of the world that I know of. I think they are grown more in northern Spain. I tried to grow them once from a kit in a box. Disaster :D

      Freeze? !! In your part of the world? !! Snowy is not keen on wind because things rattle and make noises and Must. Be. Barked. At.

      Two post-breakfast sleepy dogs send a tired paw wave back to Molly and German. Although Pippa could wake up if RC was up for a chase.


  5. I do admire your resolve with the veggies. We have tried periodically to grow stuff. We start off all enthusiastic but get disheartened very quickly when the damn things start getting eaten by the bugs. Did manage some sweet carrots one year and a few tomatoes but anything green has eluded us. We used mushroom compost and tried very hard to be organic but I do think you need to tend them lovingly and often and I fear we were guilty of neglect. oh well, we have a fantastic farm shop in the village, so why worry…
    All decorations now safely stowed in the loft till next year and we are battening down the hatches for more torrential rain this twelfth night. Roll on springtime!


    • To be fair, I’ve been doing it for more than 20 years. When we only had a sliver of a front garden, I grew a couple of bird attracting bushes and some spinach. But after that, when I had more space, I was a woman unleashed.

      I think the term green fingers was made for me, as I am normally better with anything green. Odd huh. We get up early in Spain (we get up early in Gib too!) and the first thing, no the second thing (dogs are first) I do, is start faffing in the garden, even if there is nothing to do. But remember, normally it’s sunny, not too cold, not wet, so easy to faff. Having said that, I remember gardening in Newcastle one new year’s day quite happily. State of mind I think. I am happy up to my elbows in muck. Tend them lovingly? Maybe. Love what you are doing I suspect. Along with writing, sewing, and cooking, gardening is up there for me as a must-do.

      No rain here. Sunny sunny. Meagre ornaments on table but so few that they will be away by midday. Did we all grow up with that mantra about getting everything away?

      You sound like Vicky wanting spring, except she wants to jump to summer!


  6. You really do utilise your patch to the fullest!! I had a rather large vegetable garden when we lived up in the hills, and it was all effortless. Anything we stuck in the ground grew big and beautiful and delicious! Not so in the furnace we live in now, so I don’t even attempt it anymore :-)


    • My spanish lessons have kicked in ie Spaniards make the utmost of their outside space. A good lesson and one I hope I have learned well. Don’t tantalise me with thoughts of lots of ground in the hills. Lots of work though too – or at least, in spain. I do like some garden, any garden. Hence the cactus is still flowering on the windowsill in Gibflat.


  7. We had some success with beetroot once. In WNC, it works well in spring and fall, so you may need to do them in winter. They need a good bit of distance between. Plant close together, then thin over time. They’re quite good from the time they’re rather small–at an inch or so, they’re very sweet, and they become more bitter as they get larger. The fist-sized ones I see in the grocery store are at the upper limit of what I’d want to grow, and I’m happier with the tiny ones.


    • And also, when I was working at Home Depot and listening to the gardening experts, I learned that the pH balance of the soil is also important. Different plants like different types of soil. Maybe this is a contributing factor? I don’t know enough to say definitively that it is, but it’s something worth researching.


      • Well, my books had something about not needing to thin out, plus the seeds are actually three bundled together. Bizarre. By the time I decided to thin out they were too big, although oddly the thinnings are still kicking on. I would have cropped them small and round but there was nothing remotely like that!

        I bought a ph tester kit years ago. Still have it. Never used it. Anything like that starts to make life complicated and I like simple.


  8. well one carrot is better than none, but it would be disappointing. We finally have a small (very small) garden and we hope to plant some this spring. Will stick with tomatoes and herbs I think. Haven’t planned it out yet completely and maybe we’ll get adventurous. I had no idea about the chicken shit. Will keep that in mind.


    • I think the others will be ok, I just couldn’t resist pulling an early one. it was so delicious too, and after leaving other veg too long, I thought what the heck.

      Herbs are good. Mint usually grows well in the UK. I had a lot of success with brassicas and salads there. You are south so may be able to grow more things than I could in the north. Suerte!

      I use the chicken compost because I have chickens. Depends how organic you want to be. In the UK I bought organic compost. Sadly one delivery came mail order and was packed in old computer boxes. We left it out the front instead of taking it out the back and in the morning it was all gone. Bet the thieves got a surprise when they were expecting computers and got compost instead.


  9. You’ll be getting a slot on ‘Gardeners World’ next! We have got a long front garden which is fairly useless that I had plans to turn over to vegetables but Kim wouldn’t allow it. I always stop my tomatoes when they are still green so that I can make chutney! Who’s Mario Lanza?


    • Oh yes. Our resident non-expert from Andalucía. That would so suit. I thought you were quite productive in the garden or is it just the green tomatoes? Sounds like a song or a film.

      An American tenor. Died before I was born, more or less, but you were alive so should remember him.


  10. Good to hear Mario Lanza again…he was a favourite of my father who always mourned that he gave up opera…and went off to see one of his farewell concerts in – I think – Edinburgh where he sang some of the operatic favourites…and the Neapolitain folk songs he was then intrigued by.

    We have had to start learning all over again in the tropics….we are too low for spuds, onions and strawberries, we can do spring onions; tomatoes and peppers need plastic cover from rain outside.
    Lettuce, green beans – but not broad beans – carrots, celery are all O.K….
    Lemongrass grows like a bomb, as does basil, rosemary and thyme….our bay tree is still sulking….flat and curly parsley are fine as is the ubiquitous coriander.

    But now it’s the watering season……hoses trailing everywhere and an hour or so’s guaranteed occupation in the evening.

    We use chicken manure – as always – and mourn the lack of mushroom compost which was free by the trailerload where we lived in France and fluffed up heavy soil beautifully.


    • I know, I am getting predictable with my Mario posts! But really, he is irresistible. I remember your comment about your dad, discriminating taste there going to the Ed concert. Didn’t even know Lanza had sung in the UK, but he was before my time.

      I’ve had to learn all over again too. We can do strawberries and I had them for years and they finally gave up the ghost. I do prefer to use available ground for veg. I get more use out of the same container for herbs and lettuce.

      Green beans? Not boring habachuelas? I could die for some scarlet runners I must say. Might try and buy some from the UK and have a go with those. What about peas? Suspect not if you can’t grow broad beans. I tell you though, they are two of my staples.

      I killed a bay tree. Gift from next door. Poor unhappy tree.

      You don’t water straight from the hose do you? Or do you?

      I can’t believe how beautiful the chicken compost is. It is so fine and perfect. dArling chickens, I love them all, even the ones who ate the eggs. At least they contributed something.

      Need some more, but want bantams.


      • Green beans here are vianicas….but my French varieties work well and the seeds I’ve given friends work well too. Much finer than local varieties.
        Scarlet runners have setting problems…even after spraying with water….I think we are too low.
        Goodness only knows how to translate the varieties…but no one cares – except the state who don’t want external varieties of anything imported – except by Monsanto.
        Peas we can do…very well. Still my old Suttons varieties from seed I’ve kept.

        Aspaagus is very variable – our plants are just about keeping going…and artichokes have been a disaster.

        I water straight from the hose because I leave it in loops all day so once I purge the boiling stuff it is warm and not cold until I get down to the plants in the shade


        • Interesting your French ones work, they must be pretty adaptable, as I remember when I was buying organic seeds in the UK, they had a deal with a French company for some rare and unusual seeds.

          You are making me want to buy some UK scarlet runners just to try them out now. I wonder if Morrisons stocks seeds in their gardening section which tends to appear around now. I don’t usually look because of not having a garden in Gib.

          Ah, the lovely Monsanto about whom I wrote a few words last year.

          I tried peas, José gave me some he’d saved from the pods, but they were a bit haphazard. I think it will be better to buy some ‘proper’ seeds and go from there. After the success of the beans, I’m hoping decent seeds should produce a good crop.

          I’ve not tried asparagus. I did have a go with a few artichoke seeds (forgot to mention that). One our of three germinated and seemed to be doing nicely and then disappeared. I’ll have another go as they do grow well around us, again I suspect it is timing. Although a bit like asparagus, I suspect locally they will buy the plants rather than germinate from seed.

          You probably need a hose. Sounds like you have rather more ground than us :D


  11. I love container gardening. I’m a companion planter and I grow our greens as well as herbs and some flowers too. Like you I don’t use and pesticides or herbicides and don’t need to. I’m fortunate as I have a huge covered deck I can use for gardening. The spaciousness of the deck 36 feet x 12 feet and having the plants in movable containers means I can move them easily so the plants get the sun exposure or shade they need when they need it. I don’t use chicken manure in my garden as I prefer to use aged horse manure instead. I can’t wait for winter to come to and end so I can begin my spring gardening and get back to outdoor living on the deck. We actually eat and lounge and read on the deck most of the year when the weather is good. The appearance of our deck is a like small dining room in the midst to a garden. As well as having a variety of planters at deck level and in tiers on shelving, we have hanging flower and greens baskets above. Most greens do every well when companion planted with flowers and the display is lovely.

    Below you expats badge there is a string of broken code.


    • I do container gardening out of necessity. But it’s about being adaptable and flexible to work within your means.

      Remember your hibiscus tea post? The new dog adores the flowers!

      That sounds a good size, my terrace is probably just six metres by three. We do spend time out there, but it varies. Sometimes we eat and read and play cards, others we just chat out there. Winter is just gorgeous.

      If the horse manure is from a good source that should be ok, I’m happy with my chicken compost as I know exactly what has gone into it, and it is well broken down ie compost not manure. But they are all natural so better than spending money on silly artificial chemical products.

      Daren’t do hanging baskets, although I used to in the UK, can’t provide enough water for them.

      Only you would spot that! I know. I’ve been too lazy too do anything about it, thinking no-one would bother. Maybe later :D


  12. i live in a small 4th floor apartment but i have been trying to grow some plants in pots, including basil and mint. they have been doing so well! your gardening here is an inspiration.


    • Thank you kamana. The smaller the space, the greater the challenge. If you are growing mint and basil in your 4th floor flat that is better than I manage in my flat in Gib (the garden above is in Spain). I have a Christmas cactus happily flowering in the flat but no herbs. I did try parsley in one of our patios but I think the seagulls decimated it. I think you might have inspired me to try yet again with a few herbs. Thanks for the visit and the comment.


  13. those beans look awesome. my mom always grew beans when she lived out in the Fraser Valley. everything was strictly without chemicals and i have never had beans that tasted so good since. she has tried to grow them in the city when she retired here in her 70’s, but either squirrels or birds have been eating the fresh buds the last few summers so that was quite discouraging for her. but success was better for her when it came to lettuce, tomatoes, various herbs, leeks, swiss chard etc.
    my gardening is strictly flowers which you can’t eat but they are a feast for the eyes, and worth something, imnasho. :)
    i don’t think i have ever heard Mario Lanza’s rendition of ‘We three kings’ before. Beautiful. you had mentioned it once before but i couldn’t find it. guess you were still working on this post at the time? in any case, thanks for sharing.

    my decorations remained up for the 12th day of Christmas. in fact they are still up, since i don’t think i could clean it all up in one evening, so they will be up until this Saturday when i will take them all down in one fell swoop and be done with it, rather than have boxes standing around again for a couple of days at a time. but the lights on the piano and the fireplace are no longer on. it is definitely past Christmas :)


    • oops, if you feel like correcting my html error between the second last and last para of my comment above, changing the colon to a semi-colon, that would be great. if you don’t feel up to it, no worries. :)


    • the beans were great, I thought I would have too many to use when I picked a few kilos all at once, but we ate them in no time. Swiss chard or whatever is great, it is so easy and self seeds. I can’t even remember how I started with some, but it just floats around the garden finding a new pot or a new situation to grow in. I was surprised to find a new basil plant, quite some way from the original (well relatively some way in a small garden), and lettuces, and then the parsley migrates too. It all seems to co-exist quite happily. I tried leeks, no success there at all. Pretty flower in the end though. Speaking of which you can eat flowers of course, nasturtiums in particularly which I am growing, not to eat specifically although I might try them. And you could always do sugared/candied rose petals.

      Was it Mario or was it three kings from Persian lands afar (which I adore) and gave a link to a previous post with it on – sung in German. You could be right though, I prob mentioned him in connection with Epiphany, yes?

      Mine were all down before noon, although not put away :D


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