Since retiring, one of the time-luxuries I now enjoy is indulging in my passion to grow my own fruit and vegetables. I’ll never be self-sufficient due to the limited space in my urban garden, but the rewards and sheer enjoyment of watching something grow then eating it far outweighs time and lack of return on investment.
I’d been relatively successful in the UK growing the usual suspects such as tomatoes, runner beans, onions, marrows and rhubarb. However, the only challenges faced other than lack of sun, too much rain or frost were greenfly and of course the pesky slugs and snails. Here in the Algarve I battle with angry salt winds from the Atlantic Ocean, high humidity, excessive heat, drought and an interesting selection of insects and critters that make my toes curl in terror. I’m convinced they are genetically modified, not only by their size but also in their grotesque appearance. The insects here also display an amazing resistance to both organic deterrents and then standard pesticides used in desperation.As for diseases my biggest plague is white and black mold and also the dreaded Sclerotinia rot. Nothing is easy so now I keep a monthly diary of my success and failures and what grows when.
Apart from the climate, GM insects, and diseases there is also the frustrating problem of language. When I go into my local co op, the guy disappears when he sees me clutching a leaf or two for pest or disease identification. I find him most unhelpful and I end up buying something completely useless. My Portuguese does not stretch to discussing the finer points of plant diseases, pest control or plant fertilizer and neither does his English. For example last time I bought some tomato feed I ended up watering the roots rather than spraying the leaves. Fortunately, I’ve now found an agricultural centre in Lagoa where the staff not only speak English but are also very knowledgeable!
Another challenge, although quite fun, is buying the vegetable plugs from local markets. No one speaks English so it’s a great opportunity to practice my Portuguese. Grunt and point also works well, but that’s taking the coward’s way out! I’ve learned not to go to these markets with any preconceived ideas of what I want as I’m still learning what to plant when. And as for choosing a particular preferred fruit or veg variety etc, I’m still unsure and my vocabulary is not that advanced!
On one occasion, I tried buying some seed potatoes and while in the queue I struck up a conversation with two elderly Portuguese farmers. I think they found it highly amusing an estrangeira was chatting to them up and wanted to grow potatoes. They then proceeded to demonstrate in great detail how to cut the potato into various pieces before planting. One farmer produced a knife from his pocket and cut the potato in a certain way. The other disagreed which then resulted in a lot of arm waving, head shaking, shoulder shrugging followed by a fairly heated discussion. My turn to be served I asked for “seamen da batata” the assistant shook his head, grunted something in response and pointed to the two old farmers. Apparently, (I think he said) they’d just bought all his stock!
However, there is light at the end of the gardening tunnel and this year my successes have thankfully far outweighed my failures. I’ve even had success growing a variety of different fruit and vegetables in containers – the most successful by far being strawberry plants bearing fruit continuously all through the winter to July and maybe into August, September and beyond! We will see…
My successes to date include: tomatoes, cucumber, lettuce, radish, leeks, red cabbage, green cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, spinach, red and orange peppers, chilli, green beans, strawberries, physallis and rhubarb.
Failures include, and yes I hang my head in shame are fig trees –I know they grow wild even by the sea, but not in Piglet’s plot they don’t. I’m now on my 5th tree which I’ve planted in a large pot. Zucchini and squash are another disaster any yet should be relatively easy to grow. Mine are blighted with mildew, blossom end rot and when I lifted the plants the roots were covered in what could only be described as a white cotton wool fungus.
Accepting my failures and working on the positives means tonight we have home-grown French beans which I grew from seed. Hmmm delicious! It’s great to know I can enjoy them fresh from the garden and I’ve not paid inflated super market prices!
The secret of growing your own fruit and vegetables in a limited space is simple in that unless you’ve unlimited freezer capacity which I don’t, remember to stagger the planting times. May seem blindingly obvious but carried away by the moment on a wave of enthusiasm I bought ten plugs each of cauliflower, broccoli, red and green cabbage which were then all ready for harvesting at the same time. I’ve probably never eaten ten red cabbages in my entire life! And how many batches of Calde Verde soup to use up the green cabbage can one eat through the summer months?
My passion for gardening now extends to sourcing organic or non-toxic solutions to control pests and diseases in my garden so I’d love to hear from you with your suggestions.
The following are two insect deterrents suggested by fellow gardeners across the world.
Green Pest control
8 cloves of garlic (pressed)
8 very piquant chillies (chopped finely)
1 tablespoon of liquid soap (not dishwasher)
1/2 an orange’s peel
A pinch of ginger
1 litre of water
Boil the litre of water, add the garlic and chillies and boil for 10mins.
Add the soap and peeled ginger and continue to boil and reduce down to about 125ml of liquid. Strain into a 2 litre spray bottle and top up to the 2L mark with cold water.
Spray for scale and mealy bug
1 cup alcohol (I bought from Lidl)
2 tablespoons dishwashing liquid
2 tablespoons cooking oil
3 1/2 litres water.
Spray all over; both sides of leaves; and repeat 2 or 3 days later. Don’t spray in full sun.
You can also make the spray without alcohol it still works. If there aren’t many scale bugs on the leaves you can just get a cotton ball dipped in alcohol and go over them, the bugs will die, and then wipe them out with a cloth.
If you have any tips and tricks, suggestions or questions about growing fruit and vegetables in Portugal please post them in the comments section below. And of course please don’t forget to visit my blog to keep up to date with my latest gardening escapades at Growing fruit, vegetables and herbs in Portugal and share your passion for gardening!
To discover more about everyday life in Portugal visit my blog Piglet in Portugal or follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/portugalpiglet