I decided to start a new gardening post (From seed to feed) for 2021. If you have read my 2020 post you will know that although I’m a newbie to gardening I absolutely love spending time in my garden with my hands in the soil. I learn new facts and skills daily which fascinates me. Sitting on my blue bench, listening to the little soothing stream opposite, watching the sheep graze my neighbours land and the sounds of the birds chirping away, this is my tranquil place. A place where I can totally relax and have some valuable head space. When it rains for days on end and I can’t venture outdoors I feel a slow decline in my mental health. I crave the fresh air and sun rays on my body. I really enjoy watching the local wildlife except for snakes, I still scream at snakes (ha ha). Now we have lived here for a full year it’s fascinating to watch the garden grow and it changes so much during different seasons. We live is a house made from schist stone and the wildlife love hiding away in the nooks and crannies. In Spring and Summer time we see so many bees and butterflies, just beautiful. February has so far been very wet indeed, so much so my raised beds have almost turned into swimming pools. All I need now is a poolside bar and a butler in the buff (ha ha).

Here is my new fruit, veg and flower diary which I will update throughout the year.

Pretty in Pink – 27th January 2021

The garden is not a sea of colour during winter but our beautiful Japenese Camillia’s are blooming a vivid pretty pink. This is the first and last time ever that I decide to venture outside to the compost bin wearing ski socks and flip flops. I tripped and stood on this little fella! I don’t think he is sleeping (ha ha).

The 2021 BIG plan

We had huge success last year at growing the following from seed: Tomatoes, chillies, lettuce, cabbages, melons and strawberries. The sunflowers grew huge but then got some kind of rot and all died. Our raised beds and directly ground grown proved more of a success than our container growing which got some form of rot most likely from too much water and not enough proper drainage. Not sure why as I drilled holes in the bottom and put small pebbles at the base. This year we have decided to mostly only grow produce that we regularly eat and which costs us money to buy in a shop on a weekly basis. It’s tempting to grow all sorts of weird and wonderful produce but unless it’s in our regular weekly food plan we have decided not to bother as we only have a modest sized garden and not too much land. We also want to be frugal and as self-sufficient as we can.

The tomatoes and chillies were such a success last year and made wonderful pasta sauce which we can freeze so we definitely are growing these again this year. Hubby has bought some different varieties of chilli seeds this year to include: Chinese 5 colour, Buena mulata, Golden nugget and Habanero lemon. They also sent him some sample seeds named Hot wax! He is chilli obsessed and likes to experiment with different varieties. The Chinese 5 colour look epic! Hubby has recently read that he can increase the germination success rate by soaking the chilli seeds in some chamomile tea. First you drink the tea then make an infusion with the same tea bag. Once the temp has cooled a bit you use the weak tea to soak the seeds overnight and plant out the next day. The advantage of chamomile tea is that it is considered an antiseptic so it eliminates bad bacteria and fungi which will damage the chilli seedling. I’m happy for hubby to try this out but there is no way in hell that I am drinking chamomile tea, it tastes like feet! I will stick to my strong black Portuguese coffee.

I will grow some more Galega Lisa couve (cabbages) just in case our current ones do not survive. Two of the new crops we are planting this year are sweet potatoes and onions. We get through so many onions in our recipes and we also eat a huge amount of sweet potatoes too. I also really want to try and grow Corn on the cob but I’m a little hesitant as I did try to grow them many years ago when I had an allotment at Windmill Hill city farm. I was very young and had no clue what I was doing but they didn’t grow at all. Anyway maybe Corn on the cob will be our wildcard. It can be our substitute crop if something else fails to grow. I like to look at my neighbours land and see what other villagers are growing. If it grows well for them the likelihood is that it will grow well for us. The old lady down the hill grew some spectacular Corn on the cob last year so fingers crossed. Our little herb garden has survived the winter and we may add some more herbs at some point.

I am also going to grow more sunflowers, lavender and marigolds as I have loads of seeds leftover and I had limited success last year. We are not bothering with melons this year as they take up a huge amount of ground space. It was such a joy growing Helen’s melons for the first time in 2020 but this year I want the space to plant another cherry tree and some raspberry canes. With lock down it’s impossible to visit garden centres and nurseries also the markets are closed so everything is on hold for a bit. We have made a few small seed and gardening purchases online.

Loofah (not Netflix Luther but I do adore Idris Elba)

This is a really random plant that I am intrigued by. I read an article last year about growing your own loofah sponge and ever since I have wanted to give it a go. I can use the sponge in the shower and cut it up to use for cleaning. Who am I kidding, I meant hubby can use it to clean (ha ha). I’m not much of a cleaner unless I’m scrubbing roof tiles. I never knew it was a vegetable. They are annual vines with yellow flowers and are distant cousins with squashes, cucumbers and melons. I am beyond excited to try and grow these. I had a conversation recently with my daughter via zoom chat and she didn’t know that you can grow a loofah, I think she thought I had gone mad but I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one who never knew about this. I kind of thought it grew like a sponge naturally in the ocean. I feel that I have educated her now about loofah’s so she will soar through university and her psychology degree if there is a module psychoanalysing loofah’s (ha ha).

Seedy Helen (Seed selection and planning) – 3rd February 2021

Not the sordid or disreputable seedy, I’m just sorting my seed selection and planning my crop rotation for this year. Planning our garden together is one of my favourite tasks.

Saving seed

As well as left over packet shop bought seeds we saved loads of seeds from last year so we will re-use these seeds this year. There are so many reasons to start saving seeds. It is an act of mindfulness and protects plant biodiversity. It’s a great way to re-connect with nature and the natural world. Saving seeds is so simple. You basically grow your plants and let them go to seed then you collect some seed and keep the seed dry in an envelope until the following season when you start the cycle again. It’s a fabulous way to grow free food. We also save seeds from market and greengrocers bought fruit and veg. Last year we purchased some packet melon seeds from a shop and we also saved seeds from a fresh melon bought at the local market. The most successful melons we grew came from the seeds that we saved from the market melon. We often wonder if saving seed from a shop purchased fruit or vegetable will grow as it might have had pesticides and toxins sprayed on it or it might have been sprayed with a chemical to stop sprouting production. It can help to buy organic produce which may give you a higher success rate but I have friends who have successfully grown slips from a Lidl store sweet potato.

Compost

We started composting last year and we recycle all our left over vegetable and plant matter with the hope of turning our waste into black gold. We ended up buying a compost bin as I had huge difficulty sourcing wooden pallets to make one from. We call the compost bin The Tardis you will know why when you see the photo below. It’s looking pretty epic at the bottom and with a bit more Portuguese heat it will be ready to use this year. There is a handy door flap at the bottom for easy access. Our bunny rabbit produces so much poo as he eats a lot of hay so I am hoping that our compost will be rich and amazing but only time will tell. Who knows I might be known for the crazy British lady who grows gigantic vegetables as currently I’m just known for the mad cow who jogs around the village in all weathers (ha ha). I’m excited about getting Helen’s happy hens as I have heard their poo is excellent for the compost bin. We turned over the raised beds and added the mulching system which is supposed to be beneficial. I am a little obsessed with composting and I love being a soil builder, it feels great. Composting is as easy as you want it to be. Some folk don’t stir or turn over their compost. There are benefits in turning it and not turning it. We turn ours occasionally. You can find me gardening whilst singing Firestarter by the Prodigy but I change the words to “I’m a composter, twisted composter” (ha ha). Here is the Tardis complete with poo stick for stirring!

Magnificient manure

We arranged to collect some free horse manure from a local stables but unfortunately due to Covid and lock down we were unable to collect it before lock down commenced and now we have rules and restrictions in place where we often can’t leave our municipal at weekends. We are also on lock down so only venturing out once per month for the huge food shop then relying on the food vans who drive through our village selling produce. Last year we purchased the bags of dried horse manure from a local store so I suppose we will do the same this year. I’m not sure the police would count venturing out to shovel shit an essential outing!

Growing our own slips

We never grew potatoes last year but we grew some amazing new potatoes on our allotment in Redland Green, Bristol so decided to grow sweet potatoes this year as they are quite expensive here and we consume a huge quantity each week. I couldn’t find any slips on any websites here so decided to grow my own slips from a sweet potato. Apparently it’s a simple process and there are two main methods. The first method you submerge the lower part of a sweet potato in a jar of water. You can use toothpicks if the potato is too skinny, to hold it up. The potato will start to grow white roots at the bottom and sprouts (slips) at the top. It must be placed in a warm spot. Once a slip is a few inches long it can be pinched off of the sweet potato and rooted in water or planted directly in the ground. The process takes about 6 weeks.

A single sprouting sweet potato can provide you with at least 15 slips. Those 15 slips create 15 plants, which will give you around 30lbs or 60 individual sweet potatoes. You will need a sweet potato that hasn’t been treated to stop sprouting. Once you have established your own crop of sweet potatoes you can use your own sweet potatoes for producing slips year after year. If you are buying a sweet potato from a shop to produce slips make sure it hasn’t been exposed to cold damage – dark discoloured spots may appear on the outer skin a few days after you have bought it. I failed dramatically with my first attempt. I’m not 100% what went wrong as I talked to Pedro the potato daily. I named him, I spoke to him, I sang to him but NOTHING! I think it was just too cold in our lounge. It basically just rotted and got one huge soggy mess – you learn by your mistakes! I often find gardening is trial and error.

The second method is to place the whole sweet potato lengthwise in a tin of soil mixed with compost so the soil covers half of the potato. You can place on a seedling heating mat or in a warm place. The soil must stay moist and should produce roots and slips in a couple of weeks. Sweet potatoes love heat and are one of the last things to plant in your garden. I was thinking of buying a seedling heating mat online then low and behold hubby said that he had ordered a seedling heating mat for his chillies, great minds think alike. Our delivery of potting compost arrived so we have trialled this second method and we will now just have to wait and see what happens if anything. I actually tried out 2 sweet potatoes this time. I’ve named them Pablo and Pandora. I have no idea if naming your potatoes increases the chance of germination but I’m not taking any risks (ha ha). They are sitting patiently on the office window sill with a heat mat under their butts. I hope they like hubby’s zoom meetings with all those enthusiastic Americans!

Update

Look what happened within 2 weeks!

4 week progress:

Less is more (unless it’s cake!)

Last year we made the mistake of sowing too many seeds and planting them all. For example I planted 24 cabbage seeds, all grew and I planted out all 24. No one needs 24 huge tall Portuguese cabbages (ha ha). I just assumed that not all the seeds would grow and that we would loose some to slugs, snails and other critters/animals. We grow 100% totally organic with no pesticides so it’s a given that some will be a casualty of the slug war. This year we will sow less seeds.

Fabulous fruit

We have a huge fig tree which produced so many figs last year. We also share two orange trees, a lemon tree and cape gooseberries with our neighbour. We also have a small lemon tree in our garden. We have a new cherry tree and we plan to buy another for cross pollination. We have a row of strawberry plants and I plan to buy some raspberry canes. We took cuttings from our neighbours cape gooseberries but they didn’t survive the frost. I wish I had a bigger garden with more flat land as I would love more fruit trees. It’s always been a dream of mine to step outside and pick organic fruit from my very own orange and lemon tree and now I can. Lately there has been more oranges on the ground than on the tree, it’s been very windy (ha ha). I would also love a nut tree especially an almond tree but we just don’t have the space. The oranges and lemons made fantastic lemon curd and orange marmalade.

Simple living is about progress not perfection

This phrase is now become my all time favourite motto. My motto used to be “If you want something done do it yourself” not meant as a rude comment but meant as a motto to oneself, if you want a job done properly it’s probably best you do it yourself then it will be done to your specific standards and properly. Not everything has to be perfect and this especially counts for gardening. I love the Portuguese ethos to gardening. A Portuguese garden might look a bit messy and scruffy to an untrained eye but the Portuguese know what they are doing. They rotate crops at a high speed and some of my village folk (I was going to say village people but I thought it might start you singing – ha ha) anyway my village folk grow the biggest, fine looking produce I have ever seen. It might be a bit wonky but it tastes delicious. I have never really been a massive huge fan of oranges. I just couldn’t be bothered with the faff of peeling an orange in the U.K to find it has lots of pips and tastes sour but the oranges here, OMG! My neighbours orange tree is superb. The oranges have virtually no pips and are so sweet in January. She is not going to have any left by the time I have finished with it. I am reading up more on companion planting which is great for pest control, pollination, providing habitat for beneficial insects, maximising the use of space and increasing crop productivity.

Frugal freezing

You can freeze such a huge variety of foods. This is something I was unaware of until I moved here. We froze so many figs last year and then used them straight from the freezer in smoothies. Hubby wanted to buy a chest freezer just for figs as we only have a small combined fridge/freezer but I wouldn’t let him. I have actually changed my mind and I think it’s a great idea to buy a chest freezer so we can freeze fresh produce and use throughout the year.

Seeds, sunshine and serotonin

I like to start my seeds off in small pots in my sun room around February-March time depending on the weather. This year I plan to start a majority of them off in March as we have had a lot of rain, wind and cold weather during February. I wouldn’t want to wake up one morning and find them blown into the next village. I use an old table so I don’t have to bend over and hurt my back. The sun room gives the seedlings a bit of protection. I absolutely adore planting my seeds with hubby. I think it’s because it’s the start of the process and the end is when it’s on your plate. Home grown organic fruit and veg tastes delicious. I love reconnecting with each other over soil with dirt under my nails. Gardening is such a great whole body workout. I also love produce trading with my few neighbours. Gardening is my passion and I love it so much. Putting our electronics down for an afternoon on a weekend and the feeling of essential vitamin D on my skin, just wonderful.

Dehydrating (everything in sight ha ha) – 3rd March 2021

Today I tried out dehydrating for the first time in my life. Hubby bought me an epic dehydrator for Christmas. I decided to give it a go and dehydrate orange and lemon slices as well as Japanese Camellia petals. Our wedding anniversary is next month and seeing as we can’t get away for a romantic hotel stay I thought it would be nice to make some rose petals for our bed and recreate our last hotel stay. Dehydrating is so much fun. It’s great to dehydrate seasonal fruit and veg e.g. citrus fruits, apples, bananas, figs, tomatoes, chillies and even flowers. I’m totally obsessed with my new dehydrator and I’m dehydrating everything in sight, run and hide (ha ha).