We have started growing a lot of fruit and vegetables in our garden and I thought it would be great to share our experiences of what grows well for us in Central Portugal. I have nothing against people who buy seedlings or plugs from stores but personally I love to grow everything from seed. There is something very satisfying about waiting and watching tentatively for your seeds to germinate. I love to nurture my seeds along and treat them like my babies (ha ha). I haven’t had much experience of growing fruit and veg in the UK. We lived in a tiny 1st floor flat with no garden but during the last year we managed to tend to an allotment where we grew a small selection of edible crops: Potatoes, tomatoes, onions, garlic, rhubarb, strawberries, raspberries, chillies, peppers, carrots and herbs. The potatoes, chillies and tomatoes were successful but then our tomatoes got blight. Our onions and garlic did not grow well and did not produce any edible crops. We moved before we could see any fruits on the strawberries and raspberries but the rhubarb grew crazy and we sold tons at the May fair to support the allotment fund.

We have planted the following from seed at Casa Valhal: Tomatoes (Chico and Cherry), Cabbages (Galega Lisa), Lettuce (Grand Rapids), chillies, melons (Santa Claus and Watermelon) as well as a few flowers: marigolds, gypsophilia, lavender and sunflowers. We have a couple of raised beds that we made, some tubs and a couple of vegetable patches straight in the ground. I’m not too sure on what type of soil we have so I purchased a PH soil tester and most is slightly acidic. Some is a bit clay and others sandy so a mixed bag. All our soil has quite a lot of small stones which is not all bad as acts as good drainage but not great for root vegetables like carrots. We mix in some well rotted horse manure and chicken fertilizer and hubby likes to experiment with tips from You Tube tutorials. We have also started composting so hopefully we will produce our own Casa Valhal compost in the near future.

Our cabbages and some of the tomatoes are thriving. A few critters have ate some leaves but as we are growing 100% organic this is to be expected. A couple of the melons are looking good now which is great as I am so excited about growing melons. The watermelons did not germinate (not a single one!) and the Santa Claus melons that we purchased from a DIY store (seed packet) also did not germinate but the Santa Claus melon seeds that we saved from a melon we ate all germinated – it’s a strange world! The chillies are not doing so great. Hubby is distraught as he has a chilli fetish big time. They are quite spindly and keep getting attached by aphids. Something also snapped one of the stalks at the base so we lost one overnight. I have planted out a few marigolds around them which is supposed to help but we will have to wait and see, only time will tell.

We inherited the fig tree and orange tree when we purchased the property both were well established. The orange tree sits between our property and next door neighbour so we share the fruit which is quite bitter so if you press the oranges for OJ you need to add sweetener but great for cooking orange cakes. We have a large fig tree which has just developed some black spots and holes which could be a number of things – rust, root rot or insect infestation and I am still trying to work out which it is. The figs are dropping to the ground whilst green and ending up in the compost bin which is a shame as I wanted to make fig jam. It’s happening to others and we all think it may be due to the rapid change in temperature/weather, tons of rain then severe heat.

We purchased a small lemon tree from Arganil market before lock down. It had 2 lemons on it when we bought it but it is a small tree. I did wonder how the small branches supported 2 large lemons, maybe they were super glued on (ha ha). We planted it in the ground in top garden but unfortunately we had to move it to lower garden as we now have plans for the area where it was first planted. Although it was moved it is growing flowers but again the aphids seem to have attached the leaves and flowers but I am hoping for some more lemons as they go well with the gin and tonic! It only cost a few euros so it’s not the end of the world if it goes to plant heaven. I would really like some raspberry canes so I will have to venture out eventually but for now I’m happy staying at Casa Valhal and working on the projects around the house and garden. Our strawberries have germinated but are still very tiny in small pots. Same with our lettuce which was only planted very recently.

We also have some herbs, the rosemary and sage are doing well. The french lavender I purchased was dying as we had so much rain in April but now we have glorious sunny weather it seems to have perked up, it’s a bit like me, perkier in the sunshine! I have been eating some fantastic salad here and just realised that the reason I like it is it has coriander leaves mixed with the lettuce so I also need to buy some coriander seeds to go with my lettuce I am growing.

Edible delights:

Progress photos:

Gardening tricks

Hubby likes to try out different gardening techniques e.g. jam jars as mini green houses, toilet roll tubes instead of plastic plant pots, banana skins, orange rind, used coffee grinds, used tea leaves and egg shells. Today we decided to try out some straw mulch around the chillies and cabbages. Apparently it helps with maintaining moisture – we shall see. If it works we have a huge bag full to add around other plants.

Flowers, trees and shrubs:

It’s been fun trying to establish the names of plants we have. We have a Japanese Camellia, Indian shot lily and a few Oleander (pink and white). The app we are using ‘Picture This’ is not 100% accurate as previous stated we had a pomegranate and Cornelian Cherry tree but it turns out this is not correct. Now the plants have started flowering it confirms we have a ‘Rose of Sharon’ not a cherry tree. It is very pretty but I was looking forward to cherries so Sharon can take her bloody roses and bring me a kilo of cherries (ha ha). The Pomegranate is now a Crape Myrtle and a previous unknown tree is now confirmed as a Black Elderberry. Apparently we also have a shrub which identifies as a Scarlet Firethorn but we are not convinced. They will probably turn out to be another species in a couple of months if I don’t kill them all first.

I will update this diary regularly and I am excited to find out the first edible crop from our efforts. My bet is on a tomato or two. It’s a shame hubby hates them! He doesn’t mind them in a sauce but dislikes them fresh – he is weird but he’s mine and I think I will keep him for now until I can find a young strong fit Portuguese farmer to assist me in the garden (ha ha).

Funny final thought:

If you’re feeling down, just remember there is a flower called Hanging Naked Men. Isn’t nature wonderful!

Update re: orange tree

Haven’t picked any oranges since March so decided to pick some last night 28th May. I pressed them this morning for OJ to accompany breakfast and surprise surprise the juice was perfectly sweet and not bitter anymore. Maybe it’s a season thing and they sweeten up during hot weather. Anyway I’m one happy bunny now. Endless supply of fresh oranges that taste delicious on our doorstep.

Another new beauty

Found another beautiful flower pop up today. It’s next to the white Indian shot lily but this one is red.

Meet the Tardis

We tried to source used wooden pallets to make a compost bin as environmentally friendly but everywhere here seems to rent them so has to return them to their suppliers. So we bought a plastic compost bin. I didn’t really want a plastic one as I try my best to reduce plastic but I think it’s a good investment and it’s so huge! I have named it The Tardis – after Doctor Who. I’m not a Doctor Who fan but my son Josh used to be a huge fan back in the day. Anyway meet The Tardis it’s on it’s way to producing some fantastic compost for Casa Valhal garden.

2nd June 2020 update:

The melons are thriving and so are the tomatoes. I’m a little concerned as I had bet with hubby that I would garden naked if we obtained a melon from the crop. At the time of the bet the melons were looking very poor and looked like they had a survival rate of 10% so I was safe. I’m definitely NOT gardening naked now or anytime soon (ha ha) although I did hear that tomorrow is naked gardening day. I didn’t know that was a thing but I’m not subjecting anyone to my nakedness so all is good.

Bruises and blisters

I do love gardening but as you probably know by now we are very accident prone. I am covered in bruises and I keep getting blisters on my hands. I wear gardening gloves when necessary but since reaching my late forties my skin seems paper thin and just brushing up a few leaves can cause a blister. I also think it’s the heat and my hands sweating inside of gloves and lack of ventilation.

9th June 2020 update:

The melons are taking off at high speed. We probably shouldn’t have planted so many in one raised bed along with tomatoes. We also should have googled how they grew beforehand. The vines are growing so we needed to buy a support system and decided upon the trellis. I hope it works. If the melons do grow they will need some sort of hammock support and I have a sneaky premonition that more of my underwear – knickers, bras or tights are going to go missing (ha ha). Well it’s all for a good cause, I suppose.

24th June 2020 update:

The chilies survived and are getting huge and there are so many now. My tomatoes are ripening and I reckon I will get to eat my first Casa Valhal home grown tomato any day now. Although the figs are still dropping from the tree there are absolutely tons at all different stages, some tiny and some big. There is one that is almost ready it just needs to change colour and ripen a little more then I get to eat my first ever fresh fig. Some of the lettuce seedlings have survived so I planted them out into the tubs. The melons now have male and female flowers. Hubby is in charge of the chillies and melons. He has been watching and closely surveying the lady flower for it to open so he can self pollinate it with the male melon stamen thingy. We do laugh about this and when he does it I say he’s ‘shagging the melons’ (ha ha). The cabbages are thriving and although wildlife have ate some leaves there are plenty left for us and bunny Milo. I am going to try and make Caldo Verde (cabbage soup) but the one with bits of chorizo in it. I planted some more melons beside the cabbages but they have turned a bit yellow but it’s fine as we have loads of melon plants now.

The trees and shrubs are all fine and flowering beautifully. Some of the gypsophilia is growing nicely and I’m so glad as it’s one of my late mum’s favourite.

Got our first edible crops from our garden and made Caldo Verde recipe.

1st July 2020 update

I planted 12 sunflowers and only 1 survived. All the rest got some kind of fungus rot. It has eventually flowered and is busy dancing in the wind. It has 3 heads so a triplet! Not sure if the other 2 heads will flower.

3rd July 2020 update

Melons galore! I planted so many melons as I didn’t think they would survive. We now have melons in 3 separate areas in our garden. I really hope they survive.

9th July 2020 update

I’m obsessed with our melons.

I also love picking oranges straight from the tree at 8pm at night.