FROM SEED TO FEED (OUR FRUIT, VEGETABLE AND FLOWER GARDEN DIARY) 2020
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.
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:
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.
10th July 2020 update
The gypsophilia is flowering and I’m so pleased as I planted it in memory of my mum as it’s one of her favourite flowers. Also Sunny the sunflower got it’s second head!
Meet eyeball Bob
We purchased an eyeball bird scarer to protect our fig tree from birds as so many figs are dropping to the floor and the ones that are left on the tree just get ripe then some bird or animal eats it before I get to sample it’s delights. So hubby bought this bird scarer from Amazon. My only concern is that the lovely robins won’t come and nest in the fig tree anymore but if it saves my figs and harms no wildlife then all is good. If it doesn’t work then I can play with it at the river beach as it’s basically a large beach ball. Nearly had a heart attack blowing it up in the heat today! God knows what our Portuguese neighbours are going to think of us, they already think we are slightly crazy! Saying that I have seen a lot of Portuguese owned land with crops and silver shiny empty wine bags floating in-between the crops so it’s kind of similar really. They have it sussed, drink the wine then use the empty bag as a bird scarer. Seeing as we didn’t want to become alcoholics just to obtain the silver bags we bought the eyeball, we call him eyeball Bob as he bobs in the wind. We also ordered the metallic tape that blows in the wind but it hasn’t arrived yet. The answer my friend, is blowing in the wind.
The lettuces and chillies are coming along nicely and we have so many tomatoes:
We also found a new use for our facial masks (melon support). It prevents hubby from stealing my bras and tights:
16th July 2020 update
The silver shiny tape arrived so we hung strips in the fig tree today. Picture the scene: hubby up a ladder on a hill, me trying to hold on for dear life (ha ha). Hopefully the birds won’t like it and will eat someone else’s figs. I am desperate for figs, want to make fig jam. It also makes an annoying noise which I didn’t factor in. The sound is gonna drive me round the bend when I’m relaxing in the garden or soothe me to sleep (ha ha).
21st July update 2020
So many tomatoes, this is what I just picked from today. I really wish hubby liked fresh tomatoes. I’m gonna have to do a trade off if I can find any of my neighbours. We don’t really have any neighbours, not any that permanently live here which in a way is a blessing but also not so great when I want to trade off fruit and veg and practise my Portuguese!
27th July 2020 update
We have so many tomatoes now it’s ridiculous. I traded some with my neighbour for lemons. When life gives you lemons, don’t make lemonade, trade them for tomatoes ha ha. I also managed to trade some with a local facebook friend in exchange for wine! God, I love this new life.
28th July 2020 update
We now have 3 different varieties of tomatoes growing, the cherry tomatoes and chico tomatoes are ripening up fast! The chico ones are weird, kind of look like large nipples! The strawberry plants which I thought were half dead are actually doing well in the upper patio boarder and I found a tiny strawberry! I have so many melon plants and today I found a few more melons and one of the water melons is actually growing, tiny but it’s a start. We also have so many chillies which we are freezing to make a chilli/tomato sauce. I planted marigold seeds as I read that they deter pests so I planted them out around the lemon tree and most have survived. They are not the marigold plants that I know of and a lot taller than I expected, some have started to flower too. Everything was planted from seed so it’s fantastic to see plants thrive and survive!
4th August 2020 update
The melons are growing rapidly and we have quite a few now but still only one tiny baby water melon. All the flowering shrubs and trees are in full bloom and everything is looking lovely. There is a freezer full of tomatoes and chillies to make a spicy sauce when the weather is cooler and we can be bothered. Everything is such an effort at the moment. If you sit still and don’t move everything is peachy but if you try to clean or mop a floor you nearly pass out in the heat (ha ha). Today is an exciting day as Milo the bunny departed U.K on his travels to Portugal. There are plenty of greens amongst the cabbage patch, just for him.
5th August 2020 update (More trading going down)
Had an awkward ‘lost in translation’ but delightful chat with my neighbour who visits to tend the garden now and then. She gave us some fantastic tasting fruits which are Cape gooseberries, I had no idea what I was eating at first but I love their skin/shell, it’s like a work of art and so pretty. I am going to grow some in my garden for sure. They are delicious but very small and they are often used to decorate the tops of cakes here. We gave our neighbour some tomatoes and chillies, I’m getting right into this trade off veg and fruit thing (ha ha).
17th August 2020 update
I was patiently waiting for the figs to turn brown on our gigantic fig tree then I Googled figs and realised that we actually have a green fig tree. The figs are ripe when they are soft to touch, turn a lighter shade, have slight cracks in them and droop from the stem. We decided to pick a few to try and they were absolutely delicious, so sweet. I’m a bit embarrassed to say but I have never actually ate a fresh fig in the U.K. Only in a main course at a restaurant or sugared figs at Christmas time. I absolutely love fresh figs and you can eat the skin too but I haven’t tried that yet. We are planning to make a lot of fig jam and sugared figs too. I am now fig crazy and have joined a facebook group titled: Figs, Figs, Figs (ha ha). Rock and roll baby!
11th September 2020 update
Today is a obviously a very sad day. My daughter was due to be born on 11th September 2002 and I am so glad that she arrived 2 weeks early so does not have to celebrate her birthday on such a solemn day. A little light to shed happiness on this day is that we got to pick our first melon. This is my first ever melon grown from seed too. It tasted delicious and I am so proud of my efforts. It took so long to grow but what a spectacular specimen!
22nd September 2020 update
We are still getting loads of tomatoes and these Chico variety are very funny indeed. They look like gigantic nipples!
9th October 2020 update
We recently decided to make some tomato, chilli and garlic sauce for pasta out of all our organic home grown frozen tomatoes and chillies. What a success!
Our second melon, not as big as the first but equally as tasty.
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. When your neighbour gives you a bucket full of lemons, grab the tequila and salt!
13th December 2020 update
I am surprised at how many chillies our chilli plants are still producing in December. Today we pruned the chilli plants and picked all of these beauties.
So many lemons so we decided to make Lemon Curd. I can’t believe I have never made it before, so simple. Just Lemons, sugar, eggs and butter. It was a huge success.
Made an amazing sopa (soup) with fresh ingredients from our garden, delicious and I love my apron!
Fiona Newton3 years ago
Helen I’m completely inspired by your garden and your harvest 😍 we’ve had a reasonable crop of tomatoes after our scorcio summer in modest Briz garden but I didn’t realise I had to “shag the chillies” 😂 which is presumably why there are so few!
I really adore your schist house and views, and wow – those river beaches! Very excited about the prospect of exploring north Portugal 😊
Helen3 years ago
You just need to tap the chillies. I have read that some people use an electric toothbrush or a vibrator (ha ha) I don’t own either appliances so hubby just taps them but you do need to ‘shag’ the melons!
So many tomatoes to eat and the melons are coming along nicely. We currently have so many figs green variety which are delicious.
The river beaches are so amazing here. We visited 2 today: Foz d’Euga and Poco da Broca which has a stunning waterfall too.
You are going to love your adventure in Portugal.
Bye for now,