Columns from the Sentinella magazine
January in the garden
Happy New Year! Although the garden is quiet at the moment with the crops planted in autumn growing slowly, there should be something to harvest; salad leaves, coriander, kale and maybe some peas if you got them in early enough. As we welcome 2021, January is a time of new beginnings and time to plan the garden for the year ahead. It's the moment to get your seeds out and decide what you're going to eat this summer. It's also the time to prepare the beds; clean them out, dig them over and add manure ready for planting up in the spring. It's the best time to cut bamboo or caña canes to use as tomato and bean poles as the sap is low this month and poles cut now will be more durable. It's also time to get the holes ready for new fruit trees. Bare root trees are already available in the garden centres.
At the end of the month the first tomato seeds can be sown, as can chillies, aubergines and peppers. It's crucial, however, that any seeds sown now are well protected from frost, so they must be sown in a greenhouse or cold frame. You can make a simple cold frame by laying out a ring of concrete blocks and covering it with an old window or sheet of greenhouse plastic. Tomatoes, chillies and peppers sown this month will get off to a good start and bring an earlier harvest, but they can be sown all the way through to April. It makes sense to stagger your seed sowing so as not to become overwhelmed with all the potting on. As the little seedlings start to grow in their modules, make sure you pot them on regularly. They will quickly use up the nutrients in the compost and will need new compost and more space to grow. Pay attention to them and if you notice their growth has slowed down, it's time to pot them on. You can also continue sowing salad leaves; beetroot, fennel, radish and rocket can be direct sown. Celery and celeriac can be sown now too. If you missed planting habas and garlic, this month is your last chance to plant them to ensure a crop. Leek and onion plantlets can be planted out too. Klaus Schwab, the founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum has recently warned us of the dangers of an imminent cyber attack that will, among other things, affect the digitised supply chain of the food industry. At the World Economic Forum's 2020 Cyber Polygon simulation event, the theme was how to prevent a 'digital pandemic' that would in Klaus's words make the coronavirus pandemic “look like a small disturbance in comparison”. We would be wise to heed Klaus's words bearing in mind that the predictions for a global coronavirus pandemic that were publicised by the World Economic Forum hosted simulation Event 201 in October 2019 turned out to be chillingly accurate.
We have a new normal to look forward to in 2021. Let's all do what we can to make healthy, nutritious food part of our new normal. Let's get our gardens going this year, bigger and better than ever. Let's work together to support one another and our local farmers to build resilient, abundant local food system that won't fall foul to an attack by shadowy cyber terrorists. Our seeds are the most important part of our food chain. They grant us our independence from a digitised, monetised, global food system that limits our choices of what we eat. We have a local seed bank (SEEeD.es) that not only provides seeds to local growers but also teaches them through free monthly workshops how to save their own seeds. If you haven't saved your own seeds before, give it a try this year. THE REVOLUTION IS IN THE GARDEN.
February in the garden
It always fascinates me to watch the frosted, dead looking lettuces and habas perk up again in the mid morning sun. Hopefully most of the frosty mornings are behind us now as we go into February. Many of us may have been taking it easy in the garden lately with the wind, snow, rain, slow growth, cold mornings and short days but don't get caught off guard. February is when it all starts to happen and the garden will start to be very busy again. The weeds will be back so try to stay ahead of them. There is lots to plant and lots of ground to prepare for summer. There should still be plenty of chard, kale and salad leaves to harvest and some of us may have already eaten our first tender shoots of sprouting broccoli. Harvesting regularly will encourage more sprouts and prolong the crop. Once it starts flowering it won't put out any more sprouts so make sure you harvest daily, or every other day.
If you held off sowing seeds for your summer veg due to the cold, get started soon. Tomatoes, aubergines, courgettes and peppers can all be sown now in a greenhouse or cold frame. These tender seedlings do not tolerate frost so they must be protected until we are sure the danger has passed. In warm areas green beans can be direct sown but they will not tolerate any frost. You could cover them with fleece or net if you are keen to have an early crop. Lettuces can be direct sown but will grow faster in a green house or cold frame. Beetroot can be direct sown as can carrots, parsnips, turnips, radish, rocket, chard, spinach and peas. Green manures sown in autumn can be dug in. Fruit trees can be planted. Think about which crops you would like to grow for seed this year. Educate yourself about what will and won't cross pollinate. For example, if you would like to save some chard seeds, don't let your beetroot flower at the same time because you will end up with seeds that produce a plant that is neither beetroot nor chard but something in between. Many vegetables and herbs don't cross pollinate and are very easy to save seeds from. For those that do cross pollinate, a little bit of planning and garden design will mean you can save many varieties in one garden. Come along to a seed bank meeting if you would like to learn more about seed saving or have a look at the website where you will find lots of great tips and information. (SEEEeD.es)
Reader's question: Do you know where I can buy a curry leaf plant? (William)
- Curry leaf tree, Murraya koenigii, is a small tree of the rue family native to Asia. It is the main ingredient in the Indian spice mix and can grow up to 6 meters tall. It is not at all frost hardy and will die if exposed to temperatures below 0 degrees C. It can be grown in a pot and brought indoors during the colder months if you get frost in your area. The curry tree also dislikes being over fed or over watered.
Helichrysum italicum, a flowering plant in the daisy family, asteraceae, is also sold as curry plant. Native to the Mediterranean it grows on dry rocky ground and has a strong fragrance reminiscent of curry but bitter and more akin to wormwood. It is used as a culinary herb but doesn't compete with the real thing.
I do know of a curry tree (Murraya koenigii) in the Alpujarras. It was brought back from a trip to the Maldives in a plastic bottle in a suitcase. You may be lucky to find one in a garden centre on the coast. The next best thing, Helichrysum italicum, are widely available.
March in the garden
Activity in the garden is accelerating, to the sounds of the birds and the bees. There is plenty of potting on to do if you are growing from seed, and lots of seeds still to be sown.
Beans can be direct sown now: climbing French beans, soya, runner beans and chick peas, as can beetroot, carrots, radish, spinach, parsnips, turnip and peas. Peanuts, okra and sweetcorn can be direct sown in warmer areas, but otherwise wait a month if the temperatures take a dip. Meanwhile, start sprouting sweet potato slips by suspending a sweet potato in a glass of water, held in place by toothpicks gently inserted in the flesh, the way you would with an avocado stone. Continue sowing tomatoes, peppers and aubergines in trays and get started on cucumbers, pumpkins, courgettes, melons, water melons and basil.
The next most disappointing thing to your carrots not germinating at all is when they germinate really well but in big clumps, giving you lots of densley packed tiny carrots. Now is a good time to weed them and thin them out at the same time - they should be big enough that you won't pull them out with the weeds. Two good sized carrots are so much more satisfying than 20 straggly ones. Also, beware of Queen Anne's Lace (wild carrot) which looks deceptively similar to carrots and often lurks amongst them. To check, scratch the soil away around the base of the plant and look for a thin white root rather than a juicy orange (or purple) carrot. Pull them out - they will compete with your carrots for space and nutrients and (for seed savers) the wild carrot will cross-pollinate your seeds and eventually erode your carrot seed quality.
SEEeD (Semillas Espanolas Ecologicas en Deposito) has recently launched an appeal for growers to save tomato seeds for the bank. Our tomato seed stocks are now very low after the huge popularity of the seed bank seeds during the lockdown last March. Back in 2014 one of SEEeD's founder members donated 200 varieties of tomatoes to the bank. Although all those varieties have been grown and enjoyed by local gardeners, seeds have not been returned for many of them. The seeds that are left are now seven years old, and coming to the end of their viability. If we want to save these varieties for our collection, they need to be grown, saved and returned this year.
Saving tomato seeds is very easy. Most varieties of tomato do not cross pollinate. Only the very tiny currant tomatoes cross with other currants, and beef tomatoes cross with other beef varieties. It's easy to see which plants will cross. Standard tomato plants have flowers with a closed pistil whereas beef tomatoes have much larger flowers with an open aspect and the male parts clearly protruding from the centre of the flower. Once you have established that you are growing only one beef variety, you can save seeds from that variety and from all your standard tomatoes without worrying about cross pollination. To extract the seeds from ripe to over ripe fruits, cut the tomato in half horizontally, squeeze the seeds into a glass and top up with water. Tomato seeds are encased in a gelatinous sac to inhibit germination so that they will not germinate when they fall from the plants in the autumn. This coating will ferment in the glass of water and after a few days a scum will appear on the surface. The viable seeds will sink to the bottom and the light non-viable seeds will join the scummy layer. Pour this off and rinse the remaining seeds with clean water, then spread them on a saucer to dry, out of direct sunlight. If you would like to help save our tomato collection, please get in touch with the seedbank at firstname.lastname@example.org.
April in the Garden
April can be a very changeable month – one minute it feels like summer has arrived and then its back to winter the next. Even though much of the overwintered veg will be coming to an end, don’t be too eager to plant your summer veg all at once. A sudden cold spell can be disastrous for tender summer plants like tomatoes and beans. Save some plants to put in a little later. They will catch up. Peas and broad beans will be abundant now. Continue picking them every day or three to prolong the harvest. Prepare poles for tomatoes and climbing beans and direct sow carrots, parsnips, parsley, radish, chickpeas and sunflowers. Later in the month you can plant corn, peanuts, okra and all kinds of beans - French, yard long, soya and runners - but not habas. A monthly sowing of beans from now till July will guarantee a continuous harvest until October.
The weeds will be rife by now so keep up with the weeding and put all that valuable organic matter into your compost bin to create loads of rich compost. Give the comfrey a haircut and add that to the compost to give it a boost.
Tax dodging philanthropist Bill Gates tells us in his new book “How to avoid a climate disaster” that cows fart too much and cause global warming so we should all be moving away from animal agriculture towards lab grown meat. He just happens to be a major investor in at least two new synthetic meat start-up companies, Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat. He makes the 1973 Charlton Heston film Soylent Green look more like science prediction than science fiction. Now the largest owner of farmland in the United States, he is also promoting new technology dependent farming packages to Africa’s poorest farmers through his non-profit GatesAg One.
Bill has fundamentally misinterpreted the relationship between small farmers and their animals. Animals are an integral part of small scale farming, providing the nutrition the soil needs to grow crops, while at the same time helping to tend the land. Sheep and goats graze, keeping weeds under control, they eat tree-prunings, which would otherwise be burned, chickens can be tractored to prepare the ground for planting and eat the grubs of orchard pests. Donkeys and mules carry heavy loads, and horses and oxen pull the plough. All the while the animals provide their manure as a free source of nutrition for the soil and keep the cycle of fertility going without the need for expensive synthetic chemicals. Then there are the added benefits of milk and eggs, and sometimes meat, although to a small farmer an animal has far more value alive than dead.
Humans are part of the natural order. We are part of the cycle of life and death. There is a lot wrong with modern industrial agriculture, whether it be for the production of meat or grains or vegetables or fruit. Do the solutions we need really lie in isolating us from our animals, from the land, our seeds and our means to produce our own food? Is more technology really the answer? Do we really need to be saved by self appointed billionaire leaders? Does Bill Gates really know anything about farming? More importantly does he really understand what it means to be a part of the natural cycles that have allowed humans to live in harmony with their animals for centuries.
THE REVOLUTION IS IN THE GARDEN
May in the Garden
The garden is very grateful for last month's April showers as we move towards another summer. If your vegetable seedlings were discouraged by the cold spell and decided to stop growing, they will catch up as temperatures start to rise so get them in the ground now. Watermelons, cucumbers, melons and pumpkins can be direct sown but do watch out for slugs and snails. They find it much easier to move around while the ground is still damp. Keep an eye on your sprouting sweet potatoes – keep the water in the glass topped up and take the slips off when they get to a length of about 30cm. Some people pot them up and plant them out when they have developed a bit of root. I just stick them straight into the ground. Leave the sweet potato in the glass of water and it will put out more shoots for a long time.
Continue with successional sowing of French beans, Asian beans and runner beans for a continuous harvest. Okra and corn can also be direct sown.
If you are planning to save some of your own seeds this year, put a bit of thought into planning your garden. Remember that some crops need to stay in the ground way past harvest time for seed saving and will occupy space in the garden for a lot longer - kale, carrots and lettuce for example. Cucumbers will cross with other cucumbers but not with melons. Watermelons cross with other other watermelons but not with melons. To save good seeds from melons and cucumbers, let a few fruits go well past the ripe edible stage and take the seeds from them. Saving seeds from pumpkins can be confusing – many pumpkins belong to the group cucurbita pepo where courgettes also belong. They will cross pollinate very easily. The three other main groups of pumpkin are cucurbita moschata, which includes the butternut squashes, cucurbita maxima which includes a lot of big pumpkins and cucurbita mixta which includes the hopi and cushaw types. All of these types will cross pollinate among themselves but not with the other three. You can grow four different varieties in one garden and have confidence that your seeds will all be pure. SEEeD, our local seed bank, runs monthly seed saving workshops, and learning how to identify which family your pumpkins belong to and how to hand pollinate to ensure seed purity if you are growing more than one variety in a family, are some of the topics we will cover over the summer. Get in touch and come to one of our workshops.
Many of us that grow organic food are motivated by the desire to know exactly what we are putting into our bodies through the food we eat. I personally strive to avoid Genetically Modified foods. The European Union classifies GM foods as “new foods” along with irradiated foods and they are subject to the most stringent regulation in the world being assessed for sale under the criteria of “safety”, “freedom of choice”, “labelling” and “traceability”. In the EU any foods with a GM content greater than 0.9% must be labelled as GM as a tool for the EU to protect consumers and the environment. It astonishes me therefore that the same stringent standards are not being applied to the new corona virus experimental vaccines as we are being asked to mainline genetically modified organisms directly into our bloodstreams. Just as the food we eat is a personal choice, so are any medical interventions. Each and every one of us should assess the information we have available and make our own choices both about the food we eat and the medications we take.
June in the Garden
Summer is here, after a bit of a slow start. It almost feels as if we skipped spring this year and went from cold to scorching overnight. For those of you growing from seed you may have struggled to get your chillies, peppers and aubergines going. Don’t despair if it feels like you are planting them in the ground very late. They will continue cropping well into the autumn. In fact your entire harvest may be a little later this year. Looking back on my notes I see that this year’s cold spring is not that unusual. There seems to be a pattern forming – colder springs and summer lasting longer – almost as if the seasons have shifted a month. Keep notes of what you plant when, what works and what doesn’t and read them the following year. If we are going into a phase of climate change, our own notes will help us to adapt.
Corn, okra, courgettes, carrots, radish, peanuts, cucumbers, sweet potatoes and beans can all be direct sown this month. Pinch out the side shoots of your tomato plants and tie the plants in to keep them neat and tidy. You can plant side shoots in potting compost to propagate more plants. Growth will be fast now and tomato plants can get out of control very quickly. Weeds will also start to become even more of an issue so try to keep ahead of them. A few minutes with the hoe every morning breaks up the surface of the soil and prevents a crust forming and dislodges any weed seeds before they germinate. Try to get deep rooted perennial weeds and grasses out by the roots by digging down where you can, without disrupting your crops.
Permaculture graduates swear by mulch, not only to control weeds but also to help retain moisture in the soil, which can be very useful in a summer garden. The first principle of permaculture is, however, not mulch, it is observation. Not all mulches are equal! It is crucial to pay attention to how your mulch is performing in your conditions. Straw mulch can become very dry in summer and blow around in the wind and end up clogging up your water channels. It can also become a breeding ground for slugs and snails that will come out at night and munch their way through all your tender young plants. Fresh wood chips rob nitrogen from the soil as they start to decompose so are better to have been left to sit for at least six months before being spread as a mulch. Decaying sticky, woody mulches provide a perfect habitat for woodlice. These little armoured creatures are rumoured to eat only decaying matter. This is untrue. If you are having problems with something unknown eating your plants, go out into the garden at night with a torch. You may expect to find a big fat snail and may be surprised to encounter hordes of cute little woodlice crawling all over your leaves. One woodlouse won’t do much damage but a whole tribe of them can wreak havoc. Remove the mulch and look for the nest. It will be in a nearby pile of stones or sticks.
Manure can also be used as a mulch but if it is too fresh it may burn the plants so spread it only when it is very well rotted. Well broken down compost is the ideal mulch. Used as a top dressing, it will also provide fertility for the plants. It can be hoed easily too.
July in the Garden
July is an abundant month with almost daily harvesting required of courgettes, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers and basil. Harvesting them regularly will ensure a long cropping season. However, the plant's objective is to complete its life cycle by producing seeds to ensure the next generation; so when seeds start to form, the plant will direct all its energy into seed production and will stop developing new flowers, so no more fruits will be formed.
Your job is to keep up with the harvesting. Picking the first beans when they are on the small side will encourage the plants to put out more flowers and so produce more beans. Basil is cultivated for its leaves. When it starts to flower, it will put all its energy into seed production and stop producing new leaves. Don´t let it flower! Pinch out the flowering tops to give you bushy plants and a lot more leaves. Please don´t make the mistake of waiting for your courgettes to get a bit bigger: pick them small and the plant will put out loads more. If your courgettes are cropping poorly, make sure the female flowers are being fertilised. Courgettes have separate male and female flowers on the same plant and rely on bees to carry the pollen from the male to the female flowers. Plant plenty of bee-attracting flowers close to your courgettes to encourage them. The male flower is attached to a long thin stem and the female flower has an ovary - an immature fruit behind it. If the pollen does not reach the flower, the ovary will wither and drop off. If this happens you can help the plants along by hand pollinating. Courgette flowers open in the morning and close again in the afternoon, so in the morning, identify an open male and female flower on the same plant, or on more than one plant of the same variety. Break the male flower off at the the green stem and take off the petals. You will be left with a long pollen covered stamen. Gently poke this into any open female flower, mixing the male and female pollen. You will see the inside of the female flowers look quite different. More than one male flower can be used on more than one female flower. You can also do this with any reluctant pumpkins, melons and cucumbers.
All the reports in the media about extreme weather - late frost and drought, animal feed shortages, shipping disruptions and a shortage of steel to can tomatoes, point to looming chaos in the food supply chain. Add to that the economic uncertainty many of us face due to the continuing corona virus circus, we would be wise to preserve our excess crops. Garlic and pumpkins are easy – lay them out to dry then store them in a cool, dry place away from mice and rats. While most summer crops don´t keep- tomatoes will start to rot soon after they have been harvested, they can be sun-dried or bottled or made into sauces. Cucumbers can be pickled, courgettes can be sliced and dried, beans can be bottled, basil can be dried or made into pesto and most vegetables can be mixed up and made into chutney. The choices are endless. With a little forethought and planning, we can eat well all year, regardless of what the world throws at us. Pay attention to the resources you have and use these as best you can. And don´t forget to save some seeds – they are our future. To learn more about growing your own seeds, get in touch with www.SEEeD.es and come along to one of our monthly seed saving workshops.
THE REVOLUTION IS IN THE GARDEN.
August in the Garden
August is both the best and the worst month in the garden. The heat, the relentless weeds, the itchy grasses and biting bugs make it nearly unbearable, but the joy of the tomato glut, the cucumbers, beans, basil, okra, courgettes, corn and melons makes all the discomfort worthwhile. There is a lot to do now and it helps to start early and take advantage of the cool peaceful mornings before the cicadas start screeching. Continue tying up the tomato plants and prune off all the lower yellow and brown leaves to allow air to circulate and to give you a better view of your ripening tomatoes. Almost daily harvesting is essential; okra is unpleasant to eat if left to get too big, corn cobs will turn dry, beans will get tough, tomatoes and melons will split and cucumbers will turn bitter. Continue weeding, watering and feeding. Plant another round of potatoes and propagate new tomato plants from the side shoots of established plants to plant for a Christmas crop. Rocket can be direct sown as well as some Asian greens and mustards. It´s also time to start your winter brassicas; broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, collard greens and Brussels sprouts. Sow the seeds either in pots of potting compost or in a seed bed in the garden. Either way, water daily and give them a bit of shade. They should be ready to plant into the ground in late September.
If wild boar have paid a visit to your garden, you know how heartbreaking it is. In just one night they can wipe out months of work. But it´s not only the big creatures that can wreak havoc with your crops.... The tuta absoluta moth, almost invisible to the naked eye, can decimate a whole field of tomatoes. I´m sure we´ve all experienced the pain caused by snails, then there´s wood lice, shield beetles, greenfly, blackfly and whitefly plus viruses, moulds and funguses. So what to do? Reach for the organic pesticide or fungicide and eradicate them all? A wise person once said that a plague is not a case of too many of one species, it´s a deficit of others. If you have a problem with blackfly, you don`t have too many blackfly, you just don´t have enough blackfly predators such as ladybirds and lacewings. Learning to live in harmony with pests is a challenge. Every creature has a role in the garden and eradicating one has a knock on effect that leads to further imbalances.
Your garden should not be a battle ground: instead look for simple solutions to offer a more gentle approach to those troublesome visitors. Cabbage white butterflies, for example, love to lay their eggs on brassicas (the clue is in the name), the caterpillars hatch out and eat their way through your cabbage leaves. We can control them by picking the eggs off the leaves and killing them. You could also plant a huge patch of nasturtiums because cabbage whites love nasturtiums even more than they love cabbages and prefer to lay their eggs there. It´s not such a loss if the caterpillars eat all the nasturtium leaves, we can still appreciate the flowers.
Pay attention to what's going on in your garden. Companion plants provide an alternative food source for pests and attract their predators. Leave a wild patch in the garden and allow your garden friends and foes to live there. If you have a field full of nothing but kale, guess what the wild creatures are going to eat? Kale. Instead, let insects, reptiles, birds, worms and snails collaborate to bring equilibrium to your garden. A well balanced diverse system will provide enough food for everyone, including the gardener. Every one does their job. The pollinators will pollinate, the worms will aerate the soil, the woodlice will devour the decaying matter. Next time you think about reaching for the neem, have a look at a companion planting chart and see if you can correct your deficit rather than kill off your “enemies”. And build a good fence to keep the wild boar out.
September in the Garden
September brings a new beginning, a change of pace to the garden. The summer harvests slow down, the nights cool and we are grateful for the rain, when in comes. Aubergines and chillies will continue to bear fruit as will some tomatoes and beans. Keep going with the processing to ensure you have plenty of chutneys and sauces to eat throughout the winter. Harvest pumpkins for storage; sweet potatoes and yacon can stay put for another month or so. Where the plants are finished, start clearing out the beds to get ready for winter. The spent plants provide valuable organic material to add to the compost pile. Add compost or manure to the beds where heavy feeders are going to be planted. Select which poles are in good enough condition to use again next year.
Carrots, parsnips, radish, spinach, beetroot, fennel and turnips can be direct sown. Leeks, onions, celery and lettuce can be sown in seed trays and the brassica plants that were sown last month – broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower - can go into the ground if they are big enough and more can be sown in seed trays. Start planning where peas, garlic and Ahab's will be planted next month and any beds that are not going to be used until the spring can be sown with green manures to dig in later. Cut comfrey leaves and add them to the compost to accelerate it or make a feed with them in a barrel.
Now is a good time to assess the summer garden. Was it too big? Or not big enough? Did you manage to keep up with harvesting, watering and weeding? Did you have any waste or were you able to use all your produce? Which varieties did you like and which ones are not worth growing again? Did your earlier planted cucumbers fare better than your later planted ones? Take notes now so you will have valuable information with which to plan next years summer garden. Your own note book is your best gardening companion.
Save seeds from your most successful plants and label them with the variety name, the year and any other useful information. Plants evolve and adapt to their environmental conditions and store all the new information in their seeds to pass on to the next generation. Your own seeds saved in your own micro climate will give you the best results. We can also swap seeds with our friends and neighbours so its always wise to save more than we need for our own use. Excess seeds can also be donated to SEEeD (Semillas Ecologicas Españolas en Deposito), our local seed bank. SEEeD´s annual autumn seed swap will be held in October this year so look out for the details of the time and place and come along. With such a narrow choice of varieties available commercially, it´s wonderful to see the diversity available to us when the gardening community gets together for a seed swap. If you do rely on commercial seeds for some of your crops, look into ordering seeds from smaller seed companies selling open pollinated seeds. They often have a wider range of varieties, many of which are not widely available and as the seeds are open pollinated, we are able to save seeds from them and keep them in circulation. So much of our crop diversity is being lost as the seed giants focus on fewer and fewer profitable varieties. SEEeD holds monthly practical workshops in a garden demonstrating how to save good seeds. Come along to one to learn tips and techniques for saving your own seeds and to meet fellow growers.
October in the Garden
October and the transition from summer garden to winter garden is almost complete. Nearly all the tomatoes are finished; aubergines, peppers and chillies will continue to bear fruit for a few weeks more and the last round of green beans are being harvested. Some of the earlier planted beans that survived the heat will be having a second wind and are producing another crop. Direct sow habas (broad beans), peas, garlic, radishes, carrots, parsnips, beetroot and spinach. Plant out leek and onion plantlets and continue to plant the brassica, chard and lettuce plants that were planted from seed last month. Shore the potatoes up regularly; as the leaves start to show, cover them with soil or straw leaving just the tops poking out. Continue to do this throughout the growing season. All the stems that get covered over revert to roots and give your crop a much greater yield. Plant useful companion plants now too such as marigolds and nasturtiums.
Think about your crop rotations. Different groups of crops have different nutritional requirements and to prevent the soil being drained of specific nutrients the same crop should not be grown in the same space year after year. Moving crops around also prevents the build up of pests and diseases. A simple rotation is to think about alternating a plant that grows up, such as tomatoes, with a crop that goes down, such as carrots. Another way is to alternate light feeders with heavy feeders so, for example, aubergines, with manure added to the beds can be followed by lettuce which wouldn´t need any extra fertility and would be quite happy feeding off the residue from the previous crop. More complex rotations can be planned out over a four season period. For example start with potatoes, a heavy feeder with manure added. When they are harvested plant a lighter feeder such as salad crops that will use the fertility left over from the potatoes. After that comes peas which are a leguminous crop and fix nitrogen in the soil so are beneficial to the crop that comes next. After the peas, a green manure can be planted to be dug back into the soil then go back to the beginning and add manure and another heavy feeder such as tomatoes.
Try to organise your crops into roation groups. Heavy feeders are potatoes, tomatoes, aubergines, peppers, melons, squash, corn and spinach. Light feeders are carrots, parsnips, beetroot, radishes and salads. Nitrogen fixers are peas, beans, chick peas and broad beans. Brassicas like a lot of nutrition but giving them beds rich in manure will make a lot of leafy growth, which is great for kale as you are eating the leaves, but not so good for cauliflowers and brocolli as it is actually the flower head you are cultivating so you are looking for less leaf here. These crops prefer compost.
Try and make the most of your structures. If you can refashion your tomato poles to accomodate your peas it will save you the job of taking out one set of poles and assembling another. Its an extra factor to work into your rotation plan. We are very lucky to have a twelve month growing season here in Southern Spain but it doesn´t always make planning our crop rotations easy. Don´t over think it. When a crop is ready to come out and it´s not quite time for the next one on the rotation plan to go in, plant a salad crop or a green manure to fill the space until its time for the next crop. Radishes are light feeders and grow very quckly so are useful for occupying a bit of time and space. Its always useful to keep notes to see what performed well in the rotation sequence so you can look back next year when you are making your rotation plan.
November in the Garden
As the hot dry weather continues well into the autumn we may start to wonder if we´re going to get a winter this year. Stick to the plan and keep planting the winter veg. Direct sow habas and peas and garlic if you didn´t manage to do so last month. Continue getting the brassica plants into the ground as well as lettuces, leeks and onions. Chard, spinach, radish, carrots and beetroot can be direct sown too, but growth will be slow now as the temperatures start to drop. Bring in the remaining pumpkins and store them for winter use. Dig up the sweet potatoes, jerusalem artichokes and yacon.
Chilli and aubergine plants that have been late producers may well over-winter. Once all the fruit has been harvested and they have stopped flowering, the plants can be trimmed back by a third. Leave them in the ground and if they survive the winter, they will produce early fruit next year.
November is a quiet time in the garden. The days are short, growth is slow. But there is still plenty to do. Make the most of this time now that the pressure of constant harvesting and intense summer heat is over. Tools can be maintained, repaired or replaced; the tomato poles can be sorted and stored for next year or turned into kindling if they are past their best; the overgrown edges and corners of the garden can be strimmed and tidied up, and maintenance can be carried out on the acequias and water channels. Process your saved seeds, which are no doubt in various stages of drying, and pack them away for spring. Don´t forget to put your bean seeds in the freezer for a few days to kill any weevil eggs lurking inside. Label and date all your saved seeds. Keep notes of which varieties you liked and want to grow again.
Review your summer harvest and think about the quantities you want to grow next year. The importance of efficient harvesting is often overlooked. When the summer garden is bursting with food it´s sometimes hard to keep up. It´s often impossible to eat it all and many of us are guilty of letting good food rot on the ground because we didn´t manage to pick it in time. Do we really need 20 aubergine plants if the fruits got so big they were unpalatable? Could we grow just ten next year and endeavour to pick the fruits more regularly when they are small and tender? And did we really need kilos of cherry tomatoes every day? Could we put our time and space to better use and plant more plum tomatoes next spring and spend more time bottling them for the winter? Did we become overwhelmed with french beans and didn´t manage to pick them fast enough so they all went to seed? Having a glut of bean seeds is no bad thing but a shorter row of beans harvested every other day will produce more than a poorly harvested row double the size. Planting cucumbers, lettuces, beans and okra every few weeks will spread the harvest out and keep us in fresh produce over a longer period of time.
We´re heading for a hungry gap now in the garden as we wait for the habas, peas, potatoes and carrots to grow. Soon we will be harvesting kale, lettuces and rocket, and if we managed to preserve our summer gluts, we will have plenty of delicious sun-dried tomatoes, pickled aubergines, pesto and chutneys to eat with them. Food shortages only exist in the mainstream media. Don´t believe the hype. THE REVOLUTION IS IN THE GARDEN.
December in the Garden
The shortest day of 2021 is fast approaching even though winter doesn’t seem to be interested in showing up this year. We continue with our cycle in the garden; plant peas and garlic if you haven´t already and it´s still possible to do a final sowing of habas. Carrots, lettuce, beetroot and parsnips can be direct sown, as can radishes and salad leaves. Prune any chilli, pepper, and aubergine plants that are still alive back to two thirds to see if they survive the winter. If winter does come and we get some decent rain, slugs and snails will be very active, so protect tender young carrot tops by sprinkling wood ash around the sowings or by covering the rows with netting or agricultural fleece. Keep an eye on the brassicas too until they are big enough to survive a snail attack.
In mid November a young French chap offered to help me in the garden. “How long has the veggie garden been abandoned for?” was the first question he asked as we set out on our day´s work. Shocked, I glanced quickly around the garden, my pride dented. What I saw wasn´t exactly Charles Dowding´s Instagram feed but it was by no means an abandoned garden. Yes, the dried up bean plants clinging to the bamboo poles didn´t look great, but those dried pods hold the seeds for next year´s crop. The unruly falling over yacon stalks looked pretty messy but under the ground their tubers will keep getting bigger and sweeter until we harvest them after the first frost. The tatty sweet potato vines weren´t much to look at either but they are alive and swelling underground. And it is worth holding on to those raggedy looking tomato plants; the last green tomatoes will make a delicious chutney. We set to work clearing out the pumpkin patch which to the untrained eye looked like a big jumble of weeds and dead vines but we found a load of giant pumpkins that had made a run for it and were hiding in the long grass. Those invasive summer grasses are so easy to pull out this time of year so we cleared out the pumpkin patch in no time. With the old plants pulled up and replaced with sowings of garlic and habas the rows soon looked neat and tidy.
A productive vegetable garden doesn´t always look fabulous, and especially so when seed production is incorporated. Plants grown to seed need to kept in the ground longer and some go long past the point of being recognisable as the vegetables we eat. Carrots, leeks, parsnips, broccoli and lettuces in their seed production stage are as far from the edible part of the cycle as a butterfly is from a caterpillar. A garden grown only for aesthetic purposes is a far cry from a full cycle food and seed production operation.
It can feel disappointing though to look at our own gardens sometimes, especially after a long hard summer when there is so much clearing up to do. Don´t despair, there are some tricks we can employ to give a general feeling of tidiness. Clearly defined lines around the edges of the beds give the impression of things being under control. Strim around the beds and clear the pathways at ground level; cut away anything that is encroaching onto the path and also prune any branches that are crossing into the path to give you a clear line of sight and freedom of movement. A top dressing of manure, compost or leaf mulch can make an empty bed look neat and ripe for planting. Beds that overwhelm us can be covered over with a sheet of plastic until we have the energy to clear them out. And be selective with the parts of the garden you photograph for your Instagram feed. I bet Charles Dowding is.