Permaculturing in Portugal

One family's attempts to live in a more planet-friendly way

Beds raised, and Springing things

Things are moving along. The raised beds on the yurt terrace are now substantially complete. Just one more hügelbeet section left to create and the new beds will be ready for their first growing season.

Raised beds, yurt terrace

We’re using the bark from the trees we felled for firewood laid over cardboard to keep the ‘keyhole’ paths in the beds relatively weed-free.

I’ve also built a large (just under 1m3) wooden bin for planting potatoes, rather than digging fresh ground for them. This way I hope to obtain much higher yields from each plant for minimal outlay on space. The bin should hold roughly 2 dozen plants.

Potato bin

I’ve been spending some time scrutinising the Borda d’Água, one of the 2 main Portuguese agricultural almanacs (available printed on folded but uncut news-sheets from almost every stall at the weekly markets), with eyebrows raised as much at the idea of sowing peppers and lettuce in January as at some new word in Portuguese. I’m still trying to get the ingrained association between the words “growing season” and the months June, July and August out of my head and adjust to the vastly expanded potential we have here in Portugal compared to Scotland, so even with the help of the Borda d’Água, we’re still behind the local people with our sowing. But that’s OK. The land here is prone to frost, being predominantly north-facing, and the stream and its valley act as a funnel to sinking cold air when clear days warm the slopes above, so we have more to lose than gain from early plantings.

The sun is shining on the yurt terrace now for a few hours each day. In the new beds we have onions just starting to push their way through the straw mulch and the shoots of pre-sprouted broad beans beginning to appear above ground.

The transplanted rainbow chard, perpetual spinach, strawberries, redcurrants and garlic have all taken well and though the chard suffered some burn on the outer leaves, everything has survived the recent frosts. The self-seeded grelos are lush and vigorous, more so than those amongst the grass elsewhere, so the applications of home-made compost have been beneficial already. Some of the comfrey is starting to produce new shoots and there are signs of life from the rhubarb, moved from its spot on the fruit terraces where it struggled pitifully in the heat last year, to a cooler, damper, shadier spot under the willow tree. Some of the ridiculously hopeful (well to me at least) lettuce seedlings I put in the first hügelbeet in January are still holding on, though I don’t know for how much longer. They survived the frosts thanks to some horticultural fleece, but the cats and the dog have taken to dancing jigs on them.

At last we’ve had a week of rain after more than a month of none, and suddenly bushes and trees are bursting into leaf and blossom almost overnight. It’s been intriguing to watch how the differences in temperature and rainfall patterns between this year and last have affected Spring growth. Last year we had primroses and camellias in December. This year they’re only just getting going now. Yet the crab apple blossom, which didn’t appear until March last year, first started blooming in January.

Rainy days have been a good opportunity for online research into companion planting and putting together a reference of plant interactions which I want to use as guidance for planting the various guilds we’ll be slowly building up around the quinta.

Camellia

And by the end of next week the weather forecast is predicting 23°C temperatures …

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