Permaculturing in Portugal

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

Vegetable garden update

A week or so ago the weather turned autumnal and we had our first decent rainfall since early June. (Yes, friends and family in Scotland, read that and weep! Smug? Who, me?) A thorough watering and a few cloudy days completely revitalised the vegetable garden, emphasising again that adequate watering and shading are keys to successful growing here.

Yurt terrace vegetable garden

It’s been apparent for a while that those parts of the vegetable beds which benefit from the partial shade cast by the yurt porch roof or other plants have done much better than those in full sun, even for sun-loving plants like basil. It’s so diametrically opposed to what I’m used to, it’s taken a while for the penny to drop. But now it has, the plan will be to increase the number of layers in the garden by planting some trees which cast a light shade.

Yurt terrace vegetable garden

But the garden is doing well!

I am an instant convert to polyculture. Not only is it a successful way of growing, but once a reasonable selection of vegetables were established, the protection afforded to new seedlings by existing plantings has meant that I’ve been able to keep harvesting and replanting steadily throughout the season, filling any bare patches that open up. This has meant that the soil has tended to dry out far less. A good covering of multi-layered vegetation traps water vapour and slows evaporation.

Yurt terrace vegetable garden

Selective replanting also makes for far less general disturbance to the soil and allows for a ‘little and often’ approach to growing as opposed to planting an entire crop in one go and harvesting it all at the same time. This not only extends the ‘season’ for each vegetable, but involves far less work at any one time. It also has the not inconsiderable advantage of avoiding the loss of an entire crop because of the weather conditions prevailing at planting time. My April plantings of capsicum peppers struggled to thrive after May’s rains. The chlorosed and weedy plants barely produced a pepper worth its name. But the June plantings have done well and although we had to wait a bit, we’re now harvesting large juicy fruit. This approach to growing strikes me as similar to the difference between clear-felling a forest (which we’ve seen a lot of round here this year) and more sustainable management practices.

It’s also leading me towards a style of growing that emphasises continual production, using the different ripening times of different cultivars to maximise the growing season, with an eventual aim of having some produce at least available from the garden year-round.

Drying onions

The straw mulch has also been hugely successful, contributing substantially to slowing water loss from the soil and to suppressing weed growth. Maintenance is much simpler and there is much less inadvertent damage to growing seedlings during weeding. It was noticeable that in areas where the mulch cover was reduced to allow for eg. carrot seedlings to germinate, there were far more problems with seedlings becoming overwhelmed by other more vigorous plants.

Courgette flower

Broccoli

Savoy cabbage

Seed saving

I’ve also been saving seed from various food plants and flowers throughout the year, recycling paper bags from the local bakery.

Drying seeds

The now-empty potato bin – after its fairly meagre but thankfully unblighted harvest – is about to see service as a seed bed for an autumn sowing of pak choi.

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4 Comments

  1. Hugh September 13, 2011

    Great work. I am trying to develop my garden in exactly the same way.

    Have you found any strategies that work for ‘delicate’ plants like carrots?

    What is your general planting strategy – do you plant direct from seed, or grow up in punnets first, or a combination? Do you irrigate your polyculture?

    I am trying to direct plant as much as possible, normally using a plastic drink container cut in half to form a mini greenhouse to retain heat and moisture (outside of the hot season anyway). I have had pretty good results with this technique but carrots are something that has defied me so far…

  2. Quinta do Vale September 13, 2011

    Carrots! Yes … Carrots are a challenge. To begin with I removed a lot of the mulch to allow seeds to germinate, which they did, and then promptly got swamped by chickweed and the like. Latterly I bought seedlings at the market and planted them through the mulch. These have done much better. Mulching and growing from seed are slightly incompatible. At the moment I’m getting a lot of seedlings at market because I don’t have the facilities to raise them here. Will be different once the greenhouse is built but for now it suits. I like the idea of the drink container greenhouses and have used them. But the dog and the cats find them amusing too … No easy answers. Still experimenting. I quite like this idea.

    And yes, I irrigate when necessary. A good soaking with a hosepipe every few days, which is a notable improvement on last year when we had to water daily. The mulch and more extensive vegetation cover have made the difference.

  3. Hugh September 13, 2011

    My mulch is usually pretty thin come springtime (i.e. now). I’ve just tried incorporating carrot seed into half a bucket of compost and scattered that throughout the garden the day before rains were forecast. Will see what happens… I’m sure there must be a way without going to great pains to remove mulch and make your soil all light and fluffy….

  4. Quinta do Vale September 13, 2011

    I agree. There must be a better way. Seedballs perhaps?

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