woensdag 28 december 2016

An horta in the Alentejo - Part 2

Our vegetable garden in 2016.

March 2016.
In 2014, we posted about the creation and destruction of our first vegetable garden in Portugal: 'An horta in the Alentejo' (during the years 2011-2013).
When we came here in 2010 we brought our Dutch garden experiences with us. But unfortunately, here in the Alentejo, this was of very little use. Thanks to the explanations of microbiologist Dr. Elaine Ingham, we could come to a remarkable conclusion, which now apeares to be of great value. We mix our Alentejo soil with our compost, as simple as that:

"Our Alentejo soil is made of weathered slate. We can easily activate this soil, make it fruitful, with our grass compost. The activated soil life ensures that the minerals are released from the soil, so they can be absorbed by the plants. (This is a very beautiful natural process, which I never really can explain correctly in a few sentences.) Everything works with everything together; plants, soil, air, water, organic matter and the microbes or soil live."

April 2016.
In practice.

The general principle of organic farming is: "If the soil is in biological balance, it is healthy and the crop is therefore healthy. A healthy crop will not be affected by insects and diseases". We try to make our soil healthy with grass-compost and this works well up till now. Overall we can be satisfied with our harvest. Precisely because our garden is new. The soil has not been able to prove itself.
But sometimes the weather conditions are so complicated that even a healthy soil yields nothing. Much knowledge, nearly resembling a predictive power (what to grow when and where) is indispensable. We are still trying to get some grip on the Portuguese conditions... within the possibilities we have.
For... we buy our seeds in the nearby store, or over the Internet. This does not always come up. We also buy plants on the local market, where they are sometimes visible sprayed... Sometimes the starting material is so weak or genetically damaged, that only a little thing happening can make the crop fail, or simply not occur. The ants, grasshoppers, caterpillars, or snails seize their chance. And... is our soil already in balance?

August 2016.
Under the influence of the weather.

Our Portuguese summer is like a reverse Dutch winter. Here the summers are hot and everything that should grow holds still or simply dies. A Dutch winter has the same effect on plants, only then everything freezes. In the Portuguese winter we can still grow crops, that we sow in the late summer or in autumn.
Springtime surely is the most productive, from March to July. After that we look for shelter until late September. Sometimes it rains in the summer, but usually not. Nature saves the rain for October, or sometimes for November. It often lasts until mid-December before the river flows again. The major part of the year, the river is dry.

December 2016.
In summer all developments are taking a hold. Only a garden with plenty of water and shade-cloth can help. In October, the nature is so depleted that there is nothing to eat anymore for sheep and other animals. This is the saddest month of the year.
After the rain (in October or November), everything grows green again. The country then looks like if it is in spring... at least when you skip the falling leaves. And in January everything starts to bloom. This will take at least until the end of April, when nature is at its peak. In May the first grasses and herbs wither. And in July, everything is dry. For Hendrik this is the time to mow the grasses. For the garden, the difficult time has arrived.

Here the Rosemary where the bees are buzzing... in January.
Yellow clovers color the fields lemon yellow, in January to March.
When it is cloudy the flowers close themselves, and after a night of frost the plants die.

We can grow lettuce in the autumn until December. That is doable if we sow to the second half of September in order to plant them out later. If we do that much later, we no longer manage to grow and harvest a lettuce. The nights are getting too cold. And this winter it is much colder than expected.

A single winter-snail can not harm this lettuce.
During the turn of the year (2016-2017) we have taken our lettuce plants from the garden and planted them in pots again. There was frost during the nights and the small plants were eaten by snails and other small vermin. Now they are safe in the greenhouse and have already survived several nights with frost. They will be fine, it seems.

January 2017.
Last summer we have not at all been able to grow lettuce, because it was too hot (averages of 40ºC). Like previous years we cultivated lettuce in pots, with shade cloth over it. This always went well, but now no shade cloth or water could help. It seemed like they were choked in the heat and the dry air.
Hopefully we will be more lucky the following summer. Because lettuce surely is a real summer vegetable. We will try again and not only in pots, but in the garden also.

Our greenhouse in October 2015, with at the right lettuce in pots, which has grown during the summer. The lettuce heads in pots are not as large as in the ground, where they have more root space.
Lettuce in pots in April 2016... the great summer heat has yet to come...

Green cabbage can well be cultivate in (40 liters) barrels. Meanwhile, we have discovered that the red cabbages like the open ground best where they have more root space. In the winter of 2015-2016 we grew cabbage throughout the winter, in barrels.

Green cabbage is good in barrels. The red ones we must grow in the ground, where they have more root space.
May 2016... Green cabbage in the raised bed (open ground). The green beans are in bloom.
After this beautiful crop of cabbage and beans, we wanted to try to grow cauliflower. However, the ants discovered the young cauliflower plants and fell in love with the hearts of the cabbage.
It seemed as though they ate the hearts, but we think that they were more interested in the sweet juice from the cabbage. The plants lost their hearts due to there 'milking and niggling'. The cabbage plants got completely 'confused' and then produced more new hearts.
This raised bed is at the edge of the garden, where the grasshoppers from the field, could easily find the cabbage. They finished the job the ants had started.
Later in the year we planted new cabbage plants again. Now, in other places. But again it was the ants who were the masters in that part of the garden...

November 2016. Ants attack the heart of the cabbage.
Originally there are a lot of ants on our land. They will bother you if you construct a garden on the spots where they live. It is hard to predict where the ants will emerge because they can travel long distances and the nests are hidden. And for ants a garden is a gift of course.

Summer 2016. The result of the heat, ants and grasshoppers.
We could hardly grow any cabbage throughout this hot summer. We have tried to do so on several spots, but we had to say goodbye to almost all of the plants... because of the dry and hot weather conditions and predators such as ants, grasshoppers and caterpillars. And ignoring crop rotation (how stupid) we planted cauliflower after green cabbage in the same bed. But... also in other places (after the beans and carrots), the ants did their industrious work...

Only there, where there were no ants, we harvested óne cauliflower in October. So it is possible, despite of the heat... !

November 2016.
From October 2016 we indeed succeeded to grow cabbages. In an older part of the garden we planted the plants, that we grew from seeds in our open greenhouse. We feel that the plants have a stronger (organic) start, if we grow our plants ourselves. Now only one plant has lost its heart because of the ants. The others look cool.
Usually the self-seeded cabbage behaves different than the professional plant species that we can buy on the market. The self-sown makes more leaves and a looser cabbage. But now we are going to wait for the harvest, before we can say some more about this species. Earlier I wrote about 'Seeds and Species - Cabbage'.

December 2016. New hope :)

The ants like carrots very much. They lure aphids to go there, snuggling in the heart of the carrot, where the start of the stems is situated. This does not affect the carrot visible. Healthy carrots grows there...

The garden in March 2016. with onions, carrots, beetroots and red cabbage.
We need to sow the carrots in the early spring, to be ready before the heat of the summer. In the hot summer they do completely nothing, they do not grow until the weather gets cooler. We also can sow carrots áfter the great heat. Usually then the carrots can be harvested before the cold nights with frost begin.


It is said that ants dislike marigolds, either mint or any other strongly scented plants. Well... not with us... The ants are feasting on the marigolds. You can do them no greater pleasure. They even bite you if you come too close; they are so fanatical. The only advantage of this is that they are busy with the marigolds and not with the cabbage. But only we are afraid, that the ants have such fun that there will be more and more of them.
Marigold do not survive a hot summer, if there is no shade-cloth hanging above. So you cannot grow them between the vegetables in the garden unprotected. And they do not survive the Portuguese winters.

Ants... The mantis captures them gladly.
Green beans and dry beans.

Green beans (low trunk or climbing) can only be sown in early spring. They must be harvested in June, before the summer heat begins.
The post 'Sun Melon and Heat Stress' tells more about the summer sun.

June 2016.
Given the temperature we thought of sowing beans in late summer, in order to harvest them in the fall. But the beans have a sense of season, a biological clock. The days are getting shorter and they respond to that. They do not grow, make one flower and wait for more hours of sunshine. 

We like to try grow dry beans also, because we eat a lot of fermented beans (where someone else would eat meat). For this we need more area. Although it is obvious, that we never can grow as much dry beans as we eat... yet it is interesting to try. It should be possible to sow the beans early in spring and then to pick them in July from the dry plants, we think...

January 2017. Expansion in preparation.
Broad beans.

Broad beans are sowed in November and definitely before Christmas. This is very common here in the south of Portugal. During the winter the beans grow and are harvested in spring. The sooner you sow, the sooner you can reap. When you sow much later, the beans will be overwhelmed by lice, before the harvest can begin. Or, in a very cold winter, they just do not come up.
A previous bean experience can be found in 'Broad Beans' .


This week we saw, at our neighbors, that they have sown peas between there broad beans, and it all looks good. They told us that peas can be sown in November also. Peas are known to be able to resist some frost. So the following season we will try this also. For it was obvious that we where too late with the sowing of our peas, in late spring last year. They produced one pod and that was all they did, in the heat of July and August.

Heat stress in late July 2016.
In the open greenhouse, however, the peas did well... in pots... until May.


Only the beets grow everywhere and always good. Even in the heat of the summer sun and during a cold winter. Read more in: 'Harvest - Beetroot', including a beet recipe.

And here that one cauliflower, that we could harvest... in spite of the summer heat:

September 2017 - Hanging limply... cauliflower and beets in the heat of the summer sun.
A nice shower in the evening is sufficient to restore them again and keep them healthy during the day. 
The soil takes up sufficient moisture and holds it well.
October 2017 - Beetroots and Cauliflower.
Only after several nights with frost below -4ºC the beet plants die. Then the leaves turn dark red and the roots in the ground let go the beet. However, the beet itself is healthy.
Beets need quite a few months to grow. Then it is nice that they are not so much bothered by the heat of the day and a cold frosty night.


This winter the harvest of potatoes was great again. The variety that we have planted must be one that normally can produce huge potatoes, because our red ones are usually not so big. But still, every time, this harvest is a surprise.

Harvested in January 2017.
Potatoes we plant twice a year. In spring, to harvest them before the big summer heat. And in late summer after the great heat, in order to harvest them in winter.
This year we had to protect the plants from the cold nights.

Potatoes under a fleece cover, against the cold nights in January 2017.
The beet plants, in the foreground, do not need the fleece.
And the broad beans can best be grown in winter.
I.a. on the summer harvest of potatoes, the post:


Several years ago we sowed (wild) strawberries in pots. In summer under the shade of the trees and in winter in the full sun, they bear fruits the year round. With sufficient water, they are easy to please and then make lots of soft fruits. In the fall they must be torn up and re-potted in fresh potting soil with lots of compost. During the year the soil level drops in the pot. We then fill it up again. The dead leaf on the bottom of the plant makes its own mulch. The core of the plant makes fresh leaves and fresh strawberries, as long as they get enough water. These strawberries make no offshoots.
This year, for the first time, we could buy strawberry plants (offshoots) at a horticulturist in the Algarve. They are in our open greenhouse with two in a pot. We are curious what this will bring...

January 2017.

October 2016 Beetroot, new cabbage plants that later where attacked by ants, and the eggplant.
Eggplants grow the best in open ground. The first years, when we still had not established a large garden, we grew them in pots. The taste of the eggplants eggs was so strong that they were not tasty anymore. Gradually we found out that the taste improves considerably when the plants get a lot more root space and above all a lot more water than a pot can hold.

We did not know that the eggplant could resist the summer heat so well, when they are in the open ground. Also, they do not succumb to a first cold night. These plants have persevered until the end of November... this while the eggplants, which we had kept in pots, where already finished in September.

November 2016.
Heat and frost.

In the greenhouse, we pre-grow as much as possible, from December to April. Melon, bell peppers, zucchini and eggplants. In January, we can expect the most cold. If we are lucky there are not many nights with frost. Currently (January 2017) the frost plays tricks on us. Now we can not do so much.

April 2016 in the closed greenhouse.
If in the future the summers are again so hot and the winters will be as cold as now... we have to think of other manners, to protect the garden. Or we should adjust our garden plan.

January 2017. Cabbage Plants in pots.
Because of the many nights with frost we wanted to wait with planting out our small cabbage plants (in barrels or in the ground). Wise or not...? Cabbage cannot be planted out when the plant already has a beginning of a cabbage in the hart. If the root ball is damaged then, the plant makes no cabbage anymore. And as they are now, replanting would no longer be good... Well, cabbage is fairly resistant to frost, but the very small plants will be weakened because of frost. And now we know what will happen when plants get weak... the ants take their chances.

Now as the time is running out, and the weather report sais the frost will not be continued in the coming weeks... I have planted them in the garden. The clods were nicely rooted. To the potting soil Hendrik had added some composted sheep manure.

January 2017. Cabbage planted... with next to the bed, plans for a new raised bed in progress.
If we can find space in the garden, we will try to also put some Zucchini plants in the open ground this summer. Let's see if the Zucchini can cope with the summer heat as well as the eggplant can do.
Last season we grew the melons in barrels. A story about this in 'Sun Melon and Heat Stress'.
The plan is to also put some melon plants in the open ground next summer. Zucchinis and melons take a relatively large garden space, so we definitely remain growing Melon and Zucchini in barrels and pots.


Our Portuguese cucumber is called pepino. It keeps, in terms of length, a cross between a pickle and a cucumber. We grow pepinos in the open greenhouse where they can climb endlessly. The pepinos we sow, produce a wild messy plant, which seems to want to hide the pepinos. The plants that we can buy on the market are of a very 'organized' kind. Each leaf-axil makes a flower and then a pepino guaranteed. Amazing to see how plant breeders have managed to make a 'decent accountant' of the pepino.

Pepinos in the open greenhouse. On the left the 'accountant' and at the right the 'tomboy'.
Each leaf-axil makes a pepino.
The seeded pepinos... all adventure.
August 2016.
Pepinos we grow sequentially from early spring (when it is warm enough to make them germinate) until late August. They need huge amounts of water, a high climbing frame and a shade cloth of course.

Bell peppers... paprika.

In early spring of the last year we planted paprika in the closed section of our greenhouse. The young plants we planted one by one in large (40 gallon) barrils. These are easy to move, so we can put them outside the greenhouse as soon as the weather allows it. If we were to leave them in the greenhouse, the lice would find them, for the plants would weaken because of the heat.
Outside, the plants are under shade cloth. A (bell) pepper plant (under any circumstance) hates direct sunlight. Along the summer they bear fruit. And in November it is time to take the plants inside the greenhouse again, because the nights become too cold. This season, initially, this all went smoothly.

December 2016 in the closed greenhouse.
This winter, however, we are dealing with much colder nights than expected to about 4°C, and in the same day with temperatures above 30ºC during the afternoon hours. This is more than a paprika plant can tolerate. The leaves hang and the lice are catching up.

Now as the nights are getting colder, with temperatures below freezing (-4ºC), the plants do not survive. Not in the closed greenhouse also. More luck we do not have, but the plants have maintained long and above all they have borne much fruit.
The fruits are not red at these temperatures. We pick them green. After a few days, in the heated kitchen, they become red.

January 2017.
How do you combat (lice) aphids?

Good question. And usually we find the answer on the Internet. We tell you once again. The answer is; homemade pepper spray of fresh peppers. We tried it and it works.

Pepper spray, as follows:

- Cut the red peppers into small pieces.
- Boil them in a layer of water.
- Keep them at least an hour on low heat (on the stove, on a hotplate... or two cooking plates, a tea light).
- Cool then down and sieve them.
- Put the fluid in an atomizer, such as that of a glass cleaner or the like.
- Spray the aphids and wait.
- Repeat the action if necessary.

Hot red peppers.

We also have tried to resist ants with pepper spray. For, where there are aphids there are ants, attracting the aphids to 'milk' them. I sprayed some broad beans with aphids at the top. But the ants continue to attract the aphids, or vice versa... even in these nights with 4º Celsius below zero. After three treatments, the aphids have disappeared. But the combination of frost and pepper spray does not do any good to the beans. And the ants are still there. Well... how do we beat ants around the bush?

January 2017. Broad bean plant with at the top burning symptoms in the leaf. 
January 2017. The stem of a broad bean plant in another bed, where I have not been with my pepper spray... 
frost damage, ant damage, and now both. This makes growing broad beans in winter not much easier. 
And an other time of the year is not an option.
January 2017.


The Portugal News 26 January 2017.

Portugal’s €7bn climate change bill

BY BRENDAN DE BEER, IN NEWS · 26-01-2017 14:04:00

"A new report published this week has revealed the staggering cost climate change has had on Portugal. According to a 424-page study by the European Environment Agency (EEA) entitled Climate change, impacts and vulnerability in Europe 2016, cash-strapped Portugal has suffered monetary losses of 6.8 billion euros as a result of climate change between 1980 and 2013.

photo The Portugal News - 'Mau tempo'.
The EEA study does not paint a bright picture for Portugal, and while it focuses on damage and cost of past weather events, the forecast remains bleak. Southern and south-eastern Europe is projected to be a climate change hotspot, as it is expected to face the highest number of adverse impacts, the EEA report reveals. “This region is already experiencing large increases in heat extremes and decreases in precipitation and river flows, which have heightened the risk of more severe droughts, lower crop yields, biodiversity loss and forest fires”, researchers found, warning further that more frequent heatwaves and changes in the distribution of climate-sensitive infectious diseases are expected to increase risks to human health and well-being.
Coastal areas and floodplains in western parts of Europe are also seen as hotspots as they face an increased risk of flooding from rising sea levels and a possible increase in storm surges. The EEA report also says that climate change is leading to major changes in marine ecosystems as a result of ocean acidification, warming, and the expansion of oxygen-depleted dead zones.

According to the economic analysis of Portugal conducted by the EEA, the cost of climate change was fixed at 6.783 billion euros up until 2013. However, only four percent, or 300 million euros, was covered by insurance. Meanwhile, the EEA says that heatwaves have become more frequent and intense, leading to tens of thousands of premature deaths in Europe. This trend is projected to increase and to intensify, unless appropriate adaptation measures are taken.
The spread of tick species, the Asian tiger mosquito and other disease carriers increases the risk of Lyme disease, tick-borne encephalitis, West Nile fever, dengue, chikungunya and leishmaniasis.

“Climate change will continue for many decades to come”, Hans Bruyninckx, EEA Executive Director, said this week, adding: “The scale of future climate change and its impacts will depend on the effectiveness of implementing our global agreements to cut greenhouse gas emissions, but also ensuring that we have the right adaptation strategies and policies in place to reduce the risks from current and projected climate extremes.”

In terms of the effects of climate change, in 2016, Portugal broke weather records in June, July, August and September, with temperatures reaching record highs, while rainfall was exceptionally low. Figures showed that July 2016 was the second hottest on record, and was only beaten by temperatures reached in 1989. Average maximum temperatures were also the highest ever in July, with highs of 32.19 degrees, almost four degrees above what would normally be expected for the month of July. June 2016 was also the hottest since records were first logged. Overall, one in four weather stations on mainland Portugal recorded a temperature of 40 degrees on at least one occasion between the final fortnight of June and the beginning of July.
Portugal has in recent years smashed a host of weather records. December 2015 had been the second warmest December in Portugal since records began in 1931, while the whole of 2015 was the second warmest in the past 15 years, and the fourth driest. Meanwhile, 2015 also recorded the hottest November in the last 34 years in Portugal, with a heatwave in some parts of the mainland, though the month will be remembered for the flooding across the Algarve which caused severe damage in places like Albufeira. Average temperatures in Portugal have in the last 40 years increased at a rate of 0.5 degrees per decade - twice as fast as globally..."

Read more on Portugal News.

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