woensdag 28 juni 2017

An horta in the Alentejo - Part 3

May and June 2017:

Dry! Hot!

Threaten ... but not doing!
The months of April, May and June have been exceptionally dry (until today). The usual exuberant bloom of flowers in April lasted only a single week. The grass disappears soon and the sheep are looking for food again. Down by the river Hendrik has begun to mow and collect the hay for his composting farm.

The first hay has been mowed already.
The first hay packages are already on the monte.
The potatoes, down in the valley (An horta in Alentejo - Part 1) are withering. It is about time for a shadow cloth.

In May I wrote about the ants in our vegetable garden. And yes, they still form a plague. Especially the combination of ants and lice produces a lot of disappointments. When they are not around, everything in the garden grows exuberant. In my life, I have never ever cultivated such heavy and compact lettuce, as in the past winter and last months. It's a miracle.

Learned from the previous year.

In fact, we now are already assuming that we will not have much luck in the garden during the summer months. If the weather stays like this, with temperatures of 40-45ºC in the burning sun, much shade and water will be needed to keep the boat going. The previous summer taught us that we should not sow or plant small plants in June. Everything we harvest now we freeze as much as possible. We guess we will have to get used to the fact that summer is a time to wait... How much different sometimes things can get...


I realized that I could cover the cabbage plants, that we planted in the first week of June, with a flowerpot. That little shadow is enough to keep them going. We also scattered chips of reeds or wood to cover the top layer of the soil, leaving it moist. That helps.

The garden benefits from the shadow of a tree in the evening.
Flower pots on the cabbage plants.
We also hope that the planted onions will be all right, and will not languish like the previous year. The onions we planted in February are now ready and dry. We never know what species we sow or plant... Nobody can tell us. So, we do not know if we can keep these for a long time...

Here in the garden, the potatoes suffer from the heat also. The first to put his leaves above the ground burned them immediately.

In the shadow it grows better...

One week later...
The melons in the barrels do well, in the full sun, to become nice and sweet. They get water twice a day. Then the leaves remain bright green and do not hang limp.

This year I planted the tomato plants early, and cut them well. 'Thieving' we call this in Holland. Most of them do there utmost... and we are watching the process with admiration...

These are a variety that is called Chucha. They are usually elongated, round or pointed, firm and fleshy. These plants (that we sowed our selves) give themselves away completely in more then 4 bunches of tomatoes. At 6 clusters, the top is cut, because we assume that the plants will not survive the summer. 
In the greenhouse, this is different...

These tomatoes are Chucha also, but from an other kind, and purchased from the market als plants.
...In the greenhouse everything is different, always. For the moment, this is a good place... For the moment we have had not any problems with lice and ants... for the moment...


At the very moment that I write this all... yet it starts to rain. Today it is 24ºC. A party for the plants! The world is full of surprises. And definitely there will be more surprises.

In the early morning at 6 o'clock...

July 2017:

The amazing effect of mulch.

I have not sorted this out so well yet... but I can not keep my mouth shut about it. Let's ask a question: Mulch ... where do you use it for?

In the past, when we lived in the Netherlands we used mulch on the garden. Because every book about organic farming talked about mulch... so we tried it also. We used grass clippings, some tree leaves and the waste from the garden in a thick layer. The result was alarming. The grass clippings germinated, in the many Dutch rains, into a thick layer of weeds and the leaves turned into a sticky layer. We undoubtedly did something wrong. But at that time in Holland, we have never found the egg of Columbus anymore. Since then we have just planted our vegetables in the 'bare ground', on 'neat rows and with a well-cultivated breeding succession'.

Here in Portugal the situation is completely different. And if we can find Columbus's egg, I will leave it in the middle, because we really cannot compare the one to the other...

To begin with, we now make a totally different mulch with reeds and olive-branch prunings. A mulch that does not tend to germinate (very important). First Hendrik chopped the reeds and the branches with a knife. And now that we have bought a shredder, we make piles of chopped reeds and wood for mulch.
(Also read: "Pruning and Shredding")

It started with the lettuce...

After the hot summer, in the autumn of 2016 we started a first experiment with the cultivation of lettuce in the garden, in the full autumn sun. Before this we grew our lettuce only in pots, under a shade cloth. Around the plants we laid reed mulch to keep the plants clean... only for that purpose.
(Also read: 'An horta in the Alentejo - Part 2', under the heading 'Lettuce'.)

Also because our crop with lettuce in pots failed, in the summer of 2016... this summer we wanted to try to grow lettuce in the garden.  Now also with reed chops to keep the plants clean. And now... we discovered that the reed-mulch has more functions than keeping the plants clean, only. It also keeps the soil underneath the plants moist. So we experimented with more chopped reed until we covered the whole garden with a thick layer of mulch. Now all the plants benefit from the moist and, moreover, the relative coolness this brings to the soil.

The previous year we used frames with shade cloth to keep the garden out of the sun:

Our garden in 2016.
The result of the shade cloth was lousy. The plants were deprived from direct sunlight. Which was originally intended, but what did not sort the right effect. Plants need sunlight... proven several times. What they do resent is hot soil around their roots. And against this the cloth did not help.

The melons that grew under the shadow cloth almost tasted like nothing anymore. When we removed the cloth, the taste gradually returned. The leaves hang floppy in the sun, but this obviously was not a big problem because they got enough water to catch up on the damage at night.

And now, this year, we put a thick layer of shredded reed under the melon plants, in the barrils, also. The frames with the cloth we put up strait to use them to keep the plastic barrils out of the sun...

Where we had not any onion growing, last year (they all dried up), now grow fresh green onions under the mulch.

In the worst heat of the day everything is floppy, but once the night is in sight and the temperature drops all plants recover.

This year we hardly need any shade cloth. Only a roof above the potato plants is enough. Over the very young lettuce plants we put some flower pots...

In the morning at 9.00 am.
Unions and Cauliflower plants.
Under the hot sun. Flower pots on young lettuce plants.
The lettuce is doing well and does not require any cover anymore.
She is in the full sun now without any problems.

Mid July 2017... The weather is still good. No temperatures above 38ºC. And the lettuce is growing bigger still:

1715 grams... almost 2 kilos :) And good !
The mulch keeps the soil cool and moist.

Still more than 40ºC ... and many forest fires in the middle of Portugal. At the north wind we see the fog of smoke in the sky.

Flower pots over the young lettuce plants.
At about 2 o'clock in the afternoon
And more lettuce.

And then there is our raised bed next to the house... Every summer we hang out a shade cloth above it, which tempers the sun the whole day, except for the early morning. This is iceberg lettuce we try to grow here and this is the bad result. We planted the plants out of seeds of biological origin. They first make large leaves, which then fall over and have a tendency to disappear into the ground again. After that, a loose body forms, which must grow thicker later.

Here also, a thick layer of mulch would had helped to keep the plants clean. The lower leaves already wither, showing holes. And the plant is on a stalk. This looks bad :)

Hendrik wanted to try to grow both types of lettuce (the purchased plants and the self-sown iceberg lettuce). They are now in the shadow under a stone oak near the house, with occasional sun and some wind. Here growth is progressing fairly.

Next year we want to try to grow this iceberg lettuce in the garden. And then we hope that this species will be as robust and strong as the curly lettuce (from plants of the market) that we grow in the garden now.

The curly lettuce that one can buy here on the market.
The same one who is in our garden now and gives such huge results.
The strawberries have already been under the tree for a while and feel at home.
Curly lettuce, red cabbage and cauliflower in the garden.
Above expectations a great success.
More tomatoes ... and melons in the horta:

Meanwhile the last lettuce bodies, in the garden, started blooming. They make beautiful constructions. Inspiration for architecture ... Gaudi?

Weather reports for the next three months are alarming.

The last two days of July... no rain is expected for the next 3 months.

The government announces water restrictions. No more pools to be filled. No gardens and lawns that can be sprayed. The farmers are suffering from drought. To put out the fires, water is taken from the basins of the farmers... which could mean the deathblow for a farmer. On all sides, the result of conflicting rules is threatening. Rules that interfere with each other and lead to just 'simple mismanagement'.

We do not know how large our natural water supply is. When the bore hole runs empty, we will be in trouble. So we decided to lower the amount of water we give to the garden and slowly reduce it to almost zero. We say goodbye to the wealth that our garden is this year. Frees what we can, give it away and eat it. So the flowers we put in the compost bin. And now as the huge 'explosion' of the melon harvest is over, we do not leave the plants to make even more melons. They are now also in the compost bin.

Flowers cleared, beetroots harvested and melon barrels on non-active...
The horta in the early morning when the sun and the temperature are still low... 
Hendrik cannot stop talking about the desalination of seawater... and perhaps not unjustified. The supply of fresh water in the world is many times smaller than the supply of salt water. About 10 years ago, Dutch were busy trying to interest Portuguese policy makers for the desalination of seawater in the Algarve. What has become of it? We will look it up...

One could of course ensure that fresh water is no longer flowing to the sea and, moreover that fresh water is no longer polluted. We have made a mess of our world.

To be continued.... An horta in the Alentejo autumn 2017.



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