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Making a plan and choosing what to grow

When we bought this house, we started to think about growing vegetables straight away. We made a big mistake right from the start in that we didnt have a plan. We both knew all about crop rotation and just started to plant the various crops around the garden. Trouble is by the time the seeds started to grow...we couldn´t remember what we had planted. This shouldn´t have been a problem as all plants are different but when you are planting vegetables from the same families they all look very similar.  That was our first year...we have come a long way from that time and now we always make plans for the individual beds and keep track of  variety and crop production.

Another big mistake we made was ordering seeds from an English catalogue. Most of the varieties cannot withstand the heat here in Spain and so we wasted a lot of money and time. The plants will grow but by June they are starting to wither and crop production is stunted or even stopped.

Mistake number 3 was planting following the English rules. Everything dies in the summer months here as it is too hot and too dry.  We have realised that we can get 2 planting seasons in a year here. We start sowing seeds indoors in December/January and plant out January/February so the veggies grow through the cooler months and have finished before June and the hot weather. Second sowing is August/September inside, planted out September/October for winter veg. This also helps with the watering as March/April, September/October are when the rains come (if they come) so we try to use mother nature to help us. If the vegetables are still in the garden in January we cover them with netting as this helps with frost protection.

This year we have put compost and dung on all the beds to ensure that the soil is fertile and holds water. Every year it will improve as more and more is added. We are also going to raise the height of the stones as at the back of the beds the soil is not deep enough to grow anything, the roots cannot develop through bedrock.

January 2013
This month we are preparing the vegetable beds. Clearing the weeds, digging over ready to plant the seedlings beggining of March.
The bed you can see in the photo will have the root vegetables planted into it. The parsnips will be at the front as they need the deepest soil. We are going to mix the seeds with radish as the radish will germinate quickly and mark out the row for ease of weeding.
Vegetable beds
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Last year we planted all the salad crops around the garden, not realising that the heat would take its toll. We were watering morning and night and still they did not really produce anything. This year 2012, we have decided to use planters for the salad crops as we can move them around the garden finding shade. We planted them out and put them on the terrace in March, by end of May/ June we had moved them to the back of the house which only ever gets direct sunlight in the evening as the sun is going down.

This has produced much better crops, as the pots very rarely dry out and we have been picking salad stuff for about 2 months now and all the plants are still producing.

Sowing seeds

The first year here we planted straight into the garden just as we would have done in England. Another mistake. Now we use toilet roll tubes and paper pots (that we make from old newspaper) to sow the seeds in. This gives the seedlings a much better start in life, they are stronger and healthier than when we planted in the garden. We then just plant the whole thing outside as the pots and tubes breakdown in the soil and cause no harm to the roots of the plants when transplanting from one place to another.

We plant the seeds and leave them on the covered terrace. It is warm enough for them to germinate there but cool enough not to have to aclimatize them to the weather.

We have learnt so much this year about the climate and best planting times and so forth that we are beginning to feel that it is possible, in Spain, to produce all your own vegetables all year round. However I am sure in the years to come we will learnmore little things to help improve still further the production of our organic vegetables. Watch this space!

June 2014

We have had a really bad year this year with our vegetables. We planted up our seedlings in time for the rains and they did not come. Our water stores are empty and so watering the plants has become a real problem. Kev is having to drive to a local tap and fill up water containers 3 times a week just to keep the animals and fruit trees alive. Something had to be done. We had been reading about permaculture and how it has been successful in dry, arid locations and so we thought we would give it a go here.

We have built 2 mounds using rotting wood and covering with soil, sheep dung and straw. We have set up drip feed watering systems onto the mounds that we turn on everyday for about 30 minutes. We are using 250 litre containers to feed these mounds and are having to fill them up once a week.

Our first problem was the straw, because it was so dry, just blew away in the very strong winds we have had this year.The plants we put into it have all seemed to thrive but the seeds planted straight into the mounds have not germinated. We can see this system working if we stop sowing seed but some crops cannot be transplanted so this is work in progress. 

We are in the process of building terracing down the slope of the side garden. Hopefully this will slow the movement of any rainwater across our land. Before filling the terraces with soil a layer of branches, sticks and cardboard was put down. The idea is that the wood and card hold more water keeping it where we want it.

We have also built another tier to the raised vegetable beds at the back of the house and filled with soil and sheep dung. We have just put a watering drip feed system in so that our autumn crops can be planted in September of this year.

When we bought this place we didn't even consider what would happen if the rains didn't come...we just thought naively that they would. So now we are rethinking and trying to build a garden that will grow using the smallest amounts of water.