It’s Spring in the Algarve, but this year it’s being a bit of a tease. One minute, you get your shorts and sunglasses out and you’re lighting up the barbie and the next day it’s back to fleeces and jeans again. And if we feel like that, imagine how the plants feel!
But this is the time of year I love the most and I can never understand why people don’t make it a priority to come to the Algarve in April for the sheer beauty of the wild flowers. At this time of year it’s possible to walk on the tracks through the serra and just enjoy the beauty all around you, as it’s not too hot and the flies aren’t too much of a nuisance. Although it’s not a great idea to stray too much off the paths for fear of disturbing a sleeping wild boar and her babies or tripping on the treacherous rocks, the paths are numerous and well trodden. The local goat herders are often out on the hills with their flocks, the bee orchids, wild peonies and beautiful blue Scylla Peruvianas are flowering under the carob trees and the little birds are busy nesting in the Estruscan honeysuckle bushes. It’s really the Garden of Eden.
The earth in my new garden is healing after all the building activities and beginning to produce for me after three years of struggle and coaxing. I went out recently for a walk to see what there is to actually eat. There’s quite a lot really.
Globe Artichokes- I planted these from seed after seeing how well cardoons grow in the landscape around our house. The locals use the petals of cardoons as a sort of rennet to thicken cheese. I planted some seeds and nurtured them with some horse manure and now they’re producing ample heads. I love them boiled and dipped in local olive oil with salt, although I have to ensure I bang all the earwigs out first as they love hiding in the leaves. You can’t get more organic that that!
Loquats- This tree grows throughout the Algarve and produces a fruit which is delicious. It needs to be eaten very ripe, otherwise it can be a bit tart. You can’t store them, that’s the only problem, but the fruits grow at different paces, so you can eat a few every day- that’s if the birds don’t get them first!
Favas (Broad Beans) These are planted as a crop by local farmers as soon as the first rains have fallen in the Autumn and grow slowly throughout the winter, coming to harvest in April. Locals use the young green beans or let them age and dry them to use in soups and stews. Either way, they’re delicious and one of the first treats of Spring. I only grow enough for a couple of weeks of eating in my garden. There is an added bonus of the flowers, which smell lovely. You can plant them later but any further into the season and they tend to suffer from terrible blackfly, so they are best grown early to avoid this problem.
Lettuces: I buy lettuces as plug plants in the local market. They are usually sold at 15 plants for a euro and I couldn’t grow them from seed for less. You can pick a few different varieties and make a pretty patchwork of colour in your garden. The birds and slugs don’t tend to eat the red ones as much as the green, for some reason. By the end of the May, it can get too hot for lettuces and they bolt quickly, so it’s better to grow “cut and come again” leaves you can keep in a pot in the shade
Herbs: The herbs doing the best right now are the thymes, which are in their full green or grey colours and smell divine when you brush against them on a sunny day in the garden,. I also grownasturtiums, which are best grown on a North facing slope , planted from seed in the Autumn. Once they get going they will self seed and you really won’t need to plant them any more. You can eat all the parts, leaves and flowers and they give your salads a lovely peppery taste. Oregano also grows very well here. The Portuguese tend to use the flowers rather than the leaves in their cooking. Once they have flowered, pick large bunches and tie them. Hang them in a dry dark place and they will last a long time to flavour your cooking and salads.
And last but not not least eggs!
My chickens are laying well now it’s Spring. Egg laying is usually in proportion to day light and free range hens usually start their maximum laying once the days get longer. Most of my girls are laying every day now and I am waiting with baited breath hoping my new bantam will go broody as I’m longing to have another go at hatching babies, but no sign yet. It’s easy to see why Portugal is famous for it’s wonderful cakes, with such a supply of almonds and eggs, what better use could you put them to? I am getting used to using almond flour rather than white flour for making cakes, with some great results, mainly an increase to my waistline!
I am increasingly getting round to thinking how to make the garden more productive without too much work and as far as possible grow shrubs and trees which produce food. The chickens do some great digging and weeding ofor me although sometimes they are a little too enthusiastic. I am experimenting with growing some vegetables like courgettes and pumpkins in their area this year, but it’s a bit of a struggle to stop my birdies digging up the seedlings. My husband isnt too much impressed with the front garden looking like this!
But I guess we all have something to worry about and if it’s only the bad behaviour of a few chickens and the front garden looking like a farmyard , life can’t be too bad can it?