A year in the vegetable garden.jpg

A year in the vegetable garden

By PAUL MCKAY [email protected]

Teacher, Paul McKay, left London to live a self-sufficient existence in the Monchique hills with his partner Martyn. He keeps an assortment of animals and grows a variety of crops in an eco-friendly way – all on a limited income.

One of the most difficult things for gardeners to get used to when moving to Portugal from colder countries is knowing what to plant when. Like most things in life there is no golden rule. The climate is Portugal is not set in stone, so neither should your planting schedule be.

Some years summer seems to start in March, other years it can still be wet and chilly in May. It is important to sow seeds when the soil is moist, not waterlogged and has had a few days of sunshine to warm it up. Most seeds detest cold wet soil, only broad beans and peas seem to be able to cope. Sweet pepper, sweet corn and melons need the soil very warm to germinate and survive.

What follows below is for general guidance only, a starting point, if you like.


Sowing – broad beans, lettuces, Chinese cabbage, peas, onions, mange tout peas, potatoes, cabbages/cauliflowers for spring/summer use.

Other tasks – digging in manure to beds ready for summer vegetables; adding lime to soil that is to grow beans and brassicas; adding fertiliser or muck to cabbages still growing; weeding around existing plants.


Sowing – carrots, lettuces, peas, radish, Swiss chard, turnips (for tops and roots), beetroot, potatoes.

Other tasks – dig over and prepare seedbeds and permanent beds for summer vegetables; earth-up potatoes as necessary; spray potatoes for blight if necessary; weed as necessary and thin out carrots.


Sowing – French beans, climbing beans (Kwintus), carrots, cucumber, lettuce, pumpkin, potatoes, melons, tomatoes, sweet potatoes (for slips), lettuces, radishes, okra.

Other tasks – prepare irrigation systems; weed summer beds; weed carrots diligently; transplant cabbages and cauliflowers; transplant onions; add manure/fertiliser to soil limed in January.


Sowing – summer crops that failed to thrive last month can still be sowed, plus courgettes and melons. More beans, aubergine, carrots, cucumbers, and radishes can be sowed to ensure a constant supply.

Other tasks – transplant lettuces,


Sowing – cucumbers, pumpkins, sweet pepper, sweet corn, Brussel sprouts.

Other tasks – prepare bed for sweet potato slips; keep beans well watered.


Sowing – anything sowed now will have to survive the hot summer months. More beans, pumpkins, courgettes, cucumbers can be sown but will need plenty of water.

Other tasks – cut slips from the sweet potatoes and transplant to permanent bed.


Sowing – French beans, carrots, cucumbers, pumpkins, potatoes. To get an early start you could also start off some cauliflowers and cabbages ready for transplanting six weeks later.

Other tasks – prepare beds for brassica transplants – lime first, wait a month then manure or fertilise.


Sowing – French beans, cabbages, cauliflowers, pumpkins, potatoes, mange-tout peas for a November crop.

Other tasks – transplant cabbage and cauliflower seedlings if they have five true leaves.


Sowing – as long as it is still sunny and not too wet many crops can still be sown – French beans, cabbages, carrots, lettuces, Chinese cabbage and the last planting of potatoes. It should now be cool enough to begin winter radishes and turnips as well as small radishes.

Other tasks – prepare beds for planting broad beans and peas that are going to over-winter.


Sowing – broad beans and peas, lettuces (not if it’s very wet), radishes, winter radish, carrots to over winter.

Other tasks – transplant cabbage seedlings if they have five true leaves.


Sowing – Broad beans and peas

Other tasks – transplant any more cabbage seedlings that have five true leaves.


Sowing – if you are desperate to sow seeds you can still put in broad beans and peas. Lettuces will germinate and grow quickly under a makeshift cold frame.

Have a very Merry Christmas enjoying the fruits of your labour!

Paul McKay can be contacted by emailing [email protected]