AS NEWCOMERS to the Algarve, one of the most difficult aspects of vegetable growing is knowing what to sow and when. The golden rule is to talk to your neighbours and watch them. Watch how they prepare the soil, note when they sow and transplant, and notice how often and how deeply they irrigate.
Almost everything is done for a reason and the hard way to discover that reason is to deviate from this pattern, opting to just see what happens. Even in Monchique, people in different valleys sow, plant and transplant crops at times that can vary as much as a month from people less than a kilometre apart. These gardeners use not only their own experience, but that of the generations before them, often knowing how their particular valley can be affected by late frosts, icy winds or other agricultural nightmares, unimagined by us optimistic estrangeiros.
Spring is finally on the way, so for those of you without the instructive example of horticultural neighbours, I have reproduced my sowing calendar below. Use it as a guide, but be flexible – without taking the odd risk, you’ll never learn anything new.
Sowing – French beans, climbing beans (Kwintus), carrots, cucumber, lettuce, pumpkin, potatoes, melons, tomatoes, beetroot, lettuces, radishes, sweet peppers and okra. You can also sow onions, if you have not done so already, and put some sweet potatoes into cut the slips in May.
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.
Sowing – cucumbers, pumpkins, 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 and 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 and 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, including 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 ready to be sown in late October/early November.
When you are sowing seeds, always work out the average time until harvesting, and think ahead to what the weather will be doing then. Thirsty plants like beans are incredibly hard work during the hot summer months, whereas peppers and aubergines will be in their element. Picking tomatoes is immensely satisfying in the mid July heat, digging potatoes isn’t!
Most importantly of all, only set yourself up with as much work as you can manage – remember, you are doing this to enjoy it, so don’t allow it to become a burden.
• If anyone can help with more information on organic supplies please send me details. If you have any gardening nightmares or successes to share, e-mail me at [email protected]. Write Virtual Vegetables in the subject column, so that the message isn’t mistaken for spam and binned!
By Paul McKay