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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.

I AM always dubious of mentioning the weather in any article as by the time the article is published, the weather bears no resemblance to my ramblings. Having said that, the weather has been decidedly erratic this year.

Most of the usual spring sunshine was substituted with heavy rain and cooler temperatures. Then, overnight, summer arrived. A couple of extremely hot weeks have quickly brought on the necessity to begin regular irrigation.

This unusual weather has resulted in making vegetable production quite difficult. Lettuces, which thrive in cooler conditions, have been doing extremely well, but it has been almost impossible to get beans to germinate. The cool, wet conditions of May led to the beans rotting before they germinated and now the sudden hot weather means if they do germinate, they will probably wilt on the vine. These are the trials and tribulations of growing your own.

Cabbages, broccoli and cauliflower

These winter standbys grow particularly well in the Algarve, but surprisingly, if grown from seed, need to be started off quite early. Ideally they should be grown in a sunny spot, in fertile, free draining soil that is slightly on the alkaline side. If you have acid soil, lime the soil and water the lime in well a month or so before planting.

Seeds can be purchased in most supermarkets and agricultural outlets.

Growing them

Start seeds off in mid to late July in a fertile seedbed. Plant the seeds about 3cm apart, keeping the soil moist but not waterlogged.

Germination varies, but seldom takes longer than 12 days.

When the seedlings appear, ensure the soil does not dry out and keep the seedbed weed free.

After about two weeks or so, the true (cabbage-shaped as opposed to seed) leaves appear.

When the seedlings have two or three true leaves and stand about 10cm tall, they are ready for transplanting. Early September is a good time.

In cool conditions (preferably late afternoon), carefully dig underneath the roots and lift each plant. Broccoli and cabbage are quite tough little plants, but cauliflower needs more careful handling, take care to disturb the roots as little as possible.

Plant into a prepared permanent bed, spacing as suggested on the seed packet. They prefer firmer soil so firm the roots down very well. Ensure they are put into the soil at exactly the same depth that they were growing at previously, this is particularly important for cauliflowers. Water in very well.

For a few days the transplants will droop – keep the soil moist and they will all recover.

After this, you simply need to keep the crop moist and weed free.


Brassicas are ready for harvesting when they look like the product you get in the shop – as simple as that. Depending upon the weather and the variety, you can be harvesting cabbages from November through to March. Cauliflowers should be ready by December. Green broccoli is faster growing than Purple Sprouting broccoli, which when cut, gives two or three more flushes of florets.

Always cut the florets of broccoli when the buds are still tightly closed.