Kate’s wonderfully inspiring review over here prompted me to start assembling my thoughts for my own run down of how and what the garden grew but I’ve been putting it off as I’m a bit embarrased about some big mistakes I made. Hey ho. Here’s hoping my experience will help others and inform a better season for me & my garden next year…
The Flower Garden
Steve was not exactly supportive of my efforts to turn the scrappy patch of land with a few young fruit trees into a flower garden. I understand why. He could see what I refused to:
- that the soil was poor and not about to be transformed overnight into something fertile enough to sustain good growth, despite the addition of donkey poo and cow pats;
- that watering would be problematic;
- and that the slope of the land would mean that any moisture I could add to the ground through labour-intensive, watering by hand would run off more than soak in.
It must have been frustrating for him to watch me toil away, thinking that I could be doing more productive things for the campsite than walk up and down for hours with a watering can trying to make something work against all odds!
I did get some flowers to grow but only those that I started as seeds or plants in the nursery (sweet peas, geraniums, marigolds and zinnia) and then only barely! None of the seeds I sowed directly germinated. I was never good at equations but even I should have realised that:
old seeds + poor soil – water = 0.
I wasted lots of the onion sets there as lack of water meant the harvest was very poor. The pumpkin patch was an unequivocal disaster. I had visions of them clambering over the space and up the palm fence but no, the poor things withered and died.
The orange, lemon & pear survived and have grown a little but not exactly flourished and none of them bore fruit. I have now planted 4 more fruit trees in the area, gifted to me by Nik for my birthday – one for each decade…(No wriggle-room for being a 30-something now then – Ouch!)
There’s an orange, a lemon, a mandarin and a clementine (or maybe a tangerine – neither Nik or I can remember and there were no helpful labels when we came to planting them!) and Nik reckons this means we can officially call the space an ‘orchard’ now! I resolve to learn about growing citrus fruits and pears and enjoy actual fruits of our labours next year if at all possible.
The orchard could be so much more – it’s a big space where beans and peas could climb and onions could swell amongst the flowers and trees (you can tell I haven’t abandoned my vision yet, can’t you!). But, I won’t waste time, energy and precious compost on it until we have solved the problem of how to keep the area well irrigated during the hot summer months. What we need is a rainwater collection system up there and a big tank where water can be stored and then hosed to the growing area. But we have zero funds to buy our way out of the problem. However “where there’s a will there’s a way” and since Nik & I have the will, I’m sure we’ll figure it out eventually…
The great success in the flower garden was the passion flower plant. It grew, it flourished, it flowered. It remains to be seen what the winter does to it but it now looks so strong and healthy I’m pretty confident it will survive to provide me with further cuttings next year.
The Veg Garden
The biggest mistake overall was underestimating ‘cow power’. There would have been a better beginning and end to the story of the garden if not for the bovine munching and stomping that went on. Here, amidst flattened fennel leaves, is all that remained of the cabbages after the autumn visitation:
So – no planting out until cow highway is blockaded with as many pallets & trees as we can muster or until we are there every day to guard the veg; and no leaving the veg at the end of the season until we have re-blockaded again to replace what’s degraded over the summer months. With enough money, the problem of keeping the free-range moo-moos out would be easily solved but in the meantime we rely on salvaged materials, what Mother Nature provides on site and keeping our wits about us.
I was worried about the soil quality as lots of clay spoil found it’s way into the beds after the drainage digging fiasco. In fact, with the leaf mulch and compost we managed to dig in, the soil sustained lots of plants pretty well. The runner beans particularly thrived and I’ve since found that old wives wisdom suggest beans should be planted in clay! My mistake with the beans was planting too many of them in one bed. They were the ‘enorma’ variety and they went MAD. The vigour and the weight of the buggers meant that by the end of the season the structure I’d created for them to clamber up had pretty much collapsed. This, and the over planting, meant that I couldn’t pick all the beans because they were too inaccesible! So next year: less plants in one bed and a more robust, carefully constructed trellis.
A better trellis is what was required for the cucumbers too. They did climb but clearly wanted to climb higher. They were also stunted from lack of water at the right time I think. Last year my tomatoes were carefully staked by a visiting guest and this year I was a bit slack, so had some untangling and propping up to do. Next year I will insert all the stakes at the time of planting and remember to tie them in regularly.
Climbing structures will also be improved next year for my peas. Steve suggested a pretty informal ‘pea stick’ approach but I think a more structured one would be stronger and help increase yield. The peas climbed across and over rather than ‘up’ which made for a messy space, relatively unproductive in terms of the room they were taking up. I would love tons more peas next year and a planned second planting (I did a second sowing as an afterthought and since I was unsure of success, it was a bit half-hearted) so I’ll try harder to maximise efficiency of planting. I found tucking them under taller plants really worked to protect the young plants from the belting sun. And big lesson learned – peas do not thrive amongst onions!
Because of the unexpected strong winds and random storms we can get here even in the midst of summer, really deep, careful staking with strong material is essential and a big lesson learned. The sweetcorn was a huge (and I mean long, tall!) success but a plant at those heady heights is susceptible to big gusts and we may have got more from the plants if they hadn’t got pushed around by the wind towards the end of the summer.
Peppers and chillies probably could have grown on in pots much longer before being planted out. The locals peppers and chillies were twice the size of mine! Although the chilli plants have been immensely fruitful the peppers were less productive and I’m not entirely sure why. I have kept seeds from really big, healthy peppers we ate (from elsewhere…) and hope they will be more successful.
Beets and radishes were a great success but I just needed way, way more of them. When I see how the locals pack plants in, I think I’m being too generous with my spacing. Also I will plant these guys all over the beds next year because they will be done and pulled by the time other plants are taking off.
I had mixed success with lettuce. I bought local varieties thinking they would fare better but although they were productive they were mostly bitter – the variety it turns out, not the lack of water. I think I might try lettuce in pots next year as well as the beds because some of the ‘cut & come again’ varieties I grew were trying to grow through the summer but would have benefitted from being moved into the shade and being near enough to our kitchen to receive more of the water waste than they were getting just through the grey water. I had intended to have grown lots more lettuce at this time – I think there’s enough sun (and certainly enough water!) for them to flourish here in September and October but against my best judgement I sowed the seeds direct in the ground rather than starting them off in seed trays as I have always done and either they didn’t germinate or, if any were about to emerge, they were likely squashed to nowt by the cow.
Carrots continue to defy me. I am convinced that a lot of the problems this year with poor carrot growth was poor soil. They were sown in a bed that hadn’t got ‘clay infected’ but because of that we neglected to improve it much and by the end of the summer months it seemed dry & dead. All the goodness seemed to have leached out of it and if I were a carrot I would have struggled to thrive there too! I was green with envy when I noticed a neighbour’s garden lush with green at the end of September/ beginning of October and realised this was carrot foliage! It looked tightly packed but also in a more shaded spot so, things to try next year… Also the caterpillar of the swallowtail butterfly loved my carrot tops! It’s such a stunning caterpillar and turns into such a beautiful insect that I couldn’t bear to be too ruthless. I simply removed the lime green beauty and gave it another patch of the campsite to munch but they did persist in finding their way back and could chomp through those green, leafy tops in record time.
Interestingly I had a few more problems with bugs than last year and mostly on the beds where the trusty marigold was absent. I used last year’s seeds to grow marigolds and not as many germinated as I would have liked and by the time I realised my error it was too late. I planted more but the heat stunted them and only now are they growing out and up, when there is nothing left for them to help protect! A few cents on a packet of fresh marigold seeds would have been well spent and I shan’t make that mistake again!
Melons were new to me this year and I didn’t really know what I was doing. Despite that, some plants delivered for us but I think I need to do some serious research over the winter for the things I need to grow better next summer.
I daren’t mention the pumpkins… I am so gutted about the lack of these beautiful veg. The ironic thing was that last year the plants that I shoved in the garden at our house and left to get on with it were fantastic. I should have learned from that and planted again where they had been proved to flourish – if it ain’t broke etc… But no. I didn’t plant any at the house and consequently have nothing to show for my efforts. The pumpkin patch adjacent to the flower garden/ orchard was a total flop and the few pumpkin plants I grew in the main bed first fried in the sun and then rotted when the rains came in September. My single surviving orange beauty got munched to oblivion by the cow. An old schoolmate of mine and her family back in the UK put my pumpkin growing to shame, so I shall be asking Tracey for tips next year!
The brassicas were a lot of work for not much reward. To be fair, they were the worst hit by the cow at the beginning and end of the season. But even despite that, they felt like hard work – lots of nurturing, faffing about. The only ‘easy’ veg of the family were the cabbages and to be honest for the amount of space they took up compared to how cheaply we can buy these veg which are the staple veg in Monte, I don’t think it’s worth it.
The veg that grew and flourished faithfully and without much work were onions, courgettes and rocket – and the spuds and tomatoes that just appeared from the compost!
The herbs were pretty successful apart from the coriander which bolted in the heat (this was the experience of pretty much everyone we knew who tried to grow it). The lesson learned with coriander is to grow lots and lots in the Spring and pick it and store it like crazy so there will be enough to use through the summer. It started to flourish again in September so next year I will plant lots more at this time of year to get a second crop for the winter. I adore coriander and as the essential ingredient in great winter dishes (curries, especially!) I miss it madly.
My new favourite recipe for homemade pesto makes me resolve to grow loads more basil next year too!