By Clodagh and Dick Handscombe
Clodagh and Dick have been gardening in Spain for over twenty five years and over the last fifteen years have concentrated on becoming very self sufficient as the agricultural activity of their once self sufficient valley has been largely abandoned.
Their five latest books are the quintet
Your Garden in Spain, Growing Healthy Fruit in Spain, Growing healthy Vegetables in Spain, Apartment Gardening in Spain and Living Well from Our Mediterranean Garden.. Each is written to help you have a flower filled and self sufficient garden in harmony.
The opportunity is for all
Eating well from your garden has two dimensions. Firstly, living healthily and the other gastronomically and there is no-one who cannot grow something that’s good for both, whether living in an apartment or villa. As explained in our vegetable and fruit books, much can be grown in less than one square metre, including a selection of the following: sprouting seeds, shitake mushrooms, a wide variety of herbs, young tierno garlic, perpetual spinach (acelga), sprouting broccoli, carrots, strawberries, onions, bright red tomatoes and peppers and a perpetual fruiting lunar lemon. The advantage of growing such things on your apartment terrace or in the open garden is that they can be harvested eaten and cooked when genuinely fresh, without chemical contamination if you grow them ecologically and most importantly, most of the above are recognised as good regular sources of anti-aging anti-oxidants, vitamins and minerals. Top class restaurants pay a premium for such vegetables grown ecologically and harvested small, for they fight shy of serving the extra large water-filled lettuces, tomatoes, onions etc that result from forcing with excessive watering, growth stimulators and chemical fertilisers. If you grow your vegetables naturally and buy the seeds of mini varieties, you can live very well very inexpensively.
So why not have a go?
Having started with a flower garden with edible flowers and herbs, we now also enjoy home-grown fresh vegetables, fruit, snails, chicken eggs and healthy rabbit meat 365 days a year and the flower garden looks even better. The compost heap produces enriched organic compost for growing from seed, planting new plants and mulching as a by-product.
To ensure that you gain most benefit from your efforts, aim to grow things that you will use regularly, things you like best, perhaps things you miss in Spain, as well as the bounty of things that grow so well in Spain.
Thoughts on what is possible
The things we mentioned in the opening paragraph can be grown in containers, window boxes and mini raised beds on wheels.
If you only have a small garden, raised beds and containers are a convenient way of growing fruit, vegetables and herbs. Growing dwarf varieties of vegetables will help you maximise the limited growing area available. Look at seed websites such as Thompson and Morgan and Sutton Seeds to see what is now available. You will be amazed by the inventiveness of today’s seedsmen and as long as you avoid English runner beans, many will grow well here, especially during Spain’s second spring – the Autumn. Unfortunately there are few Spanish mini seeds available.
Fruit trees can be grown as an orchard, or in many cases, even better within the flower garden where their blossom, colourful ripening fruits and welcome shade can be enjoyed to the full. The choice is yours. We include over sixty possible fruit trees in our book, ranging from mangoes, avocadoes, apricots and peaches to olives and almonds.
Vegetables can be grown in any sized plot, from a few square metres to the several hundred that we have and of course in specially constructed raised beds.
We have recently constructed the latter for the time when the large open plot is too much for us. Our book Growing Healthy Vegetables in Spain includes the creative idea of a ten-tub vegetable garden using the large tubs in which palm trees are delivered, or double-sized plastic builders’ buckets We have also proved just how productive this can be. Ensure that your selected vegetables include those with high levels of beneficial natural vitamins and minerals such as acelga, sprouting broccoli, carrots, garlic onions and tomatoes.
If you are in the hills, plant up some soft fruit in the garden or in tubs, provided you have the water to keep them damp throughout the summer and are willing to give them some shade during July and August. Alpine strawberries tend to be more drought resistant than cultivated varieties and are rarely available in supermarkets.
Garden crops do not mean only fruit and veg. Many flowers from the colourful garden can be also be eaten raw in salads, used in cooked dishes, or used fresh or dried in infusions. For starters try hibiscus flowers and rose petals in a salad and from nasturtium plants grown from the autumn to late spring, one can add the flowers, leaves and seed pods to add zest to salads. Top class Spanish green-grocers regularly sell small boxes of viola flowers for salads and courgette/squash flowers for steaming or baking stuffed –it’s easy to do the same at much less cost. Great infusions can be prepared from jasmine, passion and hibiscus flowers for instance.
Beans can be grown for drying and later use, but also what better use of the cool shade under a large tree where little grows, than a run for a couple of fresh egg-producing hens. Within a few weeks they can become wonderful pets inquisitively following you round the garden for a stroll in the early evening. If one feeds them before letting them loose, they don’t eat flowering plants! We purchased our first hens after travelling first class on the express Cordoba to Barcelona train. Once the ticket collector had passed by, a well dressed lady sitting alongside took a hen out of her travelling basket and fed and watered it! She had taken it on holiday to her daughter and it was now going back to a run on her apartment terrace! The lady grew weekly crops of sprouting seeds in the kitchen which both she and the hen enjoyed and in the autumn had a bag of healthy shitake mushrooms growing in the broom cupboard. We thought if she can, why not us!
So where there’s a will there’s a way. Have a go yourselves. Not only will you have the chance to eat better and healthier, but you will also eat economically, something that will become even more important in Spain in the next few years.
*Growing Healthy fruit in Spain and Growing Healthy vegetables in Spain contain comprehensive details of what, where, when and how a diverse range of fruit and vegetables can be grown on mini and major scales. They are published along with Your Garden in Spain and Apartment Gardening Mediterranean Style by Santana Books and available from book shops or direct from the publisher if more convenient on 952 485 838 or www.santanabooks.com. Autographed copies together with a free copy of ‘Living Well from Our Mediterranean Garden’ can be obtained from www.gardeninginspain.com.
If you are going back to the UK for a few months they can be conveniently obtained from the Royal Horticultural Society bookshop at Wisley Gardens by a visit or by telephone on 0845-2604505.
© Clodagh and Dick Handscombe