You’ll remember that I gave the humble leek the plant of the year award. While browsing through the seed catalogue I came across the plant that has to be given the thumbs down award, just looking at the pictures and reading about how wonderful it is fills me with a heavy heart, why or why can’t I grow it here? I’m talking about basil, my top favourite herb along with coriander. Three years I’ve been trying to grow it here in Portugal but each time something goes wrong. The plants themselves thrive, growing under the tomato plants they become enormous, taunting me with their huge leaves. The problem? The taste. I just can’t seem to grow basil any more that doesn’t have a horrid, bitter taste; even as tiny seedlings I can detect the bitterness long before there’s any hint of flowers. I grew basil in Jordan and we had loads of huge plants, both growing in pots and in the ground, that gave us wonderful salads (how can you eat a tomato without chopped basil?) and pesto galore. I used the same seed packet the first year here, and have bought numerous others, but without success. I have to confess at this point that I seem to be more sensitive to the taste than others but it is so bad for me that I have to spit out the offending leaves. If any one reading this can help – please do!
Back to the catalogue: I have decided to try some Thai holy basil, fingers crossed. And also, having gone through all my seed packets, I only need to replace two: buttercup squash and cucumbers. Which means that all the produce we get this year is ‘free’, well, that’s what it feels like! Mind you, many of the packets are out of date a touch but, so far, this hasn’t been a problem. I’ve even managed to get parsnips from seeds a few years old even though the ‘experts’ insist it should be bought new each year…
Meanwhile, the olive groves, vineyards and pastures are covered in white flowers. These I have always called ‘daisies’, which they are but after walking over a patch with the dogs I realised they were so much more than daisies. Reaching my nose was the heavy, unmistakeable scent of chamomile. It seems that chamomile is native to Iberia which is why they are thriving here. I have decided these are just what we need in our garden so I have been going out with a trowel and digging up little plants with the idea that, in a year or two, we too will have wonderful white patches of flowers. Plus there’s the added advantage of just popping outside to get the flowers (which can be used fresh as well as dried) for a cup of chamomile tea. Perfect!
So a description of all the beds (for those who are interested)! There are nine, six running west-east and three long ones running north-south. Are you ready…
Bed #1 has the legumes: dwarf broad beans (and the black aphids), dwarf purple french beans and dwarf peas (from Luis). All have flowers and some pods. Climbing up poles: runner beans and peas, and up the teepee: barlotti beans. Only the peas have no flowers.
Bed #2 is for the solanaceae: 4 cherry toms with lots of flowers, 8 yellow ones (golden sunrise) and 4 stripy ones (tigerella), these all need to be staked soon. Plus various peppers: red, chilli and very chilli, these are all small and seem to be growing very slowly. Finally, a couple of aubergine plants under a mini cloche which are now growing but not that fast…
Bed #3 is for the potatoes. We’re already eating the ‘Jersey Royals’ which I’m very pleased with, averaging about 600g per plant. The supermarket ones (the ones I bought from the supermarket and chitted on the windowsill) are ready to be pulled up and very soon the 16 plants that Luis gave us. Something, however, has eaten all the flower heads…
Bed #4 has 8 perpetual spinach which seem to double in size every morning, plus a rather weedy selection of sweet corn which I now wish I hadn’t bothered with having discovered that you only get one cob per plant!
Bed #5 is the winter brassicas: brussels sprouts and purple sprouting broccoli all doing well, plus the central row of turnips (although having thinned those recently there’s definitely something eating those).
Bed #6 is for the roots and onions. The first sowing of these have worked well and we’ve been enjoying the (carrot fly free) carrots but subsequent sowings haven’t worked. The red onions I sowed in a seed tray have at last worked and these are all in the bed now, fingers crossed. The four strawberries have suffered a bit recently (I think the fruits got sunburnt!) but have given us some delicious strawbs already.
Bed #7 is the curcubits. Squash, courgettes and cucumbers are growing well, have some melons ready to plant out but not sure where to put those yet, perhaps in the potato bed.
Bed #8 has 54 leeks (!) and 6 asparagus in a raised bed, all fine so far. The ferns are all a metre tall.
Bed #9 has cabbage, 6 more asparagus and loads of globe artichokes, again all doing well 🙂
In front, in various pots, are the herbs, some flowers, rhubarb, celery and I can’t remember what else. Our latest purchase was a hose and sprinkler which comes with a timer. It covers the whole area (although patches get left out if it’s too windy) and it’s just great, come 6 o’clock and on it comes, fantastic!