Potatoes, sprouts, carrots and leeks in our organic garden in Almeria, Andalucia
We are well into autumn now. The night time temperatures are dropping, it is cooler during the day and there are less hours of daylight. All plants need less water during the autumn and winter, in fact most benefit from being allowed to almost dry out between waterings which is good since, up here in Almeria, we have had very little rain during October.
In my bid to have fresh, new potatoes at Christmas, I planted a chitted seed potato in a large pot during August. The plant is growing somewhat faster than I expected so, in October, I raised the level of the compost in the pot by cutting the base off an old pot of the same size and used the top portion as a sort of telescopic extension. I am keeping an eye open for the flowers that indicate the plant is reaching maturity. I know when it is time to lift those tender, homegrown potatoes when the buds drop or the flowers that do bloom begin to fade. Another good indication is seeing unopened flower buds dropping from the plant. At this point, the leaves will still be green but some will begin fading to yellow. Still looking good for Christmas.
On the same theme, vegetables for Christmas, no turkey dinner is the same without sprouts. Not the soggy, overcooked affairs you used to get at school dinners; they must have put thousands of kids off sprouts for life, no, I am talking fresh button sprouts, steamed until al-dente and bright green – delicious. If you do have to buy fresh sprouts for your Christmas dinner, and they are sometimes hard to get hold of in Andalucia, then only buy either loose or in net bags. Either way they should be dark green and tight with no dead leaves on the outside. Frozen sprouts are almost as good. Cook them straight from frozen and to have them crisp rather than soggy, put them into fast boiling water rather than cold water that is then heated up. My sprouts started off as seeds, sown in mid April in Julie’s seed bed and transplanted to the open ground in June. Now they are a metre tall and have small buttons in the leaf axils that should swell nicely by late December.
During October we went to our local plug supplier on the market at Huercal Overa. We bought white onions and fennel that went into prepared ground. I noticed one stall had garlic bulbs that showed signs of green tips, not ideal for eating but good for splitting into separate cloves. Plant so that just the tip of the clove is showing. Two or three large bulbs gave me over fifty cloves, that should produce enough garlic, even for me.
The ground is still warm, so I sowed a row each of spinach, carrot, beetroot, rocket and radish in mid October, plus patches of salad leaves in the herb garden. They all sprouted nicely. You would normally expect to be lifting carrots and beetroot something like 14 weeks after sowing. Growing them over winter they will take longer because of the lower light levels so do not be disappointed if they take up to 20 weeks to mature. I expect to have baby carrots, the thinning's, by, wait for it, Christmas.
It may be autumn but there is still plenty of produce to be had. All my herbs, including the Italian basil, are still going. Some herbs such as rosemary, thyme, marjoram, sage (for Christmas) and bay will be available year round. The lemon grass, grown from seed, produced its first edible stems this month. They went straight into a Thai green curry paste along with some coriander that is now reaching the end of its life.
I am still lifting carrots and leeks. My peppers are about at an end so I picked all that were left on the bushes. I am looking forward to a chilli con carne in which I use sweet peppers, chopped fairly fine, well, about bean size really, instead of red beans. Low calorie and delicious.
We have all sorts of visitors to the garden. Last month it was a tomato hornworm caterpillar, this month it was a Red Admiral butterfly enjoying the warm autumn sunshine. We also had a red legged grouse running about but he would not stay still long enough for me to get a picture. As I was writing this article our first robin appeared and perched on our statue. He must have heard we were looking forward to Christmas.