Tag Archives: container gardening in Portugal

Using Sulfato de Magnésio (Epsom Salts) in the Garden

In my quest to use as many natural products in the garden as possible I consulted Google and found this imformative article by Backyard Boss who kindly gave me permission to repost some of the article here.



To begin, I should probably explain what Epsom salts are. Epsom salts are actually a mineral compound of magnesium and sulfate- essential nutrients that regulate enzymes and are found naturally in most living things. Originally found in Epsom, England (hence the name), they are mined from the ground and have a variety of different uses ranging from healthy lifestyle choices, help with magnesium deficiencies, crafting projects, and in our case – gardening.

Epsom salts are not salts at all even though they look like it (it doesn’t have any sodium chloride in it’s makeup). Because of this, it can be used as a natural alternative in many agricultural and health practices without ill effects- since too much true salt is actually harmful to plants.


Magnesium sulfate is actually a key ingredient for vegetation and is found naturally in soils, although they can eventually be depleted and leach over time. The use of Epsom salts in varied ways can help give a very inexpensive boost to your plants and flowers year round – whether they are grown as indoor plants or out.

Essentially they are a building block of new growth, and is supportive of overall plant health; they can be used in a variety of ways to enhance seed germination, flower production, new growth, and can aide with chlorophyll creation: which is needed for photosynthesis in all green plants.

The article continues with a list the uses and benefits of Epsom Salts



Growing Cucumbers in Pots is SO Easy!

Imagine eating your own home-grown organic cucumbers. Hmmmm… delicious!

Why not challenge yourself to grow cucumbers in pots or indeed any container which has adequate drainage. Even if you only have a small garden or sunny balcony give it a try and let me know how you get on.

I usually buy about six seedling plugs from the market or a local garden centre in March . They are really cheap  (about 25cents each) and less frustrating/wasteful than growing from seed. If the seedlings are not available in your area then packets of seeds can be purchase in garden centres, DIY shops and even supermarkets.

Growing from seed means you lose about two weeks as they take time to germinate and I’m far too impatient for that. But sometimes needs must and we go with the flow.

Cucumber seedling plugs

Cucumber seedling plugs

I then plant into small containers such as yogurt or small flower pots using multi-purpose compost.

Baby cucumber plants

Baby cucumber plants

Old plastic water bottles are up-cycled as plant cloches to protect young plants from cold winds and inclement weather until they are more hardy.

Mini cloches - Old plastic water bottles are up-cycled as plant cloches to protect the young plants from cold winds and inclement weather until they are more hardy.

Mini cloches – Old plastic water bottles are up-cycled as plant cloches to protect the young plants from cold winds and inclement weather until they are more hardy.

The reason I always buy more plants than I need is because some of the seedlings will probably be enjoyed by my pet snail ‘Sid’ and his family, and the runt of the seedlings usually die due to cold weather or just bad luck.

So out of six small plants I end up with three healthy specimens.

When the plants are a little more robust I then plant in one large container in good quality compost and some rotted manure (when available). I initially protect the plants by making plant collars from plastic water bottles

plastic collars to protect plants

plastic collars to protect plants

Once the first flowers appear I feed with liquid tomato feed available from garden centres, supermarkets or DIY stores which seem to sell everything bar toilet rolls. It seems to work well and as yet I’ve not found a more general purpose vegetable feed other than manure tea which if you are living in a confined space is probably not a good idea.

About ten weeks later your first cucumbers are ready to pick. Usually several at once!

Cucumbers grow well in pots

Cucumbers grow well in pots

I will plant my next batch of seedlings in June so these will take me through to October/November – depending on the weather.

Growing Tips:

– Feed every couple of weeks.
– Water daily
– If you let the the cucumbers grow too big the seeds become tough and bitter. I usually pick when the cucumbers are about 6 inches long.

My first crop of cucumbers - May 27th.  2017

My first crop of cucumbers – May 27th. 2017

When I have a glut of cucumbers I now pickle in vinegar with onion. They are delicious!

Pickled Cucumbers

5 Cucumbers
1 Kg onions, peeled and halved
80 grams sea salt
500 ml vinegar
350 grams granulated sugar
4 or 2 tsp mustard seeds (I only use 2 tsp)
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
Slice the cucumber and onions thinly, layer them in a bowl, sprinkle salt. Weigh them down with a plate and leave overnight.
Drain off the liquid, rinse well and drain in a colander.
Combine vinegar, sugar, mustard seeds, cloves and turmeric in a pan and bring slowly to boil. Stir to dissolve the sugar, add cucumbers and onions and boil for 1 minute.
Transfer the cucumber and onions to a jar and reduce the liquid for 15 minutes, then divide between the jars to the top.
This will keep for several months.


So who is going to take up the challenge?

No Peaches for Piglet

A couple of years ago I bought a peach tree. I planted the baby tree in a large pot, talked to it daily and it thrived. This year it flowered and the flowers, to my delight, turned to peaches.

Piglet's Homegrown Peaches

Piglet’s Homegrown Peaches

After months of waiting for the peaches to grow and then ripen, I decided today was the day…

However, as I picked the peaches I realised something was wrong. The tiny brown spots, which I assumed were just spots, turned out to be holes the size of pinpricks. Out of the holes ran miniscule brown insects. When I cut into the peaches I could have cried.

Maggots in peaches

Maggots in peaches

The inside of the peaches were brown and a writhing mass of maggots. I now need to consult Mr. Google to see what preventive measures I can take to ensure I don’t experience the same problem next year.

You win some and lose some…

Any suggestions to prevent further infestation next year would be appreciated.

Garden Diary: Container Gardening – Cochonilhas or Mealybugs?

On Monday, I met up with Joan a fellow “container” garden  enthusiast  and a regular visitor to my blog. It was great to not only see all her wonderful pots of fruit, vegetables and flowers, ask numerous questions ranging from types of compost, worm farms to problems with insects, but also discuss our successes and failures.  For example I discovered Joan’s zucchini suffered from the same problems as mine – once the flowers fall off the end of the baby zucchini wither and rot!

Joan is a mine of useful information and after my latest setback with tomatoes, I suddenly felt inspired and re motivated! We could have happily chatted for a week and still not have covered everything! (Mr. Piglet, my chauffeur was happy, when he discovered her husband was a fellow football enthusiast).

Another tidbit of information shared was the agricultural centre Sanipina where I could not only buy garden “potions” but also receive simple practical and knowledgeable advice in English!

For anyone living in the Algarve here are the details.

8400-405 Lagoa
Monday to Saturday – 8:30 to 19:00
T: (+351) 282 341 742 (+351) 282 341 742
E: info@sanipina.com

Delighted with the above recommendation dear Mr. Piglet kindly agreed to make a detour (without moaning) on the way home via the agricultural centre AND a garden centre. Luckily, before leaving home that morning I’d collected various samples of the bugs which had taken up residence on my plants and fruit trees. It’s always easier to show rather than try and explain to the “experts”. So not only did I get the pesky bugs identified and prescribed a suitable potion, I also bought a black fig tree which resides in a huge pot.  Fingers crossed this one, unlike its predecessors would survive!

Do these bugs look familiar?

Cochonilha - Mealy Bug on my Bay Leaf Laurel

Cochonilha – Mealy Bug on my Bay Leaf Laurel

Orange bugs, on the leaves and branches of my Lemon tree

Orange bugs, on the leaves and branches of my Lemon tree

The lemons have the orange bugs

The lemons have the orange bugs

Cochonilhas on my lime tree

Cochonilhas on my lime tree

The assistant at Sanipina carefully inspected my bug specimens and pronounced they were all members of the cochonilha family because when you squished them they released a reddish liquid. I also learned this is where the colouring Cochineal originates from – I won’t be buying that again! I asked her if they were Mealybugs but she was not familiar with the name. I checked them both out on Wiki and they look the same to me, so I assume they are? Can any of my Portuguese followers help with this one, please?

Products recommended for Cochonilha

Products recommended for Cochonilha

She recommended using a combination of two products for maximum effect. However, the advice came with lots of “ifs” and “buts” instructions.
* Water well before spraying
* Do not use in direct sunlight
Fruit trees
If trees are in flower or have fruit which are less than the size of a walnut do not use the Pomorol (see product in large pot).
Bay Leaf Laurel
Use combination of both products, but do not eat the leaves for at least a month.

The insecticide in the small pot also kills ants!

I hesitate to use chemicals, but as the infestation is so bad, and now spreading to other plants, I need to take drastic action. A couple of the badly infested plants in small containers I’ve now quarintined and applied the insecticides and will also disinfect the pots for good measure. Time will tell…

Joan also suggested lots of natural remedies such as garlic, chilli, tobacco, rhubarb leaves etc plus Insecticidal Soap. I’m going to try these on some of my other plants to see how effective they are and will make another post later in the year with the results. In the meantime, if you have any suggestions or useful links, please leave in the comments below and I will add to the “useful links” below.

Useful links
Green MEthods – Get to Know the Plant Pests