Tag Archives: 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



Gardening IS a Labour of Love!

Growing fruit and vegetables was my labour of love and a hobby which gave me a great sense of fulfillment. Although my efforts in the vegetable garden were never destined to make us self-sufficient, the pleasure of eating something I’d grown from seed or plug was rewarding.

Broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and spinach on 26th February

Broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and spinach on 26th February 2012

Like a sentry I stood guard against the slugs and snails and other predators such as rabbits and birds; each eager to sample the tender green shoots. I watered and fed the young plants with the love of a mother tending a young family. I sheltered them from the harsh salt winds and shaded them from the midday sun until, like young adults, they were strong enough to fend for themselves.

White mold and other diseases often threatened the crop and I frantically searched the internet looking for an organic solution rather than using fungicides. Unfortunately, the limited options available and lack of success resulted in many organic pipe-dream failures. My main concern in using chemicals was the devastating effect on the bees and other wildlife.

I watched as bees pollinated the flowers of cucumbers, courgettes and tomatoes with the promise of a feast of home grown fruit and vegetables in the weeks to come.

Different varieties of lettuce grew in containers as were spring onions, radish, peppers, melons and chives; all basking in the sun just waiting to grace my next salad bowl.

The taste of fresh produce served straight from plot to plate within minutes and so different to that of irradiated foods which have been boxed, transported halfway round the world, and then dumped on the supermarket shelves.

My vegetable garden was like stepping through Alice’s mirror to my own wonderland where I felt at peace with myself and at one with nature.

So what happened?

My neglected raised vegetable area

My neglected raised vegetable area


Readers who have been following my blog for some time may remember my previous post about the root problem caused by the close proximity of the melaleuca hedge. A problem I thought I had resolved by lining the base of the raised bed with a membrane. All was fine for a year, and then I noticed the plants were no longer thriving. When I dug into the soil it was no more than a nest of roots, so you can imagine my language was a little more than sky blue!

Defeated by Mother Nature I abandoned my wonderland and retreated back through the mirror. I felt disillusioned, and even my tenacious spirit could not rally my enthusiasm as the fruit bushes and strawberries growing in containers were left untended and unloved…

As the winter turned to spring and the milder weather tempted me once more to revisit my vegetable area I was once again drawn to the family of plants under my care.

The cabbages and lettuce I had planted last October had barely grown in four months and the onions were even less enthusiastic about their living conditions.

Cabbage and lettuce planted last October have hardly grown

Cabbage and lettuce planted last October have hardly grown

The peach tree, which had been the source of such joy last summer when it yielded so many peaches followed by disappointment when I found they were infested with fruit flies, still seemed to be alive. Only time will tell if the lack of water during the winter drought will have an adverse effect.

The lemon tree which was bought as a lime tree four years ago, had one lemon and a multitude of tiny white flowers – well that was a result. The leaves yellow but still clinging to life and giving its all.

As I continued to examine the plants in the various containers I felt heartened that they had all survived. I surveyed the variety of large empty pots and crates and once again felt excited at the prospect of growing a salad crop. Now was the time for action and a visit to the market was required.

So what next?

Sigh… I don’t know.

– Do I dig out all the soil (again), concrete the base and then add another couple of tiers of bricks and replenish the soil?
– Cover with black plastic membrane to suppress the weeds and then move all my containers on to the raised bed? The latter would be the easier option but it would restrict the type of fruit and vegetables I would be able to grow?
– Knock the whole thing down and forget it existed and persuade Mr. Piglet to get some chickens?

Seriously, what would you do?

The cost of the first option could be prohibitive but on the other hand this is my hobby and it gives me great pleasure. It would involve employing some muscle to undertake the project and muscle costs money!

The second option would look and feel and like a bodge job.

The third option – well that’s a joke in case he reads this blog post.

I went to the market on Monday and bought lots of plant plugs and strawberry plants.

As for what happens next – watch this space!

Santa’s surprise for Piglet

Firstly, a belated happy New Year to my followers and a big thank you for all your comments and support during 2012.

I’ve just returned from a family Christmas and New Year in England to discover Santa and his little Elves have left me a wonderful surprise in my absence!

For those who have followed Piglet’s zucchini tales of woe over the last year you will understand my excitement. (Don’t worry I’m easily pleased!)

In desperation, and determined to have one last try, I planted one Zucchini “plug” in a pot at the end of August. Initially (as expected) all the baby Zucchini withered and died. So you can imagine my surprise when I discovered this…

Christmas Zucchini

Christmas Zucchini

I did not realise they even grew outside in Portugal during December!

So the Moral of this story is: we should never give up and if at first we don’t succeed just keep on trying!

April: Growing Fruit and Vegetables in Pots

April 23rd 2012 – My monthly diary for April continues with my ongoing experiment to grow fruit and vegetables in pots and various containers.

Red and orange peppers

Red and orange peppers

This year I planted some orange and red peppers seedlings which I bought from São Teotónio Market in March. At 25cents each they were quite expensive, but still easier and cheaper than buying the packets of seeds and germinating myself. Next year I will see if I can save seeds from these plants and grow some from seed. Orange peppers are always very expensive in Portugal (€5.64 per kg) so I felt if I could persuade them to grow and yield at least two peppers per plant, they should actually save me money!

My first cucumber!

My first cucumber!

This variety of cucumber has a very prickly skin which you need to remove before eating. I only bought the seedlings in February so they have progressed really quickly! It’s great to pop out to my garden and pick my own lettuce, radish and now cucumber.

Tomato plant

Tomato plant

I bought several tomato plants in February which are now all doing well and are in flower.

Strawberry plants grow well in pots

Strawberry plants grow well in pots

My strawberry plants continue to flower and produce a regular crop.

Strawberries grown in containers

Strawberries grown in containers

The blackbirds have discovered my delicious strawberries so I’ve now covered the plants with mosquito nets which I bought very cheaply at a local flea market. However, I need to think of an alternative option because once the nets are wet they cling to the plants and the birds just peck through them.

Strawberries can be grown in a variety of containers

Strawberries can be grown in a variety of containers



The Rhubarb continues to grow however, I do need to plant directly in the garden but finding the right location is not going to be easy. I may find some old bricks and build a raised bed just for my rhubarb!

Noname - all I know it's a cross between a blackberry and a rasberry

Noname – all I know it’s a cross between a blackberry and a rasberry

I bought this fruit plant at a charity flea market for just €2.00 All I know is that its fruit is a cross between a rasberry and a blackberry and it needs to be kept moist. I am going to transplant into a larger pot next year. Any ideas?

Lemon tree

Lemon tree grown in a large pot

Lemon tree – continues to produce an abundance of fruit and massess of blossom. However, I do keep it well watered and feed regulary.

Physallis – The seeds I planted last year have grown well over the winter and I have now transplanted into larger pots. The orginal plant produced fruit all through the winter, but I’ve now pruned the plant to encourage new growth.

Chili and piri piri – last years plants are now straggly and I’ve used discarded seeds for new plants.

Melons – seedlings are developing slowly, but at least they are still alive!

To do
Buy Auberine and more lettuce seedlings and rasberry and blueberry bushes. Plant radish seeds, cherry tomatoes.

I now use organic feed to spray the leaves of all the above. This is an experiment as I’ve previously only used liquid feed. We will see.

To Do

Related posts:
How did I kill my tomato plants?
Portugal: Growing Fruit and Vegetables in April
Portugal: Growing Fruit and Vegetables in March
Portugal: Growing Fruit and Vegetables in February
Portugal: Growing Fruit and Vegetables in January
Portugal: Growing Fruit and Vegetables in December

The Demise of Piglet’s Veggie Plot

I want to scream, stamp my foot in anger, have a mardy and then curl up into the fetal position and have a good cry. I’m normally a positive person and if I don’t succeed I keep trying until I do. For example you may recall when I discovered roots from nearby trees and hedges invaded my raised veggie patch (Piglet’s plot) I dug out all the soil (with Mr Piglet’s help), removed all the roots , lined the bed with a breathable root barrier and then replaced the soil.

Just as I think I'm winning!

Just as I think I'm winning!

However, nature and the elements have finally conspired against me. Yesterday, while pottering and weeding I noticed there was something wrong with one of the cabbages. On closer inspection I discovered the inside of the cabbage had rotted and was covered in a white mold. Some of the lettuces were also affected and were in a right sorry state.

Is this Sclerotinia rot/ White Mold?

Is this Sclerotinia rot/ White Mold?

After removing all the affected plants I scoured the internet for clues.
I think it could be Sclerotinia Rot or White Cabbage Mold If so, I don’t think I will be able to grow any new plants for the rest of the season. Basically, if I’ve understood correctly, you can’t treat the fungus once the soil is contaminated.

Bwah Bwah!

Any suggestions gratefully received!

Related Posts:
I’m being invaded…
Zucchini – I give up!


This post is inspired by the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge. The theme is Hope

My Tin of Hope

My Tin of Hope

I considered naming the tin which contains all my packets of seeds, “My Tin of DOOM”. Why? Because many most of the seeds fail to germinate. I’m not sure if this is due to the quality of seed or if I’m using the wrong kind of seed compost. Whatever the reason, I either end up with fifty seedlings of the same variety or zilch.

Just in case seeds respond to feelings of negativity and in an attempt to view my failures in a more positive light, I have renamed the tin “My Tin of Hope

Zucchini Seedlings

Zucchini Seedlings

However, most of these seeds will now stay in the tin as I’ve decided to buy seedling plugs from our local market. This not only liberates me from weeks of frustration waiting for the seeds to germinate (or not), but this way I only buy what I need!

Positive thought also encourages us to take a more positive course of action!

Is your glass half empty or half full?

Growing Garlic in Pots – Success or Failure?

Since moving to Portugal we now use far more garlic in our food than in the UK. Reportedly, garlic acts as a great mosquito repellant because they dislike the taste of your skin/blood when garlic is absorbed into the body. I am not sure how true this is, but I no longer have as many bites as I did before my garlic addiction. (Hopefully, I am not tempting fate by saying this). Anyway, I decided to experiment and grow garlic in pots. How difficult could it be…?

I think it’s safe to say a picture(S) saves a 1000 words!

November (2010), I divided up heads of garlic and planted the cloves in several large pots.

November (2010), I divided up heads of garlic and planted the cloves in several large pots.

February 2011: They are sprouting well and I am really optimistic!

February 2011: They are sprouting well and I am really optimistic!

April: The leaves (I think these are called scapes?) continue to grow well.

April: The leaves (I think these are called scapes?) continue to grow well.

End of May: What's happening beneath the surface? Approaching the task with the same care as in archaeological dig I tentatively scraped away some soil to investigate.

End of May: What's happening beneath the surface? Approaching the task with the same care as in archaeological dig I tentatively scraped away some soil to investigate.

End of July: The foliage had died off so I eagerly dug up all the heads of garlic. What a disppointment they were not much bigger than my cherry tomatoes!

End of July: The foliage had died off so I eagerly dug up all the heads of garlic. What a disappointment they were not much bigger than my cherry tomatoes!

I then tried to plait the garlic, but there is a definite knack to this! Not much to show for 7 months growth! There is always next year.

I then tried to plait the garlic, but there is a definite knack to this! Not much to show for 7 months growth. Never mind, there is always next year.

The moral of the story is: I can’t just stick garlic cloves in pots and expect them to grow!

They don’t…

I think I need some tips for a more successful crop next year…

All suggestions gratefully received!?

Growing Fruit and Veg in Pots and Plot: April

My favourite hobby is gardening and I love “trying” to grow my own vegetables both in pots and in the ground. This year I have a new raised vegetable garden which I hope will yield great results. This is a record of my successes and failures usually just kept as notes on scraps of paper. The wonders of blogging and modern technology!

Bumblebee pollinates Zucchini

Bumblebee pollinates Zucchini

Last year I tried desperately to grow Zucchini (courgettes) without much success. There were plenty of flowers but as the fruits formed they just withered and died. I was told this was either due to overwatering or the lack of bees. If it was a bee problem the only solution was to pollinate the flowers by hand, using one of my artists brushes. This year we have been blessed with numerous bees in all shapes and sizes so fingers crossed!
Related post: Poorly Zucchini

Vegetable garden 14/03/11

Vegetable garden 14th March

My vegetable plot in March looked a little bare. The zucchini (courgette) seedlings I’d purchased in February, at the farmers market, were now growing well and producing buds. Fingers crossed this year they were going to do well. Lettuce and red cabbage seedlings were also planted plus rows of spinach seeds.

Vegetable garden 14th April

Vegetable garden 14th April

In the space of just one month, everything has tripled in size and my vegetable plot is beginning to look like a productive area and not a patch of earth. I now have red cabbage, squash, cucumber, tomatoes, radish, spinach, zucchini, beans, and spring onions.

French beans 14/4/11

French beans 14/4/11

The green beans were grown from seed planted 23/2. They are now beginning to flower.

First crop of radish 14/04/11
First crop of radish 14/04/11

This is my first crop of radish grown from seed planted 23/2


Strawberries grow well in pots

Strawberries grow well in pots

I now have four pots of strawberry plants which are all beginning to bear fruit. I  protect the strawberries from the blackbird family nesting in our garden by covering the plants with the net bags from my potatoes.

Yummy, my first crop of strawberries 14/04/11

Yummy, my first crop of strawberries 14th April

We had our first dish or strawberries on the 14th April. They were delicious!

Rhubarb experiment 14/04/11

Rhubarb experiment 14th April

I was given a Rhubarb plant last year and because it was so tiny I decided to try and grow it in a pot. Not sure it will work.

Garlic experiment
Garlic experiment 14th April

Garlic cloves planted in pots last December.

Beef tomato plants 14th April
Beef tomato plants 14th April

Beef tomato plants grown from seed started 24/2. I add corks to the end of the canes for eye protection.

Which fruit and vegetables are you growing in your garden or in pots? Please share your successes and failures…we can all learn from each other

Container grown veg, fruit and herbs – success or failure?

Strange tomatoes

What happened to these tomatoes?

As summer draws to a close and my experiment to see which fruit, vegetables and herbs would grow successfully in pots comes to an end – I look back on the highs and lows. I’m not keen on the word failures but secretly I have to admit to myself there were several.

For example, one batch of tomatoes I planted from seed which initially showed great promise as young robust tomato plants, when the tomatoes developed my initial elation diminished as they bore not the slightest resemblance to the picture shown on the seed packet. I have never seen such deformed tomatoes! They tasted OK, but ended up in a Bolognese sauce.

Not one to admit defeat, I grew another batch of tomatoes. These, to my relief, were perfectly formed plum tomatoes. I was delighted. However, disaster struck while I was away on holiday and an army of caterpillars burrowed their way into the tomatoes and destroyed the whole crop. As you can imagine I was not a happy Piglet. It’s now October so the saying “third time lucky” will have to wait until next year!

Courgettes proved to be another disaster, a couple grew quite happily while others just withered and died. See my post on Poorly Courgettes

So which fruit, veg and herbs grew most successfully in pots?

Radish, lettuce, French beans, chilies, cucumbers, tomatoes, strawberries, basil, mint, parsley and coriander.

Rhubarb – the jury is still out as my solitary baby rhubarb plant fights for survival!

Lemons – there are currently four baby lemons, each about a centimeter long fighting for survival in yhe salt air and winds straight off the Atlantic Ocean. OK, I am an optimist!

We will see what next year brings forth…

Which fruit, veg or herbs have you had the most or least success with?