December in the kitchen garden - Preparing the ground for a Herb Garden
in Andalucia, Spain
By Nick Nutter | 10 Jul 2020
Preparing the Ground
Over the next months I will be taking you through a fulfilling project. Creating your own herb and vegetable garden on the Costa del Sol without using insecticides, herbicides or fertilisers.
Gardening on the Costa can be a challenge. Much of what you know from gardening in the UK has to be forgotten for one reason. Whereas you may get one main crop and a catch crop per year from land in the UK you can expect two main crops plus a catch crop here in Spain. That means unless you regularly re-energise the soil, replace all those minerals and nutrients taken up by your plants, you will soon have barren land that produces feeble, diseased crops. Fortunately, there is a way to do this that does not involve the use of artificial fertilisers.
The Power of Compost
Compost performs two primary functions. It introduces humus to the soil making it more friable and more efficient at retaining moisture and it re-introduces nutrients taken up by plants. As a bonus, on the clay soils common on the Costa de Sol, it also prevents the formation of the rock hard surface that is impenetrable to fork, spade and more importantly, the delicate roots of seedlings.
You can never have too much compost. Even if you compost all your waste vegetable material from garden and kitchen you will never be able to fully replace all the goodness that was taken out of the soil. You will have eaten much of it. Now I am not advocating using human waste although it does work and was much used in mediaeval times. Far better if you can use animal or poultry manure and, if you live on the coast, seaweed left over winter to have the salt washed out. Waste coffee grounds are a compost ingredient that is freely available here. Coffee boosts the nitrogen content of the compost and acts as a compost accelerator. Get friendly with your local café or venta. Do not have more than about 20% by volume of coffee grounds to other vegetable waste, you can make it too rich.
The compost bin is easy here. I use old pallets, three for back and sides and one as the front door. I use old towels, plastic or old carpet to line the vertical sides. That helps retain moisture and restrict light, and I cover the bin with a sheet of black plastic for the same reason. The whole sits on bare earth so that worms can have free access. You will have read about how to build the perfect compost heap. Forget it. Start with some twiggy stuff and then just pile in whatever you have with manure and coffee thrown in. Make sure the heap is damp. Not sodden. You will have to water it during summer. Once you have filled your bin to the top it will take about six months to reduce down to about a third by volume. At this stage you can remove the top few centimetres that will not have fully decomposed to act as a compost bin starter and use the remainder as compost on the garden.
The majority of weeds are annuals and you will be getting rid of those as you work the ground. There are two perennials that I find a particular nuisance.
In flower it produces small convolvulus type flowers (like morning glory). Its leaves are dark green, small and ovate. Its stem and roots are white like thin spaghetti. One tiny piece of root left in the ground can produce a mass of bind weed in no time. The roots can survive dry conditions for a couple of years and they can be, in my experience, up to one metre down. One day I was deep digging a patch to rid it of bind weed and a gentleman with an allotment nearby stopped, peered over the edge of my metre plus deep trench, and enquired why I was digging what looked like a grave. You get the idea.
I am not sure what this type of grass is called. It has small bean sized black seeds with hair thin, sharp appendages. They look dried up and dead until they find a hint of moisture when within hours, they sprout green shoots and the appendages become roots that rapidly colonise the ground throwing up more green shoot as they go. Those seeds can survive years in the dry ground. As with bind weed the only solution is to dig them out.
Needless to say I try to not put those weeds in my compost heap.
More Gardening articles
History in Andalucia municipality
Prehistoric Andalucia | Evolution of Homo Sapiens
History of Andalucia | The Lure of Gold
Phoenicians in Andalucia | Where the Phoenicians came from
Phoenicians in Andalucia | The First Civilisations in Spain
Phoenicians in Andalucia | Phoenicians meet the Iberians
Phoenicians in Andalucia | Phoenician expansion in Andalucia
Phoenicians in Andalucia | Competition between Greeks and Phoenicians
Phoenicians in Andalucia | The Carthaginians triumph
Amphorae, the container of choice for 4000 years
The Barbary Pirates scourge of the Andalucian Coast
Romans in Andalucia | Rome takes over from Carthage
Romans in Andalucia | Rome subdues the Iberians 205 BC to 139 BC
Romans in Andalucia | Pax Andalucia between 100 BC and 180 AD, the Romanisation of Baetica
Romans in Andalucia | Decline and Fall of the Romans
History of Roman Mining in the Rio Tinto area
History of Andalucia | The Zanclean Deluge
Christopher Columbus, Life, Voyages and Death
Phoenicians in Andalucia | The Phoenician wreck of Mazarron II
Mithraism - a Roman mystery
Neanderthals 500kya to 45kya
Terminology, Cultures, Epochs and Eras
Solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short
Mining in Huelva Province
Romans in Andalucia | Roman Engineering and Building
Romans in Andalucia | Roman Industry in Andalucia
Climate in Prehistoric Andalucia
Neanderthal to Modern Human Transition 45kya to 25kya
The Neolithic Expansion 5800 – 4700 BC
A Shaky Start for Modern Humans 25 kya - 16 kya
The Mesolithic in Andalucia 16kya - 5800 BC
The Neolithic Expansion 9500 - 5800 BC
From Muslim to Moriscos
Iberian Culture and Society
The Tartessians and the Fabled Land of Tartessos
Muslim Invasion of Hispania 711 AD
Muslim Occupation of al-Andalus 711 - 756 AD
The Independent Emirate 756 – 929 AD
Caliphate of Córdoba 929 - 1031 AD
The First Taifa Period 1031 – 1091 AD
The Almoravid Dynasty 1091 - 1147 AD
The Almohad Dynasty 1145 - 1248 AD
Economy of al-Andalus 711 - 1492 AD
Consolidating the Emirate of Granada 1248 – 1272 AD
The History of Flamenco
Emirate of Granada 1272 - 1482 AD
The Granada War 1482 - 1492 AD
Mining in Málaga Province
Mining in Seville Province
Mining in Córdoba Province
Mining in Granada Province
Mining in Jaén Province
Mining in Almeria Province
Nobody Expected the Spanish Inquisition - as we perceive it today
Behind the Spanish Inquisition
The Early Years of the Spanish Inquisition
Spreading the Spanish Inquisition
An alternative guide to discover Andalucia through its street art
El Argar the first State in the Iberian Peninsula
Where the Argar Society originated
Expansion of the Argar Society
Argarian Burial Customs
Argarian Economy 2200 BC - 1500 BC
Decline of El Argar between 1750 and 1500 BC
Submitted by Terry Horsman on 6 Dec 2019
We have recently moved to Benalmadena, have taken an allotment in Campillos and find your website very interesting and useful. Although we have always grown vegetables in the UK we would be very keen to know if there are any books specifically for growing vegetables in Southern Spain.
Reply by Nick Nutter:
There is one good one. 'Growing Healthy Vegetables in Spain' by Clodagh and Dick Handscombe. It's a bit old but I have seen copies in bookshops fairly recently. I should think the nearest for you is the Bookworld Espana shop in Puerto Banus, opposite Corte Ingles.