A lot of people who have never grown anything edible in a garden or a balcony pot might be considering having a go at ‘the good life’ of growing things that can be eaten fresh or maybe frozen for the off-season. Get a couple of successful crops going and you will be tempted to try something extra, new or more adventurous next year – nothing beats something you grew yourself.
A hint would be not to be too over-ambitious to start with – start small, and start with something that is suitable for the climate here, and also easy to grow. Anything too complicated will put you off, because if you fail at the first hurdle so to speak, you may not try again.
Advice would be to grow something that takes little or no maintenance, doesn’t take long and doesn’t attract too many pests. Choose a sunny, sheltered spot for most things, the exception being lettuces and herbs, which would do better in partial shade. If your soil is poor, grow in purchased soil from your garden centre in pots, or even cut a square or two into the bag of soil and grow in the bag, just remember some drainage holes should be poked into the bottom.
Tomatoes are a good start for a beginner as they grow fast, just need lots of water and the side shoots pinching out until they get big enough that it won't topple over! A little tomato food and you should have a good crop. Eat them fresh, give them away or pulp them in a blender and freeze in suitable batch sizes for cooking sauces. You can start from seeds, or easier still, cheat a bit, and buy them as small plants.
Bell peppers are really easy to grow too, but keep them away from your tomatoes if you decide to have a go at growing both, as bees may cross-pollinate and this will ruin the flavour of your tomatoes. Peppers love the sun, and like tomatoes, need plenty of water and a little fertilizer now and again.
Salad leaves, radishes, and spring onions are all easy to grow, as are beans and peas, although both the latter will need some sort of support as they get nearer to producing veggies. Chillies are fun to grow and add some nice colour to your plot, you can experiment with different heats too.
Strawberry plants are incredibly easy to grow, and are good for two or three years, so are worth the investment of buying them in plant form.
Plant in a raised bed to make them easier to pick, or you can buy a special pot that will hold several plants, great if you are limited for space. Even hanging baskets can be used.
Carrots are good to grow too, not too fussy about their soil, but you might get some funny shapes if the soil isn’t fine enough! As with most seeds, as they are so tiny it's hard to sow them individually and you will find that the whole line of seeds have all taken, so they will need to be ‘thinned out’ to allow growing room.
Squashes are easy to grow, and these will include cucumbers and ‘loofas’, they just take up quite a bit of space.
Most of these vegetables need to be planted in the spring or early summer, but lettuces can be grown through autumn as well if it is warm enough, so a good idea is to start off with a few seedlings, then a few weeks later plant some more, so you will have fresh leaves growing at different times as opposed to most of them rotting away as you can’t use them up fast enough.
The weather in Portugal isn’t cast in stone, so it’s quite difficult to say when the best time to start planting should be. If it's too dry you could be in for a disaster, too wet and the same thing, so timing is everything. But now is a good time to think about the spring, and perhaps start clearing out dead grass and weeds once your ‘veggie patch’ has been decided upon, and perhaps turn the soil over once the rains come in readiness.