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Gardening in the Alpujarra

June in the Garden

The long awaited rain finally arrived in mid-May, bringing snow on the mountains too to replenish the water reserves we need to get through the summer. All those little seedlings that were planted before the rain will thrive now in the sun that follows. Carry on planting tomatoes, aubergines, peppers and chillies, pumpkins, melons, watermelons and cucumbers and beans. Corn can go in and okra, sweet potatoes and peanuts. Harvest beans, courgettes and cucumbers regularly to encourage the plants to produce more. Tie up the tomatoes as they grow and pinch out the side shoots. Pinch out basil tops to stimulate growth into bushy plants.

The "Three Sisters", corn, beans and squash planted together, is a traditional Native American companion-planted trio. The three crops work well together, with the tall corn stalks acting as trellis for the climbing beans; the beans add nitrogen to the soil for the other two heavy feeders and the large pumpkin leaves provide shade to help conserve moisture in the soil. Rather than sowing all the seeds at once, try planting the corn seeds first, then – when the plants are a few inches high – sow the beans at the base of the stalks. When the beans start to climb the stalks, sow the pumpkin seeds in the spaces in between. This method gives the beans more of a chance. They will climb up the corn stalks as soon as they germinate, so can get up to a good height before the pumpkin vines swamp them.

Summer greens can be a challenge. Lettuces don't do well in summer as they prefer cooler, damper conditions. Try to grow some in the shade and keep them as moist as you can with frequent watering and mulch. Try some other less well known summer leaves such as Malabar spinach, New Zealand spinach and amaranth. The leaves on sweet potato vines are also edible when cooked.

The weather has been pretty unpredictable lately and does not seem to be following the seasonal patterns that we have become accustomed to over the last half century or so. This means that our habitual timings for planting out and sowing seeds won't always be successful. Sometimes this can work to our advantage – when we haven't managed to keep up with our planting schedule and plant things late we might inadvertently avoid an unexpected cold snap. A gamble on an early planting might reap the reward of an early harvest if we have an unusually warm spring. There's no need to be too rigid with planting times.

Experimenting with different sowing times is all part of the gardening journey. Last summer a gardener friend told me she was direct seeding pumpkins in the second week of July. What a waste of time I thought – they will never bear fruit. I have a huge amount of respect, verging on envy, for this friend's gardening abilities, so I kept my doubts to myself. By August those pumpkin plants were showing off their enormous leaves. When I visited the garden again in October, there were giant pumpkins everywhere – hanging out of trees and hiding under the monster vines. We can learn so much by paying attention to what our fellow gardeners are doing.

If the seasons are changing, we gardeners will have to adapt. Rather than trying to impose regimented sowing times and schedules on the garden, take the time to observe how the garden and the creatures that live there are adapting to evolving conditions and keep an eye on what your neighbours are doing. I'll be direct sowing pumpkins in July this year.

Archive of previous articles here.
For more information on seed-saving and SEEeD, the Órgiva-based seed-savers' association, see

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