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Gardening in the Alpujarra

December in the Garden

I make this the third year in a row that we've skipped autumn and gone directly from summer to winter, with colder nights finally showing up in mid November. The extended warm weather is a challenge for the brassica patch. The cabbage white butterflies are still around and their caterpillars love all that juicy green growth that comes as a result of the warmth. The swede midge also thrives in the balmy weather, so the best we can hope for now is that a few cold nights will kill them off and we can rescue what we can from the brassica bed. If you managed to cover your rows with netting or agricultural fleece and kept the covers on in spite of the wind, then you may now have a prize brassica patch. If you sustained some damage from caterpillars, the new growth should remain untouched, at least until they come back in spring. The swede midge is another story. It eats out the centres of the brassicas and they look dreadful, but don't be too hasty to pull them all up. The plants often recover and heal over but without their centres you may end up with four small cabbage or cauliflower heads rather than one big one.

The last sowings of habas can be made this month. Also potatoes, peas, globe artichokes, leeks, garlic and onions. Direct sow beetroot, fennel, spinach, radish and Asian greens. Jerusalem artichokes can go in now too. If you already have a patch, give it a good digging over and harvest as many artichokes as you can. Even if you don't put any back in, they will most likely come back again next year. It's good to clear them out because you will get bigger tubers next year. If you leave them in, they become crowded and the tubers will get smaller.

As the "cost of living crisis" continues, we are all affected in different ways. I met a cabrero (goatherd) neighbour the other day. He had his trailer loaded full of chotos (baby goats). What I assumed to be a trailer load of males, turned out to be all of his chotos, male and female. While it's normal to send most of the males off for slaughter, the females are never sent. They are the milk producers and create the main profit for goat herders. But my neighbour explained that he cannot afford to feed them. There has been no rain. There is no grazing. The price of animal feed has increased sharply. Many of the neighbouring fincas have been fenced and turned into holiday villas with mowed lawns so he no longer has access to that grazing land. The price of milk has remained the same. He's ruined. He's keeping a smaller flock to see if he can recover and continue, when the rain finally comes.

This is what happens to people's lives. I would be more angry than sad that the old ways can no longer be sustained. The landscape is shaped by the way we use it. The use of land is dictated by the desires of the people that live there. For some it's about earning money from renting holiday villas with swimming pools and lawns. For others it's about the production of olive oil or avocados. As we all feel the financial pinch, everyone is looking for ways to survive. But as the goat herder sells off his milk producers for slaughter, people are buying expensive almond milk in the supermarket while almonds fall unharvested to the ground, all around us. We all shape the terrain we live in. The choices we make create the changes we see in our world.

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

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