Growing Your Own Healthy Vegetables in Spain

You only need one square metre or less of space. It’s therefore very possible in apartments!

By Clodagh and Dick Handscombe, Authors of ‘ Growing Healthy Vegetables in Spain –From sprouting seed to giant pumpkins’.

When you move to Spain you will find that although Spain is major grower of ecological/organic vegetables the majority of these are for export. You will therefore , in most regions along the Mediterranean coast, find it difficult to buy organic vegetables on a regular basis. Few local shops, supermarkets and market stalls stock them and the home delivery of boxes of wholesome or organic vegetables is very rare.

However one of the joys of living in Spain is that the climate, especially the two springs Spring and Autumn, makes it possible for most expatriates to grow and harvest a wide diversity of fresh ecologically grown vegetables on every day of the year even if living in an apartment or small town house without the space of a large garden. In practice one only needs one square metre of space to grow a dozen types of vegetables. Yes in small quantities but it’s a start to a healthier Mediterranean type diet especially if they are grown ecologically without using a trace of chemical fertilizers, insecticides and fungicides. Luckily since the growing of ecologically labelled vegetables for export is an important industry in Spain the essential ecological fertilizers, insecticides and fungicides have been developed and these are now available to the amateur gardener.

We have grown vegetables in Spain for some twenty years. Initially only a few specialities that were difficult to find or handy to have outside the kitchen door. These early crops included small new potatoes, mini Brussels sprouts, rocket, spring onions and crinkly parsley. Everything else could be bought in the local store or at the gate, having been grown fairly naturally using animal manures in the campo surrounding the village. However year by year as the older villagers died sons did not keep up the tradition of growing vegetables and the land was planted up with fruit trees or left to go wild and sold where possible for new houses. The few remaining vegetable growers resorted to using large quantities of chemical fertilizers and excessive amounts of water to produce the largest possible vegetables- often lacking flavour -to maximise their incomes. Unfortunately forced vegetables often attract insects and diseases so chemical warfare became the norm, and many of the vegetables – especially tomatoes, lettuces and onions not only lacked flavour but needed careful washing. Now even the last few are giving up as they cannot compete with the major growers and imports.

Wanting to eat healthily we responded by expanding the extent of our vegetable growing; initially by establishing a 40 square metre vegetable plot plus three small raised beds and a few containers before later taking on an abandoned eight hundred square metre allotment outside the village to grow all our own vegetables and soft fruits. They are grown naturally, ecologically and organically and harvested fresh daily. Surpluses are dried, frozen, salted or bottled or made into chutneys or jams. Tomato jam is now our favourite replacing even homemade whole fruit strawberry jam in our larder!

But we never forgot our small beginnings and over the last two years we have experimented with what can be grown in the kitchen in the space of an A4 sheet of paper, or in the space of less than one square metre on a small terrace or in a utility room, garage or cellar.

Part Two of our book GROWING HEALTHY VEGETABLES IN SPAIN explains how to do so starting with vitamin rich sprouting seeds which take just a minute a day to wash through with water ( these days automatic sprouters do even that for you). On a slightly larger scale a plastic sack of rich straw based compost impregnated with oyster mushroom spawn doesn’t need watering and a similar one for white cultivated mushrooms only once in a while. A tier of four hanging window boxes can accommodate cascading cherry tomatoes, herbs, cut and come again salad leaves and alpine strawberries. Scaling up to three large tree tubs to take photographs for our book we grew some twenty vegetables during the summer – even fifteen at one time. In November they were covered with clear plastic sheets trained over wire hoops to keep late tomatoes and peppers fruiting through to Christmas. By the way deep polystyrene fish boxes are excellent for growing cut and come again salad leaves.

So when you come to Spain do start to grow and enjoy your own fresh vegetables from the first week .