Living well from your garden, especially in Spain
By Clodagh and Dick Handscombe
Practical holistic gardeners living in Spain for over twenty years.
Early experiences of Self Sufficiency
When Dick was young his parents and grandparents kept poultry and rabbits for food and with the composted manures grew a wide variety of vegetables and fruit that keep three generations of the family well fed in west London and Hertfordshire during the war years. Likewise Clodagh’s family in Ireland had a riding school so there was always plenty of manure to grow good vegetables. This experience resulted in us always growing our own fruit and vegetables but it was not until we met up in Spain ten years ago that we aimed at being as self sufficient as possible and developed the holistic garden and allotment that we now have in Spain. Of course our Mediterranean climate makes this easier to achieve than in more colder northern climes.
Spanish experiences of Self Sufficiency
When we first came to Spain most Spanish families still grew vegetables and fruit and many kept poultry and rabbits for family use and for sale in local shops or from vans travelling from house to house – and most were still grown ecologically. Ten years later the local supplies were dwindling and much that was grown was by then grown with inorganic manufactured chemical fertilizers, insecticides and fungicides. The decline in local produce has continued to this day as the younger inheriting generation is not interested in the time required to be self sufficient or the heath benefits of eating daily fresh foods.
We had originally just grown a few varieties of vegetables that were not well known in Spain and a few oranges, lemons, peaches and pears although there was a growing collection of medicinal/culinary herbs developing in the flower garden.
So ten years ago having just walked across the Pyrenees separating Spain and France for fifty days – 950 kilometres and up and down 32,000 metres – seeing and eating from traditional organic gardens and allotments when staying in villages to clean up after a few nights of camping we set out to become as self sufficient as possible and widen our understanding of what was possible to grow and eat in Spain season by season in order to follow a balanced healthy traditional gastronomic Mediterranean type diet.
How we live in Spain today
We have become remarkably self sufficient which is timely as a strong euro reduces the value of our Stirling pension.
Vegetables – We grow a wide variety of vegetables for daily harvesting 365/6 days a year. We aim for a healthy diversity. Some years we have grown over fifty types and a hundred varieties. Most are from heritage and heirloom varieties.
Fruit – Some forty varieties of fruit trees grow in the cottage style natural garden, around the allotment and in a container collection to demonstrate what can be done in small patio gardens and on apartment terraces. Unfortunately not all fruit successfully every year due to spring storms damaging blossom.
Herbs – We now have many varieties of herbs purchased or grown from seeds. Our selection criteria are is it useful in the kitchen, is it hardy, does it soon establish sizeable clumps, does it have colourful flowers and interesting perfumes and can it be fed to poultry and animals.
Edible flowers – As explained in one of our earlier article many flowers are useful as infusions, in salads, for making chocolates, and for flavouring dishes and drinks.
Meat – We rear chickens, quail and partridges for eggs and meat and collect large snails for cooking after being fed on rosemary leaves for three or four weeks. A snail farm is under construction!
Fish – Although we would love to rear trout to eat we have insufficient land and no stream near the property. We therefore combine walking with fishing several times a year to top up the deep freeze with trout and occasionally sea fish.
Fresh water –We invested in a Grosse GIE unit for purifying town and spring water rather than buying water in plastic bottles.
Healthy drinks – Red wine we do not yet make but the vines are growing. But we do buy ecological wine from a friends eco-bodega. However we have daily herbal infusions in place of tea or coffee and prepare twelve litres of the ancient Asian health drink Kombucha each week. If you look up Kombucha on the web it is made from pure teas and the Kombucha fungal/lichen (another plant!) pancake growing on the surface consuming the extracts from the tea leaves. Dried and fresh fruits and herbs are also used to prepare fruit liquors for Christmas and flavoured white wine for summer evenings.
Healthy snacks – As described in two earlier articles we dry freshly harvested organic fruit and vegetables for a tasty energy rich fruit, vegetable and nut mix for tapas, snacks and lunch when walking or fishing, driving or travelling by train or air as well as for use in salads and cooked dishes.
Fresh oxygen – Not forgetting that the food we all take in every second of our lives is oxygen as a major constituent of the air we breath in we live as active an outdoor life as possible – which of course is most day’s in sunny Spain – and mountain/beach walk for regular exercise to keep us fit for gardening and build up appetites to make growing our own worthwhile.
Many of our experiences and ideas are presented in our latest trilogy of books Your Garden in Spain, Growing healthy fruit in Spain and Growing healthy vegetables in Spain as well as the regular articles on this site and in newspapers and magazines in Spain. We also share them on a regular programme on REM radio.
In our books we not only give advice to owners of villas and smallholdings but also to those with only apartment terraces or roof gardens. In both cases much can be grown in containers and recently we were amazed that a lady sitting alongside us on a long distant train took out her pet chicken from a wicker shopping basket to feed it when the ticket collector wasn’t watching. The chicken had been taken on holiday to Seville and was now going home to it’s terrace coop in the centre of Barcelona where she claimed to grow herbs and tomatoes. So where there’s a will there’s a way!