Some vegetable seeds that did not sprout in spring finally did in June. It was all hidden under the grapevine, which is growing very fast, so we didn’t notice. By the time we had, the plants had grown about a week too long. Nuria added cinnamon to a salad she made. The trick worked. The leaves were still sharper than they should be, but not bitter.
When we started the garden we did not have a convenient water source for it. We watered by filling bottles in the kitchen and dragging them four flights to the roof.
Two years ago, however, the building’s water system, which dated to 1938 and was made of lead, sprang a leak. The comunidad de vecinos voted to spend 4000Euros, or 400Euros per flat, to replace the pipes. The new community President, who had been installed in a palace coup last year, replacing one who opposed rooftop access, oversaw the obras. She penciled an extra 100Euros into the budget and extended the water system to the roof. Suddenly a little faucet stuck out of the wall opposite the elevator shaft.
A week later I bought a green watering can at an odds-and-ends shop for six Euros. It was only slightly more practical than the bottles had been. It actually held less water. We no longer had to climb the stairs with bottles, but did still have to walk from the faucet to the garden and back. In the winter it was fifteen circuits to water the whole garden. In the summer it was about twice that. We did this for two years.
At some point about three months ago the garden’s plants were large enough that each demanded a whole can of water. I got tired of it. The hardware store on our corner, which is just barely farther away from the flat than the plants have been from the faucet, charged me an entirely dignified Euro14.50 for a garden hose.
In the months since we bought the hose the garden has doubled in size, though most of that is vertical. I am glad we didn’t do this before. I wouldn’t have known what to do with the sudden increase.
Coincidentally, this summer has also been one of the wettest in living memory in Barcelona. It’s been cooler and we’ve had several dramatic thunderstorms, each one lasting days at a time. Usually, summer is the garden’s fallow period, because the heat on the roof is so extreme. This year it has been our best season. Several of our plants that have been struggling are making dramatic recoveries, including a neglected palm, a rosemary that usually suffers in July, and a cactus that is now budding, out of season. We have a grapevine that has started to climb. We also have three large-leafed, ground-hugging plants with yellow flowers. They are either pumpkin, zukes or eggplants. We probably don’t have enough soil for them to produce vegetables, but the flowers look good, and we are told can be sauteed in butter.
Spring comes and goes in three weeks in Barcelona. Last year it snowed in March, and was 28C by April. So flower season is very short. Like last year, many of our flowers resulted from letting winter vegetables go to seed. Last year, we planted a cabbage called a bruton, which is native to a micro-climate in Nuria’s hometown, 70km south of Barcelona. We let the brutons grow past the point where they would be good to eat. If you don’t cut them the moment they mature (or perhaps a little earlier) they get very bitter, very quickly. We missed the moment, so let them be. After two weeks they had sprouted flowering stalks about a meter high. They had yellow-ish flowers and seemed to thrive in the cold weather. When spring came the flowers quickly wilted and the stalks lost their strength. The first rainstorm finished them off.
The guy who had brought us the brutons as sprouts was our old roommate, Cesc, who grew up in Nuria’s hometown and is a longtime friend of the family. He’s also a semi-professional botanist and helps manage a large vegetable garden for his father. Many weekends when he lived with us, he’d return from a visit to his parents’ place hauling baskets of cartoonishly large vegetables. A zucchini with the dimensions of a bowling pin. Four dozen scallions. A pumpkin. We would spend the week trying to use it all up. When we started the roof garden, Cesc corrected most of our many errors, and still does.
This winter, instead of the cabbage, he and I had planted arugula. Some of it we ate. But lots of it we left. Like the cabbage did last year, it grew into giant shoots with white flowers. This past weekend, we culled most of it, but left some, which are the long, thin stalks on the lower right and left.
The garden is a bit bare right now. We just cleared the remains of the flowers, and planted more for early summer. Several of the plants seem to be hitting the ends of various cycles. Our aloe, which was a gift from Nuria’s mother, has sprouted some sort of new stalk. Previously it only sprouted new leaves. Initially, I thought this was curtains for the aloe. When these sorts of plants flower in California, they die afterwards. Cesc tells me that’s true of the agave, but not its cousin the aloe. Which is good, because we’ve already needed to take leaves, to treat sunburns, twice. It’s only April.