Grow salads at home with vermicompost
Josep M. Vallès, urban horticulturist: "I am 37 years old, I was born in Badalona and I live in Santa Coloma de Farners. I am an agronomist, and I teach people how to create urban gardens on balconies, terraces and rooftops. I'm married and I have three children, Roger (10), Judit (8) and Miquel (5). I prefer left-wing politics and I am a Catalanist. God? It's like the eartworm humus: fertilizer so that we can bear good fruit."

He welcomes me on the terrace of his sister's house, in Badalona, while he is reviewing carrots, lettuce, onions and a chard. Vallès has six brothers, and he has helped all of them to set up an urban garden. And also to his mother. And it also helps to do it to those who come to their workshops (, based on ten years of experience cultivating at home. He has founded a company: Tarpuna Sustainable Initiatives ("tarpuna" means "to plant" in Quechua: Vallès spent a few years in the Bolivian Andes, collaborating with indigenous farmers) to advise horticultural leisure practitioners. You only need his manual "The urban garden" (Serbal), a terrace with a few hours of sun... and remember that you had farmer grandparents.

Does an orchard fit on a balcony?
- You're already seeing this, right? Do you want a carrot?
Yes, I will try.
- Self-service: stretch one.
Let's see... Hum... What a taste! Gorgeous!
- This is the charm of cultivating your garden on your balcony, terrace or roof: you come out with the plate in your hand and you serve yourself a salad! Do it..
What salads do you make?
- I'm combining lettuce, radishes, lamb's lettuce, carrots, onions, tomatoes, endive, cucumbers ... And you know what you eat because you've grown it!
This carrot is very tiny, yes.
- Maybe it is lacked of some water, but you forgive everything from a carrot made by you!
Do you grow more vegetables at home?
- Peas, beans, watermelons, French melon, spinach, chard, garlic, leeks, calçots, eggplants, peppers, pumpkin, zucchini...
In a simple gardener?
- Yes. Or in a cultivation table like this one, measuring 1.40x0.70 meters. Or even in a pot!
What can I grow in my pot?
- One escarole, for example.
Which is the smallest possible orchard?
- A 2 liters bottle, cut in half: invert the top, with a rag in the neck, and deposit it on the lower half, with two fingers of water...
For the cloth to absorb it?
- Yes. And you fill the top with ground and plant a lettuce. After a month you can eat it. It's a micro-garden, a portable garden!
I have two children: this gives me little...
- This winter, I had to buy neither lettuce nor canons. If you combine the vegetables well on a growing table, you will have vegetables all year round. And your children will learn what to eat in each season!
Certainly, we have no idea.
- Nowadays, almost everything comes from greenhouses: without flavour and without substance. From your terrace, however, you pick the vegetable at its point of maturation.
Give me a tip to start.
- Plant a mix of lettuce, arugula and canons in a gardener. In three weeks you will have it all green: make your harvest of leaves.
- Instead of tearing the plants, you cut the leaves for your salad ot the day with a knife. And it is time to eat! This is enough for five people throughout the winter.
This is tempting me...
- It has another advantage: more space in the fridge. Instead of having the lettuce and vegetables in the fridge, you have them on the balcony.
But the pollution of the big city does not poison the leaves?
- Let's not exaggerate! Simply clean each sheet with tap water.
And how do I fertilize my vegetables?
- With composted organic fertilizer. I prepare it with the house waste and red worms of California: a great humus!
I do not see myself in this business...
- We are too used to get rid of all the trash we generate quickly: throw it and it disappears from your life. We want everything aseptic.
I know. What if I buy this compost already done?
- Yes, I sell it: it is a growing substrate based on earthworm humus and coconut fiber. It is the basis for a good enrichment of the plants. Do not save money there.
And will bugs come to my urban orchard?
- Some, but they are part of the matter, of the life cycle. In fact, the shortage of bees in the city suggests that you should become a bee: pollinate the flowers of your plants with your own fingers.
And if they suffer from insect pests?
- There are tricks to scare away insects, like having some aromatic plants planted among the vegetables: rosemary, thyme, basil...
Does that really work?
- In the vegetable universe there is no mathematics, but for some reason the farmers used to carry on their ears a small basil leaf when they went to the garden...
Do you know other home remedies against pests?
- There are many. With a spray, sprinkle the leaves with an infusion made with artichoke leaves (against aphids), or garlic (against mites and fungi), or a bunch of tender shoots of tomato plants mixed with soap (caterpillars and insects in general).
Ugh, all this is too laborious...
- But it gives you many satisfactions!
What have you enjoyed most these days?
- I collected two watermelons from 3 to 4 kilos the other day: very sweet and tasty! Terrific! This is priceless: really.
It's appetizing, certainly.
- It is also fun to have a corn plant, for instance. In summer time, you can harvest three or four corncob with your children, and make popcorn. Or some delicious roasted corncobs.
And could I get some tomatoes to finally make good bread with tomato?
- Of course. Now we are in the perfect month to plant tomatoes. If they are of the hanging variety, you will have a good spreadable tomato for the winter. For the summer, plant tomato branch variety. With good substrate and care, that plant will give you 20 kilos of tomatoes.
No bad at all.
- If you plant green peas, you will get less quantity but in return each pea is a nutritional pump! And, raw green peas are sweeter than any candy. Do you have a balcony?
A little terrace...
- Cheer up! And one day you will see the pleasure it will give you to cook a succulent paella of spring vegetables: with its sofrito and with pepper, beans, peas ... and everything will have come from your own terrace! I await for your invitation.