Roses

One thing that’s definitely different about being here in Italy is the abundance of flowers in January. Down the lane roses that have become naturalised are in bloom, they have no scent but none-the-less brighten up this drab month. Tiny orange marigolds are holding their heads up and there’s a few bluey-purple periwinkles popping up. Sarah’s house has some tiny white flowers outside that look as if they could be made of delicate china and a frothy yellow flower dances in the breeze down by Antonio’s house on the corner near the war memorial. Further down the road is a house with a huge pot filled with bright yellow daisy type flowers and the last of the woodland cyclamen are packing away their pink and purple bonnets.

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My mind has been on preparing the orto for this years’ produce, as I had a limited space last year I’m ready to get on with growing on a similar scale to when I had my allotment back in the UK. This said, it’s tricky getting your head around sowing and planting times when you’re used to the UK seasons. Last year I was sowing my tomato seeds in March when everyone around me was starting to plant out their plants, so I’ve calculated that I need to start off around 8 to 10 weeks earlier depending upon the plants. I’ve already got a tray of fava beans started off and as soon as they get several true leaves they’ll be transplanted into the orto, and I’ll sow a second lot for a later crop. I have sweet peas sown for cut flowers this summer and will be looking at buying some bedding as soon as it becomes available around March. My pumpkin seeds are in a pot, as I always find they do much better if started early and are allowed to establish themselves as healthy plants before they go mad and spread out ready to fruit.

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Last year was a good year for chillies and this year I’ll be growing habanero and Thai birds eye varieties, the habanero need to be started off now so they’re now sown and I reckon two plants should give us enough hot chillies for the year with a good proportion to dry and store for the winter months. I’m also looking forward to growing some new things, like cucumbers, peppers and fennel which I’ve never attempted before. I’ll even be having a bash at growing some Brussels sprouts, as they grow cabbage over here quite successfully so I imagine they’ll do okay.

I’ve just got back from spending a week over in the UK, and while I was there my bezzie mate, Glo who knows I love crazy signs, gave me a calendar with unusual signs pictured for each day, and I promised to post the sign that corresponds with the blog posting, so here’s today’s which appropriately is an Italian one. (Apologies for the poor quality photo, I’m not organised yet.)

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Shy Vegetables

The dogs are outside playing with a tennis ball they’ve shredded playing Tug of War I sit watching as I enjoy a cool iced lemon tea. The iPod shuffles and, Kids in America by Kim Wilde plays as a huge dragonfly skips over the pumpkin flowers that are in bloom. I glance over and spot a swollen fruit amid the orange flowers, I’m sure there was no burgeoning pumpkin there yesterday. One thing about growing vegetables here in Italy, is they seem to appear overnight, especially the courgettes (zucchini). I’m sure the courgette is a shy vegetable, because you spot the flowers and in amongst the huge leaves you see a tiny green fruit and no matter how often you check nothing seems to happen then one morning you just happen to notice a great, green baton sticking out, as if it’s swollen overnight.

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I’m particularly pleased with my tomatoes, I’ve only planted two plants this year; a bush variety that produces the typical long Italian fruit, known in the UK as plum tomatoes. For a while due to the cool spring they didn’t do very much, but now that the weather has been good both bushes are laden with fat fruits, that have only just started to redden. This year I won’t have enough to make passata, but I’ll have steady supply for salads and home-made pasta sauces. I may even combine them with some of my sundried chillies and store some pots of arrabiata sauce in the freezer, for a winter warmer later in the year.

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I have been harvesting basil as it’s been flourishing and have frozen it, although the leaf tends to darken during freezing and once defrosted looks dreadful it still tastes good in sauces. I’ve been very disappointed with the purple basil I’ve sown. It’s been very slow growing and hardly any of them have flourished into productive, bushy plants. The two things I’m looking forward to harvesting are the figs from the huge tree outside and the pomegranates that are swelling upon a bush we have inherited. Once the house is complete we shall begin work on restoring our land from a unproductive tangle of green into a fully functioning orto/allotment that will cater for most of our fruit and vegetable requirements throughout the year. Michele has already given me the benefit of his advice regarding the sowing of fava (broad) beans and I wonder, as cabbages do so well here, will Brussels sprouts hack it in the Italian countryside?