Plot 51: Comfrey Tea

I decided it was time to start tidying up the slim strip of raspberry bushes and odd plants down the edge of plot 51. I’ve already cleared a spot for the gladioli, it’s strange that the 12 mixed bulbs all turned out to be red and there’s also my hollyhock bed. The rest of the strip is weed infested raspberry bushes and a huge clump of montbretia (crocosmia) and some compost bins. I first cleared a spot of willowherb and bindweed and then moved two of the compost bins into the space and then wondered… ‘What else can I do with the space?’

I had a spare plastic bin and so decided to use it to make some comfrey tea. It fitted easily into the cleared space and so all I had to do was fill it with the spiky stemmed leaves. I have a patch of comfrey that was already in place when I took over the plot and although it’s not in an ideal spot It’ll do. I chopped the unruly bushes down by 50% and filled the bin, packing the stems and leaves down.

With the comfrey wedged into place I took the hosepipe and filled the bin with water and put the lid back on. I didn’t bother putting any weights on the leaves as it was filled to the brim and I’m sure it’ll rot down well enough. It’s in a south facing position and should have the sun on it most of the day, this will aid the fermentation/rotting process. Previously I tried this method in a bucket and it produced a brown, noxious and foul-smelling tea that my greenhouse plants seem to like; it does smell like a farmyard under the glass for several days after using it.

It don’t half pong mum

I’ll leave the thinning out of the weeds and raspberry canes until later, maybe until it comes to pruning, until then I’ll keep picking and enjoying the red fruit.

Plot 51: Treasure or Tat

As I’ve already documented, skip day was a success as I managed to rid my plot of all the rubbish that had accumulated over the years by the previous owner. But another upside of skip day was the sharing of what I classed as rubbish with fellow allotmenteers.

An old hose-pipe reel of mine was taken by someone, another asked me if they could have the old guttering and pipes and an old circular sink I had was snapped up too: No one was willing to come forward and ask for the old bath though.

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On my last trip to the skip I saw someone throwing away some old trays, the kind that manufacturers use to deliver bread and other produce to shops and supermarkets. As soon as I spotted these I begged them and smiling carried them back to my plot. knowing I shall find many uses for them.

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I’m not going to pontificate and say I’ve saved some more plastic from landfill by recycling as that wasn’t my intention, all I was thinking at the time was, I want those and of course, one man’s tat is another man’s treasure.

Plot 51

I enjoyed growing flowers in Italy however over the past two years I’d fallen behind on my veg growing. So in February as it became evident that hospital appointment forecasts meant that we’d be here for a longer time than first anticipated I decided to check out allotment availability in the area to kick start my gardening activities. First I viewed a few council run plots, most completely unsuitable; one so overgrown I’d need a JCB to get it in order, one that was little more than builders’ rubble and another that had what can only be described as an unsuitable neighbour. On the 10th of the month I viewed several available plots at, The Limes. They all looked suitable for my requirements and eventually I settled upon plot 51, (the double greenhouse swayed my decision making somewhat).

It’s a long plot with a shed at the top and the greenhouse at the bottom, it’s cluttered, apparently the previous plot owner didn’t throw anything away, this is evident by the many bags of rubbish, tucked into spaces between compost bins and behind the greenhouse.

Feb (3)

I took over the plot at the beginning of March and my first job was to decide on what will go and what will stay, the submerged bath filled with old strawberry plants will be going soon but the greenhouse will be emptied and cleaned first.

So with my iPod plugged in to its new portable speaker I set the dial to shuffle and as Stargard set the tone for the day with Which Way Is Up? The 1978 disco/funk theme from the movie of the same name I set to ripping out desiccated tomato plants and some nettles. The shelf unit at the end of the greenhouse was cleared of the endless supply of plastic pots and bits of electrical wire that had previously been used as plant ties. After copious amounts of disinfectant and glass cleaner the first job was completed and as I packed up for the day another disco classic shuffled, meaning the session ended with another, boogie-on-the-job track: cleaning is much more pleasant if you can swing your ass as you sweep,mop and polish.

March  (22)

Suddenly the world went mad and we had lockdown and the Coronavirus, I wondered if that meant I’d paid my yearly fees for nothing, not to mention the new gardening tools that had been purchased.

The government came through and said it was okay to still work on allotments as long as you practice social distancing and so I was back to my planning and it was time to organise the removal of the rubbish – or so I thought. All local recycling centres were closed and so the bags of old wood and plastic would have to wait, but that bathtub and submerged dustbins had to go.

March  (1)

Suffice to say, the first few trips to plot 51 were taken up with clearing out old plants, filling compost bins with ancient kale and making a small mountain beside the shed with enough plastic waste to shame the gardening industry.

March progressed into April and slowly my design for the plot was becoming fixed in my head. Garden suppliers; the ones still able to trade had received seed orders and between plot visits I was at home sowing and pricking out in readiness.

As the month kicked off with weather that was welcomed I was starting to feel that things were taking shape, the spot beside the shed was designated for a new sitting area and the biggest proportion of digging over had already been done.

May (5)

Plans And Plants

I love this time of year, there’s so much to look forward to, sunshine, days at the beach and a riot of colour in the garden. Being in Italy means I can start off my seed sowing earlier than if I was in the UK, but first I like to be organised and have a plan: some would say it’s OCD, but whatever, it works for me.

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The best time is when I have sorted the seeds and decided what I’ll be growing and at the end of January out of storage comes the electric propagator. Seeds trays are washed and disinfected and two trays of compost are popped in to warm overnight.

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Not everything works here in Italy though, some plants just don’t thrive in the summer heat, but it’s fun trying different ones. Despite being native to Sicily, Sweet Peas have failed every year for me and this year is my last attempt, so I started them off in November so they’ll be bigger and stronger when they go outside: I have some outside already in a pot which I can bring in if we get a forecast of snow.

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Space is limited in the propagator and with marble windowsills that can be too cold for seeds once they’ve been removed. I had to come up with a way to keep the seeds insulated. So I started to save polystyrene food trays and I drop the young seedling into these to keep them warmer. I’ve found it works really well and promotes good root growth.

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I also enjoy the preparation that seed sowing and gardening brings, above is one of my sunflower trays. I scrounged the polystyrene trays from the local butcher and the growing pods are toilet rolls cut in half. This system keeps the roots contained and can be planted direct into the ground once the plants are large enough. It helps when you’re planning on sowing 70+ sunflowers.

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Finally, the joy of pricking out. Above is a tray of 15 Coreopsis, I only want six plants for the garden so this means there’ll be nine left over to donate to friends. I’ll no doubt during the summer be sharing photographs of the garden with my readers here. Until then, happy gardening everyone.

I Fiori

After an hour pricking out sweet William seedlings and winter flowering pansies ready to take over from the summer bedding, I was thinking that this year’s display of flowers has been the best yet since moving to Abruzzo.

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Previous years have seen me pay more attention to the orto and raising vegetables, however this year apart from a few tomato and chilli plants and I’ve not bothered with veg growing and concentrated more on flowers.

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The sunflowers have been stunning and are definitely on the list for next year’s display.

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Choosing what to grow can be a case of suck it and see, things that do well in the UK can be horticultural disasters here in the heat of an Italian summer and I’ve had some failures. Sweet peas start off well but once the temperature climbs they fail to do the same, cornflowers get off to a good start but here the flowers seem to be somewhat smaller than in England.

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My greatest achievement is my hosta box, I love hostas and despite them preferring damp shady spots mine do well here. They only get full sun after 2:30 pm and take lots of looking after which means watering twice a day and a daily ritual of picking snails off the planter to stop the leaves becoming perforated by the greedy molluscs: This year we had only three holes in just two leaves.

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I’ve decided to add some flower beds in the rear garden and have already started to collect seeds in readiness for next year’s display, that I hope will be more dramatic than this year’s has been.

The Parsnip Project (4)

I had a message yesterday from someone asking me why I had not posted on my blog for a while and how was the parsnip project going?

I realise I have been silent here for quite a while and the reason is down to the scale of work I have on at the moment. To find just a few minutes to blog about the minutia of my day or the eccentricities of Italian life has been difficult and to be honest I don’t see my workload lightening any day soon.

But I do feel an update on the parsnip project is due.

So the French lady’s toilet roll germination method failed miserably, with just one seed bursting into life, so I undertook another method. I had the half a barrel with potatoes growing inside, (which we harvested last week and jolly nice they were too) and so filled the other one that was waiting for the loo-roll seedlings that never appeared with compost and left it in the sun to warm up.

After a few days in the sun the compost was lovely and warm, so I watered it in the morning and left it until the early evening when it was still warm and quite moist and then I sowed the remaining parsnip seeds.

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That was just over 13 weeks ago and they are doing really well as you can see, so I have my fingers crossed that come November/December we’ll have some lovely parsnips for our winter dinners.

I’ve also started off my cauliflowers, a month later than I would in the UK, and they are doing really well, I have 32 planted up in a semi-shady spot and just hope they don’t die during the August heat; I think maybe I should have waited a few more weeks before sowing them.

Sound and Vision

Monday morning has arrived, the Monday morning we tackle the back garden. The iPod shuffles and Downtempo, by Scouting for Girls plays as Seppe arrives to give us the benefit of his landscaping wisdom. With over forty-years of professional gardening experience, we really do need help. So far whenever asked what we’re doing at the back of the house, the answer has been, bit of hard landscaping and a patio, possibly gravel. In short we haven’t a clue what we want, let alone how to tackle the mess of rubble and encroaching wilderness.

Seppe looks at the area and is very soon calling out instructions which we follow. A frame is constructed which will be the main patio area we are informed, then he talks of dry-stone walls and gravel beds and even earmarks an area for our orto. He obviously has an idea of what will work in the space we have but we still cannot see his vision. The morning progresses with the sound of voices and the clack of stone upon stone as we fill the frame with rubble. Seppe constructs a retaining dry-stone wall and pretty quickly the wasteland takes shape.

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At the end of the first day that garden has a definite shape and each section is clearly defined, days two and three are taken up with retrieving rubble that the digger driving, Toto pushed over the edge. The rubble fills the frame for the patio and is spread out to level the area that will be covered with sand and eventually gravel. I mention that I’d like a cherry tree and we decide where the best place for it would be, before day five we clear the orto area of stones. A week in and we can see how it will eventually look.

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So a week later the cement and sand is ordered alongside the fence posts and we look at recycling the old stable doors to make gates. Let’s hope the weather cools a little more this week, as temperatures of twenty-six plus are difficult to work in. Luckily for me however I have quite a large workload this month, so will be stuck inside where it’s cool tapping at the laptop, while others toils outside with stones and sunshine.

Evidence of Dogs

As we near the end of our house refurbishment the front garden is looking less like a building site and more like a wasteland. The grasses have been killed off by piles of sand and cement. Plastic covered piles of materials have gone to reveal yellowing weeds and there’s lots of evidence that dogs live here.

Now when I say evidence that dogs live here, I don’t mean what I’m sure has sprung to mind. I’m not referring to dog poop, that is quickly dispensed with and dropped into the appropriate council bin. What I mean by evidence, is dog litter.

The iPod is playing and as it shuffles and as Girls Aloud, (yes I have Girls Aloud on my iPod) begin to play, Something Kinda Oooh, I decide to clean up outside. I look around at the doggie destruction, a tennis ball lies disembowelled near the herb planter, that incidentally will be taken out as the dogs have removed fifty per cent of its soil by digging in it. On the step is a chewed plastic bottle and beside a scarlet geranium is a discarded and bitten ice cream container.

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The day is heating up and the thought of clearing up the dog litter as I sweat under the sun makes me consider it’s best to leave the task until later, maybe early evening. I look at the only patch of green outside and it’s strewn with ripped up pieces of cement bags; the perils of puppyhood is the constant urge to chew. There’s a crushed plastic plant pot and a finger from a gardening glove and where our flooring had been stored is a mangled kitchen spatula: When did that go missing?

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Early evening arrives and I find another excuse not to tidy up, the mosquito’s are out, just flying at ankle level, maybe I’d be better to get up early in the morning when the ankle biting insects are away and the sun is still waking up. I stroll back into the house, the iPod shuffles and, David Bowie launches into, Diamond Dogs, I put out of my mind the need to clean up after my dogs who are not diamonds but are still precious, and pour a glass of wine. We’ll see if tomorrow morning brings back the urge to tidy up the front of the house.

Somehow I doubt it.