Plot 51: Bricks And Bulbs

At the side of the outbuilding is an old water container; one of the1,000 litre white cubes in a cage that I saw so many times in the Italian olive groves in Abruzzo. I was going to get rid of it, but a quick Google search showed that a refurbished one can sell for around £80 to £90, so I decided to keep it. The only problem is it’s precariously lying on top of more rubbish, old bricks and yet more rotten wood. Next to it is two old barrels and another mini rubbish dump of glass, plastic and pieces of electrical cable. So the first thing to do is to move it and get rid of the wood.

April (25)

We cleared the bricks putting to one side those we think we can use, then set about removing the rotten pallet that it’s fixed to.

The barrels at the side are moved with my neighbour already having earmarked one for her plot.

We built a brick support and lifted the cube into position. It’s not high enough to get a watering can under the tap, so it’s lifted off and more bricks are piled up. Why didn’t we measure it?

The five brick towers look less than able to do their job as we lift it up again and luckily with a bit of pushing and readjusting it’s relatively secure. The real test will come when we fill it with water.

May (11)

I start to clear the mini rubbish dump which proves to be a tedious job to remove the glass and wire, so as the soil is very good quality, out comes a sieve and I’m sat in the sun like a miner panning for gold.

The iPod is switched on and The Humans play their cover of These Boots are Made for Walking and an hour or so later the small plot is ready to take the gladioli bulbs I’ve been starting off in peat pots at home. The spot is in semi-shade so the blooms shouldn’t fade in the sun and as it’s beside the paving that will become our seating area they should look nice.

The bags of rubbish are loaded into the treasure trays I rescued on skip day and placed in the car to be disposed of when the council tips reopen next week. I could leave them here, but I want to break the cycle of rubbish staying on the plot.

May (13)

Plot 51: The C Word

So much for the controversial heading, C is for calamity and chillies.

Earlier in the year I had a chilli calamity, I had sown and tended four of them with love and in a moment of madness I popped them outside on a sunny February day to enjoy the sunshine. The problem was, as we all know, life takes over and I forgot about them and the following morning when I remembered them, they were beyond salvation.

A friend very kindly gave me a tray of mixed chillies and they’re now all re-potted, labelled and languishing in my greenhouse under an old net curtain to protect their tender leaves from the scorching sun. I keep looking at them knowing they hold the promise of a spicy harvest later in the year. I’m already planning on making sweet chilli jam and Oilo Santo (Recipe here)

April (20)

Now we’re into April and the tomatoes are a good size so they’ve been potted into bottomless pots (ring growing) and planted out in the greenhouse.

There’s also a cucumber and two pepper plants and in the hope of flowers an old dahlia tuber I found while digging has been potted up and I’m, fingers crossed, looking forward to seeing it burst into life again.

C also stands for cabbage and yet again calamity.

I had a tray of around 40 cabbages I had sown that were ready for planting out, but just waiting for me to get the plot ready for them. In my wisdom I popped them onto the bottom shelf in my greenhouse, along with the basil, lettuce and sprouting broccoli. As I was so taken with my chillies and tomato plants I completely forgot to water them and 3 days later I remembered and found a tray full of shrivelled brassicas and the other plants hadn’t fared well either. The lettuce and basil were consigned to the compost and the broccoli and cabbages went into intensive care, or rather a sink full of water. Only time will tell if they rejuvenate or they too will be thrown into the compost bin.

Plot 51: Beans and Bamboo

With the exception of the border with the raspberry canes, the digging and weeding is over at last and I can concentrate on the assembly of the plot and what produce I shall be growing.

I know that despite a poor germination rate I shall have sweet peas as usual; the fragrance is always welcome and as cut flowers they never disappoint, I had ordered bamboo canes in readiness and earmarked a spot to plant them. Other canes shall be used for the growing of runner beans – something I’ve never grown before.

So with the French beans and sweet peas ready to plant out and the runner beans sown, it’s time to prepare the frameworks. The iPod is turned on and, The Hall Of Mirrors from the Kraftwerk album, Trans-Europe Express is the prelude to bamboo construction. (It would have been perfect if Sylvian/Sakamoto and Bamboo Music had played, but when you shuffle, you get what you’re given.)

April (13)

The ground has been turned but needs to have fertiliser added later to giver the runner beans enough fuel to produce a decent crop. I defy my OCD issues and decide to place the uprights by eye instead of measuring and although I’m not completely happy with the spacing in the end I resist the urge to take it down and start again. My logic being, that the beans won’t care a jot for equidistant spacing.

I decide the French beans can wait as I’m not sure where I’ll put them, so it’s time to start on the sweet pea wigwam. Once again it’s done by sight and I’m even less happier with the result.

I can’t be bothered to sort out the rogue pole as I’ll have to cut and tie new string: Besides I’ve had no breakfast and I’m ready for some lunch. This time the iPod plays, Tavares and the 1973 hit, Check It Out.

Looking at the wigwam I’m sure that my music player is taunting me.

April (15)

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.

Ants in Your Plants

It’s been very hot here these past few days, Italy has had a mini heat-wave, but this morning it’s quite cool. I check on the plants growing in my mini orto. There’s some more courgettes, young and tender that need to be picked and a couple of tomatoes have donned their red jackets, so they can come out of the plot, a couple of white onions are a good enough size to harvest . I notice that ants have taken up residence my cayenne plant and as I pick a couple of the orange chillies they dash across my fingers eager to protect. I’m not worried by this, it’s rural Italy and a few ants wont ruin my day. As I walk back to the house the iPod shuffles and the strains of Hungry like the Wolf, by Duran Duran drift out into the Italian countryside.

Back inside the kitchen with my collected bounty I set to, preparing it for storage. I chop it all up and add a couple of garlic cloves, I sweat the onions off and then add the courgettes followed by the chillies and tomatoes, last to hit the pot is the garlic. I add a little water and let it simmer away until the contents of the pan have softened. I don’t season with salt and pepper as I’m going to divide the mixture once cold and freeze it.

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Now cold, the mixture is divided up into three portions and popped into the freezer and now I have a sofrito base for three pasta sauces that I can use when the season has ended. A few minutes in the morning will save me a few euros in winter time, and the memory of a summer morning will be released into the saucepan.