Greenhouse and Cutting Bed in Mid-May

There have been so many things in the garden to write about and enjoy that I haven’t had time to update you on progress in the cuttings bed and greenhouse.

There is now some colour in the cuttings bed (not much, but this is a beginning!). The first of the sunflowers that I sowed on the first of February has opened its buds and it is covered in flowers, several large heads at the top and maybe another 8 or 10 down the stem. I’ve just sown some more sunflowers which have already germinated so I’ll have some more plants to replace the 4 that are all have large promising buds. Continue reading

Greenhouse and Cuttings Bed – March

I am late to link with Helen’s greenhouse meme (The patient Gardener) which was last week; but I wanted to keep a better record this year of how the greenhouse is used and blogging about it seems to be a good method to achieve this.  This time I’m including a little about the new bed for cut flowers, hopefully as more is happening there I’ll write separate posts. Continue reading

The Greenhouse – February 2014

Welcome to my greenhouse, I haven’t posted about it for ages.

I’m joining Helen at Patient gardener for her new meme about gardening under glass.

I use my greenhouse for overwintering Citrus although this year one lemon has remained outside and is doing very well in the most sheltered place on the terrace protected by the house from the cold north and east winds.  Continue reading

GBHD – What is there to cook from the garden?

As spring slowly arrives my thoughts turn to spring vegetables but nature has a way of disappointing; spring vegetables won’t be ready until April or even May, in March if we’re lucky there are still a few of the winter crops to sustain us.  But this is the period that is known to be lean.

Calabrese, cut ready to cook

Calabrese, cut ready to cook

Today I picked more Calabrese, tonight I’m going to make Orecchiette in the Pulgese style.  Last week I made risotto and some we ate as an accompanying vegetable.  With the warmer days the spears are growing more quickly and it won’t be long before the plants will be consigned to the compost heap; but they have given such value; definitely growing even more plants next year.  I’ve already decided to try growing them from seed myself and have already bought the seed, I suppose I will need to start the seed in mid-June, if anyone has any experience in this I’d be grateful for the advice.  I usually plant this type of winter vegetable out into the beds vacated by the onion crop; they then have time to grow into mature plants before light levels drop.

Swiss chard ‘Bright Lights’ is another crop that just goes on and on.   In spring very young leaves can be cut for salad adding very pretty colour to the salad bowl, then by mid-summer and through the winter it leaves can be cooked in a variety of ways, again a very reliable crop, I sowed more seed yesterday to replace the plants you see here.

Chard 'Bright Lights'

Chard ‘Bright Lights’

Similar and very quick to grow is Pak Choi, I still have a few plants from last autumn’s sowing and have just planted out a few new seedlings, I pricked out some into modules and then decided to try a few straight into the ground (these are red Pal Choi from Jekka McVicar.

Autumn sown Pak Choi

Autumn sown Pak Choi

Leaves already turning red of this spring's sowing

Leaves already turning red of this spring’s sowing

You can see how stony this bed is, when the winter/spring vegetables come out I’m going to add some manure ready for Peppers.

There are still a few leeks

There are still a few leeks

The cold nights have given the radichio and wonderful red colour

The cold nights have given the radichio and wonderful red colour

Fennel planted among the Calabrese for protection have lasted the winter, the firsttime ever.

Fennel planted among the Calabrese for protection have lasted the winter, the firsttime ever.

Broad beans, now planted out from an indoor sowing

Broad beans, now planted out from an indoor sowing

Still a few lemons, I haven't had to buy any for ages

Still a few lemons, I haven’t had to buy any for ages

Tomatoes, peppers etc. growing well in the greenhouse

Tomatoes, peppers etc. growing well in the greenhouse

I’ve tried leaving peppers in the greenhouse through other winters but they’ve always died, this year, even though we’ve had a month or six weeks of sub-zero night temperatures the plant has survived and will hopefully give me some early peppers too; so something that is always worth trying even if not always successful.

... and a surprise, the pepper I left in the greenhouse all winter has produced a few peppers

… and a surprise, the pepper I left in the greenhouse all winter has produced a few peppers

Thanks to Barbara and Christine at The Gardening Blog for hosting, why not check out what gardeners are eating from their gardens today.

Seed sowing and the greenhouse

The greenhouse was delivered in March 2011 and so was too late to be used for sowing seeds that year.  I also needed to know how hot it would become in summer and if it could be used at all for summer crops.

Last year I sowed some seed but I started most indoors on a windowsill but then had to go away so they didn’t do very well as they didn’t receive enough light and I switched the propagator off worried about it starting a fire or just cooking the seeds.  I succeeded with sweetcorn (but they didn’t receive enough water when they were planted out so the crop wasn’t as good as other years.  To be honest my local supplier has a huge range of small plants ready to plant out in trays of 4, 6, or 12 (depending on type) and that is really about the right number for me to plant.  They are usually about a Euro and a pack of seed costs a lot more than that!  The only issue is that sometimes the trays aren’t named correctly; two years ago I ended up with a lot of tomatoes all of the same type when I had thought I was buying different varieties.  There is also sometimes quite a variation in the quality of the plants, which makes me think that many are grown from saved seeds rather than quality seed.

Italian gardeners don’t always want to grow the same vegetables that I do so those I have to grow from seed.  Sweetcorn comes into this category – here it is corn (not sweet) and grown as an animal feed, using vast amounts of water too, which never seems very environmentally correct.

This year I have started with more purpose!

I began on January 19th mainly because my Italian gardening magazine suggested that this was the best day for sowing Aubergines according to the moon. I sowed the following: Verbena ibrida, Nigella African Bride, Aubergine small round Vietnamese seed, Scabious, Suttons mixed, Broad beans, Coriander, Scabious Perfect Blue, Sweet Pea Beaujolais, Pepper New Ace, Pepper Beauty Bell.  All except the sweet peas went onto a propagating tray at 20°C.  But I didn’t use the greenhouse! I thought the great differences from day to night time temperatures might prove a problem so I’ve placed a seed tray stand in the spare bathroom on the third floor of our house.  This is giving me some extra exercise as the stairs in the house are all very steep!  The peppers and baby aubergines germinated in 11 days as did both varieties of Scabious; the broad beans were quicker at 9 days and the others are yet to germinate.

From the left, peppers, peppers,scabious blue, Scabious mixed, and Aubergine marble sized for Thai cookery

From the left, peppers, peppers,scabious blue, Scabious mixed, and Aubergine marble sized for Thai cookery

I sowed a lot of the small aubergines as the seed came from Vietnam and I was unsure of how viable it would be.  I will have to be very strong willed and only pick out the strongest seedlings.

The seeds are germinating quickly (I sowed the following on January 31st: Aubergine, long thin, Vietnamese, Leeks, lungo della Riviera, Helianthemum, rock rose, Digitalis ferruginea, Aubergine, White Egg French, Aubergine Round white flushed pink, French, Aubergine Loa Lavender, French, Clemone Pink Whiskers, Orange scented Thyme, Spinach, Pak Choi Red, Jekka’s Herb Farm, Sweet Marjoram, Monarda Bergamo). Of which the red Pak Choi from Jekka McVicar germinated in TWO days!

As I removed them from the heated tray and placed them into unheated covered seed-trays I found they were all bending towards the light coming from a north facing window – what to do?  I remembered that Janet at Plantalicious had rigged up a board using, I think, foil to throw the light back from the other side.  I did the same and so far this is working well.

Foil covered cardboard is working but I need to add more for the top shelf

Foil covered cardboard is working but I need to add more for the top shelf

I have already put the Pak Choi into the green house but without a cover as I am concerned that during the day the temperatures can rise.  After being badly organised for some time there is now a Max. – Min. thermometer in the green house.  I have been taking daily readings.  My fears about the variations in temperature are well founded, on Monday (February 4th) the daytime high was 39.7°C (yes that is nearly 40°C! and the night-time low on Sunday night was less than one degree, 0.9°C to be exact.  I don’t know how anything is surviving those kinds of temperature variations, but all the cuttings and small plants seem to be Okay.

Broadbeans are now in the greenhouse

Broadbeans are now in the greenhouse

I sowed the following 3rd February: Pak Choi green, Lettuce, Oak Leaf, Lettuce, Red Romaine, Parsley, Peppers d’Asti.  The Pac Choi has already germinated as has the Romaine lettuce. So I can look forward to some hours of pricking out as soon as the first true leaves have formed!

View of shelving in the greenhouse

View of shelving in the greenhouse

GB Harvest Day- Autumn Plenty

The cooler days are encouraging some things to produce more but it is inhibiting the growth of others.

I have removed all the tomatoes from the greenhouse, even though they were beginning to produce more foliage and flowers I don’t think there is enough time for them to ripen.  Even the few tomatoes that are still being produced outside don’t have the same flavour and I think they will be pulled out next week too.  Most of the cuttings I took from the tomatoes at the end of last month did root but it is something I need to do much earlier.  I will try again next year at the end of June or certainly by mid-July so that I can plant strong new plants when the first cropping ones are becoming tired from over producing.

Peppers, aubergines and chillies are still producing reasonable crops, I was able to make one last Mediterranean roast vegetables last week.  Basil and Thai basil need to be cut ruthlessly otherwise they flower and this in the end will stop them producing the best leaves.

Red pepper outside, with more green ones that may or may not turn red!

These yellow ones are in the greenhouse

A smaller variety of aubergine that I grew from seed

In this very narrow bed, I squeezed, auberines, chillies, chard and celary

Mediterranean roast vegetables

I am harvesting huge quantities of Dwarf green beans; yesterday there must have been 3 kg. too many at once, but that’s the problem with dwarf beans, it meant I was able to give masses to the guy who helps me in the garden, I don’t freeze them, really I grow vegetables to eat seasonal vegetables, I have been better at successional planting of the beans this year and I have some more plants growing now, hopefully there will be time for them to flower and produce some beans before the weather becomes too cold; yesterday I sowed a few more in the greenhouse just to see it they will grow there and perhaps give me fresh beans up until Christmas.  I also sowed spinach in the greenhouse and in the garden, plus some Bok choi outside.

A few of the beans from last week; yesterday this washing up bowl was almost full!

I harvested the last of the Barlotti beans – these were amazing this year as from one sowing I had three harvests, some as fresh beans and some as dried, I’m looking forward to soups made with these and just cooked with new olive oil drizzled over them when we harvest the olives and make oil.

I’m picking small quantities of strawberries and raspberries, just enough for a taste of summer.  Pomegranates and quinces are about ready to harvest.

Just a few raspberries almost every day

The splitting Pomegranate tells me it is ready to pick

My quinces are pear shaped the apple-shaped form is “the golden apple” from the garden of the Hesperides, from which inspiration this blog takes its name

The wild rocket, arugula, has lots of nice strong tasting new foliage now and the pretty yellow flowers can also be added to salads.  The ‘cresto di gallo’ another wild leaf that I use in salads has produced hundreds of new baby plants all over the Slope so that editing and eating the very first new leaves will help the other plants have more space.

I picked one last cucumber last week, and zucchini are giving me a meal every couple of days but are nearly finished, most of the leaves have died back so I don’t expect many more.

New winter vegetables are ready to take over.  I’ve already eaten a ’pointy’ cabbage and several others are ready, red cabbages are hearting-up and broccoli are just beginning to form heads.  Some fennel bulbs are a reasonable size so I’ll use them soon, I might put some plants in the greenhouse to have a little later in the year; I love raw sliced fennel with sliced oranges, a few black olives and a drizzle of olive oil as a refreshing winter salad.

A caterpillar of a Swallowtail butterfly was hiding on its favourite food supply – fennel.

All of these brassicas are nearly ready to eat

Delicious pointy cabbage (a little eaten around the edges

There are lots of lemons and limes, I would like to make marmalade from them this year; if anyone has a reliable recipe they use for lime marmalade do please let me know.



I’m joining The Gardening Blog for their Harvest day meme.  Visit them to see what they’re harvesting in spring.

GBHD – What’s in the vegetable garden

I’m joining in with Barbara and Christine with their What we’re harvesting today meme; it’s interesting because they are now approaching winter and in Italy we’re going slowly into summer.

There are some strawberries almost every day

The strawberries have slowed down considerably since last month (am I really thinking “thank goodness”?)  There are some to eat most days and lots more flowers to give hopes of many more to come soon.

…and lots of promise of more to come with lots of flowers

Broad beans don’t always fulfill their promise

Having our own lemons is a treat

This year I decided not to buy grafted pepper plants and I am sure that this year the peppers will in fact be ready earlier.  If I wanted green peppers there are already a couple that are large enough to use.

Not actually harvesting peppers yet as I don’t usually eat them while they’re still green, except in Gazpacho, but I don’t have the other ingredients yet.

Not actually harvesting peppers yet as I don’t usually eat them while they’re still green, except in Gazpacho

The vegetable garden is already quite productive.  The greenhouse enables me to buy in small plug plants of many things early and grow them on, so that when I plant them out they are already good sized plants.  The tomatoes in the greenhouse have mostly already reached the top of their canes and those outside are well on the way to doing so too; the job of the moment is to keep them tied in and the side shoots pinched out.  When I plant the tomatoes I add an alkaline tablet to each planting hole to help prevent bottom rot.

The soil was, I think, a little acid for some of my herbs and vegetables as I’d used my own compost as top dressing and perhaps it needed a little longer to decompose.  Initially the basil was very yellow and it is only after watering with the heavily alkaline water from the well that it is now looking temptingly green and ready to use with tomatoes and very soon the first pesto sauce of the year.

The outdoor tomatoes are winning the race as to which will have the first ripe tomao to pick, this week, I think

The Basil was really yellow and sick looking but is now looking much better, I love using fresh basil with tomatoes and mozzarela de Buffalo

The Basil is looking beautifully green now

We have had rain all day today and when I went out to take these photographs it seemed that the sweetcorn had grown 10 cm during the day!  They are under-planted with melons, which are growing slowly, and Rainbow chard planted between them that will fill the space when the corn has been harvested (this inter-planting is also a sign that I am running out of space).

I can almost see the sweetcorn growing

I have already harvested quite a few of zucchini and the yellow variety that I grew from seed is just producing its first, rather weak-looking specimen.  I’ve used them in frittata, pasta sauce and in salad to replace cucumber which isn’t ready yet.  I like them cut very thinly into ribbons (like pappardelle) and served with an olive oil dressing.

Onions and garlic are growing well and I have been using any of the onions that have tried to produce flowers and young fresh garlic is perfect for Spaghetti, aglio e olio e pepperoncino (spaghetti dressed with garlic, oil and chilli with a topping of some freshly grated Parmigiano reggiano.

Garlic on the right and red onions on the left

There are various lettuces popped in around the plot, we’ve been eating them all through the winter

On the right misticanza, there is a lot of mustard leaves included, some would have been great but there is too much, on the left Barlotti beans are flowering now the cool weather has delayed their growth

Pak Choi has been a big success; it tastes delicious and grew from seed that I planted in April, I’ve been harvesting the outer leaves and leaving the rest to grow, I don’t know if this is standard practice but seems to work.

There is rocket around the garden that I add to salads and also Syrian thyme which adds a spicy edge.

May feast – Sedum update

When I wrote about the greenhouse last weekend I mentioned that I had just taken some sedum stem and leaf cuttings; I’m happy to report that some have already started to grow some new leaves so that it very satisfying.  I had taken just 2 long stems from one Sedum ‘Matrona’ plant so that you can’t even see that the plant is any smaller than it was before.  The ‘Purple Emperor’ and another slightly curly edged leaf variety I took just one stem.  I will leave them to grow a little more before transferring them into larger pots.

I think I will try some more cuttings of the other varieties I have and some more of the purple leafed one that I find particularly useful in the large and small islands where I don’t irrigate at all.  If I really have a surplus I will plant some onto the slope.

This is a very satisfying sight

The leaf cutting on the left has a new leaf growing!

I will post some images ASAP, but I’m having real problems uploading anything at the moment.  For the same reason I’m even having problems leaving comments.  I am reading them and I’ll be leaving comments again very soon I hope.

The Greenhouse

I’m joining Helen at The Patient Gardener for her round-up of what’s happening in the greenhouse this month.

I posted about carrots grown in a pot in the greenhouse over winter here, we are now eating the crop and they are delicious.  I like carrots raw in salads and the purple ones I grew add an interesting colour.

The tomatoes are growing well, I am continuing with the on-going task of tying them to their canes.  As last year most plants I am allowing to grow three stems and the rest of the other side shoots I’m removing.  I may later try the off-shoots as cuttings (as recommended by Bob Flowerdew) and plant them up to produce new plants later in the season.  I’m not very sure of the timing for doing these so it will all be trial and error, has anyone else tried it?

We have had salad lettuce all winter and there are still some to harvest.  I have planted 3 melons and 3 yellow peppers in the back border but I’m concerned as there is a lot of roots from the Laylandii that have obviously been attracted by the irrigation tubes so that the soil in this border isn’t going to be as rich and moist as I would have liked.  I think I will have to put a membrane of some kind to stop the roots and maybe make this a slightly raised bed.

I germinated the seeds in the house as it was too hot for seed production.  There are some aquilegia from seed I collected from a plant in the garden and also some McKenna hybrids I bought.  The Achilea that germinated well are damping off; they were pricked out into my own compost which I fear is too rich for them, they need sharper drainage even at this stage.

I took sedum cuttings this week some leak and some stem cuttings (this site is great at explaining what you do), it is too soon to tell how well they will grow but I do remember my father taking leaf cuttings from a sedum plant of my great aunt and he was very successful.

A large empty pot contains Freesia corms that I’m very much hoping will grow to provide some perfumed cut flowers.

As soon as I put up the shade netting the temperatures dropped but even with the cold winds we are experiencing at the moment the temperature inside is comfortable warm.  I usually have the door open during the day and will soon, I hope, have it open at night too.

The broad beans I sowed in November are now cropping quite well. As I want the tomatoes to have more air and space I am harvesting by pulling up the whole plants.

Rainbow chard waiting to be planted out

Beautiful vegetable foliage counts for Garden bloggers Foliage Day on the  22nd, just leave a link with your comments on the GBFD post.

Growing carrots in pots

I have never been successful with growing carrots in the ground.  Either they have germinated or just haven’t grown well.  I have always gardened on stony soil and that is never good for root vegetables.  Last year in my Italian gardening magazine (which isn’t noted for innovative ideas) they suggested growing carrots in containers as part of a decorative display.  I wasn’t really interested in growing the carrots with flowers but it did make me think that I should try carrots in pots for their own sake.

I had previously purchased some Carrot Purple Haze F1 Hybrid because purple carrots used to be famous in Viterbo and I wanted to astound my viterbese friends who had all assured me that these carrots were no longer available! (See below for the full story).

In November last year I put my own compost into a large pot; stupidly I didn’t leave it a while for the weed seeds to germinate so I probably lost some of the crop when I was taking out the weeds that grew – I won’t make that mistake again, I’ll fill the pots, water well, keep watered to encourage any weed seeds to germinate so I can remove them prior to sowing the carrots.

I left the pot in the greenhouse all winter and now the carrots are ready and are delicious!  I will try to be organised enough now to always have a couple of pots at different stages so I have lovely sweet carrots when I need them.

The carrots Of Viterbo

The carrots of Viterbo in aromatic dressing are a special preparation based on a particular variety of carrots, the most common “daucus carota var. sativa”, of the umbelliferae family, which come in many colours (white, red, yellow, violet) and shapes (long, short, cylindrical, conical, top-shaped). These carrots are not to be mistaken for the beet-root as Ada Boni did in her famous “Talisman of happiness” where she titled the recipe “Beetroots in aromatic dressing (carrots of Viterbo)” and continued with the description “for this recipe are used not the common round beet-roots but the long-shaped ones, similar to the yellow carrots…..In Viterbo it is easy to find these dried beet-roots, twined and of dark colour”. Unfortunately, today this particular variety of carrots has disappeared, but it has been replaced by the common yellow carrot because the uniqueness of the dish does not depend on the variety of carrot but in the preparation of the recipe.  But we do not know when this dish was created?

The skin is tinted purple

In the book of expenses of the Convent of the Holy Trinity of Viterbo, dated December 1467, the expenses paid by Friar Cristoforo who had to pay a “bolognino” (an ancient money unit) at the People’s Gate as toll for entering the town with some carrots bound to be a gift for the Abbot are written.  Both the toll paid and the receiver of the gift prove that these carrots where not a common but a luxury produce.  Platina (1400) in his “De onesta voluptate et valetudine” at chapter 108 of the fifth tome, titled “carota e pastinaca”, says “the market garden carrots are tastier, especially those of Viterbo”.  Still another reference to these carrots has been found in the records of the town of Vitorchiano (near Viterbo) in a letter sent by the Conservators of Rome (Roma die sexta Martii 1488) where they ask to be sent a certain quantity of carrots to be ready for the Lent period:  “Per uso dello nostro et per possere fare honore in questo tempo quatragesimale ad alcuni forestieri che adcaschano alla nostra mensa, haveriamo caro essere serviti da voi de qualche carota per posserla confectare”.

Most certainly the sweet-sour preparation of the dish suggests a late medieval origin when sweet-sour dishes were very common.

Towards the end of the last century the trade started of these carrots in special pots and they even won a prize at the Exhibition of 1879; it is said that they were served at dinners organized in Viterbo in honour of Giuseppe Garibaldi in 1876 and of Ferdinand IV.  The Royal Family appreciated them so much that a lady of Viterbo continued to send annually a certain quantity to King Umberto, exiled in Portugal.

In order to prepare the recipe, cut the carrots lengthwise in slices and let them dry in the August sun, then place them in vinegar for some days and heat them in a sweet-sour dressing made of vinegar, sugar, cloves, nutmeg, and – according to personal tastes – chocolate, pine-seeds, raisins, candied fruits, etc.  Maybe, as in so many other cases, each family had its own personal recipe.  The carrots were kept in pottery jars, simply covered by a towel or in case of longer preservation, in sealed pots. This dish mainly accompanied boiled meat and some local delicacy such as boiled salami and “coppa di testa” (pressed pork head meat).

The purple colour penetrates a little way into the carrot but the centre is the usual orange colour