The Vegetable Garden in the third week of May

Yesterday was a lovely day for working out in the garden. It was overcast with only a very slight breeze. It is strange that one of the things I really disliked about England was that often the cloud cover seemed to be low enough to touch my head but here cloudy, dull days are so rare that I now actively enjoy them; but here the cloud is much higher so it never feels as oppressive.

I spent some time tying in the small sized tomatoes. I have to report that the hail on Easter Saturday did more damage than I had first thought; all of the leaves that had shown spot damage just after the hail are now yellow with huge black marks. I will definitely not plant out the tomatoes so early next year, even though the plants have put on lots of healthy new growth, I think they would be further advanced had I planted out larger plants later. Hail can happen at any time here so planting late won’t necessarily save the crop being damaged. Continue reading

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.

Working outside

Looking across the garden in the evening sun

The day started wet and grey but during the morning, the clouds cleared and the sun came out.  As the rest of the week is forecast to be very cold I thought I would take advantage of the sun to plant the onion sets I bought back in December (it might even have been November!)  I hadn’t planted them before because last year when I planted early (ie when the sets come into my supplier’s shop), many rotted off in the cold wet weather we had last winter.  I also felt that as the winter weather is actually very similar temperature wise to Southern England, I would plant them at the same time I used to plant them when I lived there (which was usually February.  I’ve put the onions in the same bed as the garlic and shallots I planted in January.  As you can see the garlic have not pulled back into the soil see previous post to find out why they did this, but they seem to be growing well so my fingers are crossed that it’s not going to cause any problems.  Most of the shallots are still waiting for it to warm up a bit more but a few have begun to shoot.

Garlic growing well

A couple of the shallots are shooting

I have planted the onion sets quite close together mainly because there are so many.  I planted 500g of red and 500g of yellow Centurion F1 (I still have another bag of 500g of white).  The whites will have to go into another bed.  In the 1.2m (4ft) bed there are 6 rows.

Last week we finished moving the pile of compost/weed pile and the foundations were dug on Saturday, I now hope there won’t be too much rain before the concrete is poured – this week is probably going to be too cold to pour the concrete as it’s not good if it freezes.

I am getting very excited now that I can see just how big the green house will be, I’m mentally filling it with more and more plants.  I’m longing to be able to start some seeds; Janet from Plantalicious has very kindly posted me some Kautia.  It will make them doubly special that they are from a blogging friend.

Apricot blossom

With a very cold (at least at night) week forecast, the last thing I wanted to see was blossom on the apricot.  Last year there was a frost and strong winds just when it was flowering and setting fruit, resulting in just one apricot reaching maturity!  I am worried the same thing will happen again this year. Maybe I should have planted a peach instead, they always flower later!


A few Crocuses opened their flowers this weekend, a few days later than those of a friend in North Devon – interesting, I wonder why.  I think my daffodils flower later too, but as soon as its Tulip time mine are 2 -4 weeks ahead. There are lots of tulips pushing through now, so we pruned the Perovskia in the formal beds as it’s too difficult to get in and not tramp all over the emerging shoots if the job is left any longer.  The muscle used the hedge trimmer and did the job in about half an hour – but then it took ages to pick up the cut stems ready to be shredded for mulch.  We cleared two beds but the other two are waiting for our backs to feel better!

Cut Perovskia

Cut but waiting to be cleared

The sunsets are still beautiful, I’ll leave you with one from last week.  Have a good gardening week.

Sunny, sunny day

Today has been the most wonderful day!  The sun shone all day, there was no wind and I had the time to be in the garden until the sun set.  For most of the time I was warm enough with just a short sleeved T-shirt, so this year’s tan (at least on my lower arms) is underway; don’t misunderstand me, I’m not actually very interested in getting a tan but working outside so much it happens and sadly usually only on my lower arms and face and to garden I wear jeans and never shorts as I find it uncomfortable kneeling on the ground (and my knees get too dirty) if I wear shorts.  Here in Italy this is called a ‘builder’s tan’ because everybody else would make sure they were tanning evenly, not getting lines where a T-shirt ends etc.  But I’m not Italian and I garden wearing the clothes that are comfortable for me when I’m working outside, so I have the unfashionable tan.

The low evening sun, lights up Miscanthus around the garden

Today I spent most of my time weeding the bank.  This was not easy for two reasons: 1. the plants I was weeding around were very small (most had only been planted as seedling in the autumn) and 2. The slope is quite steep and it is very tiring balancing and weeding.  The slope is unfortunately too steep to mulch so my answer will have to be to plant very close together to squeeze out the weeds!

Miscanthus is my favourite grass, and I love most of them!

Euphorbia rigida is the first to flower this year, I like the pink rim to the leaves

I have been weeding and tidying most days this week as the weather has been good, though the wind was strong so it felt quite cold.  The joy of not tidying up too much early in the winter is that it has allowed time for seedlings of the plants in the beds to establish themselves and be ready to pot-up or move to another location.  The circular rose bed yielded about 100 seedling of Gaura.  This meant I spent almost as long potting these up as I did weeding the bed.  I didn’t cut back the parent plants yet as we may well have some more cold weather and the top growth protects the new growth.  I put the seedling in my very small cold-frame which already contains cuttings of Penstemon and Solarnum jasminoides (I did these in late autumn and most are green so I’m hoping they are making nice strong roots).

Even though dry Sedum flowers are still adding to the ‘images’ in the garden, at their base, the new shoots are already pushing up.

This is Sedum matrona

In the vegetable garden I only have a few crops (I think I might try to grow more next winter as even with all the cold weather we’ve had this winter I’ve enjoyed a great crop of Broccoli; leeks and Black Tuscany cabbage have also done well.  And here’s a photo to show you what I meant about my garlic pushing out of the ground!

New moon planted garlic

Broccoli has continued to produce secondary stems that are delicious

Black Tuscany Cabbage, perfect for Ribollita.

End of the Month Review, January 2011

Realistically I have done very little in the garden this month.  I did prune all the Wisteria on the pillars around the terrace and also the roses there too.  The vegetable garden is tidy and waiting for better weather to plant the onions I bought (I’m hoping they haven’t dried out since I bought them.  I may have already mentioned that the garlic I planted at the beginning of the month are all shooting but all have pushed up out of the soil just as the book said they would if they were planted at the new moon (and that was exactly when I planted them).  Note to self – check the book before you plant rather than just after!  I hope it won’t make too much difference to them.  A winter crop I’ve been thrilled with is Broccoli – The first main heads were excellent but what has surprised me is that they have continued to produce secondary and 3rd, 4th and I think even 5th heads, I will plant even more next year as they are one of my favourite vegetables and also make a great sauce for pasta and delicious risotto.

My exciting news is that I’ve decided to buy a greenhouse (known as a serra in Italian.  Because gardening is not the hobby here as it is in the UK it has not been easy to find information about greenhouses at all and even more difficult to actually see one before committing to buying!  On Saturday I saw a display model and was impressed with the quality.  I think they are more expensive here because so few are sold but I’m looking forward now to ordering and having this useful addition to the garden.  My main use will be to over winter Lemon plants (I don’t have them yet) that I want for the terrace – the perfume of lemon flowers and the joy of picking my own lemons will be wonderful.  I will also look for some limes as they are difficult to buy here and essential when cooking Thai curries. I also want to extend the season for peppers and aubergines and maybe tomatoes.  It will also give me the opportunity to grow some plants from seed – for varieties that I can’t buy as plug plants.  Again another ingredient of Thai recipes Holy Basil is one of the plants I’d like to grow and maybe Lemon grass too.

I’d also like to experiment some different flowers for cutting – but I’ll have to be patient and see what the possibilities are.

At present I don’t grow Pelargoniums but they are something that would flower in mid-summer when most other things are in summer dormancy because of the heat.  In reality I don’t need a greenhouse for this as everyone here usually just puts the plants in a dry place, a garage or cellar, and leaves them until spring when though the plants normally look rather sad will shoot and many cuttings can be taken to produce new plants and the ‘mother’ plant can be coaxed back to healthy growth with some food and water!  I only have somewhere that is too damp so the plants would rot off, so that’s my reason for not growing them now.

The extreme cold we had in December (minus 7 at least) may have killed the Agapanthus I have planted in the left hand border.  I like the Agapanthus a lot so when I get the greenhouse I can plant some up in pots then over winter them safely.  I’m going to have to decide whether I want to maintain it frost free – I will be re-reading Janet’s (at Plantalicious) comments on this subject.  I don’t want to heat it unless we put up a solar panel which may be a good option as there is always lots of sun even when it is cold.

As always thanks to Helen at Patient Gardener for hosting the End of Month review.

I will be returning to the ‘slope’ but nothing has changed since planting in October and November.  As there are no obvious other new areas I’ll try to give you more details about the existing beds and borders.  Sorry no photos either today.


Update from my Hesperides Garden

A belated very Happy New Year to everyone!  I hope 2011 will bring all gardeners just what they need in terms of flower display and vegetable production.

I’ve been unable to post as I computer stopped working almost immediately we returned in the New Year.  Then as usual with a new computer I’ve had issues with various programs not working – most importantly my ability to upload photos to the computer just hasn’t worked.  Today I have managed to upload some photos I took for bloomday but it has to be said that the ‘progress’ of the new system meant it took about 3 times as long as normal.

Lonicera fragrantissima smells wonderful

We had an amazing beginning to January, with temperatures as high as the mid 20s Centigrade (last weekend I was able to work outside all day and was actually felt too hot for some of the time.  It was also hot enough to eat lunch outside on Sunday and I had to wear sunglasses all day!  It has been a real bonus to have about 10 days of perfect gardening weather- I finished planting all the bulbs, except for some Regal Lilly I bought to go in pots.  My great achievement was to prune the Wisteria on the pergola around the house.  It was important to get the structure growing strongly so that we will have shade all around the house in summer.  Now I am waiting excitedly to see how well it will flower this spring.

Prostrate Rosemary is full of flower

In the vegetable garden I’ve managed to clear all the beds of last year’s crops and plant garlic and shallots.  After I’d planted the garlic I read that it shouldn’t be planted at the new moon and it was exactly the new moon that day!  The book said that they would all push up…… and that’s what they have done though they are shooting so all may not be lost.  I keep pushing them back down but they just pop up again.

A few more Muscari are flowering

After our glorious sunny days the weather has now returned to winter with some snow falling on Friday and Saturday – not very much actually here but the hills we can see from the house ae still covered with a sprinkling of snow.  The temperatures are hovering around zero and the wind is blowing from the NE (Greciale) I think this is the coldest wind we have though the locals all think the Tramontana (from the north) is the coldest.

All the Teucrium are flowering - they are such reliable plants

The Viburnum I planted this autumn is flowering well and I am enjoying having these fragrant plants that attract bees on warm days

All these plants were flowering on 15th January and most will hopefully continue even with the return of the cold weather, I’ve seen tulip and daffodil shoots which fill me anticipation; and new green shoots on the Box cubes in the formal garden at the front of the house.

Amazing difference in colour of the new growth on the Box

Brave Arabis, that I grew from seed, cover the ground under the Pomegranate

Buds on Viburnum tinus about to open

Viburnum tinus is a plant that just doesn’t grow as well here as it does in the UK.  The flowers don’t open until February or March and then when the flowers finish the shrub looks like its dying for a month or so until the new growth takes over.

Thr plant I am enjoying the most in the garden this month is Nandino – it has beautiful pink tinged foliage and red berries.