Friday, September 26, 2008

Skywatch Friday: in northern Italy

I'm being very specific with this first entry in Sky Watch Friday because next week I'll actually be up high in the sky on my way to Hawaii. I hope British Airlines will not let me down on the food and drink service!

The photo was taken a little after 10 this morning, just outside our home in the italian mountains. Those branches in the shadows belong to chestnut trees and we are practically surrounded by them in these woods. The spiny, encased nutshells are already beginning to turn brown, and when they drop to the ground, there'll be a lot of chestnut gatherers scooping them up for themselves or for the local castagnata (chestnut roast). These events are really a lot of fun to attend, where the villagers all come together to eat, socialize and feast on piping hot chestnuts!

Of course I couldn't leave out the dogs who also get their midmorning snack at around 10 o'clock. If the weatherman read his charts right, it looks like clear skies for the weekend! For more heavenly images, check out the Sky Watch Friday blog.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Furry Yellow Hog

Seeds for this tomato were sent gratis from Baker Creek as a *new test variety* and with a name like that...well hello, you can imagine how eager I was to grow this. They are of the 'peach type' due to the faint, fuzzy feel to the skin, even if this factor is hardly discernible on the tongue. From what information I could find, this is an experimental variety from Wild Boar Farms, and if the website weren't so bothersome, I'd have included a direct link. [Clicking on the links under the main header or clicking to enlarge images enables a pop-up ad that reappears even when you hit the 'BACK' button. Grrrr....]

At first I was under the impression that this was a cherry tomato, but Wild Boar's website points to a german page where the detail for this tomato translates loosely as such:

Yellow and greenish-white striped peach tomato; approx. 100 grams; mild, tangy flavor; very juicy; middle-maturing.

The first thing that I want to note about this variety is that it isn't middle-maturing, at least not in the prealpine mountains where we live. Of the Rouge d'Iraks, the Brandywines, the Cherokee Purples and Thessalonikis, this tomato is late, having given us less than a half dozen vine-ripened fruit. There is still a modest yield on the plants but they're still at the green furry stage, and I'm a little concerned since September has brought cooler temps. Even if it might seem otherwise from the macro shot, this is not a cherry-type, and the fruits on my plants range from 3-5 ounces. I still think the name is appropriate but maybe another adjective won't hurt - I'd call this one Furry Lazy Yellow Hog!

area (A) mixed earth/potting soil in a large 5 gallon container
area (B) mixed clay/heavy soil situated on a medium slope with good drainage
Growing conditions/light: in full sun for most of the day (at least 8 hours)
Yield: modest, with 3-4 tomatoes in each cluster
Weight: 3-5 ounces with an almost apple-like shape to the larger fruit
Flavor/texture: light, citrusy flavor (even if my husband claims that it doesn't taste like a pomodoro as he knows it). Thick walls, meaty with not too much water in the gel.
A keeper or no?: at this early stage of my involvement with l'orto, I'm sticking with pinks, reds and blacks for now. Aside from the colors, I prefer deeper, more complex flavors. I love experimenting with the unique and unusual though, and am planting striped Black Pineapple tomatoes next year!
Extra notes:
No problems with pests or diseases other than slugs. I did a scratch-n-sniff test when they were partially yellow/half ripe (on the vine) and the smell reminded me of passionfruit! Some did sport a light showing of "freckles" but no other blemishes due to change in weather conditions (and again, we had a very mild summer this year). I just wish they would ripen.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Your seed order has been shipped!

Winter vegetable seedlings: cauliflower, broccoli, some
kind of hardy lettuce, red cabbage and green cabbage.
(And I managed to keep it all within a $100 budget!)

It started with garden bloggers who have written posts on their seed and bulb purchases (thereby planting the idea in my head). I tend to procrastinate on such things, so if it weren't for them, I'd have put off the task until it was too late...and end up waiting out the seed order rush later on. Vegetables will always come first in the orto of course, but as tulips are my favorite blooms, 7 dozen assorted varieties should be making their debut in the yard come spring.

In other news... The situation went from bad to worse for the japanese red maple. Wilting and dried out leaves earlier in the year alerted us to the presence of Verticillium wilt which gradually engulfed and destroyed the 8-foot tree by the end of July. Such a loss, as we've had it for only a year and it was the first tree to be planted when we bought our home. My husband is not looking forward to digging it out!

Now as to the list — I go insane for the unusual, and wrestled ongoing debates between me...and myself. Bet I'm not the only one. You got a spot for that in the garden? I'll find one. Will a cute name alone justify the effort to grow it? Oh c'mon...what's in a name anyway? The weirder, the better, but in the end Prickly Caterpillar got the axe (and no, not because it's a caterpillar per se). Oh yes I'd toss it in a salad for interest and crunch, it's just that I'm not so sure my husband would find anything that resembles a bug equally as thrilling.

  • Dragon Tongue beans
  • Tiger's eye bush bean
  • Bull's Blood beets
  • Rat tail radish
  • Dwarf gray sugar peas
  • Quadrato d'Asti Rosso (italian red bell pepper)
  • Listada de Gandia eggplant
  • Kamo eggplant
  • Lau's Pointed Leaf lettuce
  • Merveille des quatre saisons lettuce
  • Tigger sweet melon
  • Collective Farm Woman sweet melon
  • Yellow Scallop summer squash
  • Red Kuri winter squash
  • Shishigatani or Toonas Makino winter squash
  • Waltham Butternut Squash
  • Tomatillos (both green and purple types)
  • Tomatoes: Marmande, Japanese Black Trifele, Omar's Lebanese, Black Krim, Rose De Berne, Ananas Noire/Black Pineapple
  • Kyoto Kujo Negi bunching onion
  • Red Beard bunching onion
  • Stella Alpina (Edelweiss)
  • Teddy Bear sunflower
  • Herbs: Pyrethrum, Basil Nufar, Epazote, Feverfew
  • Add to that seeds from this past season that I neglected to plant at all. Sis, if you read this, remember it's free for the taking! But if your garden gnome meets the gnome girl of his dreams, can I adopt one of the kids?

  • Borage
  • Chinese Long White bittermelon
  • Salsify
  • Rampion
  • Wapsipinicon Peach tomato
  • Keckley's Sweet watermelon
  • Carosello Tondo di Manduria (a small oval-shape cucumber)
  • Ronde de Nice round zucchini
  • Edible Chrysanthemum
  • Sorrel
  • Purple Beauty bell peppers
  • Black Aztec sweet corn
  • Ping Tung eggplant
  • Thursday, September 4, 2008

    Rouge d'Iraq

    Quite an intriguing name for a tomato, and I'll admit that these made the purchase list because of the controversial nature in which the description was written. Read for yourself at [Honestly Rowena, can't you just pick a plain ol' regular tom and leave politics alone?!] Now I don't care to further investigate what the fuss is all about, not to mention the validity of it, but suffice to say that Rouge d'Iraqs are the undisputed tomato producers of the garden this year — and that, fellow tomato enthusiasts, is all that matters right now. What it started me thinking though, is that I should at least leave some notes of my own, especially after what Hanna's Tomato Tastings suggested in reply to a comment of mine. She said, “The best thing to do is run your own test. Sometimes tomatoes grow and taste different depending on where they are grown. A so-so tomato for me may rock where you live. Take a chance and you may be surprised.

    So, from now on I will state a few facts on growing conditions, plant observations, flavor and of course, if I will grow a particular tomato again. Please bear with me as I'm a fledgling giardiniera (gardener). Any extra tips would be greatly appreciated.

    area (A) mixed earth/potting soil in a 6-foot corner of the lawn with excellent drainage
    area (B) mixed clay/heavy soil situated on a medium slope with good drainage
    Growing conditions/light: in full sun for most of the day (at least 8 hours)
    Yield: unbelievably prolific, with up to 6 tomatoes in each cluster
    Weight: 4-8 ounces, although I did get a couple of 12 oz. monsters!
    Flavor/texture: ok taste, with a hint of sweetness and low acidity. Thick-skinned (noticeable when you bite into a fresh one) and a tad mealy but overall, firm enough to slice cleanly.
    A keeper or flash-in-the-pan: a keeper if only for the sake of the yield. I use it in asian stirfries and also chopped fresh with cooked pasta, fresh basil, mozzarella and anchovies.
    Extra notes:
    Absolutely no problems with pests or diseases. For the plants grown in area (B), after 1 week of coddling I just let them be and they survived, although visually stunted compared to the ones grown in area (A). I was trying to mimic the growing conditions that you would expect of Iraq, and apparently the clay undersoil was damp enough for them to keep going. All I did was the occasional weeding and staking of the plants.

    This indeterminate is determined to grow forever given prime conditions so I ended up cutting the tops in area (A) to ensure that the tomatoes already developing would stand a chance of making it off the vine. I used 4-foot bamboo poles to hold up the plant but next year I'm getting sticks twice the length.

    I'd also like to note that this year we had a mild summer. I live in the upper part of a mountain valley where the temps are moderate, with digits reaching the low to mid-80's. We also had occasional rain showers which kept everything green.

    Tuesday, August 26, 2008

    Somevines, you just gotta let 'em be...

    By default, the first tomato to blush in the garden should be a portent to a wonderful day, don't you think? It's not that I ask for alot [my day wasn't], but when are Mondays ever wonderful? ;-)

    So instead of displaying that Brandywine Pink from yesteday, I head toward another section of the terrace orto where thrives a variety of vining vegetables: snake melons, japanese cucumbers and uchiki kuri squash. This location was not the best in terms of sunlight hours, but it was the safest place to keep the doxie pup from doing further damage to the plants! These were all started from seed, with the final butternut squash growing from pulp seeds that I had tossed into the back lot after cutting into a squash purchased at the market. What's so remarkable here is that I haven't really tended to this isolated bunch of viners. I just let them be and within a matter of weeks, flowering, then fruits were making an appearance.

    baby snake melon snakemelon flower baby japanese cuke baby uchiki kuri baby butternut squash

    Over the weekend I went around admiring orderly little gardens up in the mountain hamlets surrounding Lake Como. What did I find? Nothing but healthy zucchini, pumpkins, basil, rosemary, salad greens, bell peppers, beans (bush and pole) and tomatoes. And more tomatoes...and even more tomatoes. Between the loads of Cuor di Bue and San Marzano, all I could surmise is that old-timers - like my father-in-law - stick to tradition, and there is no such thing as attempting the latest fad to send raves around the plot community. What grows in their orto is what a grandfather and a great-grandfather must have grown long before that. Maybe there's a slight chance to convert a few, but for the most part, you just gotta let 'em be.

    Thursday, August 21, 2008

    Wildflowers in italian alpine country

    Our recent escape to the italian alpine regions of Lombardy and Trentino was to have been a bit of a “snooping session” into private little kitchen gardens, but the real surprise ended up being what flourished up at higher altitudes. Of the two shown here, I was only able to identify one.

    This achene seed head (also called a fruit) with its filament-like appearance belongs to a floral genus which goes by names such as Easter flower and meadow anemone among others, but in Italy it is known as Infiorescenza di anemone alpino. I thought of them as interesting-looking weeds up until I found an italian article (cited source) which offered vernacular examples translating into hair of the witch or hair of the devil. I suppose they'd give such an impression with that red color!

    The name to this flower, unfortunately, I've no clue. If anyone can identify it, please do. A third species, the edelweiss or stella alpina was one which I had hoped so much to see but was to be found nowhere. They grow at higher altitudes and getting caught picking them fetches you a hefty(?) fine. I found out that seeds are actually available online, even if I do not know of anyone who cultivates them. You can bet that edelweiss is on the flower garden planning board for next year.

    Stella Alpina seed sources: LocalHarvest (USA) | Seeds of Italy (UK) | Semilandia (Italy)

    Saturday, August 9, 2008

    Thai tiger eggplants are yielding fruit!

    While spring took its sweet la-dee-da time in the mountains this year, I distinctly remember agitating over if it would ever warm up enough to leave my young thai eggplants outdoors - once and for all. Gardeners who had vegetable plots down at the lake were already in full transplanting stride, yet there I was, green with envy, wanting so much to get my green thumb going! When that time finally did come, out the eggplants went, and I hoped for all selfish reasons that this summer would be hotter than the last. The furthest thing from my mind was the arrival of any garden pest.

    I didn't have to wait for long. The "pest" came in the form of a four-legged dachshund pup that recently became part of our family. He innocently nibbled every single one of the six thai eggplants (never ingesting but spitting out the pieces), so for awhile I had the potted plants set high where his short legs would never be able to jump and reach. It's been a month and a half of waiting, but look what's growing out on the terrace garden. Tiny, pale green orbs that shouldn't take much longer to become the 2 ounce, striped fruit as shown on the website from where I purchased the seeds.

    And lastly the tomato jungle...

    A 6-foot square section in one corner of the yard has been taken over by Rouge d'Irak tomatoes. I've dubbed it the enchanted corner since 3 lavender plants which were in the same exact spot last year grew to incredulous proportions. Brandywines, Cherokee Purples, Furry Yellow Hogs and Thessalonikis are all over the place - in pots, in the ground and even in hard clay soil in the back lot. They are all producing loads of fruit! Anybody want some, give me a holler...soon we'll be drowning in the stuff. But you know what? Next year I want even more.

    Wednesday, August 6, 2008

    The Gardener

    No italian garden blog would be complete without paying homage to the bountiful art of Giuseppe Arcimboldo, especially his paintings with double meanings. Rotating the image from left to right you have a bowl of vegetables and the gardener. Maybe a little bizarre at first (I played with the idea of composing my own vegetable man from our modest pickings), but note the primary types of vegetables depicted: onion and root. Common ingredients, which even to this day, are carefully tended in the most artistic of gardens.

    Non sarebbe giusto se un blog di giardinaggio mancasse di rendere omaggio all'arte di Giuseppe Arcimboldo, sopratutto i suoi quadri a doppio senso. Girando l'imagine da sinistra a destra, si vede una ciotola di verdure e il giardiniere. Forse un po' bizarro all'inizio (mi e' venuta l'idea di farne uno io stessa), ma guarda i principali generi di verdure: cipolla e ortaggi a radice. Ingredienti abbastanza comuni, che, anche in questi tempi, sono curati con attenzione nei piu' artistici giardini.

    Monday, August 4, 2008

    Perilla as an insect repellent?

    I was reading with great interest this article at Clean Air Gardening to plant feverfew as a natural way to repel insects, when it occurred to me to check what plants I may already have as possible deterrents to the pests that plague my asian greens. I noticed that our green perilla stands proud as a peacock with not a blemish from hungry insects. Why is that? Perilla - imho - has an odd smell. Its scent reminds me of sour...bread starter that has gone from a good sour to being just plain stink. At one point I even declared that it reminded me of my husband's armpits after a long morning of toiling away in the garden. I didn't really mean that of course; it was a rash statement! To this day when I stick my nose in the plant for a deep whiff, my olfactory senses do a short circuit and I am left confused. Perhaps that in itself is the answer. The last thing a bug needs is to be bewildered before a meal.

    Tuesday, July 29, 2008

    Don't throw away those old socks!

    Now that the family 'padrino', my father-in-law, has seen and complimented our efforts in the garden, the first thing that he wanted to give me were some ties for our tomato plants. Yes, the assortment of tomatoes that I started from seed are all producing flowers and fruit! If they continue in their natural stages of development without interference from the dogs, I should have a lot of pomodoro "firsts" in this part of Italy.

    But getting back to those ties... My father-in-law gave us a little bag which contained these curious cloth rings. He recycles old socks by cutting the calf part into bands (I'm guessing about 3/4 inch or 2 cm) and puts them through the washer to achieve these end results. All that's left to do is to snip the soft ring and voila! Instant tomato bush ties that allow for the stem to expand with no risk of harming the plant. Added plus, the uncut rings also doubles as a quick ponytail holder when I'm working in the garden!

    sock tie

    Wednesday, July 23, 2008

    Finding your italian zone

    Visualizzazione ingrandita della mappa

    Even before playing with the idea of starting a garden blog, I should've figured out at first where I stood in the gardening zone. Little did I know that this bit of info could help me find, or to be found, by others with similiar climate conditions. Hello all of my fellow gardeners...I'm italian zone 8, although with the microclimate created in our valley, it can differ year to year.

    The bottom link helped me to discover which zone I corresponded to in the general area, but it was the USDA Zone Map which pinpointed what my zone would be in relation to average annual minimum temperature. Look's like I'm zone 9b. Now I can toy with the idea of planting a persimmon tree. Hmmm...

    Italian gardening zones

    La zona di clima puo' essere utile a chiunque vuole sapere quali piante vanno bene per il suo clima. Sia albero, sia frutta e verdura, conoscete le vostre zone per coltivare meglio!

    Thursday, July 17, 2008

    The eggplant tomato tree

    Eggplant and tomato clip art courtesy of ClipArtLog

    Still hot off the wire... The news of an experimental eggplant and tomato tree in Sicily may just become all the rage for vegetable gardens the world over. The english version and accompanying image (see link below) is enough to make me a believer, but what piqued my interest in the italian article was the mention of not only one, but several types of eggplant grafts to the rootstock - nostrana (average italian garden variety), melanzana bianca (the white egg-shaped ones), and tunisina. What's tunisina eggplant? It would logically seem to be an eggplant from Tunisia, although I've never heard of such a variety. A very lovely photo can be seen on flickr here.

    Un'albero che produce i pomodori e le melanzane senza l'introduzione di OGM? Minchia! Sarebbe un miracolo!! Secondo me l'unica cosa che manca sono i capperi. E vi giuro, non e' una caponata vera senza i buonissimi capperi di Pantelleria... - Un geometra ha creato l'albero di melanzana e pomodoro

    Wednesday, July 16, 2008

    If only my zucchini were tomatoes...

    Two weeks after the hailstorm. Despite torn holes in the leaves, pock marks on the fruit, and a sort of powdery mildew, the zucchini are still growing strong and remain the undisputed queens of the garden. First it was nothing but blossoms, of which the males were immediately snapped up and stuffed with ricotta and set under the broiler or slipped into the frying pan. Now it is a whole lot of zukes in risotto, with pasta, on the grill, in soups, and I'm like, enough already!

    Sadly, I don't think the cucumber plant is going to make it. With the hail and then the doxie sneaking a nibble or two on the stems and leaves, I'm all out of hope for a possible audition in another episode of Grocery Store Wars.

    Friday, July 11, 2008

    Mole be gone!

    Ma cos'è questa pianta? (What is this plant?) I think my father-in-law already knows that whenever I show a keen interest in something, it means that I want to take it home with me. He didn't have any idea what the botanical name was, only that it was the scappa talpa plant. The plant that made moles want to pack up leave. Earlier on, we had been transplanting a few young Thessaloniki tomato bushes in the garden, a gift that I wanted to give my inlaws since I had started way too many to fit into my own garden. Of course this little planting session did not go without free advice on how to properly water the newcomers to his orto (garden).

    “Don't pour water from the top! Water below. Water on the leaves acts like a magnifying glass in the sun. It'll make too much heat on the leaves, you understand?” he says with a smile in his eyes.

    Back again to the scappa talpa plant, he told me that 10 years ago his yard was full of moles - and holes. My mother-in-law chimed in at the mention of the holes, “sono pericolosi!” (they're dangerous!). A neighbor had given them a young plant and from then on, moles be gone! But still to this day, they only refer to the bush as scappa talpa. Scappa from the verb scappare (to escape) and talpa (mole). So far we haven't had any visits from the tunnel-excavating critters, but I couldn't resist doing a bit of sleuthing on the net, and what did I find? A plant species called Euphorbia lathyrus, otherwise known as the Gopher Purge or Mole Plant.

    Not bad for just 15 minutes of digging around...