Monday, March 30, 2009

What do borage seedlings look like?

borage seedlings

Now that joy and relief comes flooding in as that question is unloaded from curious minds, the next thing that begs to be asked is What do you do with borage? (borragine in italian) At this stage it's too early to use them although they do look like beautiful sprouts for a salad. In italian cooking however, the young leaves of a mature borage plant are used in a filling for ravioli. If I'm lucky enough to have them flourish in the garden, you can bet that I'll be making borage-stuffed ravioli in the future.

Average daytime temperature: 10°C / 50°F

Monday, March 23, 2009

Busy, busy weekend at l'Orto

Applying wet copper sulfate paste.
I know that some areas of Italy are still seeing snow, so I am being very humble in saying that we are very fortunate for this microclimate in our mountain area. All we need is a couple more sunny weekends like this last one and most of the garden prep work will be out of the way. Garden and home d-i-y center Leroy Merlin emptied our pockets of 123 euros but it was well worth it. Now we've got a new toy (Bosch cordless grass shears) and the herb section and soon-to-be tomato patch will sport wooden borders to block Mister B when he goes to the loo. We also bought a compound mixture of solfato di rame (copper sulfate) and calce idrata (hydrated lime?) in hopes of protecting the fruit trees from disease and eventual pests. Painting a wet mixture of this compound is done in a lot of gardens around here, but we'll try organic solutions to directly battle the ant/aphid problem as best we can. The peach tree has already begun to put out tight little flower buds and tiny leaves, and the persimmon, mirabelle plum, nashi pear and cherry tree are not far behind.

Did Adam and Eve have it so rough? I can't tell you how much it means to me when I say we look forward to enjoying the fruits of our labor. We've already spent 3 months stuck in the house. It's barbecue season!

At his height, I think this should thwart surplus watering from the doxie.

Something about Bosch that makes me not mind handing over the moola.

For the moment I've got 24 tomato plants at 6 weeks old.

The slayer of lizards stationed at her post.

Average daytime temperature: 16°C / 61°F

Saturday, March 21, 2009

What is it? Guessing game in the garden

5 clues: horned, footwear, skin, lounge, Komodo. These words have ONE subject in common. What is it?

Name that object. While most are content to simply display what's going on in their gardens, *I* feel the need to make a game out of mine. Why? Because I am somewhat of a trivia nut, or at least I like taxing my brain with things other than 'What in the world am I going to make for dinner tonight?' This could become a regular feature at l'Orto blog but for now let's just say that perhaps we'll end up going out for pizza after all. To reveal what's behind the question mark, click on the image. No cheating!!

Average daytime temperature: 11°C / 52°F

Friday, March 20, 2009

Skywatch Friday No. 36

The Big Blue Yonder

Blogger doesn't give any bigger option on images so you'll either have to squint at the two "birds" in the sky or click to open a 1000 x 667 resolution (it's less than a 100kb). It's rare to see two of these gliders in tandem flight maneuvers. For a moment there it looked as if they were engaged in a courtship dance.

Average daytime temperature: 7°C / 45°F

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Keeping two steps ahead of this year's garden pests

Mister Bentley aka Destruct-o
The garden digger and destructor of small plants
One of the main problems that l'Orto suffered last year was a devastating case of aphids. The little suckers preyed on the roses first, then infected the peach tree to such an extent that there was no hope of it bearing fruit. We tried a natural soap-water solution to spray on the branches and leaves, but with the frequent rains of last spring, much of it washed off without seeming to have done any good.

This year we're trying something new - pyrethrum spray. Anyone familiar with using this? Our local gardening store suggested it as an alternative to chemical pesticides but warned that it is very potent...and that fruits or vegetables should be washed well. I've actually read that you can make your own solution, and started some pyrethrum seeds [purchased from Nichols Garden Nursery] but so far they are slow coming along. Another suggestion came from a neighbor that lives down the road. To combat ants and aphids, he makes a solution of stinging nettle - ortica - and water. The mixture is left to sit for 10 days before using in a spray application. In his opinion this works even better than pyrethrum - we shall see!

Lastly, I recently learned of one other remedy that makes it sound as if your garden might be the victim of vampires. Our favorite supermarket distributes monthly pamphlets that usually includes a score of timely articles, and this month focused on a garden's hidden enemies. One suggestion for roses prone to aphid problems was to plant garlic bulbs next to the bushes or in the vases. To combat red spider mite, make an infusion of 10 grams minced garlic to one liter of water. Spray this solution onto the infested plants during the day when there is no rain or wind. We're going to test this. Sounds like a gardener's version of holy water - I just wonder if it'll add extra flavor to the plants!

Zucchini seedlings

Average daytime temperature: 16°C / 61°F

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Zen Feet

Rowenta's Zen Feet
It's only a matter of weeks before we really begin to put our bodies through the labor of planting and maintaining a garden, and while I never intended to use this blog as a vehicle for product reviews, I don't think it would hurt either, being that what I've got here is indirectly related to what goes on in the vegetable plot. I remember the first few days of last year's toiling - sore back *oooh* and leg muscles *owww* from hunching over and walking the narrow, steep steps of our property which is severely sloped. But the worst ache of all was the discomfort suffered by my poor feet! It's true that they are the most used part of our skeletal system, yet often are the last to receive loving care.

Luckily for my husband and myself, we willingly trade foot rubs, but even then, there are days when we're just plain tired or don't feel like cracking toes. Imagine our delight when we discovered Rowenta's Zen Feet, a home foot massager where you can reap the healthful benefits of reflexology!

We got our Zen Feet gratis through the shopping points system at our supermarket. The squarish plastic unit consists of four functioning areas: two upper rotating discs, each with four evenly spaced nodules, and two lower discs surfaced with small bumps. The rotating discs spin outward in low and high speeds while the lower stationary ones vibrate on low and high. I honestly think the high speed should be considered a medium and another level added to up the intensity. I mean seriously, we're talking used and abused footsies here and a deeper massage could only make them happier.

Now the Rowenta website describes the unit as silent - what? as in silent as a mouse? - but I disagree. There is some noise (vibration will do that), but not enough to be a nuisance. Working the rotating discs, I like the ability to move my foot this way and that to massage specific areas, like the sides of my feet, the soles, my toes and heels. At either speed the lower vibrating sections don't seem to make much difference, to the point of being useless.

So was it worth the shopping points? (4200, approximately how much we collect in a year) - Speaking for my husband and myself I'd have to say yes. It wasn't so much the physical aspect of the massage that felt great but also the relaxed mental state of being from knowing that our hang tens were getting some lovin' - period. All I need now is a pedicure.

Average daytime temperature: 7°C / 45°F

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Let the good times grow!

Tomato seedlings
Brandywine, Japanese Black Trifele, Black Krim and Marmande tomato seedlings to the left. Young lemon plant from blogger Casalba to the right.

And as you can see, there's a lot of that happening atop the sill of my only southfacing window. Life has been stirring in another location at L'Orto Orgolioso too. Most of the young broccoli, red cabbage and brussel sprouts that were set out to overwinter last fall actually survived 2008's snowfest, so we should be enjoying an early spring yield in a few weeks. A pot of tuscan kale (started from seed) didn't grow much in the past 5 months but is still alive, and looked even better after I gave it some fish fertilizer. Fava and sweet pea plants went into the ground yesterday, and both indoor potted nufar and thai basil herbs (sown Feb. 20th) just peeked out of the surface this morning.

My husband has been occupied with his own garden tasks. I asked for a cold frame and look what he built! The box measures 4 feet (120cm) by 2.3 feet (70cm) and should hold all of the tomatoes and other plants when it's time to make their transition outdoors. Setting a dome-shaped composter in the garden is the next project.

Cold frame box Cold frame (window phase) Finished cold frame
For MotH's general description on how he built it, read The Cold Frame

Aside from the usual observations and notes on what succeeds in our garden this year, I'm going to balance the dirty work with some creative play. I love the effect of bokeh photography and hope to capture scenes from the garden where light reflections are aplenty. This trick with hearts on a pea shoot is an example and instructions for the technique can be found here:
DIY - Create your own bokeh

Bokeh ♥♥♥s on a pea shoot!
Bokeh hearts on a pea shoot

Average daytime temperature: 9°C / 48°F