Friday, June 5, 2009

Italian growing zones: blue, red or possibly even yellow

At the very beginning of this blog I was concerned about knowing what specific growing zone that I was in, but to tell the truth, I really haven't heard or seen it discussed a whole lot in the local gardening forums around here. This led me to believe that gardeners simply go by instinct, by the signs of nature (the birds have arrived!), or by what their favorite garden shops tell them. My father-in-law, for example, wouldn't have a clue as to what I was talking about, and the last time he called for an update on the garden, all I knew is that he felt I had started my tomatoes too early. You see, he thought I had transplanted them into the ground whereas I had only started them indoors.

You might be thinking, well then how can they tell when the time is right? Not everyone is a born green thumb, so there must be some written indication, some credible source in which to refer to. In the previous post, Maybelline posed a couple of questions. Using an example of raperonzolo seeds (Campanula rapunculus), I thought it would make an interesting topic in a little show-n-tell:
  Are there growing zones in Italy or is that just an American thing?
  If there are, I'm curious to know what zone you are in?

Rapunzel seeds

On the map I've added a large dot where I'm at, and as you can see, it's in the blue as is most of the rest of Italy. Taking that into account, and the micro-climate of Lake Como, all I have to do is check which growing months (gotta love the roman numeral system) that blue corresponds to. Those rapunzel seeds could have gone in earlier but I'm waiting it out until summer is over. Nothing could be easier but just to be sure, I always look to see if my neighbors have started planting their gardens, and from there I take my cue.

These are just a few recent shots of what's been growing and/or harvested from my little spot in the woods.

Stella Alpina
Stella Alpina purchased at a nursery for only 1.50 euros per plant (I bought 3)

Rattail radish plant
Rattail radish plant

Rattail pods
Can't wait to serve these to my father-in-law. He'll never guess what they are.

Pea planter
My husband had never grown peas before, so at first he was doubtful that I could grow them in containers. To be honest, so was I...

Sugar peas
..until we sampled our first harvest.

Tomatillo plant
These could be either green or purple tomatillos because most of the seeds germinated late or never germinated at all, and so I saved the best of those that did make it (three!) and stuck them in a pot.

Allium with seed pods
The allium keeps amazing me in all of its various stages.

Average daytime temperature: 21°C / 70°F and a thunderstorm is brewing.


  1. Rat tail radishes??!! I never heard of such a thing. I need to find some seeds to sew in my old beet patch. Thanks for the inspiration. Do you prefer to eat them raw or cooked?

    By the way, is your father-in-law a gardener?

  2. Maybelline - my father-in-law used to garden, but only stuff like tomatoes, lettuce, pumpkins, zucchini...not any of this veggie weirdness that I love to grow. I know that he is going to shake his head and give me that look which says "my american daughter-in-law is crazy" but in a good sort of way, I hope.

    As for the tails, I love them raw when eaten straight from the garden or lightly sauted in olive oil and mixed in with fresh, hot pasta.

  3. I hadn't even heard of zones until I began to read gardening blogs! I'm not sure they're really that useful in Europe as there are so many factors other than coldest frost. Here in the Languedoc, according to the zone map, we're in zone 9, but we were too in west Wales although the climates are completely different - damp and mild in Wales, Mediterranean here. Gardeners here have learnt so much from their fathers (it is usually men who garden), but they all disagree about details. One of our gardening friends says that the plants know when to grow even if the gardener doesn't, so putting them in the ground early doesn't mean earlier crops! Your vegetables look great!

  4. I'm with chaiselongue, I've never heard about zones before reading american gardening blogs. Here people go more by instinct and tradition. I have no gardening tradition in my family so I go by instinct...I also have such a mild climate that I rarelly go wrong ;-)

  5. Don't forget the moon ~ lots of the contadini here sow and harvest depending on the state of the moon. I've got a whole book about it: Calendario lunare delle semine e dei lavori (but I haven't read it...) For instance, in Giugno you want to plant cavolo, lattuga, and some other stuff, when the moon in calante - waning. Warning: this book thinks the earth casts a shadow on the moon that makes it look full, new, etc. which is absolutely not true (even though I always thought it was). Often when I've had trouble with a plant and have asked a neighbor, the first question they ask me is, "When did you plant?"

  6. I went to my local garden center today in search of rat tail radish seeds. No luck. I did, however, find seeds from Franchi and was able to examine the growing regions further. My purchase consisted of Cinderella pumpkin seeds and some fertilizer. I need to get crackin' so pumpkins will be ready for Halloween.

  7. Chaiselongue - awhile back I just decided to forget about growing zones and turned to spying on my neighbor's gardens. I'm especially keen to know when it's going to hail, and there is an elderly neighbor who lives down the mountain that never fails to put his netting up in time whenever it hails. If it seems that a storm is coming, I always tell my husband to give a quick look to that gentleman's garden when he drives down to work. If the nets are up, he is to email me with the news right away! ^-^

    Gintoino - I think with the US being so large and widespread, the zones are much more useful. Italy is only a peninsula, and like you, chaiselongue and fellow european gardeners, it simply feels more appropriate to go by instinct!

    Farfalle - I was thinking about looking more into planting by moon phases! Anyway, my problem is that I can't wait for the right time to plant, because I get so envious of those gardeners at lower altitude who are already quite close to harvesting! Maybe for that reason is why the round zucchini plants aren't going anywhere at all, I started them too early, so I think I'll wait it out (grrrr..) until the weather is hot and stable. We've been getting such fickle temps lately - it just drives me batty!

    Maybelline - I wish I had the space to grow Halloween pumpkins, especially those really enormous ones. I don't believe I've seen any of those growing in a italian garden! As for the rattail radish, I'd be more than willing to send you some if I'm successful at saving seed this year :-)

  8. In Positano they go by Saint's days. How in the world they can remember them all is beyond me. I can't even remember my family's birthdays.

  9. Scintilla - indeed, with often more than one saint for every day of the year! As for birthdays....I can usually remember the day/month but never the year. This means that everyone I know is perpetually between 30-40 years old.


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