Thursday, December 25, 2014

Ikea amaryllis

Usually I buy only poinsettias for the holiday season but these are so easy to grow, I don't know why I never thought to include amaryllis too. The plant is on its second scape and there's another one peeking out of the bulb.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Welcome to Chez Maddie

After a little work here and there for the duration of summer, the dogs now have new digs to hang out in. The wood used is a slatted bed base (from our old IKEA bed) that we just couldn't see going to the dump. When one of us gets around to it, there'll be a sign to hang next to the entrance that says "Chez Maddie".

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Munching on lots and lots of greens

Weather-wise, where August (and summer in general) has failed, September is succeeding. Cooler temperatures, mild sunny days and just the occasional light shower have set the ball in motion for all of my garden greens. I lost interest in the rucola/rocket bed after it was decimated by hail in the earlier part of the summer season, but within the last month both varieties came back to life on their own. I snip leaves once a week to add to salads, and they keep coming back.

Rucola coltivata
Common rocket / rucola coltivata

Rucola selvatica
Wild rocket /rucola selvatica

2 types of rocket greens

Top: common rocket, bottom: wild rocket. They both have that peppery bite, but wild rocket is much stronger, almost to the point of being too bitter if you just eat it by itself. It also took forever for the seeds to germinate. The common variety has less of a bite, germinated quickly from seed, and grows like a weed. The fuller leaves also contribute more bulk to salads. I add both types to mixed greens (butter lettuce, romaine, chicory, etc) for huge salad dinners, but rocket makes a great pesto, and is a must with beef carpaccio and parmigiano flakes. It's also good as a pizza topping, scattered directly onto pizza right out of the oven.

Dwarf Blue Curled Scotch kale

Dwarf blue curled scotch kale grown in a container. Even with a tunnel cover, white cabbage moths managed to get in and do damage. I used a homemade spray of habanero pepper water and misted the plants heavily, even the undersides of the leaves, which helped to keep the pests under control. Blanched and briefly sauted with minced garlic, calamari rings and chile pepper, the leaves make a simple yet tasty spaghetti pasta dish.

Pasti with blue curled scotch kale and calamari

Green and red shiso
Again, the red and green shiso come up like weeds, and I have more than what I can use.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Game over: Paul Robesons, blue tomatoes, and summer

Taken on August 27th

Well that was...quick. June, July and August slipped in and out the door unnoticed in 2014's unseasonably cool and wet summer, and now we are in fall mode. To say that I am disappointed is an understatement. Firstly, the Cherokee Purple and Thessaloniki vines succumbed to early blight. Not One Single Salvageable fruit. Then, adding insult to injury, the Paul Robesons were hit with late blight. I refuse to yank the plants out of the ground, choosing to snip off the diseased fruit and leaves instead. If the half dozen on the vine pull through without the dreaded brown patches, it'll be a miracle.

Blue tomatoe cluster

Initially, my opinion on the blue tomato trials was unsatisfactory. The first crop was medium-sized and the blue was more on the top - not on the bottom (which turned from green to red when ripe). Successive fruits were smaller and round, like in this double image above. Maybe it was due to the size and shape, but note how the inky blue-purple dominates the skin surface. These make an interesting and colorful addition to a salad when cut into wedges, but the flavor is nothing remarkable.

Paul Robeson tomatoes

The Paul Robesons that didn't get hit with blight ripened beautifully on the vine. They have really great flavor and a firm, meaty texture that makes them wonderful for sandwiches and also in a caprese salad. Look forward to growing these again next year!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Blue tomatoes gone rogue and a lightning show

Well so much for growing blue tomatoes this year. The seeds (purchased online from an italian source) germinated quickly into healthy seedlings, but the end result is nothing like what I saw on the website. Apparently the owner had the same problem because last time I looked, she was lamenting the fact that hers didn't turn out blue either. I wonder from where she sourced her seeds (and more importantly, can I trust that they aren't some half-baked Frankentom experiment). The tomatoes have the taste and firm flesh of the greenhouse type, and they took forever to develop in our less than summery temps. Then miraculously, when we got a nice dose of hot weather last week, a few of them suddenly turned red overnight.

Blue tomato harvest
These were harvested this past Monday.

Blue tomatoes 8.07
And this is what they looked like a few days prior on the Thursday before that.

We are getting some crazy hot then cold conditions which have brought on seasonal storm conditions. Just this past Saturday night we were treated to a lightning show right from our terrace. Never seen anything like it, and it was kinda cool hearing the owls in the forest and also some noise from the village festival down at the church. I was actually standing out there for 10 minutes even if the clip is only a few seconds.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Evvai! The first zuke!

Finally, the long wait to harvest something from the garden is over. Evvai is an exclamation to express extreme joy (very much like yayyyyy!), and it felt like finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow when I spotted the first zuke in the garden. We already had the inflatable hand (to cheer on Italy in the World Cup), but since we lost, the hand has been repurposed mainly as an object to shoo away flies. Zucchini-1, tomatoes-0!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

First time blue tomato trials

Blue tom 8 day difference
Note: left taken on 6/23 and right on 7/1 - a striking difference in 8 days

Last year I bought blue tomato seeds (from an online italian source) so I hope these will turn out in the way that they were described - blue. The tomato crop this year is going to be modest, at best, since I have only 4 varieties in the ground. I can't wait until I can pick one right off the vine.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Everything's prettier in pink

Fragaria 'Red Ruby'
Fragaria “Red Ruby”

I've never had any desire to grow strawberries but after seeing these deep pink-flowered strawberry plants, how could I NOT want to grow a hanging basket? The nursery had them simply labeled as Fragola a fiore rosa (pink-flowering strawberry), but they look very much like the Fragaria Red Ruby that I've seen on the web. I tasted one of the fruits and it was very sweet.

On the weather's currently on seesaw mode. Last week it was sunny and in the high 80's. This week we had/are still having hail, rain, cloudy days and 60°-65°. I just hope it doesn't drop any lower, otherwise I'll have to dig out the socks.

Monday, May 26, 2014

What's cool, green, lofty and serene?

Mountaintop village
A view of the mountaintop village Colle di Sogno (it translates to Hill of Dreams - cute huh?) - click for large view.

Lots of sunshine, occasional rainfall and mild temperatures has made this spring the best one that we've had in years, but the lack of significant heat hasn't helped much in the vegetable part of the garden. A few things right now:

Trillo currant tomatoes (below at left)
Calceolaria or Lady's Purse that reseeded itself from last year (below)
Mirabelle plums, although the tree's leaves are infected with aphids (below)
Red, yellow, white and blush pink rose bushes are full of blooms
Paul Robeson tomatoes
Blue tomatoes grown from seed that I acquired from an italian internet site
Cherokee Purple tomatoes
Herbs: marjoram, thyme, shiso, oregano, chives, grapefruit mint, nepitella
Naga Morich chilli pepper

The mild weather is perfect for taking walks even in late morning when the sun is up. I walk the dogs at least 2.5 miles, 5 times a week, and we always make a stop to visit some friendly donkeys.

This year we also bought more dirt from a local nursery in order to lighten the clay soil in the garden. Twenty 5-gallon buckets for 8€ (it took 2 trips) and the westie as supervisor.

Project dog house is still an idea on the computer - a good thing they aren't in a rush to move in!

Today's high: 19°C

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Project dog house

An unexpected 2500€ towards car repairs killed the vacation budget, so it looks like we're homebound for a few months. One of the do-it-yourselfers that MotH is working on includes a new abode for the dynamic duo; one that will be better adapted for outdoor conditions like rain and snow. I'm working on a design for the outside plaque...something along the lines of Maddie's Bed & Breakfast. Heck, we might even get them a small pool.

We're getting a new house

Today's high: 20°C

Monday, April 7, 2014

It's like being in a dream

Well actually we were in this image. Sogno [SOHN-yoh] is italian for dream, and not far from ours, a village goes by that dreamy little name. The last 2 miles of paved road to Sogno is mostly shaded at 9am, and the lack of traffic on a Sunday morning means it's a serene walk with only our thoughts and the chirping of birds to accompany our footsteps. The only souls we met along the way were 3 other villagers, some goats and a donkey. The doxie and the westie couldn't have been happier.

Today's high: 21°C

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Back in the garden: Flower power!

It has been a long, cold wait for the new season to arrive, and unlike 2013, I think I can safely predict that this year, spring will be a nice one. We've had lots of sunny days and mild weather ranging in temperatures from 14° to 22°C during the day and 12° at night. The swiss chard from last year lived through the winter and is sprouting new leaves that are already 8 inches tall, and the italian parsley is going gangbusters even after having had a layer of snow sitting on top of it.

Flower power 2014

Several runs to garden nurseries around town is, in my book, like xmas all over again. The multitude of potted spring blossoms beckon like eye candy, but this year I made it a point to select flowers that will do well in an alpine climate and hopefully come back again next year. The only flowers that I've started from seed are pink morning glory and nasturtium. I'm counting on the bleeding heart to take over a corner of the front yard.

Flower power 2014

Primroses are cheap and come in so many color varieties that we're working on including all of them in the back garden to compete with the dandelions and nettles.

Felicia amelloides

I've never heard of blue daisies until last month. On a garden forum, it's been said that they will take over a spot if allowed (someone called them the "blue tanks"). The tiny flowers are delicate and don't last long, but that pop of blue color makes me smile in the morning.

Sotto il prugno

We bought an asian pear tree (Nijisseiki) to complete the 3 fruit trees concept - persimmons, plums and pears - in the front yard. Fingers crossed tight that we won't get a late cold snap, but right now during these fine sunny days, the place for a short nap is under the mirabelle plum.

Today's high: 15°C