Today I decided to venture out of the farm for a walk in the countryside to see what wild flowers the Umbrian countryside has to offer. From discussions with the locals I have learned that they have had a lot less rain so far this year and it is much hotter than it normally is this time of year. Although there has been a lack of rainfall there are still so many flowers out.
One thing that has surprised me is the abundance of gorse; I was surprised to see it everywhere. Before moving to the Pacific Northwest I lived in England for 10 years which is where I first came across this plant. The Pacific Northwest is covered in it. Clearly this is a versatile plant given that it can thrive in all of these places. It has such an amazing scent that the wind carries so you smell it constantly everywhere you go! Thyme and fennel are growing everywhere here, and the thyme is blooming now which makes some patches of the ground a sea of pinkish-purple.
Italian honeysuckle grows amongst the shrubs but adds a blast of color which really draws your eye! I was surprised to see hellebore that had finished flowering and were heavy with seed heads. I was not aware that they were native to Italy! Lovely red poppies were everywhere along with the bright purple wild salvias. What an amazing countryside with so much to see!
Walking around the farm I am struck by how many varieties of fruit and nuts you can grow here in Umbria! Also the variety means that throughout the summer you really can have an abundance of fruit. Additionally, they can grow fruit that stores well so you can really grow all the fruit you need for the entire year! Not to mention the hedgerow fruit and nuts you can collect. On my walk I noticed blackberries, elderberries and juniper berries!
This farm produces wine and olive oil so these are by far the largest group of plants. They have 350 olive trees. Interestingly I have been told it is rude to ask how many olive trees someone has as this is equivalent to asking someone how much they earn since each tree gives a predictable amount of olive oil each year and everyone knows what you can sell it for. They also have hundreds of other fruit and nut trees, and as this is a 100 acre farm, I am sure I have missed a few varieties as well.
It is May here and we are currently eating the most amazing cherries which they have in abundance. In fact I am writing this blog while laying in a hammock attached to an olive tree and a cherry tree, this makes for excellent snack breaks! The figs will be ready in a month or so. The mulberries are not totally ready but I found the random ripe one or two. When I was a kid growing up in the suburbs of Chicago my neighboor had a mulberry tree which I adored but I had to eat the berries without anyone knowing so I used to put bags on my feet so as not to dye my shoes and get caught. I used to spend hours picking and eating this delicious fruit!
In the late summer they will have walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds; they will also have peaches, apricots and kiwi. Then in autumn they will have quince, apples, persimmons and pears. Surprisingly the weather on the hill where the farm is located is too hard on citrus so they have built a greenhouse to house the lemons and limes.
What abundance this climate has to offer.
This morning I fed the animals and having raised chickens myself before not all of it was new but some of the practices are new to me and I wanted to share them! At Monestevole they have pigs, goats, sheeps, horses, chickens, geese and ducks. One of the very interesting practices here is the way they use manure. Basically the horses are housed (when not out to pasture) in a shed at the top of a hill. When the manure is cleared out it is swept into the area where the chickens are. They pick out and eat all of the seeds so that after a short period of time the manure is free from seeds which is great as when this is spread as a soil amendment there will be no sprouting seeds.
They have both chickens for eggs and chickens for eating. This is certainly something I would like to do myself, these chickens looks so healthy. Being able to incubate your own chickens makes this a very economical practice. The ducks and geese are also a nice addition for eggs as well.
The pigs are also happy and healthy looking. As you may or may not know there are lots of wild boar here in Italy and as they do not have a natural predator they are a nuisance. They are hunted in October - December but the rest of the year they do damage on farms. There are little piglets running around and they are ½ wild boar as a wild boar broke into the pig pen and impregnated the pigs. In Italy farmers are fined when a pig is impregnated by a wild boar which is frustrating for the farmers (based on my conversations) as there is little they can do, these wild boar are smart!
Based on my experiences I would say that chickens, pigs and ducks are what I aspire to keep when 2020 rolls around!
I have arrived in Italy after nearly 24 hours of travel with a 21 month old, I am tired but the minute I am driving away from Florence airport in my rental car I see the scenery and immediately feel at home. I am excited to see a different part of Italy on this trip. We are first headed to Northern Umbria and then to the Val d'Orcia in Tuscany.
The first stop is Monestevole an ecotourism sustainable community in northern Umbria. Monestevole was originally built in the 15th century as a watch-tower for nearby castle. Over the coming centuries, additional parts were added to the tower to develop it into the current hamlet structure.
As we drove up into the hills from the nearby town of Umbertide it was clear that we would not be hearing traffic noise which is something we are constantly trying to avoid. When we arrived everyone was eating homemade pizza by the outdoor pizza oven and enjoying the carafes filled with wine. What a great welcome and start to the holiday!
The owners really do take sustainability seriously, they recycle all the water and use the gray water for irrigation and flushing toilets. The solar panels give the home enough power in the summer and once they get their new Tesla batteries they are going to be able to store the power for the non-sunny times of the year! They invite guests to plant hedges to offset their carbon footprint. They grow enough food to feed 25 people year round based on the many things that they grow and make.
This place is inspirational and even though I have only been here for 24 hours it has helped me know about what I do and don't want to do with my land once I move to Italy. Whilst I like the idea of sustainable living I also know that these practices take a lot of time and effort which I want to put into growing food, raising animals and making things (like beer, cheese, wine etc.).
I decided to upgrade my drip irrigation in the greenhouse this year. The main reason for this is that I installed it shortly after the greenhouse was built and at that time I did not really know what I was doing...that is the honest answer. I now might not fully know what I am doing but I am in a position to make some changes based on my experiences over the past 5 years. I grow tomatoes in the greenhouse in the summer and year round I grow orchids. I initially only installed the irrigation for the tomatoes as 5 years ago I did not yet have my 30+ orchids.
I have a timer which has 2 lines so that makes it perfect for creating 1 zone for the tomatoes and the other for the orchids. I am off to Italy in the morning so I figured I better hop to it! There is nothing like doing something last minute! I ordered all my supplies from Drip Depot, they are great and have everything you need at reasonable prices (no I am not getting anything for saying I buy from them aside from the free tootsie pops they send with every order!).
I put this video together to walk you through my setup, let me know if you have any questions! Thanks for watching!
This is the first time I am trying to grow cucumbers in my greenhouse. I have grown them for the last few years in my cold frames but the last 2 years something would go in and eat them. I suspect it was a rat or squirrel. This year I am going to try winter squash in the cold frames as their tougher skins might not be as appealing to these elusive creatures, fingers crossed.
I grow all of my plants in Smart Pots in the greenhouse as the greenhouse floor is gravel and growing things in pots gives me more options. I love Smart Pots and the ones I am currently using are 6 years old and still working perfectly! I plan to grow the cucumbers up some sort of trellis that I will build this once they are larger. I selected 2 special greenhouse varieties from Territorial Seeds, specifically Excelsior and Picolino and I look forward to seeing how they perform. I am already impressed with Excelsior, as you can see from the picture there are 3 cucumbers in a very small space in the stem. I love Lemon cucumbers and although they are not a ‘greenhouse’ cucumber I am going to give them a try. I would welcome any advice on pollination of non-greenhouse cucumbers but I suspect I will need to hand pollinate the female cucumbers with the pollen from the male cucumbers much like you need to do in order to pollinate eggplant/aubergines.
I am so lucky to have this greenhouse which brings me so much joy year round. Clearly the Spring and Summer months are the most exciting though. Spring is so fun as I get to start so many different types of seeds and each evening I pop out to the greenhouse to see what seeds have germinated, every day there is something to see!
May is the time that I plant my tomatoes and by June I should have my first tomatoes ready to eat and they keep cropping until October/November. I have been growing them in the greenhouse for 6 years so I have a great system that works for me and I wanted to share my approach with you! I hope you find my tips useful to you!
This is my first video so don’t judge me too harshly. I realize that some things are just better in a video than in writing. I often search for videos on very specific things and they are so useful. I remember a time when I was given 20 very unhealthy orchids that someone was going to throw away and I was determined to nurse them back to health. This was before I knew anything about them and what saved them (well about 25% of them if I am being honest) was the knowledge I picked up from the video!
I have been starting seeds in the same way since I built my greenhouse. I have made some small changes but all in all I have found a method that works and is cost effective. I love the jiffy pots I buy at Home Depot, they are really cheap and easy to work with. Anyway, I don't want to give too much of the video away so please do watch it and remember it is only my first one!
I love cut flowers in my house. As much time as I spend outside in the garden I spend more time in the house and over the years I have realized how important it is to have something growing outside that I can enjoy inside. A couple of years ago I bought 50+ Oriental Lily bulbs and planted them and enjoyed them for 2 summers. This year I was devastated to see that I lost these bulbs to a hungry mole (after discussing this with many gardeners I believe that moles were the culprits).
As I now have a large space to fill I decided that I would try and plant as many perennials which have flowers which are conducive to cutting. As my cutting garden is in a raised bed I really want to pack them in as I don't need to worry about creating space for weeding or walking.
I already have scabiosa and anemones planted which I love. Anemones are great early spring flowers that are so pretty and delicate. I also always grow calla lily tubers in the greenhouse so I planted a few of those in the cutting garden. I decided to add the following:
I will miss the fragrance of the Oriental lilies but I hope that this variety in flowers will make up for the loss!
Every year around Mother's’ Day I make up my containers which I fill with flowers to enjoy all summer. I have perfected this over the years and I really think I have a winning formula when it comes to pots full of color and non-stop flowers. I thought I would share my approach and ideas to creating beautiful containers:
I went for an orange and white theme this year, I started both Begonias and Calla Lilies from tubers in the greenhouse rather than buying them at the garden center as this means I get to select colors from a much larger selection. I bought Calynopsis, Dahlias and Jasmine from the garden center. Calynopsis is a stunning plant with balloon-like flowers that are prolific bloomers all through the summer and add such an interesting contrast to the other plants.
Let the warm weather begin!