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Friday, 1 May 2009

Our Terraces Part IV and on Weeding

First of May today? Where’s April gone? One moment it was there and I turn around and it’s gone! I don’t know, but I think the days of the month are badly distributed. January goes on forever. February is better with fewer days. March can drag on a bit and then the nice spring and summer months always seem to fly by. I reckon they should shorten January to about 25 days and March to about 28. The days gained there could be added to April, May and June, maybe a day or two to September.

Anyway, I digress. I was going to loose a word on weeding (better than loosing other things like my temper or my mind…). This is partly inspired by the fact that I was weeding for the last couple of days and partly I’m in the middle of reading Chas Griffin’s “More Scenes from a Smallholding” (great read, I shall give you a book review one rainy day soon), which contains a whole chapter on the subject.

The routine generally is, you start at the top somewhere and you work your way down terrace by terrace. Terrace 2, as you have already seen, has spuds on it at the moment. Easy peasy! With the hoe you just wiz over it quickly, little danger of mistaking a potato for a weed or causing them permanent harm. Terrace 3 gets trickier with the corn and a few sunflowers. After all corn is just a glorified grass and while still small looks just like it. You have to keep your wits about, no more mindless swinging of the hoe. That’s the time you start getting distracted: ‘there’s a bit of dead wood in that tree, must deal with that.’ – ‘I think I’ll swing that sickle at those bits of bamboo poking out’, etc.

By the time you get to the bottom after all your distractions, you have to start at the top again. In between are the really tricky bits like amongst the carrots with the spontaneously mutating weeds, that disguise themselves as carrots, or the bed you can’t remember what you sowed on in the first place and don’t therefore know what to look out for. That’s happened on terrace 6. I decided that they were supposed to be cabbages, but didn’t show, so I planted some cucumbers on it instead.

Finally comes the problem how to define what is a weed. The thrifty Italian eat almost anything that happens to grow on any given field. It is not uncommon to see a 90 year old bent-over lady with a basket on her arm rummaging through the undergrowth for wild asparagus or chicory. And not only that. Having no animals to eat our vegetable cast-offs (the cats turn their noses up to them), they all land rather indiscriminately on the compost (the vegetable cast-offs that is, not the animals).

This may be a good time to show you the photo of terrace number 7 in our popular series ‘Our Terraces’.

It contains our double compost heap, skilfully put together by Susan from bamboo sticks, a pear tree, a bed currently producing onions, behind the compost our mini polytunnel with lettuces and behind that a bed of peas

Anyway to carry on the thread, it’s inevitable that a few seeds land on the compost too. Last year a tomato grew out of the compost and a lemon tree, which is now doing very well on the kitchen windowsill. But the strangest one are the melons. We bought a melon 2 years ago from our friendly Sicilian greengrocer, ate it and threw the skin and seeds on the compost. Last year I bought proper melon seeds (Charentais or something like it), sowed some indoors in pots for a nice early crop and some outdoors. The result was absolutely zero, however weeding a bean bed, where I had spread our compost, I found little seedlings, which at that stage could have been courgettes or cucumbers. I left a few and waited: melons. The seeds of which ended on the compost again of course.

So this year I wised up. I again sowed some proper shop-bought seeds indoors and outdoors, but this time I spread our own compost onto that same bed. Again the intended melons did not come, but the spontaneously sown ones did as well as a good dozen tomato plants. So instead of going wholesale weeding amongst the bed with the courgettes, cucumbers and melons, it became a delicate transplanting job. I’m looking forward to seeing what type of tomatoes they’ll be.

To complete jobs done in the last couple of days, I did sow out the artichoke seeds. If they’ll al come we’ll have some 50 plants, which would take up 2 whole terraces. I’ll be able to sell them, which may not be a bad idea. Best probably preserved in oil. I also thought I’ll try growing strawberries from seed. Seems a good way to get lots of strawberry plants. The berries on our existing plants are starting to show a pink hue. They should be ready any day and then spring will have arrived properly. The weather was positively warm and sunny too today too.

Finally Terrace 8 coming up:

It features 2 recently planted almond trees and 2 mature olives. The bed in front has been dug over for the first time and will just have some rocket on it this year and few bits and bobs.

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