This is what we sowed in the cold frame, which even when open is actually quite warm:
- Tomatoes. It's actually a bit late to be sowing tomatoes, but with the almost complete failure of my main Marmande plants I panicked a bit. Mr.H from Idaho had offered me some seeds, including an almost bewildering variety of tomatoes. I asked for a few seeds of about half a dozen of the more interesting sounding varieties he had offered, but Mr.H in his infinite kindness has sent me 10 different varieties. Of course in the meantime it turned out that my back-up variety, Gigante Seedless is doing rather well, and as every year loads of volunteers are creeping up everywhere, so I'll have trouble accomodating them all, but I'll give it a damn good try! Also with our long growing season I'm fairly confident of getting away with the late sowing. The varieties are sowed into a window box in alphabetical order (without going into much further detail for the moment): #10 red, Black Cherry, Bursztyn, Gruntovi Gribovski, Orange Smudge, Purple Cherokee, San Marzano Roma, Targinnie Red, Taxi and Un-named Turkey.
- Tomatillos. Also supplied by Mr.H. Varieties Purple Coban and Green Round. I've never eaten or even seen Tomatillos before, so I'm looking forward to trying that
- Litchi Tomato. Mr. H keeps giving off ominous remarks about this plant. I think it may be man-eating, or at the very least little kitten eating! So that should be interesting too.
- Cardoons, bianco gigante inerme a foglia intera. Something else new to me, although not considered an exotic in our area.
- Melon Tendrale Verde. A late green melon with pinkish flesh. I normally get volunteers of yellow melons from the compost, but haven't spotted any yet
- Red veined sorrel. At the back of some terraces where plain wild sorrel is quite happy too
- Mike's red lettuce and marjoram T8 amongst the gherkins near the almond tree.
- Courgettes. I sowed 3 different varieties this year Tondo Chiara di Nizza, a round variety and 2 long varieties Albarello di Sarzana and Genovese. Genoa is some 100km away from us and Sarzana only 5km, so both should be eminently suited to our climate. T9 amongst the left-overs of the brassica and T13 in front of the rows of sweet corn.
- celery green. T6 amongst the left-overs of the leeks. I sowed some celery late last year to get a winter crop, which only now is starting to be ready.
- Slenderette dwarf beans T11. I had sown some in Feb, because that's what the package recommended, but I thought at the time that it was a bit early. And right enough, they never showed, so re-sown those now for a later crop.
- Sunflower American Giant. T11. Mr.H tells me that everything in America is bigger. They have aphids the size of bumble bees which eat pizzas (!) and moles the size of small children! They also have sunflowers which grow to 4.8 metres tall! Last year's sunflowers were pretty, but also pretty useless in that the seeds were far too small to be useful, so I wanted something bigger. And Angelika sent me these monsters. Luckily I can plant them at the back of a terrace so I can harvest them from the terrace above.
Finally I sowed in the fridge (yes in the fridge! Mr.H tells me they need cold stratification...) echinacea and soapwort.
Right, if you people are still paying attention, here another episode of my visit to Franco the bicycle man. I have mentioned him before in this blog. He doesn't only repair bicycles, but also scooters, three-wheeler Ape vans, garden machinery etc. But bicycles are his passion. If my bike has a minor ailment, he fixes it in no time, and being an absolute perfectionist, he'll oil various parts, straighten your wheel, tighten a nut and pump up your tyres. When you offer him payment for all that he'll only accept a cup of coffee.
Today I went to see him about my petrol-driven strimmer, which wouldn't re-start after an idle winter. Now as you can imagine, he is always much in demand, so you have to wait your turn. In Italy a man getting his hands dirty over some mechanical job always attracts a crowd of onlookers, assisiting, advising, generally commenting, probing any piece of machinery which is being worked on and generally standing in the way. So this morning was no exception.
As I arrived Franco and 4 men were working on a bike. All that needed doing was changing the break pads and tyres, but with Franco being such a perfectionist and with all the "help" he was getting from the onlookers, this took some time. At some stage a lady pulled up in her battered Fiat Panda, who had bought a replacement bulb for her headlight. Couldn't Franco (not a car mechanic) replace that bulb for her quickly. His workshop sits right on a busy main road and this car was holding up traffic. So of course he did it and charged the lady one Euro.
The crowd of men in the meantime increased rapidly with the doctor bringing another strimmer and his chainsaw, some other neighbour, still in his work overall and gloves covered in grass cuttings pushed along a lawn mower, the "communist comrade" pulled up in his Ape as well as some cyclist friends of Franco.
At some stage a very old lady (she told me she was bor in 1916!) waddled by. Apparently she comes here most days just for the spectacle of what is Franco's workshop. She surveyed the scene for a moment, shook her head and went: "...6, 7, 8 assistants and the maestro. Does he need that many helpers? She proceeded to tell me of the beginnings of this workshop in 1956, when children could still play in the road. Now they would be risking life and limb! Then she was trying to tell me something in the local dialect, but Franco interupted her, saying I wouldn't understand. So she explained some terms used for a slightly upset tummy in the local dialect. I must find an occasion to use that in conversation some time!.
Anyway, at long last Franco got around to have a look at my machine. I had been waiting for the best part of an hour by then being thoroughly entertained though. After a few tests, he started shaking his head, saying "that'll cost you..." It was the starter motor that had gone. If back in the UK any handyman starts shaking their heads saying "it'll cost you..." whistling backwards through their teeth, it WILL cost you. You want to run a mile! With Franco though... After a good 45 minutes work, replacing a part that he found rummaging through the deeper recesses of his workshop which normally would have cost €69 just by itself, he sort of apologised to me for having to charge me €25!
So if anyone needing a repair of ANYTHING anywhere around here, I can thoroughly recommend Franco's workshop. And if you want to experience REAL Italian life, just come along and have a look over Franco's shoulder for a morning.
Oh and I fell in love... No not into the 94-year old lady, but a second-hand bicycle he has for sale. My old bike is going to give up it's ghost anytime soon. To be fair it has served me 10 years after only costing me £50 second-hand initially. This bike, with a strong, light-weight alumnium frame, 21 gears, a rear rack designed for proper loads was just smiling at me. I took it on a test ride. There was me thinking I was getting less fit with age, but it seems my old bike is just getting harder and harder to pedal, so that it feels like I'm going uphill even on the flat bits. I told him to put it aside until I've managed to rob the pension off an old lady to pay for the €180 he's asking for it.