orWine Tastings in the Comfort of you own villa or B&B while on holiday in Tuscany or Liguria

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Tuesday, 31 May 2011

On Weeds and the Meaning of Life

Every plant-loving gardener massacres plants by the tens of thousands every year. A market gardener kills millions every week.  And their only crime is that they are seeking their place in the sun.  Tragic isn't it?  For them, natural selection has been superseded by the whim of a bloke with a sharp stick.
Chas Griffin from More Scenes from a Smallholding

It's the time of year again where we battle against those un-invited guests in our gardens: weeds.  Don't you hate them?  We spend so much time detroying plants instead of getting on with the real job of growing plants.  But hey, hang on a sec...is this really so?

First of all we need to define weeds.  They are spontaneously growing plants on cultivated land on which we have high hopes of growing something else.  But are all weeds bad?  Let's take a look at some of them.

On the photo above Susan is clearing the plants threatening to engulf some coriander and chives seedlings.  I like coriander... and chives.... not so much grass or these tall plants pretending to be parsley when young.  So weeds = bad.

Amongst all this here I'll be searching for shiso, parsley and leeks.  Again, not good.

But, what about this one:

 In front of my experimental plot of Greek corn several leafy plants like this have popped up.  Wild beet.  Delicious and heathy eaten just like spinach.  Also pretty non-invasive, so we'll let that one live (until it ends up in the soup, that is... or the vegetable tart...)

Or what about this one:

Amongst my tomatillo plants, there's some fleshy ground covering stuff, what's that?  Purslane.  The best source of Omega-3-Fatty Acids in any land based food.  Great in salads.  Again we leave it where it is and eat it over the summer with tomatoes and cucumber.  Mind you I can spot one of those pretend parsleys amongst that crowd too!)

And then there's this one:

Pigweed.  A relation of amaranth and considered a superweed by Monsanto farmers, because it is resistant to roundup.  I like it for that simple reason alone.  It is also edible cooked like spinach.  However it is rather invasive and there's only so much of it you can eat.  So I've been pulling some out where it threaten to take over my Buenos Aires beans and left some elsewhere, where it wasn't so much in the way.

Do you recognise this one?

Of course!  Borage.  Flowers and leaves are extremely tasty in salads or stuffed into ravioli.  Some people sow them deliberately, but mine came from nowhere and I leave it wherever it feels comfortable.  It's only an annual plant anyway and is loved by bees.

And this one here is entwined with a pretty yellow flower behind a squash plant:

Not only has that plant pretty yellow flowers it also attracts bees and other pollinators galore, a good thing for the garden.

You see, it's not always so simple to tell what is a weed and what isn't.  Many are edible or in other ways beneficial to your garden. 

This has also got me thinking of the quote above.  Plant-loving gardeners killing tens of thousands of plants every year?  Well do we?  I actually find it very hard to actually kill a weed.  And how to do you count how many species you manage to eliminate.  Going over a bed with a hoe will keep the weeds down for about.... a day?  The same species will come straight back at you.  Even if you employ the mind bogglingly boring and tedious finger and thumb method, pulling the weeds out by the root, you'll succed in keeping them down for maybe... 3 days... if you are very lucky.

And aren't those plants the same individuals?  Just a fraction of the root stays in the soil and imediately push up a new plant.  Genetically the exact same as the previous one.  Is this not the same plant that you 'killed' 3 days ago?  Are they like the Lord Jesus and come back after 3 days?  It's a miracle!!!

Some weeds have such long tap roots shoots of the same plant pop up several metres apart, like the bamboo that continiues to defy all our efforts to eliminate it.  Or grass.  How do you define an individual gras plant on a lawn or meadow?  It makes you think, doesn't?  Well it makes my tiny brain wonder anyway....

If the borders between individual plants are a bit blurred, maybe our whole idea of individual lifeforms doesn't fit.  With the whole world, all life on earth being intricately connected, maybe the whole idea of us being individuals is an illusion.  After all our bodies are made from second hand bits that once were something or someone else and are constantly being replaced.

My ethics are built on the fact that if all life is inter-connected anything I do to hurt another life-form ultimately comes back to me.  This doesn't mean that I won't hurt other life forms.  Apart from me killing tens of thousands of weeds I also kill plants to eat, not to mention animals.  It's part of life that we do so.  But it does mean that I do my best not to contribute to the wholesale destruction of the planet, because ultimately it's me, or what will be left over of me and transformed into another lifeform and another and another etc that will be hurt.

So treat all life with respect, you may come back as a Monsanto defying amaranth plant...  With this, happy summer everyone!

Oh and finally... the fruit season has begun, hooray:

Monday, 23 May 2011

Summer in full swing

I'm happy to report that after last year's disastrous May this year the weather has turned if anything to the opposite.  We have had no significant rain for, ooh I don't know..., at least 6 weeks.  So watering is a daily task (above Susan watering the corn) and we're taking advantage of the long dry spell to spend as much time as possible out on the land repairing the landslide damage from last winter, leaving very little time for blogging or reading blogs.  I'm evidently not the only one though who is too busy elsewhere to blog.

To give you just a small sample of things we are harvesting at the monent, here is some chicory:

We finally found a pea variety that is doing well for us although the name escapes me just now.  We also have some sugar snaps doing well sent to me from a dear Floridanean blogger friend.

We are gourging ourselves on letrtuce such as oakleaf lettuce:

...and Mike's Red Lettuce:

But the main news at the moment is that after a recent appeal to friends and family for some support after last winter's catastrophic damage, we have been very lucky to receive many generous gifts, including some tools, seeds and... a caravan.  Now those of you who have seen our land will be wondering, where on earth are they going to place a caravan on those steep and narrow terraces?

We pondered that same question for a long while, but were to busy with rebuiding beds, so we'd have at least some sort of crop this year.  We had a vague idea that the top terrace near the road would only need a little widening and then all we'd need was for someone to tow the caravan to the top and then someone with a crane who could lift it down a bit from the road.  Then we'd have to dig some steps into the terrace below the caravan so you wouldn't fall 8 feet down as you stepped out of the thing...

So with the continued help of my cousin Bart, we started digging to widen the terrace, and then all of a sudden the answer came to us!  We'll level the a huge bump separating the top terrace from the road, so we could simply push the caravan in and not having to invest into the hire of a crane.  All it needed was shifting some... 30 cubic metres... or so... of earth and... put it... somewhere else...

We soon realised this was causing all sorts of problems.  First we had to support the terrace from below as it all of a sudden it was half metre higher and a ton heavier.  Some earth went above to be put back later, so water wouldn't run down our terraces but along the road in heavy rains.  Then we built a little mini terrace on the side.  Some more earth went on another bit along the road, making sure future floodwaters were diverted from our land.

And finally everything else was just chucked in the corner, where it can do what it likes:

We've been working extremely hard on this for the last few days in searing heat.  We're not quite there yet, but I'll let you see the final result.  There's only about a foot to go.  I bet you can't wait for the result.  A caravan is going to enable us to spend large parts of the summer on the land.  Any future helpXers can stay there.  It would just improve our lives so much.  Another week or so...

Sunday, 1 May 2011

April update

I know, I've got behind a bit with blogging, we've just been so busy!  One helpXer left to find her luck in Madagascar and the next one, Alex from Canada has arrived.  Alex has been busy helping us with the ongoing repairs to the terraces after the winter landslides, preparing beds for planting and watering the young plants everywhere.  Here just a quick pictorial record on how things are looking:, in no particular order:

Ronny, the rennette apple tree looks like giving us more than 1 apple for the first time

The corn is growing on one of the upper terraces:

On a separate plot a small experimental bed of special Greek corn, which is supposed to be particularly drought resistant.  I was given the seeds by Gaia's Hope from Greece.

The kale is holding its own above the encroaching weeds.

One of the repaired terraces, although narrower than before, now supports multi-coloured Swiss chard.

The new cold frame is stuffed full of lettuce including the delicious Mike's red lettuce and oakleaf lettuce as well as some raddishes and mooli.

The top of one of the new supporting tyre walls is now sprouting courgettes.

The old cold frame that had ended up on the edge of a cliff face after the landslides is now secure again and has some broccoli growing in it amongst other things.

Two tipis that will support Buenos Aires beans supplied to me by a dear gardening friend in France.  The are apparently prolific climbing beans producing flat, tender green beans.

My first try at scorzanera is showing this year inside a deep bottomless bucket.

Al the almond tree is promising his first yield this year, whilst Capone is still a little shy.

Stud the kiwi is brimming with flower buds, but unfortunately his harem is not following suit (he's called Stud because he's the male amongst the females.  Unfortunately he doesn't bear fruit, he's only there to pollinate the females,,,)

...and finally the sugar snap peas will soon be ready!  Hmmmmm!

On the minus side, we have a vastly reduced broad bean harvest this year with many of the plants buried under the landslides.  On the wild food front, it's elderflower time!  Making a new batch of elderflower champagne every few days and eating elderflower fritters.  The joys of spring!