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

To book an informative and fun wine tasting whilst holidaying in Italy or arrange for a wild food walk in your area contact me on tuscanytipple at libero dot it or check out my Facebook page

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Saturday, 15 December 2012

Another Book Review

This is just a quick update about another very kind review I have received from a fellow blogger, from the Wildcraft Diva over at the Wildcraft Vita.  She blogs about foraging and life in the countryside in Italy on the other side of the Appenines from us.  Do pop over and have a look here.  I know it might be a bit late for your Christmas shopping, but I believe there are still people out there who haven't bought my book yet!  :)

Sunday, 9 December 2012

The Forest Garden is Taking Shape

This sunny if cold weekend we have spent planting trees and shrubs for the forest garden.  Partially they were gifts for my birthday, some I brought back from Bulgaria from the Permaship project and a couple I just bought here in the last days.  Let me introduce you to the new members of the crew from top to bottom:

This is Raffaela the hibiscus (after the person who gave the plant to me for my birthday):

She was planted in the bed Ben made in the summer just beside the road.  Did you know that you can eat the flowers and leaves of hibiscus?

Next to Raffaela we planted... now I can't for the life of me remember who gave me this shrub, will the donor please come forward... so for the time being this is Myrtle, the myrtle shrub:

This produces excellent aromatic edible berries and leaves.  Great for making liqueurs.

Just below the caravan we planted a tiny Oregon Grape called Cat, after our first helpXer, who came from Oregon.  She is getting married soon too, so best wishes to you!

We planted another small one of those below the pond.  They are shade tolerant shrubs producing edible blue berries.

A few terraces down we planted Declan, the Decana Inverno pear tree:

This is a late ripening pear.  After I lost one of my 3 pear trees to the landslides, which damaged a second tree, which has now succumbed to illness, I've been meaning to replace them.  The other remaining pear tree is a very early variety.

Another two terraces down we planted Ronaldo the Portogallo fig tree, named after Portuguese footballer and probably most famous living Portuguese person Ronaldo:

Having also lost a fig tree in the same landslides two years ago, I wanted to replace it with a purple fruiting one, which is so much sweeter.

The main planting area was near the bottom of our land, where we already had two bay trees growing happily:

The centre piece here is Jenny, the Rotello apple tree (again after one of the donors of this tree)

Rotello is a local apple variety, relatively late ripening with a squat shape (the apple that is, not the tree) and sweet and sharp flavour.

This is Heike, the maidenhair or Gingko Biloba tree (also named after the donor, my friend Heike who came to see us all the way from Germany)

Maidenhair trees are not only decorative but they produce edible nuts and the leaves are also edible and have medicinal uses.  The only problem is you need a male and female, and whilst this one has a female name now, I have no idea what actual sex it is.  So must find it a partner once I do find out.

Not pictured are Yukako the Japanese quince tree (after my good friend Yukako in Kyoto), Conny the cornelian cherry, and a baby autumn olive, for which I haven't thought of name for yet.

On a slightly different matter, I have a habit of picking up seeds of various trees and then putting them in some pot to see what happens.  Sometimes I don't know what the tree is in the first place and I always forget what I put into the pots even if I did know.  Often of course those seeds don't show at all, but this one here did and I don't know what it is.  Anyone got any ideas?  It looks very pretty:

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

of Giving and Sharing and a Mad Road Trip

 From the photo above you can already guess that this isn't my usual kind of post about my garden or about wild food foraging or even Italy, and the last 3 weeks were anything but the usual.  Above you see the Thermal Baths of Sofia, Bulgaria.  But let me begin at the beginning...

Just over 2 weeks ago I celebrated my 50th birthday.  Yes it's official now: I'm an old man!  To lessen the pain I invited all my friends near and far to come and have a party with me and get senselessly trashed.  At this point I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to everybody who turned up and those who couldn't, but sent best wishes.  

Thank you all for your presence, warmth and love.

Thank your gifts of trees and plants (the forest garden is taking shape, more on the next post).

Thank you for your music, especially to the Tullamores playing Irish music and Litio all the way from Scagnello in Piemonte

 Thank you Bart for preparing a fantastic meal for the multitudes

Thank you to the best neighbours in the world for a great birthday cake

Thank you to my mother for having me, supporting me throughout my life and coming to my special event all the way from Germany at the age of almost 80!

Thank you to the people of Ponzano Superiore for excepting me / us as part of their community even if they probably think of us as slightly eccentric.

...and thank you to my friend Vasko for taking me on a mad road trip to his homeland of Bulgaria, more of which below...

...and not making me eat tripe soup...

...and also a thank you to Magi...

..and Elena...

...who showed me their respective home towns of Sofia and Plovdiv.

More thanks are due, and apologies for anyone I have left out.  I feel privileged to be loved by so many and I'll forever be in your debt.

Sorry about that slightly soppy interlude, what about that Bulgarian adventure I hear you ask.  Well, it's the stuff road movies are made out of.  Me and Vasko spent 10 days traveling around Bulgaria visiting wineries big...

and small...

...discussing Bulgarian history from the rebellion against the Turkish Yolk...

...to the Communists pointing guns at their own town hall...

...seeing ugly housing estates...

rich agricultural land...

...quaint hillside villages...

...and what might just become our next permaculture project...

I'll keep you posted on that one... :)

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

More floods and Landslides

Last week we were leveling the area above the pond a bit and securing it against potential landslide with the aid of helpers Rob and Cha Cha from Baltimore and and Colorado.  They survived the first storm in the caravan and sensibly left before the second storm (apparently cousins of Sandy...).  The second storm, last weekend did cause widespread damage in the region again, including numerous landslides, a bridge washed away up the valley and our friend Jan having her cellars flooded and her paths covered in mud.

The storm was forcast, so we tried to secure the bit above our pond as well as possible, but... it wasn't good enough.  When checking while the rains were still on the pond was filling up nicely and everything was hunky dory, but today we discovered that the boards above the pond had give way and has turned the pond into one big mud hole. 

It wasn't too tragic though.  We just spent a few hours strengthening the area above again with cuttings from the hazel, which was threatening to engulf a nearby olive and a fig tree anyway.  It's looking a lot safer now and we'll plant some trees up there soon to make sure it'll stay in place.

There's some mud which needs excavating out of the pond again, but beneath and on the rest of the land everything is fine.

Saturday I'll be having my big 50th birthday party and afterwards it looks like I may be going on a wee trip.  More on those things when I get back.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Winter Approaching Early

Winter has arrived early with us this year with snow up on the nearby mountains already and heavy rains last weekend and more forecast for this afternoon and next weekend.  I suppose I shouldn't complain and my thoughts are with those of you affected by Sandy, the edge of which is meddling with the weather on our side of the Pond too.  

And talking about the pond... I dug my pond (or should I say our helpers did) as an anti-landslide measure amongst other things (also to attract biodiversity, save water and attract mosquito eaters).  Much of the water running down our steep slope is now channeled into the pond, but I was a little concerned about the area just below the pond, where all the earth excavated from the pond was now lying loosely, ready to roll during the next heavy rainfall.  

So knowing those winter rains were on their way I took to measures to prevent the earth from moving:  First I sowed some ground cover at the beginning of October on the flatter top area:

Grass you think?  Well kind of.  It's actually farro which is an old spelt variety, which is still grown mostly in Northern Tuscany.  So I'll have some grains to harvest too next year and the roots will hopefully hold the soil in place.

Then on the steeper lower part of the excavation I built two sub-terraces from old wardrobe doors:

You can see they still have mirrors on them, which also should improve the microclimate in this almost north-facing area.  In the two contour beds that I have thus created I planted broad beans last week, which should help add a bit of nitrogen to the otherwise poor soil there.

During the winter I will also plant some trees or shrubs along there to further stabilise the slope.  This was all done before last weekend's heavy rains and I'm pleased to say it all held well.  The pond meanwhile filled nicely with water and almost sealed.  

As I needed some stakes to secure the doors for the bed, I took the opportunity to prune back my hazel shrub, the left-overs went into a bed I had built previously also below the pond, which I'm planning as a soft fruit bed (raspberries, currants and gooseberries).

This will make the basis of a nice rich soil in a kind of reverse hugelkultur.  Any excess water from the pond will be channeled into this bed.

Yesterday we had a break in the weather and the warm and dry summer has resulted in our olives being mature much earlier than usual.  So while I was on one of the lower terraces chopping wood, Bart and Susan picked our first olives.  We won't have enough to make oil this year, but a plentiful supply of eating olives.  They are exceptionally healthy this year.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Wild Food of the Month: The Stinging Nettle

Today I'm singing the praises of the humble stinging nettle, probably the best known and most easily recognised weed in the world.  But first of all an apology for the relative silence on my blog.  I've been kind of busy lately with this and that.  After returning from the latest Permaculture course at the end of September, I launched back into some anti-landslide measures (more of that later, once I have discovered if they have held after this weekends torrential rains...), I worked on a garden design for a friend nearby (I'll give you some insights about that too soon), I ran a wild food walk in the mountains for a group of ladies from Colorado and I had a visit from Virginia, a follower of my blog from Iowa.  On top of all that I am planning a surprise birthday party for myself, as I'll be turning 50 in 3 weeks time.

But to come back to my subject, it's fairly common knowledge that the stinging nettle (urtica dioica) is edible, but most people are reluctant to try it, because they associate the plant with the stinging sensation on your skin, the last thing you want to feel in your mouth.  Think again though, because the nettles is full of nutritious goodness with high concentrations of iron, vitamins and essential minerals.  Medicinally it is used as a blood purifier and cleansing tonic.  Dried powdered leaves can be sniffed to stop a nose bleed.  They also stem internal or external bleeding, including menstrual bleeding.  It stimulates the circulation, it is used in the treatment of athritic rheumatims, it's a diuretic and can reverse prostate enlargement.  The list of it's health benefits goes on.

So how do you use it then?  Well, when dried or cooked the stinging effect goes and they become safe to handle.  So for medicinal use simply dry the leaves and make a tea from them.  To eat, a nettle soup is tasty, but I would like to share a recipe with you that I learned from my friend Gabriele at the last Permaculture course:

Nettle Pesto:  Non-Italians often only think of the one kind of pesto, Pesto Genovese, with basil, pine kernels and Parmesan cheese, but pesto simply is anything mashed together to a paste, originally with a pestle and mortar.  This is a really simple recipe, which you can vary to your own taste.

  • A couple of handfuls of young nettle leaves (some machos out there pick them with their bare hands... I wear gloves!)
  • about 30 shelled hazelnuts
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • salt
  • olive oil
  • Optional extras: a few sprigs of lemon balm and mint.  1 finely chopped tomato
Blend all the ingredients except the tomato in a blender (or a pestle and mortar if you prefer).  Stir in the tomato, if used.  Serve on crostini or on pasta.  

I've tested this recipe on a few people recently with great success.  And yes, the sting goes treated like this too.

One word of caution: Do not use old nettle leaves as they may be an irritant to the kidneys.

And to those living near me... Next Sunday, 4 November I will be going on my traditional winter berry walk followed by a jam making session.  Anybody wanting to join me, send us a message.

Monday, 15 October 2012

The Power of We - Blog Action Day 2012

This is the third time I am participating in Blog Action Day, an international event where a load of bloggers write a piece around a certain theme.  The last couple of years we talked about water and food (roots in my particular case).  This year, chosen by popular vote, the theme is "The Power of We". 

I must admit it wasn't my choice of theme and I'm struggling to get an angle on this, but I kind of committed to write something along with the 15,000+ other bloggers all over the world.  If the theme was "The Power of Wee", I'd give you a nice piece on how to use your urine on your land as a free fertilizer... hey maybe next time.  Like this I find the theme a little too general and obvious.  Of course we are stronger as a community than as individuals, does one need to add anything to it?

This year, 2012, has been a particularly poignant year for me as far as feeling the strength in numbers is concerned.  I have joined a new community of like-minded people and have gained a whole bunch of new friends with a common interest.  I'm talking about the permaculture community.

As already much talked about I went on a Permaculture Design Course back in May in Scagnello, Piemonte.  There I met some of the most inspiring people in my life.  The interesting thing was that most turned up as individuals, disillusioned at the current state of the world and feeling very much on their own, and we left, having found we were not alone and there are positive changes each of us can make as individuals and collectively as a group.

This group has since May been in constant contact, friendships which will last a lifetime have been formed and action is being taken.  The latest project is to form a non-profit publishing company, translating permaculture books into Italian to further spread the word.  I and a few others from our course have in the meantime been to more courses where we now help with the teaching and organising of them, meeting more like-minded people.  And so the community grows and flourishes.

As a group of course we are geographically quite widely spread throughout Italy as well as around the globe, but advice is always available with a quick e-mail, word about any action is quickly spread and some of us have been around helping others within the community with their projects.  Down near Rome some people gathered to help one of our friends build a combined chicken shed / greenhouse, which was one of the designs from our course, digging a pond and doing a baking course.  Some participants from the PDC course in July gathered around my place to help dig a pond and design an erosion slowing bed.  I know there will be many more occasions like this where we all will get together and learn from each other.  And we've come to rely on each other as this little trust game at the end of the most recent PDC course at the end of September demonstrates (no this is not kind of group lap dance...) (photo courtesy of Andrea Raparo)

The other aspect of The Power of We that comes to mind is our continued desire to join an intentional community, an eco-village, whatever you want to call it.  Many within the permaculture community have similar ideas, so maybe some of us will even end up sharing this particular dream.  It's not that where we live isn't a reasonably good community.  Our village consists of some 250 inhabitants and most are very friendly.  Help is available when help is needed, whether it be with a problem with the computer or needing some fresh eggs.  Everyone is happy to talk to you and we are accepted as the slightly eccentric foreigners in the village.

However what we are looking for is a community of like-minded people sharing labour, skill, knowledge and above all love freely.  We are not the youngest any more (I'll be 50 next month (!)) and the regular grind of cycling or walking to our land (which is 10km from our house) is becoming too much.  It looks like 2013 is going to see us making some real progress in that direction.  It may still mean the end of our time in Italy, but who knows what is around the corner.  I will keep you posted on this.

On a slightly different note, I'm proud to have had my first book review by a fellow blogger who writes a really nice blog about wild flowers and Jazz music (yes a strange combination, but I like it!).  Check it out over at an Entangled Bank.  Thank you Lo Jardinier!!!

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Wild Food of the month: Savoury

On Friday we decided to hit the mountain road.  A little rain and a crisp easterly wind have cleared the air affording us some spectacular views over the sea.  So we drove down the coast a little and drove up this road into the Apuan Alps above the city of Massa.  The Apuan Alps are famous for their Carrarra marble.

Our destination was a botanic garden where I was hoping to find some interesting native plants: the Orto Botanico "Pietro Pellegrini".  If you are travelling in this area I can't recommend this place highly enough.  It is a natural rather than a formal botanic garden displaying the local flora only on a spectacular mountain setting.  It lies at over 900m altitude and the sea lies just below you.

As for practicalities, the place is open from May to September, entrance is free and you get a guide thrown in as well.  Ours was a charming natural science student from Pisa:

Spring no doubt would be the better time to visit when they have dozens of orchid species in flower.  However one of my discoveries of the day was wild winter savourysatureia montana.  

I have long known this herb and routinely grow it amongst beans, but I have never seen it in its wild habitat, which is the mountainous regions of the Mediterranean.  

For those not familiar with this herb, it is to beans what basil is to tomatoes.  It makes a great companion plant to beans, but it also combines well with beans on the plate.  Not only does the warm, peppery taste go well with beans, it also aids digestion and prevents excessive bloating, which can of course be a problem with beans.  It associates so well with beans that in German they in fact call it Bohnenkraut", which means bean herb.

A tea made from the herb is also good as a blood cleanser.  Leaves rubbed onto a bee sting is a traditional cure.  And bees get attracted to the flowers if you have this herb growing in your garden.  Now I know where to find it in the wild.

And finally... Eddie the Beagle also had a great day out.  Here he is doing his mountain goat impression:

Monday, 3 September 2012


Some of you might remember me suffering some sort of foot injury about a month ago.  After some work on the land my left foot all of sudden swoll up to almost 3 times its normal size, became bright red and hugely painful.  After a few days of not being able to walk I finally let myself be dragged kicking and screaming to the hospital (I don't trust the medical profession much...).  They seemed generally puzzled as to what this might be, but without doing any further tests put me antibiotics.  They didn't do the trick either and 2 weeks on I was still not walking.  So I hobbled to my GP, who put me on different antibiotics.  After another week I finally started walking a bit and the pain lessened, so I thought the second lot of antibiotics had some effect, but I was still none the wiser as to the cause.  Even now, almost a month later I still can't get that foot into a shoe.

Yesterday my neighbour suggested maybe I've got bitten by a centipede.  We looked at a couple of pictures on the internet and I said, yep I've seen one like this one around:

I've seen a couple scuttling about where we have dug the hole for the pond.  Looked a bit like that one and about 15cm long.  I had no idea they bite!  Well I looked up centipede bite and lo and behold, the symptoms were pretty much like described above.  In people less healthy than myself they can also cause heart palpitations and a racing pulse.  People allergic to bee stings can also have nasty episodes from a bite from one of those fellows.  Also children and the elderly are at risk of having much worse consequences than I have experienced.

This will certainly teach me to put my be-sandalled feet in places where I can't see them.  But before you go and irradicate any you see, centipedes do play an important role in the soil food web(as explained in the same post I showed you my dodgy foot...), both as predators as well as prey.  They are pretty much carnivors and eat a lot of other insects including pests.  And they provide a welcome meal for birds, lizards, mice and snakes.  It's never a good idea to take out a link in the food chain, but rather attract predators to control your potential problem.  So once the pond is in action it will also attract wildlife to control these creatures.

Oh and apparently antibiotics don't do anything against the bites.  Pain killers and / or cortisone tend to be prescribed to treat the symptoms.  Else your body just has to cope with it.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Amusing pet movie of the week...

This is Eddie the crazy Beagle.  I suppose it's one way to scratch your back...

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

The book is finally out!

Just a short post, to let everyone I haven't told yet know, my book finally is available to order!

This is the blurb on the back cover:

A guide to over 130 of the most common edible and medicinal plants in Western Europe, aimed at the long‐distance or casual hiker along the main pilgrim routes through Western Europe. The author has had some 40 years of experience in foraging and though a Dutchman by birth, has been at home all over Europe including Germany, Ireland, England and for the last 8 years in Italy along the Via Francigena pilgrim route, where he feeds his family as a subsistence farmer, cultivating a small piece of Ligurian hillside along permaculture principles, and by gathering food from the wild. 

You can order it directly from the publisher, from Amazon (for those in the US) or send us an e-mail to order directly from me on tuscanytipple at libero dot it. 

Monday, 20 August 2012

Close to the Edge

 "A seasoned witch could call you from the depths of your disgrace,
And rearrange your liver to the solid mental grace,
And achieve it all with music that came quickly from afar,
Then taste the fruit of man recorded losing all against the hour.
And assessing points to nowhere, leading ev'ry single one.
A dewdrop can exalt us like the music of the sun,
And take away the plain in which we move,
And choose the course you're running."

Todays post starts a little unusually with some 1970's prog rock, I picked a short version of Close to the Edge by Yes, I'll explain the relevance in a minute...

I'm talking about permaculture again and wild food foraging.  What's that got to do with THE EDGE I hear you ask.  Having traveled a little to other parts of Italy recently in the name of permaculture, a friend coined the new term 'permaculturing around', I realised that I am in a very privileged position in living in an area with an enormous variety of edible plants.  I find some 150 different species of edible and/or medicinal wild plants during the course of a year within an hour's walk from my home.  I had always put that down to the favourable climate of Italy in general compared to the more northern climes where I grew up, but it turns out that we live on a special place within Italy and I started wondering why.

One of the main objectives of permaculture is that we observe nature, see how ecology works and then apply those principles to our designs, because nature does not need any outside intervention and is therefore self-sustaining.  Wild food foraging is a great exercise in observation.  You start to look around you much more and seeing things you normally miss.  Soon you start realising that certain plants prefer certain conditions such as micro-climates, soil conditions, the way they often associate with other plants and how those plants can in fact be an indicator of existing conditions.  One of the main observation you start making is that you find the greatest biodiversity on 'edges'.

It makes perfect sense of course once you start thinking about it:

If you go into the middle of a forest there is only little light available so you won't find many ground covering plants, whilst in the middle of an open field you will find that certain herbs and grasses will quickly dominate the scene.  However if you look at where the two meet you will find the greatest biodiversity, not only of plants, but also of animals.  There is more light available then in the woods, also the forest acts as a windbreak, catching seeds and organic material on the edge and animals normally at home in either of the two environments will occasionally come to the edge where they can feast on the greater diversity of the plants.  In addition a number of species evolve that specialise in colonising the edges of different biotopes, meaning that on the edge there is a greater variety of life than the combined sum of the two.  This is known as the 'edge effect'.

There are many more examples for the edge effect.  Where water meets land, land animals come to drink, fish catch flies, predators eat both and frogs are happy inbetween.  There are aquatic, semi-aquatic and land plants meeting at the same place and all the animals that go with them.  This happens next to lakes:


...and of course by the sea.  Then we have have mountains meeting valleys:

or the edge of a path.  Water runs off the path giving an opportunity for many plants to flourish on the side of the path.  Sometimes the seeds hitch a ride with whoever goes along the path:

Or you may even have several edges meeting at the same time, such as wood, land and water.

Any birdwatcher worth their salt knows that the greatest variety of birds are found in river estuaries, where the river meets the sea.  There are seasonal 'edges': spring and autumn edge around the poorer seasons of summer and winter.  In short edges is where things tend to happen in nature.

Now coming back to where I live.  Within a radius of about 25km as the fly crows... the cry fl...flow cries... around here we have two major mountain ranges of up to 2,000m altitude, the Appenines and the Apuan Alps, we have the Ligurian Sea and the sheltered Gulf of La Spezia, 2 river valleys meeting just below us, the Vara and the Magra, which combine to exit into the Mediterranean and we have extensive woodlands all around us.

If you imagine flying towards us, as you come in from the sea, which is in a general southerly direction of us, you follow up the wide river delta and the hill we live on is the first one you encounter, rising up to 300m.  Should you fly further upriver along either river, you will find the valleys narrowing directly afterwards, giving rise to a much more continental climate within only a few kilometres.  Uphill from us, you'd be flying above a complete cover of chestnut and oak woods.

So we get all the species of all those different biotopes as well as the edge species, cormorants and eagles, saltwater fish and freshwater fish, woodland edge species and plants that like growing in the open, migrating birds such as bee-eaters and passing flamingos and all that goes with it.  And of course aforementioned wild plants.

And that's the reason I live at such a privilegded place.  Also the farmers around us are mostly small-scalle subsistence farmers growing crops mostly for own consumption.  That means few chemicals are used, there are many edges between relatively small plots of land, vegetables are interplanted within vineyards and olive groves, little machinery is used and a lot of natural ground cover plants are allowed to flourish amongst the cultivated fields.  Sometimes cultivated crops are allowed to go to seed and sow themselves out, becoming part of the general flora.  Examples are alfalfa, which is sown as nitrogen fixing cover crop like this one on the edge of a wall:

this Jerusalem artichoke, which has long seized to be a cultivated crop in Italy since the introduction of the potato in Italy:

or this sow thistle just on the edge of a pavement in downtown Milan, surviving on the little dirt which accumulates by the side in a little crack away from the pounding feet of pedestrians:

"Down at the edge, round by the corner,
Not right away, not right away.
Close to the edge, down by a river,
Not right away, not right away."
 If, incidentally you are wondering what that Yes song is all about, apparently it was inspired by Herman Hesse's novel Siddharta, a story telling the life of a young Brahmin in India during the time of the Buddha.  He spends his whole life trying to find himself and the meaning of life until he finally settles down as a ferryman by the edge of a river, where he finds peace and wisdom by observing the ever-flowing, ever-changing yet un-changing river.

 "Crossed the line around the changes of the summer,
Reaching out to call the color of the sky.
Passed around a moment clothed in mornings faster than we see.
Getting over all the time I had to worry,
Leaving all the changes far from far behind.
We relieve the tension only to find out the master's name."

It's all a bit cryptic, but good song anyway...

So how can we utilise the EDGE effect for ourselves.  First of all when going out foraging look for edges, that's where you are most likely to find a great variety of plants.  Keep your eyes peeled next time you are out on a walk.  Secondly when designing a garden create edges.  I designed my pond with as much edge as possible, not just one simple round or oval, but with a wiggly outline, narrow bits and wider bits.  The more edge, the more biodiversity.  Instead of planting your veg in straight lines, try wavy lines.  That way you can also fit more plants into the same area.  Plan vertical as well as horizontal to maximise the space and create edges.  Hedges aren't called that for nothing, they make excellent edges which encourages wildlife and biodiversity which will benefit your garden.

The edge effect also works within human society.  On the edges between different social groups, various sciences, age groups mingling etc is where we can learn most.  Look over the edge of your own horizon to open it up.  Where philosophers meet physists new knowledge arises, when the young listen to the old and vice versa we learn from each other.  And aren't those people who live on the edge of society, those who don't follow every trend like sheep, the ones who will ulitimately change the way we behave, think and live?  I certainly hope so.  

On that philosphical note, let's all move away from the comfortable centre and become 'cutting edge' and there's hope for the human race yet.