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

Total Pageviews

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Another Natural Disaster!

Someone obviously wants to tell us something...  My camera has finally given up it's ghost, so no photos of the devastation this time.  Northern Italy was rocked by a 5.4 magnitude earthquake yesterday afternoon.  We were in Florence with a friend for the day and didn't notice anything, but Cousin Bart and Eddie the Beagle stayed at home and got one almighty fright.

Listening to the various accounts, many people have felt the tremors, but we appear to be the only ones who have actually sustained any damage.  Apparently it rained some 200 bricks off of our 3-storey high roof onto the little piazza outside our front door.  Half the roof, many of the stone gutters and possibly a chimney have collapsed on our 300 year old building.  The emergency services have sealed off our front door and the area in front of our house.  There is still a lot of loose debris up there.  Also many of the large stones the locals use for holding down there roof tiles, look precariously close to the edge all of a sudden.

Miraculously we have not been evacuated as the structure inside the building still appears sound.  We don't own the the top floor of the building, so are not directly beneath the roof.  Now we are just hoping there are no more shocks (it was the second in the 3 days) making the damage any worse and no heavy rains, which may pour through the damaged roof.

It's quite ironic this happening in the aftermath of the recent floods and us being in the process of considering to move on.  Somebody seems to be giving us rather large hints here...

Tuesday, 17 January 2012


I'm doing an online permaculture course at the moment and I'm reading Gaia's Garden by Toby Hemenway as part of that.  Both highly recommended and free.  If you want to try the course, just click on the link above and ignore the FBI copyright notice, it will go after a minute or so.

Anyway, the first rule of permaculture is to observe.  Observe nature and see how it works, so you can copy it and observe your plot of land to see what wants to grow there, what are your general conditions.  So, the other day I took a leisurely stroll through my terraces on a sunny spring-like day, taking note of what I saw.

I have already identified many edible and medicinal species on our land before and, as our land is to 50% vertical, I let most weeds grow on those parts.  I really only use half my land for planting, i.e. the horizontal parts.  Species of 'weeds' I picked up on this at this time of year included: dandelion, primroses, sorrel (loads and loads), borage, wild parsley, wild leek, goosegrass, oregano, yarrow, wood sorrrel, wild strawberries, mallow, corn cockle, fennel, wild beet to name but a few. 

But then there was this pretty yellow flower pictured above (in flower now!) which I couldn't immediately identify.  Always the intrepid explorer I picked some leaves and a flower, rubbed them together and had a sniff... Not much smell to it.  So I popped a flower in my mouth and boy(!) it was delicious.  It has a really nice sweet flavour to it.  I thought to myself something so tasty couldn't be poisonous, so I ate some more.  Back home I checked out my herb books and identified it as common toadflax.  It's nowhere described as an edible, but it does have medicinal properties aiding in bladder problems and also liver complaints.  Although I have seen it described as mildly toxic (hey so is Tequila!), I have not noticed any ill effects on me.  I shall sprinkle a few onto future salads I reckon.  Hurray for edible weeds. 

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Woodland garden plans and carbon off-setting

We're back from the mountains and have survived the festive season in one piece.  We are now at the beginning of a new year and a new growing season, wondering where the path to self sufficiency is going to take us next.  I have already mentioned that we are toying with the idea of joining or setting up an eco-community.  This is still very much on our minds and I'll write a bit more about it next time around.

In the meantime though it's time to plan what we are going to do with our land for this year.  I'm all for living in the now and not abandoning half projects, just because of some future plan which may or may not come to fruition.  I have now decided to turn our 18 crumbling terraces into a permaculture woodland garden, planting at least 30 more trees and shrubs.  The roots should therefore help keep the hill from sliding down, minimising erosion and self-fertilise the soil.  Everything I am planning to grow will have some edible use to it.  I doodled around a bit making a little collage of plants I'd like to plant:

As those of you who follow my blog regularly may know, we already have quite a few permanent features on our land, some 100 trees and shrubs.  Apart from the usual suspects of olive, apple, pear, peach, cherry, plum trees etc, I'd like to grow a few exotics.  I've done a bit of research, many of the following will be difficult to find in Italy, as Italians don't go much for the unusual.  So if anyone out there can help me obtain cuttings, seeds or knows where I could get hold of plants, please let me know.

Here's a list of what I'm looking for:

For the canopy level:
  • A mulberry tree.  Never seen one here, but should be able to find one.
  • Japanese Dogwood.  Don't know this tree, but it is said to grow to 10m and produce some nice fruit.
  • Hawthorn:  Leaves and berries are edible (see my haw ketchup and haw jelly) as well as hugely medicinal as a heart tonic.
  • Elder: for the flowers and berries
  • A lime tree:  Apparently the young leaves are really tasty in salads.
For the shrub layer:

  • Black and redcurrants
  • Flowering Maple (abutilon vitifolium): This small tree flowers abundantly and the flowers are edible with a pleasant mild flavour used in salads.
  • Juneberry (amelanchier): a 2-3 m shrub bearing small currant like fruit in mid-summer
  • Strawberry tree
  • Autumn Olive trees:  I saved some seeds from the last wild harvest
  • Myrtle: With the previous two the fruit of this makes my delicious Christmas jam!
  • Salt bush: The leaves and young shoots of this plant make a tasty spinach substitute or can be added to salads.
  • Tree collards and daubenton: These are two varieties of perennial brassica, the latter from the kale family.  I understand they quite tricky to find, so if anyone has any seeds of these...?
  • Dwarf quince: Not a true quince, but the flavour of the fruit of this small tree is very similar to quince
  • Cornelian cherry: A 5m shrub flowering bright yellow in winter and producing some cherry-like fruit in summer
  • Blue Sausage Tree:  Now this has got to be my favourite!  I've never seen this, but this 4m tall shrub bears blue sausage shaped fruits, which looks disgusting but tastes good.  Anyone know where I can find one of those?
  • Eleagnus: A genus of evergreen or deciduous shrubs producing delicious fruit with edible seeds
  • Fuchsia: Not sure how well this would do with us, but the flowers are actually edible.
  • Wolfberry or gojiberry:  I've heard a lot about the nutritious values of this little berry.  I'd love to get hold of a few shrubs
  • Oregon grape: Medium -sized shrub with blue edible berries
  • Chilean guava: Not a true guava producing small deliciously aromatic fruit in flavour somewhere between a wild strawberry and a guava

On top of that of course a herbaceous layer as well as some climbers such as some additional kiwis, some ground nut (edible roots) and
Schisandra rubiflora (tall fruit bearing climber).

Apart from the fact that many of the above plants will not be easily obtainable in Italy we have one other problem, our perennial shortage of money to buy these plants.  A recent blog post from Jeremy on Make Wealth History gave me an idea though.  He blogs about many issues surrounding the threat of global warming and tries to offer solutions to the problem we face on earth.  He himself strives to keep his own carbon footprint low and has recently been wondering how to off-set his rest carbon emission.

So if anyone out there would like to make a positive impact to counter-balance their direct or indirect emissions, you could donate to the 'Pathtoselfsufficiency Tree Planting Fund'.  Ok I'm not certified and I can't tell you exactly how much you reduce your carbon by, but I promise I will give you a full report on exactly the trees your money has helped to plant. I will even individually name the tree, as some concerned friends of mine have already found out when I showed them around introducing them to trees by name (Stan the plum, Ollie the olive tree, Simon the cherry tree, Bela you can call him Edgar the olive tree, Walter the walnut tree, Al and Capone the almond trees, Ronny the rennet apple tree etc...).  Any donations would be very welcome.  :)  Tree planting will start in early spring.