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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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!!!