It’s been a few years since we have planted a successful veggie garden. This year we tentatively set up a couple of raised beds and purchased the minimum amount of seedlings and I’m happy to report that so far most of our babies are growing successfully. (Our biggest threat has been an earwig infestation which has resulted in me going out each night with a torch and flicking the little creatures off our tasty plants.)
I felt like I needed a mentor, my confidence, though improved, was still smarting from previous crop failures. Our dear friend Bruno visited last week, which reminded me that his father lives around the corner and is an enthusiastic gardener who supplements his diet with an impressive spread of vegetables grown in his back yard. (Dom and ‘the boys’ were born in S.Angelo in Italy where the family had owned land and a fine cart pulled by the family’s two cows. Dom has even made a small replica of the ‘cows and cart’.)
I asked Bruno if he thought his father would be willing to help me, and suddenly it was all organised! We agreed to meet up over the weekend so I ventured over with a list of questions in mind. Of course I have a heap of books on the subject and I could just ‘google it’ but I have tried these methods before and they just haven’t stuck so I decided that the only option was to spend time with a real live experienced gardener. Fortunately Bruno and his brother Tony were happy to translate for me, as well as offer a wealth of information from their own experiences as gardeners.
The beans caught my eye immediately, the tendrils happily winding themselves around bamboo sticks that Domenico grew in his original Reservoir home, around twenty years ago. These beans were in full sun for most of the day and yet Dom was not at all concerned that they might get damaged on freakishly hot days, he simply waters them morning and evening and this is enough for them to make it through the blistering heat.
He rotates his crops, with Bruno and Tony commenting that one year the tomatoes will be planted where the beans are and the next year it will be vice versa. To keep the soil enriched he uses dynamic lifter; in earlier years he would buy bags of goat manure but as the years pass it has become easier to follow this new regime.
He saves his seeds from year to year and has a special spot for growing them. I was fortunate enough to take away some cucumber seeds and some lettuce and tomato seedlings, and garlic and don’t forget the bottle of homemade wine! The most amazing thing that occurred was he gave me a very special tool used for making holes in the soil for the seedlings. I am honoured to have received such a gift.
I asked him about how he deals with ‘pests’. While he does rely on snail and slug pellets, he has an ingenious way of trapping them – he places the pellets under a piece of metal in a grassy area at the edge of his beds and the snails and slugs make their way to this little lean-to, gorging themselves on pellets, thus leaving the seedlings for human consumption.
He had also planted cucumbers, tomatoes, two kinds of leafy greens and there was a fine crop of garlic that caught my eye.
I envied his confidence in his ability to grow his own food and thought I should definitely take a leaf out of his book.
It was a humbling experience and I hope to go back again, with my next visit being when it is time to plant the broad beans. I will take this opportunity to promise that I will take care of our new family of seedlings to the best of my ability, committing to being a confident and consistent carer.