1 - In spite of almost total neglect, our strawberry patches overwinter and thrive year after year.
(I really give our strawberry plants very little tending. I only remember about them when they bloom in springtime and become dense with white blossoms, which is such a pretty sight that I begin furiously making up for my lack of care, weeding, watering, and mulching away. But when crop season is over, I forget about them again ... )
2 - Although our strawberry plants are all runners from mother plants of the same varietal, they vary hugely in size, for reasons that escape me.
3 - This year was a bumper crop, far too many strawberries to eat fresh. So one day I made jam with the excess -- I've never ever made jam in May, so early in the season!
4 - But this jam I made in May didn't make it to winter, as preserves are supposed to do. Instead, it got eaten up in June. Does this make any sense at all?
5 - My kids have to clear my knitting off the kitchen table so that they can have their breakfast of bread and strawberry jam. (But I suspect that many of your family members have to do the same.)
It's the second week in June, a time when all gardeners have been working away out there on their piece of land for weeks and weeks, yet I still haven't written at all about my garden. I too have been out, preparing the soil, digging, sowing and planting, but at a very slow pace, and I only finished planting our garden this weekend (the basil was the last to go in).
This year, in fact, I didn't rush the new gardening season when the calendar or the gardener's almanac alerted me that it was time to plant summer crops. Instead, I looked at our woods, and watched for the new leaves on the winter-bare branches to come. Then I took a handful of garden soil, squeezed it and rubbed it between my fingers, and felt its temperature and its texture - was it still winter-clammy? And I felt the water in the irrigation tank by dipping my hand in deep, to see if it was still winter-frigid. This year, I waited for signs that would tell me that in our narrow, wind-swept valley the time had come to plant a garden.
Because spring crawled along at a slow pace this year (yes, again!), my garden did too: I planted only when the soil and the water warmed up, only a couple of weeks ago. It's a little late according to the gardening schedule for our growing-zone, but years of local experience have taught me that plants will have a much better chance of thriving and producing good crops when the delicate balance between temperature, soil type and sun exposure is optimal - and this, within the same growing zone, can differ considerably from one area to another. Our little plots of land perched on terraces on a steep hillside in Liguria has a micro-climate and growing rhythm all its own, which I've been striving to learn and respect.
April went out just as it came in: with an epic thunderstorm that brought (still) more rain, and even hail. But last night the sky was an inviting red, and the boys went out to play pingpong in the drenched garden, and called out to me to take photos of the amazing sky. (I love it when my kids rush in to tell me there's a great photo which I must not miss.)
The sky was indeed amazing (I admired it out the window from the dry sanctuary of the house), and promised good weather: rosso di sera bel tempo si spera, red sky at night shepherd's delight - two proverbs in two different languages, same concept: a red sky in the evening is a very good omen.
Welcome red sky at night, welcome May!
Mid-April - the time of year when the boys come in all hot from outside, and start questioning their firewood chore ("Do we really need to fill the woodbox still? It's so warm now, surely we won't built a fire again until October!" - it's incredible how body temperature is sometimes directly correlated to chores), and although we still need to build a fire now and then, it's true that outdoors is far warmer than in the house, and more and more time is spent out in the garden, where nature is awakening.
It's a new gardening season, with some changes from the previous years:
- Mulching: this year I'm embracing it, starting right now. I'm procuring my own organic mulching material by cutting the spring grass now, well before it goes to seed, and spreading it in the garden freshly cut. I'm trying a little experiment: grass-mulching also where I've just sowed seeds, because mulching has multiple functions for me.
I mulch not only to conserve moisture and to reduce weed growth, but especially to discourage Ms Cat from using the softly turned garden soil as her litter box, which is something she's begun doing in her old age, and which besides all other considerations, upsets seed growth considerably. Spreading cut grass mixed with aromatic parsley (I have so much parsley this year!) seems to do the trick, and has been a great feline deterrent.
But would the seeds grow through the layer of grass? Well, I was pleasantly surprised to see that my peas, lettuce and radishes have sprouted nicely, while the weeds haven't (yet).
- Ping-pong: April is the time of year when the ping-pong table comes out of its winter storage in the barn, and this year we have a new player.
A seven-year-old someone who's finally tall enough to hit the ball, and dance around while doing it ... not the same style of play as her brothers, but a great improvement from her point of view.
- Knitting in the garden: a new spring-time project.
Happy beginning to a new gardening season to all!
You never stop learning to garden. Something new always emerges, not just about growing plants, but about working in, and in partnership with, nature. If you pay attention, you can also learn about life, whether you're an adult or a child.
My child has learned a lot from growing tulips this past two years. She's learned some important lessons that aren't spelled out like a truth revealed, but rather, that are learned slowly, empirically, observing and noticing over a long period of days, months and years what happens when you plant a seed. Or, in her case, when you plant thirty tulip bulbs.
First she learned a lesson in patience, when her bulbs took months to finally peek out of the soil. Then she learned about the impermanence of things, when her tulips eventually died at the end of the season, much to her dismay.
And this year, she's learned that after a cycle ends, another starts, when her tulips bloomed again. Not exactly the same tulips as the previous year, though they're related in some way: new flowers from the same bulbs.
(Give a child the gift of a pot, some soil and a bulb, to grow and grow again year after year, and you're giving them some powerful life lessons.)
Hello garden, how I've missed you during the winter months!
These days, as I harvest and pull out all the plants that have overwintered - the cabbage, the lettuce, the chard and parsley - and get the soil ready for planting, I can't help but notice how much a winter vegetable garden that has been swept by cold winds and beaten by copious rains for many months can still give. Winter gardening isn't always fun, even in our temperate Mediterranean clime, but, yes, it's still worth it.
I steamed and refrigerated heaps of chard that will go into either a risotto verde or a quiche or both, and I'm currently processing a basketful of parsley ... I might be back later on with photos from my kitchen, featuring the gifts of our giving winter garden!
I'm sad to admit it, but there was a time a few years ago, when my boys stopped being interesting in gardening. When their little kids' enthusiasm in joining in whatever mom was doing, and digging in the dirt to see nature grow, cooled off considerably, gardening became mainly relabelled in their minds as a chore: watering or harvesting. I've been wondering about it, and like many aspects of growing up and parenting, I fully realize that my kids will not necessary grow up loving the things we parents love - we're raising individuals, after all, not clones. Yet there are some things in life that I deem important, though not crucial (my kids don't need to become gardeners to live a full and meaningful life), and I strive to give my kids some basic tools to pursue them, which they may pick up and dig deeper with if they want to, later on in life. Sometimes raising children really does resemble gardening: you sow lots of seeds in the soil, tend them, and wait to see how many sprout, and what they'll grow into.
So when my boys stopped showing interest in gardening, I tried to involve them in other ways - talking about my own gardening passion with them, discussing the quality of what we grow as opposed to what's available in supermarkets, planting what they like to eat, involving them in the preparation of tasty meals with fresh ingredients just picked from the garden ... and so on. Did it work? I planted those seeds, but so far, they haven't sprouted.
(her own involvement in the recent gardening action)
Or maybe they have, in ways I didn't anticipate. This past month, when I discussed the garden work that needed to be done - the ivy to be cleared and the prunings to be burned - they chimed in and offered to help. Axes, saws, matches, and fires seem to be the way to draw my boys into the core of gardening.
And so they have been gardening with me, but in their own way: pruning and cutting dead limbs down, chopping them up, hauling them into piles, lighting fires and burning garden waste ... it isn't quite growing things in the garden as I'd imagined, but it's the essential preparatory work to that growing plants step. It's the necessary work that is part of the gardening season, which I'm only too happy (and grateful) to have them do actively and willingly - involved in that part of the gardening cycle which at this stage is better suited to them (and hoping that the seed of wanting to grow things will sprout too).
For the first month of the year, a white wreath made of seedpods, Lunaria Annua.
May all that you sow this year bloom and blossom!
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
This wreath is both a beginning and an end, completing the cycle of my year of wreaths - a wreath each month, made using spur-of-the-moment inspiration and whatever nature offered me at that time.
September birthday wreath
evolving December wreath
Here is my wreath for this month ... but it was very short lived. December, it turned out, had different plans for it! In fact, the new month arrived with our first real dose of winter: a dusting of snow the night before, followed by very strong, icy winds. Not at all the right weather for an outdoor wreath. So because I didn't want my wreath to be blown away, I brought it in.
Rebecca had the idea of making a Saint Lucia crown with it, that she could wear on her birthday (which is Saint Lucia's Day). But after I tamed and tightened the pine bows into a tidier circle, it was clearly too big and heavy, and a touch too prickly, for a crown.
It became our Advent centerpiece instead, which is precisely what we needed this month. We lit the first candle, and celebrated the first Sunday of Advent around the dinner table.
Happy December, and happy Advent!
I'll be making a wreath each month, using spur-of-the-moment inspiration and whatever nature offers me at that time.
September birthday wreath
Family life at the edge of an ancient rural community near the Mediterranean
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