After adjusting the first two beds in the veg garden last weekend, I headed back down there on Monday to plant the kilo of garlic we'd bought as seed for next year's crop. As the weather was dry and pleasant it was a chance not to be missed as we were technically already a month late for planting garlic - not a huge disaster, as we hadn't missed the window completely, it will just mean smaller bulbs next summer, but seeing as this year we only planted our garlic in February and still achieved something approaching supermarket-sized bulbs, we feel we have gone in the ground early this time!
It turns out a kilo of garlic (in our case at least) is around 147 individual cloves of garlic. It took longer than expected to dib all the holes at the required spacing, break up the bulbs and plant the cloves before covering with soil and then fetching about a dozen trug tubs of compost from the bays made this autumn to put on top of the beds.
All being well, and anticipating a few losses to rodents and the weather, we should have more than enough garlic for ourselves next year. In fact, using about a bulb a week ourselves on average, we should have around 100 bulbs to sell next summer - we had better start practising our plaiting!
After lunch I headed out to buy some bits and pieces to extend the electric fence around the veg garden and on the way home stopped at Frateschi to buy some more lengths of steel re-bar to act as posts.
While I was in there, I noticed a large parcel covered in 'GLS' tape - the courier company that I knew were handling the shipment of the 24kg of sweet potatoes we had ordered (for both ourselves and some of our friends in the valley) from Umbria. On closer inspection, the parcel did indeed had my name on it AND our house address... not that of Frateschi! It would have been nice for the courier to call and ask me if he could deliver the parcel there instead, or at least tell me he was doing so! Luckily, we're still in a phase of making regular visits to Paolo at Frateschi, so they hadn't been sitting there for long.
In the little that was left of the fast-diminishing daylight, I dismantled the existing electric fencing by clambering around the terraces, coiling up the electric rope (there are currently 3x200 metre lengths of it) that circumnavigates the veg plot before darkness got its way and I headed indoors to light the fire.
Tuesday was another day, and with it came the chance to tick another job off our to-do list. Having had a small taste of the impending winter last week, with our first frost (albeit a light one), we decided the "winterising" of the citrus and other frost-sensitive pot plants needed to be pushed to the top of the list.
Last year I over-engineered an over elaborate take on an orangery, which surprisingly withstood the weather that Tuscany's winter threw at us but was far from ideal. This year, I was determined to make something more robust, maybe dare I say it, a notch up on the attractiveness scale and something we could easily re-use each year without costing much money.
Fortuitously, I had recently seen in an online market gardening group a post from a guy who had built his own large poly tunnel using polyethylene water pipe as the frame structure... that was all I needed for an idea for our own little tunnel.
Now this project took me all day, because I needed three different trips out to buy materials as I was making the whole thing up as I went along, but I think the end result was rather satisfactory and something that we can dismantle in an hour and store for next winter.
|Water pipe forms the frame.|
While I was getting the plants under cover this particular afternoon, Helen disappeared up the terraces with hedge trimmers in hand to make yet more terrace discoveries in what we think will eventually be a large orchard. We are in danger of getting distracted with the clearing up here yet again as we uncover yet more ground that is not only new to us but that hasn't been on close terms with direct sunlight for decades. For now, at least a few hours here and there are satisfying our craving, but we're mindful that our big project for the winter is to get the veg garden whipped into shape and made much bigger as we push towards a much higher level of food self sufficiency and maybe even a weekly market stall in Pescia from time to time next year... there you go... I've said it. As Tim Smit from the Eden Project said, his success and driving force was to tell 'future truths' so here is one of ours! Gulp!
|Clearing further and further up the hill.|
On Wednesday it was back up to Vellano for the morning for a morning's work with David for me while Helen toiled away in the office, no doubt dreaming of terrace clearing while doing so.
After lunch, Helen indeed refuelled the hedge trimmers and climbed the terraces to rescue more long forgotten olive trees while I put the finishing touches onto the grandly named 'orangery' well... it does have oranges in it!
|Welcome to 'The Orangery'.|
Thursday was an altogether different, but no less busy day.
After messing around a little in the morning I decided to dash out for more fencing supplies before too much of the morning vanished. While in the agricultural shop I had a call from our friend Susan up the valley who wanted to collect her portion of the sweet potato order we'd had delivered. She was in Pescia, so it would be a race for me to pay and beat her home as Helen had a conference call at 11am and would not thank me for having to deal with a barking Reggie when Susan arrived and pressed the gate buzzer.
I made it only as far as the main traffic lights in Pescia before Helen called to say that Mara and Franco had just turned up at the gates ready to come and give our beehive its second treatment for the varroa mite! I wasn't expecting them until late afternoon, but it seems I had misread Mara's message and my brain had ignored the word for morning and replaced it with afternoon.
I sped home as quickly as the speed limit would allow me, to find Mara, Franco and Susan all waiting for me on the driveway. Helen had managed to find the extension cord for Franco, sorted Susan her spuds and even made a coffee for everyone before dashing off in a panic to the office just a couple of minutes late for her conference call.
After Franco had administered our second varroa mite treatment, Mara, Franco, Susan and I had coffee and chatted for ten minutes or so before Susan left and I sent Mara and Franco home with a handful of sweet potatoes to try, thanking them yet again for their huge help in keeping our bees healthy.
After a very quick lunch, the next visitor to our house today was Samantha for our weekly Italian lesson. As usual she got the full-throated bark from Reggie when she arrived, and as usual, he was soon eating cheesy flavoured treats from her hand - as long as she didn't look him in the eye.
After Samantha came the second Susan of the day, this time though it was Mrs Phillips with a delivery of olive oil from their week's pressing for me to pass on to our builder, Angelo.
We sat and chewed the fat in front of the wood burner for an hour or so before she had to head home to make ready dinner for the hungry gang of olive pickers.
A crazy busy day full of visitors - that's just how it seems to go on our hill sometimes!
Friday was due to be wet, the first wet day in a while actually, so I was quite looking forward to getting back to work on the built-in wardrobe I've started building in our bedroom - except that, by the morning, the forecast had changed and all the rain had gone elsewhere!
Despite this, I decided to plug on with the wardrobe to try and claw back a modicum of order to the now disordered bedroom.
The plaster boarding was slow-going, having to cut around everything but straight level edges. As the morning wore on, though, it was starting to take shape but work was halted at lunch time to eat and then head into town for the dastardly but necessary weekly food shop.
With the shopping in the boot we headed home, deliberating over how to spent the last precious hour or two of daylight, eventually deciding to make a start on raking the latest heap of leaves from the driveway that come down in the recent cold snap.
After unloading the car, I headed to Frateschi again, this time to buy two new rake handles so that I could join Helen in the raking fun, and also to fill the car with some more free pallets - soon we'll have more than Paolo, I'm sure!
After squeezing nine pallets into the boot and slinging one on the roof, I headed home to make some new leaf bins in strategic places along the drive so that we can make yet more compost for the growing veg garden.
Fallen leaves make a great compost known as leaf mould, which not only feeds plants but adds excellent organic material that conditions the soil, giving it a lovely structure for veg. As we have an abundance of leaves here, not only on the driveway but on the two donkey tracks as well, it seems like now is the time to stop wasting this free natural resource and put it to good use rather than allowing it to deteriorate into a slippery sludge that makes the car lose traction (on the driveway at least).
|Leaf mould in the making.|
So with the first bin built we raked until darkness fell and we couldn't literally see any more, then ambled wearily back to the house to light the fire and ponder on whether to start any food prep for the following evening's dinner party with Mara, Franco, our geometra Andrea and his wife Patrizia.
As it was we could barely be bothered to cook a meal for the evening but after a glass of wine found the motivation to get three lumps of cheese out of the fridge and make a bowl of humus, which together with some bread constituted dinner.
Saturday was the second busy day of the week that despite being hectic was devoid of any "progress" - progress outside that is, or what we would call 'farm work'.
After breakfast we both took Reggie out for a lengthy clamber around in the woods before heading back to the house to start on the real work for the day: cooking and cleaning!
While Helen started on the edibles, I started on the dust and disorder, gradually working my way down from the gypsum-covered bedroom floor to the kitchen below.
That is pretty much how the day went - cooking, tidying and cleaning on repeat until around five o'clock when we could do no more and found ourselves in that annoying void before guests arrive - what on earth are you supposed to do in these moments? If we hadn't have been waiting for guests at this point we would have put some salty snacks into a bowl and sat down with them in front of the fire with a glass of wine, but neither seemed appropriate two hours before dinner, we didn't want to touch anything and risk making a mess, we were at a real loose end! Eventually, a bit of TV saved the day and allowed us to switch our brains off for the hour and a half until Mara and Franco arrived with Prosecco and home made bread, as was the deal.
|Cottage pies ready for the oven.|
|Ready and waiting.|
Reggie, who is not yet completely comfortable with Franco, wasn't best pleased at their arrival, but found a relatively 'happy' place - that was until Andrea and Patrizia arrived fashionably late, along with an amazing cheesecake from the best ice cream shop in town for pudding.
Reggie now went rapidly into full melt down and chose to stay outside in the cold, barking non-stop at the front door and refusing to come indoors again.
Despite this we managed to enjoy an apertivo of Aperol spritz and then a starter of chicken liver pate, before introducing our Italian guests to cottage pie, sampling the amazing cheesecake, and finishing up with coffees and limoncello. There was much Italian conversation - although the dynamic meant that for a lot of the night we were listening much more than contributing, which was fine by us, as we got to hear a lot about people in the valley and joined a few more dots in the web that is our knowledge of the area and its inhabitants. The evening had gone past midnight when everyone decided to leave and head home.
Reggie, having been outside all night in the cold, ran indoors the minute the four guests had turned the corner of the house, sniffed at all of the chairs where they had been seated all evening, and then curled up on the sofa to fall asleep. It was gone half past midnight by this time, but we felt so guilty for having put him through what must have been a very traumatic evening that we sat up with him for another hour before sending him to bed.
After the late night on Saturday, Sunday was a slow start - we were not particularly late getting up, but it took a while to wake properly and build up a head of steam.
We walked poor Reggie in the woods again to let him blow off some of the previous evening's frustration, and then headed indoors for some lunch.
After much procrastination and indecision we decided that we should spend the afternoon down in the veg plot rather than clearing up behind the house so got into appropriate gear and headed out. After a beautiful clear, sunny morning with patches of mist hanging in the valley, the afternoon turned out to be our turn to be shrouded in the mist, turning it into a decidedly chillier day.
|A beautiful clear morning, but come the afternoon we were in the depths of the fog.|
As I walked across the drive to head for the veg garden, I heard Santa arriving - or at least that was what my brain had decided was happening for a few seconds (did I mention we were tired)?
It soon dawned on me that it much more likely to be hunting dogs with bells around their necks than flying reindeer, and sure enough two or three dogs appeared from the woods, charged right past the house below the veg terraces and disappeared into the valley to the left of us, making their odd howling yelpy noises as they went. Right on cue, I heard the Reggie open the house door, having heard them pass, and switch straight back into the previous evening's melt down of furious barking, this time his barks directed at unwelcome guests in the woods and terraces rather than at the house.
Helen and I spent the rest of the afternoon adjusting and digging over another section of terrace to create two more new veg beds to the sounds of Reggie's lungs.
|Two more veg beds in preparation.|
Reggie wouldn't and didn't stop barking at the hunters and their dogs all afternoon until way after it was dark and we'd all come indoors for the night - exhausted from a busy week and weekend!