With both of us up early, we decided to try and make the most of the situation, and after having taken Reggie for a run around in the woods we headed out to Pescia for a coffee to lighten the mood, then picked up eight more bags of compost from the garden shop before heading up the valley to Donatella's house in order to deliver the 18 eggs she'd requested from us and to pick up as many more used tyres as would fit in the car.
By this time it was raining, and over lunch we wondered what we could usefully do with the rest of the damp day, but as luck would have it, by the time we'd cleared away the dishes the rain itself had stopped (even though the skies remained grey), so we gave up trying to think of indoor jobs and went back to the great outdoors, spending the afternoon cutting up more firewood, building and fitting the pedestrian gate at the end of the drive, moving the collection of tyres we'd brought back from Donatella's to their new home on the potato terrace and carrying the bags of compost down to the veg terraces.
On Sunday we woke up to clear skies and sunshine once again, which seemed to refuel our get-up-and-go, so we got up and went... to the veg garden. We spent the day planting out broccoli, sprouts, cauliflower, more lettuce, more chard and leeks as well as constructing hoops (using metal re-bars and lengths of plastic water pipe) and covering the beds with butterfly netting. We also collected our first harvest of the year: 350g of red lettuce and cos lettuce.
|Stunning sage flowers.|
|350g of lovely lettuce!|
|Bird-scarer CD line protecting the chard.|
With Monday a bank holiday here in Italy as well as in the UK (and all the other countries in which my work colleagues hang out), I decided to take the day off office work as well, which meant a third day of outdoor productivity.
We started the day with Stuart heading up to the topmost terraces with the strimmer to finish off the job that I'd started the day before of strimming the terraces that we'd cleared and raked over winter. The terraces that were barren just a couple of weeks ago but by now were covered in bracken standing two foot high and new bramble that seemed to be growing in every available space. While he did that, I headed down to the lowermost terraces - the ones below the veg garden - with the hedge cutters to try get the acacia and bramble into check down there.
Having done an hour or so in our respective vegetation battles, we reconvened at the house and decided to do a spot of wall repointing before lunch. So Stuart mixed up a bucket of mortar and the two of us spent an hour filling more of the gaps in the garden wall.
After that we stopped for a spot of lunch (featuring more lettuce) before trying to decide what to do with the afternoon. We were torn between going out somewhere (sightseeing) and staying at home to do something more productive. After a considerable amount of indecision, we plumped for the idea of staying at home and moving the old compost station in order to prepare a space for the base to be laid for our solar panel. It felt like a good compromise - we weren't exactly getting a change of scene, but it was a different type of job from those we'd been doing recently and sufficiently inspiring for us to both feel motivated and happy to get on with it!
We'd worked out that the best spot for our solar thermal panel would be on the corner of the first terrace above the house. However, very cleverly, Stuart had placed a couple of planks of wood in said spot in order to see whether it would be able to be seen clearly from the road (while we have official permission to have a solar panel, we are officially meant to put it on the rood of our shed - which, thanks to the shade of the house, doesn't actually get enough sunlight to be fully effective - we therefore have decided to try putting it behind the house on the terrace, a much sunnier spot, but not officially allowed). Having realised that the planks of wood were fully visible from quite a distance away, we did some more thinking and decided that the next best spot would be exactly where our original 3-station compost bins were standing. This meant the compost would need to be moved!
While Stuart dismantled the frame of the compost stations, I set about shovelling and sifting compost, using the sides of the frame - which had been covered with chicken wire - as a sifting device.
By the end of the process we had filled one of the new "tombola"-style composting bins with some of the fresher pieces that had yet to decompose, created a lovely deep bed of compost ready for planting up with something (we have yet to decide on) and another large pile of compost ready to use where we need it, as well as treated the chickens to some exciting bits of compost to scratch through and peck on.
|These need moving!|
|Compost sifting device.|
After all that, we ended a busy day in the perfect way with a short visit to our friends David and Sarah and sat with them in the sunshine on their terrace enjoying the beautiful view and great company - a fitting way to end the long weekend.
It was a short week to follow the long weekend, but we still packed enough in, with office work, strimming work, Italian lessons, an enjoyable evening spent catching up with friends Paul & Veronica at the end of their week-long stay at their place in Vellano, preparation of a base for the solar panel (to be filled with concrete), the arrival and setting up of our new weather station, and on Friday we spent a great day with 'the gang' doing a community day's work at David & Sarah's place.
|Frame for the solar panel base.|
|Base ready for concreting.|
|What's the weather like, you ask?|
On the agenda for Community Day on Friday was the building of a fence to enclose the area David & Sarah have set aside for growing vegetables (their orto); the cutting (for firewood) of a large pile of olive branches that had been left over after the pruning of the olive trees on their land; the jet washing of the large patio area outside the house; and the taming of some of the brambles at the bottom edge of their terraces below the orto. While Sarah spread herself around between jobs and making sure everyone was OK and had everything they needed, the boys (David, Paul and Stuart) took on the fencing challenge, while Kathy wielded the jet washer like a pro, and Donatella and I tackled the pile of olive wood with our chainsaws - at least that was until my chainsaw decided it had had enough (a dodgy spark plug, it turns out), at which point I had to leave Donatella to finish the pile of wood while I swapped to the hedge cutters and went and did battle with the brambles.
After a hard morning's work there was a beautiful pile of cut olive wood, a fully functioning fence around the orto (complete with gate fashioned from a pallet), a sparkling patio and some progress made into the brambles below. We were rewarded with an amazing spread of delicious salads made by Sarah to accompany meat (and veggie burgers) expertly cooked on the BBQ by David, with Eton mess to follow. By the time we realised the day had marched on into late afternoon and it was time to wend our way home, I for one could barely move for feeling so stuffed with good food.
|This orto needs a fence!|
|Men at work.|
|Women at work.|
|Finally secured against hungry wildlife!|
|The Community Day gang (missing Sarah, who took the photo - thanks Sarah :-) ).|
After Friday's busy day, the weekend started a little stiffly for some of us. That is to say I couldn't bend down and even walking was pretty uncomfortable, with the muscles in my back telling me in no uncertain terms that they weren't happy with what I'd asked of them the day before. That scuppered our plans to complete the concrete base for the solar panel, the plan having been for Stuart to mix up buckets of concrete and pass them up to me on the terrace to pour into the base - it definitely wasn't a bucket-of-concrete-lifting kind of day for me.
Instead, we headed out for a coffee then on to the discount houseware shop Maury's to buy a large picture frame for a poster we have put together for the apartment. We'd been meaning to put this together for a while and finally managed to do it this week, ahead of the first guests of the spring/summer season. The hope is that it both works as a little bit of PR for Reggie and that it helps people understand how best to interact with him to minimise his stress. We'll see!
|PR for Reggie.|
After that, we picked up twenty 50-litre sacks of bio compost from Frateschi, which should be enough to finish off the veg beds for this year.
The afternoon was spent cleaning the apartment and sprucing up the outside area - mowing the lawn, strimming the edges and weeding the gravelled area - in preparation for guests arriving on Sunday.
On Sunday while we waited in for the arrival of our guests, we spent most of the day concentrating on the veg beds - earthing up the potatoes, planting out spinach, climbing beans and celeriac, and sowing parsnips, as well as general weeding, tidying and spreading compost on the beds. By my estimates, this brings the running total of different types of vegetables planted out to 16: lettuce, beetroot, chard, onions, garlic, potatoes, leeks, broccoli, sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, celeriac, spinach, carrots, parsnips, beans. Of course there are more (aubergine, squash, courgettes, melon, celery, fennel, tomatoes, peppers, artichokes...) still growing in the polytunnel that will be planted out in a week or two's time once they have reached the appropriate size.
The weather for the week ahead doesn't look the best for our guests' holiday, with rain forecast, although it should at least be a little warmer than last week, when we suddenly found ourselves plunged back into the depths of winter, with overnight temperatures dipping close to zero - something of a shock after several weeks of very warm spring-like weather. With our new weather station now in place we should be able to keep accurate records of temperatures, rainfall and wind speeds, which will be interesting and will give us plenty more facts to bore you with!