Lost in the Garden

I lose all sense of time in the garden, and then I lose myself. It’s a common enough experience among gardeners. After the first flurry of harvesting, tying back overgrown tomatoes and moving hoses about, observing life’s cycle from seed to flower to fruit then back to seed, and all the while conscious of my own aging body as it bends and complains within this bounteous space, another state emerges. My pragmatic self surrenders to a semi- conscious meditation on the essence of being. Through silent awareness and invisibility, the sounds and signals of earth- primordial, spiritual, supreme- reinforce the idea of Anattā, that Buddhist concept of non-being.

It begins with a chive flower waving in the gentle breeze, now taller than the blanketing pumpkin leaves, insisting on more light. The delicate white coriander flowers belie the true pungency of their leaves, roots and seeds. Things are not what they seem. Then a strange bird call punctures the silence. High pitched like a creaking table, the sound is urgent but not bleak. I look up and see a flash of yellow underneath a broad wing span of black. It’s the yellow -tailed black cockatoo, an infrequent visitor to these lightly wooded lands. Now one, now two more, followed by a train of rasping sound, they are on their way to a distant pine tree. Word is out that the nuts are ready to strip. The guard cocky stands alert, signalling from the highest branch, a two-dimensional black stencil, a wayang puppet, an inked picture outlined in the early morning sky.

The bluest of blue of the radicchio flower is a call to the bees. I can never find the word for this blue: constructs such as Cobalt or Persian or Cornflower might have to do. And the little gem of a beetle, friend or foe, travels across a furry field that is an eggplant leaf. The mauve and white bean flowers peep from the darkness of their leafy canopy, an arrangement, a posy, a boutoniere. The beans can wait.


Let it Bee. In My Garden, January 2017

I’m reinstating my monthly garden series today, in the hope that it becomes another posting habit in this new year. The January vegetable garden delivers an abundance of food and with it comes the search for novel ways to deal with the glut. Like our ancestors of old, some will be dried, preserved, or frozen for leaner times. Expect that there will be yet more zucchini, tomato, bean and cucumber recipes as the summer months go by.  But in the meantime, as I navigate my way through the narrow paths that criss cross my orto, I have once again come to admire the work of my friend and yours, the bee. Without these busy visitors, I wouldn’t be eating so well and neither would you.

Leeks and celery going to seed. The bees love them: I love their dying beauty.
Leeks and celery going to seed. The bees love the flowers while I’m attracted to their decadent beauty.
Bees and leek flower heads.

If bees are scarce in your neighbourhood or vegetable garden, try to encourage them.  Grow more purple flowering plants in your garden and let some of your Spring crops go to seed. Be rewarded with spectacular beauty, whilst simultaneously attracting cross pollinators for your crops and those of the neighbourhood.

Bees at work- all day. Leek flower heads.

Towering seed heads in a vegetable garden look magnificent, adding drama, shade and wind breaks for smaller sun shy lettuces and young plants below. I grow Endive lettuce mainly to watch them bolt after Spring, tying them to poles near the tomato patch. The blue flowers of the bolted radicchio are the brightest of all,  growing to around 8 feet high. They open during the morning then close on very hot days. In the meantime, fading leek and artichoke flowers do the job.

Flower head of the artichoke. Bees adore them.

I can honestly say that my vegetable patch is a little wild and disordered, but there’s purpose and beauty in all this chaos. The bees agree.

Bees at work

My young visitors have learnt to respect and admire bees. They now know that the world depends on bees for the future of 70% of all crops and walk through the purple flowering bee garden with a little more ease, in their hunt for ripe strawberries, raspberries or a crunchy radish.

Cartoon via Pesticide Action Network
Cartoon via Pesticide Action Network

If you have a vegetable garden to share with us this month, add a link to your post via a comment below and I will then pop it onto the end of this post. Happy Gardening.

Minestra di Verdure Estive/ Summer Vegetable Soup

I like to eat soups in the height of summer, not necessarily cold soups, but light minestre of vegetables in season. They are thrown together and take around 20 minutes to cook, using whatever is abundant in the garden.

Summertime soup
Summertime soup. Keeping photos real with lots of red slurp.

This vegetable soup is similar to the French Soupe au Pistou in many ways, but I am waiting on the garden’s fresh borlotti, i fagioli scritti, and green beans, before I go down that Provençal path.


  • 1 onion, finely sliced
  • 1 garlic, finely chopped,
  • 2 tablespoons EV olive oil
  • 4-5 chopped Roma tomatoes
  • 1 medium zucchini, finely sliced
  • 1 can of drained and well rinsed chick peas or white cannellini beans
  • ¼ jar of home-made or purchased tomato passata
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • small broken pieces of Mafaldine (flat ribbon) pasta or other dried pasta on hand
  • salt and pepper
  • freshly made pesto from a handful of basil leaves, two cloves garlic, salt, olive oil and pecorino, bashed to a pulp in a mortar and pestle. (Leave the nuts out when serving with soup.)
  • grilled bruschetta to go with the soup.

In a large heavy pot, add a generous slurp of olive oil and gently cook a sliced onion and a chopped garlic until soft but not coloured. Then add the vegetables as listed, stirring each new addition for a minute or so as you go. When they are almost cooked, after around 15 -20 minutes. add the some broken pieces of Mafladine and cook until the pasta is al dente. Season well. Serve in wide bowls with a dollop of freshly made basil pesto.

Paranzo All'aperto.
Pranzo all’aperto. Minestra di verdure estive.

The pasta Mafaldine was named in honour of Princess Mafaldine of Savoy, daughter of King Vittorio Emmanuele 111, and is also known as reginette or “little queens”.

The Garden Diaries, January 2016

Whenever I visit friends who enjoy gardening, the first thing on the agenda is a tour around their vegetable patch and orchard, before we settle down to a cup of tea and a chat. So grab a cuppa or something stronger and take a stroll around my garden for a quick tour. The season has been harsh but things are on the mend.

Purple flowers of endive lettuce
Bee Attractors- the flowers of Endive lettuce

First up we have the tall blue and purple flowering lettuces, my bee and insect attractors and invaluable aid to the continued fertility of all the tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers and fruit trees. The bright cornflower blue flowers of the radicchio, now three metres high, are beacons to bees. The purple flowers of endive lettuce last for months, while the blue flowering borage plants magically appear on the lower levels. These lettuces self sow in early Spring, bolt towards the sky in late Spring and flower through summer. They are a gardener’s best friends.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


It’s seed harvesting time. All the main lettuces have gone to seed and have been hulled through my Turkish Celik, labelled and packed. The leek seed is close to collecting and makes an interesting garden specimen. Many species self sow, such as lettuce, radicchio, silver beet, coriander,parsley, tomato, pumpkin, zucchini and cucumber, though not all are retained. The garden beds become depleted quickly when taken over by the same species.

The tomato glut has caught up with the zucchini and it’s time to think about preserving. These golden tomatoes, giving literal meaning to the Italian pomodoro, are lovely sliced on toast or a pizza. The Roma tomatoes are prolific and good keepers, while my favourite, the Rouge de Marmande are still green.

cucumber flowers
Cucumber flowers through the mulch

As the heat will be with us for another two months, it’s time to apply another layer of mulch and to feed the older zucchini. I use organic sugar cane- it is expensive but goes a long way, and top this with crumbled old cow manure which I soak overnight in a bucket of water. As the zucchini have been productive for over two months now, they need a good feed.

early morning in the orchard
Early morning in the orchard

Last year was a pear year: this year is the turn of the Japanese plum. Hooray. I have waited for Satsuma and Mariposa plums for around four years and at last they have begun. Another week and they are all mine.

Satsuma plums
Satsuma plums
Quince in hiding
Quince in hiding
Table grapes ripening.
Table grapes ripening.

The Garden Diaries this time last year:  https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2015/01/04/garden-monthly-january-2015/

What’s happening in your garden? Do you keep a garden diary or journal?

Simply Radish, Simply French

Radishes are the hidden gems of the too green Spring garden, crunchy crimson jewels waiting to be devoured, usually on the spot. Those that make it inside become a French treat, as an appetiser or a Spring breakfast.

aly moning radish harvest
Early morning radish feast.

Radishes, French Butter and Salt Flakes

  • Harvest a bunch of radishes, trim the roots and wash well in cold water. Arrange on a platter.
  • Serve with softened French butter, cultured butter or the best butter you can get you hands on.
  • Also add a small bowl of fleur de sel, Murray Pink salt flakes, or Maldon salt flakes.
  • Select a handsome radish, cut a cross in the top, squash in a bit of butter, then dip the buttered end into the salt.
  • Devour and repeat.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Feel the earthy, crunchy, salty, sharp, creamy, fresh explosion in your mouth. The success of this simple dish relies on the freshness of the radishes.

My favourite breakfast

Radishes mature quickly and require fortnightly reseeding. They don’t need much room, just friable, well-drained soil. Kids love growing them too. Cherry Belles are my favourite variety but the longer crimson and white French Breakfast is a stunning, milder cultivar, more suited to stuffing with white butter.

Early moning radish havst

The Wisdom of the Contadini. Spring Garden Diary

An old Italian proverb advises,” Quando i mandorli fioriscono, le donne impazziscono“- when the almond tree blooms, women go crazy. I can safely say that I missed this arboricultural, aphrodisiacal or psychotic event a few weeks ago. The almonds already have fruit! Mr Tranquillo is looking for a later flowering variety to extend the season.

My productive organic orto reminds me of the wisdom contained in old Italian proverbs, based on the experience of centuries of vegetable growing by the Italian contadini, the rural peasants, who depended on a productive home garden for crops to be eaten fresh, stored, pickled or dried. Given that this class of farmer was often at the mercy of the landowner, working under the mezzadria, the traditional share cropping system, a productive ‘home’ patch would have been essential to their survival.

Earrly zucchini plantings- another round wll be planted in late December
Early zucchini planting- another round will be planted in late December.

With each turn around the garden, I can hear the vecchi, the old folk, reciting advice in the form of rhymes, the oral history of food and planting.  I have selected a few gems to go with this season’s verdant bounty.

Masses of herbs
Masses of herbs for salsa and pesto
  • Chi pianta le fave senza concime, le raccoglie senza baccello – Those who plant broadbeans without fertiliser, picks them without pods.
Waiting for the first Fave Beans
Waiting for the first fave beans.
  • Chi ha un buon orto, ha un buon porco. Those who have a good vegetable garden, have a good pig. We find this to be the case with chooks also: they love wild rocket and silverbeet.
    The girls are excited when the big gates are opened. Springtime meeans more eggs.
    Let me out…stamp, stamp, stamp.
  • Un piatto di lattuga l’insonnia mette in fuga.  A plate of lettuce chases away insomnia.

    cos and radicchio
    cos and radicchio
  • L’insalata vuole il sale da un sapiente, l’aceto da un avaro, l’olio da un prodigo, vuol essere mescolata da un matto e mangiata da un affamato.  A salad wants salt from a wise man, vinegar from a miser and oil from a squanderer, mixed by a madman and eaten by the hungry.
  • Wild rocket pops up anywhere in the garden: enough for us and the chooks.
    Wild rocket pops up anywhere in the garden: enough for us and the chooks.
  • Lattuga romanella ripulisce la budella. Cos lettuce cleans the gut.

    Abundant Cos lettuce seedlings from saved seed
    Abundant Cos lettuce seedlings from saved seed

Simple dishes star this season, the cucina povera of the Italian contadini: 

  • freshly made egg pasta with sage leaves browned in butter
  • frittata stuffed with herbs and wild greens, with ricotta saltata
  • orecchiette with turnip tops, garlic and anchovies
  • green salads wisely dressed
  • pies and tarts with silverbeet, dill, spring onions and mint, along with fetta
  • silver beet dolmades
  • salsa verde to dress fish or dill and walnut pesto to dress hard-boiled eggs
  • risotto with cavolo nero or radicchio
Radiccho grows everywhere, as well as in the path!
Radiccho grows everywhere, as well as in the path!

It’s all very green with the odd touch of bitter crimson. The planting of the summer fruiting vegetables has begun.

The most versatile vegetable, the humble silver beet.
The most versatile vegetable, the humble silver beet.

Julie’s Spring garden in the North Island of New Zealand is always inspiring, especially given her brilliant photography. Find her at frogpondfarm

I am also linking in with Lizzie’s Garden Share Collective this month.

Pizza Dell’Orto. Cheap Eats.

One of my New Year’s resolutions included a desire to eat more frugally and to shop less.

My aim is to produce meals that cost close to $1.00 per person on a regular basis. Can this be done with a large pizza for two?  The following costing is based on my free garden produce, which at this time of the year, is dominated by the prolific zucchini crop, followed by cucumbers, tomatoes and basil.

A casual table setting under the trees.
A casual table setting under the trees.

A Pizza dell’ Orto is my favourite vegetable garden pizza in summer, especially on a hot evening, in giardino, outside under the trees.

The following costing is pretty accurate, without pedantically weighing the olives, anchovies and so on. I buy Extra Virgin Australian olive oil,  Cobram 3 litres @ $24.00 a tin), Italian anchovy fillets in oil@ $11.00 for 750 gr and Laucke bakers flour @$11.00 for 5 kilo, pitted black olives @ $16.oo a kilo,and Mozzarella cheese, sliced finely @ $11.00 a kilo.

The dough.  ( recipe found here),

  • 500 grams of strong bakers flour = $1.10.
  • dried active yeast, Olive oil, salt=3o cents.
  • half of the dough is used to make a large 35 cm/15 inch pizza for two . The rest is stashed for tomorrow’s foccaccia.
  • total cost of pizza dough= 70 cents

The Tomato Sauce

  • Can of tomatoes, Italian brand, 60 cents.
  • Home grown garlic and oregano.
  • Half used on pizza. The rest of the sauce is stashed for another use.
  • total cost= 30c

    Mr T grills the zuchini and cooks the sauce.
    Mr T grills the zucchini and cooks the sauce.

The topping.

  • 10 thin slices of Mozzarella, around $1.00
  • anchovies from bulk jar and pitted black olives, a handful, around 50 cents.
  • Garden produce includes zucchini, cherry tomatoes, basil.
  • total cost= $1.50

Total Cost for this Pizza= $2.5o


  • grilling the zucchini and sauce, 10 minutes.
  • weighing and mixing the dough, 10 minutes
  • rising time ( summer),1.5 hours.
  • cooking time, 15 minutes.


The little children and their parents visit often over the lazy summer months. Five large pizzas are enough for a family meal for 8 adults and 5 young children. I usually work on 3- 4 slices per adult and 2-3 slices per child. One of the family favourites is a pissaladiere, the budget South of France model and a pepperoni version for the meat lovers, which is a slightly more costly version.

Feeding my Pizza loving family costs around $15.00 so long as I have the ingredients on hand. The only items purchased from the duopoly chain of Australian  supermarkets, Coles and Woolworths, were the flour and the yeast.


A Farewell to Broad Beans. Frittata di Primavera


At some ungodly hour this morning, still half asleep, I heard my mother’s voice saying,  ‘Don’t make a rod for your own back.’  At the time, I was considering the long list of jobs in the vegetable garden for the day ahead. Rod for my back?  Yes indeed.

In Spring, the garden turns into the dictator of this little kingdom. The broad beans must come out today, the potatoes were dug out yesterday, a rather disappointing crop due to frosts in June. All the silver beet plants are now towering over me as they all simultaneously go to seed. They must be dug out and handed over to the chickens, reminding me that next week, the greens will be few in our kitchen.  There are lettuces and cucumbers to transplant, more crops to sow, and a piece of metal rio (metal building mesh) would be very handy to make a shady wall for the rhubarb. The fruit trees need netting, the tomato plants staking!  Just as one languishes in the land of plenty, along comes that dictator to deliver the rod. Or am I stuck in some bygone land of Catholic penance?

Non Capisco una Fava!
Non Capisco una Fava!

Many meals come my way gratis, thanks to l’orto, the veggie garden. This is the upside of our peasant labour, and when I eat this way, I feel that it’s worth all the effort. Last night’s Frittata is an example. I gathered all the ingredients from the garden, added some eggs from our chickens and made a 10 minute meal that was alive with taste, and rather healthy too.

Frittata di Primavera -Fave, Patata e Rugola

Spring Frittata with Broad Beans, Potato and Rocket.

This recipe takes only a few minutes to throw together if you have already cooked and peeled the broad beans, which is discussed previously here.

  • 4 -5 small new potatoes, yellow fleshed
  • 1 cup of broad beans
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon smoked hot paprika
  • a large handful of rugola/rocket
  • Extra Virgin olive oil ( Australian oil is an excellent choice if you happen to live here)
  • vinegar di Jerez ( Sherry vinegar)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


  • Boil the new potatoes in their skins, until just done. Roughly chop.
  • Heat a small non stick pan and add a good glug of olive oil.
  • Add potatoes, turn around in the oil, add a pinch of salt and the paprika, and cook till golden.
  • Add the chopped garlic, turn about for a minute, then add the double shelled broad beans.
  • Beat the eggs with a little more salt and pepper, then pour over the vegetables.
  • Lift up the edges of the frittata, allowing the unset egg to run back under, turning the pan as you go.
  • When the frittata looks almost done, except for the wet top, pop it under a hot grill for a minute or so to set.
  • When done, invert onto a plate, using the plate as a lid over the pan.
  • Top with rugola/rocket, which has been dressed in olive oil and sherry vinegar.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA



Compost Recipe and Garden Monthly, November 2014

I’m going to start with the most important thing a garden requires- compost. Without a consistent approach to compost making, your garden will not thrive. So let’s head down into the heart of darkness.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALook inside this bin. Some mornings it sends up little smoke signals as I open the lid. We have five bins in permanent production. I have just emptied two mature lots onto the Spring beds. The other three are in various stages of breaking down.

When we built our vegetable patches five years ago, we had no natural topsoil at all. Our beds have been built up over the years with good compost. After every growing season, they need topping up and refreshing. I learnt how to make better compost from Wendy Mathers of the Food Farm, through workshops run by our local Council. Before I attended Wendy’s workshop, my compost approach was not based on correct layering and so the results were patchy.  I have heard a lot of nonsense over the years about mythological practices and debates about what constitutes good composting technique. Correct layering, using everyday found matter, is the answer.  I follow this recipe and am enjoying great results, with a bin maturing every three months or so, full of lovely fresh black soil alive with pink earthworms.  Here’s the recipe:

Compost Recipe – developed by Ross & Wendy Mather, Food Farm, St Andrews, Victoria 

The base ingredient is one bucket of  green matter, that is, vegetable scraps, or fresh grass/weeds then add to this one item from nitrogen column and any two items from carbon column.

Nitrogen                                  Carbon
1 bucket manure                     1 bucket straw
2 cups pelletised manure      1 bucket paper
1 cup blood and bone             1 bucket dry leaves
1 bucket Lucerne                     1 bucket sugarcane mulch

Too much carbon slows decomposition, and too much nitrogen smells. If you have vinegar flies, add more carbon and check your ratios.

In late Autumn, I have an abundant supply of crunchy oak leaves providing the carbon matter. In summer, I save newspapers and shred them on site. Newspaper ink is vegetable based. You tear along the grain so that it shreds easily. I use cow and chook manure as I keep these animals, but the list provides alternatives for suburban gardeners. Weeds can be used so long as they are drowned thoroughly first to destroy any seed.


Wandering around the Spring vegetable patch after some welcome rain, my photo lens and I discover the close up beauty of new life. Seeds sprout and develop quickly, young grapes form on vines, last month’s quince flowers are now miniature fruits, the pears and apples are in flower and fruit, and the nectarines already colourful.

butterhead lettuce
butterhead lettuce

Each photo suggests a task. The little lettuce seeds need thinning and transplanting. I often wrap up a few clumps then make transportable containers using wet newspaper. Seedlings were once sold this way from nurseries.


The strawberries are happy but I need to ‘acquire’ the materials for a walk in cloche. I am always on the look out for stuff in tip shops but thick poly piping is well sought after. We have stolen three veggie patch beds for raspberries and strawberries. Now we are short of room for summer vegetable crops. The children love to pick berries and eat them on site, as do the birds.
The boysenberries have gone crazy and need containing. More freezer space is required!


The zucchini plants are well on the way and I should see the start of the plague next week. Traditionally in Melbourne, zucchini begin to fruit one week after Melbourne Cup Day. Melbourne Cup Day ( the first Tuesday of November) is used as a marker for all sorts of gardening activities. Some say that tomatoes must be planted from Cup day onwards. I plant mine much earlier, in the ridiculous hope that I might have tomatoes by Christmas.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the surprise bed, one dedicated to out of date seed, the Cucurbit family seeds all germinated ( all were five years out of date) as well as the borlotti beans. These little squash need thinning out and sharing.

squash and cucumbers from the surprise bed
squash and cucumbers from the surprise bed.

Winter crops are now going to seed and I save the best specimen of each vegetable for seed collecting.  The only problem is that these giants take up valuable space. The importance of home seed collecting is that you end up with a variety, after some years, that is most adapted to your particular microclimate, as well as preserving the strongest of the species. Darwin at work! These seeds are swapped and given away. Sometimes, like all things, new genes are introduced. The red lettuce below was found years ago in a mesclun lettuce seed mix. I have saved this one to provide summer colour contrast to a lettuce bowl.

My favourite red lettuce is saved each year. Anyone know its name?
My favourite dark red lettuce is saved each year. Anyone know its name?

The grapes will be prolific this year: netting takes place in a month or so.  This year I plan to preserve some vine leaves for dolmade making, and the method can be found on Debi’s site here. I must be selective about this as the leaves shade the grapes from the vicious summer sun.


The young nectarines are already bird attractors. Those hungry birds, mostly Eastern Rosellas, Crimson Rosellas, white Cockatoos, Corellas,  and King Parrots, will attack young, hard fruit for fun; just testing, they say.  The nets will come out soon, a big task to cover around 30 fruit trees in production. Even olive trees need netting.

young nectarine
young nectarine

The artichokes are late this year, probably because I transplanted them last Autumn. I love their grey -green foliage and will use these small ones shaved in a pasta dish this week

Artcichokes ready to pick and cook
artichokes ready to pick and cook

The broad beans continue to grace our garden and plates. Other currently harvested crops include radicchio, rugola, and lettuce.

broadbean glut. Time to freeze.
Broadbean glut. Time to freeze.

This post forms part of Garden Share Collective  a monthly round up of food growing bloggers.  If you lived next door, we could share seed and seasons of plenty.