Tuesday, September 20, 2011
I was chatting with my sister Jodi the other day and we started talking about gardening, as we tend to do. She has a vegetable garden in Connecticut and we usually trade notes on zucchini, tomatoes and basil. So I was all set to talk cabbages only to find out that she doesn’t go that way. “The nurseries around here really don’t have starter plants for the fall,” she told me. Who knew? So she was just getting ready to pull down the summer vines, and lay down a compost cover for her patch to take it’s winter’s nap.
Not me. I had other plans. While I am fond of my vegetable garden in Umbria in the spring in summer, I really love it in the fall and winter. About mid August we start planning and planting. I guess I am very lucky to live in a agricultural area, so my nursery has tons of cruciferous veggies and other winter greens to choose from. In fact, the problem is restraining myself when I make a nursery run.
This year Domenico’s made a special effort to improve our soil, making several trips with his tractor (which only broke down twice) to the farmer down the road to load up on sheep manure. Spreading it out and dividing it between the plots, he’s used the tiller (his all time favorite toy) to whip it up into a rich, loamy almost velvet like blanket of dirt. It’s insanely easy to dig, and so far the plants are loving it.
What do we plant this time of year? A lot of cabbage: savoy, red and cavolo nero. Broccoli - both Calabrian and Cima di Rapa. This year we planted three types of cauliflower: all white, but all maturing at different times. Nine plants each of swiss chard and chicory just because you can never have too many greens, right?
Fennel and leeks too, although we never seem to have much luck with those. Our soil is usually too clayey, but with this year’s manure-fest, I have high hopes.
A few kinds of lettuce, which we are already harvesting before the frost starts.
But where I really go crazy is on the radicchio front. And my nursery has only enabled this obsession. Yes, I managed to get six plants of every variety they had: pan di zucchero, variegato di castelfranco, vareigata di cioggia, and my favorite: the curly rosso di treviso tardivo. Even though they are all just little green plants for now, and look pretty much the same, soon they will be brightening my garden - and table - with their ruby red and rich ivory colors.
And I think in the end, that is what I love about my winter garden. The pure surprise and shock of walking out there on a foggy fall morning to be greeted by the intense blue greens, ruby reds and blinding whites of my veggies.
I know that come April, I will be mighty sick of yet another cabbage meal. But for now? Enough of the zucchini already. Grow broccoli, grow.
When I first started gardening, I was very ambitious and used to start plants from seed on my terrace in Rome, carefully carrying them out to Umbria to transplant. These days my life is slightly more complicated, and I'm slightly more lazy, so I end up buying plants from the nursery.
If you are inspired by this post to grow your own little Italian garden, there is a very good seed Italian seed company, Franchi, that distributes in both the UK and the USA.