Our Abruzzo Vegetable Garden
A chunk – quite a large chunk – of our acre of Abruzzo is given over to the vegetable garden and the orchard.
Another chunk – quite a large chunk – of our life in Abruzzo is given over to looking after them.
Our Abruzzo vegetable garden – or orto, to give it its more succint and evocative Italian name, is about 100 square metres. It’s on an open, unshaded slope facing due south and the soil is heavy clay.
The planning, which pleasurably occupied most of last summer when the plot was a weed-infested tangle, was to grow vegetables that a) we like to eat (obviously); and b) weren’t readily available in our local shops.
Runner Beans. Variety: White Lady
We actually grew these last year. It took a while for Abruzzo bees to cotton-on to the fact that they were the key element in pollinating the flowers, but once they’d grasped this, we had the start of a promising crop. Then it was August and the heat turned all our beans into wood. A smaller crop in the comparative cool of September and October was delicious.
This year, I started early. The beans are already planted, twining up their poles and flowering and the plan is to get the crop over and done with by late July. When I’ll already have planted the seeds for a second flush in the autumn.
Brussels Sprouts. Variety: Seven Hills
You can get imported Dutch sprouts, but they’re not especially nice. This is a robust old-fashioned variety with a proper sprout taste. Love or hate. Pauline hates, so one plant will be more than enough. But I’ve put in two. Just in case…
Purple Sprouting Broccoli. Variety: Rudolph
Now of course this is a hugely popular autumn vegetable here, but what you see in the shops always looks…limp. Freshly picked just has to taste better. Gently steamed and finished with a drizzle of oil; a hint of garlic; and a fleck or two of dried chilli.
Celeriac. Variety: Diamant
I’d actually planted the seeds before realizing that celeriac was available throughout winter from our our local fruit’n'veg emporium. But I’m growing a few anyway – just to see if I can.
Sweet Corn. Variety: Indian Summer
This is an award-winning American variety with multicolored cobs and a wonderful sweetness, which is accentuated by cooking it on the barbecue or a cast-iron griddle. My twenty plants should provide 20-30 cobs – plenty for eating fresh and freezing.
Potato. Variety: Maris Piper
Italian spuds are terrific. Sweet and flavorsome. They make good mash; bake well; and if you can find ones that are young enough and small enough, they boil nicely too. But they disintegrate if you try and make ‘proper’ roast potatoes. It was toss-up between Maris Piper and King Edward as the two very best traditional English maincrop spuds. The former’s a bit more disease-resistant and my two small rows, which should yield about 15-20lbs, look encouragingly good so far.
Tomato. Varieties: Golden Cherry; Brandywine Red; Costoluto Fiorentino; and ‘unknown’.
More than any other vegetable, the tomato is an Italian obsession. But with the exception of the Italian heritage ‘beefsteak’ variety Costoluto Fiorentino, my crop, however bountiful and however delicious, will be be treated with suspicion and disdain because it’s a known fact here that only Italian tomatoes of the type grown since the dawn of time are worth the effort.
Golden Cherry is Japanese (I think) and the essential ingredient of our own ‘house pasta’ – try the recipe ! Brandywine is an American Amish heritage ‘beefsteak’ of great reputation. Have never tried it before. The ‘unknown’ tomato came from our friend Ruth last year – yes, from an Italian market – and was simply the very best I’d ever tasted. The few seeds I kept last autumn obligingly came up like mustard-and-cress this spring and have grown into vigorous, good-looking plants. But I hope they’ve come true…
Pumpkin. Variety: Potimarron
In the autumn you’ll find huge chunks of appetising-looking pumpkin on sale everywhere. All I’ve tried so far have been watery, fibrous and tasteless. More in hope than anything else, I planted a few old seeds of the variety Sunshine last year and was rewarded with a dozen or so scrumptious fruit.
I’m trialling a French variety this year which allegedly has a sweeter, denser, nuttier flesh with hints of chestnut. (Hence the name Potimarron – an amalgam of potiron – pumpkin; and marron – chestnut). Three plants should provide another dozen fruit.
Melon. Variety: Charentais-type
Too early to say yet as the seedlings are still being nurtured. A demanding plant to grow, but like celeriac, trying it to see if I can…
Shallot. Variety: French ‘long’ type
Can you buy shallot sets here ? No. So these were supermarket-bought and the smaller ones planted out. Two rows of 10 have sat and sulked for three weeks with just one boasting a rather half-hearted green topknot. Failure could be looming here…
Parsnip. Variety: Guernsey Half Long
It came as something of a surprise to discover that Italians – or at least Abruzzese – regard most root veggies like parsnips as animal fodder. If you want parsnips – grow them yourself. Our clay soil is way too heavy and impenetrable for impressionable young roots, so I’m growing these in a big tub of multi-purpose compost and will sow the seeds just as soon as it brightens up a bit.
Into every life, a little rain must fall. Even life in Abruzzo…
I’m also toying with Swedes. (Now there’s an image…)
But I rather think there’s enough already happening in our Abruzzo vegetable garden for this year.
Next – news from the orchard…