Author Archives: helroswebb

British weather: 5th June

An Italian friend of mine once said that the problem with British weather was not the rain or the dampness it was the unpredictability of it. You wake up and its grey drizzle and by the time you have made it out of the door it has gone through at least three different states (to include sun, hail, wind, hot, cold and perhaps snow). She claimed that in Italy, the weather you get up with is the weather you go to bed with. Well, if she is to be believed then this week has been decidedly Engish! I head out to the garden, the rain joins me, I head to the office, the sun teases me. Quite annoying! Not only because it means a lot of copper spraying has to be done – in the brief sunny moments before it all washes off again in the rain!

On the upside, the intruders have decided to stay at home too and as yet the deer have failed to bring a ladder or hurdle the fence around the vines. The boar, foxes and fiena also continue to be no shows since the British weather arrived. Let’s hope they keep their distance as the ducklings and chicks become ever more bold in their exploring. And perhaps learning escape tactics from their older counterparts…



Ants, ants, everywhere: May 30th

Ants are taking up residence in the bee feeder on my hive. Whilst researching I found out that 400 years ago, Charles Butler listed the Enemies of bees as :

  • the mouse
  • the woodpecker
  • the Titmouse
  • the Swallow
  • the Hornet
  • the Wasp
  • the Moth
  • the snail
  • the Emet
  • the Spider
  • the Toad
  • the Frog
  • the Bee
  • the weather

Not so resilient eh?! Well I would add to that list the usual collection of Italian pests (fiena, boar, deer…), cack-handed Englishmen and ANTS. They are all over the place! As yet, I’m still to really find out what damage they are doing and therefore what threat they pose to the bees, but I’m sure they shouldn’t be helping themselves to the food!

Ants are causing havoc elsewhere in the garden too. Daily de-bugging ( ants, black/ green fly) the roses, blackberries and white beans. It’s not like they do anything useful like pollinate or something….stupid ants… *returns to googling “getting rid of ants” with grumpy face*


Chicks and ransacking: May 23rd

The chicks hatched! The eggs arrived safely, very carefully wrapped and yesterday the chicks make themselves known. Just as sweet as the tacky Easter cards would have you think, plus a bit sibling negotiation which I enjoy watching unfold. The brood are now happily ensconced in the run with an older hen who seems to be taking very well to parenthood.

In other chicken news, there was a small breakout last week. As you can imagine it was hens who are now proving to be less interested in parenthood that ransacked the vegetable garden! I’m just glad that the escape route wasn’t used as an entrance for predators. The veg are now recovering, thankfully no fatalities. The potatoes, white beans, garlic and onions seem to be rather resilient to the occasional hen ransackment.

Speaking of ransacking, we had our first wild boar spotting for a long time this morning. No damage as yet. I wait with baited breath…


14th May: Beans and Bees

This week we finally harvested the fava beans. It is such a labour intensive job for just beans- somehow the labour in vines seems more worthwhile when you get wine out of them (eventually!). But delicious as they are I’m happy to do the slaving. Especially when at the end of the day I know I can sit on the terrace with a glass of red and a handful of fresh beans. All in a days work eh?!

Last week we had ducklings arriving and now we have bees! Thousands of them! And I must say I have become a bit of a bee nerd. It’s not easy getting excited about the “brood”, the “waggle dance” or “balling” when you don’t have bees yourself but now I’m a regular apiarist. If you were to see me heading down to the hives in my hat and veil you might believe I knew what I was doing (or that I was heading to church..) but I actually am starting to! My most searched items on google no longer comprise of chinghiale/ deer/ fieana /bloody pests its now all about bees, stigma and scholz candy….and Newcastle United, obviously.

May 9th: Grass fight and new arrivals!

Very exciting arrivals this week, a pair of one week old ducklings! They seem to very happy in their new home- a cardboard box in the kitchen- and much calmer than I was expecting. Yesterday they spent a little time outside on the terrace with me admiring the view. They seem pretty stoked about their new surroundings.

The garden is suddenly going great guns, having had a rather wet week it’s starting to perk up. The broad (fava in Italy) beans are ready to be harvested, the onions are steaming along and the potatoes are poking their heads up. Sadly the other thing that is growing splendidly is the grass which surrounds the vines. If it had its way it would be waist high, but the humidity it produces is a danger for the grapes so I am busily hacking it down on what feels like a daily basis! The vines seem to be pretty demanding at the moment as I’m also spraying them with a copper solution to prevent disease. Which is labour intensive but paramount to healthy vines, I am assured!

Nettle Pesto: April 28th

The majority of us (especially the Brits among you) associate nettles with childhood tears and the search for dock leaves. Or perhaps the corner of the park where no one went except for the occasionally hardy/foolish dog. But here in Italy, in spring time, we eat it. My favorite way is to make a quick nettle pesto or pesto d’urtica. 

Super simply, blanch the nettles for a minute or two in boiling salted water, drain and squeeze dry and then mix (traditionally of course with a pestle and mortar, or, if you are lazy like me, with a blender) with pine nuts, olive oil, parmesan, salt and garlic cloves. Stir into pasta. Pow. Take that bane of childhood!

Just make sure you’re not using the ones from that corner of the park…

Better Chicken News: April 18th

Having had bad chicken news last time I have cheering news now. We have ordered some new chicks to arrive in May! We’ll need to be extra vigilant that they don’t get poached by some manner of beasty while they are still tiny. Hopefully the other hens will be happy to play guardian to their younger friends. Chicks don’t have an easy time in Northern Italy. In the UK we mostly had foxes, dogs and the very occasional bird of prey to worry about, but here there is a vast array of potential predators; foxes, birds and the dread “faina” to name a few.

Elsewhere in the garden, the vines are starting to show some green, lets just hope this weather holds…


Bad week for chickens: April 9th

I’m feeling a tinge of guilt this week. Whilst berating the chickens for attempting to massacre the strawberries last week, a worse massacre has befallen them. One of our hens was cruelly killed and Agatha (the only named chicken of the brood) seems to have had a heart attack and died perhaps in solidarity. It was a faina that did the damage in full day light!! Faina is the Italian word for a beech marten but having only come across these beasts in Italy I didn’t know the English word until i looked it up this morning in my worn out copy of Il Ragazzini/Biagi, an Italian dictionary. Its’ name is by-the-by however, it could be called Terry for all the good it would do Agatha and her friend. So “insomma”, its’s bad times at hen mansions.

Good times however for my vines as the fence is up. No vandals have made their way in yet. I even spotted a deer watching my dolefully from the edge of the woods next to the vineyard. England 1 – Italian Deer 0….so far.

I’ve also finished the wood chopping for the season, so defiantly making progress!

March 24th: Lunar gardening

The fence is almost done! I’ve just got to finish some final joins and strengthening (in case of particularly persevering animals!) and then it’s complete! Chicken-proof! Deer-proof! Cinghiale-proof! Too optimistic?! Never.

In my haste to get the fences up I may have missed the PERFECT week to plant the potatoes. Well, assuming I am still attempting to plant by the moon… Never heard of it? Nor had I. Planting by the moon has been a long standing way of farming for many hundreds of years. The Italians being the Italians, following their favourite motto of “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it” have for the most part preserved this way of producing food. (Arguably there could be better mottoes when it comes to the running of political parties but no one’s complaining about their tomatoes!) 

The basic premise is that the moon affects plant life and you should use it’s powers to enhance your gardening. At it’s mildest, lunar gardening encourages you to plant things that grow underground (root veg etc) when the moon is waning and those which grow above ground when the moon is waxing. At it’s most extreme it details that there are 14 fruitful days a month according to the signs of the zodiac and nothing should be planted on a Sunday because it is deemed a barren day, too hot- the Sun’s day.

My sceptical (and forgiving) side is willing to believe that I haven’t missed the moment for potato planting. But, with Italy being known for it’s food and the surrounding farmers all taking planting by the moon quite seriously I am making it my priority to get digging!

March 21st: The Cinghiale returns

Since Spring seems to be springing I have been spending a lot more time outside sorting out the land for the summer growing season. We have an olive grove, a vineyard and a vegetable patch that continues to grow in size; we have our work cut out!

The olives are in the final phase of being pruned and prior to the next downpour they will be fed. The main priorities at the moment seem to be linked to fending off animals. I’m trying to get the fence up around the vines as quickly as possible, before the dreaded deer and cinghiale arrive. As you may remember from my 12th July blog they are not my favourite friends…to put it lightly. They are the plague of the area… to put it accurately. The deer whilst to look at are beautiful, eat everything that you don’t want them to eat and leave the rest. On the other hand the cinghiale, a tad less beautiful, appear to serve no purpose for me apart from at dinner time. They were re-introduced to improve hunting in the area but reproduce faster than we can shoot them. The growing wolf population may help although they seem to prefer to pilfer a few lambs instead of having to tackle a stroppy and protective cinghiale sow.

Anyway the fences are about halfway done. Meanwhile, whilst the cinghiale ravage any root in their way the chickens seem intent on ruining the strawberry patch. Or indeed anything green and growing. I don’t want to have to cage off everything! Not only because I believe there are better things to do (like watch my black and white teams lose…again)! But one thing is clear this week, deer 1, cinghiale 1, chickens 1, British expat nil. Where’s the “black and white” shirt?