Tag Archives: Tuscany

Synergistic Gardens at La Fattoria dell’Autosufficienza

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I have just finished a week volunteering with Elena in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy.  Our main focus was in the vegetable gardens.  Elena follows Emilia Hazelip’s methods adapted to a temperate climate from Masanobu Fukuoka’s natural farming techniques.  A term referred to as Synergistic Gardening which is a fancy way of saying self fertilising garden.  The main focus is building soil fertility.  Here are the main principles;

  • Permanent raised beds with the ability to reach the whole bed without stepping on it.  Keyholes are best use of space but if you have room strips are easy to work with
  • No bare soil – permanent soil cover using organic mulch like straw or sheep’s wool.  I believe a living mulch could work really well too.  Adding even more life to the beds.
  • No monoculture – massive diversity in plants for all the obvious reasons; Resilience, beneficial insects etc.  There is no particular planting patterns it seems.
  • No chemicals! (pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, hormones)
  • No tilling – yes that means no digging (apart from the original prep)!
  • No added compost (with the possible exception of demanding transplants)
  • No treating plants (i.e. for insects, illness, etc).
  • No pulling out plants (except for root vegetables)

It actually seems like a lot of rules but it’s pretty simple once the beds are set up – keep it covered, mix things up when sowing and interfere with the garden as little as possible.  If you want to remove the odd weed then cut it at the base letting the roots stay.

Helping Elena made me realise that keeping annuals can actually be very easy.  I helped her do her yearly irrigation system check, her yearly weed (by chopping at the base of the stem), yes once a year, and the rest of the time we were scattering seeds.  She likes to observe what does well in what situation rather then referring to a companion planting book.

There are a few logical sowing methods that I observed like salad plants taking up most of the edges for ease of regular picking and some larger rooted plants in the higher positions with more soil below.

Whilst walking around the gardens I thought to myself that one packet of seeds is roughly equivalent in cost to one vegetable, like a fennel or a pumpkin or something similar.  So compared with the effort that we put into annual gardening we may as well just scatter seeds and hope for the best.  If two come good then we have saved ourselves the cost of one vegetable and for the very very least effort spent.  Even less if we are saving our own seed!

Thank you for having me for a week and good luck with the continuing success of your experiments at La Fattoria dell’Autosufficienza

Porcini’s in Popolano

After a really wonderful day in Venice with Ma and Pa we decided that an Italian countryside chill out was needed and hopped on a train south to Popolano, a small village inside the Tuscan region.  The rain only enhanced the lush green vegetation amongst the rolling green hills.  It was my first taste of the Italian countryside, I felt it soothing my soul, just what we needed!

Hardly time to settle into our room before Giovanni our host knocked at the door with a big box of mushrooms.  His father had been out that morning and hauled in a monster catch.  We were invited to go foraging the next day if the weather was fine.  A sunny day following a week of rain is perfect for the porcini at this time of year.

The language barrier reared it’s ugly head once again and so we were not quite sure when or where we would go but at around 2pm we got a knock on the door and were ushered into a little 4×4 panda with Giovanni’s father Roberto and whisked of up into the mountains.

Roberto obviously knew what he was doing and it felt like he was also passing his knowledge on to Giovanni as he pointed to different shades of green and distinct arches in the grass.  They both had cool little rake-type-comb things.  They showed us where to look and then got busy scratching around in the field.

A very different technique than when Nina and I were wandering through the New Forest unable to miss the hundreds of mushrooms thrusting themselves towards us.  We had to hunt hard for them and to make things harder someone had already been to this patch earlier in the day.

We hunted around for a good couple of hours and found ourselves enough fungi for dinner.  We were told that in another two weeks there would be many more mushrooms and they’d be bigger too.  We were on the cusp of fungi season and so retired to our home for the evening eager to cook up our new found treats.

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