At least the garden was appreciative of all the rain this month & stuff is finally starting to grow. This month we’ve been picking:
- Mixed lettuce (Cut & Come Again & Cos) – and the lovely shot below shows off our new vinyl covering for the outside tables
- Rocket (Salad Rocket, the local Rocket – which has hairier leaves & is a little stronger & the wild rocket with its serrated leaves & great peppery taste)
- Mixed Oriental spicy leaves
- Fresh herbs: coriander, chives (garlic & ordinary), parsley (curled & flat-leaved), tarragon, sage, dill & basil
It’s been a busy month in the garden with all the plants finally making their way out of pots & into the ground. May started off pretty good weather-wise but we had a lot of rain, high winds & bad storms from the middle of the month. The raised beds were flooded, the flower beds were mini waterfalls and I feared for the health of my young. A few plants rotted and the drop in temperatures & deluges of water certainly stunted the development of many plants but it wasn’t the disaster it could have been.
The onions in this bed are doing great and we’re on target for big beauties this year. I interspersed them with spinach (which has cropped very poorly) and lettuce (which is doing great) and of course the trusty marigolds edge all the beds in their key role as colourful companion plant.
The poor harvest of pumpkin & marrow last year was a disappointment and this year I hope to grow many more and have a good supply for the autumn months. The courgettes are growing away fabulously and the pumpkins are just starting to get established. Cucumbers have been a huge disappointment but I direct sowed a bunch more seed & finally got 3 to germinate. And the nasturtiums are loving keeping the curcubits & squashes company…
Melons are struggling but if they can hold on until the sun comes out to stay, they should be fine. And I’m already anticipating the delights of Butternut Squash for the first time. They are growing away great atop the compost heap!
The tomatoes are romping away, tied to hefty stakes and each with their own cut-off plastic bottle waterer to get the water to their roots. The fruit is forming and in a week or so I’m confident we’ll be picking the first tomatoes of 2012 from the garden & I can’t wait! The shop-bought tomatoes are expensive & tasteless in comparison.
I sowed broad beans for the first time and was a little despondent when a Greek lady from the Mediterranean Garden Society commented that they have already harvested theirs and that they would not fare well in the heat. According to her I should have sowed them in September/ October and harvested them at the beginning of the year. I’m not sure that they would have survived the cold weather we got this winter, presumably harsher than the even more Southern climate of Greece. So maybe I need to go for sowing them somewhere between a Greek and UK norm – maybe early Feb? Anyway, lucky for the beans May has been pretty chilly so it looks like I might have success after all…
The flowers in the garden have been mostly a disappointment. In the tyre wall, the flowers that nature sowed are bigger & more established by far – comfrey, borage & cosmos in particular – whilst many of my lovingly nurtured seedlings look weak & feeble in comparison. Stunted by lack of sun, petunias & aster are struggling. Lobelia is only just starting to push out some intense blue flowers.
The perennial flowers I cultivated have turned out to be a massive disappointment – dominated by ornamental cabbages which have pushed up foul-smelling and quite boring yellow flowers. It’s mostly a green & yellow look at the moment, as the sunflowers have braved the rain & cold to form their majestic heads.
There’s the odd pansy, viola, nigella & snapdragon trying to provide a diversion. And the passion flower is flowering now too. The tobacco plants got really hammered by the weather but it seems a handful may have survived so they should start getting a move on now. The zinnia & marigold seeds I saved from last years flowers are germinating well so we’ll expect some splashes of pink & orange interest eventually…
On the bright side the Livingstone Daisies are glorious and the violas are flowering delicately. Snapdragons are just starting to show their pastel shades and geraniums, cosmos & zinnia are finally getting going. Here’s a shot of the flower bed by the stream-side steps, which is just building up to being the riot of colour my heart desires…
And the sage flowers have been purply gorgeous all month!
Grace’s tree is now 4 years old and is looking great. You can see why they call it the ‘Smokebush’…
Baking & Making
There hasn’t been much time for creativity this month as all energy has gone into the many tasks needing to be done on the campsite. And now I’m cooking every day for us, volunteers, guests, friends & visiting Botanists etc, I’m into that “doing it for a living” mode which takes all the fun out of it for me. Meals have been wolfed down by everybody so I guess its all good and my famous homemade pizza was a particular success the other night…
Edmund de Waal’s ‘The Hare with the Amber Eyes’ is a biography and not the genre of book I normally read, but since a dear friend bought it for me I decided to give it a go.
I struggled to start this book but then a combination of things pushed me on. De Waal traces the story of 100’s of netsuke (Japanese miniature sculptures) that he inherits from his Uncle. On 2nd May we were joined by Toru, our first ever visitor from Japan & first wwoofer of 2012. Spending time with Toru made me realise how little I knew about Japanese culture. This and the surfeit of time on my hands as storms & rains kept me cowering in the caravan, was a good combo for getting me stuck into this great piece of literature.
It was a brilliantly written book – great use of language, with descriptive swirls in all the right places without being gratiously flowery. Most interesting for me was the focus on times in history I knew little about: the Jewish community in Europe in late 1800’s onward; Austria in the lead up to WWII from the perspective of a Jewish family and their subsequent plight during wartime. And through it all weaves a fascination with Japanese artefacts. The way De Waal describes the little ivory carvings made me long to hold one in my hand, to hold & stroke, to feel its lightness & coolness and then finally to study it and wonder at the detail, the precision, the craftsmanship.
And now for something completely different…
After a slow start its finally getting good. More of that next month…
We moved onto the campsite & into the caravan (oops – forgot to take some pics of the new nest, next month I promise!) on May 1st and the list of things to be done seemed overwhelming. Thank goodness for Toru who showed up on May 2nd (he was walking up the hill bless him when we intercepted him!) and kick-started our efforts. We were pretty unsure about Toru’s fit with us before he arrived – the Japanese are not know for embracing nudity, for example – but we warmed to him immediately. In so many ways he was atypical for his race – for instance he was a wine-lover and he didn’t like having his picture taken! He’d been away from Japan for 8+years and having lived in France for 3 years, Europe had rubbed off on him a little… However, he was very conscious of social graces and customs: wary of taking the wrong chair at the table in case we all had our ‘place’ and uncomfortable at eating without us all sitting down together to eat.
He may be diminuitive in stature, but to us he’s the Mighty Toru:
He was strong and capable and just got on with stuff and was a massive help in that first crucial week. We got the place opened up & cleaned. The grounds were tidied & strimmed. Here’s me post-strim with legs spatttered with grass & plant debris. Turns out there’s some plant out there that’s an irritant as blisters appeared on my legs the day after. Note to self: don’t strim in shorts or go scrub skin directly afterwards!
Toru & I got the tables & sofas back outside and levelled and then the boys erected the gazebo. The outside space was starting to take shape…
As we tried to put the campsite back together a few things inevitably fell apart along the way… The kitchen tap started leaking again and despite Steve’s best efforts, a new tap was required. The pull-string on the generator snapped and Steve had to bodge it with some rope. But generally the building had weathered the winter well – the limewash was still bright & white, the furniture still intact.
All bar one of the greywater baths were completely dug out. We emptied all the gravel, cleaned it, sieving to remove the roots and muck. We replaced the gravel, re-planted a small selection of the plants & topped them off with soil. I used some of the soil discarded from the baths to re-pot palms, aloe, lemongrass & tamarind, which have all gone up several pot sizes to allow good root growth and are strategically placed along the top of the stone walls to stop people clambering up & down them and further destroying the walls:
We started transforming the basement with Toru’s help. I was very nervous about the fact that if it rained this summer we had no covered area for our guests – we were lucky that it was a stonking hot summer last year and the rare times we needed to head for cover there was so few of us that crowding in the kitchen was no problem. Since we didn’t have the funds or the time to start & finish creating the outside eating area that we had been planning, I thought that getting the basement sorted would give us an overflow space for rainy days if necessary. We took loads of random stuff that was cluttering up the inner space out altogether and neatly stacked everything in a new material pile, discreetly located behind the workshop. We painted the ceiling in the inner basement and re-limewashed parts of the wall. The inner basement now stores the tents, the cleaning cupboard & the pile of army sleeping mats and the bottle windows all stack away inside. The chest of drawers that kept our clothes in 2011BC (Before Caravan!) is now a vegetable store (cold, dark & mouse-proof – it’s great!) and the ‘office’ is there too, so all our paperwork & business-stuff is out of the way of our guests.
The day before Toru left was World Naked Gardening Day so it was a great excuse to be out in the garden all day. Toru planted out the last of the tomatoes, peppers & aubergines. I sowed loads of seeds, weeded and thinned. Steve spent the day in the garden too but he was focusing on re-vamping the irrigation system. We had issues with the system backing up last year and this was in part due to the fact that the hose fitting that came off the last greywater bath and into the beds was too narrow. Steve hatched a plan to use a thicker bore hose and wider gauge fittings and was chuffed to be able to use taps that had been in his stash of ‘bits’ for years and had travelled from the UK with us:
With Toru gone, Steve & I continued with the basement project concentrating on transforming the outer basement area, limewashing, painting the ceiling and moving furniture.
And here’s what it looks like now:
We got the basement finished in time for the visit from the Mediterranean Garden Society (MSG). There were 25 of them in the end and they stayed with us for over 4 hours. Steve gave a talk on how we developed & operate an off-grid campsite. I was hiding in the kitchen preparing food but as usual the press came & collared me! I was interviewed and made it onto national TV that weekend though I never even saw the footage!
The MSG visit was a huge success. They all loved the healthy lunch I had prepared for them and my Green Tomato Chutney was a big hit. We talked for hours as various people asked us all the usual questions and oohed and aahed over photos of the development of the land over the past 5 years. They loved stomping around the grounds helping Steve identify lots of the wild flowers and plants and giving their expert opinion on my garden. The orchids were very obliging – putting on a nice show. They had apparently never seen the Tongue Orchid in the wild so we & they were delighted that they saw their first at Camp Full Monte. Sadly we were so busy entertaining them that we didn’t take a single photo. A big wig botanist wrote nice things in our Guest Book and afterwards they told our friend Hayley that the Camp Full Monte visit was one of the highlights of their trip!
The next project was the kitchen re-furb. This involved making a new cupboard for the fridges since we now had an additional, bigger fridge donated by Pam & Gerry from their caravan. So, finally a chance for Steve to use all the power tools he bought in the UK! Out came the circular saw, the electric screwdriver etc and this is what he created:
This project has moved on considerably but those pictures are for another post…
We even got our guests involved in projects! Sebastian was a fab German guy who really enjoyed helping out. Here he is with Steve man-handling a huge log from the van after the boys went raiding the wood in the neighbourhood. This huge, glorious log used to be part of the dead tree in the turning circle near to the campsite.
Our second volunteer of the season joined us at the end of May. Here’s Erick sawing up steps to make getting in & out of the caravan easier:
The weather has not been great for business and we were starting to get quite concerned. Our first guest was due to arrive on May 5th, a Greek guy travelling through. He just didn’t show up. The next guests who were booked in with their own tent were due to stay with us a few days, maybe even a week, but left after one soggy night.
Then Sebastian turned up – a heaving, sweaty mess of a man having cycled/ pushed his bike all the way up the hill to the campsite. He was only going to stay a night but he just couldn’t leave. The weather wasn’t great the day after he arrived and he was thinking he should move on because it was great cycling weather. Then the sun came out & he stayed. Not only that, he persuaded a German girl he’d met in a hostel along the coast to come & join him at the campsite! So Uli turned up to stay a night… and finally left 4 nights later. They were lovely folk and were so captivated by the place, despite the weather. Nigel arrived from the UK at the same time, leaving the heatwave there to come to a positively soggy & chilly Monte and we felt terrible for him. But he was very happy with his tent, which stayed mostly dry, enjoyed hanging out with Sebastian and Uli and loved Daisy, taking her for a walk every day. His entry in the Guest Book was really special.
So May wasn’t the total wash out it could have been. And I scored some proof-reading work too so that was extra cash!
Annie came to stay in the second week in May & we had a fabulous time with her, relaxing in the sun.
She’s great fun, full of stories and easy company. She makes herself at home & mucks in with the cleaning too. She’s happy entertaining herself so we can potter about & get things done without feeling guilty. She taught me to play Jack Changer – an addictive card game and we had many fun nights together. The days were mostly sunny but the weather did start to deteriorate towards the end of her visit. Once the rain came, the temperatures really dropped & the evenings were really chilly. Luckily I found her a hat big enough to contain all her hair!
The other highlight of the social calendar was a party for Mary, a great Irish lass we know here. It was supposed to be a Girls Camp Out and a great excuse to finally get a few key girlies to the campsite who’ve never visited before. We were all so looking forward to it but the forecast leading up to the big day was awful. In order to accomodate all the girlies we had to put up a bunch of tents. We put half of them up & postponed the rest until the morning of the Camp Out. We woke up to find the campsite in the clouds. I dithered about in the morning, loathe to cancel the camp out but dreading everyone being there in the driving rain… I finally took the decision to move the party to our house in town instead and what a good call that turned out to be! As we were eating, drinking, dancing & being merry, a storm raged outside!
Here’s the birthday girl with various pressies (a cake cover & silicone glove – she’s a cake-baker extraordinaire!) adorning her person!
It was a fabulous night with gorgeous food, cake, Zumba dancing and general silliness:
Mary & Annie had never met before but I knew the Irish lasses would get on great. Here they are Irish jigging in between giggles:
This May has felt so different from last year in so many ways. The biggest difference is the vastly reduced numbers of Gypsy Moth caterpillars. There are a still a few trees that have been stripped of leaves and definitely the oaks on the top woodland that we don’t manage so closely have suffered more than those on the mian campsite but the numbers of caterpillars around is vastly reduced. And the awful sound of a million caterpillars isn’t haunting us this year. We can only guess that this is due to a last winter being much colder. There are less crickets and spiders too. This time last year we were being hassled by the droppings of huge spiders way up the walls of the kitchen but no such drama now.
The usual suspects have all been seen: tortoises, toads, a variety of lizards (including the legless one that everyone thinks is a snake) and there are loads of birds about, especially Great Tits.
But the biggest impact on our lives this month has been the weather – wetter & colder than any May we have experienced since coming here. The phrase “Whose idea was it to run a blummin campsite?!” has been much used this month as we apologise to guests for the sogginess as they shiver in their ‘holiday’ clothes… It has set us back on work projects. The kitchen floor seems perpetually muddy…
Tell you what – the caravan certainly came at the right time!!! Thank goodness for our warm, cosy haven that has lights & a loo and a stove for making tea and where we can hide from the world. Daisy loves it too. No more barking through the night keeping everyone awake. She sleeps in her bed over the other side of the van from us and doesn’t make a sound.