This spring I began to build a permaculture garden behind the fontanella (”fountain”) of the Art Monastery guesthouse, Casale Santa Brigida starting from a plot of land filled with weeds, grass and rocks.
A couple months later, it looks great, largely thanks to the many lovely people (Nathan, Sarah, Erin, Gennaro and Besant Hill, to name a few) who lent a hand and helped with all the hard work. Now the garden is flourishing and full of delicious food–I’m noshing on some fresh spinach, chard and beets as I write this…YuM!
I used a lot of companion planting permaculture techniques in building the garden; clusters of tomato plants surrounded by eggplants and peppers, marigolds to keep pests away, basil to enhance the flavor of the tomatoes, radishes to repel beetles and provide a ground cover that retains moisture, and so on. Permaculture gardening has many different variations internationally, and my friend, professional gardener Gennaro di Bari built an “aiuola,” an Italian version of a permaculture plot.
I “started” (planted) a bunch of seedlings and kept them indoors in the early spring so the they would be ready to plant early in the season. A great way to start seedlings indoors in the spring is to plant a seed directly inside of an eggshell filled with soil.
The eggshell is biodegradable and the seedling and shell can be planted directly into the ground when it is warm enough outside.
Getting the eggshells ready so I can plant seeds in them.
Preparing the ground:
Gabriele and I bravely struck out to till up the garden plot using a "zappa" (spade). This turned out to be a LOT harder than we thought it would be so...
Determined to get the space plowed, I drove around the countryside until I found someone with a newly tilled garden. I pulled over, asked them who had done it and how I could find someone to help me plow the garden at the CSB. Just then, a farmer drove past on his tractor.
Planting, weeding, and growing:
Gennaro begins to dig out the space for the aiuola. An aiuola permaculture garden bed is usually raised about 3 feet off the ground, with a trough around it to help retain water. The height of the bed makes it easier to tend the garden without bending over.
Planting starts (baby plants) in the aiuola. We planted pole beans, eggplant, lettuce, carrots, tomatoes and radishes.
Adding more plant starts in the aiuola.
A clear view of the aiuola and how the plants are positioned and spaced.
Butterfly eggs on a leaf...they look like a tiny cluster of iridescent pearls.
Now that the garden is in place, we’re able to feed a large number of people for very little, we’re more independently sustainable and we have a great learning space for others to discover how to nurture and make things grow. I’ve been practicing my own version of “garden yoga” while I water the plants in the evening, using a combination of balancing poses and large sweeping arm movements to exercise and strengthen my body while enjoying the experience of cool water on my toes after a full day of zesty hot Italian sunshine.