After much searching and talking to locals we eventually began to hear talk of a nursery which was said to produce seedlings of superior quality in terms of growth speed and yield. We were determined and excited to acquire the best seedlings that Sicily could provide, and were told that our quest would take us to the sea-side town of Acireale approximately 30 minutes away from our home in Via Grande. We promptly set out on our search for the nursery, during which we saw some amazing autumn colors by the sea-side.....
.....as well as some gigantic produce sold at the local markets.....
.....and some rather large bananas which seemed to be vigorous despite the onsetting cold weather.
After asking some locals about the existence of the nursery we were told that it was indeed in the area, and that it was indeed well known for its quality of seedlings since some of the previous customers apparently spent several hours on the road just to reach it. Eventually after some driving through the winding roads we came across this rather unusual sight.....
.....and confirmed that these series of beautifully intricate terraces and open aqueducts was the place we were looking for. The shack with the sod roof and the old wooden door seen on the right-hand-side of the photograph was the main office of the nursery and the seedlings grew quite happily under open air on a south-eastern slope with only the aid of horse manure, water and warm moisture-rich Mediterranean winds. Since we are currently heading into winter, the possible choices for seedlings were slim and we could only choose from several kinds of lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli and celery. We ended up getting 50 mixed seedlings, and paid a grand total of 4 euros for all of them.
Back at home, some of the purchased seedlings were quickly transplanted to the already prepared garden bed standing close to the main house entrance.
A particular method was used when planting the lettuce and celery seedlings, which involves making a hole through the mulch and cardboard, placing a handful of soil in the hole and placing the seedling firmly into the soil. In this way the humus structure of the soil provides a low-nutrient mixture which the seedling roots can grasp onto, while the intact cardboard surrounding the seedling prevents any weeds from penetrating and growing around the lettuce. The seedling roots are motivated to grow downward and outward to reach the slowly-decomposing food scraps and compost. This promoted root growth is important for healthy stable plants and it has been said that the application of fertilizer to the soil in direct contact with seedlings diminishes the speed of root growth, as there is no need for the roots to grow out in search for nutrients.
After the garden bed had been planted it was decided that some large pots which stood nearby should be utilized, and that the nature of the pots should be used to our advantage to conduct a comparison study. The 3 pots seen in the image below were filled with varying materials, the first pot being filled with soil and food scraps/compost, the second with soil and composted horse manure, and the third just with soil. All pots were topped off with a cover of cardboard and mulch.
|Aureliano explaining the process of planting seedlings to his|
The last area which was nominated to be prepped-up for food production was a strip of suitable land located very close to the property entrance/exit point. This strip was viewed as a top priority area for quite some time, due to it receiving the majority of sunlight during all times of morning and afternoon hours. The brightly colored wall next to the strip was thought to assist the creation of a warm micro-climate through reflection of light onto nearby plants.
|The strip of land on the right-hand-side, viewed from the main|
entrance/exit point of the property.
|The area from a different perspective with the main gate in the background.|
|A close up of the area to be worked on.|
|The 5cm layer of some rather life-less and rocky soil.|
However, this was a prime area for food production and a solution was quickly decided upon: the necessary soil would be built on top of the strip through the introduction of compost, food-scraps and horse manure which will break down into a rich humus over time and help introduce the necessary micro/macro organisms (which this area has very little of). We went about collecting the necessary ingredients for our raised garden bed, all of which were within several minutes driving from Casa di l'Amuri. The food-scraps were obtained from the Garozzo family house (who have been assisting our project by collecting all their food waste and storing it for us in a container) and from some nearby vegetable vendors who were more than happy to have us take their "garbage" (or "gold", as we saw it) off their hands.
|Aureliano conversing with the nice lady who runs the local veggie shop...|
|.....and stuffing artichoke leaves from another shop into boxes,|
buckets and sacks.
|In 5 minutes we had a car loaded with free plant food.|
The horse manure was obtained from our local riding club, who generously mix the manure with straw and leave it in the open to compost or to be picked up by anyone who has need of it.
Being slightly squeamish about parasites, I was relieved to find that certain areas of the pile had reached a scalding hot temperature, which should have incinerated any baddies crawling around in the horse poop. --|||||Sergie|||||
|A slightly unsure Peppe Minniti watches a confident Aureliano wade into|
the mountain of horse manure, in search of the good stuff....
|....which smells about as good as it looks.|
The horse manure was mixed with the food scraps and some compost which we had made several weeks earlier, resulting in a nutrient-loaded mixture which was topped with a layer of cardboard and leaf mulch. To avoid the mixture spilling out onto the driveway, some large bricks were used to outline the area, give it more definition, and increase the vertical limit of the bed by approximately 30cm. The bricks also provided additional space for planting seedlings and should greatly increase the thermal insulation of the bed.
|A front view of the raised garden bed, with an outer border of various lettuces|
planted in the bricks. Each hole in the brick contains the same materials as the
|A top-down view of the bed. The old sink which can be seen|
in the photo will be used to create a small aquaculture system
to encourage predator habitat and further increase the capture of
The poor-quality soil underneath the raised garden bed was found to have some plastic waste and bits of paint which had chipped off from the adjoining wall. To assist the breakdown of any contaminants in the soil, old rotten logs were placed around the perimeter of the bed to help the beneficial fungi spread and lock up the toxins. A soil test is being planned to determine whether more serious measures should be taken to detoxify and regenerate the area.
Essentially, the seedlings are sitting on a giant compost pile which slowly decomposes and produces more than enough heat to keep the plants warm and cozy all through the winter, and at the same time provides them with a constant source of nutrients. While this method is extensively talked about in various Permaculture books, it should be noted that this technique (like most others mentioned in Permaculture books/seminars/workshops) has already been practiced traditionally for a long time by various cultures across the globe. In particular, I was surprised to find my father telling me that the method described above was used (with minor variations) quite extensively and with great success in my homeland of Siberia. --|||||Sergie|||||