It took us almost a week to get over to inspect ‘our’ orto. I think we were simply afraid to look. In case you don’t know or remember the whole saga of how we wound up as serfs working a garden in the center of our medieval village: click here.
This year, our first order of orto business was to check in with Signor Bruschi and make sure that he was still agreeable to us working the orto. He seemed quite pleased that we wanted to continue the gardening and he went on to explain what should be planted immediately: tomatoes, beans and salad. He was offended when we suggested adding fresh soil; it was as if we were saying his soil wasn’t good enough. He did say that he would walk by frequently to explain how things should be done. I do believe he is quite enjoying being the land barren and us being the serfs. Seems to me it’s a perfect symbiotic relationship.
So with Bruschi dispensation, we headed over to peek at our orto. The last time I worked the garden was in November and I had my precious plot of cardoons that I had hopefully bedded down for the winter….and lo and behold…. I have happy, healthy cardoons in the orto! Surprise, surprise I also have a bumper crop of celery, some parsley (most of it has bolted, but there is some that is salvageable), a bit of fennel and some bitter greens. I’m happy to report that although the stinging nettle is growing nicely, it’s not as pervasive as last year. Thanks god. The little steps that Libby and I built are nearly overgrown and will need reinforcing.
But overall, it’s not too bad.
Jeff and I did a walk around surveying what needs to be done immediately and what can wait until May when the rest of Montone Orto Societa arrives. Clearly we need our own weed whacker to keep things manageable, so we rationalized a trip to Il Mulino. The mulino is the town grain mill, nursery, gardening store, where you can find beekeeper supplies, wine making things, hunting garb, great rubber boots, olive oil and on May 9th it will be rabbit day and you can buy all the rabbits you need. So you can certainly understand the attraction of a trip to the Mulino.
Turns out the object of our desire is called a decespuliatore. What a marvelous word, it simply rolls off the tongue with the ease of a fly stuck to fly paper. You want to say it ten times fast, you want to practice it under your breath, you want to simply point at the silly weed whacker and take it home, but things are never that straightforward in Italy. There is only the floor model decespugliatore that is in our price range, so the good luck is that we won’t have to assemble the decespugliatore, the bad luck is that we won’t have the benefit of an instruction manual. The good luck is that the decespugliatore-maestro will not let us take the machine without first testing and demonstrating it. The bad luck is that we won't be getting out of the molino any time soon.
Of course this process involves finding adequate floor space, rounding up the necessary 3 or 4 men to make the machine minion because no machine can be turned on with less than 4 men present, then there is a long discussion about the type of fuel to be used, the container it should be stored in, etc. etc. Now, bear in mind that rarely does the machine minion actually agree on the steps needed to turn on any machine. OK, we’re all set and then the decespugliatore-maestro starts yanking on the cord that starts the engine, but nothing is happening. Again, Again, nothing. At this point, I realize the safety switch is turned off and I have to figure out a delicate way to mention to the maestro that he might want to check that orange switch. A flick of the switch, a few tugs and we are now the proud of owners of a functioning decespugliatore. Unfortunately, its still wet and raining so we are going to have to wait for the sun to come out before we can whack any of those weeds, but at least we know we are armed and ready.
So last night we celebrated with a little bounty from our winter orto. I made some lovely cardoons with parmigiana and sautéed bitter greens and it felt good to eat the fruit of our labor and to dream about the orto to come.