A Travellerspoint blog

Rome Today

Rome, Lazio, Italy

semi-overcast 31 °C

Although this piece is not about organic food or farming, I am justifying it's inclusion in that the theme of recycling is a valid part of sustainable living.
Walking down a nondescript Roman street, uncharacterised by any notable architecture or famous fountain, I found a collection of unusual artworks, laid out along a ledge for about 100 metres or so. Part open-air gallery, part observational comedy, the artworks were all made from garbage or recycled materials.

The exhibition was titled "Rome Today". I know this because it was scribbled on an old piece of cardboard. Other pieces of cardboard were used to name each display. These included the "Boat-load of money", a boat shaped from aluminium foil, filled with 1 and 2 cent pieces and the ragged old tie and sunglasses titled "Emporio Armani"

Some pieces were thought provoking, some tongue-in-cheek. There was the sign at one end of the row that said "The beginning, or the end?". The piece of torn map with a star drawn on, saying "Are you really here?".

The artists impression of Narcissus was a plastic container filled with water and a stone in the bottom had a gazing face drawn on it.

I viewed the torn old bible titled "Don't put your hands on it!" as a satirical take on many Roman attractions that are a hybrid of religious-artefact and tourist-money-maker.

A toy elephant with a bit of tissue stuck to its trunk was labelled "Has a cold". A notable gap in the row of artworks provoked a chuckle from a passer by with it's cardboard plaque: "Work stolen". My personal favourite was "Rome by night", a postcard that had been completely covered over with a black marker.

While admiring this display, I met the artist, whose name I forgot to ask.
Between his limited English and my very limited Italian, he explained that he has been showing his art here for over 20 years.
"So the display changes each time?" I asked, anticipating the answer.
"No, no" he said, to my surprise. To prove it, he walked me down to a cigarette butt hanging over the edge of a step. The display was titled "Back in 10 minutes". He had been showing this piece since 1988. (Mind you, the butt was in great condition, which makes me think of the 20 years worth of cigarette butts floating around out there in drains and oceans).

Now I don't put it upon myself to judge one art display as being better than another, but this back street, impromptu exhibition brought a smile to my face and caused me to take a second look, while just last week I found myself walking almost briskly through London's Tate Modern enjoying their coffee more than anything else.

Posted by dzito15 12:29 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Medicine Garden

Millbrook, New York, USA

sunny 28 °C

The sun is out and its time to put on the work clothes, get back in the garden and get the hands dirty again (not that I ever really ever got them clean... trust me, I scrubbed).

After laying a pathway of stones through one section of the garden, a new bed is assigned for medicinal plants. Some of the plants in this garden are classified as herbs and some as weeds. All have uses in medicine whether they be used in cooking, in teas, tinctures or salves.

Already in the garden is Mullein, mugwort, calendula and plantain, a grassy looking weed. Adding to the herbs, we plant some lavender seedlings and spread seeds for german chamomile and more calendula.

Mullein is a tall plant, this one two meters, with large, furry leaves. The plant is known to be good for asthma and the flowers for ear infections. The dried leaves and dried root of mugwort are said to have many uses. These include diuretic, digestive, improving appetite and as an antiseptic. Calendula, an orange flowering plant, can be used in creams as an antiseptic or in a tincture as a treatment for acne. When taken internally, calendula can stimulate bile, helping with digestion.

Plantain is used externally as a first aid for bee stings. Taken internally, the leaves can also be an anti-phlegm remedy. Lavender, known commonly for its scent, is said to be calming and useful as a sedative. Used as a massage oil, Lavender is good for migraines or headaches. The flower is also used to make a calming tea. Chamomile flowers are mainly used in teas. Another calming herb, it is also beneficial for the digestive system, especially in babies and children. The oil can also be used to rub on irritated skin.

I can't explain it but there is a certain satisfaction to coming in with mud on the clothes and dirt under the fingernails. Maybe it signifies a good days work. Maybe it brings the soul closer to the earth. Or maybe the kids are right and getting dirty is just plain fun.

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Posted by dzito15 04:10 Archived in USA Comments (2)

Companion planting

Millbrook, New York, USA

sunny 33 °C

Companion planting is the process of planting various plants together in the same bed. Some plants work well together because of their ability to ward off insects or disease, boost growth or enhance flavours. In the book "Carrots love Tomatoes" by Louise Riotte, the example is given for Leek and Carrot. Leek is often attacked by the leek moth, and carrot affected by carrot fly. When planted together however, the smell of each plant actually repels the insect away from its companion plant. This is the simplest organic alternative to using pesticide on our vegetables.

After removing all the plants and weeds from one section of the garden, we begin to construct a new bed. First, we lay down a black sheet, which is actually made from corn starch. A good replacement for plastic, this sheet will decompose over time and not harm the soil or the environment. On top of this, the 'cow pots' that Vicki uses for her seedlings are made from cow dung and are fully decomposable.

Using information from the internet (http://www.ghorganics.com/page2.html) we design an arrangement of plants that will grow well together.

The bed will have tomatoes climbing the fence along the back of the garden. The rest of the bed is planted in two halves. Peppers grow well with tomatoes so in one half we plant sweet pepper, cayenne pepper and red lipstick pepper as well as basil and garlic scallions.
In the other half of the bed are vegetables that do not grow well with peppers. Kale, broccoli, celery, cabbage, leek and collard greens are planted here as well as sage.

Mulching the bed with a leaf and pine needle compost will help to keep out weeds and hold moisture for the new plants. As I put away the tools for the day, I wish these new companions a healthy and fruitful relationship.

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Posted by dzito15 16:47 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Camphill Village

Copake, New york, USA

sunny 32 °C

Set amongst 600 acres of woods and agricultural land in upstate New York is Camphill Village. Occupied by a community of volunteers and adults with special needs, the village aims to create a variety of meaningful work and life skills through craft and agriculture.

Being in such a remote and isolated location, Camphill has a unique opportunity to create a closed cycle environment where factions can work together to benefit the land and the environment. The community has created a biodynamic environment which attempts to have no negative impact on the earth. Biodynamics is a system that uses organic farming methods, crop rotation, special compost preparations and the planting and harvesting of crops in time with the fluctuations of the moon and planets.

"The principles and practice of biodynamic agriculture recognise the earth as a living organism in which each farm has its own identity. A biodynamic farm works towards the ideal of becoming a self-sustaining organism, with a balance of plants and animals, of pasture, woodlands and tilled fields. These elements work together to nourish and build the soil. Compost is made and nutrients circulate. Wildlife and native landscape are essential elements. All these together build up a farm with individuality and character, a place with a special atmosphere and quality." - (http://www.camphillvillage.org/work.html July 2010)

One part of the village, Turtle tree seeds, grows their plants for the purpose of collecting seeds. The seeds are used around the village and are sold to the public via an online catalog (http://www.turtletreeseed.com/). Ian Rob, from Turtle Tree Seeds was kind enough to show us around his workplace.

Seeds are collected in a dehumidified drying room at the TTS facility. As well as plants in their own garden, they also acquire seeds from the vegetable and healing plant growers in the village and other trusted farms from around the USA and Europe.

Once collected, the seeds are labeled and stored in a cool dark room while they await cleaning. In the next room, two staff members are cleaning the seeds. This looks like a painstaking process which involves a person with a pair of tweezers collecting each individual seed from the debris of leaves and seed casings and placing it into a container of pure seeds.

In this room, Ian also shows us his germination cabinet. By regulating the temperature in the cabinet, Ian tests seeds here and calculates the percentage of germination. This data ensures consistency and is used to aid future growth. Once the seeds are cleaned and known to have an acceptable germination rate, they are packaged and stored in the final holding area. The first thing you notice when you walk into this storage area, other than the pleasing smell, is the cool dry air. In his soft, scottish accent, Ian explains that it isn't the temperature that is so important, but the constancy of the temperature. If the temperature in the room rises and falls, the seeds will become confused, thinking it is time to sprout, then become dormant again with each rise and fall. This uses the seeds energy and may render them useless.

As well as a storage area for catalog seeds, this room is also used to hold seeds that are not for sale. TTS views themselves as being responsible for preserving plant varieties through seed production. Seeds that are no longer needed by growers are still kept and protected so that a range of varieties can be saved if they begin to die out.

Before leaving the village, we take a walk through the healing plant garden. Growing a range of aesthetically pleasing herbs and flowers, the huge, two-acre garden is used to make teas, ointments and seasonings for the purpose of healing the body and mind. With its flowing curves and tranquil air, the garden is also intended as a calming place for healing the soul.

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Posted by dzito15 11:33 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Strawberries!

Millbrook, New York, USA

sunny 33 °C

I've wanted to grow strawberries ever since I saw a Jamie Oliver episode about them. I don't remember what he cooked but I remember seeing him pick them fresh from his own garden.

Hay makes a good mulch for strawberries, which is what has been used here. The down side to hay is that it can spread seeds, allowing grass to grow in the bed. My job for the day is weeding as the strawberries have become quite overgrown with grass and weeds.
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Interspersed throughout the strawberries are lettuce plants. These are the only plants I am not pulling out of the garden today as they work well as a companion plant with strawberries ("Carrots Love Tomatoes" by Louise Riote, 1998).
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Commercial farms will usually grow strawberries in rows for easy care and harvesting. In this case, they have been allowed to spread and grow as they wish. The strawberry plant will send out runners, rooting down to create new plants. If growing in rows, you can snip the runner and replant the new stem elsewhere in the row.

The ground cover provided by allowing the plants to spread in all directions looks natural and would better utilise a small space. I like the idea of a square patch of strawberries, dotted with stepping stones to allow access for maintenance and harvest. Also, I need to learn more words to the song "Strawberry Fields" as I've been singing the same line over and over, all day!

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Posted by dzito15 06:13 Archived in USA Comments (1)

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