Monthly Archives: September 2011

Grow Saffron in Connecticut? Why not!

Ciao, ortolani senza paura;

A student at my Organic Gardening Workshop was complaining this past Saturday about her saffron plants not coming up, and assumed the supplier had sent her a defective batch, or she had planted them incorrectly. This usually happens the first year when this little indestructible corm (Crocus sativus), will emerge at different times depending on how deep it was sown or affected by the temperature in that particular  zone. Remember, there are two types of fall crocuses, but do not buy autumn meadow crocuses (Calchicum autumnale), which are inedible; a good way to differentiate the two varieties is, calchicums have 6 stamens, whereas saffron corms only have 3. 

 I’ve been growing saffron for over 10 years and have several hundred plants growing in my vegetable and flower gardens, plus in several pots. Once the plant dies down in June, I do not water or fertilize.  Overwatering signals the bulb to emerge, and fertilization will induce the bulb to produce more foliage and fewer flowers when it finally breaks dormancy in late September. In mid September, I prepare the soil by surface grubbing, which breaks the crust, aerates the soil and gets rid of the weeds, if necessary, although I keep my beds almost weed-free.

 When the foliage begin to surface, it’s a good time to start watering again, and soon after the grass-like vegetation appears, you’re rewarded with a slew of purple flowers and red stamens.

At this point do not over fertilize but keep it watered. If necessary, use organic water soluble fertilizers or organic foliar sprays. 

Ci risentiamo, 

Nick Mancini, The Organic Italian



Seeing is Believing


Ciao, ortolani del mondo; 

How many times have you heard fellow gardeners brag about their gigantic pumpkins, delicious watermelons and the likes, which they grew from seed given to them by friends? Does it sound familiar?  These conversations crop up during cocktail parties, gatherings and other similar events, and in most cases may not be true since no one ever saw the fruits, or for that matter, the person’s garden itself. Can the old/newfound organic hobby be like the old fishermen’s stories?  One thing I know, fine gardeners are proud of their gardens and are always willing to show what they do well, and in most cases, share the bounty. And, since most gardeners are visual, they enjoy looking at beautiful gardens, whether it’s flowers or vegetables. 

Nowadays, it seems that the internet has created amateurs into expert gardeners instantaneously, and some of these individuals have had the ability to convince others of their newly found credibility, although in most cases may not be warranted – be aware of such people when you need accurate information.

 Organic gardening is basic, nonetheless, to be successful, one needs to understand the concept, which is to acquire knowledge through hands-on, repetition and hard work. Some people seem to think that by researching a topic on the internet and quoting someone will accomplish the same goal.

Once you have the knowledge, share it with other gardeners. Be generous with your bounty, that’s what gardening is all about. 

Enter your produce in County and Grange Fairs to see how they stack up against the competition, and if the initial results are not to your satisfaction, don’t give up until you achieve success. 

Buona fortuna, 

Nick Mancini, The Organic Italian



Tomatoes Galore

Ciao, Ortolani,

            It’s mid-September. How are your tomato plants faring? Are they healthy and producing well, or have they succumbed to disease and neglect? It seems that everyone has an abundant supply in August, but once fall approaches, production comes to a standstill, and many gardeners wonder why this happens year after year. If you are the exception, my congratulations.

In most gardens that I’ve visited the last couple of weeks, tomato plants are devoid of fruit and flowers, and a good number sprawled on the ground. Fall should be perhaps the best time to grow vegetables, including members of the Solanaceous family. The tomato dilemma could be prevented by staking (no metal cages), correct pruning and the use of a copper based fungicide, starting when the plants were very young.

I’ve been using copper on Solanaceous plants for decades, and the latest (Modified Morgan Extractable) soil test done by The University of Connecticut shows the copper content in my soil is 0.40 when the accepted guideline is from 0.3-8.0.   

Even though some people are against using copper, I think it is safe as most other organic fungicides on the market, but you’re the master of your garden and should use your own discretion – just be wise and start out with a soil test.

When done correctly, green tomatoes can be harvested before frost and kept until the New Year. 

Ci risentiamo,

Nick Mancini




Optimizing your ripened fig crop

Ciao, Ortolani;

This is fig season, and the usually trouble free fruit, rather flower, has a short lived fall crop.   I want to share some of my experiences that may help your harvest and enjoy this wonderful delicacy that I’ve been relishing since infancy.

Spoiled fig - too much water

Most gardeners in the US Northeast are most familiar with Brown Turkey or Celeste, the purple skinned figs that connoisseurs consider to be wild.

Yet, regardless of the type of fig you grow, or are familiar with, you need to know how to protect this fragile crop to reach maturity in order savor its taste.

Little red ants are perhaps the most annoying pest to deal with. They invade the fruit through the opening at the bottom and make it inedible. To prevent their access to the fruit, I band the trunk or trunks with either aluminum foil or aluminum duct tape and smear it with Vaseline or Tanglefoot without getting it on the bark – if it  crusts after a while, reapply.

Fig trunk wrapped in foil

When the fig starts to ripen, another challenge is excess water. Figs split and lose their taste when this happens – do not water during this period, and in case of heavy rains, cover the plant to keep the fruit dry.

Ci risentiamo,