Monthly Archives: April 2012

The Many Facets of Spring

Cari lettori,

Again, spring has deceived us gardeners. Since the warm weather started so early this year, everyone thought chances of frost was inconceivable, when suddenly it reared its ugly head on April 27th and descended upon our gardens without regards for our tender vegetation. Those of us who sowed cold weather crops directly into the garden in the middle of March or hardened-off our seedlings beforehand weren’t affected, others that neglected to do so did not fare well at all.

Then again, impatient gardeners like me who uncovered the fig tree a couple of weeks ago suffered the same fate, whereas, those that have more sheltered locations or hardier cultivars like Brown Turkey and Celeste had minimal or no damage at all. My white fig tree is meant to be grown in moderate climates and bears two yields, the first harvest “breba crop” grows on the old canes and ripens in July. The regular crop ripens in September and grows on new shoots. Of course the frost only destroyed the first crop, but not removing the covers would have caused mold, which can destroy a plant. So, after nature had her way, half a harvest that yields several hundred figs is not too shabby, plus, sharing is part of gardening.      

Despite the wind/frost damage and a frost advisory predicted for Sunday night, I planted my celeriac seedlings that evening. This time I used more  caution. After transplanting and watering them with a fish emulsion/seaweed mixture, each plant was covered with a terra cotta pot, and this morning they are bright eyed and bushy tailed.

Why did I go against the grain? To be the master of your garden, at times you have to defy nature and take chances to harvest the maximum it allows. Nature works in the strangest ways, and one needs to be astute to keep pace.

When you think that you have everything under control, another surprise awaits you. My direct seeded tomato seedlings, which I forgot to protect the other night, suffered no damage. Hardening-off is key to success.

Viva la Natura,

Nick Mancini, The Organic Italian





Beware of Aphids

Ciao, Ortolani, 

Even though most gardeners believe that aphids are a nuisance, not bona fide insects that cause noticeable destruction, they may have another opinion after inspecting their backyard garden after a warm winter like this year. I for one, always believed that natural predators are happy to find and feed on aphids, but when the pests are overwhelming and the predators are unable to control them, precautions are needed to be taken.

I first noticed a few aphids on my espaliered red apple tree when the leaves became curled, but also noticed a few ladybeetles in the same area and decided to let nature take its course. A couple of days later, the damage become more noticeable and even though a couple of pairs of ladybeetles were mating, the infestation was too great to let it continue, so I sprayed with a strong water stream from my garden hose and again with a garlic/hot pepper potion instead of resorting to an organic insecticide to control the infestation.

In further checking the entire espaliered row, I noticed the pests had invaded the other tree and the base of its trunk was encompassed by wooly aphids. After considering my options, I decided to get serious. If I wanted a healthy tree that I had trained and cared for the past 25 years, I needed to take immediate action. So, even though at times we need to be prudent when it comes to even organic insecticides, on occasion we need to resort to such practices. After a thorough spray of insecticidal soap, the aphids disappeared and the tree is now back to normal.

The same evening I noticed the kohlrabi plant that I had left overwinter to collect seeds from was also enveloped by aphids, and were the same color as the foliage, which blended quite well and difficult to spot. As we all know, once the aphids are knocked to the ground they’re doomed, and the strong water stream worked well, but the following morning the problem continued. This time, since the plant was small and accessible, a stronger water stream worked more efficiently and the plant is about to bloom which will supply me with organic heirloom seeds for years.

When dealing with different situations, there are many options available, and a knowledgeable gardener will ascertain the potential danger of insects and insecticides and treat accordingly.


Ci risentiamo al presto,

Nick Mancini The Organic Italian




Seedlings Take Up Residency on Riverside Avenue

Cari ortolani e ortolane, 

My little Brassica seedlings (broccoli, cabbage, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts) and parsley, after having hardened-off for the last couple of weeks, are now planted in the raised beds alongside peas, onions, shallots, beets, spinach, parsnips and carrots. It’s a little early in the season, but since I like to harvest 3 yields, starting a bit ahead of schedule will make it much more feasible to achieve. Planting early at times is a little chancy because of frost possibility, nonetheless when protected with row covers, cool weather crops fare better before the heat arrives.

All Brassica seedlings must be hardened-off before planting outdoors and protected with a collar to prevent cutworm damage. Since I only use food grade containers to sprout my seeds, and transplant them into yogurt cups or newspaper pots, I cut the bottom of the yogurt cups and use them as a barrier; they can be removed in a couple of weeks when the stems get larger/harder and the cutworm can’t damage it anymore.

The rest of my seedlings, tomatoes (grafted and non-grafted), artichokes, Florence fennel, peppers, eggplants, basil and others, have ventured outdoors the past couple of days, under a cloche, and brought inside at night. To have healthy/stocky plants, make sure they receive at least 14 hours a day of sun/artificial light. Use a fish emulsion/seaweed concoction every 7-10 days and transplant to a larger pot – I transplant mine into 5 inch paper pots so they get a good root system to support their canopies.

Do not transplant onions outdoors if not properly hardened-off.

This morning I noticed a few tiny leaf roller caterpillars on the newly sprouted espaliered apple trees – when the wind subsides, it’s B.T. time.

Ci risentiamo,

Nick Mancini, the Organic Italian