February-March 2018, from teaching to allotment preparation

So I missed a blog post and skipped the cold month of February. March is already midway through and yesterday was probably the first convincing sign of Spring coming. This year the winter re-bounced early in March, just as we started waking up and feeling chirpy, with a sudden drop of temperatures and it only seems now that it’s picking up back again.
So what have we had in these two months? Everything looked like moving in slow motion and the cold and somewhat wet days kept us away from any activities of building or planning.

A sudden drop of temperatures gave a nice fresh whiteness to the Old Stable but we were held back with big jobs.

Most of our efforts turned out to be devoted to keeping the essentials going on, like heating up the stove and clearing up the tables, washing up and dishes. This winter turned longer than expected, and just to make it feel even longer, we have already enjoyed two waves of a nasty flu.

There is no doubt that holding classes and courses in The Old Stable are nearly impossible under winter conditions (without a proper heating system) and we are forced to rethink our strategies for taking off with our teaching projects. Our first English courses have started but these are held at the moment in the living room with little space and, although with a nice friendly atmosphere, we would rather have a dedicated space for teaching so that our kids can still go on with their own business.

Starting mid February, when it seemed as if the worst period of winter was behind us, we started planning our veg growing space and decided to go ahead with a practical approach to permaculture (or whatever you wish to call the non invasive and without a glimpse of pesticides type of farming, some may add: good luck with that!). The main idea in my eyes, (Elena can add the other bits or contradict me altogether), is that you let the natural cycle of vegetation be the sole treatment of the soil. No digging, no tilling, no weeding. Essential minerals for growing certain crops would be introduced by planting other vegetation to complement the life-cycle of materials.

A permaculture plot in preparation, we took the practical approach of weeding just for the first year.

The proposed growing space is essentially covered with a big heap of dry straw or hay and is let to mulch. The soil shouldn’t be disturbed in any way and thus walking is only allowed in the surroundings. Ideally, a plot like this should be left untouched for TWO years before planting anything hence, our practical approach; In a few places we have weeded whatever we could and covered with hay so that within beginning of Spring we would be able to start the first planting.


Obviously, my mind is already gearing up for setting up our hop garden. Rhizomes are usually planted in November but the plot and climbing frame should be prepared in advance. I’ve already noticed that it’s a good idea to pre-book the hops from a nursery as early as April, sometimes they just sell out too quickly especially when it comes to the ‘trendy’ hop variety such as ‘Cascade’ and ‘Citra’.. all those IPA lovers.

Speaking of beer, the first wannabe Irish stout has been barreled, bottled and consumed by our friends and relatives, so now is the time for a new batch of something. It turned out well with a full aroma that I’ve expected but the alcoholic content and the body feel were both lower than what I intended (enough of homebrewing highbrow talk now). The take home message of these cold months is that I have realized that we really need to build a cold/hot chamber for the fermenters as temperatures up in the brewery room during winter are even too cold for making lagers while during the summer they’ll be probably way too hot. For now I’m thinking along the lines of building a box around a used fridge just like in this DIY project. Expecting parties and events this summer, and hoping to get the beer flowing I should better start about now!

Jumping to other topics of this month I’d like to write about our bicycle endeavors. We might not have written much about it on the blog or website (except in the small print down below the web page, you might notice that we mention something about limited parking places and how we would love to encourage the usage of bicycles)… anyways, we are known here sometimes as the no-car people. In fact we started promoting commuting by bike when we were in Bath and even produced this video.

Our electrically assisted cargo bike

We try our best to commute with only bicycles and public transportation. As long as it’s between The Old Stable and Nonantola or Castelfranco Emilia, it is quite easy. But when it comes to the bigger cities such as Modena (only 13 km away) or Bologna (46 km) then things become more difficult as cycle paths are limited as well as unmarked properly and roads are trafficky. Add to this the fact that Italian drivers are not used to respecting cyclists and you get to a feeling that commuting by bike is impossible. This month we joined FIAB (The Italian Federation of Friends of the Bicycle… sounds funny doesn’t it) as we wanted to be part of a national campaign for promoting bike mobility. The best part was that we met amazing people, friendly and devoted to sharing their biking experiences. Within no time we had one member knocking on our door to get some video footage for their new local campaign and another that volunteered to show us the safest way to cycle to Modena and Bologna. Just a couple of days ago I set off with an ever so friendly and enthusiastic Mara from Nonantola to explore the way to Bologna and back. We did it in one piece, taking around two hours and 45 minutes each way. It was beautiful and surprisingly I felt safe! For those coming here by plane… just that you know there is a way to do the last stretch from the airport to The Old Stable by bike!

With a subtle twist to the bike topic (It’ll come probably at the end of this story) I’d like to end up with last week’s experience: being interviewed for the local Radio station: Radioattiva (Radio active). Elena, being the local and well connected person was approached a couple of months ago to be interviewed in an hour long radio show in Nonantola (the station turns out to be around the corner from her mother’s house). We seemed interesting people with some exciting ideas for the radio people, worth while apparently for an hour long conversation.

An historic picture of the founders of Radioattiva back in the 70s in Nonnatola (http://www.radioattivanonantola.it)

Obviously we agreed as we could tell our stories, push our campaigns for the environment and get ourselves known to promote English lessons and the cultural association. We were asked to chose the songs (a mix of Arabic, Israeli, Irish and Italian songs we love listening to) and have a fun conversation with Paolo and Massimo, our hosts for the hour. It was sheer fun, time passed so quickly. It was just great sitting behind a professional looking microphone fitted with tennis racket looking filters and seeing all the behind-the-scene activity. We haven’t recorded the interview and I know that Elena’s mum didn’t even bother to listen to us. My mum did and probably a few bored friends. It is an internet radio and it occurred to me that probably very few were really listening nowadays to internet radio… or maybe I’m wrong? I found the story of the Radio very touching, in some way even sad. A bunch of teenagers in the 70s really worked hard enthusiastically to open a free radio station. Paolo and Massimo being part of the founding group. Then financial problems and teenagers leaving to study and get a ‘proper’ job made it impossible to keep open and the station was shut down. With eyes still brilliant the old fellas decided to reopen as an internet radio 30 years later. They love it and it seems as if they go back in time behind the controllers and the microphones, but they claim it’s hard to find youngsters as enthusiastic as they were… nowadays with Youtube, facebook and instagram there is less magic in the old style radio (and you can imagine the song of the Buggles of 79 playing in the background). And then came my thoughts of when I listen to radio… well when do I listen to radio? (and here comes the twist) : I listen to the radio when I’m driving on my own in a car. So as I’m advocating to get the cars off the road (especially those that carry only one passenger at a time) and get everyone cycling…. I might be helping in killing the very last chance of Radio broadcasting to survive.  Just a thought.

On a very happy note, as I’m writing these lines, I’m in contact with an English musician that we might be hosting at The Old Stable this summer! It’ll probably be our first and it’ll be something folky and festive. I can’t say anything before we get it all settled. But I’m hopeful that this spring will give us lots of inspiration and work for the coming months! We’ll keep you tuned.


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