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Photo by Rick Gush
I spend my afternoons picking trombetti and datterini for my homemade lunches.
Here is my typical day: I ride up to our building on my scooter, climb up to the cliff garden and harvest a few things for lunch, and then climb back down to the street and walk up the stairs to our home on the third floor — which is called the second floor here in Italy, the ground level being called piano terra, literally ground level — to eat my bounty.
Yes, it’s nice. I really enjoy not having a car, and harvesting fruit for lunch is even more fun than playing golf. I am scoring big family political points because my wife, sister-in-law, mother-in-law and niece are all quite enthusiastic about the return of the fresh tomatoes and squash.
These datterini (little dates) tomatoes are essentially a type of cherry tomato. The fruit grows in clumps of as much as a dozen, ripening variably within the clump. The plants are particularly vigorous, and I try in vain to keep them on 8-foot stakes. I also plant datterini near the edges of walls, from which they cascade.
Datterini seem to really like early planting. I can’t explain why, but plants from the same grower, set out a month later than the first, never seem to show the same monstrous growth as the earlier plantings.
I usually use plastic bottle bodies as cloches to protect the fruit from heavy rain and cold, but last year I started cutting the bottoms off 1-gallon glass jugs, which make deluxe little cold frames. I can’t wait until I’ve collected a few dozen of those jugs.
The squash shown in the photo are the trombetti (little trumpets) that I’m so evangelical about. I’ll bet I’ve mailed more than 100 packets of trombetti seeds to people in the United States. I find this squash even easier to grow than zucchini, and the flavor is great! I always leave a few to become monsters — up to 4 feet long and 3 inches wide. These can be held for consumption as winter squash.
The awkward catch with this squash is that they curl up into circular shapes if they’re grown on the ground. If they are allowed to hang, however, the vines produce much straighter fruits that are easier to cook.
Luckily, the cliff garden offers lots of places where the trombetti can be planted on overhead trellises so the fruit will hang down. It cracks me up, but I find it emotionally satisfying to reach up and pick trombetti and cucumbers as if they were grapes on an arbor. I think the cumulative pleasure of harvesting fruit hanging overhead for an upcoming lunch or dinner and carrying them home in my scooter helmet is a big part of why I like to garden. It’s a lifestyle choice with which I am quite comfortable.