There are many farmsteads that are available for purchase in Italy. If you are dreaming of owning your own Italian farm or perhaps you already own one, you might be wondering what your farming options are with a hillside plot.
Farming on a hillside or a slope is very different from farming on a flat crop field (see more about hillside growing here). There are also certain types of crops that do well in the Italian climate (see more about the climate of Sardina, and how it’s changing, here).
In this article, we will look at what your options are for farming on a hillside in Italy, focusing on 5 crops.
What Type Of Farming Is Done On A Hillside?
The most popular types of farming that take place on a hillside are animal rearing or terraced crop farming. If you own your own smallholding or a small amount of land, it is much easier to grow crops rather than rear animals.
Terraced farming is the most popular type of farming that allows you to grow a wide variety of crops on a slope or a hillside.
The terraces on the slope allow you to create step-like structures on the hillside to allow you to grow your crops on flat soil. This is a great way to broaden the number of different crops that you can grow on your hillside farming land.
However, it isn’t necessary to create the steps of terraced farming to successfully grow crops on your hillside farm. There are quite a few types of crops that are more than happy to grow on a hillside.
In fact, some crops seem to be made for exactly these kinds of conditions.
What Makes Growing Crops On A Hillside Difficult?
The main things that make growing crops on a hillside difficult are support for the crops and drainage issues.
If you aren’t creating terraced farming, your crops will be grown at an angle. This means that they will have to be constantly fighting against the gravity that is trying to pull them to the bottom of the hill.
This can be a particular problem if you are looking to grow top-heavy trees that are likely to topple over when grown on an incline.
Thankfully, there are ways to prevent your crops from toppling down the hillside that don’t involve making major structural and layout changes to your land. We will cover these below.
The drainage issues are a little harder to solve. Because crops growing on a hillside aren’t flat, the water that keeps the soil moist is going to naturally flow down the incline and pool at the bottom. This can leave plants at the top of the hill dry while the plants at the bottom are sodden.
Crops To Grow On An Italian Hillside
There are a few different types of crops that you can grow on an Italian hillside that are much more likely to do well than other types of crops (see more about crops in Sardinia here) . If you are just starting out on your hillside farming journey, these are some good plants, to begin with.
If you have a small area for your plants, or you want to plant small amounts of different crops, radishes are a great option.
Radishes have the wonderful ability to tolerate a huge variety of different soil qualities. They can also withstand occasional periods of drought which can be a real threat to crops in Italy.
The best time to plant radishes is as soon as you are able to work your soil in the springtime. When you are planting your radishes, you should space them 2 to 3 inches apart. This will allow adequate room to grow.
When there are extended periods of time without rain, make sure to keep the soil damp enough around the roots.
Small types of peppers are able to thrive on sunny hillsides and slopes that are warmed by the sun for most of the day.
To get the best results with pepper crops, it is best to plant them near the top of your hillside farm. This will ensure that the plants are exposed to the warmest temperatures and consistent sunlight.
To sow small peppers for your hillside farm plot, you should sow the seeds in pots inside. This should be done around six weeks before the last frost of the season.
Once the temperatures outside begin to stay consistently above freezing, you can transplant them to the hillside. You should plant the seedlings around 15 inches apart to allow the plants room to grow. The soil around the roots should be kept slightly moist.
If you want to plant fruit trees to make a sort of orchard on your hillside plot, figs can be a great option. These distinctive fruits are actually used in a lot of Italian cooking which makes them great for personal use and for potential income.
In the wild, figs naturally grow on rocky hillsides where they can absorb the warmth of full sunshine. The trees require little maintenance and pruning.
While it is possible to grow fig trees from seedlings, it is often easier to purchase small fig trees and transplant them to your farmland.
Make sure that you plant the trees a few feet apart to make sure that the roots have enough space to grow and create a proper foundation in the ground.
Olives are another iconic Italian food item that can be grown on a hillside plot of land. Italy is the second largest producer of olive oil in the world. However, they grow varieties of olives that can be eaten as well.
If you like olives, growing them on your own farmland can be a great way to get them much cheaper than in a local grocery store or market. However, because they are so popular and you can grow so many in a small space, they are a great way to make some money at a local market.
It is possible to grow olive trees using olive fruit picked directly from another tree. Simply remove the outer coating and soak the seed in water for a day.
Then you can plant it directly into the ground. Make sure the seed is ⅜ inches deep, then cover it with soil. Adding wood chips is a good idea to help preserve the moisture in the soil.
If you want to create a full orchard, you can do this multiple times. Alternatively, you can have saplings brought in to speed up the process.
Another vegetable that Italy is known for worldwide is its delicious tomatoes. Italy produces the largest number of tomatoes in Europe. This is a great crop to grow if you have a hillside plot that only gets partial sunlight throughout the day.
The tomato plants don’t need direct or full sunlight in order to flourish. They also don’t require massive amounts of maintenance.
The best way to plant tomatoes on your hillside farmland is to purchase the plants that you want to grow into crops. Make sure that the plants are spread out evenly and with enough room for the roots to grow.
You should also remove any flowers or little fruits that are already growing on the plants when you plant them. This will help to encourage root growth which is important.
Preparing Your Hillside For Crops
If you have just purchased your hillside plot of land, you may be eager to begin planting crops right away. However, this isn’t a good idea. It is best to wait at least a year before you begin planting new crops on your land. There are a couple of reasons for this.
First of all, if you are new to the area, it is best to see an entire year of weather to help you best understand the type of weather and sunlight your plot gets. This can help you to plan your crops better.
This also allows your soil time to refresh and rejuvenate (see more about Italian soil here). It can be hard to know what the previous owners had in the ground which could affect crops if you plant instantly.
Protecting Your Hillside Crops
Planting crops on a hillside farm takes a little more work than planting on a flat plot. You can put in some structural work and create a terraced farming plot, but this takes a lot of time, effort, and money.
Frankly, building terraced farming land can be out of the question for many people because of budget restraints (see more about farming land in Sardinia here).
However, there are other things you can do to help protect your crops from slipping down the hill.
Planting a variety of shrubs and bushes at various points on your plot can help to avoid soil subsidence and keep your crops strong and healthy.
Shrubs can be a great way to separate the different crops that you are growing and make your plot look more organized.
Growing crops on a hillside in Italy isn’t the easiest thing to do, but it isn’t impossible either. With a little bit of know-how, and the right plants for the terrain and environment, you can successfully grow bountiful crops in this area.