Added on Thursday 22 Apr 2010
February and March are the months when most trees are pruned, with olive trees being no exception. Our first encounter with pruning was in 2007. This was difficult as we were still living in Glasgow at the time; so we came over for a week in March to see our Italian bank manager and tackled the pruning while we were there. No one could recommend anyone to us, Italian or otherwise, however when I asked at the local `consorzio' `agriculture consortium', they managed to `procure' a `gardener' for us who was an Albanian with an unpronounceable name (I don't think the two are mutually exclusive!). Just as a by the way, The Italians as a rule rename any Albanian they have working for them for instance, our builders had some casual workers who were named Valentino and Rodolfo, clearly not their real names. Anyway, the Albanian gardener as (opposed to the constant gardener) agreed and we would pay him when we returned in the summer. He began while we were still there but I couldn't distinguish between the olive trees he had pruned and the ones he had yet to do! In the meantime, we, meaning me, put down 5 kilos of fertilizer at the base of each of our 40 trees.
In 2008 our Italian neighbours, Gabriella and Sergio (they were mentioned in my last blog, who kindly loaned us their spare beds) recommended their son's boss, Marco, who was a qualified landscape gardener (far from cheap!) to do the pruning. He wanted to train them gradually over 3 years (probably so he could get guaranteed work from us each year). He didn't prune them very well either; needless to say we never used either gardener again! The following year, 2009, we didn't prune or fertilize (as money does not grow on trees!) but we still managed a bumper crop of olives. So this year, we decided the best people to do the job was ourselves and it would only cost us our time. David loves anything to do with the land so it was a win win situation. We were given a quick `how to' prune lesson by Giorgio, the neighbour of our good friends. We prioritized our budget, for instance, the rubbish tax didn't get paid that month! (Warning: Please do not try this at home unless accompanied by a suitable adult!), we invested in a 7 euro olive pruning knife and 30 euros for fertilser.
Everyone in Italy has an opinion on how best to prune olive trees whether they grow them or not. When we watched Giorgio, who is in his 50's, at work, even his 85 year old uncle was telling him how to do it, although, Giorgio has been pruning since he was in nappies! It was quite overwhelming at first to learn where to cut and prune as they kept saying cut here.....cut there..... but what we did take away from it was the fact that although he prunes every year, he has a severe approach. We were quite daunted knowing our trees were twice the height of Giorgio's!
We re-read our olive pruning books, looked at illustrations and of course, in this day and age, the obligatory youtube clip which actually helped enormously. Basically the fundamental principle is that the inside of the trees have to be cleared to give a wine glass appearance. This shape allows for as much sunlight as possible to penetrate the remaining branches and therefore makes for juicer, better quality fruit. There is also a requirement to cut as much off the top, so the olives can be easily reached by the average sized person (I say that as I am only 5ft so I am a low benchmark, so to speak!). Although many of the men use special olive pruning ladders, they are actually quite dangerous and many of them end up in hospital with broken limbs.
We were wary and hesitant pruning our first few trees, not knowing exactly where to cut, but excited as well and realizing that whatever we did would be an improvement on the status quo. We knew we couldn't be afraid of making mistakes as this is how we learn. The positive thing was to accept that we probably had made a few errors but hoping that next year we would be a whole lot better. We do not want to even attempt to compete with the Italians who have at least 50 years on us!
Armed with a Woolworth's 3 step household ladder (yes it's that old!) and the 7 euro knife, David got to work, while I played theatre nurse and held his tools and pruned the lower branches. He quickly got into the swing of things. An added incentive for us was that the larger thicker branches could be used for winter fire wood. (waiting at least 6 months for the resin to disperse before using the wood indoors-more on that later!). We were quite pleased, averaging a tree every half an hour and had just completed the first 2 rows when the following morning there was an unexpected snow `event'
On the day the snow arrived I had an appointment in town regarding the possibility of teaching English; David drove me, as our 20 year old fiat panda, (possibly the oldest vehicle in Christendom and no Michael, it's not a chariot!) has only 3 workable gears, temperamental break pads and a hand break that doesn't work, it goes without saying that it can only do a 3 mile or should I say 3 km radius. When I had finished, David was anxious for us to get going as cars were sliding left, right and centre and the local council was closing the roads in and out of the town, it was only 11.30am!.
The snow was coming down heavy and fast. This is when you see Italians at their best, especially the flashy `can't get my hands dirty' types. They were blocking the roads not knowing which way to turn when David suggested they reverse up the one way road so cars could get access, which they did. This worked and we were happily on our way home. Slowly, ever so slowly we were making our way back when we got to a slight incline in the road and the car just ground to a halt, but we were prepared to walk the rest of the way.
As we looked around we were surrounded by carnage of Audi's, BMW's and small white vans, which had all been quickly abandoned. David immediately commanded `right it's time for the 4x4'! Bearing in mind what I had mentioned earlier what with the limited gear option, temperamental break pads, and the fact we had never used the 4 x 4 facility before, not surprisingly, I was a little apprehensive. There was a very real possibility that the 4x4 handle would come away in David's hand, but to our surprise and immense relief it didn't! And our very old car was gradually passing all the more expensive ones leaving them in our wake as the opening theme tune to Raiders of the Lost Ark was resonating in my head! Eventually we got back home safe and sound surrounded by 60 cm of snow.
No one was going anywhere fast!
We settled down knowing everyone was safe when exactly at 9.30pm we had a power cut. We went to bed armed with a candle and being so cold, we didn't even undress, romantic and atmospheric, it was not! We could only read by daylight as candle light isn't the brightest, it was so frustrating and debilitating especially for David who couldn't work. We asked our neighbours if they had electricity, which they did, so I phoned ENEL (the equivalent of Scottish power), not the easiest thing to do in another language.
They too have the menu system of a universal global company, key in your telephone number and then the postcode. All this in order to get a recorded message saying they were overwhelmed with customers phoning about their power being cut off. So I kept phoning, hoping my mobile wouldn't die on me. Another day and night went by with no power, no internet, no television, no oven, no fridge, no phone, no heating! Eventually out of desperation I phoned our electrician, Alessandro, who kindly came over and told us it was an ENEL fault and only they could repair it. He tried to phone, and after several attempts and several swear words later, he managed to get through to someone who logged our repair; the men from ENEL were here in less than an hour.
NO ONE TOLD ME IT WAS GOING TO BE SOOOOOOOOO COLD!
I had been wearing my thermals since the end of October (probably important to mention here that I have 2 pairs of which I do wash!) In the meantime we decided to light our log fire as we were sooooooo cold using the freshly pruned olive branches. These are excellent for burning but not, as we now know, immediately after cutting them, but a good many months later.
The fire lit unusually quickly and all of a sudden I could hear the internal wall above the fireplace crackling as I ran outside, black smoke and bits of charred wood were flying out of the top of the chimney onto the very white snow! This I knew instinctively was a chimney fire; David ran up to the loft to assess the situation while my brain made the decision to implode as it couldn't cope with having two crises at the same time.
David thankfully managed to put the fire out downstairs while I was talking to the men in Italian about conductors and pylons. The natural light was fading fast and only armed with a torch and stepladders precariously balanced against our pine tree deep in the snow, the men climbed to the top of the pylon and after an hour and a half fixed our power (apparently the power had been lost due to a loose wire caused by one of our pine trees which had slightly fallen onto to the pylon).
I manage to restrain my self and not kiss them, I was just so relieved that I could wash my hair and put the heating on, all at the same time! The miracles of technology! or as God once remarked or was that.......Oscar Wilde-`Let there be light and there was light!'
The next day while there was still snow lying, we ventured out to assess our storm damage. From what we could ascertain, we had 7 damaged olive trees which were thankfully still alive but had a few branches that were hanging off that required amputation. But we were very lucky, not only did our two largest pine trees not fall directly onto our house, which is always a good thing, they didn't lose branches either. This was in comparison with many of our neighbours who had lost several trees in their entirety. When we eventually risked going into town it was incredible, every tree on the tree lined streets had broken branches lying in the middle of the road, with roads closed as a consequence.
Just another little adventure of ours at Campogrande! It's the peace and tranquility here that we really like!
Next time on May's Campogrande's Blog-The Expat Mafia! and how to meet Colin Firth, Aka, Mr. Darcy!