By the middle of August, we were starting to truly understand the enormity of the task that we have taken on here at Olive Hill. Of course we had been well warned. Four hundred trees, that we intend to farm organically, is truly mammoth, says every single one of our friends, family, neighbours, anybody we meet in the area, and also the owner of the local olive mill. Four hundred ABANDONED olive trees, to be managed by two middle aged, novice farmers, with Monday to Friday jobs an hour away, is simply bonkers.
The poorliest trees, the ones closest to the house, had really suffered in last year’s dreadful temperatures, and were effectively barely living skeletons. We knew this of course, and had carefully pruned them back as far as we dared. We felt proud, but we also felt exhausted and overwhelmed. Finally, the scales fell from our eyes, and we understood what everybody had been telling us. We were not going to get through all four hundred trees this year. A further problem was that only around 50 of our trees were going to bear any fruit at all this year, and drastic remedies were going to be required to get the grove into any sort of fit state, let alone a state fit enough to produce Organic EVOO di Sabina DOP.
And so, Lou and Jou entered our lives. A couple of Proper Agricultural Workers, with the knowledge, energy, stamina and power tools that Proper Agricultural Workers possess. They looked at the hundred odd trees that we had “pruned”, and pronounced them very pretty, but just as poorly as they had been before we gave them a little trim. So we hired them for two mornings a week, and slowly but surely, they are making their way through the grove.
By the end of day one, they had taken our “pretty but poorly” trees in the picture on the left, and cut them back to the picture on the right:
And astonishingly, the trees are indeed starting to bounce back! They won’t produce any fruit this year or the next, but by 2020 they will be bursting with top quality olives … we hope!
Three weeks in, and they are through the worst of the trees. Scott and I copy their efforts on the days that they are not here, and apparently our work is good. So between us, we have cut back around 120 trees as brutally as this. We are now “cleaning” the trees that will be productive this year, and then, after harvest, the four of us will clear up all the prunings, burn them, then move onto the vineyard, which is still in its completely abandoned state. There are some grapes hanging from the wild vines though, so we do have a plan to attempt to make some “wild wine” this year.
While Lou and Jou are onsite, they make lots of Proper Agricultural Noise. They climb trees, they balance on the top of wonky ladders chopping branches that they can barely reach, with only Proper Agricultural Knowledge to keep themselves safe. They try not to laugh as we ponce about the place with safety goggles, hard hats, gloves (to protect my manicure) and steel toe capped boots. Jou and I have bonded over our shared love of horses: he has a retired show jumper which he rides, but also two Proper Agricultural Horses, which are trained in the art of forestry. Every week, he takes a bucket of windfall apples and pears home for them, which Lou considers even more hilarious than my safety equipment. And they teach us Proper Agricultural Italian words. Like fresa and forcina, which are a rotovator, and a fork for the back of the tractor respectively.
Once again, I am fooling myself into believing myself that we will one day tame our wilderness, and that it will one day produce delicious, organic oil, worthy of the appelation of Sabina DOP. But now I have Proper Agricultural Workers to help.