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14
Oct-2014

Half a day on the farm in October

Wake up at 06.30 to get teenage son to school bus, we live in a rural area so he has a 70-minute ride. He needs to be reminded pretty much daily to remember to wake up, wash, eat enough breakfast (lunch is at 2.45), wear clean clothes, pack everything he needs & take a coat … we listen to farming today in the UK. Is it true that the grey squirrels killed off the red squirrel population in England he asks; how exactly? … Thank God for Google, the answer is apparently, indirectly. It seems the myth that grey squirrels were more efficient acorn gatherers is just that. More likely they were healthy carriers of the parapox virus.

7.15 wake up second child who needs to ferried to school in the next village. She’s 7 but manages to do all of the above quite independently. Is it because she’s the second child, or because she’s a girl, or is it just his hormones? With my daughter our only daily discussion is regarding the level of sugar in her mid-morning snack. Given that we go to the trouble of growing our own food and all that…
Whilst she’s having breakfast I check my email (all 4 addresses: personal, farm, admin & activist), make sauce for lunch, feed the cat, put the washing machine on, making a mental note to get more vinegar, that mouldy smell is back in the drum.

8.30, cursing the umbrellas Made in PRC we get drenched crossing the road into school. I don’t want to be part of the throw away culture but why does everything have to break so quickly these days? By the way we do live in a Tuscan paradise but it has a split personality when it comes to the dual season weather front: summer is fab; winter is well, not.
I try to support a couple of local shops for essentials that can’t be bought cheaper on the Internet. Run home noting that Tramontana the local northerly wind has arrived, which will help to prepare the fields ready for sowing our wheat.

09.30 I’m sitting at my desk staring at my computer screen, prioritising, knowing that I won’t get to the end of the to do list before picking the kids up from school, but hopefully will have stemmed the tide for today.
Everything that can be done from the computer is quicker & cheaper: at any one time I can have open weather forecast, emails, banking, text writing for the pre-Christmas promo & website, excel for the taxman, fb to quickly organise some sort of social life with friends as well as tell whoever’s interested about how the farm is doing, and as class rep be an efficient go between for teachers and parents: one post reaches all, with no paper!

I’ve got until 2.30 to nail today’s problem of getting the necessary to plant the 400 herb plants delivered last week. We’re going to try our hand at making herbal teas. We turned the soil in August, we’ve tilled it now, the wind will dry it off, and we’re ready to go as long as it doesn’t rain over the next couple of days. It’s an organic farm, which basically means the seeds or the plants we buy have not been treated with fungicides or any other chemicals. We will plant them & tend them without using any chemicals. There will be no chemical residue in the product that you will buy from us. Small and organic, in a very fertile land, where there’s lots of water & no devastating disease, are compatible. It’s a moral obligation in fact. Our big issue is weeds.

So, aside from a handful of good soil & clay stones to go in the plant holes I need to get my hands on roles of mulch sheeting. The area I’m going to plant is terraced, so I need sheeting to cover 2 areas of 4m by 40m cut into 1m wide strips. We thought rather than making holes in the mulch sheet we would plant the plants between the sheets. After an hour of internet surfing, comparing costs & phone calls, God exists, my organic wheat seed supplier in Siena has the mulch sheeting & the nails, thus reducing the cost of having to hire the van to go and pick up 800 kg of seed that wouldn’t fit in the back of my car. He has it in 2m widths & can’t cut it for me, but sells scissors. Just hope they’re not Chinese….

This is the worst year for olives in Tuscany in living memory, which given the age of farmers around here, is about 99 years. I have, at the last count 923 trees, of which maybe 250 are in production, the rest I planted over the last 3 years; they are still babies. Not sure I’ll be alive to see them mature, but the world will go on after me, right? And it’s like having bees, everyone in their lifetime should plant trees. Anyway to cut a long story short, there are about 10% of olives on the trees, with a 35% olive fly infestation, which translated means very little oil.

I ‘ve done all the work of pruning, spraying with copper against olive cancer, cutting the grass, recuperating winter wood for our word burner, and repairing the nets. Not to mention keeping in touch with clients, ordering the bottles, bottle tops, boxes, labels, and the organic certification. Costs, costs, costs. And now there will be next to no oil to sell. I decide to go to London to tell our customers, well, the true story … we’re popping up in London with a Tuscan dinner. We’ll are going to give them a seasonal dinner to remember, and if they adopt an olive tree they will also get 1 litre of next year’s oil.

11.30 Today’s first disaster: the location where I’m doing the pop-up restaurant in London next month, and for which I have already sold most of the tickets
has just texted me to say they had a mix-up and the venue has already been hired by someone else. I feel possibly my head could explode. A quick look at the clock and yup, just got time to go for a 30-minute run. That’s my therapy these days. There’s nothing like it. Pumping the ground I might come up with a solution. If not at least I’ll be smiling.

On the way back I stop & get the veg from the veg patch for dinner: it’s the season for both 3 types of salads and multiple cabbages, the children will be delighted!

Oh & by the way, the Pop-up venue is mine, sometimes to get a result you just need to be really, really bossy…

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