Contadina's Blog

Living the contadini life among the olive groves

The greening of the grove April 13, 2010

Filed under: environment,Garden,olives — contadina @ 5:11 pm

We’re coming up to our fourth anniversary of living the good life in Puglia, so I’m in a vaguely reflective mood today. You never know if a move to the countryside will suit you until you try it, let alone a move to another country, with a different culture and language. But four year’s on, I’m certain we made the right decision.

Our “cosmopolitan” life in London seems a million miles away. In fact, I really feel like a tourist on my annual visit back to the Big Smoke, and feel ever so slightly overwhelmed by it all.

With the help of our neighbouring contadini we’ve learnt how to look after and harvest our olive trees, tend grapes and make wine, and grapple with the demands and delights of gardening in a Mediterranean climate.

There’s always something new to learn, not least because no two Italians rarely agree on anything, but it’s fun muddling through until we find a way, which suits us. We’ve even felt emboldened enough to ignore some local wisdom and go our own way, especially when it comes to a more organic approach.

Which leads me rather neatly on to what we’ve been doing with our olive trees. Around 40-years ago, your average contadini would have kept some livestock to help feed the family for the year. The beauty of keeping livestock is that, aside from the food they provide they can also help keep grasses short, converting it into lovely rich manure to return to the soil to help grow other crops.

Since the introduction of “cheap” chemicals, however, very few contadini keep livestock: relying instead on pesticides to kill weeds and fertilisers to feed their plants. When it comes to olives the majority of our neighbours continually spray nasty weed-killing pesticides under their olive trees. To harvest their olives they wait for them to fall off the trees and spend most of the winter sweeping them up to sell to the various mills in town.

clean but lifeless

To do this, the area under their trees is kept hard and bare. The constant spraying of chemicals has ensured that hardly anything grows under them and made them really compacted. The contadini see this as ideal as it allows them to sweep olives as they fall. To begin with we thought it necessary to try and attain a similar hard, bare surface. As we garden organically this meant strimming under the trees loads and rolling them with some repurposed gas bottles. Filled with sand or water and attached to the rotivator, they’d bring a tear of joy to the eye of any good cricket groundsman.

We’ve always collected olives for oil by hand straight onto nets and off to the mill within 48-hours to ensure optimum oil, but it made sense to simply sweep the rest up and sell them in sacks. I shudder to think what the oil would be like; I certainly wouldn’t use it, but I suspect in ends up bottled in supermarkets around the globe.

Jeremy tickles olives onto nets

Without chemicals, the earth under our trees never got as compacted as our neighbours however, and sweeping was always a nightmare. So, last year we only collected olives with nets. Between us we made two cold-pressings, which resulted in around 80 litres of wonderfully green oil. We didn’t bother sweeping and selling excess olives as prices peaked at €20 per quintale (100 kilos). It was taking one of our younger, fitter neighbours all day to sweep up 2 quintales and €40 is not a lot to show for a hard day’s graft. We would have managed to sweep a fraction of that amount and many of our older neighbours are deciding they will only collect olives to make oil for themselves in the future.

Without the need to sweep under trees it’s actually easier to collect olives on nets, which sit on grass (it gives them something to sit on and ladders are less likely to tear the nets as the grass protects them from soft soil underneath).

Jeremy has just strimmed under all the olive trees and scattered organic fertiliser underneath them just in time for some much needed rain. Now the trees have been fed, wild grasses will grow back with a vengeance, and whilst we will ensure the olive grove is not a fire hazard over the summer we are not going to follow the contadini obsession with ensuring all life is removed from beneath the trees.


When no means yes February 19, 2010

Filed under: environment — contadina @ 5:01 pm

When Puglia, along with the regions of Campania and Basilicata legally rejected Berlusconi’s government’s plans to build nuclear plants down in the south, I was pleasantly surprised at the local autonomy in decision-making. The Italian constitution specifies there must be agreement between regional and central government over energy developments. The southern regions say no, discussion ended, or so I foolishly thought.

It seems that in Italy, however the constitution only counts if the ruling government says so. Italy’s Constitutional Court has just over-ruled the laws at the request of the government and the search for sites in the south begins again.

La Citta Bianca

Imagine this obscured by a nuclear power plant!!!

Puglia, along with its southern neighbours is favoured by central government as it poses a smaller risk of seismic activity than much of the north and central Italy. Two of the proposed sites in Puglia are Ostuni (a Unesco heritage site) and Torre Guaceto (a protected nature reserve). Any proposed site would, furthermore, mean disrupting the coastal road and rail tracks which link Puglia with its northern neighbours. I wonder if those same northern neighbours will still choose to spend their summers down here if power plants dwarf Puglia’s excellent beaches and attractions. Do you think they’ll paint the reactor domes white to match the rest of Ostuni (the white town)?

Since Italy deactivated all of it power stations following the Chernobyl accident, it has become Europe’s largest net importer of electricity, with more than 10% of its electricity coming from foreign-produced nuclear power, so the rush to create more of its own power is understandable. Italy has no uranium, however, but it does have abundant sunshine, strong winds and is mostly surrounded by sea, so it beggars belief that nuclear energy is being pursued over safer and cleaner energy options.

Beppe Grillo says there are only two kinds of people who are in favour of nuclear power, namely those who are ill informed and those that stand to profit from it. The current rush to get things done (six months to finalise the sites of future plants and waste storage facilities, and to establish an independent atomic agency) can only lead to problems later on as battle commences for a slice of the nuclear pie.

On a positive note, Puglian regional presidential candidate, Nichi Vendola, is running on an anti-nuclear ticket and has vowed that if the government wants to construct nuclear power stations in Puglia they will need to use armoured tanks.

Quando no significa sì

Quando la Puglia, insieme con le regioni Campania e Basilicata, ha giuridicamente respinto il progetta del governo Berlusconi di costruire centrali nucleari al sud, sono rimasta piacevolmente sorpresa dalle autonomie locali nel processo decisionale. La Costituzione italiana specifica che deve esistere un accordo tra il governo centrali e le regioni per gli sviluppi della energia. Le regioni meridionali hanno detto di no, la discussione è conclusa, o almeno così ho stupidamente pensato.

Sembra che in Italia, tuttavia, la Costituzione vale solo se il governo sentenzia così. La Corte Costituzionale di italiana ha annullato la legge, su richiesta del governo, e la ricerca per siti nel sud ricomincia.

La Puglia, insieme con i suoi vicini del sud è favorita dal governo centrale, datto che pone un rischio minore di attività sismica che gran parte del nord e del centro Italia. Due dei siti proposti in Puglia sono: Ostuni (un patrimonio dell’UNESCO) e Torre Guaceto (una riserva naturale protetta). Ogni sito proposto significherebbe dover interrompere la strada costiera e I binari ferroviari che collegano la Puglia con i suoi vicini settentrionali. Mi chiedo se i nostri vicini del Nord continueranno a trascorrere le loro estati qui se le centrali nucleari offuscheranno le gli spiagge e attrazioni eccellenti della Puglia. Credi che dipingeranno le cupole del reattore di bianco per abbinarle al resto di Ostuni (La Città Bianca)?

Da quando l’Italia ha disattivato tutte le centrali nucleari dopo l’incidente di Chernobyl, è diventata il più grande importatore netto di energia elettrica in Europa, con oltre il 10% del suo fabbisogno di elettricità proveniente da fonti estere di energia nucleare prodotta, così la corsa a creare più energia è comprensibile. L’Italia non ha uranio, ma ha sole abbondante, vento forte ed è in gran parte circondata dal mare, così è difficile da credere che hanno scelto l’energia nucleare piuttosto  che più sicure e più pulite opzioni energetiche.

Beppe Grillo dice che ci sono solo due tipi di persone che sono a favore del nucleare, cioè vale a dire coloro che sono male informati e quelli che si distinguono per trarne profitto. La corsa attuale per fare le cose (sei mesi per finalizzare i siti delle futuri e centrali di stoccaggio dei rifiuti, e istituire un organismo indipendente per l’atomica) non può che portare a problemi in seguito, e la battaglia per una fetta della torta nucleare comincia.

Con una nota positiva, il candidato alla presidenza regionale pugliese, Nichi
Vendola, usa come cavallo di battaglia per le elezioni il reiuto del nucleare e ha promesso che se il governo vuole costruire centrali nucleari in Puglia avranno bisogno di utilizzare i blindati.