03 – Olive Pruning

Now we desperately needed to concentrate on getting the olive trees back into shape, as they had become sadly neglected over the last year, however our nursing duties at the time naturally had taken precedence. 

During one of the many spells that “Ugo” had been in hospital we had the pleasure of getting acquainted with a fellow kidney patient, a  very kind man by the name of Mario.  He spoke a few words of  English as he had lived in Australia for several years before returning to his home village of Lenola.  We chatted and soon learned that he worked as an olive pruner and when we told him about our olive grove at “Tre Cancelle” he was much intrigued and bemused that we had taken on such a huge project, with no absolutely no knowledge or previous experience whatsoever.  We exchanged phone numbers and promised to keep in touch, however with Dad being so poorly over a year had passed since we had been in contact. 



We decided to give Mario a call and arranged to go up to Lenola to meet him and discuss the possibility of employing him to do some pruning for us, and ask if perhaps he could teach Paul some of the basic skills required for olive farming. 

We were warmly greeted by Mario and his wife, and who were saddened to learn of our recent loss.  We asked if he would be able to help us and he agreed to start work in a week’s time.  He agreed willingly.  

Mario then took us for a very pleasant stroll around his small medieval home town of Lenola where we visited the beautiful Sanctuary of La Madonna del Colle.  

We were not allowed to leave their company before his wife parcelled up for us two bags of frozen home farmed chicken portions, 21 fresh eggs and two bottle of Mario’s special homemade red wine.

He told Paul to meet him down at Itri Cemetery at 5.30 am on the following Monday morning, thus we set our alarm clock to waken us at this anti-social hour of the morning.  At 6 am Paul, Mario and his workmate Guglielmo commenced work, first walking around the various terraces to assess the situation and decide which trees most needed pruning and attention.  This was not the conventional time of year to be carrying out this task, and some of the healthier trees were in blossom and showed some promise of bearing some fruit this year.  However there were certain terraces where the trees were looking rather poorly as they had grown far too tall and bushy and required a severe cutting back.  Thus battle commenced.  

At around 9 o’clock  they said they were stopping for a spot of breakfast.  Paul and I went to gather some rolls and jam and a cup of tea for our “continental” style breakfast, however when we returned Mario and Guglielmo were eagerly tucking into what appeared to be a three course meal that their wives had prepared for them, which was being helped down by a half a litre each of potent homemade wine.  They were horrified to see what we were going to eat and Mario said something along the lines of  “Paul, how on earth are you going to survive as an olive farmer if that’s all your going to eat and drink.  Here tuck into some of this and have a swig or two of my hearty wine”.   At 9 am in the morning !!!  Feeling replenished, and Paul somewhat tipsy, they went back to work climbing up the olive trees pruning with secateurs and brandishing a chainsaw or two until they knocked off  for the day at 1.30 pm, to return home for an even more substantial midday meal.  Over the next few days Paul found himself gradually becoming accustomed to this new routine, however I failed miserably to stir myself into getting up at such an early hour.  Everyone knows I am not renowned for being an early riser!!!

I remembered that Mario had said that his two sons, following a reasonably good education, had chosen professional careers instead of following in their father’s footsteps of working the land.  To Mario his work was a craft, a skill, which the youth of today did not value, preferring to seek jobs in which they need not dirty their hands.  It suddenly struck me that Mario saw Paul as his young apprentice or understudy, and that he was eager to pass on the tricks of his treasured trade to a younger generation.  At times Mario seemed a hard task master and found our mistakes very frustrating.  I think  Guglielmo really didn’t know quite what to make of us.  The olive chaps worked with us for a total of 6 days over two weeks and incredibly managed to prune 120 olive trees. 

The downside was that we were left with all the mountains of olive prunings to deal with.  We had to start tidying up all the severed branches and twigs, conserving as much wood as possible for the log burning stove during the winter months.  The remainder needed to be raked up and burned.  This seemed a really daunting task as there was so much to clear, especially as there was a deadline to meet as from the middle of June all fires are banned by the Forestry Police and Comune.



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