11 December 2010

This post first appeared on my website.

The thermometer went up to 17 degrees yesterday, and I spent the whole glorious day in the garden. I weeded and tidied but mostly whooshed copper sulphate around the place liberally. Some of my fruit trees had already had this treatment a fortnight ago. But – despite a pleasant-enough looking forecast – it then proceeded to tip down for about 48 hours straight afterwards so I thought I’d start again from square one.

I spent hours a couple of months ago, collating wisdom from various sources to draw up a foolproof organic treatment schedule (below) which would lead to a summer of fruit which was actually edible, rather than a tasty but exhausting carving exercise to remove the many creatures in merrily munching competition.

I’m weeks behind already, though, and wondering when I’ll ever catch up. Or indeed if I really need all these wonderful cures that I’m planning to give my poor unsuspecting little trees. Then again, the chances of me actually sticking to my programme are slim.

I have put a proper sprayer for this on my letter to Father Christmas. The one that I have now is mediumly all right, as long as you’ve only got a couple of rose bushes to squirt. But after hours and hours pumping away at it yesterday, turning fruit trees and roses a lovely shade of blue, both my arms feel like they’ve been pummelled by a boxer. And my left shoulder – the one I tend to use for working the pump – is more or less paralized.

The brief time I managed to devote to the garden this afternoon (the morning zipped away searching but not finding the perfect chainsaw for L for Christmas: our Christmas lists are remarkably unromantic) I spent dismantling my summer vegetable garden pergola. It was such an ambitious one this year, that the whole area looks terribly naked without the huge frame of canes.

Our Arundo donax cane is not only the bane of my life, as it comes creeping with its immense rhizome roots into places where I absolutely don’t want it: it’s also of only relative usefulness in that yes, you can use it as supports for all kinds of things but for one season, max. After which it just crumbles and cracks and generally turns black and falls to pieces. At least this means, however, that I get to redesign my vegetable garden each year – always the same, always different.

Heavens, who would have thought? I just did some research and found I have absolutely no right to loath Arundo with the intensity I do. It’s one of the best possible sources of biomass for biofuel (I wonder if I can find someone who’d like to come and harvest all ours on a regular basis) and it’s also remarkably efficient in carbon sequestration, above and below ground. And it’s great for phytoremediation of polluted or saline soils. Hmmmm. I’m trying to make this make me look more favourably on the inexorably creeping stuff. I’m have some difficulty though.

We stomped around the bottom field yesterday afternoon, pouting, frowning, grumbling and generally disagreeing utterly on our ‘concept’ for our Christmas tree. Actually, to be fair, I didn’t have a concept – my one aim was to contain L’s delusions of grandeur and stop him filling the whole dining room with a forest, especially one on a slant which is what he was envisaging. In the end we agreed on a lovely oak branch, with some wonderful yellow lichen clinging to it, but not before we peered in dismay at the newly slid-away bit of the field, and the pile of mud half-way down the valley which used to be part of said field.

How do you stop such a massive gulley slipping away? Well, if we were sensible and had the correct equipment, we would get out with our tractor (which we don’t have) each autumn and plough a deep furrow right around the field, offset a few metres in from the bottom edges, so that the rainwater flowed down the field, into that, then was channeled purposefully into one or two well behaved outlets over the edge. That’s what the farmers used to do. In fact, it’s what the few remaining farmers still do. But managing to get someone in to do that for you right at the time when all useful hands are picking olives is no easy thing. And if I found anyone now, their tractor would just sink straight into the mire down there.

Then the whole exposed bank should be planted with tiny saplings – willow’s a good one, if there’s enough water – and left to reestablish itself. But I’m sure won’t get around to that either… even if I could afford it. Anyway, planting on what is now a sheer cliff face would be no joke: much major earth-movement would probably be needed before anything could be done, and that’s really out of the question. It’s funny to think that our whole, chiselled-away valley was formed like that. And that probably our house was once much further from the edge that it is now. And that one day it will probably be right on the edge. But I don’t think that will be for quite a long time to come. At least, I hope not.

WHAT WHEN AGAINST
Lime sulphur Dec/Jan Peach curl
Dormant oil (Olio minerale) Early spring – before buds open (late Feb/Mar) Over-wintering insect eggs
Bordeaux mix Spring (March) Canker (peach, plum, cherry)
Dolomite lime Spring (or autumn), dusting on ground Disease, brings calcium & magnesium
Copper sulphate Before leaves sprout
Sulphur Pre-bloom Scab, Peach curl, mildew, scab (apples, pears)
Bacillus thuringiensis (BT) Between petal fall and beginning of June (2x) Caterpillar larvae
Bordeaux mix Post-bloom (2x, 2wks apart) Scab (apples, pears)
Pyrethrum Every 10 days thru’ June
BT Beginning, mid July
Pyrethrum Every 10 days thru’ Aug
Bordeaux mix Sept, after harvest Peach curl, canker (apples, pears)
Bordeaux mix Nov, after leaf fall Peach curl, canker (peach, plum, cherry)
Sulphur After leaf fall Scab (apples, pears)
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About Gardens, Food & Umbria

I am a garden designer, working throughout central Italy. I have lived in Italy for over 30 years – for many years in Rome but now in the wilds of Umbria where I have fixed up one wreck of a house, am working on another, and tinker endlessly with two and a half hectares of land, some of which is my garden.
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