November 15th (Sat.)
My wife’s turn to be sick this weekend. Will everybody stop getting sick for a few days ! Must be the weather which has turned chilly.
This weekend I got on with ploughing in the stubble on the future olive grove. I’d spent a lot of time during the week researching the best way of preparing the field with soil amendments prior to setting it up with drainage channels and mounds for the olive trees. The soil has to be prepared in it’s level state before this.
Luckily since the Australian government seems to be strongly supporting olive production as a new agriculture there is loads of great scientific information on all aspects of olive production including soil preparation online.
As an outsider it appears to me that having stormed on to the international wine scene by bringing a new analytical approach to old world wines they are trying to do the same with olive production. In olive’s heartland, Spain, Italy and Greece I imagine things are done a certain way just because that’s the way it’s always been done. Australia is coming back with in depth analysis of what conditions and cultivars are right for the situation of the country and for the production of olives in general. It’s useful stuff for me.
The primary point with olives is they prefer a calcareous soil (high in calcium carbonate) at the high end of the usual soil pH scale. So adding agricultural lime to a depth of 2 feet is a high priority to put the pH above 7. Interestingly, while it is generally a bad idea to plough to a depth that mixes top and sub soils, for the preparation of the grove it is advantageous since the lower sub soil is often more alkaline than the topsoil.
So that’s the plan for the present. An amendment of a potash supplement will be added locally prior to the trees going in next year and I’m still mulling over whether to add the gravel we don’t need from the drive.
The field looks a right mess with all the stubble especially because I took the unusual step of spreading the grasses and weeds I’d cut and heaped up back over the field once finished. The reason for that is since we have until next year before the ground needs to be a fine tilth for the broadcast sowing of the clover to establish the pasture those grasses and weeds have plenty of time to rot down into the soil as a green manure.
The ‘toi obaasan'(pronounced Toe(as in the things on your feet)/ee ) came around with 6 cabbage seedlings she was donating to me. I squeezed them in and she investigated my disapearing crops did I mention my lovely potatoes have been desimated by something munching into them right at the base of the stem. Where as leaf munching caterpillars while not favourable allow the plant to come back once the pest is picked off, attacks on the stem cause the thing to keel over and it’s really game over.
So what is it ? I thought slugs and encircled the plants with salt as a precaution. So much salt that Mao (you know, the one who said ‘London in Paris ?’) on seeing them said ‘oh, Did it snow here ?’ in deadly earnest.
Toi grandma quickly got to the root of the problem (pardon the pun) finding a little ugly brown caterpillar buried in the soil and exclaimed ‘iru,iru!’ (they’re here!). Within a few minutes of her rooting about with her fingers at the base of the plants she had a palmfull. They being ‘cutworms’, I hadn’t heard of this particular evil before, they are the larva of a number of moths that eats the stems of plants in the night and then hides itself in the soil during the day. As such they do not fall prey to many predators although I imagine putting the ducks on the field at times to turf them out may help reduce numbers.
Toi obaasan suggested she put down a mild pesticide to contain them and grudgingly I accepted until I can find an organic solution to the problem. I have since done that, a very simple and elegant one. Apparently a coil of card wrapped around the stem of the plant and pushed down an inch or so is enough to stop them.
She helped me with putting in my onions, well no actually that’s a lie, she looked how I’d put them in in clumps, exclaimed, laughed a little, then showed me how it should be done with the pace and ease of someone who’s worked the soil for 70 year as she has. Onions are put into the soil as ‘sets’ which mean they are about the size of a small spring onion with a long willowly stem so the thing is just plugged into the soil with the fingers. We had 15 left out of 350 with not an inch to spare along the row. With the rain coming on strong I said well, 15 I can live with not planting and was ready to call it a day. Predictably the words came as she looked at me incredulously with just a hint of a smile :
‘Mottainai!!’ (what a waste !)
I felt ashamed and made no more complaint as she squeezed in the remaining 15 onion shoots between plants, at a little corner at the end of a row, she was even going to put a few in a flower planter at the front of the house until she spotted another unused few inches of space on the row. ‘Finished’ I thought until she spotted my red salad onion shoots all bunched up as my onion ones had been and proceeded to uproot them. ‘Now what are we going to do with these!’ she exclaimed laughing.
They ended up being put in a temporary home between the onions until we’ve eaten the mizuna salad leaf which is ready now where they’ll be planted out.
The veg as of this weekend
I learnt a thing or two in that 20 minutes, chiefly not to be so fussy about plant placement. I found pleasure in the game of filling every inch of the row with the promise of a bountiful harvest, even if
I’ve got onions here , there and everywhere now !
Later that day I spotted 10 Welsh Onion sets I’d previously thought I didn’t need sitting on the shelf of the seed house, their green shoots curled up towards the sun, I picked them up and without a second thought headed off to continue the game . I knew just the place for them . . . .
That evening I went around to her house to give her some of the mizuna salad leaf I’d picked for our dinner as a present.
I managed to give it to her (a rarity) but as usual I didn’t come away empty handed as I got a bag of sweet potatoes, then just as we were about to eat she came around with a bowl of vegetables stewed in a soy broth.
The mizuna ready in the field
‘I don’t suppose it’s very tasty but try it anyway’ she said in her usual self-deprecating way.
Give one gift get two back, always the way of it !