For the last fourteen years, we have cultivated a variety of trees on our two plots of land: the one near the main road has had up to 230 peaches, nectarines, apples, mangoes, guavas, pomegranates, figs, and mixed citrus – as well as supporting my 300 square metres of mixed veg, and the plot where the house is was the site of our olive grove. But the arrangement was full of inherent difficulties, and after taking a series of very deep breaths, Best Beloved and I have some changes wrought.
“How would it be,” he asked me late last autumn, “if we took out the olives from here, transplanted them to the field, took out most of the soft fruit trees and apples, turned the field over to olives and vines, and brought all your vegetables up to the house?” I looked at him as if he’s proposed a trip to Saturn, but quickly saw the wisdom behind his thinking.
Newly planted vines where we took out the trees six years ago.
When we originally planted the fruit trees, we had roughly thirty-eight each of nectarines and peaches, about twenty mangoes, and about sixty apples.
For the first few years, the care and the yield were insignificant, but once we began to harvest big crops, the workload vaulted: sheet mulching each tree for weed suppression; checking and spraying for aphids in the spring; strimming or tractoring the weeds between the trees; thinning, picking, and marketing the fruit – and turning what didn’t sell into jams, preserves, and jellies; pruning the trees in the winter; and looking forward to doing it all again.
Six years ago we took out half of all the trees except the mangoes and life became easier.
But at about that time the neighbour slightly up-slope began producing summer alfalfa – meaning that he watered about three times a week and all his run off went to watering our weeds. More work, more cost.
I’m not as sprightly and resilient as I was in years past, and I hate trudging along in the sun spraying sulphur and copper from a heavy backpack sprayer. I bought lighter sprayers, but they all broke, and last year I dug in my heels so Best Beloved took over all of the heavy work.
Meanwhile, half of the vegetable production had moved up to the house – in the 100 square metres opposite the olive patch, so I was dividing my time between to areas of vegetable production. The olives were trucking along nicely, but on land better than they needed. And although we realised that we needed a change, I would never have thought of something as radical as Best Beloved proposed.
I grabbed at his idea, and ran with it. But he backed off. I nagged: “You have to let me know before I start pruning!” I told him. “I don’t want to start the work and then have you cut the trees down…”
“But it’s a huge job, Manamou,” he temporised. “And with the chainsaw broken, and no digger driver that I really trust…”
So I dropped it. If we do it, I thought, we’ll do it. If we don’t, I’ve practically written the trees off anyway.
Then everything happened fast. The chainsaw came back from the menders, the weather warmed up, and suddenly apple trees were falling in the field and the store of firewood was growing exponentially. Leo and Best Beloved worked like Trojans and one day last week only twelve apples and six each peaches and nectarines remained among the stumps.
Scene of destruction -- soon to turn into olive grove
plus vinyard, far lower maintenance crops than fruit
trees, and crops requiring far less water, meaning
less incidence of weeds.
“Can you pick up my vines from the Department of Agriculture?” Best Beloved phoned to ask one day. And a week later they were newly planted in neat rows on the patch that we had cleared six years ago.
The digger came Thursday and spent a day dragging out stumps and making new holes. We tried burning off the trimmings but they’re still too green.
The olive patch needs a deep ploughing to break up compacted clay and a few truckloads of goat manure and organic matter, and it could be ready for a summer planting but I want to think about it and try a more sustainable design than just rows and drip irrigation. Permaculture has always fascinated me, and although I have never taken a design course I am learning more about it and trying to apply its basic principles to my agriculture.Former olive grove, slated for permaculture organic vegetable plot.We have kept a border of olive trees around the outside, and plan to underplant with native shrubs as well as aromatics like lavender, rosemary, rigani, and thyme.
So it’s all happening! Watch this space, faithful readers, to see what comes next.