It’s been a restful visit to the farm this time around. While the daily routine has been more relaxed, we’ve come across a few interesting things to share this time:
- The other day a fellow came by to trim the donkeys’ hooves. Our donkeys get less attention as Fede’s folks are stretched thin so they’re more squirrelly and don’t raise their leg for just anybody. When Mauro arrived, one of his first proclamations was that he was born on the back of a donkey and that at one point he’d had a herd of 15! He was a short, classic Romagnolo fellow with a snaggle-toothed smile and a matter-of-fact mode of squaring his points with his hands. He assured us that we’d have the work done in no time, and the donkeys clearly took note. They barely raised a peep as he calmly but assuredly gave them the fastest pedicure they’ve had in years, all the while talking about how much he missed having his own herd. He’d worked with his donkeys to gather wood for a living, and offered to teach us how to train our team with his equipment when we get back. We’ve also had a horrible year for biting flies, and all our efforts to trap or prevent them with over-the-counter methods have failed. Mauro recommended a local cure that he swears by: lard and sulfur. Sure enough, after making a paste with pork lard and sulfur and rubbing it all over their fly-infested legs, we’ve seen an immediate drop in the infestation. Not only that, the fat moisturizes and protects the wounds created by previous bites. We will definitely be calling Mauro back.
- Just the other day I took a walk through our “forgotten fruit” orchard, which has about 80 trees of heirloom fruit varieties. Many of the varieties are at risk of disappearing for lack of cultivation, hence “forgotten”. I found an apricot tree at peak production and harvested 10 1/2 kilos of cleaned and pitted fruit. We made an excellent jam using roughly 3 parts fruit to 2 parts pectin to 1/5 part sugar, sweet and also quite tangy. I recommend boiling and canning the fruit right away, because I think our tang increased a bit as we waited to get more pectin. After cleaning the jars and lids, we rinsed them in gifted liquor of unknown origin to kill lingering bacteria. While we weren’t sure exactly about the proportion of pectin and early signs seemed to demonstrate worrying solidity, the end result is smooth.
- Finally, we’ve decided we can always count on decomposition even when we’re far away, so I’ve been giving the compost some attention. We had a great haul from our input last year, including a couple of volunteer tomatoes that are thriving heartily in the remains of their predecessors. For Federica’s school this year we also asked for some soil analysis of the fields and found the soil profile is on the basic side from the limestone deposits in our area. While I’m used to using bone meal or rinsed seashells to treat acid soil, in this case I’ve upped the input of manure to increase acidity. I’m reminded that peach and apricot pits are best left with the other veggie scraps we give to the animals because they take far too long to decompose in the compost, especially in an untended cold pile. I also need to remember to guard the compost from the heat I’m not used to here, because it takes almost no time for rich, moist soil dry out to a crisp in the hot sun. We’ve had some good ideas for a large scale composting system that I’d like to try when we’re back and cooking.