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Bestagno: three weeks into isolation

Here at the Bestagno olive farm we are three weeks into isolation and to be honest the time has flown by.

Without our usual gang of helpers in the groves and gardens we have had to get super organized to try and keep on top of all the jobs. Toby our 26-year-old autistic son does not understand why his routine has changed so dramatically or indeed where everyone has gone. Occasionally I see him looking longingly at the car, but he has adapted really well so far and is more than pulling his weight with jobs about the home, garden and groves.

Last week the first early swallows arrived - we always get a few coming and checking things out before the entire mob return which should be within weeks. The arrival of the swifts and swallows for me is the real start of the spring for whilst we have all sorts of birds already sorting out nesting places and materials and the buzzards, occasional eagle and hawks are out hunting, it is the swallows and swifts that herald the start of the real spring weather. Very soon the Jackdaws will start nesting in the bell tower and that part of our village piazza will be covered in the sticks they collect and scatter messily around the place.

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Fortunately, our organic fertilizer had arrived prior to lockdown (and Christopher and I had our annual conversation about my storing fertilizer in the garage, a space he seems to believe is only for cars!). This means the olive trees have had their spring feed and luckily there is enough left over to use on the new vegetable garden Toby and I are building.

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The land we are building our garden and fruit orchards on was abandoned for literally generations before we moved here. The stony Mediterranean soil is so badly compacted it is impossible to turn over with a spade.

People in the village whose gardens have been worked for generations have amazingly fertile and stone free soil but with the greatest will in the world our soil will never become so enriched, well not in in my lifetime.

Only native Mediterranean plants can cope with the arid soil such as those we have in the aromatic garden by the house.

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To save time and effort all of our vegetables and herbs are grown in raised beds where the garden soil has been mixed with lashings of our home-made compost to create a soil which is fertile and relatively stone free.

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Having eaten our way through the spring greens, foraged for wild herbs and picked, eaten and frozen a wide variety of brassicas in the first weeks of lock down we are now picking our first broad beans although I discovered a few of the shells have already been emptied by nighttime guests.

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The flowers are just starting to show on the olive trees and with some fine weather the valley will soon be covered in white fluffy olive blossom. The blossom stays for thereabouts two weeks when pollination takes place and as the flowers fall to the ground creating white carpets allover the valley’s lanes the tiny olives emerge.

For several weeks the almond and other nut trees and our cherries have started to blossom and the garden and groves are full of the spring flowers and fresh grass we leave to flower and self-seed to attract bees and other pollinators.

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The pomegranate trees had a good pruning earlier in the year and new growth is emerging although I am not certain if they will fruit this year having been so drastically cut back.

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We have lost four people in our little valley to Coronavirus already. We are not the most isolated community in Liguria but you can feel pretty much shut off from the outside world here in the Impero valley. Apart from just a few incomers like ourselves, our local community is made up of a few extended families; everyone seemingly cousins to everyone else.

So whilst there are times when not being able to pop out for a coffee or meet up with a friend is frustrating, I hope all the three of us need to do is sit tight quietly and try to make the most of being together as a family during this dreadful time. Certainly some members of the family are enjoying everyone being at home!

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