27 giugno 2008

Finally decided to plant out the onion sets

Finally decided to plant out the onion sets that I bought weeks ago, hoping they hadn’t died in the meantime. They looked brown and small but not completely dead. At 9.30 in the morning it was already very hot, in the high 20s, so I slathered up with sun protection and headed down before the full onslaught of the heat.

Hacked my way through the knee-high jungle of weeds that just a couple of weeks ago was a pristine area of fine tilth. With the luxury of the new rotovator (motozappa) we have made the veg patch very big this year, and it turns out to be too big – vast acreages of space in between individual plants or groups of plants, which has allowed the weeds to flourish. That and the weeks of rain in late May/early June, followed by this heat – it has all led to the growth of a sort of miniature tropical forest.

Anyway, back to the onions. I hoed three nice furrows in which to plant them, hauling out tonnes of weeds as I went. Couch-grass infestation is the worst, with endless tough roots that are practically impossible to pull out fully. I managed to put in the little onions, ten per row, and then had to hoe another row for the remainder, I seem to have about 40 in all. Watered them in. And I hope they will survive. They look very tiny and I think it’s too late in the season, really, to be planting out onions, but we’ll see.

The tomatoes meanwhile have also suffered neglect but have enjoyed it and flourished like crazy. Each main stem had put out three or four strongly growing side shoots; even the side shoots had side shoots. All these shoots should have been pinched out weeks ago as soon as they appeared but we failed dismally on that. Now the plants are so green and strong and healthy it seems a shame to take off the extra shoots, but that’s what has to be done so that they grow tall and put their energy into producing fruits now, and so I spent a bit of time doing that and enjoying breathing in the pungent greeny smell that tomato plants give off when you break them.

Finally and exhaustedly I did a bit more obsessive weeding and hoeing around the self-seeded dill that has sprung up all over the place, and by the end of this it was midday and I was hot as hell and drenched in sweat and dying for a drink of water. In this weather this kind of work needs to be done before 10 am and you definitely need a siesta after lunch. Some hope.

We found out recently that the local contadini (farmers) know how to tell the year’s weather using onions, by peeling off the layers of onions at the beginning of each year and somehow using them to forecast fairly generalized weather predictions for the whole year ahead. They got it right at Easter, when during a warm spell I was told that “next week it will snow – the onions say so”. How we scoffed; how right they were. And now they are saying that after a hot July the weather will break and the rest of the summer will be lousy – let’s hope the onions will be wrong on that one.

23 giugno 2008

We have had the ducklings

We have had the ducklings for ten days or so now and they’re about three weeks old. At night they live in a tub in the spare room lined with newspaper and straw, and in the mornings we put them out into the enclosed duck-pen. It’s incredible how smelly four little ducks can make a room in twelve hours. They’re eating chick starter feed and getting through not as much water as I’d have expected given the heat. During the day they huddle in their little group in the shade with occasional forays – all together – to their drinking water or their feed. They move as one. They rootle in the grass and I’ve seen them catching bugs and insects. Good ducklings. They are just about big enough now to poke their beaks over the edge of the washing-up bowl that serves as the big duck’s bath, and they’re trying to drink from that but without a great deal of success.

In all, they are very very cute indeed but I hope they can live outside soon as the moving them to and fro every morning and evening is a pain and so is the smell. This all depends on the big duck now – we have put her in the pen a few times together with the ducklings to try to get them used to each other, and she hasn’t actually attacked them, but she’s not very happy being with them and paces up and down along the wire like a caged, er, duck. I’d never have thought a duck could pace, but she is definitely pacing. This is a duck we’ve had for two years, one of our original four, the others having been lost through a process of natural attrition (otherwise known as the fox. And the puppy). Since Christmas, when the last two ducks were brutally torn from us, this duck has hung out with the dogs, Teo and Maxim, in a very sweet and strange little threesome. Teo is totally laid back about the situation (possibly he hasn’t even noticed) – the duck follows him everywhere and when he lies down, she does too, and when he goes off to bark at something in the distance, she goes too and stares off intently into the same distance, seemingly on the very point of barking. Maxim is somewhat more bothered, he being the one that killed the first duck and now living in fear of retribution; this duck tries to nick food from his bowl, and you can just see Maxim’s torment as he suppresses his natural canine instinct to rip her throat out and meekly backs away. The upshot of this is that the duck basically seems to think she’s a dog, which is why we’re not sure what her reaction to the ducklings is going to be. Apart from, so far, confusion – “What are these little things? They’re not puppies. Get them away from me.” I wouldn’t like to shut the ducklings in with her in the duckhouse overnight in case we opened the door in the morning to baby-duck carnage.

So: tonight's the big night and we’re putting the ducklings in their tub and leaving it (covered) in the enclosure, with the big duck shut in the attached duckhouse. So the little ducks get a chance to experience night in the big wide world, and the big duck gets used to having them in her territory.

Come the morning, we will know all.