Labour saving in the garden

When I first moved to Italy in 2006 I spent most of the first year out in the garden, a rocky hillside not far from where I now live, digging a couple of vegetable beds. In fact, I don’t recall doing much else that year. Then circumstances changed and for the next 3½ years lived in a small Ligurian village house with no garden, followed by 2½ years working in Coventry and living in a small flat, again with no garden. So when I returned to Italy at the end of 2013 I was a bit out of practice.

After a couple of months of near-constant rain, Spring arrived a couple of days ago. One morning the mountain opposite was like this:

140306-1and the next we were bathed in sunshine. Traces of the snow remain but the transformation is dramatic.

All this was most welcome so I went out to prepare an ‘orto’ (vegetable garden). Just a matter of digging a few rows, just as I’d done 7 years before, but after a couple of hours every joint was aching and I could hardly walk. All for this paltry result:

140306-2Something has changed over the past 7 years and I rather fear it’s me. OK, it’s been a while since I performed that kind of physical labour, and even since I’ve been back the days I could work outside have been few and far between. But I have to admit my enthusiasm for subjecting myself to that kind of treatment has waned. Like the artilleryman in The War Of The Worlds my achievements fell some way short of my ambitions.

Time for some mechanised assistance. That evening I pored over my computer for a couple of hours before selecting what I hoped would succeed where I had so far failed miserably. Three days later a large box arrived. For anyone interested it’s a model Z2 “motozappa” (yes, that really is what the Italians call them) from Eurosystems, made in Italy with an American Briggs & Stratton 125cc 4-stroke engine.

140306-3The instructions said “Assembly time: 5 minutes”, and allowing for the usual hunt for tools and my general ineptitude they weren’t far wrong. Within an hour the machine was purring away, eager to get to work.

The following morning I was up bright and early to play with my new toy. It turns out there’s not a lot of skill needed; the main thing is to learn how to stop it marching about all over the garden with its driver in tow. I’ve never known a machine that started so readily; no choke, just a gentle pull on the cord and off she goes. An hour later the terrace was looking like this:

140306-4and a couple of hours after that the job was done:

140306-5All that remained was to remove the rocks dug up by the motozappa – you can see some of them on the right. Small stones are ignored by the machine; rocks of a half-kilogram or so it spits out on one side or the other and when it comes to a large obstruction the whole machine leaps out of the ground as if on springs, upon which it’s time to fetch the pickaxe.

Other recent endeavours include the continued pruning of olive trees. Here’s one about to be topped for firewood, leaving a tuft of small branches around the lower stem that over the next couple of years I’ll prune into the standard umbrella shape that’s optimal for the best supply of olives.

140306-6It’s not a comforting position; up a ladder holding a chainsaw with half a ton of wood balanced precariously above your head. I’d tied it to nearby trees to prevent it falling back on me and had a couple of helpers ready to swing on the ropes. The gap I was gradually cutting started to widen a little so I backed off down the ladder to put down the saw then returned and gave the tree a shove. There was a most satisfactory cracking sound and it fell majestically onto the terrace below with a healthy thump, just missing the mimosa that’s in full bloom right now.

140306-7The felled tree is now cut up and stacked to dry out ready to be split for next winter’s firewood. Job done again.

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