09 September, 2013

WWOOF Day 3: Initiation

The first morning Donatella thought she would break me in easy to the farm work by taking me to collect blackberries. This seemed like an innocent enough task, but she warned me to wear long sturdy pants because the bushes are covered in lots of prickly thorns. "Dammit, I shouldn't have left my jeans at the apartment!" I declined Mathilde's (one of Dona's daughters) offer to borrow some of her pants, and slipped on a pair of thick tights. We then headed into the thicket, gloves and buckets ready. After a few minutes of excited berry-picking (they were EVERYWHERE!)

Donatella told me I could explore a bit on my own, so I climbed to the top of an ancient stone wall where I found hundreds of plump, gleaming blackberries just waiting to be picked. Caught up in the delight of my find, I became a bit careless, not paying attention to the low hum and buzz around me. Oh but look at those juicy, mouth-watering blackberries! I popped a few in my mouth, turned to another bush, reached in and grabbed.....a hornet's nest.

I'm sure the ensuing scene must have been quite comical. Something out of a Whinnie the Pooh story, I'd say. Bumbling me, drunk on blackberries and fresh air, stumbling upon a swarm of hornets. It didn't take long for me to snap out of my stupor. I practically tripped over myself and the thorn-laden branches to get out of there, running and swiping at the angry buzzing in my pursuit. I got about 10 meters away before I felt a sting on my upper inner thigh: one of the bugs had penetrated the tights. Guess I should have taken Mathilde up on that offer. Thankfully I'm not allergic, but Dona sent me back to the house for treatment anyway. Upon arrival, Dona's two daughters Mathilde and Therese were waiting for me with freshly picked leaves torn up in their hands. "Rub this on the wound," they said. I had already heard about this magical plant from Vincenzo, Therese's boyfriend and farm hand, and well, it definitely lives up to its reputation. Within only a minute or two the pain went away completely and even the swelling diminished significantly. Who needs Tylenol when you've got magical plants?!

After my run-in with the hornet's nest, I spent the remainder of the morning in the tomato garden. One of my main jobs while here will be to pull the weeds and care for the plants (and pop a tomato or two when I'm feeling hungry). Since I've been here, I've been following Vincenzo around, who has been very generous in sharing his knowledge of the farm. He explained to me that when growing tomatoes, one must clip away all the "female" plants that start to sprout from the main plant. Basically, from the seed grows a dominant plant or the "head", but as it grows females sprout from it, sapping it of nutrients. The females look very similar to any normal branch from the leader plant, so you have to know what to look for. The way to think about it is that a female is like a whole new plant growing, so if the nutrients are having to be dispersed to several different plants, then the quality and size of the tomatoes diminishes. This could explain my many failed attempts at tomato-growing. That and the birds...

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