I live in Umbria, Italy and we live our life to the rhythm of the changing seasons in the Italian countryside. Let me explain.
Each Changing Season Revolves Around The Olive Tree
Umbria is a major producer of olive oil and where I live is an organic zone so the oil is very popular. We have had a few years recently where the local area has had poor production because of olive fly infestation and disease. But the long drought last year followed by a very cold winter killed off the pests and this year is a bumper crop. Each changing season has related activities that contribute to the olive harvest.
Changing Season Spring Activity
What’s not to like about Spring, the end of cold and the promise of warmth? Plants start new growth, leaves appear on trees and everything breathes a sigh of relief. So much so that you can be fooled by the glorious sunshine and get caught out in a spring shower.
Rainy Spring Day
That is what I have depicted here in ‘Rainy Spring Day in Umbria’. With the changing season, people enjoy being able to sit outside once again. In this image, having sat surrounded by flowers and beautiful green shrubs and trees, enjoying the view to the distance, storm clouds have gathered and a sudden rain shower has sent everyone running indoors.
Pruning Olive Trees
The olive trees get pruned in Spring. Slow work in warm sunshine that gives you sore arms and even more sore fingers. Pruning olive trees is a classic sign of changing seasons here, marketing the start of the year for olive oil production. All the inner branches of the trees are removed, allowing for the growth from the year to go up and outwards. This enables light to reach the centre of the trees and encourage growth and flowers – which of course lead to olives.
New Spring Growth
The changing season is not just evident in the olive trees of course. Everything is perking up and getting that ‘just grown look’. May and this old fig tree is starting to sprout leaves. It sits in front of a lilac tree in full bloom and underneath the tree the new growth leaves of iris are becoming apparent.
Changing Season into Summer
The lovely fresh, warm days of spring, full of flowers gradually fade and the fields of sunflowers start to appear in the countryside. As the heat intensifies, the grass dies back and in fact is strimmed right back to the soil as part of wild fire prevention.
In this image, you can see that the grass has been strimmed and there is a heat haze over the land. But, typical for the summer, we have a glorious cloudscape as storm clouds brew ready to bring some welcome rain.
Little Work With the Olive Groves
Little happens with the olive groves at this point. The grass being cut right back will help with picking later in the year. Little yellow boxes to trap pests appear on some of the trees. Occasionally the trees get sprayed with an organic powder to reduce pests. Some light pruning might take place, groups of workers walk down the rows of trees just taking out some central branches. All getting ready for the big Autumn harvest.
Changing Season into Autumn
Things really start to get busy as we reach mid October. If needed the grass gets cut ready for picking. People are out repairing their olive nets which will be placed under the trees to catch the olives as they fall.
Gradually the sound of olive picking starts to resonate over the mountainside. These days a lot of pickers use ‘electric’ shakers, prongs on a long pole that shake the branches to get the olive trees to fall into the nets. The workers have large batteries, like car batteries, that they take into the fields with them to plus these devices into. Or the serious guys have a special tractor with arms that come round with nets to embrace the trees and an arm that holds the whole tree and shakes it! The noise is incredible!
Well into the evening the tractors go backwards and forwards on the road with crates full of olives. As you drive past the olive mills the air is full of the sweet smell of olive milling. And then of course, we all get to taste the new oil, always an event.
Changing Season Getting Ready For Winter
As we go into December there are still a few stragglers picking olives but most are finished. The olive trees and countryside settle down for the winter and await the cold weather, interrupted by the occasional hunter.
The sunsets this time of the year are brief but intense. Brief because of the trajectory of the sun in the sky means it disappears early behind the mountains. Intense partly because the sunset highlights any remaining fall color. For a brief moment the olive groves and fields have golden highlights.
Snow Falls in Early New Year
While we can get snow before Christmas, the main month for cold weather and snow is February. Heavy snow is rare now, it was much more evident years ago, but it can still catch us out. But with a cupboard full of new olive oil, pasta and lots of other local produce we can cope. At least with a few days of snow.
Before you go
My name is Dorothy Berry-Lound an artist and writer. You can find out more about my art and writing at https://dorothyberryloundart.com.
Thank you for reading!