16 Apr 2009

This month my dad’s lunario says that it’s time to prune the olive trees….

Do you know what a “lunario” is?

A Lunario is essentially a “moon calendar” or “almanac”.

Nothing yet?

Well, it’s a calendar that is mostly used for agricultural purposes. It is the calendar which tells you what needs to be done in the fields in every season.

The “lunario” is generally used by those who choose organic farming, which is the most common choice around here, where people tend to grow few vegetables, or olive trees and vines for their own use. It was also the best bet to get a decent crop in the old days.

My grandfather knew it by heart and was able to make his own in a quite precise way. Of course when he got it wrong, he blamed it on the fact that the “official almanac” had no clue about what was best for his own land, and that was the topic for some lively discussion with my dad at the table over the Saturday lunch. It generally ended with my dad giving up and following my grandfather’s alternative almanac… just for the sake of family peace!

As you have figured, I grew up in an agricultural environment, as most of the people in my family were farmers. When I was younger, I used to wonder why on earth we had to have the ugliest possible calendars hanging from our walls: no art calendars or pop star calendars… not even the calendars that you get for free from your bank or from the supermarket! No no… I grew up seeing the Barbanera almanac hanging over the radiator behind the kitchen wall, full of marks and notes that my parents used to write down. Stuff like “travaso” (travasare means to decant, to transfer the wine from one container to the other), “ziro” short for “pulire lo ziro”, “clean the olive oil container”. A “ziro” is the traditional terracotta jar where olive oil was stored. Now they are quite rare as it was a hell of a job to clean it, and it was not as convenient as more modern aluminum or glass containers where you have a tap that serves you olive oil… I remember my grandmother in the cellar armed of a ladle, a bottle and a funnel trying not to spill any olive oil (because of course that would ensure a great deal of bad luck!) and then having to juggle with the filled up bottle, the dripping ladle and funnel and the top of the jar that needed to be closed without putting anything on the floor of the cellar, which was made of nothing but soil and would inevitably leave sand and dirt on the greasy bottle… or worse, on the top of the olive oil jar.

So, this month my dad’s lunario says that it’s time to prune the olive trees. And that’s what he’s doing from dawn to sunset, leaving my mum behind to gather the trimmed branches, which we will have to take away over the weekend. In the older times, part of them would go to the village church which used them as “olive benedetto”, the blessed olive tree branches handed out on Palm Sunday (each family would make sure to have a blessed “bundle” of olive tree branches at home, in the fields, in the cellars, in the car, and so on… now we struggle to find a hidden enough place to keep those 2 or three quickly-drying-up-leaves that the priest, or some boy, leaves for you in the mailbox…), the rest would be burnt. Now the burning is forbidden (although I am sure most of you have seen some old guy guarding his personal bonfire leaning on a stick), so we need to take this stuff to a place where it’s used to make some organic fertilizing substance or so. I am not sure what they do with all these branches and I suspect that they burn them in some bigger, and more polluting industrial bonfire machine…

Anyway, that’s our next Saturday afternoon job!

Of course the “lunario” finds much more work for you to do in April. You need to sow the vegetable garden with watermelon and melon seeds, but also with beans, green peas and peas. And of course you need to bring out in the fields those pale, weak, unrecognizable leaves that will soon become proper plants of cucumber, broccoli, celery, and cabbage. Oh and it is that time of the year where you read “travaso” on my mum’s calendar: it means that we will soon have to clean the wine containers, and to put the remaining wine in sealed bottles… not a fun job (unless you are trying to get drunk just by breathing!)

Over the years, after a number of pop star calendars and beautiful sceneries of far and (cooler) places, Barbanera has made its way into our home has well… I mostly use it to decide what to do of my balcony or of my parents’ garden… but still, my mum manages to leave her notes on our calendar as well, so that my poor city-born-and-bred Canadian husband does not forget when it’s time to put on a checkered shirt, some green pants and muddy boots and start the tractor to help my Super-Tuscan family in the fields!

So, what’s going on in your garden?


  1. What a lovely way to introduce your blog, great piece of writing! I absolutely adore Tuscany so if you don’t mind I’d like to read more of your blog as it promises to be a vivid description of real Tuscan life!


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