An irregular, irreverent, post-modern account of the surreal, the ordinary, and the bizarre happenings on and around the Felia lavender farm in Crete

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Chip and Pin and Chip and Path

Having accomplished the major prune of the olive trees that we had promised ourselves for several years - we cleaned out the centres and lowered the profiles of more than 50 trees - we were left with prunings so prodigious that for a while we did not know what to do with them all. The previous major pruning had been a reactive one after the massive snowfalls of February 2004 and the clean up thereafter had taken 6 weeks and involved daily bonfires for the best part of a week at the end. What to do this time round?

The bonfires of yesteryear though satisfying in and of themselves had, in retrospect, come to seem wasteful. We could. I now know, have garnered more useful wood for the stove than we did. We were naive. We followed what all the other olive farmers were doing. We did not think it through but this time it would be different. Well the thinking would be different even if the outcome should be the same.

When we finally took control and full ownership of the land last year we decided to farm the olives in our own style. Just as we have with the lavender from the very outset. We have long refused the local authority access to our olives to spray them with insecticides - they use some hideous organo-phosphates long banned in the UK and US and most of Europe: now we decided not to have the tractor turn over the land between the trees twice yearly and to cope with the weeds and brambles another way. For the olive fruit fly we have organic fly traps among the trees from the start of blossom until late October: for the weeds and brambles we have the brushcutter. But what about the prunings? What about the bamboo?

We have been leaning towards the Masanobu Fukuoka methods since being introduced to his One Straw Revolution by the Greek cameraman who shot the excellent footage for Gill's acclaimed TV appearance and round about October last year we had started looking at chippers to dispose of the big spring weed crop of fennel and mallow and thistle and bitumen pea. Might a chipper be an option for the olive prunings? We decided to ask the red-robed twins: after all, Eddie and Ceddie were well into the initial logging exercise - taking out all of the big wood and stacking it ready for seasoning and cutting into stove-sized pieces later on: who better to judge what would be left after this phase was complete? The new pile was already substantial when we bearded the boys, their Japanese ABS saws in hand,  about it and it has grown considerably since then. Their answer, as one, was unequivocal, "if it can take branches about an inch and quarter, and run for a couple of hours at a time then it'll probably do the trick - it'll mean more work but what the hell ...". Ceddie was almost immediately back to unloading the barrow but Eddie hesitated. "Will it be orange? Like the Husq?". "Who knows?" I replied, "We shall see ..."

It turned out not to be orange, rather, it was a bright green and white plastic Viking (the domestic arm of Stihl) electric machine. 2.5kilowatt motor, 35mm capacity, cloverleaf opening - a consumer model, the GE 150. but beggars can hardly be choosers and the petrol versions were ridiculously expensive. And here it is as shown on the Stihl website: Extra work? Do we care?   

We bought it at the newly relocated farmers supply shop in Episkopi and we bought it on impulse. We had thought originally just to see what they might have available - we'd researched chippers online and plumped for the Viking range so it was just a question of seeing whether the farming shop was still a Viking dealership and maybe seeing one in the flesh so to speak but ...  As I said impulse took over - spring price changes were in the offing and they might go up rather than down. And they did have one we could touch and test. And Gill just happened to have her egg card with her ... And thereby hangs another tale -

The farmers' shop in Episkopi, apart from being new and clean and amazingly well lit is also high tech - they take credit cards in a world where farmers usually  work exclusively in folding money - bags full of it if necessary - cash is invisible to the taxman - and to the rest of the family. And so, having decided to buy the bugger Gill handed over her newly minted egg card and the assistant, a young lady who speaks very good English, duly swiped it through the sparkling new credit card terminal and that is when our joint adventure began. Said terminal demanded the entry of a PIN and announced that no signature would be required! Shit - none of us had ever done this before but we had all been aware of it - chip and PIN technology was suddenly a practical reality rather than a theoretical possibility.

Gill scrambled to her handbag and rifled through all 3 of her notebooks desperately searching for the one where she had written her PIN down - just in case. The assistant was clearly mentally rehearsing what she had been told about chip and PIN or what she had heard or read. I stood to one side in a technological stun zone. The assistant signalled Gill to come around to her side of the counter and enter the newly retrieved PIN and, with fingers mentally crossed, she did. Eventually the terminal responded with a receipt or transaction record covered in numbers and the information that the transaction had completed successfully and again that no signature would be required. OK, we'd done it - we'd chipped and PiNned!

Or so we thought. Our assistant had her doubts - that was clear from the look on her face as she read the transaction receipt and for the next fifteen minutes she was on the phone to the bank reading strings of digits from the now somewhat dog-eared scrap of paper.  At last she had satisfied herself and been reassured sufficiently by the bank clerk to let us exit with purchase but not before we had all congratulated ourselves and filled out the warranty card.

Next day we were out in the field facing a mountain of olive prunings. The chipper was plugged in and Gill was at the helm as she has been ever since - it is her machine now Dave. And so began what has become to seem like a never ending chore of feeding the voracious maw of Vic the Chip. The piles of prunings shrink and disappear but the incarnadine twins are always mounding new ones. And there is an issue - quite literally. Prunings go into the top of Vic, Gil guides them in carefully following the instructions, Vic chews them, and then Vic spits out chips. Now while the volume of chips issuing from Vic is less than one tenth of the volume of what goes into Vic,  one tenth of a hell of a lot is still a lot. So what do we do with the chips?

They'd be good for barbecues? You could use them to smoke meat or fish?  Yes and yes but we have a lot of chips -  by the end of day 3 we have a small hill of chips! Eddie is standing there looking at the growing pile of chips, smoking a roll up and scratching his head. Ceddie is busy building another pile of prunings for Vic. Gill is feeding Vic. Vic is chewing and spitting. We are all thinking - hard.

And then Eddie has his halogen moment. "Guv? Did you ever see that place I used to live before I come here? No you ditnt but we did have a one of them venture playground thingies and that was covered in stuff just like what Vic spits out so was all the parths thru the woods and down to the lake where daft Bill did drown that time d'you think its the same? ". Brilliant Eddie - abso - bloody - lutely brilliant. I hug him and signal to Gill to switch Vic off. "Paths Gill! Paths. Paths to the lavender plots. Paths wherever you want. Thats it. Eddie is a genius." Gill's face lights up and her thumbs go up. We all hug Eddie and now we know what to do with the chips. And that is exactly what we have been doing ever since - path finding and making.  Here's a shot of the first path in progress - check back and we'll show you where all those chips end up.  


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1 comment:

  1. The way you first mentioned the egg card gave me visions of it inadvertently being used to test the chipper! Fortunately not so.

    Here in Canada, I have only been asked for my pin number on my UK credit cards once, but last time I visited the UK I was caught out with no other way of paying and no idea what my pin number was! There's a much more worrying development here though. With mastercard, you literally swipe and walk. No signature, no pin, nothing. Secure in any way?!?