Garden slave

When jobs in the orchard diminish briefly I sleep-in. When I rise I need swift responses to pointed demands from my wife obsessed with her plants and trees, like, ‘Are you my garden slave?’

‘Slavery was abolished in the nineteenth century.’

‘Not in this postcode.’

I accepted the challenge of rationalising the irrigation system in the home orchard. For a person gifted with such design abilities I am repeatedly staggered by my wife’s spatial orientation abyss. Several years ago, travelling on the autostrada outside Milan at 140 km/hr with a fuel tanker in the rear vision mirror, a Fellini extra in the left lane and Michael Schumacher in the right, I realised that Ruth did not understand maps. How far to our turn-off was a total mystery. The plan for the irrigation system poses similar challenges.

We agreed on a new design for the home orchard watering. It involved running poly to hoses that were attached to taps. Controlling watering manually proved tangible and acceptable.

Next, was a final orchard task before leaf burst. This entailed the deeply black yet satisfying job of removing rootstock that had not yet been successfully budded, after several attempts. I performed the termination with a chain-saw. Ruth applied a herbicide to ensure finality. It was with regret that I cut into the moist flesh of those black walnut trunks but the logic was irresistible. Buds had failed to take repeatedly. The neighbouring trees were budded and could use the space and sunlight. Rootstock could harbour blight and nuts from black walnuts were larger and harder. If collected, they damage the huller at harvest time. We stopped after thirty five rows of trees. The chain-saw refused to start and our neighbour was spraying with a breeze that could bring the cloud in our direction.

We decided to light our last pile of prunings. It has been lit two weeks before but failed to ignite. In this bushfire prone land it is reassuring that live walnut trees are poorly combustible. However, dried walnuts burn famously. We added newspaper, cardboard, fallen gum tree branches, marine ply off-cuts and diesel. The fire started well then hesitated. We found more dry eucalyt branches: such perfect accelerants. The fire zoomed.

Leaf burst is imminent. It brings orchard tasks to break these chains.

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