By February and through March farmers are hoeing and digging over the terraces up and down the valley. They have pruned the vines and in the next month will be trimming the olive trees. You can see plumes of smoke as the weeds are burnt off (the ash can go back on the land, and burnt seedheads won’t sprout). Am I worried to see these wildflowers dug out?
Not really. The wildflowers are very resilient. A couple of years growth, which some farmers occasionally allow, makes the weeding very tough because in that time the roots get seriously deep. Still, much of the growth would die back in the summer drought anyway. The constant clearing of the terraces simply promotes the annuals over perennials – and there are plenty of the latter on the un-dug verges.
In fact, I feel, grateful to those labourers I see “cavando” – hoeing, digging, or using the two forks on at the back of their hoes to drag roots out. Bear in mind the terraces have been baked hard most of the year; when you break through the crust the soil is also full of broken rocks. That is another reason to love the rain –
although you can’t do much when it is coming in sheets, at least when the storm stops the softened ground is far easier to work. Even then it is very tough. The alternative – blasting with a general herbicide – must be tempting. Luckily each farmer still needs to prune the vines, create the hollows around them and manage the terrace – perhaps that is why manual weeding survives. Herbicides are devastating to wildlife. So, yes, I’m very glad to see the graft.
Just as, in England, you see gulls or rooks following after ploughs, so some birds here appear as if by magic after the ‘cavar’. The labourers turn up all kinds of interesting items – missed or shaken out seeds; eggs, caterpillars, nymphs and bugs. The birds investigate. (As a Grasshopper I am careful to stay out of the way). It’s typically birds I see all through the winter that cluster in the fields as the workers leave – chiffchaffs and warblers; green finches and siskins; black redstarts and stone chats; now and again a hoopoe.
One of the workers at a vineyard near Corumbela told me he’d dug out a young chameleon – he only didn’t split it in two because he heard the hiss and stopped in time. It walked slowly up his arm as he took it over to a terrace wall to find a safe nook. I hope that after its rude awakening it stayed out of the way of men with picks and predators – and survived.