This is the time of year we work hardest.

We have villa guests arriving later today, so Pauline’s been getting their villa ready and taking care of all the other little post-winter chores that need doing in the other two villas.

I get to work outside.

The upside is that it lets me make an early start on the annual tan. The downside is that it also involves the annual distribution of a couple of tons of olive leaves – a by-product of last November’s oil processing from just one of our local olive presses – as mulch around the garden.

Why ? Between June and September, aside from the occasional spectacular storm, there’s very little rain. The soil here is clay and in the summer heat, it bakes harder than concrete.

Here comes my mulch !

Local farmers don’t mulch. Olive trees and grape vines don’t need it; and while each farmer will have a vast vegetable garden on the go, they regard mulching as odd and unnecessary.

Water from springs and rivers is free and farmers will spend much of their summer working hours using their tractors to trundle vast 1000 litre water tanks around their land and connecting these to seep hoses that lavishly water the crops.

Our nearest neighbour has four of these huge tanks continuously on the go throughout summer.

We can’t do that. Not least because we don’t have a tractor. We do however have just one of these 1000 litre tanks, which we keep topped-up via an intensely Heath-Robinson method of water-collection from a nearby spring.

Thanks to being on a slope, simple gravity let the water flow down to irrigate our land. The vegetable patch and orchard are the prime beneficiaries, with shrubs, flowers and roses all getting a good drench when they look as though they really need it.

But mulching – aside from being an intensely green and highly satisfying use of a resource that otherwise just sits and rots – enables us to eke out our precious water supplies.

And the olive leaves are also a great soil conditioner.

Why are we the only people round here who mulch ? Because it’s not ‘traditional’. When  I first hesitantly asked if I could take away a pile of olive leaves from outside a mill – and explained why – I got some decidedly odd looks.

Four olive harvests-worth of leaves later, while mulching’s no longer regarded as borderline insanity, it’s still regarded as some slightly eccentric English preoccupation.

But Italian pride – and the notion that a non-farmer, (let alone a foreign non-farmer), might have an idea worth taking-up – means that mulching’s forever destined to be a minority horticultural practice in this part of Abruzzo.

Even so, there’s now a healthy rivalry among the local presses to offload their leaves onto me. Last year’s winners clinched the deal with an offer of free delivery.

This year, I might hold out for cash…