I bought the property in 1975 and have gradually increased the size of the holding until today it covers 42 hectares (about 100 acres). Of this total area only about 3.7 hectares (about 9 acres) are planted with olives. One of the first tasks that we undertook in the late 1970′s was the reclamation of fields and terraces from the invading woodland. Another early decision was to eliminate the small vineyard and to concentrate on olives, as the terrain and elevation are not really well suited to grape production. This led to considerable replanting to bring back the total number of olive trees to about 750.
The new trees were just coming into production when the Big Freeze of January 1985 severely damaged or killed more than half of the trees. The cold was so intense (-26 degrees Celsius one night) that all the leaves fell off and the bark was peeled off, effectively ring-barking the trees. After more replacing and replanting production gradually returned to an acceptable level, although agriculture, even on a small scale, always has surprises in store.
In the spring of 2003 the first part of a new olive grove of 1 hectare (2.5 acres) was planted with 250 young trees, our aim being to arrive eventually at a total of 1100 trees on the farm over the following years. This should give us an average of 1000 litres of oil per year, if all goes well, the minimum required for us to balance the books from the sale of our oil. This new grove is mainly leccino, as this variety is very disease-resistant and usually survives hard winters, and moraiolo, which gives Tuscan oil its characteristic biting flavour. This will also enable us to experiment eventually with monovarietal oils, which are becoming more popular.
If all goes according to plan, the last part of the mosaic should be finished in the spring of 2013. It will be planted with a different varietal of Tuscan origin, leccio del Corno, that is very resistent to disease and cold. The downside is that it grows very slowly. In 2009 we decided to look into how we could meet some of our energy needs by using renewable resources. The result was a photovoltaic installation positioned in a field about 100 m away from the entry point of electricity from the grid. We have been pleased with results so far. The proceeds from selling back to the grid the electricity that we produce but don’t use, together with the government ‘incentive’ paid for each kW that we produce, have reduced our energy costs, and the installation should pay for itself in another five years.
The next project was to make better use of the 38 hectares of woods on the property. We already had a cast-iron Vermont wood-burning stove that keeps us warm 24 hours a day during the coldest parts of the winter, and we present looked at wood- and pellet-burning boilers for central heating and hot water to replace our present LPG-based (and very expensive) system. Eventually we decide on a system fueled by pellets, and this became operational in 2013 after more than a few teething problems. We are pleased with the final results and decided to go one step further in 2015 by installing solar panels on the roof of the main house so that all our hot water in the summer could be heated by the sun.