The burn off


Burn offs all over the countryside

The olive harvest is well and truly over, just about all the farmers have finished trimming the olive trees, getting them ready for the next season. Scattered around the open fields of Tuscany you will see stacks of sticks, twigs, branches and anything else that will burn. Burn off is an Italian tradition around this time of year which I personally love to hate (especially when I have just hung laundry on the line!) For the past few months there have been small smoke fires burning off all over the countryside and a week or so ago Roberto, our landlord finally got around to burning the massive pile of olive twigs and branches he has been collecting over the past few months…Alex was ecstatic!


The end of the olive tree cycle


In the beginning there was smoke…a lot of smoke, so Roberto went and did what any sane farmer would do and tipped a bottle of kerosene on top to really get the juices flowing, which of course did the trick to Alex’s delight.


Farmer Alex

When all the action was at it’s peak, Roberto’s wife came out with celebratory beverages. To salute the flames perhaps? I am not sure, but I wasn’t saying no to home-made crema di lemoncello that’s for sure…even if it was only 10-am.



I know they got rid of burn offs in Australia in the mid 80’s (something of a relief for my mum if I remember correctly) however, they are still going strong here today. While it is a pain with the washing and the air is polluted with smoke fumes, I can’t help but love a good bonfire. Alex and I might have to befriend an Australian olive grower just to experience it all over again.


Beautiful bonfire





20 thoughts on “The burn off

  1. There seems to me that this is just part of a cycle. Controlled burn off (in fields of stubble, at least) adds nutrients back to the soil. I guess olive farmers do this before it gets hot and dry when there could be hazards – such as forest fires. And, you’re right, there is nothing better than a primitive bonfire! Sorry about the laundry, though…

    • This is true but I think test have been done and it isn’t that good for ozone layers, peoples breathing etc… I do agree, we have been doing it for 1000’s of years1

  2. I do love a good fire! Maybe Camilla when you move back to Sydney you could move further out from the city and come and experience the regular mini-‘bonfires’ that are dotted around the upper north shore on saturday and sunday evenings when it’s cool. We were doing it every week with our neighbours on our front grass in some metal baskety thing on a small pedastal – what could be better than a red wine in one hand, nibbles in the other, chatting away in front of a (small) fire – that’s something we miss about living in Sydney!

  3. I wonder what an outcry there would be around here, if they’d ban bonfires at midsummer… ?! You are right, there is something magical about watching it. And I never thought about the washing, I guess you just don’t put your laundry out then…?

    As kids, when the fire had died, we used to love digging potatoes and chicken legs wrapped in tin foil into the ashes and then later on find them done, and it was sooooo exciting 🙂

  4. We used to have large fires in the fall back in the old days before leaf blowers and yard services. It was pure joy to have a crackling fire in your yard, and then roast marshmallows over the hot embers!

  5. I, too, remember the leaves being burned every Fall. It was as much a part of our Fall routine as was Halloween. In Tuscany, unless they can figure out a way to clear the limbs for the olive growers, I cannot see how they can stop the bonfires.

  6. In Northern California we were not allowed to burn outdoors, and could only use our wood stoves or fireplaces on certain days (even if it’s cold out). In Thailand, they burn whatever, whenever they want (including plastic) which can sometimes be a bit overwhelming. It’s much better to find that good middle ground. 🙂

  7. Was there 2 weeks ago, in San Gimignano, and the burn-off continues. Some days, the air is pretty smoky. Days with a good breeze help clear the smoke.

  8. Thanks so much for this. We are suffering in Sant’Agata with a weekend of massive number of burn off fires. The air is so thick it is reminiscent of a legendary 1000 PM2.5 days in Beijing!

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