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My flowers for grandpa's apple orchard

A question of Val Venosta genes: thinking like a farmer is thinking for nature.

Mattia is 13 years old. Since he was in kindergarten, he has regularly accompanied his grandfather Roland when he must carry out various tasks in his Val Venosta apple orchard. During these field trips to the orchard, Roland gives his grandson his full attention. Mattia returns this feeling of security with much love and curiosity for his grandfather's exciting stories. As an apple grower from Val Venosta who practices integrated cultivation, Roland knows a lot of things to tell. For Mattia, however, he is not only a storyteller and playmate, but also a partner with whom to discuss with about live in the orchard. In general, Mattia could be described as very reserved and quiet, but it's different with Grandpa Roland. With him, Mattia's curiosity comes to the fore and his grandpa must answer countless questions about flora and fauna in the apple orchard. Mattia likes to observe, so he answers many questions himself, and for others he seeks further explanations from his grandfather. Roland has been promoting sustainable measures in his apple orchards for decades, but the most beautiful measures probably come from grandson Mattia. He already understood the complex ecosystem of grandpa's orchard at pre-school age. His grandfather had shown him that this habitat harbours a wide variety of organisms in and above the soil and is home to plants and animals. But Mattia found out for himself that these living creatures are all interdependent and how this is so. The more Mattia likes to intervene in the colourful hustle and bustle between the living creatures to make it even more lively.

"I love feeding honeybees, wild bees, bumblebees and birds. I do this best with some flowers that I grow with seeds I have collected myself," Mattia explains, pointing to the magnificent bushes full of flowers of the Cosmea variety. They are also called cosmos flowers and lead every row of his grandfather's apple trees right at the front. Their flower colour varies depending on the variety: white, pink, red and even shades of purple. A real eye-catcher, especially in summer when the apples are still too small to stand out visually from the lush green of their own foliage. Mattia most of the times propagates his flowers himself. To do this, he collects the seed capsules from the plants' flowers every year. In spring, he sows the seeds in small yoghurt pots at home and as soon as small plants have grown up, he places them in front of his grandfather's apple rows. He takes care of all his flowers until they themselves are strong enough to grow their way up to the Val Venosta sun. Mattia takes a similar approach with the seeds of the sunflowers.

"Before the birds have eaten all the seeds in September, I collect enough of them and put them away for the winter. Their seeds grow into particularly large plants in the spring. Sunflowers are also a real paradise for bees and bumblebees because they produce a lot of pollen and nectar," Mattia explains proudly.
With the dahlias it gets a bit more complicated. Mattia even digs up the tubers in autumn and puts them back into the soil in the spring. All the flowers that Mattia nurtures with water and love for his insects and birds have something in common. They bloom not only for a few weeks, but for months, and thus provide food for a long period of time. Mattia is particularly proud of this, as grandpa's apple blossoms „only provide food for a few weeks" during the apple blossom period in April. His flowers, on the other hand, are a colourful buffet for insects and birds until autumn. With the sunflower, the fun goes even further: once its flowers have faded, its seeds are really ripe and attract many songbirds.

"Yes, songbirds too. Not only blackbirds and thrushes benefit from them, but even tits and goldfinches. They like to peck at my grandpa's apples in autumn because they're thirsty after eating all the dry sunflower seeds."

But Grandpa Roland is not angry about that, because usually the birds only peck at the first apples directly behind the sunflowers. The fruits in the middle of the row are left alone. As soon as the apples are sweet and juicy during harvest, all the sunflower seeds have long since been eaten up and birds with a sweet tooth make themselves scarce in the apple orchard anyway. It's as if Mattia had adapted his sea of blossoms directly to the needs of his grandfather and his apples.

In his grandfather's apple rows grow the two coveted varieties Ambrosia and Envy. The latter are only ripe in November and decorate the entire apple orchard with their glorious dark red colour, just as beautifully as Mattia's many flower varieties do in the months before.

Mattia's hustle and bustle in Grandpa's orchard is much more than just a colourful hobby; his flowers are a fountain of youth for the many creatures and for his Grandpa Roland. As soon as the hours of sunlight decrease in autumn and the temperatures drop, Mattia is already dreaming of spring. Beekeepers will once again make themselves comfortable in the Val Venosta apple orchards with their colonies and replace the worn-out winter bees with fresh young bees. At the same time, Mattia will once again move his young plants from the pot into grandpa's apple orchard and wait impatiently for the bees to start wearing thick, yellow pollen cups again. "They fill up quickly as the bees help themselves first to my grandpa's apple blossoms and then later to my cosmos flowers, sunflowers and dahlias."

Sometimes even curious tourists stop by in their cars to take photos of the colourful splendour of seed collector and "bee feeder" Mattia. Actually, they should come twice a day for photos, because the sunflowers swivel their heads from east to west during the day. They always face the Val Venosta sun and the bees and bumblebees in the orchard also must adjust to this in their landing manoeuvres.

Mattia and his bees know all about it; after all, he inherited the gift of observation from his grandfather. He also has the same unconditional love of nature. Because in the Val Venosta Apple Paradise, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.


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