Olive Oil Harvesting – Preparation

7

Friday 21 November, 2014 by Uncle Spike

2014 has been an average year for our olive harvest. This year was a ‘harvest’ year in terms of yield, with olive trees generally producing a crop every other year. Even so, much of the fruit dropped very early this year (even from early September), so by the time the main crop was nearing ripening (early November), much had already been lost. It’s just part and parcel of how the weather treats us as to how the trees and therefore the fruit behaves – usual farming dilemmas 🙂

However, all is not lost. Many of the dropped olives can be used for oil production, just obviously less useful, that’s all. Now funnily enough, a common question reaching my inbox is ‘how’ do we harvest our olives – well, here are a couple of posts on that very topic, just for you…

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Most families around these parts of the world beat the trees with very very long poles, and then everyone picks up the fallen olives. However, you may see 5-10 family members out there at any one time; but on our farm, there is only me here, so my process has to fit around that, or I’d only finish 2 trees a season !

I generally pick from the back-end of October / early November, until mid or late December, depending on the crop that season. As I work on my own, I don’t have the luxury of picking ripe/black fruit and heading straight to the press. No, I have to strip each tree, one by one, and save them up for a single, or perhaps two trips to the factory. But, lay the picked olives outside on porous matting, and then throw a load of salt over them enables me to keep the olives in a useful condition for up to 4-6 weeks after picking. Ok, so one year I got it wrong, and lost 300kg 😦

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We have around 50 olive trees, ranging from 1-5 metres in height, or about 3′-16′. I prune mine every 3 years as I cannot handle 8 metre (26′) trees on my own, and farming-wise, they are better kept pruned to around half that height.

In general, the greener the fruit, the lower the oil yield, but the nicer the oil tastes – so it’s a balance between volume and quality. So I can pick any tree, with colour not really coming into the equation – however, the more advanced the fruit, the higher percentage will have dropped, or will be about to in the near future. So, for the sake of picking from the tree, verses scrabbling around on the floor, I tend to hit the riper trees first. But as mentioned earlier, providing I store them out in the open and sprinkle generous amounts of salt on them, the yield will wait for a few weeks without rotting. One of the reasons for waiting is that we need a minimum of 300 kg (660 lbs) before being able to secure my own slot in one of the four press machines that run 24×7 for the 3 months of harvest season. 

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Harvesting – so, first off I need to attack the floor, and by that I mean picking up all the recently dropped, half-decent olives that lay on the ground. However, most trees by mid autumn have grass, weeds, copious amounts of curled up dry (or wet) olive tree leaves, bugs, chicken ‘deposits’ and the such like underneath, so not always the most pleasant of tasks. Saying that, it’s an essential task, as I can usually gather well over 50kg (over 100 lbs) of fruit just from the floor, so definitely worth it. As for unpleasantness, you just have to turn off the brain, relax and get on with it, scrabbling around on all fours – usually watched by some very curious chickens. 

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I start off by spending perhaps eight-ten hours on one single floor clearing session to start with under the trees with the greenest fruit. That way, I can leave them a few weeks, knowing that the floor will only have recently dropped fruit when I come around to stripping those trees.

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Part two will go on to describe the tree-stripping…

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7 thoughts on “Olive Oil Harvesting – Preparation

  1. Sue Slaght says:

    As previously wondered…how will we get them to Canada? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. dayphoto says:

    Whew! It looks like a big job. But I am finding it very interesting. It’s does seem to me, that the smaller farm (us included) usually have to ‘work at it’ a tad harder, but the results are the same and just as good…if not better!

    Linda
    http://coloradofarmlife.wordpress.com/?s=The+Adventures+of+Fuzzy+and+Boomer&submit=Search
    http://coloradofarmlife.wordpress.com

    Like

    • Uncle Spike says:

      It’s just a hobby farm on this scale. After all, the olives picked over this 6 weeks will produce enough oil for our family needs, plus a bit to sell, but the annual profit from the whole lot will be no more than $250 tops.

      Like

  3. Can’t you rake them up into one big heap and then sort them?

    Like

    • Uncle Spike says:

      No way of raking here Andrew, the land is mountainous and more rocks than you could imagine (remember my very early post of collecting up 150 tonnes of rocks in 3 days 🙂 ). The other issue is that olive trees shed leaves just prior to the fruit enlarging, so the ground can be 2″ deep in leaf mulch – you’d end up with a bucket load of rocks and leaves, with perhaps 10 olives in there ‘somewhere’. Must easier to systematically cover the ground without disturbing anything, that way 50% are visible, and open-finger hand raking uncovers the rest. Some are only 9mm wide when semi-dried, so no rake would be useful for olive ground work. Nice idea though :).

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Norm 2.0 says:

    Fascinating. I have always wondered how this was done.

    Like

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