The local news at present is dominated by the olive harvest which occupies thought and conversation to the exclusion of much else. Here during the winter the north easterly means clear skies but windy and cold yet everybody harvests the olives with glee and the talk of town, for a couple of weeks, is all about how much 100 Kg of olives, when cold pressed, will yield in oil. People make comparisons because to a certain extent the yield is also a reflection of the skills of the pruner, usually a hired and very valuable and valued specialist, as well as to the good care the owner of the olive grove has bestowed to her plants.
The local method is vaso pruning, like a vase, which makes the tree hollow in the middle with the shape of a tulip. The skill of the pruner runs to creating a tree ideally shaped for olive production and harvest. Pruners have to understand how a tree grows, where the most olives will sprout, how to take advantage of the tree’s position in relation to the Sun and how to do that and make the tree as safe to climb as possible. This is a great art and the 80 year-old trees here have benefitted from the work of some very clever olive experts, the current one being Ivaldo who retired recently as the chief maintenance gardener of a local Commune. The last tree we did yesterday was pruned almost like a ladder and olive wood is very hard and strong making going straight to the top to get the ripest olives easy.
The olives are green and go black as they ripen passing through a reddish phase between the two conditions. Olives are bitter and so birds avoid them though there are some insect pests and as soon as we are finished harvesting the olives the spraying will start. This will involve the use of “white oil” with a bacillus which kills a particular caterpillar pest and spraying with Bordeaux mixture against fungal growth later. I’ve a lot to learn and there has been talk about getting a harvesting machine as the time this takes is enormous if we stick to hand picking. I fancy the growing use of these machines will alter the way the trees need to be pruned and here we have come down against the machine as it will lay idle for much of the year and costs about €800 and begin that insidious process of separating farmers from their intimate contact with growth and the cyclical processes of nature which enriches life.
We are on the go from 7 in the morning till 7 at night and on Saturday night delivered 85 kilos picked by hand over two days and in return we have 10 litres of oil from the 94kg of the last run……. After harvesting our backs, feet, legs and necks ache but this oil is produced biologically and is absolutely delicious. Poured on cereal wholemeal bread from the bakery 150m from our gate and sprinkled with a little salt it is heaven on a plate.