This year’s olive harvest

The mild winter meant that the olives flowered early this spring.  I thought very early on that we would need to harvest much earlier than usual; however the mills are slow to respond to variations in the people’s needs.  Rain during summer isn’t what olives want, the trees have put on a huge amount of foliage; the vast majority of which will need to be pruned to allow light and air into the trees next year.  Fortunately our olives have always been unaffected by damage from the olive fly (Bactrocera oleae); I’m not entirely sure why as I never treat the trees nor hang pheromone traps.  This year however, due possibly to the damp conditions and maybe compounded by the congested foliage a lot of the olives showed the tell-tale exit hole of the larvae, feeling hopeful that at least some of the crop was unaffected we harvested this weekend.

Olives ripe on the tree

Olives ripe on the tree

Olive picking essentials

Olive picking essentials

The nets are laid out under the olives

The nets are laid out under the olives

You have to be careful not to tread on the olives as they collect in the net

You have to be careful not to tread on the olives as they collect in the net

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crates filled after harvesting on Friday

crates filled after harvesting on Friday

Friday was mild but with heavy cloud and threats of light showers, but we determined to carry on and by 3.30 pm had harvested more than half of the trees.  Saturday dawned sunny and very warm; it suddenly seems much more like summer again than autumn.  The sunshine also encouraged a few of the autumn crocus into flower; they always flower at the same time that the olives are being harvested but when I checked them at the end of last week they looked a long way from having buds let alone opening them, but some magic exists and a small clump are flowering meaning that I have some images of the crocuses included with those of the harvest.  These are the saffron crocus so for the next week I will be collecting the stamens and drying them to use for a special risotto or shellfish dish.  There is something rather special about using my own saffron!

Crocus sativus always appears when we're picking the olives

Crocus sativus always appears when we’re picking the olives

Saffron crocus, Crocus sativus

Saffron crocus, Crocus sativus

three saffron strands (stamens per flower)

three saffron strands (stamens per flower)

So it was short-sleeves for the harvest on Saturday which was largely finished by lunchtime.  I enjoyed an afternoon sitting out in the shade of the fast-yellowing foliage of the wisteria watching the butterflies, but more about those on another day.

The nets spread under the olive by the woodshed

The nets spread under the olive by the woodshed

Arranged beautifully around the stem

Arranged beautifully around the stem

One crate picked

One crate picked

I love the ways the olives shine

I love the ways the olives shine

This morning (Sunday) was again sunny as we loaded the cars to take the olives to the traditional cold-press mill; slightly disconcertingly when we lifted the crates we saw the floor crawling with the caterpillars of the olive fly, the olives we had thought unaffected still had the ‘worm’ inside them busy eating our oil!  They will be pressed tomorrow; I’ll update you on the yield and report on the quality after I’ve tasted it

In the back of the car and off to the mill, frantoio

In the back of the car and off to the mill, frantoio

Don’t forget Wednesday is the 22nd and Garden Bloggers Foliage Day it will also be my 500th post – I can’t quite believe it.  I do hope you’ll join my celebrations and link in with a post dedicated to the foliage in your garden in October, maybe even share a little autumn colour?  Enjoy the rest of the weekend.

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42 thoughts on “This year’s olive harvest

    • I’m not very hopeful about the quality of the oil this year but maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised. Last year I didn’t think it was going to be good but it turned out to be the best we’ve ever had!

    • I hope you do grow some saffron Charlie. You need a lot of bulbs to produce a tiny amount of saffron, I still buy it! Crocus sativa doesn’t stay looking good for very long, even more so if you remove the stamens!

  1. Really interesting to hear about your olives – I do hope the oil is OK. The crocuses are beautiful too. You have reminded me that I put some in the rockery in 2013 – they had leaves but no flowers that year but this year I haven’t seen a glimpse of them. I wonder if they will still appear.

  2. It’s wonderful to read about the olive harvest. That’s an amazing crop from those trees (even if it is a poor year). I also planted a couple of saffron bulbs when I started the garden last spring, but the foliage is very long and wispy and no flowers, so it will be interesting to see if anything comes of the bulbs

  3. The crocus are so pretty. Perhaps a little consolation for a poor olive oil harvest… hope it turns out to be better than you expect and I do hope you are able to treat the trees against future attacks from olive fly.

    • Treating the trees will be a matter of collecting all the olives that have already fallen and destroying them and possibly rotovating the soil around them in the hope of destroying their over-wintering stage; I need to read more about the life-cycle. I will try pheromone traps next year, it can’t do any harm.

  4. Hi Christina, this is so interesting, it must be enormously rewarding to grow your olives. Can you tell me more about the caterpillars, how are they dealt with before pressing?

    • The caterpillars won’t be dealt with before pressing, I’m afraid Julie, they will be squashed with the olives, as they are almost 100% olive inside them at this stage I don’t think it will make much difference. I know you’re vegetarian but I think you have to accept that all oils will contain some pest residues but better that than pesticides or herbicides.

      • Hi Christina, not me, we are a family of meat eaters and am very happy to read your reply, I had feared some other chemical use in the processing. I absolutely agree with you.

    • Oh! yes, actually even in a bad year the oil is probably far superior to anything you can buy in UK shops. It will be pressed in the old traditional way without mechanical means of extraction and I know that we haven’t used any chemicals so there are no pesticide or herbicide residues. I wish you could taste it.

  5. hmm so if there were worms in any of the olives when pressed the oil isn’t vegetarian, hmm just thinking about that as I always thought of oil as veggy but perhaps not, sorry you have the worm now Christina, I hope it doesn’t hang around to affect next years crop too, pretty crocus and useful too, it’s interesting the different crops in a much warmer climate, Frances

    • Yes, quite right Frances the oil might not be 100% vegetarian but I suspect that is true of all oils; nuts, seeds and grains all have their pests and some will remain and be processed, but pests must be made up of almost 100% of the food they are eating anyway, before they convert themselves into their next stage so maybe it’s OK.

  6. What a rewarding weekend. I know it’s just part of the season for you but I love hearing about your olive harvest each year. Sorry to hear about the olive fly though…. seems like every time you have something good going on someone has to spoil the fun!
    The crocus always seem odd to me. I wonder who it was that plucked the first thread and thought it might taste good?

    • I agree about the crocus, but then I think it’s true of almost everything we eat! The olive harvest is very special to us too; once the olives have been harvested and pressed and tasted, we have a feeling that all is well with the world!

  7. It is interesting that you pick the green and black olives together for the oil. Our olive tree has given olives this year but we don’t need to put a net under it before we go for the olives! We will be able to pick them off and put them in a bowl. Our tree has put on a lot of leaf too, so it is good to know that it was due to the wet season. When will you be pruning yours? We’ve never had to more than trim ours so far but I think it will need a bit more this year. I agree that there is something special about having your own saffron and I like picking the flowers. Amelia

    • I will start on the olives this week as they have so much extra new growth. But as your winter could be colder than here you probably shouldn’t do yours until spring. You should cut off all the stems that are growing straight up, they call those the ‘maschi’ (male ones) here. Then any crossing branches to create an open centre to allow in the light and air.

  8. That’s great you have local mills to bring your own olives to process…talk about satisfying! (thinking my own olive oil) Saffron, rissotto…that’s about the only recipe I haven’t ever made from my folks (father’s side, actually)…I need to try it, like the others I like so much.

  9. I get a special kick out of anything made with things we have grown ourselves. Saffron would up the ante…why have I not grown it?
    I hope you will be pleasantly surprised yet again with your olive harvest.

  10. Interesting to learn that there is some additional protein in olive oil! I hope you are happy with the quality this year, and how lovely that the crocus came out after all, I plan to try and grow saffron myself at some stage, perhaps in the re-jigged herb bed.

    • The crocus thing is very strange. Just that one small clump have flowered the rest don’t show any signs, it really was as if they ‘knew’ it was the olive harvest and thought they should join in! I hope the rest aren’t too shaded under the Mutabilis roses.

  11. A most interesting post Christina. How long will it be before you collect the oil? I have read that there are problems affecting olive trees this year 😦 Your crocus sativus is most attractive. I’m green with envy.

  12. I find it very interesting that you harvest your olives in October, while ours aren’t ready until January (Jan-March is olive-harvesting season here). Also, we don’t use plastic hand rakes. The olive trees here are hundreds of years old and quite tall, so we use poles to beat the branches and the olives fall on the mats on the ground.

    Love your crocus. All of my crocus xátiva were eaten by the rabbits – I’ll have to try again!

    • There is a trend to harvest earlier to obtain better quality rather than high quantities of oil; I think that is the trend in all places where really high quality oil is wanted. But the summer temperatures and also when the olives flower will have an effect. This year the spring and winter were so mild our olives flowers at least a month early. All the rain this year has meant that everyone in Lazio and Umbria at least has suffered hugely from the olive fly and many people aren’t harvesting at all this year. Prices are already higher at the mills. I personally keep our olives very low (they are only about 25 years old anyway) so that we don’t use ladders. Banging the branches does a lot of damage to the olives (they oxidise when they are bruised) and to the trees too. I think that is why Spanish oil is considered to be as high quality as Italian.

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