Nature, it’s a funny thing.
Fairly predictable, but not really, actually.
It’s like the small print on an investor’s prospectus: “Remember that past performance is no guarantee of future results.” Basically, you control some aspects of the harvest, like watering, pruning, fertilizing, but Mother Nature really has the upper hand.
After last year’s disaster where a windy and wet late Spring ruined the olive crop, this growing season, all looked textbook. Good growth on the trees, solid fruit set, plenty of warm days in the summer and no rain at harvest. In fact, harvest day had temps reach 27C (81F for my local peeps), making for a tough day on the south-facing, 20% hillside. We picked a total of 14 crates, which came to 598 lbs.
I had great help with family and close friends. Many had never picked olives before, but after an hour, everyone had figured out the most efficient way to gently “milk” the fruit off the branches. “Picking”olives is a misnomer – olive harvest is not about beauty, grace and style: it’s about speed and efficiency, and based on the broken branches, squished fruit underneath the boots and cuts on the hands, the crew was moving fast!
The following morning, I brought the fruit to Mike Madison @ Yolo Press, who processed the olives on his Italian made Enorossi press. Mike met me at the door of his workshop, a concerned look on his face, clothes filthy, work gloves tattered: “We have a problem, the pump’s broken. Not sure how long it will take me to fix it, so you might want to call a few other places”. My stomach sank. I had work meetings in a few hours and the thought of trying to secure a pressing time with no advance notice didn’t seem plausible. I stalled for an hour and sure enough, Mike got the pump working. I came back at the end of the day to pick up my stainless steel Fusti cans. At 25 liters capacity each, they were both nearly full, for an approximate yield of 45 liters. The oil will sit for 2 weeks to allow the suspended particles to fall to the bottom, before racking the oil into clean Fusti cans. This will keep the oil fresher, as the particles can go aerobic over time and impart off-flavors to the oil.
Lessons learned from the 2012 harvest:
– The fruit was plenty ripe. Mid-Oct. would have been the peak harvest time.
– Plastic tarps work better than soft netting for catching the olives. The tarps have the very satisfying “plop” sound when the olives hit, and they’re easier to move around.
– Thin, soft gardening gloves are better than bare hands.
– Trees taller than 7′ are a pain in the ass. The slope of the hillside is not orchard-ladder friendly so keeping the trees within arms reach is key.
– It took 12lbs of fruit to get 1 liter of oil. A very high oil ratio, as the “norm” is closer to 15 lbs/liter.
A big thanks to the entire harvest crew – I definitely could not have done it without you!
Sofie, Papa, Cynthia, Patricia, Edith, Bonnie, Rodney, Brian, Robyn, Iris, Mika, Maria, Mia and Eva.
Fruit ripening – about a month from harvest
Getting close to harvest
Harvest Day sunrise
My Dad, working hard
Edith picking frantoio
Rodney working the ladder
Big sis Cynthia
Señora Farr enjoying the morning
Iris working hard!
Dynamic duo: Rodney and Bonnie
Robyn, Mika and Iris – lunch time
Me and Brian