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Sunday, 29 November 2009

On olive pruning

Friday they took the stitches out of my arm and I'm now much more able to move it freely. I just have to be careful I don't get any dirt into the hole the size of tuppence. So yesterday they forecast one day of good weather before rains would arrive again. We woke up to a glorious sunrise, only to find that a few kilometres up the valley everything was in thick fog. It cleared eventually though and we got a good days work in.

A word on olive pruning. There are many opinions floating around about how to prune olive trees. Many people seem to think there is some mystical ability involved, which can only be taught over several generations. No one who hasn't been up the ladder in an olive tree from the age of 2 will ever pick it up.

The natives here have two principal pruning methods as far as I can ascertain: the "traditional" and the "modern". For the old farmers an olive grove was a status symbol and the bigger the trees the more proud they were. A bit like having a Mercedes Benz in the drive or maybe more the latest model of New Holland tractor. They reasoned, the bigger the tree the more olives.

Nowadays though, commercial olive producers, i.e. those who produce more than just their family's annual consumption of oil, have realised that this is not the case. Both schools agree that you need to train the tree in such a way that air can circulate around the centre of the head. The inside of the tree does not produce olives, and too dense foliage in that area encourages diseases and fungus attacks.

But not only that, if you look closely at a producing tree, the vast majority of fruit hangs on downward pointing branches. So in other words, letting the tree grow tall will result in very little extra fruit, but plenty more shading on the olives growing lower down, delaying their ripening. If you then add the fact that pruning and harvesting is much more labour intensive in tall trees, not to mention more dangerous, it shows you traditional is not always best.

So the moral is, whenever some olive producer, or wine producer for that matter, tells you their product is made the age-old traditional way, like their fathers and ancestors before them, take it with a large pinch of salt. It often can be an excuse for dirty and/or sloppy methods, or they are plain lying to you.

Unfortunately the previous owner of the olive grove, which we have taken on, was of the traditional persuasion. The trees are massive and yields are low. We have now made an appointment with the frantoio for Thursday, by which time we need to have picked a hundred kilos. We are up to 60, so still some way to go. As far as trees done is concerned we are now at the halfway point: 20 out of 40, but the further away we get from the house at the top the worst the trees seem to be. I'm not holding my breath about the quality about the final oil either, as some have been sitting in our kitchen for longer than they should have been, but it'll surely be better than your average supermarket oil.

The photos are coutesy of our friend Karen http://www.italyhomesandgardens.com/index.html, who got us this job. At this point I should maybe give the owners of the property a plug too, as they let out the house to holiday makers: http://www.popetto.dk/. The site is in Danish, but it gives you some nice pics of the place and prices if you want to rent it in Danish Kroner (don't know how much these are worth either).


chaiselongue said...

Yes, I'd noticed that the serious commercial growers here prune quite drastically and keep the trees low and open at the centre. Sadly a lot of trees are just left to grow wild and I've seen olives dropping onto the road and being 'pressed' by passing cars ... what a waste. As our two trees are no more than 1.5 metres tall, height for picking isn't a problem yet!

Re your comment on my blog: I think we are more developed than the so-called 'developed' world - everyone will have to accept self-sufficiency and local food before long for the sake of the planet!

Ruralrose said...

Everything will turn out alright, beginning make nervous nellies of us all, next year you will be an old hat at this - great post as usual, peace

Mr. H. said...

This is good information that I will keep in mind when I can "hopefully" and eventually have the good fortune of pruning my own, still young, fruit trees.

Forty trees to prune and pick, you are a very ambitious fellow my friend and what a fine task you have set about to achieve. I wish I was there to help!:)

HamishWM said...

Thanks for sharing your pruning knowledge. When I get home I need to prune my tree properly rather than ask a local expert.
I am on the road flogging grog in England...very depressing. Would much rather be home in the s.o France with wife and kids.
Hope your arm gets better soon.


Stefaneener said...

That is new knowledge for me. We had the dropping all over olive tree when I was little. Now, no olives at all here. Sigh. Enjoy your "not perfect" oil.