We have 24 olive trees on our land. Tall, old and gnarled, they are covered in ivy and moss, their roots providing hiding holes for mice and other burrowing creatures. Having been neglected for many years we get olives from less than half of these, the others are just too tall or non-productive. But we get enough olives for our yearly olive oil consumption and this year they are plump and juicy. We could have got more than the five buckets we need but, if truth be told, we are a little on the lazy side. So for three days of the year we scrambled over branches, climbed ladders, tugged, sawed, bashed and plucked. We also splashed out on our own net this year. Our neighbour’s magic machine separated the olives from the debris and then we headed off to the lagar de azeite feeling like old hands, it was our fifth harvest.
Our over confidence was soon blown away. In previous years we were able to book a time a few days ahead to join the queue of turning our olives into oil. Not this year. The first factory told us there was a two week wait, the second had a notice pinned outside the office door: no dates free until 9 December. It seems it was a bumper harvest for everyone, outside the factories there were lines of trucks and pickups laden with mammoth mounts of olives. It meant one thing, we were not going to be able to have our own oil but do a swop instead. Reluctantly we handed over our five buckets which were weighed and then the factory oil was given to us straight away. No cost involved and still very nice but not quite the same.
One thing we are trying to do is get our heads around the pruning of the trees. The first year we were a little heavy handed and one tree was almost cut down completely. We kept doing a little bit more on each branch and then realised there wasn’t much left. However, the following year the stump had disappeared behind a curtain of new growth and a sizeable bush had grown. This we really liked, it was thick and tall and looked great. So over the following four years we have chopped down one tree at a time. The first one is no longer a bush but almost a proper tree so our studying of what everyone else does seems to be paying off.
And today Richard took the plunge and chainsaw and chopped down one of the biggest trees right at the end of the garden which was straggly with dead branches. Already there is new growth around the base which we’d pruned last year so we know that the empty space left will be replaced within a few years with a healthier, more productive tree.
Finally, the olives looked so good we have picked a load of green, and then black, olives for eating. They’ve been in brine for over a month now and so have been put in jars with either olive oil and orange peel or wild thyme. And of course the cut down olives trees make excellent logs for the fire, and with temperatures set to plummet that’s just what we need!