This is the busiest time of year for the olive farmers around here. In December and January the olives are harvested. Pablo’s harvest is finished and taken to the cooperativa, he is now waiting to hear the price per kilo and the total value of his crop. Now the tidying begins. On a fine day, the air is full of wood smoke as the prunings from the olive trees are burned. Line by line, the farmers walk their olive groves, pruning their trees. It is a hard slog, olive farming is not a mechanized form of production. The next enemy is weeds, on the hillside opposite us, a tractor ploughed relentlessly up and down each line of olives, tearing up the weeds. The next job will be to fertilize each individual tree. In a month or so, the farmers will be spraying each tree against pests and disease. This is particularly important given the bacterium Xylella fastidiosa which is decimating olive groves in Italy, it causes the foliage to dry out, darkens the wood and eventually kills the trees.
For more on the disease which is affecting Italy’s olive trees, click here for a report in Olive Oil Times. 5 to remember
cada – each
la plaga – the pests
la enfermedad – the disease
la bacteria – the bacterium
el follaje – the foliage
We bought the house from alpaca breeders who had divided the fields in the bottom of valley into paddocks. This is how the field looked in 2006 before they put in their fences [below].
[photo: Europa Alpacas]
We bought the house in 2008. Once the alpacas, barn and fences were removed, we decided to plant an olive grove. Measurements were taken, and olive saplings bought from a specialist nursery near Seville. The field was ploughed, and marked out into a grid using GPS to ensure the trees were planted in exact rows. In January 2009, 350 olive trees were planted [below].
At first, the saplings were so thin that they were difficult to see in the distance [below]. All we could do then was wait, patiently, for them to grow. Pablo reckoned the trees would start cropping after five years: that seemed a long way off.
In May 2010 [below], after spring growth and ploughing to remove weeds, our olive grove started to look more like the real thing. By January 2012 [below], they were recognisably olive trees… … and by October 2013 they were looking impressive. Throughout all this time, the olives on our old trees continued to grow [below] and were harvested in December with Pablo’s olives. Our 30 trees yielded three 5 litre bottles of amazingly green first-pressing olive oil. Enough to last us 12 months. Last year we anticipated December 2013 with great excitement: our first harvest in the olive grove. Sadly this did not come to pass: the drought of 2013 yielded a poor crop of small fruit. Not worth harvesting. So now we anticipate the olive harvest in December 2014.
5 to remember
una alpaca – an alpaca
un criador – a breeder
el prado – the paddock
el establo – barn/stable
un árbol joven – a sapling
Every spring, when rain falls on the high land around us, new springs pop out of the hillside and fall gently through the undergrowth. Every day is undertaken to the tinkling of dribbling water. It is a cheerful accompaniment. By summer, these have usually all dried up. This autumn, one of the spring newcomers is still with us and looks like being permanent.
It is ideally placed, beside the track up to the main road, where it could be piped and therefore used to water our huerta in the almond field beside the river. D and Pablo have discussed the project, so far no action. It is the sort of job that needs a cool winter day and metres of black irrigation goma. It is the sort of job they will discuss over many early-evening cervezas, as is the Spanish way. Finally action will take place. There is no hurry after all, the spring is not going anywhere, goma must be purchased from the ferretería, the local ironmonger, and the vegetables will not be planted until next year. Paso a paso, step-by-step, as Pablo said to us many times when we first moved here. There’s no hurry. He hasn’t said it for a while, so perhaps we are becoming more Spanish.
5 to remember
la maleza – undergrowth
un tintineo – a tinkling noise
un chorrito – a dribble
el acompañamiento – accompaniment
alegre – cheerful
In previous years, we’ve never been here to see the aftermath of the sunflower harvest. This year, because of the unusual weather this spring, crops were delayed and harvesting took place later. So for the first time we have been able to observe the process, and it’s fascinating. It will make me think differently when I crunch sunflower seeds in my muesli, or pour sunflower oil into the wok.
After the sunflower heads have been carted away for processing, the field is left with stalks intact [below].The stubble is rougher than that left by wheat, but at a distance it looks like the gentle fuzz of a chin unshaven for a day [below].The next job is to rake the stalks, and clear them. This is not a single process, but many steps and hours on the tractor. First, the farmer rakes the stalks into lines [below].Then he rakes the field in the opposite direction and clears the lines into piles. The result, a neat line of piles, often two metres high [below].There is a pleasing geometry to the finish resulted.After the stalks have been raked up and burned, there are still stalks left in the ground [below].So the remaining last job for the farmer is also the first job in preparation for the next crop. He ploughs the field [below] ready to scatter the seeds which will germinate and take root over the winter. A dusty job, but a symbolic one: the changing of the seasons.
5 to remember
una tarea polvorienta – a dusty job
el rastrojo – stubble
los tallos – the stalks
la cosecha – the harvest
el arado – the plough
There’s something thrifty about the rural Spanish people we live amongst that reminds me of my parents’ generation who grew up in World War Two and learned how to make-do, how to do without, how to make the best of what they’d got. Improvisation: the Andalucians could win prizes at it. Things are not thrown away lightly, everything is hoarded. Large white containers with thin metal handles which once held paint are now used as buckets for animal feed or when collecting veggies. Plastic lids from large food containers are used as bowls to collect eggs. Black agricultural twine is re-used and re-used, substituting for all manner of things from tree ties to hose connectors. So I shouldn’t have been surprised by the sight of Pablo in our olive grove, at first glance ploughing the field he had ploughed the day before. All olive farmers plough around now to keep the weeds down. Weeds are their enemy: they take water and nutrients from the soil which by rights should go to the olive trees. There is a second reason for ploughing up the summer weeds: fire control. Every landowner has a responsibility to maintain the land against fire risk.
But at second glance Pablo was not ploughing, instead hitched behind his tractor were three huge tractor tyres. At first I thought this was an alternative way of harrowing, a process undertaken after ploughing which flattens the rough earth and breaks up clods of soil to provide a good tilth ready to sow seeds. No, the purpose was more canny, more clever. The land here is a mixture of red sandstone and white limestone, in all the fields can be seen small and large stones in recently ploughed fields. There is never a shortage of rocks around here for building rough stone walls. Last autumn, Pablo and his two sons collected three loads of stones from the same olive grove. Since then, someone locally has discovered that dragging tractor tyres over the surface of recently-ploughed soil collects the stones inside the tyres. Since spotting Pedro and his tractor, we have seen other farmers locally dragging tractor tyres too. Much easier on the back than collecting the stones by hand.
My father was a farmer. Sadly he never lived to see this house, but I know he would have smiled at the sight of Pablo’s tractor tyres. 5 to remember
economico/a – thrifty
la Segunda Guerra Mundial – Second World War
la improvacion – improvisation
el premio – prize
el envase – container