Old olive trees never die, that’s the legend, though obviously they must die at some point. There is one tree, near Tarragona in Northern Spain, which is alleged to be between 1000-1500 years old: 500 years is quite a margin of error in estimating a person’s age! So, 1495 years of productivity lay ahead of our youngest olive trees which are five summers old and have a handful of olives each this year. Olive trees generally reach peak productivity when they are 40 years old, with yield declining after 140 years. Some way to go then. Since we moved here, we have seen many neighbouring fields ploughed and laid out with new olive trees [above]. They look forlorn for the first three years, saplings protected in their narrow plastic sleeves, but make an attractive geometric pattern laid out in the neatly ploughed pink soil. In the fourth year, they start to look like trees. In the fifth year they are harvested for the first time. The other approach to olive farming is to reclaim old trees abandoned perhaps by the previous generation. Hermano, Pablo’s brother [we call him Hermano, brother, in the ancient Spanish way of referring to a brown dog or donkey as ‘Brown’, P always refers to him as mi hermano], has done just this along the Thyme Track [above]. For years we have passed a muddle of ancient olive trees, head-high in weeds and gorse. This summer, though, the parcela [plots of land here is divided into parcelas or parcels] has been transformed. Some judicious pruning at the right time of year, combined with ploughing to reduce the weeds, has produced a functioning olive grove again. Smaller trees are easier to manage, to pick fruit from. Sometimes the pruning looks brutal, but is effective [below]. So the question everyone wants to know, is how much do you get from a tree? The best tree can be expected to yield 40kg of olives, but the average is more likely to be 8-10kg per tree. If the oil percentage is 14% [ie the amount of oil produced from pressing the harvest] this equates to one litre of oil per tree. But oil percentages are notoriously difficult to gauge: it varies from year to year, from week to week during picking, and depends on the quality of the olives at the moment they are pressed. The oldest trees [below] may be as gnarled and knobbly as arthritic knuckles, but they are productive when cared for and most farmers near here are attentive as to newborn babies.Thanks to the Mediterranean Garden Society for these statistics, click here to read more about olive farming:-
http://mediterraneangardensociety.org/olives.html#2 5 to remember
el hermano – brother
recuperado/a – reclaimed
el margen de error – margin of error
la productividad – productivity
el rendimiento – yield
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