In terms of the lifespan of an olive tree, ours are not even toddlers. Some olive trees live to be 1500 years old, the average lifespan is 500 years [or less depending on the Spanish Government’s periodic grants to farmers for planting new varieties, which sees the old trees ripped up]. Humans have been eating olives since the Bronze Age. Many olive trees around the Mediterranean have been dated to 2000 years of age, an olive tree in Croatia is still fruiting at the age of 1600 years. Our olive grove was a field when we bought the property, it had been used as paddocks for livestock rearing. Previously wheat was grown there hence the ancient ‘threshing patch’. We removed the fencing and planted olive trees which have taken five years to grow to the size you see below. The threshing patch remains untouched.
Read these two Olive Oil Times articles: the first explains the life cycle of the olive tree, the second about a Spaniard rescuing millenary olive trees.
Here are two previous articles published on ‘Notes on a Spanish Valley’ about our threshing patch: the first explains its origins, the second is a photographic tour throughout the year.
5 to remember
la vida útil – the lifespan
un niño – a toddler
periódico – periodic
una beca – a grant
rasgar – to rip up
And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Our olive grove in February: #farming in #Spain via @Spanish_Valley http://wp.me/p3dYp6-1TK
The first time I ever saw olive wood was in Greece, Skiathos to be exact, on my first ever beach holiday. It was in the late Seventies when I was a student. I noticed the dark-grained wood everywhere in Greece: chairs, tables, plates, bowls, picture frames. And I bought a set of coasters: odd, I know for a 19-year old without her own home, I can only assume it was all I could afford. So at this time of year, as we walk around the valley where the olive farmers are doing their annual ‘cut’, I remember my coasters.
The gnarled, wrinkly branches don’t look too promising, but when you see the cut timber the beauty is revealed. Whorls and whirls, from blonde to black-brown.
5 to remember
la primera vez – the first time
la Grecia – Greece
las vacaciones – the holidays
los Setenta – the Seventies
el/la estudiante – the student
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
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