Almost Harvest Time

As you have heard us say over and over again, the drought has affected everything on the farm.  Our olive harvest has taken place the first week in April for the last two years, but this year it will be about the middle of April.  We are the last olive planation in our area to harvest, our olives just are not ready to be picked any earlier.

olive trees

The trees look good and are full of olives.

getting ready for the harvest

We drove into Montevideo and purchased more olive crates in anticipation of a larger harvest than last year.

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We purchased more harvest baskets since last year we only had two, and they were a big hit with our crew.

Now I just have to get the menu settled and pre prep all the meals I can in order to daily feed the harvest crew a hearty lunch.

Olive Trees

Once again we needed to fertilize the olive trees. We fertilize about three times a year. I say about because really we fertilize the olives whenever our expert consultant, Marcelo, tells us to fertilize the olives. Which is usually four times a year. Fertilizing the olives involves sprinkling a fixed amount of chemical fertilizer around the base of every tree.  Over the years we have, thankfully, graduated from two types of fertilizer to one – the first year everyone had to carry two buckets – one for each type. This year we ran into the snag of not having quite enough fertilizer. So we are nearly done – but not quite. 20 bags of fertilizer took three people to apply and only one day of work.  The weather was sunny but not hot, and it rained the next day, so the fertilizer was able to be absorbed into the soil.  Yea for us! I don’t know if you remember, but past fertilizer applications have taken longer and more people, so the improvement in speed and man power is a big thing for us!

olives

olives 3

olives 2

It’s the first time that when you walk the olive plantation it feels like a plantation. Some of the young trees are gaining ground and the older ones now look like trees. This year Jon has been able to stay on schedule with olive care and it really shows. The grove looks healthy and strong. Marcelo, our expert consultant is very, very pleased with the progress. In fact he can’t believe the progress we’ve made in three years. Hopefully within the week we can count the Spring/Early Summer fertilizer as done – the last four bags have been acquired and will be applied soon –  with luck before the next forecast rain.

Pruning Olive Trees

It is again that time of year to prune the olive trees.  Jon has spent every afternoon pruning trees, and he has just finished with the arbequina. That means he has finished 2/3rds of the planation.  Yes, he does each tree by hand himself.  He cuts off any lower limbs and then opens up the center of the tree for air and light to get in, (trims the branches to a tulip shape).

Jon

olive grove 1

It is actually looking like a grove of trees.  Here are some trees with actual tree trunks!

olive trr trunk 3

olive tree trunk 2

olive tree trunk 1

Soon they will no longer need stakes to stay upright. We can only hope.

 

Second Olive Harvest

Harvest Celebration!

second harvest celebration

We are the crazy people who not only have a variety of livestock that needs daily care, but we also have about 20 hectares of olives that we also tend and worry about. Last year we had not planned on harvesting and it took us by surprise.  This year we knew and thought we had it under control. You’ve all heard that before, right?

First we had to pick the manzanilla olives.  We have a few trees of this type of olive scattered amongst the picual and the arbiquina.  They are there to help with pollination. If the manzanilla olives are collected with the others and sent together for processing, we are told the olive oil will taste like woody oak.  Ok for some alcohol drinks but not for olive oil.  So after spending a Thursday and Friday picking olives from just these trees, we spent Saturday and Sunday sorting the olives.  The ripe ones went into crates with salt to be salt cured and the green ones went into a pickling crock and a salt brine. Both should turn out to be table olives.  Another experiment for us.  All pickers and several neighbors, if the experiments are successful, are eagerly awaiting the results. (The yucky olives we tried feeding to the pigs and chickens and we had no takers.)

olive harvest 1

Then we began the harvest in earnest.  Our three guys with three more and Jon spent nine days picking olives off the five thousand trees in the hot sun.  We have 3800 kilos at the processing plant, which will turn into approximately 600 liters of oil.  To see the processing plant you can visit last years pictures: olives to olive oil.  Megan drove several loads of olive crates to the processing plant in Minas, a three  hour one-way drive pulling a trailer behind the pick-up truck. The olives have to be processed within 48 hours of being picked. The team made about 40 crates every two days. They were working hard.

I did not make it back to the trees to take pictures until the end.  So use your imagination here.  Tthese are two trees on the small and thin side with olives hanging on their branches.

olive harvest 2

olive tree harvest

Here are some pictures of our trees in general.  I would like them to be all the same size, uniformed.  No, they grow their way.

olive tree 1 small

small

olive tree 2 medium

medium

olive tree 3 big

large

Now think of them full of olives, and each tree has to be plucked by hand into a bucket and them poured into a crate and put in the back of the pickup.  It was slow work, but the team did a great job.  We all were impressed by the volume of olives and by the percentage of oil we were able to get.  Our technical advisor thought we’d produce about 3000 kilos this year. It was unexpected, and nice, to beat expectation! We were told that because it has been such a dry season, the moisture content is mostly oil.  Normally it is 11% oil, but we averaged  18% oil!  Yeah for us.

More pruning

It is a good thing that Jon likes to prune trees, he finds it relaxing. Besides pruning olive trees we have fruit trees and pecan trees to be trimmed along with our wind break trees. These trees are still short and pencil thin, but they are alive.  So much for being told they were fast growing and would provide shade for the cows and sheep within a year.  We will be pleased if they do their job in five years.

wind break trees 1

This is one of the 300 original trees we planted along the huerta fence.

animals

If you look closely, you can seem them in a row between the sheep and the cows.  The cows are outside the huerta and the sheep are inside the huerta.  Both sets of animals are doing their job happily eating the pasture.

 

Olive update

There is always something to be done with the olives it seems,  but we are almost caught up and on schedule.  Jon has now finished pruning all the olive trees.  He pruned for olive production this year which means the center was trimmed so the tree opens up like a tulip.  Last year the pruning was to cut off all the branches on the tree trunk that were lower than his hip in order to shape the “bush” into a “tree”.  So this pruning completion is a big deal.

Now we are working on getting the disk plowing done.  This means having the plow push dirt towards the trunk of the tree.  It helps stabilize the roots and keeps the olive tree roots dry. We have had to wait to do this step until we got the area around the tree trunks cleaned. So the guys began with collecting all and any of  the old stakes that had been left in the orchard, which turned out to be more than expected.  Buy, hey, they are all picked up now.

olive disking 3

Here is Dario working away.  This blue disk piece was a lot of trouble to find and has been rented from “a friend”.  It has also broken a disk several times and had to be repaired at the cost of the renter.

olive disking 2

The plantation is half finished, but the plow is broken again.  So once again we are waiting to finish a chore.

olive discing

After this is done, then we rent another part that will break up the dirt clods and move them closer to the tree roots.  Thankfully these two items only need to be done once. And then maybe, just maybe, we will be in ‘maintenance mode’ for the olives. Maybe.

 

Spring foliar spray

With spring arriving soon, Marcelo, our technical adviser for the olives, gave us our marching orders – foliar spray, herbicide, fertilizer, foliar spray (at 20 days after first application), and herbicide (at 30 days after first application). We apply the foliar spray about four times a year I’d guess – two times each season with 20 days in between. We’ve done it less because we were late, we’ve done it more because we’ve had problems. So I’m not entirely sure what’s supposed to be normal – although one a season appears to be the objective. I think.

This time I actually managed to capture examples of some of the things we spray for. The foliar spray is intended to treat multiple issues in one application. Some are preventative, like the moth caterpillars that love to eat the olives. No photos because, thank heavens, we don’t have an outbreak. We did last year. And as much as I don’t like chemicals, I really don’t want another infestation. Other things are treatments of something of the moment. Like fertilizers.

We’ve received lots of water this year. Lots of water. Olives don’t like excessive water. It’s not good for the roots in general and, depending on soil, can leach nutrients. This year all that water leached calcium from the soil and make our olive leaves turn yellow.

foliar 1

New leaves are a lighter shade of green than the older leaves. Frost burned leaves turn brown. Yellow leaves mean the olives are deficient in a mineral or nutrient. So this foliar application included something for the yellow leaves.

It also included something to treat the cochinilla bugs we have spreading throughout the olives. Little teeny tiny bugs that secrete an oil which turns the bark and leaves of the tree black. Here’s an example of a tree affected by cochinilla and one not:

foliar 2foliar 3

The black does eventually wear off. But it takes a while. If the tree is still infested when the olives develop we pre-pick those trees and burn the fruit. Unfortunately the cochinilla spreads rather easily. So we are being pro-active this year and treating it in the foliar spray. Last year we had to be reactive to the infestation. This year we’re a bit more on top of it.

So the first application of the foliar spray is done. We had a brief window of dry and sunny so Dario snuck in and sprayed the trees with Alejandro and Oscar helping man the spray wands.

foliar 4

Now we’ll try and get the hated herbicide on when a non-windy day arrives, get some fertilizer down, and apply the second pass of the foliar spray. Realistically? If the other two things don’t happen we are still applying the second foliar spray in 20 days. It’s too important to miss, even if it means we do things a bit out of order.

The neighborhood gossips

Living in such a wonderfully rural location means our neighbors are either quite a ways away ( in some cases, rarely there), or not human. The neighboring cattle love to come visit Resi when we walk. But the noisiest, and nosiest, neighbors we have are the lorakeets. Adorable, noisy, large flocks of little green parrots. Evidently they do extraordinary damage to peach orchards. So far nothing to the olive trees. Except make it very noisy in the Picual.

The neighboring 17 hectares has a small eucalyptus grove that sits on a corner which points into the Picual. There’s a flock of lorakeets that live there. This time of year they hang out at their nests a lot – large, multi-leveled nests that look like large bundles of sticks.

neighbors2

Usually the nests is all you see. You can hear the gossipy cocktail hour no matter where you are. But actually getting to see the neighborhood gossips? That’s harder. It doesn’t help that they blend in so well with the eucalyptus leaves.

neighbors1

Often you can catch a glimpse of them hanging upside down from one of the various levels of the nests. Or the flock taking flight. Catching them just sitting required quite a few trips past with a camera!

The lorakeets appear to fit so well into the landscape here you’d never know that not only were they imported, they are considered invasive.