Thursday, December 8, 2011

Olive oil tasting at Peka Peka - 13 November 2011

The Noble-Beasley's lovely home, with a view on Kapiti island.

This might come as a surprise, but I've never attended an olive oil tasting before. So I was very delighted when Allan (the new chairperson of the Kapiti branch) announced that Tricia and Rob of Noble Estate would host the event. Helen Walshaw led the tasting while Allan and David gave short talks on the ONZ developments and subs, as well as diseases and their control.

After a week of fairly miserable weather leading up to the event, were lucky enough to have a wonderful sunny day for the tasting, so the whole event took place outside in the beautiful surroundings of Noble Estate.

The tasting turned out a very informal affair and Helen kindly agreed to give Gerry and myself the rundown on how it is normally done. Everybody who presses oil (which is just about all the members, except for us :-}) brought a bottle of their oil for the tasting.

Dunking bits of bread (ciabatta?) in good quality oil and tasting it (which is different from how it is traditionally done), is a very pleasant experience. I thought it might be too oily, but not at all. It tasted absolutely divine!

We had a lovely lunch afterwards, courtesy of the branch and everybody who contributed salads.

Getting the formalities out of the way before the tasting. (l-r) Allan, Anne, Helen, David, Paul and Tricia.
The tasting table - interesting how the oils differ in taste and colour.

Gerry putting his newly acquired tasting skills to the test.
Is that a peppery aftertaste?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Feed me ! - chomp chomp chomp

The past two weeks or so have mainly kept us busy clearing grass and weed around the trees and mowing the lawn, which has grown with leaps and bounds since spring eventually stuck its head out. It only took a couple of good rain sessions, coupled with warmer temperatures, to blow life into everything. The fruit trees are either full of tiny little plums, peaches and figs, or still in bloom. The almonds are already sizable fruit. Our olives seems to be "slower" than some of the others I've seen thus far, with ours only now starting to make tiny new branches and leaves. And only here and there the flower buds are starting to show. Could it be that Palmy's temperature stays lower for longer and that trees therefore takes longer to bud after winter?

Chomping down knee-length grass with a weed-eater against a slope is no easy task. And that was all it took - two weeks of occasional rain, warmer weather and voila - grass out of control!

We've been thinking of alternative ways to control the grass and no real solutions have transpired yet. Except for one hopeful, maybe - a Billy Goat. Nope, not the four-legged version, but rather an industrial chomper made in America. It is self propelled, a push model and can handle slopes of up to 20 degrees. I'm sure there's many similar machines out there, but we're looking ... and reading ... and talking ... Who knows, maybe one day we could afford something that will make life a hundred times easier.

And like David who refuse to use copper sprays, so do I refuse to use glyphosates ... But who knows how long we will keep clearing around the trees by hand, before we get fed-up with the tedious job and succumb to RoundUp.

While Gerry were mowing bits by bits, I decided that a good dose of a variety of sprays for the olives is just what the doctor ordered. We've been postponing the spraying since MetService has been predicting rain and/or showers for the past week. And not a drop has fallen. So, this time I decided, bugger this, they don't know what they're talking about, and started spraying the fruit trees.

A mix of these will hopefully give the trees super-duper energy!

I only have a 5 litre sprayer and after the second batch figured that I can cover about 50 of the trees with 5 litre. This give them a fairly good coverage. The mix consisted of fish emulsion - to deter rabbits (I hope - so far so good), liquid copper (for fungus related diseases and to deter slugs and snails), Bio-Gold which seems like the best "all-in-one" fertiliser around, and Raingard (to prevent the fertiliser from raining off). It took the biggest part of the afternoon to spray all the trees and Gerry also finished the last section of the grass. Unfortunately the patches that were first cut, some days ago, already needs their next cutting. And so it goes in summer ...

And here's the best part! Exactly 10 minutes after we wrapped up, cleaned everything and put it away, it started to rain ... How's that for luck - just after the trees have been sprayed! The first hour or so was just a drizzle, but then it really came pouring down for the rest of the evening. We measured 25mm in the rain meter. I'm not convinced that the raingard would have coped with the amounts of water coming down... Time will tell.

And like Andrew suggested: "Every saturday that looks good in terms of the weather, should be a spray day". Maybe we should just follow this strategy. :)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Olives New Zealand AGM and awards - 15 October 2011

A whole day of fun and events was planned, starting off with the AGM and lunch at Tatum Park. Thereafter we all went over to David and Helen's for presentations by two Spanish gentleman (organised by Goran Erdevicki from GEA): Juan Vilar and Javier Hidalgo - experts by all accounts on all things olive - followed by the fieldwalk in the Kapiti Olives grove (last year’s Olives New Zealand EVOO ‘Best in Show’ Award). The awards dinner was planned for the evening back at Tatum Park, followed by the semi-final WCR game between France and Wales.

Gerry and I decided to go for the morning and afternoon events only, as the dinner was another expense that we couldn't afford currently. We got to meet the chairperson of ONZ, Andrew Taylor, and a lot of other growers from various other areas. It is great to see so many enthusiastic people, passionate about the industry and trying to make things better for all. The presentations by the Spanish (both from GEA Westfalia) were quite informative, albeit focussed on Spain, which is much drier that NZ. Just to comprehend the scale at which they operate, is mind blowing. They also presented everybody with wonderful handouts (books on olives, victorinox knives, flash drives, notebooks, pens, etc.).

Afterwards we all headed outside for a walk amongst the olive trees of David and Helen. The good thing about having experts looking at your grove, is that they can immediately detect if anything could be wrong with the trees. Unfortunately (and fortunately) for David, they discovered that his trees have some mineral deficiencies as well as diseases. Apparently if the tips of the leaves turn brown, you need to up your nutrients in the form of potassium (if the soil is alcaline) or boron (if the soil is acidic). His trees also seemed to be pestered by peacock spot amongst others, and are losing their leaves at a rate. This will obviously effect flowering and fruit set. So, although David swore by his conviction never to use copper spray, it now turns out that he might just have to do that.

All in all a great outing, very informative and insightful. Pity we couldn't make the awards function as well. Some pics from the day:

AGM at Tatum Park, with David discussing some changes to the ONZ constitution.

Goran left and Javier from Spain.

Juan also from Spain.

Listening and learning at the Kapiti Olives grove field walk.

Attending these events provide excellent opportunities to learn more about olives.

David, Juan, Javier and another grower.

Can't remember what disease this is, but it looks like cigarette ash on the back of the leaves,
and it's a main cause for leaves to drop from the trees at an alarming rate.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Ascolano obituary :-(

This little piggy decided to go to heaven. Poor little thing. I'm not sure exactly why, but of all the trees, this seems to be the only one who died, presumably from the snow? It was planted in a very soggy spot and I suspect that the wetness in combination with the snow and freezing temperatures, caused its feet to get frostbite! The stem is still soft and green though. Any ideas on what to do with this one to save it from a sure death?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Kapiti branch AGM 2011

David and Helen invited all the Kapiti branch members for drinks, eats and the Kapiti branch AGM at their place in Te Horo Beach. And what a beautiful place they have right on the beach.

We made the one hour drive on Sunday afternoon to arrive for the meeting at 16:00. Some 20 people were present and it was very nice to meet and chat with some other growers in our region.

The meeting got underway and things that were covered include the financial statements, subscriptions fees for Olives NZ as well as Kapiti branch memberships, the constitution, upcoming ONZ AGM and awards dinner for Olives NZ. Committee members for the Kapiti branch were elected for the new year, and I am happy to report that I now find myself on the committee, together with Allan Frazer (chairperson), Anne Barnett (secretary/treasurer), Lance Wiggins and David Walshaw.

I am looking forward to see what the next year will bring.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Assessing the snow damage

Lovely snow fell in the Tararua ranges on Sunday night. Everybody was driving up the mountain to take photo's, build snowmen and let their kids play in the snow. But on Monday afternoon snow started falling in the lower parts of the country, where we were at the foot of the Tararua's and also in town (Palmy is only about 15 metres above sea level). A rare occasion.

It was really nice to experience this and seeing our little house covered in snow, looked so cozy. But all this time I was very worried about the trees. At that point there wasn't really anything we could do (except maybe light up fires in containers between the trees and spreading the warmth, as suggested by a worried friend - not a bad idea!).

But alas, I went out this morning to access the damage and found that a number of the trees snapped in half. :-(  This is really very sad, but what can you do. Gerry and I spent a good deal of time carefully relieving the little trees from the worst of the icy weight. Fortunately it's a lovely sunny day and most of the ice on the trees should be gone pretty soon. The snow layer on the ground will probably take a bit longer. If you stand quietly, you constantly hear the ice falling from the trees, letting little streams form. Everything seems to be coming alive in the sun!

A report in the local newspaper confirmed the freak snowfall in Palmy:

"For the first time in almost 80 years snow fell in The Square in Palmerston North. The temperature plummeted to -2 degrees Celsius overnight, and the MetService said the bone chilling conditions were here to stay for a few more days.

NIWA was unable to confirm when snow had last fallen in Palmerston North. The last recorded snowfall in the city the Manawatu Standard could find was in an Evening Post article of July 4, 1934, that recorded "a very light fall''.
Standard Memory Lane author Tina White said the only snowfall on a par with yesterday's she knew about in Palmerston North came in 1904. On August 4 that year a large snowman was made in The Square."


One of the broken Manzanilla's.

The sorry site that greeted us this morning.

:-( :-( :-((((((. !!!

Carefully removing the worst lumps of ice/snow.

A lovely sun against the slope will hopefully quickly clear away most of the snow.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Snow in Palmy

The latest weather update on says it all:

[Major weather disruption around NZ
New Zealanders are being urged to stock-up on emergency food and water tonight as the worst winter storm in decades is set to continue.
The Antarctic blast, described by MetService as close to a one in 50 year event, has seen roads, schools and airports closed, cut power to thousands of homes and stopped mail deliveries in parts of the country.
The storm had also brought snow in places that don't usually see it, including Wellington and Auckland where snow hasn't fallen in more than 30 years.
MetService spokesman Bob McDavitt said today was likely to be the coldest day and warned New Zealanders to prepare for more snow over the next few days. 

Some pics of our poor trees.

15 August 2011.

A rare sight in Palmy. Our snow covered grove.

Snow starting to weigh heavily on some
of the young branches.

The snow has turned the countryside into a fairytale scene - if only I wasn't so worried about my trees!

Snow meter?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

One month later

Wet feet in it's extreme form. Shortly
after 104mm of rain over a weeks time.
With Arbor Day something of the past and winter in full swing, our little babies are taking a bit of strain. I'm not sure which is worst; the rain rendering our clayish soil very soggy in parts of the grove, or the wind blowing the trees sideways, breaking some branches and even snapping one in half!

What can I say ... the wind is not playing nicely.
We have now officially joined Olives New Zealand and I can't wait to get my nose into their growers manual. Although we might be doing things a bit unorthodox, unconventional and probably not 'traditionally correct', we are trying to make the best of the resources and knowledge we have, with a bit of luck and gut feel thrown into the equation. It will be a slightly different story if you approach olive growing purely as a business opportunity (and having the money to do so!); searching for property/land that are suitable in all aspects, from soil to wind and frost, to north facing slopes, the correct gradient, big enough to plant the trees 6x6m apart for mechanical operations, with shelter belts, etc.

Unfortunately we are not in the position to buy "ready-made" land in a traditionally correct area (we will be the trail blazers for this area since we are the first growers around here that I'm aware off :-)), but instead are just making-do with the tiny patch of land we have.

We also did not "rip" the land and we did not lay irrigation systems, neither did we invest in more water tanks, at least not for now. This will all come with time, as will the knowledge of pickling olives, health&safety issues, as well as the extension of the house to become a workplace for the processing of the olives. Having fruit bearing trees is not something that happens overnight, which is why we wanted to get the trees in the ground as quickly as possible. We tried to make the best of the situation by enhancing the soil as far as possible and we will continue to do the best we can with the resources and knowledge we have. As mentioned before, this is more a process of the heart than a process of the mind, but we are trying not to make blatantly dumb mistakes.

The days are slowly starting to become a tiny bit longer again, being past the shortest day and longest night, but it seems as if the coldest temperatures are still to come. We've had a couple of nights where the temperatures dropped below zero, but the days are mostly fine. The trees seems to be growing? I spotted new growth that must have happened over the past two months or so. Is this normal?

The past week has seen 104mm rain, which is great for our water tank, but bad for the olives where we haven't had the time yet to do something about the drainage. This we need to address quickly as 20 or so trees may suffer from wet feet. The past summer has been very dry and we might well have water problems come summer, but hopefully we can make a plan with additional water tanks before then.

Taking things little by little and tackling the problems as they come. Eating the elephant, one bite at a time. :)

Making use of a break in the constant rain to
quickly straighten up one of the very tall trees.
Horrible, horrible norwesterly. Snapped one right off.

I decided to try and mend the snapped stem.
Probably not going to work, but it's worth a try.
Trying to save the poor thing.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Arbor Day (times eleven) - 5-16 June

“The whole Mediterranean, the sculpture, the palm, the gold beads, the bearded heroes, the wine, the ideas, the ships, the moonlight, the winged gorgons, the bronze men, the philosophers - all of it seems to rise in the sour, pungent taste of these black olives between the teeth. A taste older than meat, older than wine. A taste as old as cold water.”

- Lawrence Durrell (1912-1990) ‘Prospero's Cell’ (1945)

Two hundred fifty-five trees to plant. Two people. One garden fork. One acre of hill. And the winter and rainy season on its way.

The last couple of weeks have been a marathon session, turning paddocks into "workable" land for an olive grove: mowing lawn, clearing out patches of grass, carrying loads of 25kg bags of compost, limestone and gypsum up the hill, digging holes, planting trees, hammering in stakes and tying trees to stakes for some sort of protection against the wind (of which we have our share, being 2kms from the windfarm!).

From dusk to dawn, we were slaving in the orchard taking it row by row and tree for tree. Isn't that how enormous, seemingly impossible tasks are handled? Little by little. One by one - eventually you get there. And at the end of it, I'm always amazed at what one person (or two in this case) is capable off. Whether you walk 800 kilometres in 26 days or plant hundreds of trees in a couple of days - things are almost always more do-able than you might think.

A couple of photos to show the process:

Gerry trimming knee-high grass.

Taking a coffee break between heaps of grass that still need to be raked to somewhere!

Marking the positions of the trees with blue spray paint.

The paddocks after all the grass were mowed and the markings in place. The "before" picture ;-).

Preparing the hole for the very first tree to be planted. A J5.

Mixing in compost, limestone and gypsum.
Hopefully this tree is marking the start of
big things to come.

The first row of J5's starting to take shape.

J5's ready and waiting.
The first row halfway up the hill. Gerry staking
the trees as we go.

Halfway through the process.

Beautiful little J5 trees on top of the world!

Collecting garden tools at the end of a hard days work.

Staking the last tree for the day just before sunset.

At the and of it all - 11 days later on a lovely sunny afternoon, we popped a bubbly between the trees
to celebrate the new olive grove.

The "after" photo. :-)
This is the grove as it stands now. From the left: (not seen in this picture) 5 Ascolano trees right at the top.
Second row (Sevillano planned) still empty, the next three rows are more Ascolano's, one row Frantoio, then two rows of South Australian Verdale, another empty row (future Picholine) and the last three rows with J5's.
11 rows in total except for the 5 extra trees at the top (Tharfield included a couple of extra trees
in the batch we bought from them).

It's been a couple of days since planting and the rainy season is upon us. We spotted hundreds of earthworms crossing the road, presumably trying to get away from the soggy soils (?).

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The stakes are high!

Realising that the little Manzanilla trees of last year have outgrown their bamboo stakes, we decided to upgrade to two hardwood stakes per tree. I really don't like it when trees are tied up against one stake, not being able to move or "breathe" at all. The trees have to toughen up at some point, and giving them a bit more leeway seemed like the logical option. Trees are in any case not supposed to be staked indefinitely. Just the first couple of years to keep the roots intact while they develop strong stems that can withstand gusty winds. What you don't want is "root-shake" - the tree swaying in the wind until damage is done to the roots. And since we are about 2kms, as the crow flies, from the wind farm, wind is unavoidable.

The downside of two stakes per tree was that we immediately doubled the expense. We saw an advert in the Organic NZ magazine by Growing Things and decided to give them a go. They sell, amongst others, hardwood stakes that are untreated (organic if you like) and should last 10 to 15 years in the ground. At least that is what they claim. Mike Ponder, in his book "The Good Oil", mentioned that the hardwood stakes they used only lasted a year in the ground ... I really hope this is not the case.

Gerry helping to carry the stakes to our car.

Gerry and Jan between heaps of different stakes at the Growing Things warehouse. 
I think the ones we got are beech wood.

Hammering in 200 stakes in one morning is no easy feat! It resulted in a number of nasty blisters. :-}