Friday, April 29, 2011

Eggs in my face

Still don't know who these belong to. Mrs What's-her-name? Stinky poo bug? The investigation continues . . .

It's a nursery mystery

Why do nurseries seemingly always sell olives that are mainly used for oil production? Do they think it's more likely that the average person will press "extra virgin" olive oil from their backyard, or preserve the olives?

Or is the reality that 99% of people who buy olive trees from their local nursery aren't going to use the fruit anyway ...

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Manzanilla varieties

And so we discovered that you get at least four types of Manzanilla!
1) M Cordobes
2) M de Cabra
3) M de Sevilla
4) M de Jaen

So what do we have, Mr Plant Group NZ? :)

A nice explanation of all types and varieties can be found here:

Monday, April 25, 2011

Mow mow mow your lawn, gently down the hill. Tidledee Didledee Tidledee dum.

In an attempt to take control of the grove again, Gerry grabbed the weed-eater and "mowed the lawn" on our Manzanilla slope.

I might add that "lawn" is a bit of a misnomer. Anything from silver beet, to asparagus, gooseberries and yams have been discovered between the trees. Remnants of the previous owners' attempts at a vege patch, that we have turned into an olive grove. An army of weeds have also kept us busy for a couple of days, hacking them out by hand. As our neighbour Rob once remarked "just hack them out one by one - one day you'll get them all".

One windy day - cleaning up the overgrown grove.

Gerry in action - still smiling.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Million dollar question - 23 April 2011

By accident, we chose a very popular Spanish olive for our first batch of 100 trees - Manzanilla (or Manzanillo or Manz). It makes up 60% of all table olives worldwide.

We have room for about 200 more trees and now the question beckons: what next? I was thinking of planting 3 lots of a hundred trees each of 3 different types. Manzanilla = done. Being the worlds greatest fan of Kalamata olives, that's a no-brainer and nothing is going to stop me from planting at least 100 Kalamata trees.

Which brings me to the last batch of 100 trees. After some careful consideration, we came up with a short (?!) list consisting of: Verdale, Sevillano, UC13A6, J5, Borouni, Ascolano, Azapa, Hardy's Mammoth and Gordal.

J2 made the list very briefly, but since the fruit (and trees) are fairly small, we decided against it.

Verdale is currently also busy sliding off the list, mainly because I cannot find any conclusive evidence that it is better for pickling than oil. There are three different varieties: standard Verdale, South Australian Verdale and Wagga Verdale. The South Australia Verdale produces the largest fruit of the three, and might still be an option if we can get out hands on the trees.

Sevillano, also knows as queen olives (from what I could find out so far) is currently highest on the list. Not sure if we would be able to buy the trees in NZ. Need to explore further.

UC13A6 is an American olive. Specially grown for pickling, but again - not sure if we could buy them in NZ.

J5 - need to do more research.

Borouni comes from Tunisia. Large table olive. Not sure if it's commercially available in NZ.

Ascolano - need to do more research.

Gordal - need to do more research.

Azapa - need to do more research.

Hardy's Mammoth - need to do more research.

Other well known varieties like Frontoio, Leccino, Koroniki, Picholene, Arbequina etc, are mainly used for olive oil production, due to their small fruit, texture, size of pip and flavour.

Dual purpose olives (for oil and pickling) include Barnea, Hojiblanca and Manzanilla(!).

I'm not any closer to a final decision. It will also be dependent on availability in NZ.

A few interesting facts about the Spanish Olive - 23 April 2011

I found this article on the web at It gives a succinct descriptions of the different stages of olive curing from harvest to bottling.

How Olives are Harvested:
Both green and ripe olives are harvested at the same time when the olives are green. After picking, the olives are very bitter and tough. Eating one of these would make for an unpleasant experience. Incoming fruit is first sorted for quality and then sized for specific bottling needs.

How Olives are Cured:
The curing process for green olives consists of hydrolysis, leaching and fermentation. This process includes soaking the olives in an alkaline solution (caustic soda) to remove the bitter tannins. They are then placed in fresh water, which is changed on a regular basis to leach out any impurities. The olives are then placed in huge underground vats, covered with a strong salt brine and left to ferment for 60-90 days. Fermentation converts the natural sugars and some added sugar to lactic acid. Only after the pH drops to 3.7 and the lactic acid exceeds 5% are the olives ready for bottling. The olives are kept in a salt brine while waiting for the stuffing and bottling process. To retain their yellow-green hue, the olives are never exposed to oxygen.

How olives are stuffed:
For centuries, olives were pitted and stuffed by hand. Today everything is done by machines. Sweet Spanish Pepper (pimiento) is the most common stuffing. After harvesting the peppers are placed in brine and shipped to the Seville area where the peppers are ground and mixed with gelling agents to make a reconstituted paste. The paste is then cut and formed into ribbons that are fed into pitting and stuffing machines. The machines pit the olive, take the pimiento and cut them into small pieces and stuff them into the olives all in one smooth operation. Over 1000 olives can be stuffed per hour.

How Olives are Packed:
The olives arrive at our dock in large plastic barrels. We then determine, based on our incoming orders, how to stuff the pitted olives. Either with almonds, onions, jalapeno peppers, garlic, etc. Then there are two ways we can pack the olives into the jars. One is called Throw Packed where the olives are not placed in the jar in any particular order and another called Place Packed where the olives are carefully placed into the jars in orderly, symmetrical fashions or forming geometrical shapes.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Letter to NZ Gardener - 19 April 2011

dear Jo and Lynda

I guess you can call me a late bloomer. I've always known that plants were my first love, but haven't done all that much about it, until recently. 

My first memories of growing something was when my elder sister (by nine years) started a little "veggie patch" underneath the apricot tree, when I was just a little tot of about 5 years old. I can still recall sitting on my bum between the corn and bean stalks, in awe about what was happening. I was literally mesmerized, watching the seeds germinate and grow into little plants, eventually sprouting things that you could eat! It was amazing. Who knows how many seedlings I may have trampled in my eager attempt to follow their progress, which was, I might add, way to slow for my liking! There may have been other veggies, but I only remember the corn and beans. And a year or two later on, she also helped me decorate a small coffee tin, punch some holes in it, and I planted my first hen and chickens (Chlorophytum comosum) offspring plant that I personally took care of. Whatever happened in the end, I can't remember.

I also had another passion at that time, which was building fires with my elder brother, much to my mothers frustration. But that's a story for another time.

Shortly after my discovery of plants, my parents divorced, and throughout my school years we stayed in flats or townhouses, with no gardens to provide an outlet for my need to grow stuff. Only in high school did I for the first time have my own room, which I promptly turned it into a hot-house cum amazon forest. One could hardly find the bed between pots upon pots of palms and other houseplants, while loads and loads of hanging baskets filled with ferns and all things green and hanging were suspended from the ceiling (which looked like a war zone, because every time a plant appeared unhappy, I would take the hook out of the ceiling and "plant" it elsewhere). You had to know your way around the room, and it also helped if you were on the short side as I am. 

I guess all the clutter had me fantasizing about the day that I would have my own farm covered with some or other species of plant. At one point I planned an iris farm. Later on it was roses and at yet another stage, I fantasized about fields of tulips! By then I was a full-time art student and discovered stag-horn ferns, which almost immediately became a complete obsession to me - I had to have all the different varieties available. It was a very sad day when they had to stay behind when we moved to NZ last year.

In between collecting ferns, I got married and being a young couple with not much money, we still stayed in flats and my plant-related endeavours remained limited to growing house plants. Every time we had to relocate, it became more of a mission, having to cart around huge pots of plants, because as I grew bigger, so did the size of my potted "plants" (which by this stage included a collection of ficus trees)!

At some point in all this, having dabbled, experimented and fantasized about all kinds of plants, I began to realise that the practical person inside me really enjoyed the idea of edible plants - fruits and veges alike.  More specifically, I realised that olives are my thing. Maybe it's some kind of Biblical connection, but I just somehow knew that what I want more than anything is an olive grove, and pickling my own olives. But life tends to get in the way of ones dreams, so I grew older, got caught up in work and other obligations, and almost abandoned my plans. Until last year that is. My husband and I relocated to NZ and almost immediately found a perfect little lifestyle block outside of Palmerston North. It had to be destiny - we just knew that this was our new home, managed to secure a bank loan and bought the place. And now, about 20 years after my initial olive eureka moment, I have planted and am the proud owner of my first 100 baby olive trees in NZ soil! Over the past 8 months I've already learned quite a lot about real gardens and as this will be a learn-as-you-go process, I will surely make some mistakes. But watch this space ;-).

Which brings me to your magazine. Friends of ours from New Plymouth subscribed for us to a year of Gardener magazines (thanks Deon and Henriette!) as a Christmas gift. And although I've paged through many gardening type magazines in the past (my mom always bought the South African Gardener mag, amongst others), it is only recently that I've started to actually read the articles and take note of what is said, instead of just admiring the pretty pictures. So here's to Gardener magazine and olive trees - long may you both live!


Eight months later - 18 April 2011

I am awed by the progress the little trees have been making. They have grown an amazing amount in such a short time.

I've spotted little eggs on one or two of the trees over the months and promptly decided to spray them with a mixture of rain-guard, liquid copper, fish emulsion (to amongst others also deter rabbits and possums) and Yates Conqueror spraying oil. Also found some evidence of roller leaf caterpillars which can apparently be quite a pest. I've sprayed three times, having no effect whatsoever on either of the pests. Now when I spot the eggs or worm "nests", I just remove it by hand.

At least a metre high after
about 8 months

Need to mow the lawn!

Some of them, like this one,
seem to be growing more 

towards a bush shape. These are the
ones that originally had two main 

In the beginning ...

In August 2010 we bought our first 100 Manzanillo olive trees (single stemmed babies of about 30cm high) from Plantgroup NZ on TradeMe at $3 per tree. A month later we've cleared an area, prepared the soil with gypsum, compost and limestone and started to plant the little things in rows of 2 metres x 3 metres apart.

The planting process took around three days. This is what they looked like.

The area that was cleared is about 50m up against the slope by 12m wide.
We've added carpets around each
little tree to protect them from weed
and to keep the soil moist in summer.

Staking them quickly one Saturday
afternoon when a gail force wind
threatened to blow them all away.

This is what they looked like after being in the ground for about a month.