Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Hare horror or is it rabbit ranting? - 21 August 2012

For the past two years, we've been spraying with fish emulsion (which is a known deterrent for rabbits), but with the rain, wind and other priorities like trying to earn our keep, we didn't get around to doing it for some time now. Big mistake. Yesterday Mr Rabbit decided this is nice dessert to finish off his copious amounts of other lovely takeouts (fortunately we covered the vege garden with bird netting, which seems to help thus far for birds and critters and the like) of which we don't have a shortage.

I took my usual stroll amongst the trees looking out for anything that looks out of the ordinary, and behold, there I saw the first tree that was nibbled quite badly. After the initial shock and horror, missing a heartbeat or two, my strides lengthened as I tried to quickly ascertain the damage as well as coming to terms with what has happened. I was gobsmacked. About 15% of the trees have been nibbled.

On my way back to share the news with Gerry, the only solution that I could think of was to quickly spray all the trees - rain and all - with the fishy stuff. And when checking today, I couldn't see any new damage, so hold thumbs. He will hopefully go find greener pastures elsewhere.

Otherwise the man will have to go a-hunting! ;-)

The culprit looking all nervous and deceivingly cute.


What can I say.

My poor babies.

Fortunately none of them were chowed right around. Holding thumbs for a speedy recovery.

Getting pickled - 26 June 2012

With our first harvest being very small and green, the only suitable pickling method was to use lye treatment. So off we went to Farmlands to buy sodium hydroxide (good old caustic soda for those who don't know). But beware - the caustic soda you buy in shops as a cleaner and to unblock drains, contains only a percentage sodium hydroxide. The rest is made up of other chemicals which might not be suitable for human consumption.

The gist of the lye-cured process is basically as follows: prepare the lye solution (2 ounces of lye to every gallon of cold water), cover olives with mixture, stir every 2 hours, test penetration occasionally by cutting an olive towards to pip - the lye will colour the flesh yellowish, leave in the lye for about 10-12 hours or until the process is complete and the flesh is evenly colored to the pip. For the next few days (from 3, but up to 8 days), wash the olives in fresh water, by replacing it twice daily until the soapy taste is no longer present. Prepare a brine (4 ounces of pickling salt to 1 gallon of water) to cover the olives with. Let them stand for 2 days. They are now ready to eat. Pour a tipple and taste you first homegrown, homemade olives!

Gerry sorting the olives between decent, half decent and non-usable. :-)

Five bottle of our own cured green olives. A mixture of Manzanillo, Ascolano, J5, Frantoio and SA Verdale.
I added pickled chillies to the one bottle to jazz them up a bit.

Apart from our own harvest, we were also very fortunate to get some olives from David to experiment with. We drove through to Kapiti late one morning, each with a bucket in hand, and started picking Leccino olives. They were fairly ripe already with some starting to become wrinkly. The weather turned a bit nasty and before too long, I was one giant goosebump, not having brought enough warm clothes with. We wrapped it up after a couple of hours (with me feeling slightly hypothermic) and left happily with two buckets, three-quarters full. Thanks David for your kind offer! We now have enough to experiment a wee bit with the different processes. We decided to try out three options: 1) water-cured, Kalamata-style, 2) brine-cured, Greek-style olives and 3) dry-salt cured olives.

Most of these are still in progress, so watch this space for updates.

Making a slit in the olives for the water-cured Kalamata-style method.

Picking the fruits of our labour - 22 June 2012

Palmy is not known to be one of the places with the highest amount of sunshine, which might explain why our olives were still greenish towards the end of June. Or (hopefully) the trees are just still way too young to support their fruit to full ripening - they are still only babies after all. But after some frosty nights, it was evident that some of the olives contracted frost damage, prompting us to count our losses and pick what is left. With the weather turning all wintery, it was clear that the olives would not ripen further. Maybe this will always be the case, but only time will tell.

So with a container in hand, Gerry and I were outside, picking our total harvest in about 45 minutes flat. :-) It totaled just over 2kg. However, these included everything that remotely resembles an olive; frost, wind, and bird damaged olives in tow. We ended up using only about half of them in our first ever pickling attempt.  More on this later.

The frost damaged olives clearly visible.

Some of the trees have about equal numbers of olives and leaves.

Gerry at work on an Ascolano.

The complete harvest of 2012  -  2.041kg.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Jack Frost came to town

In the middle of May, the first frosts started to grace our little trees until the suns' rays make it over the pine forest in the early mornings. They do need a cold snap for fruit set, they say, but there's still fruit on the trees! And the few olives that are there, are in no hurry to ripen, it seems. Maybe the trees really are just too small still to produce a worthwhile harvest? Or can things change considerably in the next couple of weeks?

J5 - about 2 and a half years old.

Another chilly J5.

Saturday, April 28, 2012


Or in our case Weed Out won the battle against grass and weed around the trees. I know I've previously  swore high and low never to use glyphosates around the trees, but you know you've lost the battle when you physically can't keep up against monsterous grasses and weed. The kind that reaches heights that are way over your head (or rather my head, which is not that far from the ground, I might add).

The result gives me tremendous pleasure - seeing all those bad prickly weeds slowly die!

Kapiti Olives field walk - 21 April 2012

Allan - chairman of the Kapiti branch.
David and Helen kindly agreed to host yet another event at their grove. And what a lovely day for it too! Sunny with practically no wind, made the walk amongst the trees even more enjoyable.

I still remember my first visit to David's grove about a year ago, when I reported about how healthy and well David's trees look. Well, since then, David discovered (with the help of the Spanish visitors later last year) that his trees had some diseases, which for one, explained the leaf drop. David immediately started treatment and this year his trees are really in good shape.

After Allan gave some feedback on ONZ and the constitution, David shared some valuable information on grove management and also gave a rundown of what he did to fix the diseases on the trees. He spayed mainly with a mix of Dodine (a fungicide) and OliveMix (a spray fertiliser). Three applications (the maximum recommended frequency per year for Dodine) seem to have solved the biggest problems.

As usual, a good outing, very informative and we are slowly starting to recognise and know more people in the olive industry.

Some pics from the event:

Some members of the Kapiti branch at the Kapiti grove.

David showing what happens to a tree that was blown over.
He chopped off the top, pulled it upright, staked it, and it is already making new branches.

Another blown-over tree - two years later.

Kapiti Grove. David and Andreas in the front.

The inside of a recently pruned tree. Branches and suckers that grows towards the
inside of the tree are all taken out to allow light and air into the tree,
 and the "wounds" are treated with a fungicide paint.

Monday, April 9, 2012

ONZ Conference 2012

Saturday 24th March 2012
Sudima Airport Hotel, Auckland Proudly supported by GEA-Westfalia

'Let's Get it On!' is the theme for this years event and Gerry and I decided that we should attend the conference, especially since it included a workshop on table olives, our main focus.

So, off to Auckland we were on the Friday. It was a rainy morning as we left the swamp city for the seven-hour-plus drive to Auckland. It turned out to be a pleasant drive with no serious weather issues and we arrived around five at the Kiwi International Airport Hotel, about 2km from the venue.

The Sudima Airport Hotel played host to the conference and the Friday evening kicked-off with cocktails and mingling in the bar area, sponsored by GEA Westfalia. Andrew, the President of Olives NZ, quickly welcomed everybody, before the mingling started with drinks in hand. The Blues/Hurricanes Super 15 Rugby game was on in the background and we were very pleased that our team came through for a narrow one point victory! But a win is a win. :)

Saturday morning's proceedings started at nine with a welcome and opening talk by Andrew. The conference was well attended with around 95 attendees. Some of the talks included:

- Effects of Harvest Maturity on Extra Virgin Olive Oil Year 3
- Strategic Options for your Olive Grove (Own brand / Co-operative / Supplier of oil)
- Table Olives workshop (Table olive tasting and markets, pre-harvest, harvest, processing) 
- Marketing workshop
- Tasting & Blending workshop

Overall some very useful and informative talks and the afternoon's workshop on table olives was of particular interest to me. Simon Fields (from Salsi Pty Ltd, Australia) took us through a quick olive tasting course, before explaining the ins and outs of pickling olives. It almost frightened me to realise how little I know and what a long learning path still lies ahead of us. Not to mention the capital output that will be required.

After a full day of listening to some very knowledgable people, I am a little concerned that we might not altogether have planted the right varieties of olives. The J5 which I were to believe is a pickling olive, was mentioned to possibly be the "NZ Frantoio", which has a small fruit and is more suitable for oil. But yet another source says it is excellent for pickling. There are still some question marks around the J5, so I'm still hopeful that it will be okey for our purpose.

The SA Verdale also has a wee bit of a question mark over it's head, because the pips are fairly big and the fruit don't separate easily from the pip. On the positive side, the expert Simon, is very positive about the fact that the fruit is big, tastes great and is easy to process. That makes the rather large pips seem like a minor issue. Or not?

At the conference dinner later that evening, Andrew welcomed everyone, after which lovely food were served. Great to meet more growers and mingle before everybody retreated to their separate hotels.

On Sunday, an additional workshop was presented by various experts in the field - Processing to Oil - which were well attended by about 50 people. Gerry took some pictures, so we stayed for a bit before heading back to the hotel.

Congratulations and thanks to Gayle who must have put in a lot of effort to organise this event. I'm sure many sleepless nights forego the conference, but judging by all the positive comments and feedback from attendants, it was a very successful gathering.

Me, Kay & Charles Chinnaiyah (from Olea Estate).

Andrew Taylor with the ONZ Executive.

Simon Field testing our knowledge on table olives.

A wide variety of olives for the tasting.

Making notes, learning more about the tasting process.

Participants in the blending workshop.

The beautiful grove of Parkhill Olives.

A demonstration of shakers and pruners.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

We pain "stake"ingly made the wrong decision - 18 March 2012

After only nine months, our organic stakes (which we were promised would last 10 - 15 years in the ground) proved not to have made the grade. They are rotting off at a rate and the slightest wind blows them over.

So the search for new, thicker, taller, treated stakes started again. I contacted David and he immediately came to the rescue (thanks David!). He offered his secondhand stakes at a very reasonable price, se we opted to buy some from him and fetched the first batch in middle March. The car can unfortunately only take that much, so we will have to make a couple of trips to the Kapiti Olive grove.

The stakes are about a meter long and without sharp ends. After Gerry sharpened most of the first batch, we started hammering them in. Again quite a tedious task and hard on the body. But we are very happy to now also be able to tie the trees up a bit higher, since a lot of them bent over with the shorter stakes, looking like question marks and growing into weird shapes. In my infinite wisdom I thought the only reason for staking trees, is to prevent root-shake. But it turned out that the trees grew so fast that they quickly reached three times the height of the old stakes! And with all that growth, the main stems are fairly thin still, and not able to hold the canopy of the tree upright, hence strong winds and last year's snow snapped some of them in half.

An 83km wind also blew over some 20 odd trees recently. The tiniest ones that were still staked with bamboo, suffered the most. A lot of the bamboo stakes also started rotting in the soil and snapped off.

We started fixing the worst-off trees first, using our first batch of new stakes, but we definitely need to make another trip for more stakes soon.

The original short stakes and the new solid taller stake. Much better.

A grass coup d'etat - 15 March 2012

Only two months of no attention to the grove and this is what we came home to after our overseas trip. Some of the grass blades were up to 1.09m tall! I kid you not.

Is there an olive tree in there somewhere?

Oh, there it is!

Poor thing - completely overgrown, fighting for survival.

1.09m tall grass blades.

Compost mulch - two flies with one slap :) - 12 January 2012

Yes, I know, 'two birds with one stone' is the correct English for the saying, but that sounds so mean, cruel, really just conjures up terrible thoughts of dead birdies. Wait, maybe when the birds start stealing our olives, I might change my mind about them. As is currently the situation with the possums. They look so cute and cuddly, but they really are a pest. Fortunately then don't like olives, but they eat just about everything else including rose buds! One friend suggested that I start a little possum grave yard, which might not be such a bad idea after all. If I spread them nicely, marking the spots for the next batch of olives trees, they can serve as compost. And as another friend then said - that's what she'd call compossum! 

With our imminent SA visit and being out of the country for 50 days, we thought that mulching with compost around the trees should at least keep the weeds sort off at bay. Boy was I wrong - it grew like crazy! But that aside, we ordered six cubes from The Landscape Yard and started hauling buckets full of shit up the hill. What a mission. Fortunately our friends, Brian and Trish, came to the rescue, helping us one morning to make a huge dent in the mountain of compost.

Within 5 days the job was done and dusted. And what a pretty sight - a freshly mowed, clean of weeds and cared for grove.

The dung beetle at work! Not as effective as the real McCoy though ...

6 cubes - a fairly significant heap of compost.

Ready for action.

About one cube to go.

Should do something about the pavement ...

Isn't that a pretty sight?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Flowers & fruit - 3 January 2012

Although the flowering phase has almost passed, there are still a couple of late bloomers, as can be seen in the images below. Factors like "on" years and "off" years, and the fact that the trees are really way too young to make any meaningful observations yet, etc. aside, I thought it would still be interesting to document their progress. 

In essence, the Barnea were the first to bloom. Very eager trees it seems. However, it doesn't seem to bear lots of fruit. The Frantoio had the most flowers and the SA Verdale seems to be very prolific bearers. The tiny wee bit of a little tree of no more that 30cm high, already has fruit almost the size of peas. For most of the other trees you still almost need a magnifying glass to spot the baby olives! The Manzanilla probably had an "off" year this season, since they had quite a lot of flowers last year (with no fruit), and only a very small number had flowers this year. Given, they were only about a year old at the time. :) The Ascolano and J5 currently appear to be performing quite similar, bearing comparable volumes of flowers and fruit. 

Ascolano - they are all full of blooms and tiny fruit are developing.

Ascolano - tiny little olives.

El Greco - one of the 'one of each' lot, was full of flowers.
This tree had even more flowers than the Frantoio.

Frantoio - most of the flowers are gone by now.

Frantoio - close-up. Tiny fruit visible.

J5 - a lot of flowers still on the trees.

Koroneiki - the last blooms only opening now. The first ones started opening some time ago already.
These trees seem to have a long blooming period?

Manzanilla - no flowers for most of the trees.

There are a few Manzanillas with flowers and they are also slower to develop than the other trees.

SA Verdale - little over eager prolific producers :). The "trees" are about 30cm tall and they
already have the largest fruit of all the trees. Almost pea size.

SA Verdale. They seem to be fairly happy? Or is it just the opposite?
A case of "make fruit while you can for survival?" ... I hope not.