Friday, June 21, 2013

Harvest or no Harvest - 21 June 2013

It has been a while since my last blog entry and I thought the shortest day of the year, with less daylight and on top of that a dark cloudy cold day forcing one to spend the day indoors, might be good to do something about the lack in documenting the progress in the grove.

Look how tall the trees have grown in one season.

One of the driest summers in many years hit the country and it was hard to believe that the grass between the trees were actually turning brown. For nearly two months there were no grass to cut and while this was a lucky break from lugging the weed-eater around the hill, the result was that by March the grove looked very sad. We don't irrigate and I was worried that the trees might die, but luckily olives are tough as nails. And on the bright side of clay soil, it also retains water better. 

At long last the rains came in April and we have since had lots and lots of rain. The last 30 days alone saw some 61mm and it is still bucketing down. During this period the olives grew like crazy with the sudden increase in water supply coupled with still warmish weather through April and May. Some trees were absolutely laden with olives, that were growing quite nicely. The oldest original trees' branches were almost hanging on the ground with the weight of the fruit. I was happily wandering amongst the trees, admiring the fruit and the amount of growth on the trees without giving any thought to taking some photos as evidence of what was going on.

Apart from problems with "wet feet" in the New Zealand clay soil, another challenge when farming olives (and fruit trees in general), is birds. And while we have such an abundance of beautiful birds, with Tui singing in our flaxes and indigenous bush, a Ruru in the pine trees in front of our house that we sometimes still hear while lying in bed, fantails that follows me all around the grove, starlings, pheasants, our own guinea fowl and black birds en masse, they are a pest to olive growers all over. David has warned me that birds are great thieves; they can literally sweep your harvest overnight, and what do you know. His words were almost still hanging when next all I saw was heaps of leaves on the ground and not a single olive in sight. Not only did they take every last olive, but they also ransacked the trees. 

With no harvest then this year, we have to start thinking about our biggest challenge in the future once we actually do have mature productive trees. What to do about the birds. For now the loss is probably only five or so kilograms, which might seem like nothing, but it was to be our second harvest. And we have nothing to show for it. 

Wondering about where and how to prune the Manzanillos.

Under normal circumstances this would be the time of year to harvest. And with the golden oil trickling into aluminium containers ready to be bottled, the pruning needs to start in a couple of weeks. There's no time for hum-ing and ha-ing in the grove, as we've learned over the past couple of years. There's always something to be done: grass cutting, spraying, weeding, pruning, mulching and harvesting. Which brings me to my next question - what to do with the long slender upright branches of the Manzanillo trees that have grown tremendously the last season, drought not withstanding? Olive trees needs to be "opened up" to allow sunlight and wind to come in and the Manzanillo trees are such neat little trees with long branches all growing upright, that I have no idea how to prune them. How far should those slender branches be cut back, if at all? And which ones, or how many should be taken out altogether? These questions have been mulling in my head for some time now and I'm still nowhere closer to any answers.

Unfortunately I can't see us affording professional services any time soon, so between Google, some books, the help of other growers and trial and error, we will have to forge our way forward. I can only hope that I don't destroy the trees once I get myself to start shaping them into what they need to become when they are mature. Luckily there's still a couple of weeks to do some more research.

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