Sunday, September 22, 2013

Operation rabbit recovery

Last year around this time, rabbits wreaked havoc in the grove nibbling on the bark of the little trees. Some of them were nearly ring-barked, to the extent that what was left of the trunk/bark wasn't enough for the trees to recover from the damage.

Apparently this is somewhat of a spring problem. The bark on the trunks turn sweet in springtime, making it a lovely snack for animals. This probably also explains why the possums are chewing the bark off our apple trees! Amongst others. So, if you've got sheep grazing your grove, now would be the time to move them out. They too love the sweet bark and will nibble on your trees this time of year.

The little trees that were nibbled last year, made new growth lower down the trunk. In most cases this new growth were much more vigorous than the original tree. So, maxing out my own nerves, I decided to chop off the damaged trees to let the new growth become a new trees. Phew. That was one of my bolder moves in the grove.

Downsizing our damaged trees in the hope of having more productive ones in a few years.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The first cut

After agonising over it for months, Gerry and I eventually took the plunge and pruned the little buggers. When I say agonising, I mean procrastinating - because that's what we do. Two people who battle to choose between a Monteiths Pacific Pale Ale and a Mike's Premium Organic Double India Pale Ale, are an unlikely pair to just get on with stuff without serious negotiation, a couple of glasses to discuss the situation and a sleep-over-it once more.

In our defence, the trouble was (at least in my head) that the manzanillos grew long and spindly upright branches with no obvious way of pruning them into a wine-glass shape. "Opening up" the trees would mean cutting off just about everything. For weeks, I would wander around the grove trying to figure out how the trees should be pruned. I even briefly considered hosting a pruning event through ONZ at our place, whereby an expert could demonstrate on a couple of trees how to prune the babies, after which we could apply the learning on the rest. But I fear we might just be held up as an example of "how NOT to" do all things olive related, so gave up on that idea.

After noticing that some of the trees seem to start flowering, we realized we just have to get on with it. So on a sunny day, out came the very basic (read cheap) pruners and secateurs as we made our way to the bottom of the manzanillo block. Gerry and I would negotiate every single tree before hesitantly making any cuts, constantly thinking about the consequences of doing the wrong thing. Sometime he would be brave and suggest big cuts and other times I would be the one to take down two-thirds of a tree. Every now and again, one or both of us would get cold feet, and would end up leaving branches that should probably have come off. There's always next year, we would argue.

And so over the course of about two weeks, we managed to prune all the trees in-between other work commitments, and weather permitting. It still amazes me how long each little task takes. The trees are still so small, it's hard to imagine how long it will take to prune 300 big olive trees! Let alone thousands, as is the case with commercial growers.

If I have to say so myself, I'm rather pleased with the end-result. Some of the little trees looks very smart! Already in shape, much less top-heavy (lolly-pop like) and much more "aerodynamic" in the wind. As was proved when just a couple of days after we finished the big prune, a severe wind-storm (blowing over trucks and campervans) hit the country. Luckily not as bad here, but we were still very relieved that none of the trees were blown over. One of the manzanillos right on the top of the hill was particularly prone to being blown over in the slightest wind, and even this one is now standing tall - manning up to whatever comes it's way. Some pics from the process:

A manzanillo before it was pruned.

This tree was bought as a manzanillo, but I have a sneaky
suspicion it might be a different variety. Leccino maybe?

A trail of clippings scattered behind us on the hillside.

Our guinea fowl - Milly, Molly and May - loving the new seasons growth on the branches
that's just been cut off.

A pendolino tree before and after it was pruned. I'd estimate we removed at least half of each tree.