We did it! Our very first olive harvest! And we’ve got some of the tastiest organic, cold pressed olive oil I’ve ever tasted!!!!!
The process is pretty rewarding! A long week of hard graft, hand picking olives from our trees and at the end of it all, watching our own olives be weighed, cleaned, pressed and then bottling it ourselves is pretty special!
The olive harvest around these parts can be heard and smelt. The sounds of trees being beaten with sticks, pruned by chainsaws and braying donkeys moaning under the weight of olive sacks. The smell of burning olive prunings can become quite overpowering. The whole landscape is shrouded in cloudy smoke every morning while farmers burn their garden waste. The fresh olive leaves and the freshly cut olive wood has a lovely smell and the whole thing could be described with some heady romanticism. But it really is hard work!
There’s a sort of calm before the storm feeling. The olives are ready but ideally, you don’t pick your olives until five days before the milling. And until you have your appointment at the mill, there’s not much you can do apart from clear the land under the trees and cut out any new growth from their bases. Then you get your appointment and its all hands on deck, non stop olive picking until you’re done….or you run out of time!
In our case it was two pairs of hands on deck with an extra day of help from our lovely friend. Our technique developed over the week and by the end we had a good rhythm going, but initially it was pretty tough! We started with the tallest, oldest tree in the the most awkward place. It also hadn’t been pruned in about 20 years, so two days after we started the tree, we decided to move on. There are still a shed load of olives on that tree but the tree definitely beat us!
Laying out the nets properly is key! If you don’t have the nets flat and semi taut then your olives will roll everywhere, and its a waste of time…..or very time consuming trying to pick individual olives from the ground!
Once the nets are set you whack the trees with a stick, hard! Its pretty brutal but we’ve been reassured that olives are pretty tough and can cope with being bashed about a bit! Or you prune higher branches and then comb the olives out from the floor!
Our big old tree that we spent days on got the pruning treatment! Its was a long slow process that we got pretty fed up with! There were old dead branches preventing us from giving the tree a good ol’ whack and they also stopped us gaining access to prune! After the ordeal of pruning and then combing, you need to clean the olives of leaves and sticks as best you can! Our neighbours were harvesting their olives at the same time and would come and watch us doing it wrong and laugh at us for a while before finally he took pitty on us and lent us his olive cleaning machine. Wow, what a revelation. Its a pretty simple device but oh my does it speed things up! We were away! We had a system! Lay the nets, whack the tree, prune the tree, comb the tree, gather the olives, clean the olives, bag the olives and…..repeat! This sounds pretty tedious, but we really enjoyed our week in the garden. Yes, maybe we enjoyed ourselves so much because it was our first year harvesting, but it really was lovely! We got to spend days in the garden in glorious winter sunshine. We chatted with our neighbours and each other and really revelled in the process.
Once all the olives were collected, we lumped them all to the mill where we then unloaded them into the giant jaws of the olive mill! We then got to enjoy watching the process of our beautiful organic olives being turned into glorious olive oil!
After a full day at the mill (with a sneaky tostada from the local venta to fill our bellies while we waited) we finally had litres and litres of the most beautiful olive oil! We feel completely shattered but so so lucky and grateful that we are able to produce such a luxury product from our garden in the Alpujarras!