How to Care for Olive Trees Through the Seasons
Olive Trees In Tuscany
Olive Tree Care Through The Seasons
This article explains what work is done through the year in the olive groves where I live in Tuscany, so that healthy trees are grown to produce good fruit (olives).
It explains the annual cycle of olive trees and what needs to be done for their care. It describes when in the year the local farmers need to:
- medicate against the pests that could harm them and what the the pests are called
- prune and shape the olive trees.
- nourish the ground around the trees and cut the grass.
- harvest the olives for pressing into olive oil (or for curing in jars).
The cycle of work that goes on in the groves is the same each year, naturally. The olive trees rest, they recharge, they produce flowers, then fruit. The farmers accompany their development and growth accordingly.
Here is a simple design to show what the olive tree cycle is - illustrating which months the farmers perform which tasks and how they take care of their olive trees.
Olive Trees Plant Cycle
When To Prune Olive Trees
From February, when the icy cold winds have stopped blowing and fear of frost is over, pruning begins in the groves and can go on until the first of May when the olive tree begins to flower. Winters can be quite harsh in Tuscany and I notice pruning doesn't really get under way until closer to March.
The farmers lean their ladders against the trees and with a handsaw remove the upward-going shoots on the inside of the branches (in all trees aged between 5 yrs - 2,000 years) from the base of the trunk all the way to the top branches. They want to bring as much air and the light into the tree as possible. This encourages a healthy production of olives and helps to remove the threat of fungus growing.
If a fungus (La Fumagine) has sickened branches, or if the cold winds have killed them, they chainsaw the branch off down at the joint.
Pruning Olive Trees
When to Fertilize Olive Tree Earth
Prepare the Earth
They turn the earth with a tractor-drawn piece of equipment called a Disc Plow, which cuts into the earth 21 centimeters deep, turning it over, getting rid of weeds. The nutrients in the soil are for the trees only.
All the stones are removed from the field, where new trees are going to be planted.
Plant New Olive Trees
The 2 year old trees will be planted one by one, by hand (and shovel) and will need to be watered for a month or two.
If there are water reserves in the vicinity, then irrigation systems are being set up these days, which lightly drip water into the ground around the olive tree, which in turn provides healthy trees and good large olives.
Fertilize the olive groves (just a little)
The farmers lightly fertilize the soil shortly after turning it with a compost containing nitrogen. Super-fertilization isn't for olive trees. Being semi-wild and not big-feeders they grow better in their terrain just the way it is. Over fertilizing would damage them.
Cutting The Grass
When To Cut The Grass
Cut the grass
The grass and weeds have grown tall in the groves by May and need to be cut so that the nutrients that were feeding them now feed the olive trees.
They trees are sprayed with a phosphoric spray, which efficiently kills the small moth called 'La Tignola' (Prays oleae), which can seriously damage the wood of the tree, the leaves and the flower.
Medicate the olives
In the morning and late in the afternoon, when it is less hot, in August, September and even October the olives on the trees are sprayed with a pesticide against a parasite called 'La Mosca' ('Dacus oleae'). This parasite seriously compromises the olive production. They will spray until they are sure it has gone.
When to Pick Olives
The Olive Harvest
The olives are harvested by everyone in the neighborhood. They throw their nets on the ground under the ripened olive trees, set their ladders against the tree and pick all day! Someone brings a truck, which they fill and fill again. The truck takes the olives to be pressed for olive oil, locally. It's a great time of pulling together, being one, enjoying the world we live in, the trees, the sky, the day, each other, our olives, our trees.
The weather is often sunny, though there's a morning nip in the air, the fore-warning of the end of the mild days. Aware they wont have time to make a meal at the end of the days picking, the women light a fire in the kitchen (with a log of 'green' olive wood) before leaving the house in the morning. At evening home-coming the charcoal will be hot enough to grill some freshly made sausages.
They'll have a glass of the year's new wine, which is ready on November 8th, each year.
Every year, it is the same.
"To everything there is a Season, and a time for every purpose under heaven" - Ecclesiastes 3:1
© 2012 Penelope Hart