Click here to read the February 2017 Newsletter, with news of my adventures in and out of the grove…
I started writing this a while ago, but then got sidetracked and never quite got around to getting it posted. But it was a fun weekend, although a bit hectic, and I wanted to share some of the things I’d got up to! I felt as if I hadn’t achieved much that weekend, but looking back, I’d got through quite a lot!
Pruning has been continuing, but it’s felt like slow progress at times. The area of the grove I’m working on has some of the bigger trees, with quite complex branch structures. I’m trying to simplify the main branches to 3 or 4 coming off the trunk at just over a metre height, but it’s difficult to do this without removing too much of the canopy. Added to this, it sometimes feels as if the trees aren’t happy about what I’m up to, and are fighting back. The leaves are just the right size and shape to poke me in the eyes, ears, and nose! The branches I want to prune are often just slightly too high, so I’m stretching up on my toes to try and reach. While still being VERY careful not to get my fingers anywhere near the powered secateurs!
When I cut one successfully, it seems that the branches try to hit me on the head on the way down. Pointy end first… I feel as if I’m under attack! And then I look around, and it feels as if the grove goes on forever! But I am almost done. Out of our 1000 or so trees, there are only about 125 left to go. And then it’ll be pretty much time to start again! I think it’s going to be like the Sydney harbour bridge…
When I’ve been getting overwhelmed by the pruning it’s hard to know whether to just keep going, or take a break! But I’ve been doing a few other things in between. I’m still experimenting with the olive leaf tea, and I have a couple of new batches to taste and compare with the original. One is dried at a lower temperature for longer, and another two have been steamed before drying, which halts the oxidation process. These different methods slightly alter the concentration of various compounds, and therefore alter the taste. The colour of the tea is also altered, as you can see from the photos (although I ran out of white mugs, so it’s a little hard to see).
Also on the development board are olive oil granola bars. I’m in the amazing position of being able to get tons of fantastic local ingredients, so local rolled oats (rolled at Callington Mill, a Georgian windmill in Oatlands), local honey, local walnuts, butter, and olive oil. I’m looking for local dried fruit to add to the mix too. These bars vanish as fast as I bake them – I had been worried that if I was baking several times a week that I’d struggle to find homes for all the goodies, but this hasn’t been the case so far!
And in between all this, I managed to fit in an evening visit to Whisky Live in Hobart, and a lunchtime trip to my friends at Wobbly Boot Vineyard for their quarterly fundraiser!
Whisky Live was an amazing event. It felt quite pricy when I bought the ticket at $99, but with well over 100 whiskies to taste from global distilleries, and a pretty constant flow of food and nibbles, it was worth every cent! I went through the event booklet afterwards, and although I felt I’d tasted most of what was there, it seems I managed less than 30. There were spittoons, but really, I wasn’t going to use them! I’m proud to say though that I ended the night vertical! There were about 30 stands, some for just one distillery, and others representing several. Some had just one or two to taste, and a few had more than five! The atmosphere was really relaxed and friendly, and although the event was busy, there was little time spend waiting for a drink! One of my more competitive companions was keen to make sure he tasted EVERYTHING on offer, but I can’t vouch for his state of health the next day! My overall favourite was probably the Sullivans Cove Double Cask, which seemed to me to be a very easy drinking tipple…
Anyway, after this, Sunday got off to a bit of a slow start! We had bacon and eggs cooked on the BBQ, with the compulsory Aussie side of avocado (I’m trying to identify a suitable avocado growing zone on the farm!) After breakfast I headed out to do some pruning, before setting off to Wobbly Boot. I hadn’t been sure what to expect, as I hadn’t been able to make their previous Anzac Day event, but as I approached, idly wondering what they’d do about parking, it became apparent that this was a well-organised operation! A fluorescent jacket-wearing gentleman greeted my car on approach to take the $10pp entry fee (incl delicious homemade soup and bread), and direct me to parking. Cars were parked on the side of the road, with 4WDs at the edge of the paddock. There’s been a huge amount of rain in Tas, after months of drought conditions, and there were concerns that cars would get bogged in the muddy ground. I parked the Hilux, and got Blizzard out. I’d left Gunner at home because he’s much too excitable around other dogs! And there were LOTS!
The fundraising was in aid of Small Paws Animal Rescue, and the event has a tagline of “Wine and Woofs”. Wobbly Boot has a very proactive “dogs welcome” attitude, and have even got two secure dog areas, one for big dogs, and one for small. They are in an amazing setting, fairly high up in the Coal River Valley, and it was fabulous to see so many dogs and their humans having fun together there. I love the Wobbly Boot Pinot Noir, but after such a whisky-laden night I stuck to the soft drinks!
Blizzard had a ball (she’s been to Wobbly Boot before, to help with the pruning!) and loved having a good sniff around. Lots of people had brought picnics and BBQs as it was BYO food, with Wobbly Boot wine, and a selection of Tassie beers available to buy. So plenty of good smells and new friends!
I’d arranged to meet Desma from ourstoryhouse ceramics at Wobbly Boot, as I’m on a mission at the moment to find some locally made ceramic tea strainers! They have a beautiful range of cups (amongst other things), and they’ve kindly said they’ll look into some strainer designs for me! I’m very excited, as I love beautiful, handmade items like these. I really feel that they add to the whole experience and ceremony of drinking tea and coffee with friends. By a happy coincidence, it turned out that they had recently adopted a dog from Small Paws, so it seemed very fitting that we could meet at a fundraiser for them!
After that it was back to the ranch for the final pruning session of the weekend, and I managed to finish the row I was working on before the sun went down! FFx
I’d had an idea for a blog post for this week, but then I was outside pruning, and decided I’d try filming a short video on my iPhone to show you instead! The weather was beautiful today, chilly at only 4degC, but after yesterday where we had storms and snow, it was a great improvement. I didn’t think to take my safety glasses off (these olive trees can be vicious!) so sorry about the glare from them! Hope you enjoy this 🙂 FFx
Well they’re borrowed sheep actually, but very exciting nonetheless! And they’ve inspired me to return to this blog, from which I’ve been absent for a while.
I have to admit that over the last few months I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed by what we’ve taken on. We’re still very glad we have, and we love our farm and olive grove, but we haven’t been able to devote as much time, energy, or money to it as we’d hoped.
We didn’t harvest in the end this June. There wasn’t a lot of fruit on the trees and I think there were multiple factors behind that. I was kind of upset that we didn’t get to go through the whole harvest – press – bottle cycle again, because we learnt so much last year, but I think it was a blessing in disguise really. We’d put a couple of weeks aside as we did last year, and ended up using the time to prune instead of pick. That means we’ve now got about three quarters of the grove pruned!! (Only 250 trees to go…) The pruned areas look so much lighter and brighter, which will hopefully give the trees a chance to fight off the scale and sooty mould that we’ve got in some of the more sheltered parts of the grove.
But the grass and weeds along the irrigation lines were still rather out of control. We mow the rows using our tractor and slasher, but that leaves the irrigation lines to get really overgrown. I don’t mind them looking messy, but the tall grass gets in the way when we’re pruning and harvesting.
The standard practice in most agricultural industries including olives, is to use glyphosate as a weed-killer. I’m not necessarily planning to go for a certified organic approach, but I’d prefer to minimise chemicals if possible. Anyway, I’d become resigned to the fact that we were going to have to spray, largely because we’re about to start a fertiliser and soil conditioning programme (of biological soil conditioners, chicken manure, and seaweed). While this will make our trees happy, it’ll also encourage the grass to grow. Even more! Something Had To Be Done… I started trying to find someone to help with spraying, but was having trouble because many of the trees were too overgrown for a spray to get to the ground!
And then the farmer I’d gone to for advice offered us a flock of sheep! He was able to put up a temporary fence to separate the grove from the adjacent barley crop, and we’ve got about 100 ewes and lambs in there, happily munching away. It’s a win-win. The sheep are not only eating the grass, but also the suckers, and the leaves from the low hanging branches. We reckon it’ll take another week or so before they’re done. It should make pruning the rest of the grove much easier, and we can get going with the fertiliser too.
I’ll try not to leave such a long gap til the next post! See you soon 🙂 FFx
While we were pruning a few months ago I couldn’t help but start to wonder about what I might be able to make with some of the offcuts.
Chipping them for mulch is useful, but I thought that perhaps I could make some decorative things with them. So there have been bundles of sticks of various sizes lurking around the place. (Husband: ” Are you ever going to do anything with these?”)
It might take someone with more developed woodworking skills than me to manufacture some of the items I’ve got in mind, but I managed to tie some together with some twine to make….. a rustic wood trivet! The design would benefit from a little development, but it’s functional, and I’m really quite pleased with it. In all its simplicity! FFx
Generally I think it’s brilliant that olive trees are so tough. Although we tend to think of them nestled amongst sunny, rolling hills, they are not a delicate plant, and many varieties can tolerate short periods with sub-zero temperatures. Parts of Spain have had some snow this week, and this grower posted some beautiful photos on twitter (included here with permission from Steve Race @CampdEstrelles).
It’s just as well the trees are so robust, as I am still very much a novice in the pruning arena. I’ve been pruning away, trying to open up the canopies to the light, but not entirely sure if I’m taking too much… or too little. Lots of growers have told me that olive trees are difficult to kill, so I’m hoping that the worst that’ll happen if I’m over enthusiastic is that I may put them back a year or two in terms of olive oil production. The trees I pruned in October are still alive, and have new growth, which seems a good sign!
One of the reasons that olive trees are such good survivors is because of their propensity to put out lots of suckers at the base. In olive groves that have experienced a year with prolonged low temperatures, killing the main trunks, often lots of suckers emerge from the bases in the spring. These can be thinned out over subsequent years, eventually leaving perhaps three new trunks.
So, as I mentioned in my previous post, I feel as if I’m pruning away at the top, and the trees are responding to this grave injury by sprouting away at the bottom. This is the bad bit about their robustness! I don’t want the growth there. I want the energy, water, and nutrients to go into the canopy, to making leaves and fruit up top! So I have to go round again to get the suckers off. You can cut them off, but then you might get another ten suckers sprouting from that site. The preferred method for many is to kick them off with a boot! Sounds simple? I’ve found there’s actually quite a knack to it! I still need to practice, or maybe I need tougher boots. The suckers should be neither too young and bendy, nor too old and woody. Anyway, there’s no shortage of trees to practice on… There is a neat little gadget, kind of like multiple mini-nunchucks, which attaches to a battery pack and whizzes round, apparently whipping the suckers off – pretty cool. Some groves use sheep to nibble the suckers away, in addition to low hanging branches. I’d absolutely love to have sheep here, but it’s not practical at the moment. Anyway, going round the grove kicking suckers off trees is a good way of working off any frustrations! FFx
Happy New Year Everyone! I hope the start of 2015 finds you all well and looking forward to this year.
I decided to take a bit of a break from computers over the last few weeks, hence the lack of activity on here. I even managed to cut down my twitter / facebook time a little bit too! But now it’s time to get back into it, and I’m starting to think about my aims for our olive grove and this blog over the next 12 months.
We managed to do some more pruning over the festive period, and we’ve now completed a quarter of the grove – hooray! – although suckers are growing out from the base of some trees faster than we can cut them off – boo! I’m pretty pleased with our progress though, as in the longer term we’ll probably be aiming to prune each tree every two or three years. I love being out in the grove, and getting glimpses of the distant parts of the valley as I move between the rows.
Glimpses of wildlife thrill me too, everything from tiny bugs, to hares, and kites souring in the sky hunting for prey. I need to toughen up though in my progress to becoming a farmer. I was delighted, as I pruned, to discover a perfect little bird nest in one of our trees. Obviously feeling the need to record everything on camera meant tools down and phone out. I was snapping away, trying to get a shot where you could actually see a nest amidst the branches, when standing on tiptoe I realised that the nest looked full. I paused and leant in, and saw a tiny blinking eye and an open beak just above the threshold. Instantly I felt terrible. I’d already pruned away much of the top and central part of the tree canopy, leaving the nest and its miniature occupants much more exposed. I stepped away and arranged the prunings around the tree, so we’d know which one it was, then left the area. That day was really hot, and then windy, with rain following (typical Tasmanian weather!) I fretted about these little birds (variety unknown – my birding skills need some work…) until two days later when we were brave enough to approach, and little heads popped up when we walked past. The parents haven’t been spotted, but they must be taking care of their babies. We’re keeping our fingers crossed for them.
So my instinct at the moment is to welcome all life to our grove, but there are instances when entire olive crops have been wiped out by birds. Green-fingered friends told tales of woe over Christmas, with pesky possums and wayward wallabies pinching their fruit and veg, and even knocking over young fruit trees. And my Grandpa had a long running battle with rabbits and badgers invading his veggie patch. I guess time will tell to what extent we can coexist peacefully, but I’m thinking more now about how to protect the area we plan to have as our vegetable garden! FFx
We’ve made a start on pruning our olive trees for the first time. 150 down, 850 to go… Two and a half days pruning, followed by two days with a chipping machine! I ache all over… I did about 50 million squats picking up the branches to put in the chipper. The weather had been kind, but at the moment it’s windy and raining, so my plan to take soil samples is postponed. The weather changes very quickly here though, so I’m hoping in an hour it will be sunny and calm!! FFx