Learning to care for an olive grove, organically

This morning marks the transition of the garden to an almost proper farm. There is a barnyard or stable smell about — a clean pure scent, not unpleasant, but quite distinct — from a ton of well-composted chicken manure delivered yesterday and heaped around the trunks of the olives and other fruit trees. It’s not as whiffy as the chicken pellets that I used to sprinkle about in my Leamington Spa garden though. It’s a rich dark brown-black, like crumbs from the very best chocolate cake – and within it are the minute shell-like hulls of grain that had sopped up the fresh manure. I’d been assured by the gentle young man who supplies it, aptly named Angel, that it had been aged for a year. (Fresh manure spread on plants and roots will burn them.) The manure comes from granjas in Alcoi, and it took Angel just over an hour to reach us. (If you live closer than me, he charges only 70 Euros per truckload. He charged me 90.) Angel’s product must be impressively good, since the gardeners from Barx who’d been cleaning up and spreading the manure about asked for his business card.

Speaking of the gardeners from Barx, led by Emilio, I am not all that certain that he knows about olive trees or other plants for that matter. He was referred by our house agent, but as she doesn’t need a gardener, she could not vouch for his knowledge of gardening, but she said he does all the gardens in the foreign enclave of La Drova. I questioned the wisdom of pruning the trees at the height of summer –- I saw several months ago that they were being pruned in late winter in Pla de Corrals. The trees that came with the cottage don’t seem to be doing all that well, and thus the composted chicken manure, which I read are deemed the best for olives. A few trees actually have fruit developing. But Emilio insisted that the olives needed pruning to let the sunlight into the middle of the trees and to encourage them to grow horizontally rather than vertically. I gave in, rather reluctantly, as I also know that for better fruiting, sunlight must reach the centre of the trees. But when I saw the results, my heart sank and I am feeling slightly down this morning. (Click on the photos to see the whole picture.)

I am hoping that the olive’s essentially resilient nature will pull these trees through, and with the much-needed nutrients from the manure and consistent watering (we will be installing drip irrigation), they may survive such drastic treatment. And I just hope, earnestly hope, that Emilio knew what he was doing.

As far as removing the thatch from the Washingtonia palm –- that I could not fault. It was Emilio’s assistant who did a wonderful job. Now its glowing orange trunk has been revealed; it will turn brown with exposure, but for now the colour is lovely. And as well the mountainscape behind can be better appreciated. (I do feel this palm looks somewhat incongruous among the olives, but lots of gardens here, including the Villalonga paseo, have them.)  And the ivy that had been strangling the pine trees have all been thoroughly cleared from their trunks. A huge skip ended up brimful of olive prunings and cleared ivy and prickly sarsaparilla vines (Smilax species). The woodshed has also benefitted –- replenished with the sweet smell of freshly-cut olive and pine logs. There was no more room in the skip, so the remaining vegetation has all been left in a corner of the back garden for composting.

Cleaned up palm tree g_4171

Once the sun had gone down, M and I watered the olives and other trees thoroughly. The piled-up manure will also have to be spread out to reach under any existing leaf canopies. That’s for this afternoon’s task. Fingers crossed, this olive grove will have a good flush of growth with this dose of nutritious manure and ample watering. And I definitely need to learn to properly care for an olive grove, using organic principles. It’s going to be a steep learning curve for sure. And what’s more, I shall have to find a knowledgeable, organic olive farmer — one whose own flourishing grove will be his best recommendation — to show me the ropes.



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