It’s a bad year for olives, so Gardener A tells us. There’s not enough to press for oil, unlike last year, so he’s leaving the scanty fruit from his grove for the birds. Two weeks ago, we managed to harvest half a basketful from one of our trees.
M has pickled them with lemons and garlic. First they had to undergo a week’s soaking in water, the water changed daily, until most of their bitterness had been leached out.
This morning we checked the other trees, and collected about 300 grams of ripe and half-ripe fruit. We’ve been told that our trees are Villalonga Manzanilla — a highly appreciated local variety. M will be pickling these as well.
As you know, most of my olive trees were badly hacked in early summer by the first gardener I’d hired. Mercifully, olive trees are quite resilient and although it has taken several months, one of the most terribly damaged ones, which had its branches totally sheared off, is now showing a few leaves. It will most likely take 3-4 years to recover all the leaf canopy that it had lost. Perhaps with steady watering with drip irrigation and well-composted manure (still trying to find a supplier for chicken), recovery might be more rapid. Fingers crossed.
On the surrounding farms, the soil in the orchards is being plowed. The freshly turned red earth does look nice, I must admit. Everything looks neat and tidy. One farm in particular has formed huge circles of finely raked soil surrounding the trunks. I am reluctant to follow suit, however, having read about the benefits of no-dig farming. Besides, plowing would damage the underground symbiotic links between soil microorganisms and tree roots, and also, would hinder the flowering of diverse bulbs whose leaves are now in the process of growth. I am curious to see what wild flowers autumn and winter will bring.
I have, however, been doing a bit of light raking of the dried stems of grasses and wild flowers mown down in midsummer and left in place to protect the surface of the soil from the worst of the summer heat. The coarser stems are going into the compost heap. I’ve noticed that the finer pieces have formed a mat of mulch over the soil, and I am leaving these to break down still further to enrich the soil with organic matter. A farm whose soil has been meticulously tidied up might attest to the good husbandry of its owners. I, on the other hand, prefer to have more biodiverse vegetation. I was thinking about this while raking this afternoon. One could become obsessively neat, leaving the soil practically devoid of fallen leaves or withered grass clippings — sterile, in other words. And sterile environments — I am not only speaking about farms — rarely encourage growth.
The garden which was all brown and sere over the summer has begun to green up after several episodes of rain. I shall have to spread some sort of mulch around the new plantings to suppress the weeds that will inevitably come up. I am considering a fairly thick layer of chopped up straw, mixed with the fallen pine leaves from our trees, worm compost, and aged manure on top to stop everything being blown away by autumn and winter winds. My soil is quite alkaline, with so many limestone outcroppings about, so any remaining acidity from the dried pine leaves should not pose too much of a problem pH-wise. The breakdown of quantities of leaf and straw mulch by microorganisms tends to deplete the soil of nitrogen, thus the worm compost and aged manure to ensure that the new plants don’t suffer setback from lack of it. An explanation of why this happens is here.
This is my first time to care for an olive grove (sadly neglected for years) and if you have experience with no-dig organic farming with olives or other fruit trees, I would appreciate hearing from you.