But for the chilly wind, today would be a perfect late winter/early spring day. (However, the prediction is for more wintry, possibly even snowy, days ahead.) On my favourite walk to the nearby olive grove, I came upon the first wild paperwhite narcissus (Narcissus papyraceus) in bloom.
This is just one of the many Spanish endemic species of narcissus. Apparently Spain is the center of biodiversity for narcissus. The paperwhite is noted for its fragrance, but I couldn’t get close enough to detect any. Next time I shall make sure to crouch down lower (though getting up once that far down may be a bit of a struggle).
Walking just a bit further, I came upon two almond trees with pink blossoms. No one seems to bother to pick their fruits, as there were plenty of almonds still hanging on the branches. I picked a few, and cracked one just now. Though the nut is small, it was sweet with a strong almond flavour.
Everywhere on the olive grove, the ground was strewn with black olives, mostly squashed underfoot. The wild boars may have been feasting on them — just imagine the flavour imparted by ripe olives to these scavenging boars’ flesh! They’ve been rooting all over the orchard as well for bulbs and wild fungi growing underground. Everywhere there were holes that could only have been made by boars desperate for food at this time of year.
The owner of this grove does not seem to care much about his or her olives. Sometime in mid-January, we saw someone spreading a collecting net under one tree. I asked if he was the owner. He wasn’t. The owner lives in Valencia, he said, and only remembered about the olives being ripe this week. The past year has been a very productive one for olives all over our region, and the harvest had begun early. Some people had begun harvesting in late October, but those further inland went on until the end of November. The olives that were still on the trees in January had shriveled up like prunes. In Greece apparently, there are those who prefer oil from very ripe, wizened olives. We’d been told by Gardener Alex, and also from our own reading we’ve learned, that olive oil tastes best when pressed from olives that are mature but still green, or just beginning to take on a purple cast. And so we harvested at that time, and still got 28% oil content, which is considered quite high for the variety of olive trees that we have (Villalonga Manzanilla). (It seems the riper and older the olive, the more oil it contains. But then we’re after quality, not quantity.)
To be sure, the cost of labour has gotten ridiculously high that it’s undoubtedly more cost-effective to buy oil than to pay a crew to gather olives by hand and haul them to be pressed and bottled. It makes this newbie farmer’s heart ache to see such waste though. It seems such a sacrilege to deliberately let nature’s bounty go unharvested, especially when she’s been exceedingly generous, as she has been this past year.
I see the same profligate neglect all over on our walks in the yards of those who only spend summers here. Apples, persimmons, lemons, grapes — all left untouched to blanket the ground beneath the tree. Why not place a sign saying — ‘Help yourself, Neighbour’? And it’s not just here either. There are orchards in nearby towns like Xeraco where oranges and other citrus, as well as persimmons, are left unpicked. I suspect leaving the fruit to rot like that encourages all sorts of pests and diseases to proliferate and infect the trees. Enough of my spring rant. I hope I prove to be a better steward of our own fruit trees.