To take care of, maintain and make profitable the olive grove

f there is one thing on which all olive growers agree, it is that the olive harvest must be carried out at the right time, always thinking of obtaining the greatest quantity of extra virgin olive oil and that it should be of the best quality. In this sense, before starting the harvesting operations, it is advisable to carry out preliminary inspections of the state of the fruit in the olive grove, including occasionally relevant analyses of samples, in order to be able to choose the most suitable moment for the harvest.  It should be noted, however, that if we want to produce quality extra virgin olive oils, the fruit must be harvested early, even before the olive is fully ripe. It is quite common to think that the best time of harvest for quality is when the olive is in the veraison phase, i.e. when it starts to change colour from green to purple.  If, for any reason, you wish to carry out a prior analysis on a fruit sample in an appropriate laboratory before veraison, and taking into account the historical series of the estate in terms of yields. Only in this way can a decision be made. On the other hand, we must not forget that the extraction of extra virgin olive oil is more difficult if the olive is not very ripe. Ripe olives tend to produce poorer quality olive oils. In all cases, once the fruit has been harvested, it must be ground before 24 hours and especially during early harvesting due to problems caused by atrophy and fermentation.

Delaying collection has advantages and disadvantages. As far as the advantages are concerned, it is obvious that the delay always means less effort and lower harvesting costs as it reduces the fruit retention power of the tree, thus increasing the daily yields of the harvesters. The fat yield is also somewhat higher due to the evaporation of vegetation water in the fruit but not due to the increase in the absolute amount of extra virgin olive oil contained in it.  As a counterweight to these advantages is the decrease in quality, basically due to the fact that delays mean longer oxidations and consequent losses in the health and organoleptic properties of extra virgin olive oils.  The frosts deteriorate the olive oils giving them characteristic flavours, and the rains that prevent the harvest and prolong the operations seriously affect the quality of the olive oil.  The loss of quality can be brutal if the olive falls to the ground because then the phenomena of deterioration by contact of the ground and the excessive humidity increase drastically the alteration of the fruit.

It is not an accessory to say that quality extra virgin olive oils enjoy the highest reputation and prestige in the world, and that it is only the producers themselves who are capable of maintaining this category, making their products known directly, disseminating their traceability and directly approaching the consumer. The farmer must demand the valuation of his quality extra virgin olive oils and be wary of foreign agents who manipulate and commercialize them, who, without having that quality, sell them for his own profit at the expense of general ignorance.  In short, the farmer must not forget that quality means price and profitability of his company. And that quantity is not a good friend of quality.

Modernly the collection is done by gangs.  The team is the natural unit of teamwork.  Ideally it should be made up of 7 people. Two pairs, each made up of a hand shaker and a hand vibrator. Another third for placing and dragging the bales and bundles, as well as collecting them in piles.  Finally, a team leader, a person who directs and loads the harvested olives, supervises the harvesting and helps out when the situation requires it.

Beating, which consists of beating the tree so that the fruit falls into the bundle that lies under the tree, punishes the tree by inevitably destroying branches, leaves and fruit, and causes significant damage. The worst ones are the ones that affect the buds from which the fruit of the following year is to be born, so this system, today, is one of the main causes of the so-called “vecería”, which consists of giving crops one year on and one year off.

Variations should be expert, specialized and careful people to minimize damage.  A good rocker must be a strong and resistant person and must strike from the side, not from the front, which requires adequate and constant training.  The damage caused is greater if the power of retention of the fruit by the tree is high, because in this case it is necessary to hit the branches with more force.  Beating is not a comfortable job.

Stick blows are also a cause of wounds, tears and swelling of the branches, which cause frequent bacterial infections in the trees and their transmission from one to the other through the sticks.  Beating is an efficient spreader of certain diseases such as the fungus “Verticilium Daliae”.

Often with this system, with the jolts from the blows, are the fruits thrown away from the tree preventing the collection of many of them.  The greater the harvest, the greater the beating of the tree, which deepens the evil of the “vecería”.

We must be careful not to mistreat the trees, avoid unnecessary leaf fall, damage to the branches and protection of the fruit. The qualification of a crew is obvious from the outset, with no more than a glance at how the team is run and the good management of the team leader. The crew leader is the most important piece in the collection.

The contracting of piece-rate collection is always a sensitive issue and is often very damaging if it involves greedy people who abuse the tree in order to make a profit at all costs. Bad sharecroppers also tend to favour this destruction in the same way.

These powerful “trunk vibrating” arms initially appeared to be a major breakthrough in harvesting, but they present serious new problems in compacting the soil they tread on and in very dry conditions destroying the plant’s root system.   They also do not prevent the beating because of the need to hurry and not leave olives in the trees. The spectacle is grotesque, sometimes a trunk vibrator and behind it 4 or 5, usually non-specialized, swingers, rushing, beating and destroying the plant.  These vibrators must have adequate protection systems to prevent damage to the tree trunks.

A good procedure is milking, only used to harvest table olives. It is the best of all systems but is expensive, a decisive factor in the harvesting of olives, and is therefore not used for oil olives.  The good treatment given to the trees always results in an increase in production.

The’flying’ olive gives better oil quality than the ground sweep and more when the latter has fallen down due to ripening and has been under the tree for a long time.  The pathogenic germs in the soil act inclemently to increase the acidity of the oils, favouring the hydrolysis process.

The most useful and effective vibrators are the hand vibrators that shake the branches and are used by a single operator and supported by a vibrator to hurry up and not leave fruit on the tree. Soil compaction does not occur with these devices. However, the operator who uses them must always be careful to choose suitable grip points that produce effective vibrations without damaging the branch.

The recent electric comb shaker proves to be the most appropriate tool to replace the stick in the olive harvest. Among the advantages of this tool are its low weight, no noise or environmental pollution, drastically reducing the operator’s physical effort and avoiding the mistreatment of the plant. Today we can think without fear of making a mistake, and in view of the evidence, that with this innovative tool we have definitely said goodbye to beating with sticks.

With the electric comb shaker, another advantage is evident, and no less important, since it does not harm the olive tree, the problem of when to start harvesting is only limited by the amount of oil that can be contained in the olive, that is to say, by its laboratory yield and not by the retention of the fruit on the tree, since the damage it can do is minimal, even in the worst circumstances of harvesting. Profitability is similar to traditional beating.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *