Monday, March 23, 2015

We have moved ...

Aokautere Olives has finally settled on the name, Cloudy Corner, and also moved to a new platform. Please visit us over there. Would love to hear your comments and feedback.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Operation rabbit recovery

Last year around this time, rabbits wreaked havoc in the grove nibbling on the bark of the little trees. Some of them were nearly ring-barked, to the extent that what was left of the trunk/bark wasn't enough for the trees to recover from the damage.

Apparently this is somewhat of a spring problem. The bark on the trunks turn sweet in springtime, making it a lovely snack for animals. This probably also explains why the possums are chewing the bark off our apple trees! Amongst others. So, if you've got sheep grazing your grove, now would be the time to move them out. They too love the sweet bark and will nibble on your trees this time of year.

The little trees that were nibbled last year, made new growth lower down the trunk. In most cases this new growth were much more vigorous than the original tree. So, maxing out my own nerves, I decided to chop off the damaged trees to let the new growth become a new trees. Phew. That was one of my bolder moves in the grove.

Downsizing our damaged trees in the hope of having more productive ones in a few years.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The first cut

After agonising over it for months, Gerry and I eventually took the plunge and pruned the little buggers. When I say agonising, I mean procrastinating - because that's what we do. Two people who battle to choose between a Monteiths Pacific Pale Ale and a Mike's Premium Organic Double India Pale Ale, are an unlikely pair to just get on with stuff without serious negotiation, a couple of glasses to discuss the situation and a sleep-over-it once more.

In our defence, the trouble was (at least in my head) that the manzanillos grew long and spindly upright branches with no obvious way of pruning them into a wine-glass shape. "Opening up" the trees would mean cutting off just about everything. For weeks, I would wander around the grove trying to figure out how the trees should be pruned. I even briefly considered hosting a pruning event through ONZ at our place, whereby an expert could demonstrate on a couple of trees how to prune the babies, after which we could apply the learning on the rest. But I fear we might just be held up as an example of "how NOT to" do all things olive related, so gave up on that idea.

After noticing that some of the trees seem to start flowering, we realized we just have to get on with it. So on a sunny day, out came the very basic (read cheap) pruners and secateurs as we made our way to the bottom of the manzanillo block. Gerry and I would negotiate every single tree before hesitantly making any cuts, constantly thinking about the consequences of doing the wrong thing. Sometime he would be brave and suggest big cuts and other times I would be the one to take down two-thirds of a tree. Every now and again, one or both of us would get cold feet, and would end up leaving branches that should probably have come off. There's always next year, we would argue.

And so over the course of about two weeks, we managed to prune all the trees in-between other work commitments, and weather permitting. It still amazes me how long each little task takes. The trees are still so small, it's hard to imagine how long it will take to prune 300 big olive trees! Let alone thousands, as is the case with commercial growers.

If I have to say so myself, I'm rather pleased with the end-result. Some of the little trees looks very smart! Already in shape, much less top-heavy (lolly-pop like) and much more "aerodynamic" in the wind. As was proved when just a couple of days after we finished the big prune, a severe wind-storm (blowing over trucks and campervans) hit the country. Luckily not as bad here, but we were still very relieved that none of the trees were blown over. One of the manzanillos right on the top of the hill was particularly prone to being blown over in the slightest wind, and even this one is now standing tall - manning up to whatever comes it's way. Some pics from the process:

A manzanillo before it was pruned.

This tree was bought as a manzanillo, but I have a sneaky
suspicion it might be a different variety. Leccino maybe?

A trail of clippings scattered behind us on the hillside.

Our guinea fowl - Milly, Molly and May - loving the new seasons growth on the branches
that's just been cut off.

A pendolino tree before and after it was pruned. I'd estimate we removed at least half of each tree.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Harvest or no Harvest - 21 June 2013

It has been a while since my last blog entry and I thought the shortest day of the year, with less daylight and on top of that a dark cloudy cold day forcing one to spend the day indoors, might be good to do something about the lack in documenting the progress in the grove.

Look how tall the trees have grown in one season.

One of the driest summers in many years hit the country and it was hard to believe that the grass between the trees were actually turning brown. For nearly two months there were no grass to cut and while this was a lucky break from lugging the weed-eater around the hill, the result was that by March the grove looked very sad. We don't irrigate and I was worried that the trees might die, but luckily olives are tough as nails. And on the bright side of clay soil, it also retains water better. 

At long last the rains came in April and we have since had lots and lots of rain. The last 30 days alone saw some 61mm and it is still bucketing down. During this period the olives grew like crazy with the sudden increase in water supply coupled with still warmish weather through April and May. Some trees were absolutely laden with olives, that were growing quite nicely. The oldest original trees' branches were almost hanging on the ground with the weight of the fruit. I was happily wandering amongst the trees, admiring the fruit and the amount of growth on the trees without giving any thought to taking some photos as evidence of what was going on.

Apart from problems with "wet feet" in the New Zealand clay soil, another challenge when farming olives (and fruit trees in general), is birds. And while we have such an abundance of beautiful birds, with Tui singing in our flaxes and indigenous bush, a Ruru in the pine trees in front of our house that we sometimes still hear while lying in bed, fantails that follows me all around the grove, starlings, pheasants, our own guinea fowl and black birds en masse, they are a pest to olive growers all over. David has warned me that birds are great thieves; they can literally sweep your harvest overnight, and what do you know. His words were almost still hanging when next all I saw was heaps of leaves on the ground and not a single olive in sight. Not only did they take every last olive, but they also ransacked the trees. 

With no harvest then this year, we have to start thinking about our biggest challenge in the future once we actually do have mature productive trees. What to do about the birds. For now the loss is probably only five or so kilograms, which might seem like nothing, but it was to be our second harvest. And we have nothing to show for it. 

Wondering about where and how to prune the Manzanillos.

Under normal circumstances this would be the time of year to harvest. And with the golden oil trickling into aluminium containers ready to be bottled, the pruning needs to start in a couple of weeks. There's no time for hum-ing and ha-ing in the grove, as we've learned over the past couple of years. There's always something to be done: grass cutting, spraying, weeding, pruning, mulching and harvesting. Which brings me to my next question - what to do with the long slender upright branches of the Manzanillo trees that have grown tremendously the last season, drought not withstanding? Olive trees needs to be "opened up" to allow sunlight and wind to come in and the Manzanillo trees are such neat little trees with long branches all growing upright, that I have no idea how to prune them. How far should those slender branches be cut back, if at all? And which ones, or how many should be taken out altogether? These questions have been mulling in my head for some time now and I'm still nowhere closer to any answers.

Unfortunately I can't see us affording professional services any time soon, so between Google, some books, the help of other growers and trial and error, we will have to forge our way forward. I can only hope that I don't destroy the trees once I get myself to start shaping them into what they need to become when they are mature. Luckily there's still a couple of weeks to do some more research.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Flower Power!

It's that time of year again when your start counting your chooks before they hatch. Looking at all the thousands of little flower buds, one can't help but imagine a bumper crop. But as we know, only about 1 to 2% of all the flowers gets pollinated.  

Our two and three year old immature trees are probably not a good benchmark, but the flowers are very sporadic - especially on the Manzanillas. One out of every 10 trees have some flowers, while the single Koroneiki for instance is completely covered in flowers. Truth be told, if that hip-height tiny little tree ends up with fruit from only 1% of all the flowers, it will still look like a sad Goofy dragging its ears.

The mystery tree (the small one that was here when we arrived) was laden with flowers this year
after lots of its leaves blew off in spring. A fight for survival?

Beautiful little flowers just waiting to be pollinated.

Since I started this post about a month ago (the new veggie garden got in the way :)), tiny olives have started to form. And as expected, not nearly as many fruit as there were flowers. But that's okey. The trees are still babies and I don't expect anything at this stage. Besides, some terrible winds blew off many of the flowers as well as branches. I can only hope that the shelter belt will start doing it's thing in about 5 years or so.

That's the trouble when you start fresh with bare land. No quick fixes in terms of productive trees and shelter for small trees. Everything takes time, but I'm just very glad that trees seems to grow fairly fast in NZ! 

Small fruit developing. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Hare horror or is it rabbit ranting? - 21 August 2012

For the past two years, we've been spraying with fish emulsion (which is a known deterrent for rabbits), but with the rain, wind and other priorities like trying to earn our keep, we didn't get around to doing it for some time now. Big mistake. Yesterday Mr Rabbit decided this is nice dessert to finish off his copious amounts of other lovely takeouts (fortunately we covered the vege garden with bird netting, which seems to help thus far for birds and critters and the like) of which we don't have a shortage.

I took my usual stroll amongst the trees looking out for anything that looks out of the ordinary, and behold, there I saw the first tree that was nibbled quite badly. After the initial shock and horror, missing a heartbeat or two, my strides lengthened as I tried to quickly ascertain the damage as well as coming to terms with what has happened. I was gobsmacked. About 15% of the trees have been nibbled.

On my way back to share the news with Gerry, the only solution that I could think of was to quickly spray all the trees - rain and all - with the fishy stuff. And when checking today, I couldn't see any new damage, so hold thumbs. He will hopefully go find greener pastures elsewhere.

Otherwise the man will have to go a-hunting! ;-)

The culprit looking all nervous and deceivingly cute.


What can I say.

My poor babies.

Fortunately none of them were chowed right around. Holding thumbs for a speedy recovery.

Getting pickled - 26 June 2012

With our first harvest being very small and green, the only suitable pickling method was to use lye treatment. So off we went to Farmlands to buy sodium hydroxide (good old caustic soda for those who don't know). But beware - the caustic soda you buy in shops as a cleaner and to unblock drains, contains only a percentage sodium hydroxide. The rest is made up of other chemicals which might not be suitable for human consumption.

The gist of the lye-cured process is basically as follows: prepare the lye solution (2 ounces of lye to every gallon of cold water), cover olives with mixture, stir every 2 hours, test penetration occasionally by cutting an olive towards to pip - the lye will colour the flesh yellowish, leave in the lye for about 10-12 hours or until the process is complete and the flesh is evenly colored to the pip. For the next few days (from 3, but up to 8 days), wash the olives in fresh water, by replacing it twice daily until the soapy taste is no longer present. Prepare a brine (4 ounces of pickling salt to 1 gallon of water) to cover the olives with. Let them stand for 2 days. They are now ready to eat. Pour a tipple and taste you first homegrown, homemade olives!

Gerry sorting the olives between decent, half decent and non-usable. :-)

Five bottle of our own cured green olives. A mixture of Manzanillo, Ascolano, J5, Frantoio and SA Verdale.
I added pickled chillies to the one bottle to jazz them up a bit.

Apart from our own harvest, we were also very fortunate to get some olives from David to experiment with. We drove through to Kapiti late one morning, each with a bucket in hand, and started picking Leccino olives. They were fairly ripe already with some starting to become wrinkly. The weather turned a bit nasty and before too long, I was one giant goosebump, not having brought enough warm clothes with. We wrapped it up after a couple of hours (with me feeling slightly hypothermic) and left happily with two buckets, three-quarters full. Thanks David for your kind offer! We now have enough to experiment a wee bit with the different processes. We decided to try out three options: 1) water-cured, Kalamata-style, 2) brine-cured, Greek-style olives and 3) dry-salt cured olives.

Most of these are still in progress, so watch this space for updates.

Making a slit in the olives for the water-cured Kalamata-style method.