Farm Focus - Watching the Olives

I often say, farming is all about observing. Not just farming,but growing any type of plant, requires paying attention to how plants respond to our care and their environment. When people say, - "I just don't have a green thumb", I call total bologna! You can grow food, if you have good soil, water, and the power of observation. How does my plant respond to hot days, more water, certain pruning cuts? We can learn so much by watching a plant's natural response. Farmer Al is always observing every little detail of growth on the farm. In the Spring he is counting how many flowers per tree have been pollinated, he's monitoring the weed growth as a sign of soil health, he's watching how the leaves curl on extra hot days, and how an application of compost changes how the branches sprout new leaves. Al leaves nothing up to assumption, after 40 years of growing, it would be easy to start assuming that things will progress as they have before. But Al is always checking, with touch, taste and appearance; is the fruit ripe, or does it need just a few more days on the tree to reach perfection?

As we are entering olive harvest season, observation of the olive ripeness is on high alert. Everyday, Farmer Al is monitoring the appearance of the olives. As many of you know, our olive trees consist of four different varieties- Pendolino, Frantoio, Leccino and Moraiolo. They are planted at a specific ratio, to match a recipe crafted by Tuscan olive farmers over centuries. The ripeness of just the Frantoio olives, dictates when to harvest everything. When the Frantoio olives are exactly half black, and half green, the farmer knows it is time to harvest all four varieties. When the Frantoio olives are half-half, the Pendalinos are completely black, while most of the Leccinos are all still green. As they are harvested and pressed together, the mixture of very ripe black olives, mixed with the sharpness of the unripe green olives, gives the olive a very complex buttery and spicy flavor. In Spain, they believe you should only make oil from olives that are completely ripe, and in turn, Spanish olive oil is very smooth and subtle. In Tuscany on the other hand, they love strong oil, tangy from the green olives mixed in. Farmer Al has followed this tradition, and the only way to create the ideal balance is to monitor the olives closely. The harvest date of each block of olives changes each year, depending on so many different factors, from the summer's warmth to tree health. The only assurance comes from the appearance of those indicator Frantoio olives, so needless to say, Farmer Al is paying attention!