The growing season : What happens in the grove?
Managing your olive grove is a personal matter – we have seen examples of many different methods and varying levels of dedication. What it comes down to for us is attention to detail – those that make the very best extra virgin olive oil tend to be the same people who put the most effort in to caring for their olive trees. As such, described below is our ‘model’ growing season and that employed by each producer we work with.
In order to initiate flowers and fruit, olive trees need a 2 month period of cold weather (below 10°C), prolonged cold below 7.5°C can inhibit fruit production, so this is why Mediterranean climates work best. Following the cold spell, typically the tree is pruned (tends to be February in Italy) – it is time consuming and can therefore be costly but it’s an essential part of keeping the tree productive and healthy. Over pruning does however prevent fruiting.
Growing more than one cultivar encourages cross-pollination and usually improves the yield but olives are self-fertile so it’s not essential. During the spring the trees need rain to aid fruit production. Fruit is produced at the tip of the previous year’s growth so you are always thinking a year ahead when it comes to pruning. There is most risk of disease during damp weather so diligent checking for pests and disease is imperative.
During the summer crop thinning is often required to ensure the fruit ripens evenly and doesn’t drop prematurely. The best farmers keep a constant eye on their trees over the summer to ensure they are healthy and not in need of anything.
Harvest begins at the beginning of Autumn when the olives are still green. Typically this is in the first half of October in Italy depending on the cultivar. As with all fruit, the second it is off the tree it begins to decline in quality, so it’s a race to get the fruit to the frantoio to preserve all of its greatest qualities. Frantoio Viola for example guarantees a maximum of 4 hours from tree to frantoio – this is an outstanding achievement and I’m sure is unsurpassed in the world of Extra Virgin Olive Oil.