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Oregon Olive Trees

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This "blog" was started more than 12 years ago; it is now time to modernize.  The sort of content that was published here will now be posted to the new Word Press blog at Oregon Olive Trees.  To get there, use the button above at top right labeled "Oregon Olive Trees"!



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Alas, we are sold out of table olives.  They were excellent, but they went fast!


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Sept 17, 2016: Communication is tough


One of the things I found fascinating about going back to university in the 1990's is that now-a-days virtually every class starts by defining a [new!] vocabulary.  Until you know the vocabulary, you can't even begin talking (or listening).  So, here goes for your college level reading material on the 2016 olive harvest!


The term "ripe" means different things in the olive world.  I will define them as:


Green ripe table olives: are picked almost entirely based on size.  When they are big enough for -you-, they are big enough to pick.  However, you must pick them before they start turning soft, and in most cases turning a different color.  This is because 80% of what makes a table olive desirable is in the cure, not in the olive or even in the varietal characteristics.  The olive itself contributes mostly three things: appropriate size (i.e. it has grown big enough), flesh to pit ratio, and firmnest of flesh (which defines the latest they can be picked for this stage of ripeness).


For me, I define these as follows:


Size:     absolute minimum size of 2 grams per fruit (called a drupe for olives);

             desirable minimum average size of 4 grams;

             minimum flesh to pit ratio of 3:1 w/w;

             firm such as I cannot smush the fruit between finger and thumb (we are simple hands on people).


These are not "industry standard" definitions, but are the criteria I use for picking.


The other general stages of ripeness are called "turning color", and "black ripe".  Which is not to be confused with that California obfuscation called "black ripe style" which are green ripe olives processed to turn them black.  I will provide definitions for these stages of ripeness as we come to them in full time.



Sept 19, 2016: First 2016 green ripe table olives!


Verdale is the first olive to bloom for us here in Oregon, and also the first to meet my criteria for green ripe:

Flesh-to-pit ratio is:


                          flesh weight / pit weight = (14.8 - 3.6) / 3.6  ~= 3.1 w/w


Again, not bad considering how all of here are starved for the new crop of table olives!


Here is a picture of two of the olives partially de-fleshed.  Ah, communication!  One picture is worth a thousand words and equations!

Average weight of these 4 average sized Oregon grown fruit: 3.7g.  Not bad at all for the first harvestable fruit of the season, considering how early in the year it is!


By the way, these 4 fruit were not "select", they are just average.  After culling [of shot berries and other defective fruit], I would expect the average size of the real harvest to be at least this, if we were to harvest today.  Also note this is dry farmed fruit; the number would have undoubtedly been significantly higher if the trees had been watered this summer.


And for reference, note the local (i.e. next door) pinot noir harvest started four days ago, and not all of the [differently owned] groves have been picked yet.

We have only three Verdale trees, all located at the Reken Estate in the Amity-Eola Hills, but my guess is we will be picking them all within the next week for processing as green ripe table olives!

Oct 25, 2016: The Amfissa Olive Harvest


Amfissa are our main green cure table olive.  For you locavores, we are selling our table olives for the first time!  By the way, as far as I know, this is also the first time Oregon grown table olives have ever been commercially available.  Ever!


We are using the so-called "Oregon Pickle Law" as the legal basis for our sales.  Like a lot of laws these days, this law has a certain amount of social do-gooding in it... ahhh, I meant to say fine social engineering!  The law is really called the "Farm Direct" law, and requires us as farmers to sell directly to you as customers.  To say it simply, there can be no third party, we must sell direct.  As you can tell, the intent is to engage you the consumer with us the growers, creating "community"; but it does place the burden on us to engage.  Carmen is going to run this new business, so if you want to buy some of our table olives, to contact Carmen directly.  Email:




Here is a picture of the olives "in process", lacto-fermenting.  As you can see, we use 5 gallon food grade buckets as the basic container; and fill them with about 2 gallons of olives (~11 pounds) and 2 gallons of "solution".  Since the olives are round, most of the solution fills the spaces between the olives, leaving about 2" of water on top of the olives in this picture.  At this point, the olives are soaking in the curing solution: water, sea salt and lemon juice.  That's it!  How simple and pure can you get?!  These olives will make around 100 jars of "product", picture will be forthcoming shortly

The numbers:  we set a new record for olives harvested per tree: one Amfissa tree had 54 pounds of olives!  And as might be expected because of the new record, these are also the largest average size olive we have ever had.  Full disclosure: I am also doing a small study on watering.  This new record tree is the only tree I have given summer water to, as an adult tree, for two years in a row.  More details on the rest of this experiment are coming shortly...


Oh, and also not too surprising due to the large size and density of olives on the tree, I set a new personal record for picking at 15 pounds per hour (hand picking).  I just wish all our olive trees had olives this big!


10/25/2016 Next up for table olive harvest - some beautiful Kalamata?

By the way, if you are wondering, each of the buckets does indeed contain olives.  The third, fourth and fifth buckets from the left are from a different supplier, who has a more opaque plastic.


10/25/16 Some large and very pretty Amfissa on the branch:

Nov 05, 2016: Olive oil from Roseberg area olives


Karen at Umpqua Ag bought olives trees from us a fair number of years ago.  As a favor for a friend in the business we milled her olives for her this year (she didn't think she had enough fruit to use a for pay commercial miller).  I was a bit apprehensive of milling fruit this early, but I was impressed when she delivered the fruit for milling:

As nice, clean, beautiful and ripe as a miller could want!  In fact, I might have set a new personal milling record: about 26 pints of oil from about 186 pounds of olives (13.3% w/w).


Good thing we had extra mason jars for her to use to take the olive oil back home!

So, in 2015 I summer watered the tree on the left; in 2016 I repeated that and in addition summer watered and fertilized the tree second from the left.  The two trees on the right are control trees.


The results for the olive fruit size were very similar or indeterminate: last year a statistically sampled selection of random fruit were almost exactly the same size.  This year, one of the control trees (the control tree second from the right) set the new grove record for total fruit weight harvested (54 pounds).  I also sort of polluted the whole experiment by harvesting fruit at different times for different purposes (table fruit and olive oil) and by doing my first real pruning.


So, all I can say at this point, if only for these few trees, is that the trees with more inputs may have grown slightly more than the ones without (just a feel -  no data to back that up).


Probably need to run the experiment on an orchard wide basis for many years.  But that is doing what I set out not to do - watering a whole bunch of olive trees!



Dec 23, 2016: Filtering and Bottling


Between now and New years we filter the oil (essentially changing it from Olio Nuevo to Extra Virgin Olive Oil).  Here is a shot of some Leccino (seven bottles on the left), Picholene-Bouteillan (four center bottles including the smaller one), and a Nocellara de Etna - Leccino blend (right two bottles).


So very pretty!  Especially when one can see it in clear bottles (duh).  Note the small bottle is colored completely disguising the color of the oil.  The clue?  The neck of the small bottle is empty of oil, just as are the larger bottles...

Dec 06, 2016: End of the Olive Harvest Season


The season's first hard frost last night essentially ended the olive harvest.  Some of the olive cultivars fruit quality was already degrading due to incessant fall rains this year, but the end was due to a frost of about 24 F here.  We only milled our own fruit for about three weeks.  Left by far the majority of the fruit on the trees, sad to say.  Our own productivity decreased due to me hosting two groups of pickers, trying up some valuable time on some of the nicest weather days (the mill runs I made for others were also the majority of mill runs I made this year, letting them keep all of the oil I made from the fruit they picked since I am such a nice guy; just so you understand...).  As well as the first of the month taken to milling fruit from the Umpqua Valley.  Note to self - can't do all this again for other people next year...


Some pictures from this year's milling:

Nov 11, 2016: Flesh to Pit Ratio


Being ever a practical person, I have often wondered what the flesh to pit ratio is of all the olives from all of the olive trees I have here in my grove.  Why you ask?  Well, looking at it impassionedly, the pits represent total waste, both in-so-far as making table olives and well as olive oil.  Which saying it more practically, the pits represent a waste of time to pick, so to speak.  Which does passionately bother me.  Having a shortage of time during a short and poor weather picking season.


One thing I was pretty sure of: there pits were relatively larger as compared to the size of the fruit, as compared to fruit grown in California.  As I very preliminary look at the issue I picked one or a couple of fruit off of every different cultivar I found still growing and fruiting (three were found still growing but with no fruit this year.


Conclusion: the sample size is way too small to draw much of any conclusions from, except as an indication of where to do more research in conjunction with the cultivars most of interest.  In particular, fruit load on a given tree can cause fruit size to vary a lot, maybe even more than 50%.  Which in turn might cause the flesh to pit ratio to also change significantly.  Maybe...


Here is a picture of the fifty three different olive cultivars I found fruit for:

2015, 2016: Olive Tree Watering Experiments


I am a dry farmer, which means I do not water the olive groves.  Nature's rain, proper tree spacing and a good weed control strategy (winter cover cropping, summer fallow) has been my approach.  It seems a bit wasteful to take a tree that should get all the water it needs from rainfall, and then make decisions that require one to water.  Even for table olives, which are said to need a meter of water spread over the year, and even given our Mediterranean climate with a definite and distinct summer drought season, watering does not appear to make sense unless one irresponsibly crowds the trees together (Sigh.  Just as SHD, super high density planting, does indeed require intensive irrigation.  So sad that so many people tried it in Oregon, but sort of a good thing they mostly crashed and burned early on …).


Looking at my olive tree references, there is a somewhat non-intuitive point made about watering: the maximum water needs of an olive tree are when the "teen-aged" grove is still growing strong and pruning is still minimal (I might have thought that the maximum need would be when a tree is fully grown, and that is still probably true of an olive tree standing alone in an empty field.  But when you take into consideration the decreased evapro-transpiration when a grove "closes over" - there is essentially no cover crop, and that mature trees are not growing as vigorously and instead are setting large crops, it seems to make more sense).


So, since some older parts of my grove now have pretty big trees in need of pruning, I'm wondering whether or not the trees are still able to source their full water and nutrient needs from the allotted ground they have been given to grow in?


Four Amfissa trees, about 10 years in the ground now, Kathy's Grove 09/19/16

Photo taken 11/11/16, of olive cultivar fruit grown by yours truly in Amity, Oregon.  From left to right, top to bottom:


1st row:  Quarter, Aglandau, Amfissa, Ascolana, Barouni (2), Bosana (2), Bouteillan, Cailletier, Carolea, Cerasuola, Coratina.


2nd row:  Nickle, Empeltre, Frantoio, Grignan, Grossane, Hoji Blanca (2), Itrana, Kalamata(3), Leccino, Lucca, Luques.


3rd row:  Penny, Manzanillo, Maurino (2), Mission, Moraiolo, Nocellara del Belice (2), Pendolino, Picholene (3), Picusl (2), Picudo, Salonenque(3).


4th row:  Santa Caterina(2), Sevillano, Taggiasca (2), Tanche (2), Quarter, Dolce del Marocco (2), Giaraffa (2), Quarter, Karydola, Nab Tamri (2).


5th row:  Prunara (2), Rubra (2), Sigoise (2), Syrogylolia, Vassilika (2), Rouget, Agezy Shami (2), Quarter, Saiali Magloub (2), Salome (2).


6th row:  Arbequina (3), Cayon (2), Chetoui (3), Nocellara de Etna (2), Ouslati (2), Quarter, Verdale.


Not pictured:  Touffahi, Hamed, Mission Leiva, Rosciola.

And now for some fun cross checking!


Manzanillo is by far the most common cultivar used in California for the most common table olive: the black ripe style "pizza" olive.  And you can see why: a nice size (~4.6 g) and a very small pit (~0.3 g), with a extremely good flesh to pit ratio of ~14.3 w/w.


Looking at Arbequina, we see that not only are the fruits very small when grown here in Oregon (~ 1.5 g), but the pits are pretty big (~0.4 g, ~2.8:1 w/w flesh to pit ratio).  So, for every Arbequina you pick, about 25% is pit wastage, and "net" weight is maybe 1.1 g.  Pity all those poor people who believe Arbequina is a good olive tree to have!


Once upon a while back, I spent a tedious afternoon picking ~8,000 Maurino olives off of a totally "on year" tree.  Why was this particularly tedious?  The fruit weight averaged just about a gram.  After that lesson, I have been selecting new cultivars to try that not only have large fruit, but small pits.  Take say Rouget or Prunara for example, check the data and see what you think.  Based on this very limited data, I'd say these might just have a chance of being superior cultivars for my part of Oregon!


Time will tell.  Lots of time…  Don't wait with a fevered brow, but I'm sure I will return to this subject again and again, across the stormy sea of time…



And just for the value, here is the same table, in sorted in order of fruit size:


Of the oils we milled this year, special oils never made before in Oregon include Kalamata and Nocellara del Belice.  Both are known from the Old World as being of the very best quality; well, we shall see how ours turned out!