It took seven of us four or five hours to pick them all; and it’s labour-intensive work. Two on ladders plucking the sun-warmed fruits one by one, putting them into a cloth bag hung on a branch, then handing them down to be poured into one of the wicker baskets. The rest picking from lower branches or spreading old tablecloths and dust sheets around the trees to catch the steady shower of olives which fell and had to be retrieved from the ground.
It fell to my nine-year-old daughter to do most of the picking up from the ground, everybody calling her to come and clear the olives so that they could move the cloths or move the ladders. Just as well that she’s so good natured!
There is an immense satisfaction in harvesting what you have grown, although the olive trees need little attention during the year. We do not spray any insecticides in our garden and yet, most of the fruit is perfect. All that olive trees demand is regularly watering in the hottest months and an annual pruning after the harvest to get rid of dead wood. It is also advisable to prune branches which grow too densely and to limit the height of the tree by lopping the highest branches. Otherwise you will be frustrated by seeing the lovely ripe olives at the top, knowing that you have no way of reaching them without a five-metre ladder.
Then to sort out the crop: the largest indigo and green-purple ones for bottling in brine; the rest to load into the car and take to be pressed. I deliver the olives in the morning and spend the day eagerly anticipating the oil collection at the end. The shiny steel machines, crates of olives on the weighing scales and the shelves full of empty bottles waiting to be filled. The amount of oil depends on the weight of olives; in our case some 30kg! I feel as proud as the mother of a fat healthy baby at a clinic weigh-in. The yield of virgin oil is about 10-15%, so my olives will give me about three litres of fragrant green oil.
My eyes glisten greedily as the thick, viscous green oil pours lazily into the sterlised glass bottles. Another crop over and a year’s supply of olives and oil to enjoy. The oil I use only for salads and for hobz biz-zejt. It is too precious to cook with. I want to relish the delicious taste at my leisure and know that, truly, it is the fruit of my own labour.
Want to see and taste Malta’s olives? Annabel had her olives pressed by Sam Cremona who runs an olive farm at Wardija. He offers agri-tourism visits by appointment: tel: +356 79582294.
Elizabeth Ayling says
Ideally, of course, we’d all have perfect, non-fly-blown olives, but your olives sound like mine – rather ropy some years. From experience, I can say that olives with worm holes in are OK. I’ve put mine in brine, waited three months, tipped out the briny water (with maggots having risen to the top by then), rinsed them thoroughly and started again with a new lot of brine (covered with a thin film of olive oil at the neck of the jar to stop air getting in). I have olives from eight years ago I am using still and they are fine. I never get a crop without maggot holes! If you intend to press for oil, then it might be a different matter. I suggest you contact Sammy Cremona of Wardija Olives on the matter as he is a pro in pressing and knows all things olive inside out!
Mario Farrugia says
I find Olive preservation fascinating and would like to try my hand at it. What I’d like to know is can olives containing fly eggs or being slightly bruised be preserved?
Elizabeth Ayling says
It depends year on year, but I’d reckon on early October. In Tuscany, where I saw a harvest and pressing a few years back, it was around a month later – early November. We have just that more sun here, and milder winters of course. I tend to pick my one tree around that time, depending on how green or black I want my olives. I suggest you contact Sammy Cremona at Wardija Olives for info on this year’s harvesting conditions. There more about him on this post here, and you’ll find his mobile number post end.
I would like to know exactly when is the best time to pick olives we have about 50 olive trees and nearly always miss the harvest as we are unsure about picking our property is in Marsascala if that makes a difference.
regards and thanks. jst.
I’m sorry, I don’t know. I agree with the wadding; I was told about this by Sammy Cremona (Wardija). Maybe he can help: he’s very knowledgeable.
Elizabeth Ayling says
I am having that problem too – maggots in each and every olive I picked this year! Not sure though if it isn’t blue bottle flies. However, I’ve a potted olive that was munched almost to death in the summer and is still under attack. I’ve put dacron (fluffy nylon wadding) around the trunk but not sure it’s working. Apparently it stops things climbing up. But flies? Annabel, any answers?
carmel callus says
Interesting reading Annabel Mallia. Fo you have a solution for controlling the olive fly which is attacking our olives every year?