Pruned as per textbook

We had a dry winter and by the end of January 2017 I had pruned sixty olive trees at 1¼ hours each; as we have three olive groves each of about 120 trees I do one grove a year.

In mid-February I was busy with pruning hundreds of vines and cutting by hand the weeds around their legs. With March being the finish of the pruning season the olives had to be done quickly, so I called on Senhor V and his team again: they did over two hundred trees in eight man-days, not in the pretty and theory-recommended way that I would, but in a serviceable manner.

 

Top olival, fast pruning

Following the pruning 10mm of rain fell in April and 76mm in early May; not enough for a good crop when the next rainfall was only 3.5mm in August and 16mm in October. After this rain the locals spread their toldos (plastic nets about six or eight metres square) under each tree and harvested what it had managed to produce.

Janet and I were concerned because their crop was small, the harvest should be four weeks later, and maybe they knew something we hadn’t heard yet. We walked through our olive groves and found that despite Sr V’s rough work the stunted trees would yield enough olives to give us a colheita; maybe I had misjudged his ability to get the trees into fruit.

Varejador runs off the tractor battery

 

 

We had heard the buzzing rattling sound of “the latest thing” in getting the olives off the tree without having to use ladders; there are actually two gadgets with an electric motor on the end of a telescopic pole.

 

 

One, bata-palmas, is like a pair of seven-fingered plastic hands which clap together. The other, a varejador. is a pair of five-fingered hands which oscillate past each other like small beaters. In both cases you comb the fingers through the drupes (olive-laden twigs) to shake free the olives. Having been told they make the job several times faster and much safer, we went out and bought a varejador.

It is lovely working in the top olival, quiet.

Clive combing olives from the tree

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Long story short, four days later we loaded seventeen crates of galega olives into the Subaru and took them to the co-operative lagar in Fundão (which is a cold-press mill), arriving mid afternoon.

Janet with the winnower to remove leaves and twigs

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were fortieth in the queue to the gates of the olive mill, and in the compound there were maybe sixteen more vehicles waiting or unloading.  I went to the front office and paid to become a member of the co-operative of olive growers. We waited for another hour.

Quarter of a ton of fresh olives

After an hour’s wait, now 30th in line.

Nearer to the front of queue for the lagar

 

We did a cryptic crossword. It went dark.

We waited. I walked to the nearest coffee bar for a coffee; it was full of chaps like me who had left their vehicles loaded with olives in the queue.

The moon came up and the temperature went down and you could see your breath. We sat in the cold car and we waited.

A two-wheeled tractor with trailer full of olives

All manner of vehicles arrive to unload olives at the press, from large commercial tipping lorries with several tons, medium-sized drop-down tailboard lorries, tractors with trailers, vans, Mitsubishi L200’s, two-wheeled tractors with trailers, and estate cars. By the time we emptied our crates into the balances it was after eight at night.

We took a day off then did it all again but went to the lagar early on a frosty morning, although it was lunchtime before we unloaded. Total yield, half a tonne, with very low acidity so Extra Virgin quality, which will be ready in a few days for collection.

The ladders, toldos and varejador are stored away for next November. The oil has just become available for members and we bought some to try – it is lemony yellow, buttery and softly fragrant like olives and citrus – delicious!

In January 2016 I realised that there was far too much olive pruning for me to tackle alone when there’s so much other work to do, so I hired a team of three men for a few days to do two of my groves, about two hundred and fifty trees. I left them to make a good start and went to check them after four hours. I was very concerned that their version of pruning involved the use of a chainsaw and no ladder, but didn’t want to tell them how to do their job. By lunchtime I could stay away no longer. Their boss told me that there was much dead wood in the trees because of drought over the last two years, and removing it is much faster with a chain saw.  P1020297But my pride-and-joy West Olival has been skeletised and reduced from trees over four metres high and five wide to small 2½ metre trees. I found this very discouraging, as it will take many years for the trees to regain their form and to yield olives in harvestable quantities. I did take one of the workers aside and have him conventionally prune twenty trees with a hand saw as I do, at the normal rate of over an hour per tree. The South olival remains pruned only by me! IMG_1652

It was last May whilst clearing and burning the debris – a bonfire six feet tall onto which I continuously drag and throw branches for several hours- from this “service” that I had a second heart attack brought on by strenuous work in strong sunshine, hot protective clothing and great heat from the fire. Long story short, four months recovery with the help of Janet and without the help of doctors, and I’m back on form now weighing thirteen kilos less. I had to put the quinta onto maintenance mode and only did what was absolutely necessary (hence the lack of blogging).

With no Harry Dog depending on us now, we began to go on holidays, Madrid and Barcelona in June,  then holidays with our family and lots of trips out. During the early summer I could work only slowly, tying the vines to wires and pruning them. It took weeks longer than before, because with my now underpowered body thermostat I could not work in the heat for very long.P1010376

From early July to late September there was no rain at all and half of the local vineyards had no grape harvest. We had to throw away over half the crop as it was dried out. But because my vineyards are irrigated we did have some usable bunches of grapes, about 450kg, which contained less juice than usual but more concentrated and in some cases, sweeter.P1010380

Pictured left – dried-out grapes, the effect of drought.  Pictured right, the saccharometer reading for red grape juice in the vineyard, September 2016.  IMG_1237 high sacc readingThe usual initial Specific Gravity of the grape juice at the start of fermentation should be about 1.085 in order to ferment out all the fruit sugars, so our grape juice with 27% sugar needed diluting a fair bit! It eventually yielded 150ℓ red wine and 35ℓ of white. After the wine was made my sister and her husband came to stay for a week – we cruised up the Douro over the weekend – and once the wine was racked in early October we went on holiday to Madeira, a sunshine holiday with Laura and our grandsons.

So now that I am feeling well it’s back to blogging and to working the quinta !

We had our own single-estate olive oil pressed locally last December.

04 200 kilos of olives11 off to the lagar .

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.16 170 kilos more

I loaded 200 kilos into the box on the back of the tractor and Janet brought the rest in the car.

The lagar (pictured) was refitted this year with new machinery and we could take our crop to it in the tractor – at 15mph cruising speed even a six mile drive is a fair run, although much nearer that the previous lagar at forty miles.

20 lagar  looks unassuming

22 unloading We tipped our hand-picked crop into a huge green crate for processing.

They weighed 357 kilos and Janet’s name in Portuguese, Joaninha, is on the batch ticket. Her name is “ladybird” in their language so they remember it.

31 olives washed then chopped

32 chopped paste pureed for 20mins. Background, water added and oil centifuged off  The batch was tipped into a hopper then washed and chopped up.

Then it was macerated at 30° for twenty minutes in the machine where Janet is standing, before being pumped to the primary separator (background left in photo) where water was added to drive the oil from the slurry of broken olive pips and mush, the oil being centrifuged off.

The cloudy moist oil was centrifuged a second time to purify it.

39 second centrifuge and inspection tank second centrifuge and inspection tank,

40 inspection and collecting saucepanwith collecting saucepan (!)

41 our fresh oil Our fresh oil, was then run into one of eight 100 litre storage tanks. The larger tanks behind them hold 500 litres.

42 being run into storage tank

Our 364 kilos of olives yielded 52 litres of lovely fragrant yellow-green oil, and I had the pleasure of bottling it while it was still slightly warm.

45 C  bottling our own olive oil at lagar