There is a battle between Mother Nature and Mother Nature. Our olive trees are growing and more trees are better for our carbon footprint offset. But we are also growing bugs , weeds, and some unwanted animals are living in my grove. So a balance is important. Although we are not certified organic, we practice sustainable agriculture. We are very sensitive to the overall environment. We only use an organic spray for the olive fly, which is one of the most dangerous pests for olives. The olive fly drills holes in the olives and lays their eggs. The worms hatch and eat the inside of the olive, destroying it. We would prefer not to have partially eaten olives to mill into oil.
The lanes between the olive trees are mowed to develop a thatch, protect the soil from erosion and add nutrients. If we mow we do not have to till the soil nor use any weed killers. It is better for the environment. The areas around the base of the trees have to be cleared to protect the roots and avoid competition. As the trees get bigger, the trunks grow stronger and the roots reach deeper, we will have to do less and less intervention and the land will be better sustained. The trees will be happy and grow strong.
Another great example of support for Mother Nature is our owl boxes. We have 4 at the Olive Farm and one at home, where our more mature grove thrives. The owls seem to like the boxes. They nested and hatched little ones last year. Owls need homes in the orchard and eat mice, gophers, moles and voles, and snakes. Mice and gophers eat trees and the roots of our trees are little as many are less than 5 years old. No roots, no trees and no olives for oil. The red tail hawks are plentiful and they follow the tractor when we are mowing. Lots of delicious mice and moles to catch.
Next season our project will be bat boxes. Bats eat insects like mosquitoes
DECANTING OLIVE OIL
Olive oil, like wine, needs decanting. Even with two very powerful centrifuges some olive particulate matter remains suspended in the oil. Many people, ourselves included, love the thick rich flavorful Olio Nuovo, New Oil the first of the season. Right out of the centrifuge, it is thick, pungent, unctuous, and just wonderful. We all line up to taste the first oil of the season. The olio nuovo is spectacular in its freshness and richness and is only available during harvest and milling season, November to very early January.
Decanting means letting the oil settle for 2-4 months and then siphoning off the clear oil leaving the sediment. The purpose of decanting is to remove the vegetal olive matter that can ferment and ruin the oil. If you do not decant the oil, you can taste a “winey” or “fusty” flavor that is not favorable. Following decanting, the oil then goes back into storage or is bottled. Our oil is stored in large glass containers or 55 gallon drums, depending on the volume. It is kept at a constant temperature of 61 F and in darkness until bottling. Just-in-time bottling allows the oil to be untouched and undisturbed, protecting the quality. This is very important so that the flavors are maintained and as little oxygen as possible is touching the oil. Air produces oxidation and degrades the oil. Light and high temperatures also degrade the oil. At home keep your oil in a relatively cool protected place, not right next to the hot stove.
So early in March we decanted all the oils from this last harvest. We will bottle in the next month enough to sell and keep the remainder undisturbed until we need it for further sales. This is a serious process that protects the oil.
The funny part of the whole process is how slippery the oil really is. There are inevitable drips from the siphoning tanks and hoses. We slip and slide and hoot and holler. Now add soap to help clean and we can slide from one end of the mill building to the other. Ultimately after we wash everything with biodegradable soap, the oil and soap go to a state-of-the-art filtration septic system and ultimately out to the trees for irrigation support. This is a good farming practice.
WINTER IN THE GROVES
A quiet time. The olives have been harvested; the trees are giving a sigh of relief- their work done for the year. They rest until the days grow longer and the weather warms. The little olives are already beginning to form from the new branches. Olives will only grow on each branch once. Correct pruning is so important to produce new growth and olives. Inside the mill, we are still cleaning the equipment and watching and tasting the oils. The trees are growing and our job is to re-tie, prune, and support the baby trees. The winds of Suisun Valley in early spring can reach 40 MPH and our little trees are learning to stand up by themselves. Last year our new citrus trees had every leaf blown off and they had to start all over again. This year they produced, so I guess it didn’t hurt them much.
The rain made a pond in the frontage area with ducks having a fine time swimming in the drainage ditches. The local blue heron and white egrets are fishing for frogs in the drainage pond. Our local flock of geese and ducks watch us from the top of the Putah Canal, and “yell” at us as if they owned the place, I guess they do.