Farm Focus – Watching the Olives

I often say, farming is all about observing. Not just farming,
but growing any type of plant, requires paying attention to
how plants respond to our care and their environment. When
people say, – “I just don’t have a green thumb”, I call total
bologna! You can grow food, if you have good soil, water, and
the power of observation. How does my plant respond to hot
days, more water, certain pruning cuts? We can learn so much
by watching a plant’s natural response. Farmer Al is always
observing every little detail of growth on the farm. In the Spring
he is counting how many flowers per tree have been pollinated,
he’s monitoring the weed growth as a sign of soil health, he’s
watching how the leaves curl on extra hot days, and how an
application of compost changes how the branches sprout new
leaves. Al leaves nothing up to assumption, after 40 years of
growing, it would be easy to start assuming that things will
progress as they have before. But Al is always checking, with
touch, taste and appearance; is the fruit ripe, or does it need just
a few more days on the tree to reach perfection?
As we are entering olive harvest season, observation of the olive
ripeness is on high alert. Everyday, Farmer Al is monitoring the
appearance of the olives. As many of you know, our olive trees
consist of four different varieties- Pendolino, Frantoio, Leccino
and Moraiolo. They are planted at a specific ratio, to match
a recipe crafted by Tuscan olive farmers over centuries. The
ripeness of just the Frantoio olives, dictates when to harvest
everything. When the Frantoio olives are exactly half black,
and half green, the farmer knows it is time to harvest all four
varieties. When the Frantoio olives are half-half, the Pendalinos
are completely black, while most of the Leccinos are all still
green. As they are harvested and pressed together, the mixture
of very ripe black olives, mixed with the sharpness of the unripe
green olives, gives the olive a very complex buttery and spicy
flavor. In Spain, they believe you should only make oil from
olives that are completely ripe, and in turn, Spanish olive oil is
very smooth and subtle. In Tuscany on the other hand, they
love strong oil, tangy from the green olives mixed in. Farmer
Al has followed this tradition, and the only way to create the
ideal balance is to monitor the olives closely. The harvest date
of each block of olives changes each year, depending on so
many different factors, from the summer’s warmth to tree
health. The only assurance comes from the appearance of those
indicator Frantoio olives, so needless to say, Farmer Al is paying
attention!

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