Virgins in my Field

Our orto (allotment) may not have flourished too well this year because of the very wet start to June and then the weeks without any significant rain that followed (and are still with us…).

The cabbages seem a slightly sorry lot and the tomatoes would barely satisfy a handful of salads.


However, the up-side is that our olive trees which range from three years to ten years of age are producing more fruit this year than ever before. The start of the olive harvest could be any time between the middle of October to November before the frosts start. It’s a sort of intuitive thing. What I like to do is to see when the other local olive growers pick theirs. After all they’ve had generations of experience.

Here are some of ours:

It’s not just the height of the olive grove – we’re at an altitude of 1745 feet which is exactly the height of Titterstone Clee Hill in Shropshire that tells one when to pick the fruit.

Normally, the olive fruit starts to accumulate virgin oil once its seed has reached the highest grade of hardness which normally happens here around mid-October. The olive skin colour turns from green to a red-violet colour and even goes to brown. The fruit can also be tested by seeing how hard it is. As it matures the olive softens to the touch. But beware of not letting it get too soft otherwise oxidisation can take place diminishing the quality of the olive. If the fruit is left too long on the tree then negative effects can occur – after all the olive is the flower of the tree and it can burst into bloom if left too late.

As with wine there are good years and not so good years for the olive. 2014 was a particularly bad year for this wonderful plant with 40% lost due to a parasite otherwise known as the olive fly (Bactrocera oleae). In 2012 I remember a terrible frost which had disastrous effects on olive groves in our area. The worst, however, which I can still recollect was that of 1985 which killed off nine out of every ten Tuscan olive trees.

I love my olive plants more than I can think of many humans. They are faithful; they are lovely with their silvery sheen now with their fruit ripening in the autumnal sunshine. They are as ravishing as the most beautiful women, and time spent in their company can never be wasted.

I am reminded of that wonderful poem on the olive tree by Federico Garcia Lorca:

Tree, tree
dry and green.

The girl with the pretty face
is out picking olives.
The wind, playboy of towers,
grabs her around the waist.


The girl with the pretty face
keeps on picking olives
with the grey arm of the wind
wrapped around her waist.
Tree, tree
dry and green.


I wonder when the day will come to pick them?

To say nothing yet of the other wonderful corners of our orto:



4 thoughts on “Virgins in my Field

  1. Pelargoniums do make the best long lasting drought resistant plants and the varieties and colours to choose from are so varied cheerful happy plants a joy to behold. Above all the sheep passing nearby are not partial to nibble these plants as they have done so to many other plants in the past. I am gleeful to see so many olives not enough though still to make our own olive oil but they are good enough to store for Christmas and the rest of the year. It seems true that like apple trees they crop generally on alternate years. Yes our olive trees are to be loved as they have been lovingly planted by us and nurtured and attended to plus the bonus of a bunch of olives to add to our culinary dishes despite the struggles and battles with the weather windy drought freezing cold days we have managed to cultivate a few veggies and deep respect and high fives go to our Farmers indefatigable in their role to help grow their charges and feed the world. It is truly a tough call and our results are puny by comparison. However I think the secret to successful crops lies in the soil preparation such as good well rotted manure and compost.

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