Knowing that my family runs an olive mill in the Molise region of Italy, people often ask me what life as an olive farmer is really like.
They imaging that it consists of 11 months of doing nothing except watching the olives grow, followed by a couple of weeks of crazy hard work for harvesting.
That’s not quite true, except for the bit about harvesting being hard work!
Olive farming is a serious business in Molise
Farming is a key economic activity in our part of Italy. Groves are handed down over generations, and every farmer puts his utmost love to the growing of heathy olives.
Olive farming in Molise is still carried on using traditional methods. Older generations teach the newer ones tricks and techniques about how to grow healthy olives and trees.
There are lots of unwritten practical rules that are handed down over the years.
Sustainable and organic olive farming practices are important to us
Sustainable farming methods are highly prized and utilised to maintain harmony with nature. That means all our olive oil is produced from trees that have been carefully cultivated in healthy and clean soil using organic farming practices.
Small farmers form the backbone of the olive oil industry
Each farmer usually owns a small plot of land and typically produces enough olives for his family’s yearly personal consumption.
We provide the milling service, meaning they bring us olives which we mill for them and give them back their own oil.
Because they consume their own produce, they will not use chemicals or pesticides on their olive trees. That assures organic quality.
They sell us their excess production, which we are happy to accept because we are assured of high quality organically grown olives.
The main activities of an olive farmer
Many olive trees are ancient and some are hundreds of years old. They do not require daily care and attention but some farming tasks must be constantly done on a regular basis.
Checking olive health – Farmers walk through their olive groves or orchards every week, looking at every single tree. They check for any signs of disease, fungus, mould or distress and plan remedial action when required.
Clearing undergrowth – At harvest time, the pickers lay nets under each tree that will be harvested manually – mostly on hillside groves. That means the ground must be clear of tall weeds and other obstructions. Keeping it in good condition is a year-round task.
Pruning – Most olive trees need to be pruned every year after the harvest has ended and before the spring growth appears. This is a very labour-intensive activity.
Olive fly protection – The olive fly is the biggest threat to any olive farmer. Our farmers always use only organically acceptable methods in keeping with our ethos of preserving the natural biodiversity.
Leaf nutrient analysis – Once a year, farmers carry out tests to check that trees are receiving sufficient nutrients. That is usually in July and the results inform the program of applying fertiliser.
Fertilisers – Organic fertilisers are applied during the summer months when the leaf nutrient analysis indicates they are required.
Harvesting – The main harvest starts usually in early November depending on the weather and the ripeness of the olives. Some tress are harvested sooner if farmers want to produce early harvest extra virgin olive oil from green or nor fully ripe olives.
Climate and going conditions
A temperature range of 15° to 20°C (60° to 70°F) is perfect for olive cultivation with about 100cm (40 inches) of rainfall steadily distributed throughout the fruit growing months. Frost is an enemy and so are prolonged dry or wet spells of weather. Olives adore a steady climate.
More information about olive growing
I have given you just a very brief description of olive farming. Managing groves and orchards involves more work than that, of course.
This website has an excellent detailed description of olive farming – the optimal conditions required for successful growing and all the activities of olive farm management.