Rescue campaign for centuries-old olive trees.

Hundreds of unregistered olive trees on the southern Aegean island of Crete, some of them thousands of years old, have become “victims” of human activities like public works projects and building construction, prompting the reaction of 35 cultural and environmentalist associations.

The collective effort, supported by the Technological Educational Institute (TEI) of Crete, focuses on recording the olive trees and their ages in order to be salvaged. The goal set is to draw up a map of Crete with the regions where the thousands-of-years-old trees are located.

Furthermore, a documentary translated into different languages will be ready by the summer of 2010 referring to the historical olive grove of Crete.

Four olive trees that have been confirmed to be more than 1,000 years old are located in the greater region of Viannos in the prefecture of Heraklion, where tens of olive trees of historical value can also be found. Centuries-old “psilolies” olive trees grown in the region constitute a proof that extra virgin olive oil was produced there hundreds and probably thousands of years ago.


The Olive Harvest – Ours Anyway. . .

Last year we harvested the olives pretty early, the first couple of weeks in November and the oil was great, if a little peppery. This year we waited a little until the day after New Years day, the first week in January. This time is much busier for the olive presses too, with truckloads turning up all the time.

We have thirty two trees, some of which barely produced any olives and others which had masses. They say that the olives come every two years on a given branch, so that meant that what we picked last year, albeit with some help, would not produce this year. That seemed about right.

This year though, I decided to try without the help from locals (actually it was a Romanian woman with a German, an Albanian and a Syrian, so when I say local I mean it in the broadest possible sense.) There was certainly me, my wife and two friends who are both English. One pal was keen to help and the other had some experience and is around half my age. We had no picking machines, the rotating rubber blade thingies that run off generators. Just nets, long sticks and long plastic forks. Plus we bought a hundred woven plastic bags for thirteen Euros in Alex-Pak. No pick-up truck, just my Suzuki Wagon. No problem!

My pal with some experience suggested that we, in the process of pruning the trees, cut off the heavily laden branches of olives for my wife to strip on the nets. These branches would not produce next year and the trees do need a lot of pruning. It would also make it easier for my wife. In addition we had to take out the centre of the trees, remove all cross branches and so on. They say in Crete that if you lay under an olive tree with your head close to the trunk you should see only sky.

The three of us, me and my two pals, then started harvesting with nets under the trees and with the two sticks and the rake. It was actually quite fun. We were now taking part in something that has been happening for many thousands of years on this island. We went from tree to tree and in three days we were done, plus we had done some of the pruning as well.

Here is what we got: we took 365 Kilos of olives which created in the press 79 kilos of oil. With the cost of the press taken in oil (8.2 kilos) we ended up with 70.8 kilos of good, unpeppery oil. Excellent extra virgin oil taken direct from the olives. Since this is far too much for our own use plus even giving away a few bottles, we halved it and took 35 kilos home. The other 35 kilos we sold to the press and were given just over a hundred Euros which much more than paid for any labour and I still had plenty to pay for any help with the final pruning.

This was a huge advantage over last year when we ended up with only 33 kilos of oil and no pruning or anything else. And I have to say that it was an experience well worth doing. I and the others enjoyed it very much and it was really no sweat. Just easy and fun work. Well there is a little left to prune, the trees haven’t been pruned for around fifteen years, but we can do that now with no pressure, on just the days when the sun shines.

This is what it looks like:

Slipping into the Olive Harvesting Mindset.

At this time of year, the second half of November, all who own olive orchards start to think of the harvest to come and the olives to be pressed into beautiful oil. We have thirty two olive trees and last year there were plenty of olives to be harvested. We chose the easy way, the local way where Greek friends harvested the olives for us.

This is how the deal works. The Greeks use their equipment to harvest the olives and to put the olives into bags. Then they notify the local olive press who comes down with a tractor and trailer to gather up all of the bags and take them to the olive press. The press charge a percentage of your oil for both the picking up of the bags and the actual pressing. Then the amount of oil that is left is divided half and half with the local Greeks. We were left after the press took their divvy with sixty-six kilos of oil of which we received thirty-three kilos for ourselves.

The benefit of doing this is that you literally have to do nothing but go up to the local oil press and take your oil back home. The drawback is obvious, you get much less oil than if you harvested the olives yourself and took the bags up to the press. That way the press would only take nine percent of your oil and we would end up with more like eighty kilos of oil.

So what do we do this year? I already have a net and ten sacks plus a couple of very stout bamboo poles to knock the olives from the trees. The trouble is that this is backbreaking work and although I can get help from some English friends, it is still difficult if your experience is as shallow as ours.

What I could buy, of course is the machine that all the Greeks (except very few) use to gather the olives. It is like a long pole with an electric motor and a rotating bit at the top with rubber or plastic bits sticking out that knock the olives from the trees. This will plug into the mains and since our house is in the middle of the olive grove, we have mains extension leads that should reach all of the trees. So at least we do not need a generator. These machines cost around a hundred to a hundred and fifty Euros, according to local Greek friends.

But you know, the olive oil that comes from our fresh grown organic trees is absolutely superb. You can eat it on bread. This first pressing extra virgin olive oil just cannot be bought in a shop. It not only tastes good, it can go up to and over 180 degrees Celsius in a chip-pan. The chips made with this superb oil and Cretan potatoes is not only beyond belief, but healthy too. In fact some people say that Cretan olive oil, the gift of the goddess Athena, is the best foodstuff on the planet.

So the wet days go slowly by and we continue to think – off and on – just what we will do. The thirty-three kilos lasted us all year with oil left over – perhaps we want more to sell or even give away. Or perhaps we just want the satisfaction of doing it ourselves. Who knows? We shall certainly see in the next few weeks.

The Olive Tree

I bought a field in Kriti where grew an olive tree,
I watered it and pruned it with assiduity,
Until I found I owned the ground
But did not own the tree.

So I bought the tree, for weeks I thought
The haggling would not stop.
Now I can pick my olives, and start a little shop.
Oh No, they cried, you bought the tree but not the olive crop.

At least I can sit under it, a little seat I made,
Where I could smoke a cigarette and drink some lemonade;
But no, although the tree was mine
I did not own the shade.

In my despair, I cut it down, if not for shade or food,
It might provide a cheerful fire
If that was all it could . . .
Alas, although I had the tree, I did not own the wood.

Anon (As far as I know)