Making the most of your olive trees

OLIVE trees are part of the Mediterranean landscape

Olive trees have been part of the Mediterranean landscape for six  millennium since cultivation started in Egypt, Greece and Crete.They have been in Spain for more than 2,000 years since the Romans planted the first specimen trees in courtyard gardens and olive groves.

Some still exist and millennium old trees fetch big prices when dug out and sold to international landscapers, often back in the Middle East where the trees first came from.

Attraction and uses of olive trees

Their attraction is their many uses and in our valley where most forms of agriculture have been largely abandoned the one traditional crop still sustained by some families is that of the olives. The 21 uses we can think of are:

1. Pickled olives for eating as a snack, in salads and cooked dishes.

2. Olive pate.

3. Olive oil as a healthy vegetable oil. Naturally the quality and quantity of olives and olive oil produced depends on more than the weather. Winter pruning, the cutting off of suckers that come up from the roots, and winter to autumn sprayings with ecological leaf and root fertilizers, insecticides and fungicides are of benefit.

4. As a frying oil with its antioxidant properties.

5. Olive leaf infusions as the natural components in the leaves are said to have antioxidant, antibiotic, anti- aging, and anti-cancerous properties.

6. Logs for the fire and wood burning stove.

7. Small twigs as fire lighters.

8. Leafy ends of branches are a treat for rabbits, sheep and goats.

9. The fresh residues from pressing can be fed to poultry, sheep and goats.

10. If dried, the residues help get an open fire going or in log burning stoves.

11. If the oil is separated from the water by gravity when using an old style cold press, the final layer of oil is contaminated with pieces of mashed olives. This rough oil can be used to clean and oil tools,  wooden utensils and other artefacts.

12. Logs of all sizes, especially from old trees, are excellent for turning and carving.

13. For the gardeners who want to do none of the above, olive trees make excellent evergreen specimen trees or groups of trees for vision, wind breaks and shade.

14. Although not widely used these days, one can still use oil lamps for a subdued light. But beware the flame is smoky so only use for an outside light .

15. Straight branches can be used as supports for tall vegetables such as beans, tomatoes and peppers.

16. Selected branches can be dried to use as replacement handles for gardening tools.

17. Thick branches are long-lasting so they can be used to make rustic arches, fences and gates.

18. Leafy prunings can be used as pea sticks.

19. Continuing from ancient times olive oil is still used as a skin softener, for toning athlete’s muscles and mixed with vinegar as a suntan lotion.

20. Garlands made from young olive branches can be placed on the heads of victorious athletes at medal ceremonies, as was done at the early Greek Olympics.

21. Planted as attractive grey/green evergreen leaved trees.

For those that do not yet have an olive tree, if you plant a young tree in the garden now, costing as little as €7 in garden centres, it could still be there in the year 3000 when there is nothing left of your house except for a few broken roof tiles.

Varieties of olive trees to choose from – there are over 250!!

Arbequines – full flavour – but lowish yield of oil
Manzanillas – popular for eating
Sevillanas/Queen/Gordal  – large for eating
Blanqueta – Small, but good yield
Chefarengues, Couicabre, Moriudes, Verdial

Lastly, olive trees can be grown in containers on apartment terraces and balconies as well as specimens in the garden or in small and large olive groves. They can be pruned hard to maintain neat, small or moderate trees or left to grow wild.

In the latter case, yields of olives will rapidly decline as most olives grow on young first or second year growth.

(c) Dick Handscombe January 2015

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