The trees are vigorously pruned. This is usually done with an mechanical saw by an experienced person as it is very important for the health and future productivity of the tree. In our area, trees are pruned from the middle to give branches maximum exposure to sunlight which helps stave off problems caused by insects, fungi and moulds. Pruning is also important as olives only grow on new branches something that pruning promotes.
Picking the olives
The focus in picking is to get the fruit off the branches with the least amount of bruising. The primary tools are short staffs and long handled, soft plastic rakes. The pruned branches are dropped to the ground and the fruit is knocked off the limbs by striking the wood with the staff over the sheets. The branches are piled up away from the sheets for burning.
Soft plastic rakes are used to brush olives off the tree and the cut branches. They are also used to remove leaves and twigs from the picked olives before they are bagged.
A mature Koroneiko tree will fill one bag with about 50 kilos of olives which will produce around 8 liters of olive oil.
Bagging and delivery to the press
The materials used for bagging is regulated to allow the olives to breathe between the time they are picked and pressed. The bags are collected and delivered to the press right away and the olives must be pressed within 48 hours but are usually processed within 12 hours. During the harvest, the presses run pretty much round the clock.
The general process -
The harvest season for all olives is between October and February, depending on the variety, where it is grown and what it will be used for. Pretty much all olives in Greece, ours included, are harvested by hand. This is due largely to the small size of the average orchard, the often random manner in which trees have been planted and the rocky terrain, which makes machine picking realistically impossible.
Land owners who are unable to leave jobs in the city often use local pickers or itinerant farm workers if they cannot make it down for the harvest themselves. The man who has been helping us is called Petros. He was originally from northern Greece and lives and has been picking in our area for over 30 years. We depend on him to judge the best time to pick our Koroneiki olives for agourelaio or early harvest olive oil. Petros has a vested interest in collecting the olives at the optimal time as a large portion of the extra virgin olive oil that is produced will be his payment.
Greek inheritance laws means that most people will own at least a few trees someplace! During the harvest it is not unusual for whole families congregate to bring in the crop often coming from larger towns and cities to do so. In villages, most other work comes to a stand-still as everyone participates in picking their olives or the olives of other family members and neighbours.
Laying out the sheets
The first stage of picking involves laying large burlap sheets under the trees to ensure that only olives from the tree are included in the harvest. Olives that have fallen are often diseased, overripe or otherwise damaged.