For three years no meaningful crop from our olive grove. With the drought the trees sensibly kept a low profile.
Whilst we have irrigation it is from surface water on the farm, and is not enough to fully sustain thirsty olive trees. To crop well they need a lot of water as well as fertilizer.
At the start of what became the drought we watered as normal, filling in dry gaps between expected rain events, as late 2017 unfolded our dams got lower and lower!
There came a point where we had to stop irrigating the grove to conserve water for the cattle. So the olive trees were on their own.
By the end of the drought we were at around 20% dam capacity. Fortunately for us the previous owner built deep dams: ideal to minimise evaporation.
So the 400 odd tress produced around 100kgs for 2017 2018, nothing for 2018 2019, and nothing for 2019 2020.
In February 2020 the heavens opened up with a mini east coast low: in 5 hours the two dams were full and overflowing. All too late to make a difference to the 2019 2020 crop.
Winter of 2020 continued to be moist, ideal conditions for olives, flowering in October was average, with fruit set in late October into November looking good. Fortunately no strong winds or heavy rain occurred in this key period. We fertilized as normal and found that the crop was very late maturing. This is probably due to the cooler, more overcast summer we had. All the Hunter Valley reported late ripening olive crops.
Finally we harvested in late April and mid-May: taking off a total of 3.6 tonnes from around 400 trees. Not a brilliant yield, but certainly a decent yield.
We do all our own harvesting and this year had a young generation team and an old generation team: both managed around 1 tonne per day: a wonderful effort.
This year, for the first time we processed half our crop on a friends’ olive mill. Their machine processes at around 50kgs per hour, so to do 1 tonne was a labour of love. The other half was done on the big mill at Lovedale which processes at 2 tonnes per hour. Of some satisfaction is that our own processing on the small machine gave better yields than the big machine! There is some art in running an olive mill.
The oil is mild this year, which seems to be typical of most Hunter Valley output for this year. It is very pleasant, well rounded.
With the crop harvested we turned our minds to pruning. Three principles are behind our pruning. First is prune the trees to suit the harvest method. Second in a good year prune hard, in a poor year prune gently. Third olive trees yield best from wood that is 9 to 12 years old.
Around 40% of our trees are 27 years old, and often so tall our harvest rakes cannot reach all olives. On the other hand our replantings are now old enough to be yielding well, and in fact this year produced around 75% to 80% of our crop.
So the replantings got a good standard vase shape prune. For the old trees we had started one round of major limb pruning just as the drought started. So post drought we have gone in hard. For these trees the next crop may be small but hopefully the year after will see solid cropping.
As of August 2021 it is getting dry again, the long range forecast is reasonably positive for the East Coast, so we keep our fingers crossed.