Introduction to Olives Growing Olives in your Garden

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If you have been reading the ancient holy books, you may find references to the groves of Olives and flourishing olive trees. Olives have long been a part of human social tradition, and they have been cultivated in gardens since time immemorial.
It was believed that olives could not flourish in lands, which were 35 miles away from the sea, because they needed a special type of climate. But that is not really true, because you can grow an olive tree, in a place, where there is plenty of water, where the winters are mild and in areas with Mediterranean climates.

The native olive tree – Olea europaea – is considered to be a Mediterranean plant, because after all the ancient Romans and the Greeks used olive leaves as an important symbol – especially of peace. Holding out an olive branch meant PAX and not war. Even the gods blessed the olive tree, and allowed it to flourish on their land, making it prosperous through the sale of olives!

Archaeological surveys in Jordan on sites going back more than 5000 years have found domesticated olives in abundance. So is it a surprise that a garden without an olive tree would be considered to be incomplete even in those ancient days.
Apart from using olives in a diet, olive oil was also used since ancient times for cooking purposes. Apart from that, olive oil was used as a healthy massage oil by Romans, Babylonians, Egyptians, and other ancient civilizations in ancient times.

Growing Olives

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Olive trees are very long-lived. So if you plant olives today in your garden, they are going to last for the next millennium! In fact, Pliny wrote about Olive trees and olive groves, more than 2000 years ago, which were more than 1500 years of age in his time. So one could almost believe that these olives were planted when the ancient gods roamed the earth…

These trees are so hardy, that it is almost impossible to kill them off. However, if a plant is destroyed due to severe frost, do not despair. This happened in 1985 in Tuscany, where the climate is mild, and you do not expect a severe winter frost. However, this frost destroyed a number of ancient and productive trees and many farmers thought that they had lost their livelihoods. But they need not have despaired.

The next spring you are going to see new growth springing up from the rootstock. The new shoots are going to spring up as soon as the weather gets warm, and you are going to have fresh new outgrowth.

Olive Propagation

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You can either grow olives from seed, or you can propagate the trees from layers and cuttings. If you have olive seeds ready at hand, you can soften up the oily pericarp by allowing it to rot for a little while. This is done by soaking it in slightly hot water or in a very mild alkaline solution and then putting it out in the air in order to rot. This is going to facilitate seed germination. 

Sowing by the seeds is done in October/November. If you do not want to put the seeds beforehand, in an alkaline solution, you can remove the tip with a sharp pin to allow the entry of moisture in the seed. Make sure that the seed beds are watered frequently so that they have plenty of moisture.

Seedlings are going to attain graft-able size, when they are about eighteen months old.

Also, if you are using root cuttings, you can just plant them in well-prepared and rich soil, and the tree is going to germinate./Root and throw suckers. You can find plenty of these suckers growing from stumps, after the olive trees have been cut down. However, any seedling yield, which is germinated from a seed or from a sucker is going to be poor, that is why since ancient times, olive plants have always been grafted or budded onto other trees.

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Olives are evergreen plants. They need a little bit of chilling, for fruiting purposes. This is common in temperate region, fruit plants, when temperatures fall down at night. The wilder varieties of olives O.oleaster are not cultivated, because being a wild species, it is much better to use these trees for grafting purposes. Also, the fruit of these olives are inedible and the tree is spiny.

The one which you are going to cultivate in your garden, apart from the Pendolino variety is going to be the O. europea variety sativa. This is going to be the cultivated oil yielding form, with lots of foliage, and a good harvest of fruits.
An olive is going to grow well in a warm and temperate to subtropical regions, where the temperature ranges between 7 – 35°C. If you are trying to grow olives at an altitude, make sure that the height is just 750 – 1450 m above sea level. Higher than that, your tree is not going to flourish.

Growing olive trees is done best in areas where the rainfall is well distributed. If the winter rain is inadequate, or there is a delay in it, the new vegetative growth is going to be delayed. This is going to create a significant reduction in the growth and differentiation of the flower bud. In the same manner, if there is a continuous dry and hot summer spell, along with a serious water shortage, you are not going to get a good flower or fruit growth.

Popular Varieties


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Pendolino varieties are capable of giving you about 30 pounds per tree. Mission, Picholine, Frontoio and Coratina are capable of giving up to 20 pounds per tree. If you are growing olives in a low altitude area, you can grow the Canino, Leccino and Moriolo variety.

I was just talking with one of my friends, about olive varieties, and I started getting amused at the varieties – Canino reminded me of dogs and Cornicobra reminded me of a loony serpent. When he had stopped guffawing, he said that according to him, many of the variety names were rather logical, and that the person who had named these varieties made sure that they would be remembered. So they would!

But then I being rather a cynic remember Barbara Cartland’s silly vapid heroines with equally stupid names made up of a couple of consonants and a couple of vowels. For example, a heroine named Ola decides to disguise herself and change her name. Her two choices of suitable names are Holeola and Relola. I ask you. Only a Barbara Cartland could think these names attractive or believable.

Harvesting of the Fruit

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All of these are olive varieties…

lives are harvested when their deep green color begins to change to a lighter and straw yellow color. Therefore, this is the time when you have to look out for the fruit becoming too soft at that stage. This normally happens in some varieties. So make sure that you harvest the fruit, before they reach the soft stage.

You can allow the firm fleshed varieties to stay on the branches until you see the tinge of purple coloration on their skins. The right time for harvesting is going to be learned through experience. So if you are the 1st time harvester, ask the help of an experienced olive fruit grower to tell the right time and season for harvest. That is because if the fruits are harvested too soon, they are going to lose their flavor, as well as their texture.

Handling of the olives has to be done carefully, because they are very easily bruised.

Olives for Taste

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Olives have a natural and unpalatable bitterness, most of which has to be removed before they can be enjoyed with pleasure. I remember the 1st episode of The Persuaders when the 2 main characters, Tony Curtis and Roger Moore, have a little bit of an argument about the number of olives which need to be put in a “Tree Climber.”
Tony is busy giving gratuitous advice to the bartender and asking him to put two olives in Roger Moore’s – who is a complete stranger to him – drink.
“Lord Brett Sinclair” definitely does not want this advice because he does not want “two olives, bumping against each other in his drink!” So they settle matters by getting into an argument -with fisticuffs- destroying the whole bar in the process!
Later on in the episode, when the 2 men are finally introduced to each other, they still cannot resist a 1 olive/2 olives dialogue thus setting the stage for future arguments based on individual taste and stubbornness.

Extracting Olive Oil

There are many traditional ways of extracting olive oil and nowadays mechanical processes are much in use. In one process, the fruit is separated from leaves and other extra plant parts and washed. They are then crushed by roller so adjusted as to break very few seeds, if any.

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Olive fruit being ground

This is then collected in strong cloths, and then subjected to a pressure of 1000 pounds so that most of the juice and some of the oil is extracted. This is called a pomace.

This pomace is then crushed again in a bowl under heavy rollers and exposed to considerably greater pressure. This expressed material is then placed in a second tank and the oil, which rises to the top is removed. It is then washed by being sprayed into warm water or having warm water sprayed into it to remove the bitter substance that has come from the fruit with it.

This oil is then going to be placed again in settling tanks for 10 days so that the solid particles and some of the heaviest oils, sink down to the bottom. These are now drawn off from the bottom. This oil if used for food is going to be filtered, aged in a tank and filtered again. People prefer oils refined to tastelessness in a large number of markets, but a little bit of bitter taste, which comes with less filtering is going to leave a richer flavor.

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The ultra-refined olive oil that you get in the market today has been subjected to so many refining processes that most of its flavor and taste has been removed. It is good only for putting on salads. Look for places where you can get real olive oil produced by local growers, especially in the Mediterranean regions, Greece and Italy.

This book has given you plenty of information about the origin and history of olives, as well as how you can grow it as a profitable plant.

This URL by John Summerley is also very informative, especially when he talks about not buying olives in cans. Being a natural food promoter myself, I do not advise anything which is bottled or canned, by companies unless you are doing the bottling and canning yourself.
So take full advantage of the health benefits of olives and Live Long and Prosper!


click here to download the full copy of this book. 

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