Just as they have for centuries,
the rituals of olive harvest in Greece's Peloponnese are heralding in
the month of November. . .
|Tourist season gives way to olive harvest season|
The signs of seasonal change begins here about October 28, Saint Dimitrios' Name Day. It is, on or near, that day that several tavernas in the surrounding villages will close for 'the season'. Tractors cease hauling boats from the harbor, pulling trailers filled with harvest equipment instead. Beach toys for tourists disappear from store shelves, replaced by tools and oil storage containers used in olive harvest.
But it is the smoke from fires on November 1st that signal 'the season of the olive' is upon us. From a practical standpoint, the first day of the month is the first day we can legally burn brush and cuttings accumulated during the hot, dry fire-danger spring and summer. The underbrush in groves is also being cut and burned to make way for harvest nets.
Olive harvest spans several months, continuing into late December or early January in this part of Greece.
|Koronieki olives grown at The Stone House on the Hill|
The olive grown here for oil - most often referred to as the Kalamata olive -- is the koronieki variety. The small fruit, barely the size of the little finger's nail, is packed with oil, which in turn is packed with poly-phenols, a natural anti-oxidant that has been linked to heart-attack and cancer prevention. Its history in Greek horticulture dates back thousands of years.
While the large growers enlist paid workers and volunteer crews to assist with the harvest, many of the groves are still 'mom and pop' operations where harvesting is done literally by a couple who've done their task together for decades. Many of the groves are like ours - grown on steep terraced hillsides inaccessible by machines even if machines were available. So our harvest is also done by hand.
|Daco destroyed olives - 2018|
Last year most of the growers - large and small - in our area lost their olive crops to the invasive 'daco' (Dacus oleae) the olive fruit fly that devastated crops in neighboring countries before heading our direction. Weather conditions were perfect for crop decimation. Our small grove of 17 trees wasn't spared: the olives had shriveled on the trees by August. But for us, it is a hobby crop; sadly, for many we know, it was a major lost source of income.
One doesn't think about the ripple effect of crop failure until it surrounds you. Restaurants resorted to buying olives instead of serving those they had grown. Residents had less money so shopping was cut back as was dining out and entertainment spending. From retail to restaurants - everyone in the village was touched by the crop failures.
A New Year ~ A New Crop
|Harvest at The Stone House on the Hill 2019|
The joy surrounding this year's harvest is palpable in the villages.
Our dry, hot summer was the perfect condition for thwarting that pesky fly. Just to be on the safe side some, like us, augmented with use of 'bio' (safe) sprays that tackled the fly without harm to humans.
Everywhere, the tree branches droop with olives. There's a near holiday feel to the herculean harvest task ahead.
In the five years since we bought our Stone House on the Hill, the olive harvest has became as big an event for us as for those life-long growers around us. We know we have some new readers since I last told you about harvest on the hill so sit back and join us on this year's harvest journey:
|Volunteers work long and hard to make it happen|
Our crew consisted of two paid workers (the two who directed the operation as they knew what they were doing) and six 'boomers': the two of us and two couples that had volunteered to help. (One couple flew in from Washington State and assured us at the end of the harvest day that they will come back to visit but NOT during harvest again).
While I write about the joys and the magic of harvest -- of which there are many -- I can assure you, it is a back-breaking, muscle-stretching hard day. We harvested our 17 trees in six hours: the first two hours were fun, the next two tolerable and the last two were outright torture.
|The Scout at work|
Humongous plastic nets were draped over the terraces to catch the olives. Olives are beaten or raked from the tree or from those branches that have been cut off of the tree. Think multi-tasking: harvesting and pruning at the same time.
|On hands and knees the quality control step is the final one in the grove|
Part of our crew was charged with hauling the cut branches down the terraces to a burn pile on the lower level. Others were the 'harvesters' beating, pounding and raking branches until they couldn't raise their arms. Then came the 'quality control' team who crawled on their hands and knees picking twigs and larger stubble from the olives, rolling those carpets of fruit until they are in a neat pile and ready for the burlap bags.
|Ares who directs the operation - Photo: Marti Bartlett|
Thankfully the younger and stronger members of the team hauled the 50 kilo bags up the hill.
Our 377 kilos (831 pounds) of olives were deposited at the local olive press (nowadays a computerized but complex machine ) and at 7 p.m. the hour-long processing of turning the fruit to oil began:
|Our olives enter the processor|
Olives are first separated from remaining leaves and stems, then washed then the processing begins.
|Oil to the left and water to the right - Photo: Marti Bartlett|
A swirling mass of green 'goo' is churned until it arrives at the separator where water and oil have a parting of the ways. . .
|And then there it is: thick, rich olive oil!|
. . .minutes later, the moment the day has been leading to.... olive oil! And for us, lots of it this year. Our yield was 70 kilos or 18.5 gallons of emerald green, spicy olive oil.
It is anticipated that Greece will produce 300,000 tons of oil this year, a 60% increase over last and 11% more than the usual annual average. It will contribute to the European Union's member state's projected production of 2.1 million tons of olive oil.
|End of the day and I am still upright! - Photo: Marti Bartlett|
It is an amazing experience and each time harvest day ends I say a little prayer that we'll still be physically able next year to roll up the shirt-sleeves, get a bit dirty and a lot tired, and be a part of such a time honored tradition.
|A 'tsipouro' toast to a good year - Photo Marti Bartlett|
Another thanks to photographer Marti Bartlett for the photos she shared for use in this post.
And thanks for being with us on this harvest journey! Welcome to all you new subscribers ~ hope you'll all be back next week when we are off to Monemvasia, one of the most enchanted spots in the Peloponnese! Until then ~ wishes for safe travels to you and yours!
Linking sometime soon with:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday