Sunday, November 5, 2023

In Greece: The Real Game of Chance

Greeks have spent 22.7 billion in the first eight months of this year . . .gambling.

The rather staggering figure comes from the Hellenic Gaming Commission which monitors our adopted country's gaming industry. It is an industry that includes land-based casinos, lotteries, horse racing and chance games organized by the Greek Organization of Football Prognostics (OPAP).

Stone House on the Hill olive oil

Yet, those numbers don't include the biggest game of chance that Greece has to offer: growing olives for olive oil.  

After the olive season we've just had at our Stone House on the Hill, I can tell you there is no bigger game of chance around than producing those little buttons of olive oil!  It is nothing short of spinning a big ol' Roulette wheel in the early spring and waiting to see where the harvest ball will land come late October. 

A bit wrinkled this year

We harvested early this year, within a week of the oil processing plants opening. It was a race against time for us if we hoped to have anything to harvest. Our olives were shades of green, purple, and black - all looking withered and worn. They were beginning to drop - and that is something you don't want! 

Lady Luck smiled on us and kept most of what there was of them on the trees long enough for us to get them harvested in late October. For many of the large producers whose groves stretch from sea level up into the hillsides of the Taygetos Mountains, it will be December or January before the harvest is complete.  

When city supplied water dries up, you buy water to use at home

This year the odds were against all Mediterranean olive oil producers; our area was no exception. A combination of high temperatures in the summer and a continuing lack of water combined to turn what should have been plump little oil laden nuggets into raisins. The same problem existed in Spain and Italy as well, both, along with Greece are major producers of the world's olive oil.

I won't even venture into all the ways insects and disease can skew the odds against growers. Suffice to say if the pesky Dako, a fly the specializes in destroying the flesh of the olive and degrades the olive oil by making it acidic, doesn't get you, there's a new menacing bacterium out there destroying olive trees in Italy, Spain and parts of Greece.  It clogs the tree's lifeline so it can't absorb water and it dies.

A Toss of the Dice

Olives begin to form in the spring

We had high hopes in the spring when the miniscule white flowers began developing into olives. Barely the size of a grape seed, we start monitoring their growth. There is little else to be done until harvest. We don't water and we don't spray.

Very few growers in our area - no matter the size of their groves - have formal watering systems. Of course, it wouldn't help if we did as we don't have enough municipal water to have a steady supply for use in the house, let alone watering a grove of trees. (And this year our municipally supplied water has been laden with salt, so it wouldn't have been good for the trees anyway.)  

We spin the wheel of chance each spring

We didn't spray our trees this year; not because of bio and environmental concerns, but because the guy who sprays is building himself a house and was not available. And they say when we do spray, it is bio spray. Who knows? Many told us it was so hot this summer that we didn't need to spray anyway. Basically, no self-respecting Dako wants to destroy raisins. They prefer the juicy kind of olives as we all do.  

Greek Olive Oil Production

Those are this year's olives going to press

Greece comes in third in the world's olive oil production with 80% percent of its orchard land growing some 117 million olive trees.  Fifteen million olive trees are planted here in our Messenian region.  

These bags are filled with our olives - the Stone House on the Hill

We have just under 20 trees.  Ours is a good-sized hobby grove - big enough to produce more oil than we use but not considered industrial sized.  Our grove, as long-time readers know, carpets a terraced hillside making it a difficult one to harvest. We hire people who have the equipment and knowledge to conduct the harvest. On harvest day we do as we are instructed by them.

We've been made redundant by mechanized harvest equipment

In the past we've had a cadre of friends who've volunteered to help beat and rake the olives from the branches and crawl across plastic nets on hands and knees gathering the fallen fruit into gunny sacks. This year our grove was draped from top to bottom with enormous nets and a crew of three used motorized harvesters (think pitchfork with caffeine jitters) that shake the olives from the tree.  The small crop and experienced crew made the workday for us easier, if still long.

Win, Lose or Draw

Memory of previous harvest yields

Our harvest was less than half of last years in terms of kilos harvested; 407 to 187. However, those scrawny, wrinkled looking olives had far more oil in them than we imagined possible. We had 33 liters of oil, down from the 59 of last year, but respectable. The good news is that olives are in short supply, so the price paid us for our excess oil was more than double the per liter price paid two years ago. 

Olive oil production. . .what a game of chance. . .what a win!

We'd call this year's game of chance a win!  However, the real win is that we get to participate each year in a ritual that has gone on for centuries in this adopted country of ours. I recall at the time we purchased our house trying to imagine what in the world we would do with the small olive grove that came with it. . .now I can't imagine life without it. 

That's it for this week.  Autumn has been glorious in our slice of Greece - so much so, we've had no desire to travel. I'm sure we'll be bitten by the bug again soon though. What about you? Where have your travels taken you or where will your travel plans take you?

Hope you are back with us soon. Safe travels to you and yours~

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