Olive trees are oh so easy
GIVEN my name, some people are slightly shocked when I tell them I am not that keen on olives. Don’t get me wrong, I can drink pints of olive oil, but when it comes to the fruit I want to like them but, sadly, I don’t.
However, the plant itself is a different story – the gnarled stems, their silvery- green leaves and even their bitter yet colourful drupes make this one very attractive plant.
An established olive tree is a hardy organism and is well suited to our climate.
It will not only survive but will fl ourish through long periods of hot, dry weather and will even bear fruit.
They will tolerate a wide range of soil types and pH levels but prefer a slightly alkaline soil that is fertile and, most importantly, drains well.
I like to apply a mix of dolomite lime and gypsum once a year as well as a dose of blood and bone in spring and, if needed, another one in early autumn.
There are many great ways you can train your olives, but if you want a productive plant, then you need to give it a bit of an identity crisis.
The natural habit of an olive is that of a large shrub, but for many reasons it is far better to grow it as a tree.
Training the tree to an open goblet shape is ideal. This way the tree will be less prone to pest attack, as it will be easier to manage, it will produce more fruit of a better quality and just generally look a lot better.
Where I grew up, Con, the old guy up the street, had two large olive trees both with thick stems and masses of bushy growth on top.
One day I walked past and he was pruning them with a chainsaw! He cut them down so there were only the two trunks left.
I lamented the loss of the trees to him, saying how beautiful they were. He laughed and assured me they would be OK.
Sure enough, a few weeks later there was growth and in no time they were looking like trees again.
If you are wanting to learn how to prune or train plants, try an olive tree, as they are so tough but also very malleable as a plant and respond extremely well to pruning.
Olives are grown all over the world and there are many varieties developed in different countries, including Australia.
Some varieties are good for oil, such as the Italian Frantoio ( pictured, above inset) and the French Verdale, some are good for fruit, such as the American Californian Queen or UC13A6 and, of course, there’s the famous Greek Kalamata.
Koroneiki is a good variety in extremely windy areas, Leccino is tolerant of extreme cold and Hardy’s Mammoth is just extremely tough all- round.
Blood and bone can help deter rabbits – they can eat the soft bark on the trunk of the tree and can easily ringbark it. Scale insects are the main problem most people encounter. They will weaken the plant and promote sooty mould, a fungus that coats the leaves and stops it photosynthesising.
You can control scale with biodegradable dishwashing soap and water or white oil, but the ants are the true culprits, as they transport the scale onto the tree and farm them. To keep the ants off you can wrap a band of plastic around the main stem and smear it with Vaseline.
Birds will clear a tree of its fruit in no time. Deterrents like mirrors can work, but netting is a more certain protection measure.
Olives are extremely bitter straight off the tree and need fairly extensive treatment before they are edible.
If you have a small number of trees or just one very productive tree, there are businesses where you can get your harvest pressed into oil for a fee, or alternatively you can try one of the many curing recipes and develop your own.
This recipe may take a while, but it does produce a great end result and, as they say, good things come to those who wait.
Take 1kg of olives and add 70 grams sea salt, three cloves, one- quarter stick of cinnamon, the peel of two lemons, two bay leaves and two crushed cloves of garlic.
Fill with water till olives are just covered. Leave for about three months and stir regularly, then rinse and repeat the process. After another three months they should be ready.