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Belarna Grove Olive Oil

your taste of the unspoilt Hunter Valley

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The life cycle of an olive

The Life Cycle of an olive

New shoots - August / September

Spring in the Hunter Valley of NSW tends to start around mid-August and is marked by the flowering of the native wattles. Frost is pretty well over and the days warm up to the low to mid 20s.

New shoots start to emerge from behind the leaves of the previous season's growth: what grows as new wood one year has the potential to carry olives the following year. If an olive tree has a big crop of olives one year it will tend to not produce much new wood, so fewer olives the following season. This bi-annual cropping can be controlled by pruning.

Bud Burst - September / October

The shoots form flower buds as the weather starts to warm up. Not every leaf produces a bud and not every bud will form a flower, but generally around 85% of the buds will become male flowers producing pollen, and only 15% will produce female flowers capable of producing an olive.

This is late spring by European terms, but in indigenous terms the season is Ngoonungi - the season of cool becoming warm and the arrival of the flying foxes.

 

Flowering - generally October

This is the time of the year where the olives are at their most vulnerable to strong winds. Olive trees are wind-pollinated, so although bees can be seen crawling all over the flowers searching for pollen, most of the actual pollination is done by the wind.

The Hunter Valley can have really strong winds at this time of the year, and a season can easily be over before it begins if the weather is against us.

Generally speaking - brightly coloured and red coloured flowers are attractive to insects and birds: nondescript white and yellow flowers have not evolved to attract the attention of birds or insects, so are pollinated by some other means, usually the wind.

Post-flowering - October / November

Olive start to form - the flowers are being replaced by actual olives now. Pollination is now over and the flowers have fallen off. The pale brown buds are the forming olive - not many of those flowers has turned into fruit.

This is a time of the year where the tree really wants some good growing conditions: sunny days and some rain along with some food to kick the growth along. This is the early summer period - known as the Parra-dowee season in nearby D'harawal calendar: warm and wet.

The crop is forming - November / December

This is 'proper' summer now: the occasional storm and hot sunny weather. The olives have clearly formed and all they need now is the right weather to develop and ripen.

Olives are prone to a couple of fungal diseases and these warm and humid days can bring on these diseases, so the occasional preventative spray of Copper can reduce the number of fungal spores without causing any contamination to the olives. This is approved by organic farmers too and is used world-wide. Timing is important as this is a preventative measure, not a cure.

 

Development of the olives - January to March

We are now into Burran - hot and dry and the season when male kangaroos become aggressive. In the grove we can expect the occasional sudden deluge of rain followed by a couple of weeks of dry, sunny weather. Temperatures can get into the 40s - which is not such as problem as one of the olive pests - Olive Lace Bug - tends not to survive in extremes of heat. Olive Lace Bug is a sap-sucking insect that has the potential to suck the vigor out of a tree if numbers are sufficient. Chemical sprays have been tried and generally created more problems than they solved - oil sprays are fine if used properly

Getting ready to pick: April / June

Fully formed and starting to get some colour. Unlike grapes that come in different colours - red and white - olives start off green and turn pink and finally purple / black on the tree as they ripen. All olives to this. Some in this image are clearly part green and part purple.

Once the skin has turned colour the core of the olive is still white to green. As the olive ripens the core gets darker as the amount of oil accumulates. Early picked green olives may have as little as 6% olive oil, later picked from the same tree as much as 28%. This season is Marrai'gang.