Thursday, December 13, 2018
   
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Olives

Rockhaven Farm produces organic, virgin cold-pressed olive oil which is sold off the farm.  We produce a small quanitity of table olives as well.  We use mainly Mission and Frantoio varieties for the oil.  The table olives are Mission and Kalamata .  Our oldest trees are ten years old.






Rockhaven Farm is situated at 750 m above sea level and is subject to extreme temperatures:  we can receive snow in winter, and frost at times, with temperatures in summer reaching well above 30 degree Celsius.  There were no existing olive trees on Rockhaven Farm when Ratel Farming first started farming the farm (although the indigenous 'wild olive' is prolific).  There was some scepticism from local farmers as to the prospects of growing olives in these conditions: The local wisdom oliveswas that the temperature extremes on the mountain are too severe for succesful olive production and that the soils are too deficient in essential micro-elements.  In the first year of planting, the young trees were subjected to a thick snowfall and we feared the worst.  However, the trees have proved to be hardy and able to deal with this adversity.  We have now established that although the severity of the winter reduced the growth period for the trees, the cold eliminates many of the pests that would otherwise be a problem.  We have almost no pests, save for olive beetle, which is controlled easily using BioNeem.



The trees are planted in an old apple orchard and underwent a three year conversion process to organic.  The combination of organic practises and the lengthy winter period has resulted in slower growth and lower yield than would otherwise be expected.  However, both growth and yield are acceptable and the quality of the fruit (and the oil produced) is exceptional.


 We have only experimented with Mission and Frantoio varieties at present, as these are the hardiest trees for our conditions.  We are currently planting a few test varieties, including Kalamata and green table olives.  We have also experimented with different types of soil preparation.  In all cases, the existing apple trees have been pulled out.  In certain areas we have deep-ripped (using a back ripper to achieve a ripped depth of over a metre), and in others we have ploughed.  It appears that the ripping has compacted the sides of the channel, resulting in slower growth as the root spread reaches this compacted wall.  The ploughed area has experienced easier growth without an apparent ‘slow down’ as the roots extend.

 
The initial preparation of the soil has included liming in an attempt to raise the pH of the soil (which is strongly acidic).  The soil is sandy and contains little loam.  Compost and manure are added during ploughing.  Once planted, the trees receive organic fertiliser (Kraggroei and Talborne) on a strict timetable: the area around the trees is kept weed free and is mulched with old straw and wood chips.  Irrigation is presently from micro-jet sprayers, although the new trees will be placed on drip irrigation lines: compost tea can then be delivered to each tree through the drip lines.


Soil and leaf testing is doneolives and snow annually.  Organic practices make it impossible to remedy deficiencies immediately (conventional foliar sprays and fertilisers cannot be used) and this has to be done over time.  We are finding that the organic fertilisers that we use are resulting in an over-application of K: this is a difficult imbalance to remedy, as the trees require consistent application of N and P over their growing season.  It also appears that the K in organic fertilisers (the origin of which is largely chicken manure) is more highly water soluble than other elements, resulting in compost tea having a high K value.  This has resulted in us moving increasingly to using Talborne 4:1:1 as a source of nitrogen for the trees.

 
As with all organic farming, detailed data sheets are maintained in respect of all activities.  These are then required t be disclosed during the annual inspection.  They are also invaluable when assessing the development of the trees and the success (or otherwise) of particular organic practices.


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