Life on the olive farm is a seasonal tapestry woven by nature, and we raise our olives according to its rhythms. All around the farm, we enjoy spending time with the animals and plants that share this journey with us.
A Year on the Olive Farm
As the weather turns warmer, horsetails peek up out of the ground and the sumomo plum blossoms begin to open.
Olive trees store nutrients in their leaves to overwinter, so once the weather turns warm, we carefully begin to prune the trees for new growth; at the latest we finish by late April. We also fertilize and plant new trees at this time. We tend to fertilize in late-February or early March because we leave vegetation to grow wild in the grove, as it will in turn become fertilizer later in the year.
Just as the olive trees begin new growth, all the pests that can inhibit it also become active. We do our first protective spray against the great enemy, the olive weevil, in late March or early April.
The sunny days grow longer, and with the right amount of rain, the grasses spring up high and it’s time for weeding. It’s also when the bamboo shoots and warabi bracken start to show their faces as well.
We break out the weed whackers and mowers, and begin cleaning up the olive groves. While cleaning around the trees by hand, we check each one for evidence of weevil infestation or damage.
At the same time, last year’s olive leaves turn to a dark green, and the foliage on the new branches turn into a beautiful light yellow-green. These color changes indicate healthy olive trees.
From May, the weather turns hotter and we change our long-sleeve work wear for short. The UV-rays also turn punishing, but there are beautiful changes to look forward to as well, like wild strawberries.
As the season passes, flower buds get fuller, and we all look forward to the coming blossoms. The spring rains taper off and as dry days continue, we have to get out the watering tubes to provide necessary moisture to the trees. For trees still in planters, it is especially important to make sure that the soil does not dry out.
Depending on the variety, olive blossoms begin to open in late May or early June, give or take a week. When blossoming happens close to the start of the rainy season, blossoms can get damaged and this affects our harvest.
As the cloudy days of the rainy season linger on, we start planting our rice fields in between working in the groves. At the end of June, the sumomo plums also start to bear fruit.
Once trees blossom in earnest, it’s important to monitor them carefully as each flower will eventually grow into a fruit. Watering becomes critical at this stage. Keeping an eye on precipitation, we also manually water as necessary to keep trees happy. In early July, the rainy season can turn nasty with typhoons bringing torrential rains and strong winds. To reduce the risk of fallen trees, we carefully check drainage and use stakes to give trees added support where necessary.
July & August
Once the rainy season ends, the sweltering summer is upon us. Far off thunderheads frame the sky around the olive farm.
Fighting against the heat, we start our second round of cutting back vegetation. Once each grove is finished, we set up irrigation tubing and start watering.
The infant olive fruits begin to grow larger and stand out on the branches. If we spot a brown, blemished olive fruit we quickly pinch it off. These fruits contain anthrax bacteria and will contaminate neighboring olives. Mid-July, we spray a second time against olive weevils.
From the end of June to the end of September, it is typhoon season in Japan so we do our best to protect the groves from damage at this time.
Perhaps the hottest time of year, we begin harvest preparations. We also get the oil extracting and cleaning areas ready.
From late August into September, we pack up the irrigation tubes and do our third weeding. We also do our 3rd spray against weevils. We must take care with saplings to protect them against damage from wood-borers as well.
In the oil extracting area, we clean out our stainless tanks and conduct trial runs of our machinery. We also start to set up our olive cleaning area, where we will carefully select harvested fruits.
It’s critical to pick olives at exactly the right time, so we carefully observe the ripening fruits and choose where to start. We prep our containers and ladders and (usually in mid- to late September, depending on the variety) begin the harvest with the trees that are ready to go.
October & November
With nature’s blessing, the autumn brings a bountiful harvest. We have a few lemon and persimmon trees that give us fruit as well. Though we are busy with olives, we harvest rice from Minna no Tanbo in mid-October too.
This is the busiest season of the year, and farmers come from all over Japan to help us process our harvest. The extracting and cleaning areas are abuzz with activity, and every day, we decide whether to pick olives for oil or preserving based on the weather. Once we have picked enough, we get started on processing the olives according to their purpose.
Please take a look at the Olive Oil Making page for further details on production.
The harvest winds down in mid-November, and then we get to our lemon and persimmon trees that wait patiently for us to finish.
December to February
Once we get into December, the days grow short and chilly, and the olive trees prepare themselves for winter.
The olive trees fall dormant as temperatures drop and they enter their overwintering phase. When they are still young, their trunks are active, so we will change ties and stakes for those that still need them.
Though one would imagine winter is not a busy time for us, we still apply manure and fertilizer, as well as ground cover sheets, in the groves. We also plant the seeds for next year’s barley crop. There is one yuzu tree in our Teranoshita grove, so we pick them at winter solstice.
Late January and early February brings the first asparagus buds, and plum blossoms add beauty and color to the cold winter days.