Olive Harvest

Oct 12, 11 Olive Harvest

Stages of Ripening

After olive trees have flowered the fruit starts to develop. Initially the olives are green and hard. Gradually as they ripen they change colour to yellow-green and then to reddish purple and finally to black. These changes in appearance are matched by chemical changes within the fruit itself.

Unripe olives have high levels of chlorophyll which gives them their green colour. During the ripening process the levels of chlorophyll fall and increasing amounts of carotenoid (the pigment which produces the darkening of the fruit) develop.

Oil yield is low when the fruit are unripe and increases as the fruit matures. The oil initially very bitter also sweetens at this stage. In addition the ripening will be influenced by the aspect of the trees in the grove – those in more sheltered areas and olives at the top of the tree reaching maturity first. It is possible however for the fruit to get too ripe. Most producers believe that once the crop is starting to fall off the tree the peak time for harvest is gone and the resultant oil is of poorer quantity.

Despite this though there is no ideal stage at which to harvest the olives. When deciding to create an oil the producer has to balance factors as shelf life (greatest in less ripe fruits), yield and flavour.

Traditional Method

The traditional method of olive picking involves combing the ripe fruit from the tree into nets, or hand picking into baskets tied around the waist. Ladders are used to climb up into the trees to reach the fruit.

It is a lovely relaxing way to harvest olives, the only sound being the gentle rattling as the ripe olives fall to the ground.

Modern Techniques

Mechanical pickers have in most places replaced hand combing the olives from the tree, although there are increasing degrees of mechanisation of the olive harvest.

At its most low tech pickers like the one shown on the right use a long handled vibrating tongs to remove the olives from the branches. The olives are collected in nets which have to be spread underneath the trees by

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The next stage in automation relies on a shaker bar fitted to the back of a tractor. This shakes the tree from the trunk and prior to this unfurls a net around the base of the tree to collect the olives.

(via olivepicking.com)

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