Olive harvest 2020

  • Posted on: 19 May 2020
  • By: MrWurster

Most years my part of the olive harvest ends when the handpicking stops. I'm not precise enough with a forklift to be trusted to be moving around the 400kg tubs of harvested olives, so I don't do much of the post-harvest processing. The tree-shaking harvesting gear is worked by its owners, who contract-harvest, and bring their own people. So I'm not usually much use.

But this year I got a closer look. The contract harvester showed up a man short, so I did the walk ahead tree-spotting, and fluffed the catching net after each tree to make sure olives dropped into the main catchment area.

Colin's olive oil press equipment is finally working as its supposed to. The last five years there's been some sort of catastrophic fail, mostly to do with one particular pump. The manufacturer of this expensive plant denied and denied there was a problem. Last year Colin worked it out, replaced the pump, and now he's in full production mode, and needed an extra pair of hands. This year I'm manning a shovel, pushing through the harvested olives.

It's pretty satisfying to see it through to the end. Yesterday we machine-shook the laneway orchard, then about 60 of my biggest trees. Next weekend we'll work through the rest of the orchard.

The laneway orchard was a mongrel mess when we moved in. The trees had been dumped in two rows in the laneway from the main road to our place. Untended, unpruned, they were a sad-looking lot. After working for Colin pruning for two seasons, I took them on as a project, and pruned them back to bare bones. Three years on they have recovered, and blossomed. They are now mostly classically shaped olive trees. This year had a good crop.

A few of them aren't great trees yet. They've put all their growth into twin or knotted trunks, the sort of shape a tree-shaker doesn't like. They'll have to be pruned hard again, some losing more than 2/3 s of their foliage. But I can see they will recover.

Yesterday when the mechanical harvester was here, it started at the best end of the orchard and did the best trees. Some of them are now too big, and dripped with over 80kg of olives. In three hours about 120 trees were shaken, and dropped almost 2 tonnes of olives. Well, dropped a lot more than that, but the harvester caught 2 tonnes. A lot bounced outside the net. My bigger trees tend to flick their olives off 20 metres away when the top branches start vibrating.

Today I manned a shovel, feeding into the hopper that takes the olives to the hammer mill for crushing. Its not hard work…the shovel is only lightly filled, so I don't drop any, but it's constant, and it’s a long day. By the end of the day some 1800kg of olives had been shoveled through.

The processing plant crushes them, "malaxes" the paste, then spins the oil out of the paste.

The yield is based on how much you put through, and what the percentage of oil is. In a bad year you can get a return like 4%. This year its looking like 15%. In a sensational year you can get 22%.

So we are halfway through. On Sunday the harvester will be back for the rest of the orchard. The remaining trees are a mixed bunch. A few weeks back we walked through and marked the pickable trees. Only about half were worth picking. Then after that I did a second walk around and classed the marked trees as either "Up to 5kg" or "Up to 20kg".

From that it’s a tyre-kick guestimate that comes out at 6 tonnes. Since then we've had rain, 5000 birds visiting for a feed and a bit of wind. The ripest olives have already jumped ship, so there's less to pick.

If we get 6 tonnes, @ 15% oil, we are looking at 900 litres for the harvest total.

Postscript: Total oil from the harvest was 600 litres.