Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Olive Harvest

The olives are done.

The autumn bogeyman that assumes giant proportions every October has been put to bed with barely a whimper, and I’m free!

We have twenty-eight olive trees, and each year – I guess because I’m the main agriculturalist except for the vines and the mango trees – I arrange pickers, usually work as well, then take the olives for pressing. If we have a good quantity (three years ago we had 525 kilos), I take it to the village of Anoyira, about thirty minutes’ drive away, to the Ecological mill where it is cold-pressed by huge stones in the traditional way. Less than 100 kilos (we pruned back some sick trees very heavily last year, and with less watering the harvest was much less), I take to the mill in the neighbouring village of Agia Varvara where they use heat to extract the oil and the processing is much cheaper.

When I arrived back from Scotland on October 5, I did my usual tour around the property – checking to see if there were any mangoes left (there were two), looking to see if the insect traps were working on the guava trees (they were), sussing out the state of my veg patches (they had been well cared for in my absence). And I looked at the olive trees. Shock! The olives were already darkening.

“When are you doing your olives?” I asked my father in law. He shrugged: “End of the month, as usual.” Had I, the foreigner, misjudged the olives so badly, or are they doing what all the other trees seem to be doing these last few years and yielding early?

I consulted Best Beloved. “Do what you think best, Manamou!”

So I called Theodora – the little Russian Greek grandmother from Georgia who is my crew boss and asked her to line up another four workers for last Thursday. “Thursday!” I repeated. “Seven-thirty.”

Last year she diddled me. She had been picking for Best Beloved’s Cousine and we had arranged that she and her crew would come on the Tuesday but they hadn’t finished Cousine’s trees, so she didn’t show up at the rendez-vous point and when I called her that evening swore blind that I had said Wednesday. Last year’s olives were picked by a hodge-podge of Vietnamese and family over a three-day stretch and I’m sure the experience put five years’ worth of white hairs on my head.

But she was there. With another four Russian Greeks. And they had all the trees done by noon and did some work in the garden besides. They are amazing workers, Theodora’s crew; usually they work from 6.30 (I have to get them at 7.30 because of the school run) until 3, providing their own food, for 30 Euro each. They’re not slackers, and they NEVER stop talking their dialect of blended Russian and Greek.

This year I didn’t work. Fired by some Puritan urge or some macha need to get dirty and exhausted in the name of manual work, I usually join the crew raking the olives from the branches down onto the nets spread around the roots, then cleaning out the leaves and tipping the fruit into the boxes. This year I didn’t. I showed them the trees, gave them the tools, and let them get on with the job.

Maybe I’m finally learning something!

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