Introduction to Organic Olive Farming
Olive is a subtropical broad-leaved evergreen tree that belongs to the Oleaceae family and its edible fruit. The fruit and its oil are key elements in the cuisine of the Mediterranean and are popular outside the region. Olive is the main cultivated plant species belonging to the monophyletic Oleaceae family. The Olive tree is an ancient, venerable tree long valued for its fruit and the oil pressed from it. Olive trees are subtropical evergreens that produce about 10 and 40 feet tall. Olive tree varieties do not come true from seed. Seedlings produce inferior fruit and should be budded or grafted to one of the named varieties. In this article we also discuss following contents;
- How do you increase Olive production
- Is Olive farming profitable
- How much water does a mature Olive tree need
- Do Olives need to be organic
- How much fertilizer do Olive trees need
- Where do Olive trees grow best
- How quickly do Olive trees grow
A Step by Step Guide to Organic Olive Farming, Cultivation Practices
Olives are grown mainly for the Olive oil production. Olive fruits used for oil extraction are allowed to mature, but, for processing as food, immature fruits are picked. It is a perennial tree that can live and produce Olives for more than a century. Olive trees grow best if they are fed throughout the growing season.
Choosing the Area for Organic Olive Farming
Olive trees can grow widely in nutrient-poor, but well-drained soils. Olive trees should not be planted in areas where temperature level falls below -5°C because they do not tolerate low-temperature levels and get seriously damaged by the winter season. A safe criterion for choosing a location is the presence of undamaged Olive trees for at least twenty years in the vicinity.
Olive trees are damaged from hot and dry air, particularly during flowering and fruit set. Also, in areas with low air circulation and high humidity, diseases like leaf spots appear more easily. Another criterion for the selection of the planting area is the availability of manpower, particularly during the harvesting period, as well as the presence of processing units nearby. The decision must take into account the annual rainfall. Therefore, in low rainfall areas (200-300 mm), the Olive yield is satisfactory in soils with good water retaining capacity, unless irrigation is applied. In high rainfall areas (400-600 mm) crop yield is good on the condition that adequate drainage is provided.
Growing Olive trees commercially first requires proper climate conditions and the selection of a field with certain characteristics. In a few words, these trees prefer well-drained soils (flat or with gentle slope) and exposure to direct sunlight. They cannot tolerate temperature levels below -7°C for many days, but a certain amount of cold is necessary for fruit development. This is the reason why these Olive trees cannot be grown in tropical climates.
Organic Soil Preparation in Olive Farming
Olive trees like extremely well-draining and rocky soil. Plant Olive tree in a mix of potting soil and perlite or small rocks. The Olive tree has wide adaptability to soils; it will tolerate a variety from sands to clays with a pH level of 5.5 to 8.5. Olive trees have fairly shallow root systems so they do not need deep soil, but the soils should be well-drained. Soil fertility should be improved since the first year of the plantation, through organic and mineral correction, when the main parameters of fertility are outside of the favorable values.
In organic Olive farming, soil conservation is mandatory, avoiding all types of erosion, and water erosion in particular. The best practice to achieve this goal is by covering the soil with spontaneous vegetation, or with specific cover crops adapted to the soil and climatic conditions. A good organic matter cycle management allows more efficient use of minimal amounts of organic fertilizers and an improved possibility to integrate plant nutrition with fertigation so that to reduce the leaching and environmental pollution. Also, the use of Olive oil by-products as an amendment and source of nutrients has been studied and is advisable.
Propagating Olive Tree from Cuttings
Step 1) Propagate Olive trees from cuttings in the summer season once the current season’s growth has begun to harden. Wait until after the blossoms have faded and the Olive fruit has set, if the parent plant is a fruiting Olive tree.
Step 2) Prepare a rooting container and fill an 8-inch nursery container with a mix of half washed sand and half milled peat. Saturate the mix with water and then press it to expel the excess. Poke about the 4-inch-deep hole in the moistened mix.
Step 3) Gather an 8-inch-long semi-hardwood cutting from the tip of a healthy Olive tree branch. Select one with a 1/4-inch diameter and sever it 1/8 inch below a leaf node. Remove all the leaves from the base of the cutting, leaving just 6 or so at the tip.
Step 4) Coat the severed end of the Olive cutting and flick the stem to knock off the excess powder. Then, insert the cutting into the hole in the moistened sand mixture. Firm the mix against the stem.
Step 5) Place the container on a propagation mat inside a lightly shaded, well-ventilated cold frame or outdoors on a sheltered garden bench with light shade.
Step 6) Mist the foliage twice daily with a spray bottle and check the moisture level in the sand mixture whenever you mist the foliage. Add water if the sand feels mostly dry in the top inch level. Check for roots in approximately 3 months by gently tugging on the base of the Olive cutting. Turn off the propagation mat after it roots. Continue to grow it in the cold frame with weekly watering during the winter season.
Step 7) Move the Olive to a shaded area of the garden in spring after the last frost. Grow it under lightly shaded conditions with 1 inch of water per week during the summer season. Transplant it into a permanent bed in autumn.
Propagating Olive Tree from Seed
Step 1) Propagate Olive trees from seed in spring about 4 weeks before the last frost. Start multiple seeds to ensure at least one will germinate because Olive seeds have naturally low viability.
Step 2) Crack the end of each seed with a pair of bolt cutters or nail clippers. Compress the bolt cutters into the seed tip until the endocarp, or pit begins to crack, but do not cut all the way through.
Step 3) Place the cracked Olive seeds in warm water. Soak the seeds overnight to hydrate the embryo and prompt germination. Drain the seeds on a paper for a few minutes before sowing them.
Step 4) Sow the Olive seeds in individual 4-inch plastic pots filled with a moist mixture of half washed sand and half seed compost. Sow them at a depth of about 1/4 inch. Gently firm the growing mix.
Step 5) Place the pots near a sunny window in an unheated room where temperatures stay around 12°C. Keep the seeds under cool conditions for 4 weeks. Moisten the growing mixture whenever it feels dry below the surface. Continue to water the seeds whenever the growing mixture dries out. Avoid overwatering, since the Olive seeds will go dormant or rot.
Step 7) Move the pots outdoors after the last spring frost. Place the pots under light shade. Watch for germination in approximately one to two months; however, don’t be discouraged if it takes significantly longer for the sprouts to emerge. Continue to grow the seedlings under light shade for their first summer season.
Step 8) Transplant the Olive seedlings into nursery containers filled with a mix of half loam and half washed sand once they grow to 3 inches in height. Transplant the Olive trees into a permanent bed in the spring or autumn of their second year, or once they possess several sets of mature plant leaves and a thick, sturdy lead stem. Space multiple Olives at least 15 feet apart.
Olive Tree Planting Method and Process
Olive trees need well-drained soil and a sunny position. Olives are grown for the production of Olive oil. Fresh, unprocessed Olives are inedible because of their extreme bitterness resulting from a glucoside that can be neutralized by treatments with a dilute alkali like lye. Salt applications also dispel some of the bitterness and the processed fruit may be eaten either ripe or green.
In areas with a mild climate, planting Olive takes place in November-December. In colder areas, it is advised to plant the Olive trees in February-March, to avoid the hazard of spring frosts and by all means before the new vegetative cycle. Planting is made into holes that can be dug manually or mechanically, in dimensions of about 60 x 40 cm (manual digging) or 20 x 30 cm (mechanical digging). Planting depth must be the same as in the nursery. In dry areas, planting holes must be 5-10 cm deeper and digging holes can raise certain problems. In light (sandy) soils, the walls of the hole fall in, while in heavy or clay soils the walls are compacted. In this case, the root system takes more time to grow beyond these walls. The trees are planted together with the root ball and the hole is filled with soil. Special care should be given not to damage the roots when pressing the earth down to firm the plants. After planting, the surrounding earth can be covered with straw to minimize water loss from the soil.
Young trees should be irrigated regularly during the first 2 to 3 years and fertilized with nitrogen every year. Also, it is essential to control weeds in time and take plant protection measures against pests and other diseases. If another annual crop is cultivated in the field (e.g. cotton, tomato, potato, and pumpkins, etc.) at the same time (co-culture), it must be restricted among the rows of the Olive trees to minimize competition among the plants. As Olive trees grow, the area of co-culture must be reduced gradually.
Irrigation Requirements in Organic Olive Farming
Olive trees respond well to adequate irrigation water. Properly irrigated Olive trees produce good growth, large fruit size, annual bearing, and much better yields than inadequately watered or highly water-stressed trees. Olive crop yield is greatly increased by applying small amounts of water. However, if maximum crop yields are desired, greater amounts of water will be needed, on the condition that soil humidity does not become excessive.
Irrigation is essential in the following cases;
- When the rainfall in the area is inadequate.
- When there is enough rainfall distributed only during the winter season, leaving the soil without humidity in the critical periods of spring and autumn.
- When the soil is sandy soil or gravelly with low water-retaining capacity.
Irrigation is recommended particularly in table Olive varieties where large fruit size is sought. Also, it is necessary for intensive plantations with densely planted trees for maximum production. Irrigation enhances the effectiveness of fertilization and pruning. Finally, it can minimize the phenomenon of alternate bearing.
Organic Agronomic Techniques in Olive Farming
Organic materials like manure, cover crop, or crop residues may help improve the soil structure for leaching. In order not to again build up a high sodium load, irrigation should have a high ratio of calcium and magnesium versus sodium. Supplemental irrigation during the summer season increases fruit yields by 30% – 50%. A long, sunny, warm summer results in an Olive fruit with high oil content. Olive trees perform well, with humidity varying between 40%–65 %
In organic Olive management, the cultural techniques and their correct application are essential to exalt the productive potentialities of the plants, preserve the environment, and maximize profit. They can be distinguished in soil practices, directed to preserve and improve soil conditions and tree practices, directed to plant growth and crop yield.
The organic Olive production is possible in different types of Olive groves;
a) Olive grove in organic farming – the first harvest can be certified;
b) Conventional or integrated Olive grove converted to organic farming must undertake a conversion period of 3 years.
In this conversion period, all organic farming rules should be fulfilled, although the final product (Olives or Olive oil) cannot be marketed as such. This is a difficult period for the producer, which requires more support, both technical and financial.
In organic farming, intensive production systems are allowed, since the soil is used, rather than hydroponics techniques. Nevertheless, highly intensive systems are difficult to apply as it does not match some organic farming principles are priority use of farm resources; maintenance and improvement of soil fertility; natural pest limitation instead of phytosanitary treatments; disease’s prevention through prophylactic measures, such as tree density not causing excessive shading. To match these organic principles, a maximum of 300 trees per hectare is accepted as common for an organic Olive grove.
Organic Fertilizer Requirements for Olive Farming
Organically derived fertilizers are available, but they are markedly more expensive per nutritive element unit. Topdressing with organic material such as composted manure or kitchen compost can be done, but the grower consults carefully before using it because it is difficult to achieve a good balance of nutritional elements by this method. It is environmentally responsible but requires more study and understanding by the organic grower. Always avoid placing compost or any fertilizer next to the trunk of the Olive tree. Whatever type of fertilizer is used, it is best to feed lightly and during the growing season. Avoid heavy applications of soluble fertilizers that could damage Olive plants and leach or run-off into groundwater.
Fertilizing Application Tips are;
- Do not fertilize after August or before March.
- Do not allow any type of fertilizer to touch the trunk of the Olive tree, as the high levels of nitrogen can cause burns.
- Feed Olive tree small amounts of fertilizer several times a month and water well after application.
Organic fertilizers like compost and aged animal manure, supply trees with a fertilizer source that decomposes over an extended time and helps amend the soil. Many growers fertilize Olive trees with organic fertilizer every other year. Chemical fertilizers address immediate growing needs or nutritional deficiencies quickly. Controlled release fertilizers give trees adequate fertilizer coverage for several months. Liquid fertilizers give immediate results but have to be repeated regularly during the growing season and follow the manufacturer’s directions.
The organic fertilizers for Olive trees are an essential element for the soil health of these crops. The advantages of an organic bottom fertilizer, used in the first cycles, versus manure or conventional fertilizers are not only observed in the most immediate campaign, but also the crop health and the quality of the long-term production. Although nutrients are naturally found in the substrate, they are not replenished fast enough to keep soil fertility. Therefore, it is necessary to make additional contributions. Organic Olive oil farms cannot use synthetic fertilizers. (Urea Ammonium Nitrate, etc.). It can be used as organic fertilizers, from animal origin (manure) or vegetable (compost).
When using organic fertilizers, the Olive tree gets all the potassium it needs. Unless soils are poor, Olives usually have satisfactory levels of secondary and trace elements like copper, zinc, manganese, magnesium, and calcium. Fertilizers must be applied to the top of the ground beneath the tree branches, but not close to the trunk. Water fertilizers in after application or time application just before significant rain. Foliar sprays don’t give as effective results as fertilizer taken up by the plant roots. Avoid using formulations high in nitrogen meant for fast vegetative growth. Olive trees don’t grow during the winter months, so fertilizer isn’t needed during this time.
How to Pruning Olive Trees?
Olives grow slowly, so don’t require much pruning. However, pinching out young Olive plants can help to encourage them to develop a branching shape. Once they are 1.5m (5ft high), select 3 or 4 of the strongest and best-placed shoots to retain and pinch out the others. If needed, in the late spring season or early summer, remove dead, diseased, or dying branches. At the same time, thin out branches to allow light into the center of the Olive tree and remove any branches that spoil the shape. Avoid pruning too hard as this will result in the over-production of non-fruiting water shoots.
Cover Crops and Mulches in Organic Olive Farming
Planted cover crops can be used to reduce weed populations between tree rows. With cover crops, the species selected and management will differ from one area to another area. The selected cover crop should not be competitive with young trees. Examples of cover crops are wheat, oat, cereal rye, or barley. Cultivation in preparation for planting a winter annual cover crop will reduce weed growth. Then, to preserve the surface cover, mow the cover crop to the correct height recommended for that crop.
Weeds in the tree row can be controlled using mulches. Mulches should be applied when the soil surface is free of weeds. Mulches prevent the growth of weed seedlings by blocking light and preventing it from reaching the soil surface. They create more uniform moisture conditions, which in turn promote young tree development. Mulches do not control perennial weed development unless all light can be excluded. Some woven fabric mulches offer good weed control for several years, but the initial cost of purchase and installation is high. It has the added benefit of organic fertilizer as a contribution to the soil. We harvest the herbs and remove them from the feet of the trees by using manual machinery.
Organic Pest Control in Olive Farming
Organic Olive cultivation does not allow either the use of pesticides or synthetic pesticides. On the contrary, alternative methods should be used, such as traps, encourage the proliferation of natural predators of the pest, use of Olive-tree varieties resistant to frequent or endemic pests, or heat treatments (as used against Verticillium). Also, it can be used in a restricted way as an approved list of natural products to fight against pests.
Olive knot disease is a bacterial disease that appears as swellings; cut out the gall in summer season to prevent the disease from spreading; remove 2 inches or more in diameter around the gall.
Peacock spot fungal disease occurs in years with above-average rainfall; the infection appears on leaf blades and can lead to premature Olive fruit drop. Apply copper fungicide in the fall season before winter rains begin to control peacock spot.
The scale is an insect with an elliptical shell that sucks sap from plant leaves and stems. Smother scale with horticultural oil or crush the insects.
Verticillium wilt is a fungal disease that will cause plant leaves to discolor and curl; it can spread to other parts of the Olive tree and can cause tree death in a few years. Remove diseased plant leaves and place them in the trash. Rake up and destroy any leaves of fruits that show signs of disease.
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When and How to Harvest Olive Fruits
Harvesting Olive fruits can be carried out using different systems like manual harvesting, shaking, or mechanically by raking, or with mechanical shakers. The most used method is manual harvesting, but mechanical harvesting is gaining popularity due to the high labor costs involved in manual harvesting. It is necessary to avoid lifting Olives from the ground, because some elements which are naturally occurring in the soil, such as microorganisms, facilitate contamination of the fruits by moulds; or even metals such as iron or copper which compromise conservation of the oil as they accelerate the oxidization process.
Olives can be harvested green (unripe) or black (ripe). For table fruit, harvest when the Olive fruit is still green, just before the fruit turns the color of yellow straw, or when ripe and black. For oil, harvest when the fruit has turned black on the outside, but the flesh is still green or yellow.
Most Olive fruits are ready to harvest when the juice turns cloudy, at the “green ripe” stage in late September. Then, they ripen to an uneven reddish-brown through November, finally darkening to the “naturally black ripe” stage by early December. Olives in this stage have high oil content and are easily bruised. If harvested for eating they need to be handled with care; handpicking is essential as damaged fruit will not survive the curing process.
At harvest and transport some important goals should be achieved;
- Do not break productive next year branches;
- Do not make wounds in branches which can be gateways to Olive knot;
- Do not hurt the Olive fruits, since these and Olive oil quality depends upon healthy fruits;
- Harvest the Olive fruits in a good state of maturation, neither too green nor too ripe;
- Transport conditions must avoid the crushing and fermentation of the fruits.
Organic Olive Farming Business Plan
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Olive tree farming is known to be a profitable business; it has evolved from a small scale into a global industry in most countries where it is carried out. Olive oil consumption has seen growth in the last couple of years because consumers are getting aware of the advantages of Olive oil usage and its effect on health.
Plan Olive Farming Business – A clear plan is necessary for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of the business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are;
- What are the startup and ongoing costs?
- Who is your target market?
- How much can you charge customers?
- What will you name your business?
Farmers in the Olive tree farming industry mainly grow Olives for industries that make use of Olives for the production of cooking oil and cosmetic oil, the leaves for medicines, and the wood for strong and reliable wooden furniture. In Olive farming, the profit margin for workshops and classes is much greater. Olive farm business’s interests cover a range of activities in the food production and marketing, publishing, internet, and learning industries.
In the Olive oil business, you have three main choices to procure product;
- Buy Olive oil that meets specifications (extra virgin quality, virgin quality, type of Olive, and organically-processed, etc.) in bulk.
- Buy fruit and process it at your facility or use an outside production facility.
- Grow your Olives, then self-process or use an outside production facility to make Olive oil from fresh fruit. The related cost factor of producing your Olive oil is more complicated than pricing out bulk oil.
Most importantly, some other important factors affected in Olive business are;
- Orchard expenses like capital expenditures (equipment) and ongoing maintenance.
- Labor expenses, including wages, workmen’s comp, medical insurance, employee tax.
- Liability insurance (on-site and product).
- Farming-related exceptional occurrences (e.g. early freeze, Olive fruit fly infestation).
- Milling expenses like fruit transportation costs to and from, actual milling cost, product testing, and certification.
- Warehousing expenses like rent, bulk storage containers.
In some food businesses, marketing almost always makes up the greatest expense. You have to create awareness of the product at every level of the distribution process and create demand from all customers. For your product to sell into the distribution chain, you could face the expense of trade show attendance, mass mailings to a purchased retail list, internet marketing, and sales kit promotional materials.
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