Follow The Olive: Harvesting Oil Olives

Oil Olives, unlike table olives, are not selected individually at harvest, but instead, individual trees are selected for the degree of ripeness of most of the fruit on them and these trees are picked clean. Trees on which most of the fruit is still green are left for picking at a later date.

The oil content of olives increases progressively as the fruit changes from green to purple to black, after which it remains constant. The quality of the oil, however, appears to deteriorate with increasing maturity of the fruit. The right time to harvest oil olives for the greatest oil yield is therefore as soon as they have become ripe. Apart from judging on colour, the ripeness of an olive can be tested by squeezing it gently between thumb and forefinger. The juice of a ripe olive will run out easily.

Currently, most oil olives are still harvested by hand, milking the fruit from the branches on to nets laid beneath the trees.  Leaves, twigs and other unwanted material is removed and fruit are separated from plucked-off branchlets before the olives are run into baskets or crates.

Because of increasing labour costs and continual improvement of equipment, mechanical harvesting or mechanically assisted harvesting is becoming more popular especially in extensive oil-olive orchards. Over-the-row continuous harvesting systems are very efficient with lower vigour cultivars planted in narrow hedges at high densities. Trees must be spaced, trained and pruned according to the type of mechanical harvesting system chosen.

Bruising of fruit must be minimised as cell damage results in deterioration of oil quality. Once picked, olives should be kept cool and delivered to the mill within 24 hours if possible.

SA Olive introduces “FOLLOW THE OLIVE”

An in-depth look at the journey our beloved olives take from as early as being planted to the end of their life-cycle… being tasted and enjoyed! We look forward to sharing snippets of fun and fascinating information with you over the course of the year.

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