Our First Harvest!

When we planted the first 200 trees in October 2009, the experts and consultants all told us that our first harvest would be 2-3 years away.  Perhaps even four years.

But nobody counted on the perfect growing season of 2010, or the significant rainfall, or the cyclical nature of olives that produce in massive abundance from time to time.  Or the overexcitement of new farmers!  All of that came together in an unexpected way, and suddenly we have a harvest.  A small harvest, of course, but a harvest nonetheless!

The day of the harvest began with a challenge:  who could most accurately guess the number of pounds we would harvest?   Ever the optimist, I wrote 300 lbs onto the white board as my guess.  Attempting to balance the high guess with a low one, Roy wrote 90 lbs onto the whiteboard.  That became the high and low ends of the estimates, and others chose numbers in between.

A dozen eager volunteers arrived on a cool overcast day.  Each of us put on cotton gloves and rubber boots, a few wore a belly bucket, and others carried a yellow plastic lug into the orchard.  With the trees still small it was an easy process to harvest the olives, and the entire job was done in about 45-minutes.

As we brought the olives together into a single lug, it became apparent that we had all overestimated this first harvest.  Even the low guess was wildly high.  A total of 25 lbs was harvested this year.  We jokingly sent people back into the orchard; there had to be more!  Folks were laughing as we picked one or two stray olives off an otherwise bare tree.  In the end, it was still 25 lbs of olives.  Perhaps that’s a bit disappointing, but then again we were excited to have anything at all this first year.

By mid-afternoon we had the Prosecco open and bruschetta served.  As with all good D’Oliva parties, we spent more time eating, drinking and talking than we did working!

The following morning Roy and I awoke early and headed to The Olive Press in Sonoma.  We met our consultant, Sean, who had harvested his trees the day before as well.  Joking that we needed him to bring the forklift over to pick up our olives, we ceremoniously added our small harvest to his larger haul.

D'Oliva olives mixed with Sean's harvest.

There were the usual hiccups and problems with milling, but it was fun to watch as the olives went through the elaborate process and became beautiful golden green oil.  Sean was nice enough to sell us 5-gallons of the oil (our 25 lbs of olives would have only produced about a quart).  As we headed away from the mill, Roy quipped that if we could find a way to scale the turning of 25-lbs of olives into 5 gallons of oil, we might actually make this business profitable!

Our 5-gallons being sealed and marked.

The first harvest was small, but it taught us a lot about olive farming.  Just going through the process was great and will help us prepare for the larger scale harvests of the future.  Plus we get to bottle some of the 5-gallons we brought home from the mill, which means I can experiment with labels and bottles.  All of it is a learning process — and so far, all of it is a great deal of fun!

Thanks to everybody who helped!