Olive Harvest Diary

My husband Roy wrote this “daily diary” of harvest day for his own blog, and I thought it would be fun to share here. He captures both the beauty of the day and the hard work involved. Hope you enjoy the story!

It was dark and quiet when I arrived at the Goble Ranch on Sunday morning. Not yet even a glimpse of the coming sunrise, only the owls in the eucalyptus grove calling “hoo hoo” as they wrapped up a night of hunting. It was eerie in some ways, beautiful in others.

Empty bins waiting for harvest.

Empty bins waiting for harvest.

I opened the D’Oliva shed doors, flipped on a few lights, and started setting up for the days olive harvest. Yellow lugs were placed at the end of each row, a cooler of drinks set out, the ATV gassed and ready. Soon the crew began arriving, a parade of vehicles streaming in with headlight beams bouncing off the old sheds. Then Jose, our caretaker, came over to help.

The sun was just beginning to show signs of rising when D’Aun arrived, followed quickly by our friend Paul. A few minutes past seven and the crew put on belly buckets. The crew chief, Matt, asked D’Aun for instructions on where to start, and then they were off and working. It was still chilly so they were wrapped in an odd assortment of jackets, scarves and hoodies.

The boss hard at work.

The boss hard at work.

D’Aun identified one tree she wanted to do by herself. This would give an idea of how long each tree would take and how many pounds each would produce. Two months earlier an olive consultant, Guillermo, had looked at the D’Oliva grove and predicted 25 pounds a tree (around 8100 pounds total). So D’Aun was eager to benchmark one tree. Two hours later she gave in and asked for help, but she had most of it done by then. It had 56 pounds of olives — which meant, if it was the average, we would get a whopping 18,000 pounds of olives! That was great, but how would we get everything harvested in one day?

Sadie the olive grove dog.

Sadie the olive grove dog.

By mid-morning our friends and family began arriving. It was a family affair, with kids and dogs running around. All the workers, amateurs or professionals, would focus on one row at at time and bring their hand harvested olives to the end of the row to pour into the yellow lugs. Paul and I collected the lugs, weighed them to record the total from the row, then poured them into larger bins already strapped to a trailer.

By noon it was clear we would have a great harvest, our best ever, but it wasn’t going to be the 9 tons the one test tree indicated. In hindsight it seems D’Aun chose one of the fruit richest trees to measure, which explains why it took so long! We were averaging about 25 pounds a tree, for a more realistic 4 ton harvest. It was still going to be close to see if we could finish by sunset.

2015 D'Oliva Harvest-39

Walking the long rows.

The day moved on and the afternoon warmed up. Friends and family came and went according to their personal schedules, the professionals kept at it with an occasional break, and Paul and I continued to lift, weigh, and lift again all those olives. Prosecco was served to the friends and family, which raised spirits (whether it increased performance is debatable). We were growing weary but the olive grove was slowly being conquered by the diligence of the harvesters.

In the late afternoon the friends and family crew retired into the shed, happy to have completed four rows (in the time it took the professionals to do nineteen). They ate cheese, salami and crackers, sipped prosecco, and asked D’Aun for the recipe to her amazing rosemary olive oil cake.

Filling the yellow lugs with hand harvested olives.

Filling the yellow lugs with hand harvested olives.

The professionals worked on and by 5 pm we knew we had the harvest nearly done. The crew slipped into overtime pay and kept going for another hour. Costly, but they worked diligently, and we got it all done. Even had extra time to pull a few overlooked olives off the nearly bare trees.

By 6:30 pm we could see the sun starting to set. The friends and family were long gone, the professionals were enjoying the cookies D’Aun shared with them, and the belly buckets were being put back in place. Paul and Jose put tarps over the bins, which were brimming with olives, and loaded 37 more yellow lugs into the back of the truck because we had run out of bins. Our initial estimate, using the little scale we had, was over 7600 pounds.

By 8 pm D’Aun and I were home, exhausted. My FitBit read 35,000 steps that day. But we knew the job wasn’t done quite yet. The next morning we met Paul and together we drove the olives to a nearby mill. They weighed the bins and came up with 7796 pounds. Thus 24 pounds a tree, very close to Guillermo’s prediction.

The olives were put into the mill, and an hour or so later the first oil was beginning to pour. It had the rich, buttery taste D’Oliva is known for. Will it be another medal winner? Too early to tell, but no doubt the olives looked great and the oil tasted wonderful.

The fruits of the harvest -- D'Oliva Olive Oil.

The fruits of the harvest — D’Oliva Olive Oil.

Next the oil is racked, which simply means put into storage so the sediment can settle. In a few months it is bottled, labeled, and ready for consumption.

And then, and only then, you get a chance to enjoy it!

Harvest 2012!

Wow, what a harvest it was for D’Oliva Olive Oil! The trees were looking good all summer, and as young trees we expect a steep upward curve in production in these first few years. Roy and I estimated about 1000 pounds (compared to 280 last year) and we planned accordingly.

Empty yellow lugs waiting for olives.

Gulp…we were a bit off! At the end of the day — and I mean literally the end of the day with the sun down and the temperature dropping — we had harvested over 1500 pounds! This is far beyond any expectations for a olive grove that only has 200 3-year old trees and 125 2-year old trees. And the olives looked good, with a nice blend of green and black coloring.

My daughter Rachel and I wearing our “belly buckets”

The day began with an 11 AM to 3 PM timeframe for harvesting. Our faithful crew of friends and family pushed themselves hard to get all the olives harvested, and even then we had to leave a few behind. What we thought would be a charming Prosecco sipping afternoon turned into a long work day!

But it sure was fun with a tremendous sense of accomplishment. There is something joyful about being in an orchard with your friends. We’d catch up on each others lives, sharing lots of laughter, joking with each other about overlooking a branch full of olives, and simply enjoying the outdoors. We had old friends, new friends, young friends and friends of friends. Our youngest helpers Zoey and Zeke kept everybody smiling, as they always do. Even our four legged friends Sadie and Rico ran freely (though they didn’t help a bit with the harvest). It was simply pure fun.

Zoey and Zeke helping their Mom Julie and friend Kathy.

As the sun set and the last of the olives were brought in from the grove, we handed out a few awards for closest guess to the total harvest weight. We opened the Prosecco and enjoyed Italian style appetizers as we shared stories of the day. At one point we realized we might not have room in Roy’s truck to handle all of the olives, but he was able to figure that out (thanks Hon!).

The next morning the alarm went off at 3:30 AM and we headed up to Petaluma to mill the olives. We were lucky because we were the first to arrive just before 6 AM, so our olives were the first to be milled that day. They told us there would be oil to taste in about an hour so we waited anxiously to see how it would taste. We were rewarded for the wait — our first sips were wonderful! The oil was buttery at the beginning, followed by a spark of pepper at the back. It’s too early to know how the final taste will settle in, but the start was fantastic!

Talking to the mill operator.

Now the big question was how many liters of oil would be produced from the 1500 pounds of olives. Roy guessed low at 15 gallons. I was more optimistic at 25 gallons. But once again this crop surprised us with over 38 gallons of oil! It’s a huge yield and I’m excited to have an inventory like this! It will be fun to share it and I’m thankful that we can sell much of this and offset a lot of costs.

Roy and I drove home with the “liquid gold” in the back of the truck. I pulled out my calculator and went to work on how we could possibly have harvested so much, and how it became so many gallons! Roy jokingly said something about Jesus and the loaves of bread, and it has that feel to it. The 2012 harvest has been a huge blessing and one we will remember a long long time!

Thank you all who helped out this year. Many came to help and I am thankful for you all!

Here are a few more photo highlights, with special thanks to Rachel Goble Photography for the best ones below!

The competition board.

Friends harvesting the tree as they catch up on life.

In my happy place!

Helping Julie with the harvest.

Friends and family.

Somebody had to do the heavy lifting.

At the end of the day, the harvest is huge, and ready for milling the next morning!

Fresh olive oil pouring into the D’Oliva fusti!

Our Second Harvest

We had a great time with friends and family for our second annual harvest last Saturday. The weather cooperated with crisp Fall weather without rain or wind. It couldn’t get any better!

D'Aun on the right with her friend Jen Weaver

Like last year, the olives were hand harvested, placed in belly buckets, and then put into lug boxes. These were then weighed and recorded. This year we tracked the production per row and will begin building a database to compare annually.

By the end of the day we had 282 pounds! Kris Weaver and Diane Jordan won the contest for guessing closest to the total weight harvested. All of the volunteers celebrated with the traditional meal of bruschetta and prosecco.

On Sunday we took the olives to The Olivina mill in Livermore for their community milling day. Our 282 pounds were far and away the most brought in by anybody, so the milled oil is over 90% from our olives! Unfortunately, we are not able to offer any of it for sale this year because it is all being pre-purchased by friends and family.

Thanks to all of the volunteers who helped with the harvest. It was a great weekend and we look forward to next year!

Carla and Steve McRee.

Dale Wolford; hiding from the camera?

Greg Weaver was one of the hardest workers.

Anna had young legs that could handle the lower parts of the trees!

Some folks worked harder than others!

Using the belly bucket.

Roy with one of the first lugs to be weighed.

The total harvest, all weighed and ready to go to the mill.

The harvest table.

Our olives waiting to be milled on Sunday.

Olive Harvest in Italy

Last month my husband Roy and I visited Italy and spent a few days on a small farm in Umbria. Rob and Janina Cushman, two wonderful people who share our passion for great olive oil, own Le Mandorelle. With 12-acres and about 300 olive trees, the Cushman’s operate at a scale that is similar to D’Oliva.

As luck would have it, we arrived the day the olive harvest began! I jumped right into the harvest. We used hand tools to pull the olives onto large nets. I wish I could have helped more, but we arrived late in the day and wanted to get a tour of the whole farm before nightfall. But it was fun to help even just a bit!

When the tree was bare of fruit, we would then gently roll the netting and gather the olives. Rob and Janina harvested about 350 kilos from twelve trees.

The next day was opening day for the frantoio (an Italian olive mill). We took the olives in and watched them go through the mill. What a fully Italian experience this was, with fresh bread toasted over an open fire, and then drenched with the warm, freshly milled olive oil! It was quite a crowd with the owner of the frantoio, his staff and family, other farmers… lots of people showing up for opening day.

Rob was anxious to see how much oil would be produced from the 350 kilos. It is an especially large crop this year, but that often means a lower oil yield per kilo of olives. Sure enough, they had about a 9% yield, which is traditionally low.

But wow, what a great oil! Rob and Janina honored us with a bottle of their precious oil, which we now have at home. It is simply delicious! Spicy and very green!

Naturally, we had a large dinner the day of the milling, with fresh olive oil and the Cushman’s wine from their own grapes. A marvelous evening!

After our stay at Le Mandorelle we headed to Tuscany. We saw several frantoios and went into one, but it just wasn’t the same as our experience with Rob and Janina. It was a reminder that producing olive oil is more than just farming – it is friendship, laughter, celebration, and hope all rolled into an orchard of trees.

Thank you, Rob and Janina, for making our Umbrian experience truly memorable. Roy and I can’t wait to go back! But even better, we can’t wait to have our first harvest at D’Oliva!

Janina in the kitchen.

Rob in the mill.