A Day In The Olive Harvest 2022

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Harvesting olives near Exarchos, Greece

It was a chilly 2 degrees Celsius when we all woke up around 7:15 in the morning, on November 26, 2022. I’m not really a morning person and hadn’t had a lot of sleep but I crawled out from under the heavy wool blankets about 15 minutes later and felt the chill in the air. Many have the idea that Greece is a tropical like place, but it can get pretty darn cold in the winter months, and even go far below freezing at times.

After gulping down some hot coffee, I took my Boston Terrier, Beans, for his quick morning walk to get his business done. In the distance, I could see snow on the peaks of Mount Parnassus, looking west. You can readily see the peaks of this mountain from the Village of Exarchos, Phthiotis.

We all then then gathered around the kitchen table while Mrs. Iordanou made lunches for us all that we’d take with us to the olive grove. Grilled ham and cheese with tomato sandwiches and plenty of fruit including oranges and bananas, with lots of water to drink. Then it was off to the olive grove, about a ten to fifteen minute drive along some dirt tracks, and up the slope of tall hill. When you arrive at the olive grove and look behind you, you can see the village and this is the view:

view of exarchos from south-west direction
View of Exarchos from Iordanou Olive Grove, November 26, 2022

Mr. and Mrs. Iordanou drove in the old farm Mitsubishi pickup truck with the supplies we’d need including crates to transport the olives, long poles, small plastic olive harvesting “rakes”, and of course, our much needed lunch which we’d appreciate later. We traversed the route in the handy dandy pretty amazing Volkswagen Tiguan – including Beans.

On arrival, we immediately got to work. This was my first experience helping to harvest olives in Exarchos – olives that will be pressed into olive oil when the harvest is completed. I did help with harvesting olives from a tree that was loaded with olives, in Nea Ionia, that would later be processed into table olives for eating, but that was pretty easy.

This particular olive grove is located on a fairly steep slope – and it survived last year’s brutal winter where the temperatures dropped to as low as -18C last winter, very well. There was a couple hundred yards of walking from where we left the vehicles to where we started harvesting olives. The goal for us that day, I’d learn, was that we were going to focus on the trees that were the easiest to harvest as a crew of professionals had been hired to do what was left. Depending on the weather, they were scheduled to start work approximately the following Tuesday, but with rain in the forecast, that could change.

I’m not sure the elevation we were at; it did not occur to me to check my mobile phone’s app which only gives an approximate elevation, but likely above 350 metres. And the slope is steep. There are natural “steps” in places, and some of the olive trees had been planted right along the edge of these steps, which can make for some difficulties in harvesting from them.

When we arrived at the first olive tree we would gather olives from, two large tarps were placed around the trunk of the tree, and extended out as best as possible under the perimeter of the branches:

placing tarps under the olive tree before harvest

The purpose of the tarps is to provide something for the olives to drop onto, making it much easier to collect them all and later, add to the crates we had brought along for transporting them from the field.

The above tree was not very big, and we went through it quite quickly before moving on. Some of the trees were quite tall, and while we easily worked the lower branches with our hands and the olive rake, getting the upper olives required the use of wooden rods and banging away, with the goal of knocking the olives or shaking the branches enough to cause them to drop the tarps on the ground.

Some of the taller trees were loaded with olives at heights out of reach, even when trying to climb the tree (which I did several times) and all we could do with the equipment we had was to try to knock these olives and shake branches with the long pole:

reaching the higher olives
Using a long wooden rod to harvest the olives up high.

There are probably more efficient ways to do this – but definitely in the terrain we were working in, a regular ladder wouldn’t work that great, do to the slopes and uneven surface. From old dairy farm experiences, I have an aversion to ladders as it is, which is a story for another occasion.

Mr. and Mrs. Iordanou had spent the previous two days harvesting olives from another olive grove, and it was obvious some fatigue was setting in for them. But we had a goal of trying to get as many of these crates filled as possible – by the end of the day, about 7 hours after we had arrived at this location, I think we had about 7 of them filled, each approximately 20 kg of olives:

a crate filled with olives

I took this photo after getting olives from one particular tree which had a significant percentage of unripened green olives on it. The other trees olives were mostly ripe – but for some reason, this one tree had many green ones.

The green olives won’t give as much oil as the ripened olives, but the oil that will come from them will be of very high quality, with deep grassy, peppery notes when tasted. Of course, they will all be mixed in with the other olives when pressed, but these greener ones will provide a deeper taste and complexity to the oil, overall.

Beans Keeping Us Company

It would be remiss of me to not mention Beans my Boston Terrier. So often when we are at the village in the summer time, we have to leave him back at the house, in the shade. Beans simply cannot handle the sun and temperatures above about 25C. Boston Terriers generally don’t deal with heat or extreme cold very well – there have been times I have had to “rescue” Beans from heat exhaustion when out in the sunshine – his breathing gets erratic and he gets fatigued quickly. Even drinking water does not help him much – he needs to completely cool off, when he’s been exposed to temperatures approaching 30 and the sun is shining.

So you might imagine what it is like to figure out the best course of action for Beans, when the temperature is approaching or above 40 in the summer time, and we have things to do. He hates being left behind on his own but it needs to be done.

So, with the much cooler temperatures, I decided he may as well come with us. I don’t tie him up often, but have to when I know he’ll get in the way, or if I am not paying attention, he’ll just wander off, smelling all the smells he can find and the next thing is, “Where is Beans??” Anyways, Beans had a pleasant day being in our company and not left alone for some hours:

beans at the olive grove
Beans enjoying the company on a cool day out in the fields.

Some Final Thoughts

I only spent one day helping with the olive harvest – on Sunday, it rained and I think Mr. and Mrs. Iordanou were feeling pretty physically tired, so we did not do any more. I wish I could have spent more time but my own schedule did not permit me to do that, although I hope to head back up to Exarchos soon.

On matters of food production, I have a great deal of experience on dairy farms, which also included cash crops of wheat, barley, corn, and other things, and working on a ranch in Alberta. I’ve helped with some agricultural work in Alabama, as well as some minor stuff on farms in Ireland and Northern Ireland, UK.

Most people want cheap food, understandably so, yet they make outrageous statements about how this can be done without ever knowing what it takes to grow food. Some people are really stupid and claim that urban families in Ontario can turn their front lawns into vegetable gardens and be self-sufficient – sure, if that’s what you dedicate your time to – and not much else, maybe… you can provide a lot of food for your family, but it won’t be enough.

Anyone who tries to suggest that is just being idiotic.

And even with modern fertilizers, pest control products, weed control products, food production is hard work. For some weird reason, I enjoy the hard work though. But if you think you can spend your time in agricultural food production, and have a great life, you obviously have no clue of what it takes. I know very few people who would be willing to work the long hours, and the back ache causing work that is required.

You all want your high-quality olive oil to be available at a price that you think is reasonable, yet you have no clue what actual work goes into producing that litre you buy. Further more, so many of you want modern ways of energy efficient production to be halted. It’s illogical and idiotic.

Strong men in Greece will work their asses off on steep slopes, with lots of manual labour and their wives and daughters helping out to produce the best olive oils in the world, but you want it cheap. Yet so many of you would not be willing yourselves, to spend a week working in olive groves, on rough terrain, doing the manual labour that is necessary for this production.

Many of you need to go and check your premises, learn more, and actually try how things work in the real world.

But I hope you have learned something from my brief description of my experiences, in harvesting olives for olive oil.

Tell me your thoughts in the comment section below:

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  1. Pingback: We Have Awesome Extra Virgin Olive Oil! - Ian Scott

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