Olive Curing Update

Last October I started curing the olives from the Frantoio tree we planted in the parkway. The olives are finally ready to eat just in time for the pandemic. I used UC Davis’ handy publication, Olives: Safe Methods for Home Pickling as my guide and chose a Sicilian style brine method that yields a slightly bitter result. Basically, you make a brine solution with pickling salt (one pound salt per gallon of water) and vinegar (5% acetic acid–1 1/2 cups per gallon). To this I added some garlic and hot pepper flakes. I went light on the seasoning which, I think, was a good idea. Following the suggestion on the Hunter Angler Gardener Cook blog I changed out the brine when the water darkened—about once a month.

What the olives looked like at the beginning of the curing process.

The verdict: harvesting and curing olives is a lot of work but well worth the effort. It took six months of curing to leach out the bitter phenolic compounds in the fruit.

Some things I learned in the process:

  • Here in Southern California, where we have a plague of olive fruit flies, you need to set a McPhail trap baited with torula yeast lures and change out the bait once a month. I set a reminder on my calendar to do this.
  • When you harvest you need to separate the maggot infested fruit from the good fruit. This is easy to do if a bit of a chore. The signs of maggots are obvious–a scar on the surface of the fruit.
  • You can harvest both green and the more mature black olives from the same tree and cure them both together. Olives are ready to pick when the juice is cloudy in late September. I have to error on the side of picking early to stay ahead of the maggots.
  • I planted the tree in 2012 and I’d guess that 2018 was probably the first year that I would have had enough olives to make it worth curing. The tree really exploded, in terms of growth, after about three years in the ground and I’d guess it’s around fifteen feet tall and ten feet wide as of 2020. If I had to choose a tree again I might go with one that produces larger fruit. That said, I’m still happy with the results of this multi-year experiment.

I should also note that the tree itself is beautiful, especially when the silvery underside of the leaves shimmer in a light breeze. Olive trees have deep symbolic associations in ancient Mediterranean cultures and the tree has an average lifespan of 500 years. There are a few trees, over 2,000 years old, that still produce fruit.

If you live in the U.S. but not in a climate that supports olives, consider buying domestic olive oil and cured olives. Especially with olive oil, a lot of the imported stuff is adulterated garbage.

Home Orchards for Year Round Food Resiliency

One of the things I’m thankful for during this covid crisis is having a small yard with a variety of fruit trees. If you’re smart about the types and varieties of fruit trees you plant, you can maximize the amount of time during the year that you’re likely to have fruit. Here in California, if you have enough space, you can have fruit year round.

The handy chart above from Dave Wilson nursery (head here for a downloadable version) can be used as a guide to planting for year round food resiliency. Results may vary. Due to a high squirrel population stone fruit doesn’t work well in our yard. But at least I have avocados and the olives I started curing back in October are now ready to eat. In August we’ll have figs and in September more pomegranates than we could possible eat. If the squirrels don’t take them all we might have some apples too.

This chart from the Maddock Nursery in Fallbrook shows avocado and citrus harvest times. If you’re lucky enough to live in an avocado friendly climate and have space for four trees it’s possible to pick varieties that will be ready to harvest year round. That’s a lot of guacamole. Even with one avocado tree, as we have, you can leave the avocados on the tree and harvest as needed (they don’t ripen on the tree). Our Fuerte gives us several months of avocado toast.

Growing fruit takes knowledge and effort. Thankfully, we have a great resource in UC Davis’ guide to backyard orchards. My advice: talk to avid gardeners in your area to learn what grows best. Pay attention to irrigation and pruning. Take out under-performing trees. Buy bare root trees to save money.

If you don’t have a yard perhaps a school, business or faith institution in your community could be convinced to plant a small orchard. One of the many lessons of this crisis is that we need to work on local food resiliency and not depend so much on long supply chains.

Plant Vegetables!

I’m trying to put things in perspective this morning. I have a lot of anxiety about family members in denial and my own fears about the response to COVID-19 in this failed state we live in. That said, what we’re going through is nothing compared to what other people in this world have to deal with now in Palestine, Afghanistan, Somalia or Syria to name just a few troubled regions. We have the luxury of sheltering in place rather than the horrors of life as a refugee.

But a run on our supermarkets has me thinking that I need to walk back on one of my worst blog posts, “Homesteading Heresy: On Giving Up Vegetable Gardening,” in which I announced that I was no longer planting vegetables. While we have plenty of avocados and eggs it would be nice to have some greens other than volunteer nasturtium and nettles. I had two seasons of failed vegetable gardening but that should have prompted a redoubled effort rather than the defeatism that I offered. I’ve taken the step of deleting that post. And Kelly planted some vegetables yesterday.

Stay safe and check in on your neighbors. Share your harvest.

Talk and Vermicomposting Workshop With Nance Klehm Sunday March 8th!

Heal the soil. Heal our communities. Heal the world.

What: A talk by ecological wizard Nance Klehm PLUS an optional vermicomposting workshop
Where: St. John’s Cathedral,  Los Angeles –514 W. Adams Blvd
When: Sunday March 8, 2020 12:30 PM

Nance Klehm (socialecologies.net, spontaneousvegetation.net) is a an ecological systems designer who has worked to heal degraded soil around the world, from her home neighborhood of Little Village, Chicago to the rain forests of Ecuador. Join her at St. John’s Cathedral, where she will talk about the deep connection between soil health and social justice, and the importance of healthy soil in troubled times.

“Soil is both decomposition engine and support network for all living things. It is the living sponge that filters our water and air, thereby cleaning them both. It stabilizes our constructions, prevents flooding, protects our landscapes against drought, and ensures the health of our food, water and air. Soil is not a thing. It is a web of relationships that stands in a certain state of a certain time.”   — Nance Klehm

Bonus option! Stay after the talk for a short workshop taught by Nance on vermicomposting, that is, home composting using a worm bin. This is a fun and easy way to transform your kitchen scraps and waste paper into gold, even if you live in an apartment. Worm castings are a fantastic food for house plants as well as garden plants.You don’t need a strong back or much space to compost with a worm bin. Worm-shop participants will go home with a functioning bin complete with worms!

The general lecture is free and open to all, and no reservations are required for the talk alone, but the worm-shop materials fee: $30 (Financial aid is available) and you must reserve your space by emailing [email protected].  Registration is mandatory so that we can supply your bin and worms.

136 Garden Fundamentals with Robert Pavlis

On this 136th episode of the Root Simple podcast we talk to author and gardening expert Robert Pavlis about how to improve your soil, how to start seedlings in the winter, how to take care of houseplants and much more.

Robert Pavlis lives on 6 acres of land that he has developed into a large private garden he calls Aspen Grove Gardens that contains around 3,000 perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees in southern Ontario, Canada. He is a Master Gardener, speaker and author on gardening subjects with a background in chemistry and biochemistry. Normally I go over questions with guests before we begin but Robert and I just started talking so we’ll join the conversation mid-stream as Robert is telling me about his upcoming book Soil Science for Gardeners. During the podcast we talk about:

  • Soil science for home gardeners
  • The problems with soil tests
  • Soil prep for native plants
  • Fungi inoculation products
  • How to open up compacted soil
  • Sources for organic material
  • Ugh, landscape fabric
  • Cardboard in the garden
  • Hügelkultur
  • Winter sowing
  • Baggie technique
  • LED lights
  • How to water houseplants

You can find Robert at: GardenFundamentals.com, GardenMyths.com on YouTube and via the Garden Fundamentals Facebook Group.

Also–subscribe to Bike Talk!

If you’d like to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected] You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. Closing theme music by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.