Highlights from Frog Hollow Farm's 2017 Olive Harvest: Tree to Tote

Highlights from Frog Hollow Farm's 2017 Olive Harvest: Tree to Tote
Olive harvest 2017 is in full swing! During the weeks leading up to harvest, the farm was in fall clean-up mode; the tree team in a rhythm of pruning apricot trees and the ground team finishing up the final irrigations for the year. Since olive harvest is an “all hands on deck” event, it was an energetic transition for everyone. The day before first pick, Farmer Al and I unearthed picking belts and even ordered more for our growing crew. Our packing shed team power-washed the macrobins, now freed up from pear harvest, to prepare them for olive harvest.



Just like all our fruit harvests this year, olive harvest began 2 weeks later than in 2016, from October 12th last year to the 26th this year. Our crew of about 30 people harvests entirely by hand, covering their gloves in duct tape and running their hands along the long branches to strip the fruit from them. When the trees are so tall that the olives are hard to reach, they will simultaneously prune the branches and harvest the fruit from the fallen limbs. 



Each person picks olives into picking totes, which are then weighed in-field and dumped into a collective macrobin. This system allows us to keep detailed harvest records, and adds a little competitive edge to the process! Here are some numbers that may blow your mind: one picking tote holds 30-40 pounds of fresh olives (depending on the ripeness and water content of the fruit) and about 60 pounds of fresh olives yield 1 gallon of olive oil. It’s crazy to think that 1 entire picking tote of olives went into my ½ gallon bottle of Frog Hollow Olio Nuovo! 



Our 400 olive trees (2 acres) do not comprise a single orchard, but actually line the borders of various other orchard blocks on the farm, serving as windbreaks and edge habitat for beneficial wildlife. This year Farmer Al and Magaña (the head of our picking team) decided to start harvest on the trees lining our northwestern apple orchard, as these olives were ripest. Interestingly, when I looked back at our records, we actually ended the 19th day of olive harvest in this location last year. For some reason these olives ripened much sooner this year than last… and the trees were more productive! Last year, we we harvested about 13 macrobins (7,800 lbs) from this 0.15-acre strip and this year we picked 15 bins (9,000 lbs)! When I talked to Farmer Al about reasons for this increase, he emphasized the “orchestration of factors” - weather, microclimate, tree variety, soil type, management - that cause different blocks to ripen at different times each year… There is no one factor that we can credit for this increase in yield, but we will keep a close eye on the trends in other areas on the farm as harvest continues!



Author: Rachel Sullivan

Rachel Sullivan is the Farming Assistant, with a focus on soil science, at Frog Hollow Farm. She grew up working in her parents’ bread bakery in Berkeley and went on to study Sustainable Agriculture and Business at Cornell University. Post graduation, she worked at TomKat Ranch Educational Foundation, where she analyzed the carbon sequestration potential and microbial community composition of regeneratively managed rangeland soils. She is excited to help Farmer Al and the teams at Frog Hollow with all sorts of projects- from fertilization planning to wheat product development to soil sampling! 

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