Sunday, July 18, 2010

Back online and what does one do with Olives?!!

Well, I'm finally back online and blogging again after a bit of a hiatus due to a gardening-induced eye injury. Yes, gardening is not as innocuous an activity as it may seem, especially to the uninitiated. Some of the hidden dangers include: accidentally falling into a thorny rosebush whilst deadheading (an understandable freak-out reaction to a grasshopper); getting stung to kingdom come on both legs by a horde of angry red fire ants while cluelessly standing right next to their mound (I like their Spanish name "Hormigas Rojas del Fuego" - Si!! and the pain is excruciating - you'll rail against God after getting bitten by one or many of these *&%$##!!); falling on your bum and spraining your ankle while trying to navigate a dry gravelly slope in your back yard wearing Tevas (tennies & hiking boots are a MUCH better choice, along with avoiding those fruity summer cocktails, which give you a false sense of bravado when gardening); standing less than three feet away from a 4-ft. long Red Diamondback Rattlesnake in your herb garden while watering your plants AND the snake with a garden hose (with the snake looking genuinely perplexed by the stream of water hitting its forehead); and getting third degree burns from the pure imbecility of extreme gardening in triple digit heat without the benefit of sunscreen.

Sadly, I've been there and done all these things, and now I can add poking my eye on a bone dry, hard-as-a-tack seed head of a Clarkia while frenetically weeding. Who woulda thought? A Clarkia?? Anyhoo, had really blurry vision for about 24 hours and was on antibiotics for 5 days, just in case.  Avoided the computer except for work, but now all appears to be A-ok.

On to my Olive SOS. We've got eight olive trees on the property and it looks like we're finally going to get our first real crop this year. We have 3 Missions, 3 Manzanillos, 1 Arbequina, and 1 Leccino. The most prolific of the bunch is the Spanish olive 'Arbequina,' followed by Mission and Manzanillo.

7/17/10 Arbequina Olive 

7/17/10 Arbequina Olive

7/17/10 Mission Olive

7/17/10 Manzanillo Olive

So the million dollar question is, when do I harvest and what the heck do I do with them after? I doubt I have enough olives to make olive oil (although I do fantasize about hitching my adorable but otherwise useless pooch, with fake donkey ears and all, to a stone mill to produce our own proprietary brand of EVOO). What about curing or brining? I've done some research online, but the process seems daunting. If anyone has some simple, user-friendly suggestions for what to do with a home-grown olive crop, I'd love to hear from you!

7/17/10 Mission & Manzanillo Olives

7/17/10 Left to right: Manzanillo, Leccino & Arbequina Olives


  1. When we were in college, Mr. Mouse cured a batch of olives and brined another batch. Yes, it was a bit of a hassle, but they were quite tasty (and free). The internet should have all the info you need.

  2. Glad your eye is okay. I had a co-worker get a dangerous shard of steel in his eye, whilst walking past a metal grinding station. They had to scrape his eyeball because of rust, and use a magnet to retrieve any bits.

    I was stung on the (almost) crotch this weekend by one of my bees.


  3. Thanks, Town Mouse - I'd like to try both curing and brining, and will definitely keep searching the net for tips.

    Lisa! Say it ain't so! The bee sting sounds almost like a red ant bite, with pain evolving into mind-dumbing itchiness. And, you most definitely must NOT scratch...

  4. Holy cow, if you didn't have bad luck, you'd have no luck at all. Hope your mended soon.

    As far as the olives, ours hasn't started producing yet, so I'm no help. I'll be interested to see what you do, though.

  5. I've no experience with olives but I sure do have experience with nearly the same injury as you. I nearly poked mine out with a bamboo cane - tore the white part of my eye and part of the eyelid and ended up on medication aswell.

    Glad you've no lasting damage to the eye.

    :) Rosie

  6. I have no personal experience with olive trees, thus far I've resisted planting any. However, our friends in Italy make a LOT of fabulous olive oil with theirs. I hope you can find someone who knows what to do with each of the varieties you have. Maybe the UC Davis Olive Center site has some info, or could point you in the right direction?

    In the meantime, I recommend a hard hat, knee pads, safety goggles, chainmail gloves, chaps, and an armor plated curiass :P Actually, I rather empathize on the gravelly slope...I lost my footing on one of our sandy slopes the first year we were here, and went head-first down the mountain, cracked my head on the shovel, and had a lovely black eye for weeks. Gardening really is dangerous!

  7. Thanks for the warning about clarkias. I'll have to keep an eye on mine. Oops. Bad choice of words. I'm glad you're back to feeling better. Anything involving the eyes scares me.

    I was reading an article on how the popularity olive oil is increasing and is quickly becoming the next big thing. It sounds tempting to become a boutique producer. I'm sure olive trees react to soil and climate the same way that grapes do. Maybe you live in the Napa Valley of olive growing...

  8. Eyes - bent down to pick up a bit of fence wire, and managed to stab my eye on the blunt cut end of a branch- blurred vision for 2 days. Slope - in last garden slide down 45 degree slope and cracked a rib - couldn't - breathe - for a few days. Olives - we have lecchino - meant for oil not eating - but you need a lot to press. Let us know what you do with your olives?

  9. Turling, my mishaps must make me look accident prone! I'll definitely let you know what I end up doing with the olive crop :)

    Rosie, what a painful injury that must have been! I'm glad you were able to recover from it. Isn't it really scary to have impaired vision, even for a short time?

    Clare, thanks so much for the link to the UC Davis Olive Center. I spent quite a bit of time perusing their website and found some excellent information on olive culture, harvesting tips, pest control, and much, much more. I've downloaded one of their publications "Olives: Safe Methods for Home Pickling," which contains very detailed instructions on water, brine, dry salt and lye curing. My husband (the ex-mad biochemist) got especially excited at the prospect of lye-curing, since he had no credible excuse before for purchasing pure sodium hydroxide. I think I will start out with water and brine-curing, and see what results are netted. I also got a freaky deja vu reading about your "trip" down the slope. Gardening doesn't come with a warning label, but us diehards just keep coming back for more, no?

    James, you never know what lies in wait for you in the weird, wacky, wunderlicious (I made that one up) world of gardening. The next time you come face to face with the seedhead of a Clarkia (a botanical epithet, btw), make sure you're wearing protective goggles...

    Elephant's Eye, even though I sprained my ankle falling down the slope, that's nothing in comparison to cracking a rib - OUCH! You're right about the olive oil pressing - you really do need a good amount to make it happen, and I only have one Leccino tree, which produced only negligible amounts of fruit this year. As I mentioned before, I will probably experiment with water and brine curing, and post my results, with all the good, the bad and the ugly!

  10. Olive bread springs to mind, as does olive cake, and olive and smoked pork sausages (which you can then dry or smoke). I've got a tome about curing somewhere; I'll see if they offer an easier solution.

    Oh, hang on; olive beer anyone?

  11. Hi Idiot Gardener (never thought I would greet someone that way!). Olive beer sounds divine. If the concept works, it'll make you a millionaire, if you aren't one already. Otherwise, any helpful hints on curing will be much appreciated!

  12. I wonder why Freud never said anything about gardening and why some people are so attracted to it despite the pitfalls? After reading your post, I'm considering buying some safety sunglasses for the garden. Fire ants? Ouch! I know what you mean. As for the olives, maybe you should put a request out on Blotanical. Surely there are some Mediterranean gardeners who would love to offer some suggestions. I hope the rest of your summer is accident-free.

  13. Walk2write, what an excellent idea! I really don't utilize Blotanical as much as I should, and it is such a great resource with members from all over the globe who have such wide-ranging gardening experience. No new accidents thus far, so am keeping my fingers crossed :)