Olive Harvest | Part I

In the orchard, shaded by the westerning sun, ranch hands toil, sweat on their foreheads and time out of their minds. Wind rushes through an oak savanna, once inhabited by cowboys, who may have nurtured similar aches in their backs. At first blush, one might not believe such a poetic depiction is reality on harvest day in our olive orchard but here at Milewide the fall air brings everything you’ve been daydreaming about all year.
After too many cups of coffee, we slip on our gloves and harvest bags, with a similar excitement only experienced before the age of 7 on Christmas morning. We kneel down underneath a big olive tree, setting out a cloth that will catch the olives combed off their branches. You know what they say, when life gives you olives, make olive oil, and that is exactly what is about to happen.
Step 1 – The Paste
With sacks piled up in our pressing room, we quickly sift through our pickings, removing any foreign material that may diminish the quality our oil. We use a primitive process to produce small, artisanal batches. The first of our semi-industrial equipment- mind you, the sound it makes is by all means industrial – is a food processor, attached to a stand with a bucket fastened on top. The olives are poured in through the bucket, fall through the food processor, and the paste is dispensed.
Step 2 – Malaxing
When we have about 16 quarts of paste, which is about all we can process in a day’s work of two pressings, it’s time to stir and warm it up. This is similar to melting chocolate in a bain-marie, or water bath, for those of you who flunked French. We place the bucket of olive paste into another bucket filled halfway with hot water. Then, fit a mixer into the olive paste, and let it get to malaxing, or mixing. This separates oil from the ground olive flesh, and creates larger droplets of oil for extraction.
Step 3 – The Olive Tower
Thirty minutes later, the DIY supersize bain-marie has done its work, and our olive paste is ready to be prepped for the press. This sequence reminds me of making a trifle cake. The olive tower is made in a large metal tray with a hole on one end fitted with a cork. Our olive trifle is layered with: first a solid, plastic plate, then a sequence of slotted plastic plates and tough, thin fabric is layered one after another. In that order, you begin the tower, then using a square frame, we fill and smooth over a layer of olive mash, so that when you remove the frame, you have a perfect square of olive mash to cover with another fabric mat, then a slotted plate, another mat, olive mash, and so on, continuing this sequence for 10-15 layers.


Step 4 – Just Press It
Now patience becomes a virtue, after transferring the metal tray to the actual press. We very slowly crank the lever, once, twice, maybe three times to start the pressing. Olive water and oil will begin to seep out along the edges of the fabric mats and into the metal tray. As it begins to fill, we uncork the hole and let the contents out into the final bucket. From there, we decant, jar, and wait to for separation to occur so we can extract the oil from the water and other particulate matter.

IMG_5559 IMG_5566

Step 5 – If You Consider This a Step…
It’s time to sit down to a harvest dinner, and reminisce.
“What a day this year has been,” amongst the passing of bread, cheese, figs, articokes, leeks, and wine, “I thought they would never blush.”
Late November’s harvest is a ritual embedded in the culture of homesteading and of the ranch. While we wait for the oil to settle, there is nothing but time to reflect on the year passed, and plan for the future harvest coming too soon. This year, we are entertaining the idea of infusing our oil with rosemary. Stay tuned for how it holds up against Beth’s homemade bread.
Brielle, Ranch hand at Milewide Nursery

PS: We have decided that next year will need a standard commercial press or we will need to use a public press to extract all the oil we can get. And, we will have even more trees producing… we will get back to you.
–    Steve

Strawberry Boxes Forever

“When the world wearies and society ceases to satisfy, there is always the garden.”

-Minnie Aumonier

In an earlier age of the world, when there were fewer inhabitants on the earth than there are now, believe it or not, people did not go to the grocery store and hand over $4.99 for a package of strawberries. They grew their own! Wild strawberries were grown in Italy as early as 200 B.C, and so in typical Italian style, along with Milewide’s olive orchard and Romanesco artichokes, it is only sensible we grow our own strawberries.
My first year on the ranch was a bitter disappointment; although we had a thriving strawberry patch in June, we were under constant attack by little “Bambies” passing through the gates of our gardens, and nibbling at our ripe berries. Unfortunately, the harvest season was short, the deer were insatiable, and so we barely harvested a bowl for ourselves. Every year on the ranch is a new experiment to do it better than the last. I’m happy to report that this year, by the ”genius” that is our boss, Steve, we have experienced a strawberry breakthrough.
Our strawberries are organic ever-bearing strawberries, and they produce a harvest from early summer to mid-autumn. It’s best to plant your starts as soon as you can in early spring, in staggered rows of two or three. We keep our beds thriving with Agribon row cloth, it will increase your bed’s temperature about 2-10 degrees, protecting it from the chill of winter. If you keep this cloth on in the spring, it will make your strawberries grow significantly bigger, and better.
Are you starting a new bed, or replanting an existing bed? Doesn’t matter! You must fertilize. If you are working with an existing bed, pull up your strawberries from the year before, put them in a bucket of water, and fertilize before replanting. As for fertilizer, we use manure or our own ranch mix:

3 parts Cottonseed Meal
1 part Seaweed
1 part Bat Guano
1 part Oyster shell flour
Now, we have the berries, but what about our Bambi problem? Leaving the guns in storage, Steve’s method of growing strawberries closer to the house in boxed garden beds is both convenient and clever. The deer are less likely to come close to the house -special thank-you to Rottweiler’s Oona and Zara. Also, we are simply more likely to pass by the beds for a quick snack between jobs and keep a keen eye for harvest-ready fruit, getting to the berries before deer even get a chance. You may also want to try stabilizing wire cages over the beds, to block any animals trying to poke their noses down into the patch.
With plenty of sunlight and decent soil, ever-bearers are eager to grow. The boxed beds, tiered into the hillside create a well-drained environment, perfect for ever-bearers to avoid root rot. This neat set-up makes tending to weeds between the rows simple. Introduce one last 21st century comfort, the automatic watering system, and you have your billet to beautiful berries for months on end.

Brielle, Ranch-hand at Milewide Nursery


Grabbing a mid-morning snack on the trek from the Olive Orchard to the Maple Garden

The Aloe Elixir

One nice evening while working at a restaurant on a Florida beach, a youthful Caribbean man walked up to me and we started talking. Somehow his age came up in our conversation. He looked at least twenty years younger than he said, his skin looked amazing. I asked, “How do you look so great?” He looked at me, “You really want to know?” I nodded and smiled. He looked around slyly, leaned in and said, “An old secret from my island; blend up the inside of one aloe leaf, half a pineapple and the juice of three lemons. Have a shot of it every morning.” He leaned back smiling. I leaned in and whispered, “Thank you.” Just then his table was ready..

Cut off a leaf of your Aloe Plant (don’t have one? Get one from us! Over at Milewide Nursery.
Now scoop the goo from inside the Aloe Leaf and put it into your blender..


Cut up half a Pineapple
Put the pieces inside your blender

Cut up 3 lemons, juice em’, put it into the blender

Now blend!!!

Enjoy one shot of this little concoction every morning! Tastes best when served in beautiful little cups..


Enjoy your Elixir of Life!!

- ashley

A veraison blush is on our olives…

Here we are with the warm afternoons of October chasing away the morning cool and, sometimes, the morning fog. And our olive trees are beginning their slow slide thru veraison. This is that time in the developing fruits’ life cycles where the fruit starts to turn color, gradually ripening from green to a dark red or black. The olive oil producer can harvest at any time during this process to achieve different results. Early, “green”, harvest will produce a lighter and less pungent oil, but at the cost of the amount of oil that can be pressed. Later, “dark”, harvests will produce a darker and “oily” oil – this has all the unique tastes you would expect from a fine oil.
I just noticed the start of version on our trees today and I can’t help but be excited. Last year, we had a small harvest and a broken grinder at olive processing time. I don’t expect any disappointment this year; if the equipment breaks down again, then we will take our olives to a press to the south of us.
olive_flowersThe typical olive tree or olive branch flowers every two years; heavy fruit one cycle probably means less fruit the next (like an apple tree). The flowers form and pollinate in the spring; shortly after the tiny olives themselves begin to form, the fruit must survive abscission, a process that will destroy a very high percentage of the young fruit. Now it is water and care until the fruit has fully formed. Give them enough water, but do not overwater.
I advise against harvesting the hard, green early fruit. Rub your fingernail against the fruit’s flesh to see if you leave a slight depression; if you can’t do that, the fruit is way too young. You will also need to harvest much more green fruit in order to get a quantity of oil. Around here, in Northern California, our overall olive harvest has a nice mix of dark and semi-dark olives for the press starting in November. By December, and later, the olives are all shading into their dark, fully ripened state. These late olives have the richest, most flavorful oil, but you are running an increasing risk of damaged olives from frost and mold. These dark, ripe little things also offer the most quantity of pressed oil. The harvest is a bit of an art, but much like any garden harvest “art”; things are ready when they are ready – harvest then. We experiment each year, trying different harvest times and conditions.
Well, it is October and its time for us to get our friends together, plan a big meal and harvest. If it isn’t fun, you must be doing it wrong. At least, that’s the plan… First, get your tools; the Olive Source online offers branch combs that we have found very helpful; they also have harvest bags that we use, but cardboard boxes would work as well. We place a large piece of shade cloth down under the tree, slitting the fabric so it can go around the trunk, in order catch the fruit that the combs drop. We then put these in boxes in the shade. We do not wash them and we try to process immediately to no more than 24 hours later.
We have found ourselves caught between a rock and a hard place on pressing. We are in a very isolated area and the presses that would do pay work for us are far away. We have thought of using these public and semi-public presses since the anticipated olive harvest is almost ready for a commercial press – but we don’t think we have enough to meet their minimum weight requirements. The Olive Source offers a hobby pressing kit that is awkward but effective for small amounts. We purchased one and it was pretty much what we expected – a mite primitive. But it really is the best we could find on the web in its price range. We expect to move up to a small Italian press in a year or two. The public press is like $500 to get it done, the hobby press is something like $2000 and a low end commercial press is $15-20,000. For a small grower, moving up to a larger press is a commitment.
2013_veraison2There are actually hundreds of olive cultivars; olives have taken the world by storm and there is an olive tree for quite a variety of conditions. European olives are often grown on the poorest soils, leaving the bottom soil for other food crops. The Italian Tuscan and the Spanish olives are some of the toughest and some of the most tasty. They are often referred to as “rustic” and are known for their piquant taste. They can be very strong. We choose Leccino, Taggiasca, Frantoio and Arbequina as well as the pollinators Pendolino and Maurino in our orchard. Leccino and Frantoio have a mild straw colored oil and Taggiasca and Arbequina are intended to offer some bite. It has turned out that the Leccino, Frantoio and Taggiasca have done well, but the Arbequina and the Maurino have not. The Leccino is especially fruitful. We are thinking of introducing Coratina into the empty spots in the orchard soon.
We haven’t mentioned those yet. In the orchard’s third year, many of the trees were overcome by verticellum wilt and were either seriously set back or outright killed by this pathogen. Heavy composting seems to help, but many recommend cutting, burning and leaving the hole fallow for five years – whew! We have left the holes that were overcome vacant for several years now and plan to replant with the Coratina.
We are in a zone 9 climate area where our lows get down into the 20’s, and sometimes lower. We started to see leaf damage as we dipped into the teens. The fruit will also become pocked with damaged frost marks – if its bad, these olives will not make a great oil. Although it has not happened, I take comfort that the tree can die back to the ground and as long as the roots survive, the crown will produce fresh sprouts. You will need to wait but those developed crowns will come on strong.
And, at the end, we will have a sweet little bottle of semi-clear oil ready for us to try. First it will be a finger dipped into the oil; then a little oil dribbled on bread; I won’t forget our next salad, or our next sauté, when that piquant flavor of our rustic Tuscans will be the wow of the table. Artisanal…

California Drought – Summer 2014

Milewide Nursery, located in northwestern California, is surrounded by a typical hot Mediterranean climate. Even when we don’t have drought years, our summers are dry and hot; and our winters are mild and very wet, at least when we aren’t in drought. This last winter was very dry for us and, now, in August, we can see the difference everywhere in the forest and around the nursery.
The US Drought Monitor presently considers us in Exceptional Drought Conditions, with as much as 58% of our area effected. Our area is visited every few years by El Nino, a storm system that comes across the Pacific and can drop a lot of water on us. Well, early this spring there was a lot a hopeful talk that this upcoming El Nino being a drencher. The signs are there – something is coming in the fall, but it may not be the forceful kind of weather we need to break the drought. Remember, we don’t expect rain in the summer, but we do need it to store up our soils.
It is much harder to keep nursery plants wet. Lose some staff, miss a watering, get caught by an unexpected high 90 day and things die. In the forest, at least natural patterns are operating – the forest creates a canopy, vegetation diversifies, each finding its niche, green manure accumulates a little each year along with the compost mulch the forest is creating each year from the fallen duff and leaf. Our nursery benefits from mimicking some of these patterns.
We have tired to mitigate this year’s water shortage in a number of ways. Of course, we have mulched our trees and our beds whenever possible; we made several compost piles over the winter and we collected forest compost. With these in hand, we dressed each olive tree and all the other trees and beds on the farm – we put on a couple of inches of compost and a couple of inches of loose leaf. The important thing is that mulch is good and thick – at least 4 to 6 inches. I actually wasn’t that happy to be taking that leaf mulch away from my forest.
Drip is the word… install drips everywhere that you can. Section areas off so that you can use timers. Don’t use sprinklers… at least if you want to save water. And the droppers needn’t be the drop by drop type, you can make good use of a variety of emitters – visit http://www.dripworks.com was a good idea of the options you can use. Make sure that you keep your maintenance up, checking that the emitters are actually working – sometimes you don’t know before your plant is too wilted.
Half-bury your pots when you can. We have been placing gravel in our nursery areas so that we can nestle the pots down into the gravel – works real good with the roots coming out into the moist gravel. The easiest way to kill a plant is to put it into a pot; if you dig the pot into the ground a quarter to a third its height, the plant will have access to a larger volume of soil during emergency.
Place sensitive plants in the shade. Pretty simple, but it will save you.
Mist occasionally, adding humidity to the air. This can spell you between regular waterings but it won’t use up too much of your water.
And although it is very disheartening to watch your plants struggle or die, and the fires that plague our area are scary and destructive, the smog in the air still gives us beautiful red sunsets.


ps.. talk about a scary picture… check out this snowpack picture for California



I tell you; I love that Wikipedia. Preparing for this blog post, I took a peek at the entry for “landscaping” and the entry seemed to confuse more than help. Its not Wikipedia’s fault, turns out that landscaping is not simply defined. Consider the options; you can explore aquascaping, arboriculture, ecoscaping, horticulture, landscape architecture, landscape contracting, landscape design, landscape ecology, landscape engineering, landscape planning, naturescaping and sustainable landscaping. Quite a mouth full, eh? When I think of landscaping, I think of my gardens, my courtyard and the spaces around my home – I am going for beauty and for ease of use. Somehow, I think that I shouldn’t need a college degree to landscape. But,certainly, your landscaping efforts need planning.
Conscious landscaping can take place on any level – you can have a potted “landscape” within your home, or a pleasant shady “landscape” in your sunny courtyard, or a carefully crafted landscape “layout” surrounding your home.
One way to get a handle on this is to explore the various landscaping design elements – they turn out to be fairly standardized, but its not the list of design elements, its how you use those elements and which you use.
And in another big mouthful, here they are:

accent, association, asymmetry, balance, color, composition, density/mass, harmony, proportion, repetition, rhythm, richness, scale, sequence, simplicity, structure, symmetry, tension, texture, unity and variety.

Whew! We can’t explore all these here, but you might check out “landscape design elements” on-line for more information. If you would like to see many of these elements in action, pay a visit to houzz.com where you will find 77,000 landscape design photos – very inspirational – fun to look at as well.
I am landscaping my new home. We have been here a couple of years now and, so, we have discovered many of the natural use patterns around us. Often your landscape will tell you how to design it if you can listen. Don’t force your will on your land and garden; this can be expensive and unsatisfactory. We built our house on a slight slope between a large live oak and the hillside and this allowed us to place a few vegetable terrace beds on the hillside and a “tree room” under the live oak. We have a small lawn space in front of our courtyard that changes into our hottub deck. And our roof is a flat wooden deck. We set these spaces up as separate “areas” that we would design around and within. Our rough landscaping was planned on as we designed our home. Even if you are not building a home, you want to integrate “landscaping” both inside and outside your home. “Pattern Language” talks about the crucial “edge” between these two spaces. We lined the edge around our house with pavers and moss – we can walk barefoot all around the house. “Pattern Language” is well worth looking over as it will change your take on designing things for yourself.
Because we tried planning, our landscaping decisions were easier. Large pots are fitting in nicely around our courtyard and on the deck. Outside our courtyard and across our small lawn area is a beautiful view of our local hills, so no large trees in that viewscape – unless they can help frame the view. We have three outdoor staircases and each provides planting opportunities along their edges – we have already planted several large flowered peony down the side of one staircase. An orchard surrounds the house, so fruit trees were a slam dunk. I think you get the idea.

– Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander (Oxford University Press)
– These architects, after studying cultures across the world, developed a number     of “patterns” that humans use regularly to build their homes and cities. A very     accessible design approach.
– Designing and Maintaining Your Edible Landscaping – Naturally by Robert Kourik     (Chelsea Green)
– Explains design elements simply and offers sustainable (and edible) guidelines     for your garden.
– A Tuscan Paradise by Marina Schinz (Stewart, Tabori and Chang)
– Houzz
– Better Homes and Garden – http://www.bhg.com/app/plan-a-garden/
http://www.homesteadgardens.com/ – an example of a contracting service
– ediblelandscaping.com/
http://www.rosalindcreasy.com/ – edible landscaping

Cucumber beetle control…

Cucumber beetles (Diabrotica spp.- spotted and striped)

spotcukeThanks Univ of Kentucky

Recommended cucumber beetle IPM (Integrated Pest Management plan)

1. spray pyganic (pyrethrum insecticide) – kills flying beetles

2. drench with nematodes – attacks larve eating roots

3. hang yellow cards/ with clove scent – catches flying beetles


Tips on changing your growing environment -

- ID the spotted and stripped beetles – make sure you are treating for the targeted pest

- plant later in year – the infestation could be lighter

- cultivate soil – disturbs the eggs

- use heavy compost mulch – makes it difficult for the pests to move around

- use row covers – makes it difficult for the pests to move around


Other possible options -

- interplant marigolds as trap crops

- spray with compost tea

- use a dolomite/wood ash wash

- use kaolin clay spray under the leaves (cryolite/Kryocide 96W) – needs regular application

- use diatomaceous earth – needs regular application

- yellow sticky cards (with clove, cinnamon or bay leaf scent) – really does catch the pests. We recommend that you cut the yellow cards into wide strips and tie them to short bamboo stakes and place along your veggie bedsd

- use an insecticide off the ranch shelves – pyrethrum-based  – like  bifithrin

- use rotenone powder or Sevin 4F as knock down sprays if you need


http://www.ghorganics.com/CucumberBeetles.htm – very good summary of information