Our First Olive Harvest Il Nostro Primo Raccolto delle Olive

Picking olives in Italy

An ongoing part of my Italian fantasy has revolved around having olive trees, harvesting the olives and making oil. In fact, during the house search process there were at least a couple of candidates that were rejected due to lack of olive trees (or space to plant them).

Our land came with a few trees but had space to add a few more, which we have done. We started with 14 trees, added 6 more good-sized ones in the fall of 2018 and another 10 very young ones in 2019 (though one didn’t make it). So we now have a total of 29 olive trees. Although we have had the house since 2018 we haven’t been here to harvest our olives due to work and school schedules, Covid, etc. This year I was determined to change that.

Since we had neither the know-how nor the equipment to undertake this project, we asked our wonderful gardeners, Pippo and Marco, to help us out. Ideally we would be doing this in November but we needed to get it done before we head back to the States in a couple of days. They advised us that an early harvest would likely mean a lower yield in terms of oil, but higher quality.

We only had ten trees with fruit this year. None of our new trees had produced, likely due to the stress of being transplanted. So it was estimated to be a one day harvest. Pippo and Marco arrived bright and early on a cool but sunny day and started laying the net around the first tree.

Then we got to work using small rakes and an electric device with vibrating prongs that shake the olives from the tree. Some of the trees were on a steep slope, adding to the challenge and requiring some tree climbing to get at some of the fruit. It took all day, with a two hour break for lunch, and we ended up with four large crates of olives from our ten trees.

We had an appointment at the frantoio (olive press) at 2:30 the next day. We thought maybe they were going to throw our olives into a bigger batch for pressing, but they weighed them and started a separate batch just for us, labeled on the press as “America.”

The first step was to clean the twigs and leaves from the olives, then put them through a water bath. After that they grind them up in two stages and finally it is pressed and the bright green oil comes out.

We had 136 kg of olives, which made 18.5 liters of oil. Not a ton but plenty for us and a few friends!

We couldn’t wait to get home and try our new oil on toasted bread.

We recorded our whole experience in this little video. Enjoy!

 

 

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Boar Watch Cingiali Sightings

wild boarPhoto: Michal RenĨo

Where we live it is unbelievably quiet. Most of the time the only things you can hear are the humming of the bees on the flowers, the occasional call of a magpie or a tractor plowing a field across the valley. But at night it is absolutely silent.

Except for this September. Every evening after we arrived we could hear someone, or something, crashing around in the woods on the other side of the field from our house. Our daughter, who had come with us for a few days, was sleeping under the stars on our roof deck. She reported that the crashing went on most of the night and was accompanied by loud crunching, grunting and snorting. She said the sound was so loud she thought that whatever it was was right below her in our garden.

We began to suspect that what we were hearing was wild boar. The woods near our house is actually a walnut grove, and the crunching we were hearing was the boar chowing down on the nuts. Which also explains why we had never heard them in the spring or summer.

I was determined to see them with my own eyes to confirm our suspicion. The problem is that boar are nocturnal creatures so it is unusual to see them in the daytime. I stationed myself by our fence at dusk and was rewarded with a sighting of six or seven cinghiali of various sizes roaming the field at the edge of the walnut grove. What a thrill for this nature girl!

We haven’t heard them lately so we assume they have polished off the walnuts and moved on to greener pastures. We’ll look forward to their visit next fall.

After seeing the boar up close I was inspired to read up on them, and learned some interesting stuff:

There are over 2 million wild boar in Italy, They are ubiquitous to the point that they are considered invasive in some areas. I stumbled across a wild video of a woman being accosted by a family of boar who steal her groceries in the parking lot of a Rome supermarket.

Adult boar are large: males can weigh up to 375 lbs., while females are 175 lbs. or more. They have bad eyesight and short legs but they are fast runners and good swimmers. Lifespan is between 15 and 20 years.

They are omnivorous like their domestic pig cousins, eating mostly plants, fruit, nuts and berries, as well as worms, slugs, small reptiles and even carrion.

The females live in small groups, called sounders, with their piglets. Males are solitary except during breeding season (November-January) when they go looking for females with whom to mate. They use their sharp tusks to do battle with their rivals in the mating game. There are usually 4-6 piglets in a litter and they are adorable, with reddish brown coloring and creamy stripes. They become independent at around 7 months.

Other than humans, who can hunt boar from November to May, the boar’s only natural predator is the wolf, who typically preys on the piglets.

Our Garden: Then and Now The Challenges of Landscaping on a Slope

One of our biggest challenges with the house was the landscaping. When we bought the property we underestimated the slope of the hill. It seemed like a gently sloping pasture when we were walking the property prior to buying it. We were so focused on the construction of the house we did not realize what a challenge it would be to deal with the steep (as it turned out) slope. In particular, how to get from the driveway above down to the house.

We knew we needed professional landscape design help, but it turned out to be one of the most difficult things to find. It seems that landscape design is not really a thing in Italy, except at the very high end (e.g., the villas around Lake Como). We did eventually find someone: a British woman who had retired to Italy and did a limited number of projects. We were warned that she tended to be a bit of a primadonna and quite difficult to work with, but we didn’t feel we had any choice, so we hired her.

As it turned out, she was just as described, and it took us a long time to get an actual plan. The structure and hardscape parts at the front of the house made sense and we executed most of that. That included a retaining wall up at the driveway, with a couple of terraces on the slope. There was a formal stairway leading to the front door and another, more rustic stairway leading to the kitchen door.

Retaining wall and stairs built (June 2018):

Beyond that, however, things got a little tricky. Many of the plant selections were not native to the area and/or not readily sourced. She also recommended extending our pergola across the entire back of the house, which would have obstructed both the light and the view. The plan had some other convoluted elements on the backside so we ditched those as well. In the end, we decided to let our gardens guys, Pippo and Marco, come up with solutions, based on inspiration photos I provided. That worked out quite well and was a lot less expensive than the plan that the fancy landscape architect had recommended.

By the time our yard was ready to be planted, it was already too hot, so we had to delay planting until the fall. I returned solo to work with Pippo and Marco on plant choices and placement in October.

Ready to plant (October 2018):

Newly planted:

How the slope looks today:

 

As it turns out, some of the plants have fared better than others. Some have thrived. Others have either died or struggled, especially in this summer’s extreme heat, leaving some bare spots. So at this point the plantings on the slope look a bit haphazard and will need some adjustment. When the weather gets cooler we’ll replace some of the casualties with plants that do well in this location. At any rate, it’s nice not to have to look at a mountain of bare earth. I don’t mind the wild and carefree appearance of the slope.

I do love the casual look of the back stairs with the lavender, roses, verbena and other flowering plants along the border. The hungry bees seem to be very pleased with the tasty smorgasbord.

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I’m looking forward to the continued evolution of the garden.

Note: For anyone wanting to know which plants did well on this hot, dry slope with poor soil, here are some of them:

Lavender
Laurel
Rosemary
Russian sage
Santolina pinnata and chamaecyprissus
Cotoneaster
Potentilla frustosa
Rosa rugosa
Guara lindheimeni
Verbena
Butterfly bush
Narrowleaf firethorn
Artemisia Powis Castle
Golden euryops (Golden shrub daisy)
Threadleaf fleabane