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Olive tree farming

Cultivation is the most important step in the production process. We feel privileged to live in a country where olive cultivation dates back to 4,000 B.C., documented during the Minoan civilization.   Cretan farmers have literally grown up along side their trees as, traditionally, land is inherited from generation to generation.  A deep love for their land and a profound respect for their olive trees is the main reason Cretan farmers still cultivate their olive trees using traditional methods.  Modern production models of super-intensive cultivation, such as those adopted in Spain, in California and other new producing countries are not acceptable to us or practiced at Terra Creta. We believe that high quality olive oil simply cannot be produced with the excessive use of heat and chemicals or by stressing the tree just to produce a large crop.

The variety

The most abundant olive variety in the region of Kolymvari is the Koroneiki olive.  This very small olive produces an exceptionally fine, fruity, green, aromatic olive oil.

It is cultivated mainly on the island of Crete, in regions of the Peloponnes and on the islands of Ionian sea. 60% of the Greek olive groves are of Koroneiki variety. The tree is between 5 to 7 meters in height and has dark-green leaves of about 5,47 cm in length and 1.03 cm in width. The olive fruit, has an average weight of 1,3 grams and the ratio between flesh and the pit is 6,6:1, while the percentage of olive oil can be up to 27%. It is consider to be a very productive variety and suitable for warm – dry climates. It can be cultivated up to 500 meters above sea level.

The second most popular variety is the Tsounato variety, an unexplored treasure and a favorite of locals.

Cultivation

Olive trees on Crete range in age of 50 to 3,000 years old.
Cultivation is still  carried out in the traditional Cretan way in our olive groves. The cultivation cycle starts in mid-February immediately fgollowing the end of the harvest. Pruning is a key stage that formulates the shape of branches to allow enough air and sun exposure on the clusters of olive fruit. Pruning an olive tree is truly an art.  The farmer must carefully prune each tree individually according to its needs, maintaining the overall, long-term plan identifying the shape and production history of every single tree.

The next important step is to apply fertilizer to the soil, when necessary, to stimulate the soil and ensure that the proper nutrients are retained from season to season.  At Terra Creta, we use fertilizer only for sustainability of the tree. Frequently, the only nutrients needed are in the leaves and branches that have naturally fallen during the season. They get plough into the soil and are regenerated as food for the olive tree. The grass underneath the tree must also be cut and the weeds removed in order to allow water and nutrients to be better absorbed, as well as to prevent them from hindering the harvest.  In the cultivation process, removal of weeds is carried out by mechanical means (tractors or cutters) and, in very rare cases, a slight spraying used.  On the rare occasion when more intensive weed control measures must be taken, it is always applied lightly and with as little as possible in order to better sustain the environment and allow the tree to flourish.

During the summer, farmers are forced to combat the olive tree’s biggest enemy: the olive fruit fly (Dacus olea), which can infest and destroy a healthy and productive olive crop. They destroy an olive by biting it, creating a hole in the skin and laying their eggs inside. This hole activates the process of oxidizing the olive and degrading its quality. Farmers in Kolymvari fight this insect in one of two ways. They hang small buckets of pheromones from a strong branch, which is intended to attract the flies and then kill them. However, these containers have to be rotated and replaced every fifteen days to keep up with the life cycle of the olive fruit fly. The other option is to spray a small section of the tree trunk with certified solutions, which attract and kill the fly. Limited spraying actually proves better for the trees, in the long run, as contamination is minimal and the olives are not affected. Since Kolymvari is a PDO region, the coverage of the entire tree with chemicals is not allowed.

Terra Creta also engages in organic cultivation. These trees and groves are completely free of all chemical fertilizers and sprays. Instead of chemical sprays, a small bottle or envelope-like trap is tied to a tree branch to repel the olive fly.

Watering

Only 30% of our olive groves are irrigated, which produces a higher yield. For the rest of the trees there is no need for irrigation since natural water sources are sufficient to keep the tree and the crop at optimum hydration levels.  The quality of olives and olive oil produced from these trees is superior, rich in fruitiness and beneficial nutritional elements.

Harvesting

The region of Kolymvari produces approximately 15,000 tonnes of olive oil per year being the most important olive oil region on the island of Crete.  In fact, there are 30 million olive trees on Crete, which produces more olive oil than all of the Greek islands and mainland combined. The harvesting of olives occurs from November through January. At the beginning of the season, in November, the newly produced olive oil is green and spicy; in Greece this early-season oil is called ‘agurelaio’, meaning “un-ripe olive oil”. Additionally, these early olive yields produce less olive oil than the more mature olives harvested in December and January, but are more intense and full of phenolic antioxidants. The mature olives are purple to black in color. To produce one kilo (2.2 pounds) of olive oil in November, approximately  six kilos (13.22 pounds) of green olives are required; however, in December and January one kilo of oil can be produced from only four kilos (8.81 pounds) of the mature olives. When it is time to harvest the olives, farmers lay large, rectangular nets under the trees and use slender, hand-held poles about the size of a broom handle, to gently loosen the olives allowing them to fall into the nets below.

They then gather up the nets by hand, and using a hand-held grate, they sift the harvested olives removing any leaves or twigs that have fallen onto the nets.  Then the olives are brought to the olive mill for same-day processing, in order to ensure the highest quality and attain the freshest product.
Manual harvesting is very labor intensive as one farmer can only harvest  approximately 150 kilos (330 pounds) of olives a day, which may yield 15Kg (33 pounds) of olive oil; however, this gentle procedure is key to ensure a fresh, premium tasting olive oil with a delicate aroma.

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