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Achaia Olive Groves & Olive Tree Cultivation

In these industrial times where anything and everything is commercialized, the Achaia olive groves continue to preserve their absolute communion with Mother Nature that has existed for centuries. They remain almost unaffected by time, true to their age long standing, barely touched by modern technology. These olive trees inhabit a land, not balanced and controlled by man, but by the natural forces themselves. It is true that they are more sensitive to natural catastrophe, but they retain that tranquility encountered in areas not spoiled by the forceful hand of man, exude an air of serenity, and balance that streams from the tree to the fruit and to the oil itself that they produce.

Achaia is an area that contains both mountains as well as a relatively narrow strip of flat land along the southern shore of the Gulf of Corinth that is (5-10 kilometers wide) and about 100 kilometers long. Most olive trees hand perilously on pezoules (terraces) their trunks swept by the meltemi sea winds, their roots deeply imbedded to the almost dry land, hanging on for dear life, their branches stretching out to the scorching sun and the strong rain. But then that is exactly the perfect habitat for the olive tree. Hot summers, warm winters and medium rainfall.

Traveling through Achaia the eye meets with olive tree upon olive tree dark silvery green sometimes thirsty for rain in, summertime or shiny leafy green laden with fruit in winter, skirting the narrow coastal roads and climbing all the way up the mountainsides. The landscape, especially in the mountainous areas, looks dry and stark, but the soil is not. It is rich in the constituents most valued by the olive tree. The composition and flavor of olive oil, greatly depends, among others, on climatic conditions, soil quality and fruit variety. The Eliki olive oil is a premium quality olive oil because it comes from an area of Greece with soil and climatic conditions that are ideal for the olive tree.

Achaia olive groves are relatively small in size (average size is around 2,000 square meters) and they are owned by local families that take exceptional pride in the cultivation of the trees and the production of olive oil. A family can own one or more of these small olive groves, which are being passed from father to son through generations. In fact, it is not unusual for a farmer to own single or a few olive threes in land that is owned by others. The law in Greece protects the ownership of that olive tree despite that it is in land that is owned by someone else. These trees are often hundreds of years old and the same family has owned them for long time.

Those of you that have traveled to Greece and visited the beautiful Achaia cities of Acrata, Diacofto, Eleon (which comes from “elea” i.e. olive tree), Eliki, Aeghion and Patras have a better understanding of the beautiful Achaia landscape and the dominant role of the olive tree. If you have visited the area, you probably have also visited the famous monasteries of Mega Spileon and Agia Lavra, near the historic Kalavrita. These monasteries, and especially Mega Spileon, own many large and small olive groves for centuries. Most of these olive groves were given to the monasteries as a gift from people during the Turkish occupation of Greece to protect them from falling in Turkish hands. As a result, today the monasteries of Achaia are producers of significant quantities of olive oil.

A good part of our Eliki olive oil comes from the olive groves owned by these monasteries. The rest of it, comes from olive groves owned by individual families that sell the excess olive oil that they produce each year to the local Agricultural Cooperatives’ Union of Aeghion. The oil collected by the Agricultural Cooperatives’ Union is thoroughly inspected, stored in stainless-steel tanks under the proper conditions, lightly filtered and packaged in their modern facilities for export to the EU, USA, Australia and other places.



Click to enlargeOlive Tree Cultivation & CareThe olive tree life cycle is as follows. From 0 to 7 years of age the tree is unproductive. From 7 to 30 years of age the tree grows with a constant increase in productivity. From 35 to 150 years the tree reaches maturity and full production. At 150 years the olive tree starts aging with a remarkable productivity for centuries and sometimes for thousands of years. The olive trees production is cyclical with more production in one year and significantly less in the following year. This cycle is repeated throughout the life of the tree.

The olive tree is very robust. It can endure temperatures below 6-7 degrees Centigrade (21-23 degrees Fahrenheit) in the winter and long periods of drought in the summer. It grows best in areas with an average rainfall of 14-16 in per year, and a dry summer with temperatures of about 40 degrees Centigrade (104 degrees Fahrenheit). Olive trees do best in a Mediterranean climate with a hot, dry summer and a cool, wet winter. In order to obtain a good yield it is necessary to carry out the following cultivation program during the year.

Spring:

In spring the tree starts to blossom after a pause during the cold months of winter. The soil around the tree must be fertilized and tilled for improved storage of water near the roots. The trees must also be pruned at this time. The goal of pruning is to increase productivity through well-balanced growth of the tree throughout the year. The spring fertilizing provides mineral and other necessary substances for blossoming, adjusts the ratio of those contained in the soil, or supplements them if they are scarce. It has been estimated that 100 pounds of olives remove from the soil an average of 409 g (14.3 oz) of nitrogen, 91 g (3.2 oz) of phosphoric dioxide and 45 g (1.6 oz) of potassium. The period, the quality and quantity of fertilizing depend on soil, on exposure and on many other variables. An old and effective treatment is the use of organic fertilizers (dung, green fertilizer, etc.) that can supply nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and many other microelements.

Summer:

The olive tree can survive in a dry climate. In fact, a great number of trees (especially those up in the mountains) are not watered during the summer months because water is not available in these areas. However, for trees that are located on flat land near the sea, an adequate water supply is essential at certain times of their vegetative cycle. These trees are watered every 2-3 weeks during the summer months when the fruit is in its early stages of growth and the pits harden. The fruit continues to grow until the moment when the green color of the skin fades and reddish spots appear. During these stages a lack of water may cause the fruit to be smaller, its oil content lower, and it may even cause the fruit to fall from the tree. In this period olives can be damaged due to exposure to harsh weather, disease and parasites. A very good harvest might be seriously jeopardized by these factors. The Olive Fly (Dacus Olei) is the most feared enemy. In certain years this insect can destroy the entire crop. It is found in many olive-producing areas in the world. The larvae cause premature fruit drop and yield reduction. An infestation seriously affects oil volume, alters its color and increases acidity. Farmers use against the fly antiparasitics, poisoned bait and certain parasites of the olive fly that attack its larvae during summer. There is absolutely no use of pesticides which have been banned years ago.

Autumn:

During this season the olives grow ripe and they lose their green color due increase in oil content and decrease in water content. During this period, the growth and ripening of the fruit require a constant supply of minerals and other substances. Lack of water and nutrients during autumn vegetation can seriously affect the year’s crop as well as the tree's productivity in the following year. The soil surrounding the plant is treated at a maximum depth of 20 cm (7.8 in) in order to avoid damaging surface roots. This treatment allows the mixing of fertilizer with the soil and prepares the soil to receive rainwater and to maintain humidity as long as possible. The simultaneous elimination of infesting weeds helps the plant and prepares it for harvesting.

Winter:

During winter, the olives become ripe and their color changes from green to violet and finally to almost black while their pulp becomes soft. The ripening is progressive and relatively slow, especially when sunlight is not intense. Olives must be harvested when they are ¾ violet and before they become fully ripe and the accumulated oil in the fruit starts to decrease. Olive groves require care throughout the year and the work is labor-intensive. Mechanized harvesting is not common at all because it does not work well. Almost all operations are totally manual and that is the most important reason for the higher prices of olive oil.


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