The last time I posted, I wrote about visiting UC Davis to learn about harvesting big olive trees (we have 21 lovely 40-foot giants here at Sunset, and we aren't so happy with the idea of teetering on ladder-tops). While I was there, Dan Flynn, director of the university's Olive Center, showed me a cool new project that has started me thinking about how much easier our picking could be: high-density olive trees.
UC Davis's new plantings of high-density olive trees.They may not look like much now, but many growers think that these kinds of trees represent the future of the California olive oil industry. Commercial olive trees are usually planted about 18 feet apart, and these little guys only need 5 feet; they're also short (8 or 9 feet), and trained on trellises like wine grapes—meaning they can be harvested by the same (slightly modified) machines used to harvest grapes. Plus, they grow fast: Two or three years to maturity instead of seven. And they are more resistant to the olive fruit fly than normal-density trees.
California Olive Ranch, in Oroville, California, has been growing these tiny trees, developed in Spain, for several years—and getting great results: excellent Arbequina and Arbosana oils that can be sold for far less than imported oils of similar quality. (Koroneiki, a Greek varietal, is the third type available as a high-density tree.)
High-density olive groves at California Olive Ranch(photo by Mike Kepka, San Franscisco Chronicle)What if we were to get a few of the little guys? So little space, such easy picking...
A girl can dream, can't she?
In the meantime, we'll try to use what our land already provides. We just have to win our war with the fruit flies.
(If you'd like to look for your own little high-density trees, try the Olive Source.)