by Amy Machnak, Sunset food writer

At first we thought our olives were just ripening very fast. They had turned color and were dropping from the trees in mid-October, weeks before we thought they would be ready. How naive we have been. Deborah Rogers, from The Olive Press, in Sonoma, has concluded—after we sent her samples from our trees—that we are infested with the infamous olive fly. Not only are all of our 21 olive trees riddled with olive-fly worms, but we are the proud owners of “the worst infestation” Rogers has ever seen.

Lucky us.

Our dreams of easily picking and pressing a wonderful olive oil from Sunset’s own back yard have been extinguished. But that’s not even the saddest part of our present situation. Evidently, if we ever hope to harvest the olives in the future, we need to pick all of this year’s crop of deformed, grotesque, and worm-rotted olives and destroy them. The irony here is that this year’s olives are the bumper crop of crops.

There are three ways to destroy the harvest we have. We can bury the olives, burn them, or bag them in large plastic sacks and set them in the sun for a few weeks to roast. This will encourage our olive trees to produce fruit in the spring right on schedule and also prevent the worms currently residing in the fruit from hibernating all winter only to reinfest in the spring. It will also make us a considerate neighbor to anyone in the area who may also be trying to rid their crops of the persistent insect.

If all goes well, we can start spraying our trees with an enzyme or good old-fashioned (and rather unsightly I am told) clay. Both of these organic materials discourage the olive fly and, with luck, will help ensure a decent crop next year. What we don’t know is how much money and time is that going to take. We’ve heard the sprays are expensive and need to be applied on a regular basis.

In the meantime, we need to find a local grower with an abundance of fruit to buy from and figure out the best way to crush those olives in the next few weeks before we miss the season altogether.

If anyone has an extra 800 pounds of high-quality olives lying around, let us know. At this point we have an unwavering need to make something. Too bad we can’t bottle determination, Team Olive would have a cash crop on its hands.

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