The time is ripe to plant an olive tree in your garden. Here's how

We ask edible-gardening guru Jane Griffiths for tips on growing and harvesting fresh olives

25 August 2021 - 12:00 By hilary biller
'Fresh olives taste very bitter and need to be cured and fermented to tame their flavour,' says guru Jane Griffiths.
'Fresh olives taste very bitter and need to be cured and fermented to tame their flavour,' says guru Jane Griffiths.
Image: Supplied/Jonathan Ball Publishers

I bought my first olive tree — a sapling standing just 50cm high in its planting bag — at a festival in Prince Albert. I knew exactly where it was to be planted: outside my kitchen window in a sunny courtyard. I had visions of the gorgeous silvery foliage providing shade for morning coffee and, with time, harvests of plump olives.

Today the tree is almost 2m high, and picking and curing my own olives has taught me to treasure each and every single one.

If you fancy doing the same, SA Olive, the custodians of the local olive industry, says the time is ripe to plant an olive tree of your own in late winter/early spring.

CLIMATE CONSIDERATIONS

“Olives grow best in climates with hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters,” writes edible- gardening guru Jane Griffiths in her new book, Jane's Delicious Superfoods for Super Health.

A mature olive tree can reach heights of 6m or more.
A mature olive tree can reach heights of 6m or more.
Image: Supplied/Jonathan Ball Publishers

 “They can grow in other regions if watered in winter, but there’s increased risk of pests and disease during humid summers. They won’t survive heavy frost.

“Grow in full sun in well-drained, fertile soil, and feed with a balanced organic fertiliser.”

Mature olive trees can reach more than 6m in height. If you’ve got a small garden, it’s good to know that a young olive tree will happily thrive in a pot.

WHAT CULTIVAR TO PLANT

According to SA Olive, your choice of cultivar will largely depend on the region where you live , as well as what you hope to achieve from your crop as the different cultivars produce different flavours in terms of fruit and oil.

The Mission varietal is the most popularly planted cultivar in SA and this is due to it being widely adaptable, well-suited to home gardeners and especially suited to black olive production as well as olive oil.

Other recommended cultivars are:

  • Kalamata for black table olives;
  • Manzanilla for green table olives;
  • Barouni for green queen (large) table olives; and
  • Frantoio for high-quality olive oil and/or as cross-pollinator.

WHEN TO HARVEST

“Olives are harvested at various stages of ripeness, from green to black,” explains Griffiths in Superfoods for Super Health.

“In late March start checking — if the liquid inside the fruit is cloudy instead of clear, you can harvest green olives.

Jane Griffith's latest book is 'Jane's Delicious Superfoods For Super Health'.
Jane Griffith's latest book is 'Jane's Delicious Superfoods For Super Health'.
Image: Supplied/Jonathan Ball Publishers

“Leave some to ripen further; they’ll turn reddish brown and eventually darken to black by early June. These have a much higher oil content and bruise easily.”

CURING

“Fresh olives taste very bitter and need to be cured and fermented to tame their flavour,” Griffiths notes in her book.

“This is done by using brine, dry salt, water or lye processes to leach out the bitter compounds. There are dozens of different varieties of olives and probably as many recipes for flavouring and preserving them.”

Jane Griffith’s book 'Jane's Delicious Superfoods for Super Health' (Jonathan Ball Publishers) will be in store on September 1, but is available on special pre-order from janesdeliciousshop.co.za


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