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Picture article - day 1 of the Olive Harvest at the Greek Hovel

Tom Winnifrith
Monday 1 December 2014

And so we are off. At 8 AM on the button George and his team arrived to start the Olive harvest at the Greek hovel. They took half an hour off for lunch and worked solidly until the sun started to set at 4 PM. I am full of admiration for harvesting olives is not easy. I chipped in but admit that I am not fit enough and am put to shame by these folks. So let me try to explain what happens. We start with a tree full of olives.


As you can see matting is laid all around it. There is a sort of moveable feast of matting surrounding about two trees on one terrace and two on the terrace above at any one time. So how to get the olives down? There are two methods which the team operate simultaneously. One is to beat the trees with paddles. The lady below holds a long paddle, there is also a shorter paddle for the lower branches. It is the sort of device Tory MP's get spanked with by Mayfair hookers. I was on short paddle duty today. and boy my arms ache.

And then there is method two. George climbs into the trees. He does not actually need a ladder. The guy must be 60 but he just leaps up and stands in the branches.

Just to prove that George needs no ladder - that is him in a tree.

And here he is in the branches where he gets oit his chainsaw and chops off some of the branches which fall to the floor. He then gets ot hs paddle and thrashes away. 


As George beats the tree, the sound is like rainfall as showers of little olives fall onto the mats. On the edge you can see the little paddle. There is something vaguely therapeutic in beating the branches and hearing the olives pitter patter onto the sheeting. Sometimes they land in a great shower. Other times, as you pursue the last olives on a given branch, they just trickle down.

As you can see below there are a good number of leaves mixed in with the olives which are green, black and purple. But fear not.


But first back to the branches that George lopped off. These we carry (I did a bit of the carrying) to a portable whirring machne - that is the blue thing -  that moves along the grove with the workers. One of George's assistants skillfully runs each branch across the whirring spinning thing, twisting and turning each branch until all the olives have been knocked off. I was offered a chance to try my hand at this but, knowing that Id cock it up and get branches tangled in the whirring thing, I declined politely.



Now back to the mats. Pretty soon they are covered in both olives and leaves. And so the workers skillfully roll up one mat at a time and pour all the contents into the hand operated machine below. The mat can then be moved one tree along the terrace and the machne sorts the olives from the leaves - only the smaller objects, the olives, can fall through the grill.

It is all rather hard work but the team only took two breaks. One to use my laptop to call George's daughter in Thassalonika on Skype.That went down well. And the second short break was lunch. 

And so what was achieved? Remember the tree at the top laden with olives. That was the before picture. This is the after picture. as you can see this tree and 34 of its brothers and sisters have been stripped clean. Thanks to George's handiwork I now have enough thick logs to use for firewood for the next few days.

But more importantly I now have 13 sacks of olives some of which you can see below.  13 sacks = 660 kg of olives which will equate to around 130 litres of oil. And that I can sell in Kambos for c500 Euro. Knock off labour costs (charging my efforts, not altogether unfairly, at nil) and that is c380 Euro gross profit. I reckon that we have another four days of harvesting and so that should be c1900 Euro. Knock off the 200 Euro I paid Foti in the summer for pruning and it is 1700 Euro. Add back my grant from the grateful Greek ( I mean German) taxpayer and that is 2200 Euro. Maybe a touch less as I plan to take a few litres home.

However, these trees have not been tended. Next year they will get some manure and the yield should increase materially. In 2015 I shall do all the pruning myself. Had I waited until Christmas I could have got another Euro or two per litre for my oil. So maybe in 2015 we might spend Christmas here and put the Mrs to work on the harvest so saving on a few labour costs. Whilst the Mrs might decide to expand our acreage a bit this is never going to be a big moneyspinner but it is all rather satisfying. For now it is enough to pay the land taxes and for a couple of flights here and back.


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About Tom Winnifrith
Tom Winnifrith is the editor of When he is not harvesting olives in Greece, he is (planning to) raise goats in Wales.
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