When and how to pick olives

optimal methods, tools and times

Inspirations / How to

10/12/2019

Estimated reading time 4 minutes

When is the best time to pick olives? This is a crucial question if you have an olive grove because both the quality and quantity of your crop depend on the time that the olives are picked.

And how do you pick olives? The harvesting method also affects the quality level of the final product. For example, table olives must be attractive as well as tasty, with no marks or dents caused by impact from harvesting tools, branches or the ground.

Also, to promote the productivity of the plants and to facilitate harvesting with manual or semi-mechanised methods, olive tree pruning is an essential task. It is equally vital to determine the right time to perform pruning.

In this article we talk about olive harvesting and olive tree pruning: read on for details.

When to harvest olives

When should olives be harvested? When they have reached maturity. Knowing this is essential because the flavour of the oil mainly depends on when you harvested the olives. In general, the right time for picking oil olives is during veraison, when they change colour from green to purple and then black. At this stage the olives are ripe, which means that they have accumulated the maximum amount of oil and detach from the tree more easily, although they rarely drop spontaneously from the branches.

The optimal period for harvesting olives depends on multiple variables, the main ones being the variety of olive tree, the intended use of the olives—for producing olive oil, for eating or both—the cultivation location and the weather conditions. In the following paragraphs we give you some tips to help you choose the right time for harvesting.

If you are growing olive trees to produce oil, then in principle, the best harvesting period for the most widespread varieties in Italy is from mid/late October until the end of December. Certain olive varieties, such as Leccino, must be picked by November. Others, such as Taggiasca or Coratina, need not be harvested until early/mid-January.

Do have olive trees for producing table olives? You can plan to harvest between mid-September and the first half of October. Some types, such as Sant'Agostino and Giarraffa, can also be picked from mid-November to late December and even well into January.

How to pick olives

You can harvest olives using different methods, both manual and mechanical. Choose the most suitable system based on the characteristics of your particular olive variety, the olive grove and the soil on which your plantation is based.

You can remove the olives by hand directly from the tree and deposit them in containers, without having to gather them into piles or even let them touch the ground: this is the traditional harvesting technique of stripping.

To speed up the process, you can equip yourself with manual tools for olive harvesting, such as combs and rakes. These are used to comb the branches so that the olives fall onto sheets or nets for subsequent collection. Systems similar to combing are shaking and beating.

Semi-mechanised olive harvesting, which is particularly suitable if you have a small/medium farm, involves the use of motorised shakers such as backpack combs and lashers — as well as sheets or nets for recovering the fruits. Semi-mechanised harvesting is faster than manual olive harvesting systems. It’s also safer, because you don't need a stepladder.

Finally, you can adopt mechanised olive harvesting methods by using shakers or shaker-harvesters, which are equipped with inverted umbrella structures that convey the olives into boxes, preventing them from falling to the ground. They are recommended if you have a large farm.

To transport tools for olive harvesting around the plantation and subsequently take the olives from the olive grove to the oil mill or to a temporary storage facility prior to pressing, you can use a compact transporter like the Oleo-Mac CR 340 K. Capable of hauling a 350 kg payload, it is equipped with reverse gear and can be used on flat terrain, hills and even terraced olive groves with ramp access, which are common in certain areas of Italy.

We explain in this article why a transporter is an essential tool.

Olive tree pruning

Pruning olive trees helps to:

  • Maintain the structure of the trees
  • Balance the development of vegetation and the production of olives
  • Control foliage growth
  • Remove damaged branches or branches attacked by parasites

When is the best time for pruning olive trees? The answer is during the vegetative rest period: in areas with a milder climate (Southern Italy and its islands) you can prune after harvesting, whereas in colder regions (such in the interior of Central Italy) it should be done from mid-February to early April, after the chilliest weeks have passed. Early pruning can make olive trees more vulnerable to low temperatures. On the other hand, late pruning impedes the development of shoots (and therefore next season’s olives) because removing the tree’s branches also removes its reserve nutrients. Finally, July/August is the best time to get rid of suckers and epicormic shoots.

What tools should be used to prune your olive grove? For smaller branches measuring 2.5 to 4.5 cm in diameter, you can use manual pruning tools such as shears and loppers. Another alternative is pruning saws, which can even be mounted on a telescopic pole so you can cut high branches without needing a stepladder.

For thicker branches, getting the job done quicker or pruning on a large scale, you can choose a pruning chainsaw. You need a compact, handy and balanced machine with an optimal power-weight ratio, such as the Oleo-Mac GST 250 or GST 360 models.

Besides being ergonomic, Oleo-Mac pruning chainsaws help you at every stage of the task: they start effortlessly in seconds thanks to the EasyOn system; they can be turned off instantly; and they are immediately ready to start again without fear of the engine becoming flooded, thanks to the AlwaysOn switch that automatically returns to the ignition position.

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