This is an olive farm among olive farms in the very region that produces more olive oil than anywhere else in the world. As a matter of fact, much of that ‘Italian’ virgin oil comes from right here although you might need a barcode scanner or a magnifying glass to see that.
For most of the year the olive trees are basically iconic scenery, dotted lines across the bald straw coloured hillsides, left to their own devices. From now through to January they are the centre of attention.
About a month ago during one of our over the fence evening chats Fernando suggested I might want to start pruning my trees which looked like thick shrubs. He demonstrated and made it look pretty easy. Obviously when he handed me the clippers I couldn’t work out which shoot started where or cut through them even with two hands on the clippers. Just cut off anything that’s growing vertically, he said. That’s how you end up with the big open space at the centre that lets light and heat in over the winter. I now know I have 300 and something trees, and that some of them are easier to get up than down from. I’m pretty handy with a saw, my hands have changed shape – fat paddles – and are covered in callouses; my ring will be on for life.
The trees however look quite good, and when I go past an olivar that’s been neglected, my sawing and clipping hand gives a twitch. Maybe if journalism dries up this is a new career path.
On the 20th of October, two weeks ahead of schedule because of the spring drought, the conveyor belts at Nuestra Señora del Rosario co-operative olive press started rolling. Farmers have been showing up in their pick-ups to tip sacks of olives through the grates and a couple of weeks on the place now smells of squashed olives again, and will do through to January. You can drop off as little as kilo or a lorryload; price depends on quality. I often come here, not selling olives unfortunately, (according to Andalucian law this year’s crop belongs to the farmer that owned the land and tended them up to May last year) but spending cash. The co-op has a store where you can buy shovel handles, chicken wire, and cement mix, as well as cheese, water, and washing-up liquid, which is convenient. Sometimes I browse in the overalls section. Not Selfridges, but it will have to suffice.
Meanwhile Fernando and his cousin Fernando are in his fields higher up the hill bashing branches with a stick so the olives collect in the nets they’ve spread right around the base of the tree. He has around 850 trees to go. Arturo and Rosi and the in-laws are doing the same in the fields below. With the tock tock tock of wood from all directions it sounds like a jousting tournament. Not that I’ve been to a jousting tournament. Anyway, jousting, goat bells, cockerels, a lot of birds (gone wild after the rain), and barking dogs.