Saturday, 24 November 2012

Bush Regeneration Grant

Our very proactive local authority, the City of Mandurah, has a scheme whereby rural blocks can be funded to revegetate with indigenous species.  We were recipients of a grant a couple of years ago, and were funded to fence off a small area (to protect it from rabbits) and restock it with local plants.  This year they rang me and invited me to re apply.  The ladies from the environmental department came out to visit and asked for my plans.  This time I have asked for a small grant ($200) to purchase plants, plant guards, stakes and fertiliser to create a 'corridor' for small birds to travel from one side of the block to the other.  I will have to choose dense prickly shrubs  and space them fairly closely for this to work.  We already have a line of trees across the block, but will need to thicken it up for the small birds to be safe.  I notice the brilliant blue flash of wrens in mating plumage darting in and out of the lavender bushes around the tank near the machinery shed, and also in and out of the piles of prunings awaiting burning.  I must re create this density  with local plants across the block to make it work.  The environmental ladies seemed sympathetic, and were happy to see the amount of replanting we have already done.  The fenced area showed sufficient growth to encourage them that I was serious and would look after the plants.  (I lost about 30% of my plants, but the surviving ones have done really well.  I had no idea that the kangaroo paws would be so tough!)  Fingers crossed that they accept my proposal.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Time to get the irrigation working again

Actually, I am not sure if I want to irrigate the grove.  The trees seem to produce quite happily without much supplementary water, so I am really only watering to keep the fruit trees at the end of each row going - I have stone fruit and citrus and figs and mulberries, a persimmon, a pecan, and two pistachios struggling along in our terrible sand.  But in any case, I needed to do a bit of maintenance, so I have started by cleaning all the 5 field filters and the one in the pump shed.  The next step was to go up and down the rows to see if water is coming out of the loops around the trees appropriately.  A quick look around the Mission, in zone one, was rather worrying.  A lot of loops have been cut up by the slasher, and water is pouring out instead of gently dripping.  This means no water makes it down to the ends of the rows where the fruit trees that really need the water are located.  It is going to be a slow job checking and repairing all the loops across all 5 zones.  Best not to think about it and just get on with it.

New Guinea Fowl

While having the dismal conversation with Janice Tetlow about the tractor the other day, she told me that her guinea fowl had hatched a good number of chicks.  I have asked if I could have some (didn't negotiate price, but I am hoping that tractor good will might count for something...) and she said yes.  So now I'd better get the old pen cleaned up - they will have to be enclosed for several weeks to 'bond' with the property, otherwise they will just head back home to the Tetlow's place.  Our one remaining guinea fowl is such a sad looking fellow.  Nothing sadder than a social animal living alone.

Update on tractor

Not good news on the tractor front.  The clutch, which we had repaired at considerable (several thousand dollars) expense not too long ago, has died again.  Mr and Mrs Tetlow, our neighbours who have a small business repairing and selling tractors, have advised us that it is probably not worth trying to fix it this time.  The parts are very difficult to get. Mrs Tetlow told me that the most valuable part of our tractor was the tyres, which are in relatively good condition and all up worth about $3000.  We have left the situation like this.  The Tetlows go to farm clearance sales, and buy tractors.  Janice Tetlow assures me that a 100 HP tractor, which is too big for most hobby farmers, and too small for broad acre farmers, could probably be picked up for around $10000. It would probably come with a cab and airconditioning. (Luxury!)  Perhaps my late Mum wouldn't mind me buying a new tractor with my inheritance.  (In fact I think she would thoroughly approve) We must wait and see, but in the meantime we can't do any tractor work.  I have a lot of tree stakes I would really like to pull up, but you need the tractor for that.

Where has November gone?

I have just realised it has been a while since I've recorded any activity at the grove.  I'm sure I've been doing something!  I know I robbed the hive on the 14th November - just took the small box off which has been on the longest.  It was chockas.  They had built loads of burr comb inside the lid too.  I believe if I put some sort of cover over the top frames they wont do this, such a simple thing to do, so why haven't I done it?  Probably because the moment I take my eye off something I forget about it and move onto the next thing. Anyway it was hard work robbing the hive by myself.  So many steps to follow as well as dealing with the sheer weight of the boxes.  I am lucky that the bees are so gentle and docile.  I only got one sting, and that was my own fault. I ended up bringing the buckets of honey and wax home to finish off the filtering and bottling.  I didn't weigh the yield properly, but think it was about 15 kilos.  Very nice honey too - one of the guys at the markets said he thought it was best described as 'Wildflower' honey. Something else to sell at the markets.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

things are a bit quiet

Hello all.  Its been a while since I recorded any activity at the grove.  It is still all going on, but it isn't very exciting.  The tractor has had another problem with the clutch.  I am waiting to hear how bad it is.  At the moment it is just sitting immobile in the grove, probably with birds nesting in it... I have had a disaster with the koroneiki oil we got pressed by the contract presser in July.  My fault.  Because of other issues, like Mum dying, and me going back on chemotherapy, I took my eye off the olive oil ball, and didn't decant the oil quickly ( you have to let it settle for a couple of weeks, then take the oil off the sediment which settles at the bottom of the container)  I didn't get to do this until a couple of weeks ago, and realised that I had left it too long.  So I have about 200 litres of oil which is inferior.  It has a decidedly 'off' smell and taste.  It isn't extra virgin, or delicious.  I paid a lot of money to get this oil harvested and pressed, and now it is worth nearly nothing.  Maybe a soap manufacturer will be interested.  I could kick myself.
Apart from that the grove is looking good.  The trees that blew over and that we propped up after hard pruning are all looking like they will survive, except one.  The bees are thriving, and I need to to rob the hive, as soon as I can get husband to give me a day.  One super is absolutely full, and another is filling.  The second super will be a bit dodgy, as the peppermint trees are flowering now, and the honey that comes from them is very strange tasting, to say the least.  Peppermint flavoured honey - not to everyone's taste..

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Olive Awards Dinner

Last night husband, daughter, daughter's husband and I attended the olives awards dinner at the Royal Perth Yacht Club.  We didn't have any entries in the competition because I wasn't particularly olive focussed in August when the entries were finalised, but I wanted to see who was there and who was on the prize list.  Meredith, our daughter, was a judge (she has been for several years) and also a sponsor of two prizes ( so maybe a good thing we didn't have an entry in, to avoid conflicts of interest!) What struck me initially was the change in the names of the groves represented.  Only a few names were familiar to me from earlier years. When the industry first took off in the 1990s it was going to be the next big thing - remember ti tree oil, alpacas, emus ... Lots of people thought it was going to be a lovely activity as a retirement project which would top up their super ...  Ten to fifteen years later and perhaps the scales have fallen from people's eyes.  A lot of growers have sold up, or pulled out their trees, or just lost interest.  The amount of work required proved difficult for ageing retirees, and the financial returns had not matched the earliest projections. Marketing has been difficult.  Even the big growers who had investors and wonderful infrastructure have in many cases slunk off licking their wounds.  So it was refreshing to see a new crop of names in the awards booklet, and new faces around the dinner tables.  However I noticed that there are still a predominance of grey heads.  It appears that an olive grove can work as an adjunct to another aspect of farming, or if the grove has contract harvesting and pressing services, or tourist facilities. But otherwise, small scale olive growing is maybe best seen as a hobby.  And an expensive one!

Thursday, 20 September 2012

It looks good after slashing, doesn't it?

Doesn't this look nice and tidy and manicured now?  Usually we slash the grove twice in spring, but owing to the sensitive condition of the old tractor I think we will just settle for one cut, and hope the weeds don't get to grow again too much during the spring rain... We like to leave a bit of cover on our poor sandy soil to hold it in place during summer, and keep our fingers crossed that the bit of valuable pasture (the clover) will be able to flower and seed between the weeds.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Tractor trouble

As I mentioned earlier, it is time to get slashing.  Tania the energetic has been on the tractor, driving it like a woman possessed, and has made things look much much tidier, but sadly at a cost.  Poor old tractor gave up some whiffs of smoke on Thursday and went into a sulk.  It couldn't be started.  Tania rang to tell me the sad news, and I rang our good neighbour, John the tractor mechanic.  He was able to get it going again, and took it over to his place.  It appears it is something to do with the clutch. He is going to replace some plugs or something and I'll pick it up from his place tomorrow.  I am reluctant to put the slasher back on as I fear it is all too much for the poor old tractor.  We had the clutch replaced at considerable cost 18 months ago. I am hanging on to win Lotto.  How nice it would be to have a 4 WD tractor with a sound proof cab and reliable hydraulics that never broke down.
On the good news front I was able to put a super on the bees yesterday - numbers have finally built up, and it is warmer.  Lots of bees are clustering round the entrance, and most are coming in with pollen from the capeweed.  Fingers crossed we will get some honey before too long.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Flash back to July

In winter we get beautiful misty mornings

Spring storms

We had another storm with strong winds at the beginning of September.  I went to the grove imagining I'd see lots of blown over olive trees which would need cutting back and propping up but we were lucky this time.  I only found a big old jarrah tree which was weak at the base which had gone over and had got hooked up on a neighbouring marri.  It is magnificent firewood, but my bet is mysterious visitors will chain saw it up and we won't get any of it!

Spring is upon us

Suddenly the capeweed is in flower and the lupins are heading skywards.  Over the years we have been slashing the grove, the areas of lupins have reduced.  At one stage we couldn't see the growing trees for the massive lupins, and I did a lot of hand weeding, which worked all right while the lupins were small and tender.  Mature lupins however, are a different matter.  They are hard to pull and very very scratchy.  The capeweed (which we called dandelion when we were kids) is not really a problem.  It is a great source of protein for bees.  It does seem to have a symbiotic relationship with the nasty weed broomrape, but I figure it holds down the soil and contributes to biomass, as it is one of few plants which relish our miserable light sandy soil.
Cowslip orchids
Swan River Myrtle

introduced kangaroo paws

During spring I sneak off to the 'bush block', which is 14 acres of remnant bush mixed with some parkland clearing.  If you look at the right time, you can find all sorts of wildflowers. Later in the season I should be able to find enamel orchids, Blue ladies and spider orchids, if I am lucky.  We have no natural kangaroo paws, though we have the related conostylus.  However, two years ago the local council (Mandurah) gave me a grant to fence a 10 metre square area, and a selection of indigenous plants.  A lot didn't survive, but the kangaroo paws have grown enthusiastically.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Still pressing!

I have just come back from the grove - Tania and I picked another 120 or so kilos of Mission.  The fruit is still sound, and I really needed some more robust oil to offer to my customers who like that style.  Everything else I have is mild and delicate - lovely oil, but for those that like bite in their salad dressing or for dipping, it isn't strong enough.  I got over 23 kilos of oil - that isn't a bad yield, considering the amount of rain we've had lately.  (you get less oil out of moist fruit).  Tania persuades me that we can get another press done, as she sees plenty of good fruit still.  My problem is storage. All the drums are full.  We are bottling as fast as we can.  I ran out of bottles and had to buy more, at the expensive rate as I couldn't quite afford to get a pallet load.  And now we have run out of labels!  (Though I could make use of the old ones for a while).  Selling the oil at my daughter's new shop is going well - we've had some lovely feed back.  And now daughter in law down in Denmark is going to see if her school market would be a good outlet - a possible choice for people would be sending down a drum which would allow people to buy as much as they like using their own containers.  I look forward to hearing how it goes today.  I think the first market is today...

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

a little oasis in a time of uncertainty...

It was good to get down to the grove today for a brief visit.  Even though it was pouring in the morning I was able to open the hive in the afternoon and check on the bees.  They are still not doing much, all crowded over on one side of the brood box, so I won't put another super on top yet.  The grove is looking good, though soon it will be time to get out the slasher and give the lupins a hair cut.  After 10 years of cutting them they are not so vigorous.  I also noted some scale on some of the dryland trees, but it is no use spraying them until we have a few dry days - and after a very dry July, we have had a wet start to August!  Tania has been busy bottling and labelling oil.  We have so much I shall have to come up with some marketing ideas to keep it moving.
I felt at ease and happy down at the grove, by myself and with space and quiet around me.  It hasn't been a good week.  I have started back on chemotherapy, and Mum (nearly 95) died.  It wasn't unexpected, but leaves you shaken and empty.  Being at the grove gives you time for reflection.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

A while since I have posted..

Last week my gorgeous old friend Winnie came down to the grove for a girl's overnight.  She had wanted to help with a pick and press, but we suffered time constraints, so only did some bottling and gardening at the blue house.  The bottling was a great help.  We have a couple of hundred litres of Arbequina - a delicate spanish variety, which urgently needs to be in bottles.  It isn't a good keeper - it is low in polyphenols, which makes it soft and palatable, but not long lasting.  It was fun labelling and sticking and capping together.  And the gardening at the blue house was good too. We planted potatoes, broad beans, beetroot and spinach.  I am not sure how well we will do, as we have a squillion birds (maggies, crows, silvereyes, galahs, 28 parrots) which will delight in destroying anything that sticks its head above the ground.  But the anticipation is good!

And today, Thursday 26th July,  I am back from a successful pick and press couple of days.  Tania the energetic got up early and had picked nearly 100 kilos of Mission before I got to the grove yesterday at 9 am.  We stopped at 123 kgs, which wasn't very many trees.  I am keen to get some Mission before too late.  The fruit we have picked to date is very mild and I would like something with a bit more kick for contrast or perhaps for blending.  I am wondering if we will enter in the Royal Show competition this year.  You need to present an oil that is better than average, well balanced in all aspects - fruitiness, bitterness and pepperyness.  My Arbequina and Koroneiki are sweet and gentle and need a bit of  'tiger' in them.  Entries close soon, so I will need to make some quick decisions.  I got over 22% yield today, and the oil was tasty.

 On a  very cheerful note, daughter Meredith's new shop has sold a lot of our oil in the last couple of weeks - go Meredith!

Monday, 9 July 2012

The day of the contract harvesting

The Simca harvester unloaded

Tania and Kye counting out oil buckets

The harvester shaking a tree.  It only shakes for about 20 seconds, but you can feel the ground trembling under your feet.  It is a highly manoevrable vehicle, capable of spinning on the spot.

Not easy to see, but the hydraulic oil squirted out of the hose on the right

Full bins.  They take 350 kilos of fruit.  I was concerned by the amount of leaf, but Mick assured me that this was quite normal for mechanical harvesting.

Loading the bins onto the truck for the trip to Preston Valley Grove, where the fruit was pressed on Saturday 7th July.

Mick Ryan from 'Preston Valley Grove' came up with his equipment on Friday  6th July.  I had been worrying about this exercise for some time.  Not just the expense, but the Koroneiki are not an easy olive to mechanically harvest, as the fruit is small and difficult to detach.  And I also had no idea how much fruit I actually had.  I said to Mick that the bearing was a bit patchy, and maybe the 368 trees would average around 10 kilos of fruit each, so perhaps 3 tonnes in total?  And then at a 15% yield we would expect about 450 kilos of oil.  So we would need about 30 buckets (20 litre capacity) to be safe. In our 'Murphy's Grove' inimitable style, things did not run perfectly smoothly.  That which could go wrong did go wrong.  First Mick blew a tyre en route, which made him an hour late.  Then it rained buckets,16 ml in two hours, first wet day in about two weeks. (And I was standing in the rain indicating which tree to harvest next, a drowned rat in a not-very- Dryzabone). Then, after about 100 trees, the Simca Harvester blew (very loudly) a hydraulic hose.  Not only did the fruit in the catcher have to be thrown away because of contamination, but Mick, who always has spare hoses for every contingency, this time had left the relevant hose back at his grove.  He offered to come back the next day, but as we already had over two tonnes from only a third of the trees I thought it politic to call it quits. The oil has been returned to the grove in 26 buckets - over 460  kilos of oil at a 22.3% yield.  So my estimates were wildly inaccurate.  The bill is $1805.90, and that is probably discounted because of the glitches.  Is it more economical than manual harvesting? Not if you have lovely relatives doing it for free.  If you are paying $18 an hour to a picker, maybe it is.

Rescuing the blown down trees - the photos I promised

An eleven year old pickling olive (Californian Queen) blown over after a wild June storm.  Half its roots are still in the ground which makes me hopeful we can save it.

Simon the gardener took a chain saw to the foliage, leaving only a skeleton.

The tree is hoisted back into a near vertical position, and tied with a restraining rope though without its superstructure it is unlikely to blow over again.

The soil gets filled in around the roots and we give it a good soak. (Fortunately also we have had heavy rain since doing this, which will help with the root establishment.)

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

cleaning up the storm damage

I was down at the grove yesterday with Simon, who usually keeps our garden at home under control, but who has been coming down with me to help with the heavy work lately.  Our job was to cut back all the trees which have blown over in the storms in early June, and if possible, to stand them up again to see if they would recover.  I have managed to do this with smaller trees in the past, but wasn't sure about these, as they had been over for a month, and were BIG trees.  We managed to do 8 or 9 - lost count.  There is still one to go, which somehow we didn't see.  The big day on the chain saw left me really weary - I slept in till nearly 9 am today!  I feel so decadent saying that.  Only problem is the day is now more than half over and I have barely started my 'to do' list.  I have taken some photos so you will understand what we were doing, but of course I have left my camera down at the grove - I think it is sitting in the ute.  So the photos will have to wait.  I'll be down again tomorrow, with husband, as the long awaited contract harvesting is going to happen.  I'm now worrying about containers to put the oil in!

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Back to reality

Well, here I am, back in wintery Western Australia.  Not that it was much better in France. Did you ever see that movie 'National Lampoon's European Vacation'?  There may have been some similarity.
While we were away we had a big storm in our area.  My trip down to the grove today was partly to check for storm damage, and partly to bottle some oil for the market on Sunday. On the whole I think we got off lightly.  The sheds and house are all intact.  Some trees have lost branches and one small eucalypt was torn completely out of the ground.  About 12 olives have been blown over, flat to the soil, but still have half their roots in the ground.  I have found in the past that if you cut all the heavy top growth off and prop them up they will re establish.  I'll put up some pictures to show you .  There is still fruit on the Koroneiki ( I thought it may have all blown off)  so I will call the contract harvester tomorrow and see if he can do the job.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Having a bit of a break.

I wont be posting any Island Point dramas for 3 weeks as we are going away for a holiday.  Not the time I would have picked, being in the middle of our harvest season, but when you are invited to go to France, what do you say? When I get back, we will be having our first trial of a contract harvester, using a tree shaker, so that should be exciting, and I will give you a ball by ball description.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

And now let me show you pictures of the pressing

The fruit is tipped into this machine, which is called a DLE or deleafer. Leaves are blown into the white bag, and the fruit falls into a lower section full of water, where it is washed.  It is augered from here up into the hopper of the press.

This shows the top of the DLE auger.  It spits the fruit into the press hoppper.  It has to be closely watched in case it overloads it.  Although the machine is supposed to be automatic, it is a sensitive little thing, and works better if operated manually.

After the press is fully loaded, and the fruit has been pulverised by the hammer mill, it is mixed for about 40 minutes until you see the oil starting to accumulate on the surface.  Then you start extraction.  The paste is pumped through to the centrifuge and startes to separate into oil and waste.  Here is the oil coming out.  Not much, because I chose to have a smaller flow of cleaner oil, over a thick flow of dirty oil.  And these fruit, Arbequina, are not very high yielding in any case.

Here is the waste product coming out.  It looks like it should be edible and I believe in Europe it is turned into stock food with the addition of molasses and other ingredients.  It can be made into compost also, by adding hay and manure.  All we do with it is tip it around plants to keep weeds down, and to stop the sand blowing away.  Eventually it breaks down and I hope contributes to organic material in the soil.

Monday, 28 May 2012

How we harvest

This heavily laden little Arbequina is probably carrying 40 kilos of fruit

Deploying the catching net.  The fruit drops into the net and rolls into crates underneath the frame

Raking off the fruit.  We also have an electric and a compressed air harvester, but no one really likes using them because they get heavy and tiring on the back and arms

This is about 16 kilos of beautiful rosy Arbequina fruit in a crate on the back of the ute.  Arbequina is a spanish variety which produces a fairly mild, sweet oil.

Weighing the crates.  We aim to pick about 250 kilos maximum a day, as this is about all the press (and the operator!) can manage.

Friday, 25 May 2012

The Abequina pick and press...

Oh I am really knackered.  That is not polite language I suppose...  But over the past two weeks or so I have been  chained to the press while the dear, hard working  rellies from Canberra have been picking for us.  I have some photos to put up, and after a good nights sleep will fill you in on what we have been doing.  Over 2 tonnes of fruit and a sodding series of press break downs ...   I'll tell all when I am more awake.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Second pick and press

Last Thursday I went down to the grove for another trial pick and press.  The only helper this time was Tania, who lives locally and helps out on a casual basis.  She is only a tiny thing, but really strong and really energetic, so thanks mostly to her we picked nearly 80 kilos of Mission (a mix of green, turning, and ripe) in about 2 1/2 hours. The electric harvester which had lost a 'finger' last week I had 'repaired' with a wall plug and a screw.  It held together for about two minutes, so it is back to the drawing board to find better repair techniques.  Maybe just a bigger plug and screw? Fortunately it seemed to work just as well with only 4 fingers.  In the afternoon I put the fruit through the press.  This time I hitched up the de leafer, which blows the leaves out and washes the fruit before auguring it up to the press.  I have to watch it closely so it doesn't put too much fruit into the hopper, because then the hammer mill jams and it is a very annoying and time consuming process unjamming it - involving taking all the fruit out of the hopper, opening the press, undoing the hammer mill assembly and thrusting a scraper betweeen two plates to clear the bit of pit or whatever is doing the blocking.  I am getting quicker at it and can clear it in about 10 minutes, but I'd rather not have to. The pleasing thing about this pressing was that we got nearly 20% yield of oil, which isn't bad, and the oil was nicer than last weeks.  I'm not sure if that was because it was a different combination of levels of ripeness, or of using the de leafer so the fruit was cleaner and wetter, or because I was using a different setting on the centrifuge.  (You can change the settings according to the nature of the fruit you are pressing.)  Anyway - after settling I should have some good bottle able, saleable, oil!

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Some pictures - Heavy crop, windbreak, home grown trees

This little Manzanillo couldn't cope with the weight of the fruit and two branches have snapped.

In 2000 we planted a windbreak across the property on the advice of a landscape designer and an organic farm consultant.  These tuarts have done well - they are the indigenous large tree species for the area.  I have planted a number of other species as well.

This is Eucalyptus erythrocorys. ( I don't think that spelling is right.)  I have 5 of these, grown from seed.  I have harvested seed from many trees I like the look of, from verges and  parks, no matter what their heritage, particularly seeking trees which look as though they will be good forage for bees.  I am very proud of having established trees from seed - these ones in particular love our limestone-y sandy soil.  And the bees love them too!

First Press for 2012

The family came down for a night to stay in the blue house and do a bit of picking.  It was really to iron out any problems before the pick and press season starts in earnest. They picked nearly 80 kilos of Mission, mostly ripe to very ripe, with about 20 kilos of green ones. We discovered that the 12 volt 'tickler' harvester is eager to shed its little carbon fibre arms - so that is a job to do - I believe a bit of judicious hacksawing, a wall plug, a screw, and some Araldite (you know she is the greek goddess of adhesives...) will get all the arms firmly back on.  I'll do that on Monday, after a visit to Bunnings.  And then when I ran the press I had the old problem of the hammer mill jamming.  It can't cope with too much fruit going in at once.  Horrendous noises arose from the hammer mill.  I took it apart and put it back together, and it quietened down.  I think at the end of last season I can't have reassembled it properly.  The press still ran too hot for my liking, but having been reassured by Tony the technician, I tried to ignore it, and put a fan to blow underneath the mixing bowl.  We ended up with about 11.5 litres of very green oil, strong and peppery.  It took over 3 hours to process 80 kilos of fruit, which is terribly slow, and then the next day clean up took me 1 1/2 hours.  If you think that 4 adults harvesting for 3 hours, and 4 1/2 hours work for me produced maybe $345 worth of olive oil (which still needs bottling and labelling), you might start to think this is a mugs game!

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Update on the press

The technician from Queensland went down to the grove on Wednesday afternoon.  He had a good look at the press and assures me NOTHING is wrong with it.  He says it is expected that the motors will get hot when running, and the gearbox under the malaxer seemed fine to him.  Well, it is nice to be reassured, and I am sure it will cost us a few hundred dollars for the reassurance, but I am still unhappy.  I know that the paste and oil have been warmer over the last couple of seasons, and that isn't good for quality.  I know that the lemon infused oil I did last year smelt of marmelade, and had to be discarded, when in previous years our lemon infused oil has been fresh and delicious.  Sensing my lack of enthusiasm for the 'good' news, the technician suggested that we rig up an extractor fan beneath the malaxer unit to suck warm air out.  I am going to purchase a laser thermometer to monitor the running temperatures and we will do a press next week.  Cross your fingers for us...

Looking back to the beginning

When we bought the land for our olive grove, almost exactly 12 years ago, it was pretty well a blank canvas.  The previous owners, we understood, had married into to the Dawe family, who owned a lot of land in the area. (hence Dawesville, an adjoining suburb).  These recent owners were earth moving people.  They dug holes and shifted dirt from one place to another.  In relation to our block, they had extracted limestone.  When they had finished, they filled in the quarry and decided to subdivide the land into 'lifestyle' blocks of about 5 acres (2 hectares).  Local mythology says that under the surface of our block lie many old car bodies and other undesirable objects.  (We hasten to assure readers that no evidence of heavy metals or other noxious substances has been found by our organic certifying body).  The subdivision didn't go well.  Some blocks sold but a big chunk didn't get planning approval.  The owners, in the meantime trying to make some money out of the block, ran sheep and planted lucerne.  But they apparently tired of the exercise, and at Easter, in the year 2000, I read an ad in the Sunday paper.  By this time we had been looking for a block for at least 5 years, and were becoming disheartened. I half heartedly made an appointment to have a look, and as soon as the estate agent drove over the hill got a frisson of excitement!  Could this be it? An almost bare lump of ground with a few clumps of trees (so no rubbish removal or clearing required).  Only 100 ks from our city home, on good roads close to major routes.  Power lines running through (but unfortunately not three phase). Reputedly very good quality underground water.  Soil free draining (olive trees don't like wet feet.)  And a very good price for 70 acres.  Husband was overseas then, so I (after a brief phone call)  took matters into my own hands and signed up.  (I did cop a bit of flack for this)  Then the fun began!!  More later

Friday, 13 April 2012

Please little press, don't let us down

I think I have mentioned before that I have been worried about our little Oliomio press overheating during operation.  It is not good for the quality of the oil if the paste gets too hot.  We have had all the motors (there are 5) taken off and checked, and they seem ok.  I think I have homed in on the source of the problem.  There is a sort of gear box under the malaxer (which is the washing machine like tub where the freshly crushed paste is stirred until the oil starts to separate out), and it seems to me that it is the source of the heat.  I have crawled under the press and have made out a sort of plate on it which has written - in Italian, of course, it being an Italian machine- something along the lines of 'permanently sealed for the life of the machine' which I take to mean you can't get inside and change the oil.  But there is a plug with an Allen key hole in it which looks like it is openable.  The instruction manual is no help at all.  I have called the Australian agents ( 'The Olive Centre', in Queensland) and they tell me the technician is currently in WA.  He has my number, and I am eagerly waiting to hear from him.  It is nearly time to start pressing, and the lovely in laws, Kent and Lynn, are coming over in May for 2 months to help.  It just has to be working!

More Murphy days...

Last Wednesday I was down at the grove again, after a lovely Easter on the south coast (came home with some delicious Marri honey).  Simon the gardener came down to help with some tree skirting and chipping.  All went well until clean up time, when I saw that a cast iron plate at the back of the chipper was cracked from side to side, and a bolt was missing.  Simon noticed that the blades were badly chipped in line with where the bolt had been.  We suspect that the bolt unscrewed itself and flew into the blades, and the resulting stress fractured the cast iron plate.  I spent several hours yesterday trying to find some help, getting on line and ringing around - the chipper was manufactured in Queensland.  The Queensland guy I spoke to didn't think they made our model anymore (it is nearly 10 years old).  The local rep was a bit more encouraging, and just asked for a photo of the problem.  He seemed to understand what was wrong, and made me feel optimistic that it could be fixed.  It will of course take time, so in the interim we will have to stack our prunings into a pile for burning.  It such a waste when our soil is so impoverished and  so much in need of organic matter.  You can see the difference.  Where there is leaf litter on the ground grass has germinated from our recent little bit of rain.  Where there is no leaf litter only hardy weeds like lupins and cranesbill and capeweed have germinated.  There is no more rain forecast for a while, so even these tough weeds will probably shrivel and die.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Update on the new bees

When I was down at the Grove on Monday I had a look inside the hive.  It was an atrocious day to do it - windy and raining horizontally, but I lit up the smoker and got into my bee suit - I look like a short fat alien, but it makes me feel safe.  Levered up the lid with my trusty hive tool and saw loads of bees, but all on one side, clinging to the frames they had come in on.  I had put new frames with lovely fresh foundation into the box, but they were studiously avoiding them in favour of building weird additional structures onto the old frames.  ( I only put 9 frames into what is a 10 frame box, so there is a bit of space.) There were too many bees to get a good look at what was going on - if it had been better weather they would have been out foraging - but I could see brood and larvae, so I assume the queen is alive and well.  However, I decided, given the paucity of flowering plants around, and my desire to keep these bees, that I would supplement- feed them.  I mixed up a sugar syrup of 2 cups of sugar to one cup of water and put it in a feeder (an inverted jam jar in a holder, with small holes punched in the lid.) It is my plan to do this until we get a decent flowering of something! We are going to the south coast for Easter, and plan to rob the hive down there.  With luck I can scrounge some honey from that hive!

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Shed number two

Well here I am back from gallivanting in the eastern states, where we attended a family wedding and ate oysters two hours out of the water - so plump, so creamy ...

I thought I'd tell you about shed no 2.  This one is a superior shed.  Architect designed, insulated and high ceiling ed.  It's primary purpose is to house the press and harvesting gear, plus the filled drums of oil and the bottles and labels.  It has a separate, so called commercial kitchen (which had to be approved by the local council) which is where we wash and  brine the pickling olives, and a nominal office (which is where we keep all the bee keeping stuff.)  This shed cost four times as much as the machinery shed.  We finished the floor with a two pack sealant which is supposedly able to stand up to all the hosing and scrubbing it is exposed to.  In the picture of the interior, you can see the little press, which will be asked to work hard in a few weeks time, the leaf blower (the stainless steel thing with the neck like a giraffe) and the harvesting umbrella, which is folded up but opens up to embrace the tree trunks when we are harvesting.  You will see how it all works when I take photos during the harvest.  I am very worried about the little press.  It is called an Olio Mio - made in Italy.  It is just a baby press and only does 50 kilos an hour at best.  Lately it has been getting hot, and I don't know why.  Nor does anyone else who has looked at it.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Murphy's Grove...

When we were first setting up our grove we used to laughingly refer to it as 'Murphy's Grove' because it seemed to us that whatever could go wrong absolutely would.  We would run over equipment with the tractor, inevitably buy the wrong size fitting for whatever it was, inadvertently leave valves open that should be shut - it was a never ending litany of ineptitude.  I think we are getting better, or maybe it is just because we have settled into a routine.  But we had a little flash back this week.  The crows (or magpies, or galahs - anyway some creative and mischievous birds), have been assiduously picking at the wiring on one of the solonoids that controls the water to one of the zones, and that zone has not been working, meaning that the pump is under pressure and the water has no where to go.  I had to get a water sample for the Water Corporation (it is a condition of our bore licence that we have our water tested annually) and had to go into the pump shed where the controls for the system are located.  It was soaking!  Everything was wet, and any container which could hold water was full.  I turned the system on to manual to see what was going on and a flood of water squirted from an electronic control device which turns the flushing system on and off at timed intervals.  My heart sank.  We have not been lucky finding a local irrigation fixer who was comfortable with our size operation, most in our area being happier with domestic systems.  So I looked in the 'Local Link' directory and found someone promising who could come straight away.  When he arrived he inspired confidence.  He saw what the problem was immediately, took the part out, pointed out where it was broken and promised to be back as soon as he had the replacement. In the meantime the system had to be turned off.  I wasn't too happy - it is too soon to turn the irrigation off - that usually happens mid April - but accepted that we couldn't run the system with bits missing.  Anyway yesterday the confidence inspiring man said he would be there mid afternoon.  No show, so I rang again.  He said he was sending his son in law with the part and he'd be there any minute.  Well, he did turn up, but wasn't quite as confidence inspiring as the other chap.  Of course he had the wrong part.  And it will take days to get the right one.  In the mean time the irrigation stays off, and we have some very stressed looking heavily fruit laden trees.  Nothing will happen for over a week, because we are off to Canberra to go to a family wedding. (He did however fix the broken wires the birds had chewed. Let us be grateful.)
 Rain is forecast for the weekend.  Please let it happen!

Saturday, 17 March 2012

A history of sheds. Shed Number One.

Original shed

Machinery storage

Living quarters

When we started at the olive grove it was a blank canvas, and we obviously needed a shed.  So we had one constructed by a well known company - two thirds of the shed for machinery and general storage, one third for living quarters.  I guess it is a fairly basic shed. I think, 12 years ago, that it cost about $18000.  There is a big rain water tank attached, which cost extra. The shed is unlined, has a cement floor, big double sliding doors into the machinery section and a personal entry door into the living quarters.  The living quarters are pretty modest - a shower and toilet tucked into one corner (but it does have a hot water system!), a small sink and a pot belly stove.  It is furnished with left overs from old holiday houses, elderly parental homes, and even cast off office furniture. It has been where we have slept when we have needed to stay down at the grove.  Oh how it rattles and groans in the slightest wind. It is stinking hot in summer and very chilly in winter. It is constantly full of mice, no matter how many traps and baits are laid.  Giant swags of cobwebs swing from every surface, the ones on the ceiling too high to reach with any broom.  Strangely, I could sleep well there, and it was fun for a while to put together a meal with only a microwave and an electric frypan.  The pot belly gave almost no heat , but looked cheerful, and the old telly had surprisingly good reception, at least until the galahs took up acrobatics on the aerial. Since mid last year we have had a transportable house on the grove - oh the luxury! So now the living quarters are surplus to requirements.  The machinery section is chockers.  I would like to knock a hole through, somehow, to make the best use of the space, but cant work out how to do this.  Maybe just replace the personal door with a single sliding garage door?

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Hello you little bees!

Yesterday I went to Midland to the bee shop to collect a nucleus.  A nucleus is a box with 4 or 5 frames  containing honey, pollen, bee babies, workers, and most importantly, a queen.  It cost $120, and I was assured that the bees within were sweet tempered.  I drove directly to the grove and placed the nucleus next to the new brood box I had ready - all assembled and painted white, marked with my registered bee keeper code.  Then I opened the door to the nucleus and a bunch of disgruntled bees pushed their way out - no doubt fed up with being locked up so long.  I had been advised that I shouldn't attempt to transfer the frames into the new box too quickly.  Ideally they should be left for a day or so to get used to the new location, but being a bit impatient, I gave them about 3 hours.  I suited up, opened up the brood box and moved the frames over.  There were a lot of bees in there and they were not very happy!  I didn't spend time inspecting the frames for the queen, which I should have done - I never have any luck finding queens anyway, unless they are marked.  They are not HUGELY different from workers - just a bigger abdomen. ( I can pick drones - they have bigger eyes.)  So I shifted the frames over, putting them along side the new foundation I had already in the new box, and whacked the lid on.  There were still stacks of bees inside the nucleus box.  I shook it upside down, brushed it out with my bee brush, and still couldn't persuade them to leave.  So I have left it sitting in front of the new box, hoping that they will move in to be with their queen (if she is indeed in there, and I didn't squash her during the transfer), and their colleagues.  I left a basin of water nearby (with some twigs in it so they can get out), crossed my fingers and departed.  I just hope there is enough food around for the bees.  The Marri is in flower still, and so are the Ilyarrie, but it all is a bit touch and go.  I need to plant more good bee forage species.  I'll be down at the grove again tomorrow, but I won't look inside until next week.  I will be wanting to see signs of egg laying.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Foiled by a fang ...

Here we are, in the middle of our eighth heat wave for the season (that's 3 days over 35 degrees).  I believe it is a record.  I am feeling quite anxious about the little replant trees I told you about the other day.  I can't get down to the grove to water because our old cranky cat bit me on the forearm last Monday.  It wasn't really his fault, I was brushing him and hit a sore spot, so he swung around and sunk his long tooth in up to the hilt.  It didn't really hurt to start with, but that night it started to ache and I kept waking up.  So off to the doctor for a tetanus needle and a course of antibiotics.  I felt really seedy for a few days, and had to cancel all my engagements, including a meeting of my organic certifying body (NASAA) down in Denmark, which also meant I didn't get to see the Denmark family.  My arm is only now returning to its normal colour.  So, a word to the wise!  Keep your tetanus shots up to date, especially if you are a farmer. See your Doctor if you have a cat bite.  Cats have even more gruesome bacteria on their teeth than dogs.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

After the Lake Clifton fire

In January 2011, a big bush fire swept through the Lake Clifton area.  Some people lost their homes. The fire entered the south west corner of our property but thanks to the efforts of the fire fighters, volunteer and professional, using helicopter water bombers and bulldozers, a containment line was cut through part of the grove and the fire stopped after burning through 80 of our youngest trees.  We have been fussing over these trees since, giving them extra water and seaweed tonic, and some did indeed resprout.  However our very hot dry summer has proved too much of a challenge for some.  It is not surprising, considering the fire was so hot it melted the tree guards around the trunks, and the trees were almost ringbarked. I have replanted some trees, though not with the very expensive grafted Kalamata which were there previously.  I had a collection of random seedlings in pots collected by someone else from an ancient tree in one of the early pioneer suburbs.  My plan to fill the other gaps is to dig up the little seedlings which pop up around the irrigated trees and see how they go.  Free trees!  It will be years before they bear, but who is in a hurry? 

Set up and waiting for the first customer

Monday, 5 March 2012

The Peel Farmer's Market

I take oil and table olives to the market in Mandurah once a month.  These markets have had a chequered history.  They initially started in Pinjarra, then a secondary market started under the same umbrella on the western foreshore at Mandurah - a great venue, with trees, water views and lots of passing traffic.  But no winter cover and a long walk to toilets!  The Pinjarra market got smaller and smaller, and eventually disappeared entirely.  Then negotiations with the Mandurah City Council over the foreshore site got bogged down.  The proposed rent got higher to the extent the stall holders could not cover it.  The Council suggested another venue which combined the Farmer's Market with a general market, but for various reasons such as inability to leave our vehicles at the stalls, this fell through.  We ended up at the Peel education campus on the fringes of town.  Great shelter, no rent, free electricity, and good vehicle access (and toilets!)  Trouble was only the most dedicated of our regular foodies could find us. Now we are located at Dolphin Quays, in a pedestrian mall surrounded by cafes and boutiques, next to a Marina.  Lots of people come there for breakfast and coffees.  And a lot of them have disposable income, so we are hoping that we will build up a customer base.  It is really difficult to attract stall holders though.  Our brief is that we have to be producers, and local.  If you have been working on your property all week it is hard to get up early, drive, set up and stand on your feet for 4 hours talking to customers on Sunday!  There is also a lot of competition among markets now.  In Perth there are at least 6, some very big.  Some of our stallholders also go to one or other of these.  The very nature of Farmer's Markets means that they are seasonal.  Yesterday we had a macadamia producer, but he will disappear soon, so will the vegetable growers when their summer crops finish and the winter ones aren't ready.  The blueberry people have gone already.  If you fall below a certain number of stalls, the customers sniff the smell of failure...  So Farmer's Markets - great principle, difficult actuality

Friday, 2 March 2012

Romantic vision of Koroneiki at sunset - December 2011

Thinking about the harvest

When I was at the grove yesterday, I noticed the first signs of colour on some of the fruit - the pendolino particularly.  It is usually one of the first to colour up.  Colour, of course, is not a fail proof method of judging readiness for harvesting.  Especially in our climate, fruit will superficially turn  pink and purple but be quite hard and green inside.  In previous years we have had a first pick around Anzac day.  A visiting expert told me once that given our location, around the second week in May should be a good time to harvest.  But in actuality over the years we have dragged out harvest until mid August, doing batches of different varieties as they seemed ready.  Our press is small and can only handle about 250 kilos a day when everything goes well. (And it often doesn't!) We have an added complication this year - we are going on holidays for 3 weeks in June. That is a big chunk out of our harvest time. I have started to think about getting a contract harvester and presser and taking off a lot of fruit in one go.  It is expensive, but so is paying hand pickers.  The variety I think might be best to try is the Koroneiki.  They have a good lot of fruit this year, and the crop is uniform from tree to tree.  There are 368 trees, which I think is a day's worth of work for the contractor I am thinking of hiring. The problem is that Koroneiki are notoriously difficult to machine harvest - the fruit is small and doesn't detach easily.  We have started to 'skirt' the trees already, taking off the lower branches so the machine can get in.  I wonder if I am making a mistake.