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!