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Gryllos 27055, Greece

Olive oil harvest 2022: Learning lessons and making choices
30 January 2023

2022 was a special year for a number of reasons. It was certainly a mixed bag, but let's stick to the good things it brought us: Restrictions lifted, the beginning of the Cricket Hill story, warm and sunny weather throughout the entire year almost, and a successful olive harvest.

Those 2 latter items in the list are connected actually. As you may know, depending on the region and climate, harvest time for olives may be anytime from late October to mid-January. This year the extended family could not actively partake in the harvest, so we had to recruit extra help.

Nikos is a Gryllos local whose life revolves around olives. Besides catering to his own olives, Nikos and his crew offer their help to people who are not able to make it on their own. You'd be surprised to know just how many people need Nikos' help.

That means that besides natural factors to be considered when choosing the right time for the harvest, we also had to work things out with Nikos. All things considered, the date was set for late December, just before Christmas. This was no ordinary harvest, but not half bad after all.

It's that time of year

Timing was the first notable departure from the way we usually did things. We would normally start the harvest in early-to-mid November, and work slowly but steadily to finish the harvest before the end of November. That way, at least some of the oil we produce would be Agourelaio ("Unripe oil"), made of early harvest green olives.

This year it was all done in 3 days, just in time for Christmas. The total number of people working was more or less the same, but what made all the difference was the equipment. Doing harvest on our own means was a learning process and it was done manually to a large extent. Not so for Nikos and crew.

Nikos and crew have been doing this longer and in a more intensive way than us. They also use modern equipment and techniques. Nothing too fancy - a pole saw, olive harvester rods, and a mechanical sieve in addition to the standard nets and sacks for collecting the olives and transporting them to the local olive press.

All of this equipment is powered by a generator, since we are off-grid and our power infrastructure is not yet in place. It's efficient mid-tech that gets the job done. Combined with experience, hard work, good vibes and good weather, we were done in record time.

The part of the weather in this undertaking cannot be underestimated. We were lucky to catch a sunny streak, which meant we could work unobstructed from early morning till late afternoon. Even though the days started chilly, as the sun moved on and the work progressed the temperature kept rising. 

Ending the day with a quick dive in the sea is not something you normally do in olive harvest, but on days like those, why not?

Learning lessons, making choices

To set the record straight, however, this was nothing like a walk in the park. The fact that this year's harvest was later than usual meant that we were exposed to an unforeseen risk factor: Anthracnose. The word Anthracnose means “coal-like disease”. 

It is a broad term that is used to describe a number of issues that result in fruit rot and/or black spots on various horticultural crops. Anthracnose is a latent disease. This means that the fungus can infect the fruit when the environmental conditions are suitable but will remain dormant until the fruit begins to ripen.

Anthracnose was not a problem in our region for the last few years, but it made a comeback this year. Coupled with the fact that we harvested our olives in a more ripe state than usual this year, this was cause for concern. Unfortunately, we only realized this was a problem after we started, so there was not much we could do.

We lost part of the harvest as some olives had been infected some time back and fell to the ground. We also had to make some hard choices, sacrificing quantity for quality. We had to exclude some olives from the harvest even if they were still on the trees, because they had been infected and would compromise the quality of the olive oil.

In the end, working fast and making those hard choices saved the day. Rushing to the olive press factory we were hoping for the best, but were prepared for the worst too. We knew we would produce less olive oil than what we were counting on based on the exceptional year that was. The question was, would it meet our expectations quality-wise?

It all worked out and we produced our best olive oil to day: 0,3% acidity, distinctive spicy taste and rich light green color. We kept our part, gave Nikos and crew and the olive press theirs, and we are already enjoying the fruits of our labor. The first can of our surplus is already on the way to Berlin. If you want to order yours too, get it while you can.

We learnt a number of lessons that we're absorbing as we're already preparing for next year. More updates coming soon!