It has been awhile since I have posted anything as we have been in the period where we are mainly waiting to see how the crop is developing. This time is always a bit stressful and this year did not let us down. Just as we started to have bud break, there were several rain storms predicted but fortunately none of them amounted to much.
The time was not spent sitting idly however. A lot of labor is used for weed control and irrigation maintenance at this time of year. We are certified organic so you won't find Roundup or similar products in use here. Instead you will see a lot of labor spent mowing and weed whipping. It is also the time of year when the entire irrigation system has to be reviewed and all the damage that has occurred over the winter gets repaired. Wildlife wreaks havoc on the drip tubes by gnawing on them to get a drink of water. I think it is also a coyote sport to bite through and drag the tubes as far as possible. In addition, our very hard water clogs emitters while the weed control work damages tubes and emitters as well. Finally, the traffic in the orchard during harvest can also cause damage.
But back to the crop development, it appears as though the fruit set has been quite good and we are looking at an extremely large crop. It is rather late in developing this year, no doubt due to the long winter and cool temperatures. It looks like fruit set was good and consistent across all the varietals with the possible exception of the Manzanillo that is the lightest, but still would be considered a good set in most years.
For readers that are new to this business, here are a few things you should know. I have been getting a lot of calls from people concerned about how they had a massive bloom but then all the flowers dried up and fell off. Olive flowers are no different than any other flower. Dry up and fall is what they do and you just hope some fruit sets in the process. Typically only a low single digit percentage of the flowers will set fruit so don't be surprised by the failure rate of flowers to set fruit. For more on this, you can read this article.
Something else you will find is that trying to assess the fruit set from a visual overview is very hard and takes the experience of multiple harvests. What invariably happens is, as the fruit starts to ripen, there appears to be vastly more fruit than what there appeared to be as it was forming and still green. Many growers actually count fruit set on a representative sample. I am not too certain of the point of this exercise as there is not a lot to be done once the fruit has set.
I have concerns about the crop size this year. First, labor shortages are already becoming apparent and I wonder where the labor will come from for the harvest. Second, the year before last we were just about at capacity for milling and it was a good but not great year like this one. I am curious whether or not there will be enough milling capacity in our area to handle the amount of fruit it looks like there is going to be. Stay tuned.