By Clodagh and Dick Handscombe
Practical holistic gardeners and authors living in Spain for 25 years.
Olive trees are part of the Mediterranean landscape
Olive trees have been part of the Mediterranean landscape for six millennium since cultivation started in Egypt, Greece and Crete. They have been in Spain for more than two since the Romans planted the first specimen trees in courtyard gardens and olive groves. Some still exist and millennium old trees fetch big prices when dug out and sold to international landscapers, often back in the middle east where the trees came from in the first place.
Attraction and uses of Olive trees
Their attraction is their many uses and in our valley where most forms of growing have been largely abandoned the one traditional crop still sustained by some families is that of the olives. But many are abandoned and the olive grove that we tend on a no cost stewardship basis had been long abandoned before we gave all forty trees a ninety percent pruning to stimulate new productive growth.
The twenty uses that we can think of are as follows.
- Pickled olives for eating as a snack, in salads and cooked dishes.
- Olive pate.
- Olive oil as a widely used healthy vegetable oil.
- As a frying oil in view of its anti oxidant properties.
- Olive leaf infusions for the natural components in the leaves are said to have antioxidant, antibiotic, anti aging, and anti cancerous properties.
- Logs for the fire and wood burning stove.
- Small twigs as fire lighters.
- Leafy ends of branches are a treat for rabbits.
- The fresh residues from pressing can fed to poultry, sheep and goats.
10..Dried the residues help get a fire going in the open or in the log burning stove.
11. If the oil is separated from the water by gravity when using an old style cold press the final layer of oil contaminated with some mashed olives can be used to clean and oil tools and wooden utensils and other artefacts.
12. Logs of all sizes , especially from old trees, are excellent for turning and carving if that is a hobby of a family member and friend.
13. For the gardeners who wants to do none of the above olive trees make excellent evergreen specimen trees or groups of trees for the vision, wind breaks and shade.
14. Although not widely used these days one can still use oil lamps for a subdued light. But beware the flame is smoky so these days ok for terrace light but not in the house.
15. Straight branches can be used as supports for tall vegetables such as beans, tomatoes and peppers.
16. Selected branches can be dried to use as replacement handles for gardening tools.
17. As thick branches are long lasting they can be used to make rustic arches, fences and gates.
18, Leafy prunings can be used as pea sticks.
19. Continuing from ancient times olive oil is still used as a skin softener, for toning athletes muscles and mixed with vinegar as a suntan lotion.
20.. If the organisers of the London Olympics cared to remember the Greek origins olive branch garlands could be placed on the heads of victorious athletes at the medal ceremonies.
If anyone knows of other traditional or new creative uses please let us know on <gardenspain.com>. We will send copies of our latest book Living Well from Our Mediterranean Garden to the senders of the three best ideas received by the end of January. By the way the offer of a free autographed copy of this book for purchasers of our other books from this site continues.
Quality and quantity
Naturally the quality and quantity of olives and olive oil produced depends on more than the weather. Winter prunings, the cutting off of suckers that come up from the roots and winter to autumn sprayings with ecological leaf and root fertilizers, insecticides and fungicides are of benefit.
For those that do not yet have an olive tree in the garden recognise that if you plant a young tree in the garden now, costing as little as seven euros in our local garden centres. It could well still be there in the year 3000 when there is nothing left of your house except for a few broken roof tiles.
Lastly olive trees can be grown in containers on apartment terraces and balconies.
(c) Clodagh and Dick Handscombe January 2012.