Happy Spring! We have been through a very wet winter in Northern California, and while the water is always welcome, we're happy to see the sun start to peek out. With the sunshine comes the first signs of spring, including the very first signs of budding on our olive trees. This is the very beginning of the growth cycle that will continue through the spring, summer, and fall when we begin harvest in November and release our new olive oil.
The little buds that you see in the photo originate at the base, or axil,of a leaf. The buds will either contain as many as 30 flowers that will mature into olives, or they will become leafing shoots, or they'll fail and not produce. The fact that they become olives at all is something of a miracle; there are dozens of factors that conspire against our little buds. In fact, it's typical that only 1%-2% of flowers on olive trees will become olives. Happily, with as many as 500,000 flowers on an olive tree, that small percentage is still plenty to get a good crop.
Some factors that inhibit the production of olives include stress caused by levels of nitrogen in the soil, either too high or too low; lack of water; infestation by disease or pests; and improper pruning of the olive trees. Temperature is a factor as well; olive trees like a cold winter so they can fully hibernate, followed by a warm spring. We're feeling pretty good about all these factors this year; we're careful about managing nitrogen in our soils, our crews are masterful pruners, and we did have a cold, wet winter. Disease and pests are the biggest unknown, but we have many tools and techniques to minimize their impact. Of course, strong winds and rain can simply knock the flowers right off the olive trees, and there's not a lot we can do about that.
We have both self-pollinating olive trees and trees that require other varieties for pollination. Pollen carried by wind or bees will land on these trees and start the fruiting process. Most olive tree pollen is carried by wind; bees don't appear to like olive flowers and don't contribute much to pollination.
So, it's off to the races with another year of olive production at McEvoy Ranch. And it all starts with these little buds, so cheer them on as they start their journey to the press! If you'd like to learn more about our olive trees, you can read all about it here.