The olive tree has many special characteristics, however, production continuity is not one of its strengths. Though the quality of its olives remains almost constant, its productive variability is obviously a problem for growers, who can do little to counteract this situation. Apart from maintaining the olive grove in terms of fertilization and pruning, the whims of nature still play a primary role in determining production potential. The olive tree’s ability to adapt to changing climates is noteworthy. Although it does not flourish in extreme temperatures, these plants are capable of surviving extremely harsh winters, provided that temperature changes occur gradually. Spring frosts can ‘burn’ their newly-created sprouts and consequently affect their harvest in negative ways.
Rainfall and temperature play an essential role as the fruit ripens. Depending on their geographical location, groves grow best when rainfall occurs during the winter months. Precipitation should be limited or almost absent during the spring, to avoid problems with olive formation. Otherwise, sporadic irrigation is sufficient except for possible emergency irrigation that should take place in case of prolonged drought. The summer sunshine helps olives reach their full ripening stage; however, when it comes to determining oil quality, it is essential to select the right moment to harvest.
A harvester’s primary goal is to pick olives that will produce high quality, fragrant oil. Contrary to popular belief, these characteristics do not correspond to the more advanced stages of the ripening process. As olives ripen, their pulp progressively loses water, which consequently causes them to lose fragrance and flavor. For this reason, harvesting should take place just as the fruit is beginning to accumulate oil and change color and not when it has reached its full level of maturity. Here, a grower’s experience plays an important role; thanks to samples and field tests, experts can decide on the best time to start harvesting.