The Olive Tree King

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Southern Catalonia, a land that lends itself to two major crops: the almond tree and the olive tree, which can be found everywhere, depending on the prevailing winds and altitudes. Marc Farre made us discover the work around these crops. During 3 days, he showed us how to prune and care for these trees. With him, we walked through his fields but also the conventionally cultivated fields for our understanding. We tried to work for him but his mastery of the gestures, his know-how and his knowledge quickly gave us the role of passionate spectators. We are relaying some of his knowledge here.

80% of Bovera's land is given over to olive trees.

The majority of the trees are fan-shaped and relatively shallow, and are slowly taking the place of the declining almond tree (competition from the cheap, pesticide-rich American almond). The taproot is 3 metres deep and can penetrate the layers of compact limestone. The terroir we surveyed for a week is made up of terraces established over the centuries by hand.

The terraces are maintained in summer when the tree works are on hold. The limestone is crumbly and the land is subject to washouts from heavy rains, however rare, and some sections collapse.

When land becomes scarce and bulldozers have not succeeded in recent years in cutting new terraces, the micro-dales are interspersed with areas of natural scrubland rich in flora and fauna (pine trees, rosemary, arbutus, juniper, lavender, a breath of fresh air in a world of monoculture that still guarantees the presence of insects - some farmers put back beehives, towards natural watering holes or historically dug in the rock to concentrate rainwater.

What is the future of the olive groves, of which all types are present in Bovera?

A few thousand-year-old seniors stand amidst the recent cultivation, which has several types of plantations.

  • in 8m x 8m for very old subjects
  • 6m x 6m or 4m x 5m which seems to be the best implementation for working trees with a minimum of mechanisation without injuring the trunks by shaking during harvesting and the branches
  • in rows of tightly planted vines every metre, 1.5m or 2m, but the result seems catastrophic and destined to be abandoned in the long term in this region - in contrast to Evora in Portugal, where we have seen hundreds of hectares planted in recent years using this vineyard-type cultivation method - the harvesting is carried out with the same tractors
The ancient ancestor of the region 4m perimeter, around a field without any organic matter

Gentle pruning over several years, forward-looking minimalist balancing

We tried during 3 days to prune on the patient and attentive advice of Marc Farre. Marc took over his father's domain, a conventional domain, the trees had to be "clean" inside/outside. Marc goes ecological, realizing that the more you prune, the more you stimulate the plant which produces wood and leaves. Leaves that need to be fed with water, fertilizer, and pruned again. The infernal circle. He offers us his virtuous recipe: a gentle balancing pruning over several years, we remember 13 rules, but we have forgotten many others:

  1. Start by analysing the tree as a whole and focus on the large branches
  2. Limpiar: light the centre of the tree without exposing large branches to sunlight, remove inward growing branches
  3. Competencia: eliminating competition between industries
  4. Flexibilida: what is rigid is eliminated
  5. Nieve: removing snow-damaged branches
  6. Remove dead wood
  7. Anticipate the growth of a one or two year old branch by removing an older branch
  8. Remove branches that will be broken by the tractor
  9. Remove branches longer than one metre without a secondary start
  10. Remove branches that are too high and will eventually break and be difficult to harvest
  11. Do not remove the small, already bent branches that will bear fruit during the year
  12. Leave the small regrowth branches that protect the tree from the sun
  13. Cutting large branches at an angle to ensure that new growth starts to grow outwards from the tree

This gentle pruning method requires a hand saw, bent, a stepladder and max 5 minutes per tree, occasionally a blow of the chainsaw (Motosierra) to avoid exhausting yourself on the big sections. The pruning shears, even if they are efficient, are not useful - olive wood is very dense.

The cutting residues are set up in windrows, one per terrace. When the pruning of the whole domain is completed, the branches will be crushed by a flail shredder, coupled to the tractor's power take-off, allowing to "mulch" with a BRF, ramial fragmented wood, and to mow the first growth of grass, reinforcing the rate of organic matter and making the color of the earth change from pink to dark brown! A color that testifies to the biological activity of the soil, a color that reassures us.

Ground cover - it's life!!!

Few farmers understand this in the Iberian Peninsula and we are shocked by this industrial desertification that is replacing the original dry scrubland. Marc, through his cultivation process, works not only the trees, but above all the soil, with a huge investment in different techniques that will allow to create and activate a soil biology enriching it with animal, bacterial and fungal decompositions(see our brief: Marc, in search of a viable ecosystem). The vegetation cover, testifying to the level of vitality of the soil, is managed in order to balance the PH - level of acidity of the soil, its granulometry, its capacity to absorb rainfall, to avoid the leaching observed in the plains of Malaga, Seville, Granada. Without forgetting that the vegetation cover allows the soil to capture the night humidity by converting it into morning dew.

If conventional arboriculturists make a point of cleaning the soil of any grass competing with the trees, of ploughing to allow rainwater to penetrate the clayey silty soil which becomes completely watertight due to its hardness, the vegetation cover, well controlled, without ploughing, makes it possible to avoid the passage of polluting tractors, which consume diesel and compact the soil, while at the same time consuming precious farming time.

Out of 50 farmers in a municipality of 3,100 hectares, of which 2,900 hectares are cultivated, 6 people, i.e. approximately 120 hectares, are resolutely turned towards ecological production, for reasons of long-term vision of quality of life, quality of product, and transmission of a living heritage.

Clearly, ecological production requires less water, less phyto intervention once the soil is established (which takes almost 10 years), less chemical fertiliser (the price of which will take off as it is petroleum-based), and less pruning, as the tree's energy develops less quickly than in conventional cultivation and is dedicated to olive production.

Oil, of different quality, from 10 cts to 7 francs per litre, gross price at the oil mill

Conventional oil is worth between a few cents a litre for virgin oil (chemically extracted from the pulp of virgin oil presses - avoid buying olive oil that is not VIRGIN!) Ecological oil is about 6-7 francs ex-factory.

A quick overview of the olive oil extraction process, which takes place in 6-hour shifts for 8 tonnes, 24 hours a day from October onwards, and which requires 30 litres of conventional oil and 15 litres for 100kg of cold-pressed olives, i.e. a maximum of 26 degrees.

The almond trees

A tree that resists drought to a certain extent, slow growing. Historically, it was planted in the middle of olive trees, with alternating vines and olive trees. But bureaucracy and mechanisation have got the better of these alternating crops. Now the almond tree is alone, it often suffers from aphids which can dry out a tree very quickly. After 3 years of organic cultivation, aphids no longer attack this variety, which becomes resistant and no longer needs attention in this respect.

The almond is also Marc's favourite fruit, a fruit which, even if it is not picked during the year, can be kept for several years. His grandfather did not wait until he had three of them on the ground to pick them. Since then we have been picking the fruit of the wild almond trees on the roadside, the fruit of the year 2021.

A magical fruit that satisfies:

  • men (the almond)
  • cattle, fond of the first bark
  • livestock farming (hull residues are a prime litter material)
  • a long-term amendment (no pun intended) to give back to the earth what has been taken from it through the consumption of almonds

What if the olive tree gets sick? What happens? Alternative crops, some examples:

Marc gives us an example of a neighbouring non-organic farm. On a northern slope, the truffle oak, curiously in conventional culture, with fertilizers, herbicides and ploughing ????

Marc, curious, has been testing the cultivation of saffron for several years. He likes this culture which allows the whole family to participate. The grassy part hides the saffron culture at rest, a fragile culture, over 5 years, a rejoicing test, but requiring an important labour (family).

The treasure of many years of harvesting: saffron.

The dried stamens of the crocus sativus are manually separated from the petals. Count 500 flowers to obtain 15 grams of the precious condiment, we tasted it, it is prodigious!

The deeper the colour, the stronger the flavour!

Why not reinstate animals in semi-liberty under the olive and fruit trees? Marc wanted to show us the most beautiful farmyard in Bovera, that of his friends, Mr and Mrs Pinto. It is certainly the most beautiful in Spain that we have seen, in the open air; flying barbary ducks, geese, Vietnamese black pigs, guinea fowls, turkeys, cockerel hens, goats and Portuguese dogs, the big ones that weigh more than 80 kilos to keep everything!

The ducks of Pinto and his companion, Portuguese artists who are adept at free-range basking.

On the left the celebrity "superman" who follows us in our debates from his perch situated 2 meters above the ground, the animal must weigh 7-8 kg, an impressive MI-24 type take-off.

Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Pinto, for your warm welcome and these beautiful freshly laid goose eggs!

And a huge thank you to Marc for this incredible and passionate transmission!

A response

  1. Dufour-Fallot Brigitte said:
    Wonderful! What is the language used in your many exchanges? Portuguese in Portugal? Spanish in Spain? English? French?

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