Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Olive gleaning

A few weeks ago we loaded up the cargo bike with a step ladder and bags to glean olives from the surrounding area. Our trees are only two years old and not bearing fruit yet, so we thought we'd take advantage of the local verge trees.

The trees were loaded all around us and there are usually many which never get picked (should be against the law no?). In the weeks before we had been sizing up the crops to get an idea of the best places to pick. Beaconsfield seemed to be the spot this year. We knocked on doors and just asked if they wanted them. If they were of Italian/Portuguese descent they mostly said "no, no, those are mine" which was a shame for us but good for them. We still got plenty.

We had come by some free fruit picking bags which came in handy.

After about 4-5 hours we had 60 kilos of olives.

So what to do with them? Well, we mainly picked the small ones which are best suited for oil. Amy's work had organised to take a load up to the Swan Valley to get pressed and about 7 families picked 310 kg of olives. A few days later we got the oil, 54 litres of beautiful extra virgin liquid gold of which we got 10L. It cost us $30, not bad considering you can easily pay $10 for 500ml in the shops.

This should last us a while. I can't believe such precious produce goes to waste when we import inferior oil which might have been picked 18 months ago from the other side of the world. If we get time we'd like to pick some big olives for pickling. I've done it before and it worked out well. Just soak them in water for 10 days changing the water every day. Then soak them in saline solution (1 cup salt per litre water) for 2-12 months and they're ready to pickle. Drain off the liquid and jar them up into a less saline solution. This link will give you some tips.

By the way, gleaning is defined by Wikipedia as  " the act of collecting leftover crops from farmers' fields after they have been commercially harvested or on fields where it is not economically profitable to harvest.Some ancient cultures promoted gleaning as an early form of a welfare system". It is enshrined in French law as being legal and allowed the poorer people to get free food. I came across the term watching a kooky documentary called The Gleaners and I.

So go on, get out there and glean. It's good for the soul, good for the planet and good for the pocket. Just ask people first, in case they come out with a shotgun shouting "Get offa my land you varmint!".


  1. ah there is lot to be said for a certain kind of varmint! we have talked about this and missed an opportunity to do it last year. olives are feral over here and a huge pest in the water ways and national parks so planting them is not really encouraged. but there are plenty around. would like to manage it next year. well done you lot - enjoy the oils of your labour.

  2. If you are in the inner northwest near the Melbourne Showgrounds you should head down to Maribynong Road in Ascot Vale between Epsom road and Union road. All the street trees are olives. You might have to race the locals as they often pick them as well.


  3. Hello - can you please tell me where you had your olives pressed? My trees are bursting! Thanks. Steph

  4. Steph, sorry it's taken me a while to get back to you. We used Strelley Grove in Herne Hill, 92964958. Another one we were told is good is Jumanga Olive near Wanneroo, 95612411. Good luck with it. Adam