At Huggit's Farm, our ambition is to produce British Extra Virgin Olive Oil from our site on the hills overlooking Romney Marsh in Kent.
Immediately following our last blog in January of this year, things looked pretty rosy...
...we were nearing the end of a successful year-long field trial of six olive varieties, and the ‘winners’ were making themselves known
...the agronomist's report profiled our soil with pH values, levels of organic matter and basic nutrient profiles compatible with the olive cultivars we wanted to plant
...plans were being finalized for preparing the site, replicating the approach used to establish groves in successful olive growing regions
...we were negotiating delivery of 200 olive trees from a reputable olive nursery in northern Italy that supplies some of Tuscany’s best olive oil producers
All of this was done basking confidently in one of our warmest and driest winters on record. And then it rained. The deep ripping, mole ploughing and cultivation sat on hold. The 3-year olive trees stood crammed into a protected corner of the yard. The window to get the trees in and provide a decent period of establishment dwindled, along with our optimism. And it continued to rain.
Tiny breaks in the weather allowed intermittent access to the site for heavy machinery, and we ripped and ploughed. Another came, and we cultivated. Another break and we marked out the planting scheme. Finally two days of compassionate weather and we set to plant. And then it rained some more.
200 newly planted olive trees stood drenched, arranged in a 7m x 7m planting scheme. Interspersing the main Frantoio tree were rows of self sterile Leccino, themselves accompanied by Maurino olive trees, reputedly good cross-pollinators of Leccino.
To our surprise, many of the ‘pin head’ olives that emerged post flowering started to mature.
By July, many of these had continued to mature and were starting to resemble young olive fruit. But still it rained. A fair proportion of the fruit eventually fell. But despite the coldestand wettest summer in over 100 years, across the grove trees of all three varieties sustained some fruit. In early October we harvested what we could.
We’ve always known we’re taking a considerable risk. After the summer of 2012 any harvest was going to be little short of a miracle. But we discovered miracles can appear in small jars.
Taking lessons from our overconfident selves in January, we know the biggest test for the new grove doubtless lies ahead. We’ll conduct foliate analysis of the leaves to assess any nutrient deficiencies, and fertilize as necessary. But in essence the first winter for the young trees as they establish themselves will be crucial. We’ll wait to see how successfully the trees come into flower in the spring, whether olives emerge and if we can increase yields. There’s a lot to prove, to ourselves as much as our doubters. 2013 is going to be interesting.
Neil Davy will be continuing his blog on Farming Futures. In the meantime you can also follow his progress via:
• web: http://www.huggitsfarmolives.com
• Huggit’s Farm Olives on facebook
• twitter: @huggitsolives
Neil's January blog is at: http://www.farmingfutures.org.uk/blog/british-olive-oil-anyone
You can also see the latest BBC coverage here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U_zps1RphZA
Or you can contact him directly: 07446 805546