Tradition & Harvest of Olive Oil
The tradition of olive oil on Lesvos island
The culrivatiom of olive trees and oil-making have a millennia-long tradition on the island. This tradition has been linked with the culture, the customs and the psyche of its population. Olives and their oil made the island strong during the classical years (5th century BC) when the erstwhile superpower Athens quelled a local rebellion during the Peloponnese War. During the Byzantine Age, Lesvos prospered attracting Venetian merchants, pirates of the Mediterranean and finally the Ottoman Turks. The latter occupied the island for nearly 5 centuries and made high profits by exporting its olive oil till 1912. The majority of the population produces even today their own olive oil while for many families its trade is their sole income source.
Olive oil is rich in vitamin E and unsaturated fats, in contrary to other vegetable oils that have high saturated fats. It’s an integral part of Mediterranean diet and ideal for raw salads or roasted food (fish). When fried, it has the unique attribute of enduring for more than once, thanks to its natural antioxidants. The olive oil of Lesvos in particular is rather gold in colour, because of its low quantity of chlorophyll and the harvesting time (January-February, later than most places in Greece, when raining has considerably slowed down.
Varieties of olives on the island
It occupies 70% of the olive plantations on the island. Growing areas are Gera, Agiasos, Plomari, Polychnitos and Parakila, the seat of our initiative.
It has modest requirements in ground and cultivation care. It can reach quite high yields in favorable conditions. It produces olive oil of relatively high quality and quantity (considering the amount of olives pressed). It’s reaches full maturity in February to March, but the hand-collection begins often early, even November. Its black olives are also suitable to be eaten raw (edible salted olives), with an excellent flavor and aroma.
B. Adramitiani or Milolia
Its fruit is more stocky and resembles small apples. It covers 20% of the olive groves of the island.A variety of the olive coming from Adramytio (Asia Minor), that explains its name.
Grown in the province Mythimna: Parakila, Ag. Paraskevi and Stypsi, even in villages Kapi, Clio,Mantamados, Mistegna in the southwestern part of the island (Polychnitos, Vrisa, Vasilika, Lisvori).
C. Ladolia or Rupadia
It covers the remaining 10% of the olive groves, in various parts of the island. This variety is very sensitive to insects. It needs a lot of water, extremely fertile ground and cooler weather. It returns oil equivalent to approximately 30% of its weight. Its fruits are ripe already in late November. They are edible and locals call them “rupades”. They collect them, wash them and preserve them in salt.
Cultivation and care
A. Branch trimming
Cleaning up the excessive/unnecessary branches helps in keeping the tree fit, allocating the water in it equally and producing olives of normal size and weight. Trees that are regularly trimmed live longer in given climate/soil. They are also easier to harvest as the long sticks/rods (“tebles”) can flexibly move into the branches. The overall shape of the tree branches is determined while trimming it and it is usually rounder in well irrigated areas and on valleys unlike rough mountainous terrain where this shape can be very irregular.
On Lesvos in particular, trimming involves branches that are too high to reach or have gone dry. Ladolia is considered by locals as “non-trimmable” because it is easily affected by “cyclokonio”, an insect that causes its leaves to fall early.
Trimming takes place in the spring, after the harvesting is over and before the circulation of branch liquids reaches its top in May.
The olive tree has a natural,strong mechanism against drought, that makes its cultivation possible in conditions that most other evergreen trees cannot endure. But the function of this mechanism takes a toll on the growth and flourishing of the tree, as part of its energy is devoted to keeping it hydrated.
The farmers water the trees not only during the dry summer season till the first September rains but also during the spring (blossoming season). Nowadays irrigation on the island happens thanks to two dams, one near Kalloni and another near Molivos.
The olives are harvested when they get black and ripe. Before this they have been green, pale green, purple and finally black, nearly in November, almost 7-8 months after the blossoming season, depending on the tree variety. When the fruit gets black by ¾ it’s not usually expected to increase anymore its oil content.
During the olive harvesting, the fruit is put in handmade reed baskets and transported to the mill in sacks. The olive harvesting season begins in November and ends in February or even March, according to „maxuli“, that is the yearly yield. The most widespread form of olive harvesting are as follows.
In this method the worker stands on the ground or on a ladder and plucks fruit from the tree into a basket. It’s more suitable for low branches
B. Thrown on Nets
The most wide-spread method on the island and the only that can actually work sometimes, given the mountainous terrains (steep slopes, irregular distance between planted trees, etc.)
The beating/throwing can happen in 2 ways
– With „tebles“, long flexible rods as high as 5 meters, or…
– With beating machines
The producers often use ladders to reach the highest branches. The fruits are thrown onto the previously paved nets. This method can return 300 or even more kilos daily, but with higher labor costs. The appropriate nets are coated underneath the trees before the time of olive harvesting (approximately October) and picked up / folded for maintenance in view of the idle summer season in March / April. The average life expectancy is close to 15 years if stored in proper conditions to protect them from rodents. Once spread out, the producers choose the appropriate moment to „lift“ the nets, which is usually every 4-6 weeks, depending on the rate of fall of the fruit.