Nici Maroudas bringing in the harvest
Peter and Niki Maroudas both grew up in rural areas in Greece, and learnt to pick olives as children. Both are convinced that organic production is superior and all that is necessary to produce top quality olives and oil. Peter is active in the Olive Growers Association and both are committed to the quality aspects of organic production.
The olive grove is located at Bowmans, near Port Wakefield and about one hours drive from Adelaide. At Bowmans they process the Kalamata olives on farm (by two methods), and Peter runs the Maroudas oil press at Thebarton.
A few almonds and other fruit trees are inter-planted through the orchard, mainly for home use only. Some native leguminous trees are also inter-planted. There is also a small vineyard, which is used to produce vinegar for pickling olives, and some home made grappa for the table. Lemons are also planted for use in olive pickling (lemon juice).
The olive trees are planted at wide spacings (8-10 metres) are in excellent condition and laden with fruit during the picking season.
The soil at Bowmans is a sandy loam over limestone. It is highly alkaline but reasonably fertile and shows considerable organic development over natural soils in the district, due to high organic matter inputs from composted manures and cover cropping..
Green manures include peas, barley, clover and vetch etc. They are planted in autumn and incorporated in spring, with volunteer weeds, to provide moisture retention over the summer.
Weeds are controlled by planting green manure crops for competition and by slashing and hand hoeing or pulling. Weeds are also turned in with the green manure crops in spring, using a disc plough. A dodger plough is used under the tree line, or a shovel.
A large permanent chicken house has been constructed in the centre of the property and smaller sheds at each end. A large mobile trailer-hen house has also been constructed, so that chickens can be delivered to a problem area. Hens and geese graze weeds and cover crops and the hens pick around the base of olive trees for curculio beetles.
A scare gun and kite is used to keep birds off the small patch of grapes.
An olive stripping machine is available to remove olives from pruned branches (this reduces picking time, as pruning as done at the same time as picking), but most picking is done by hand.
Niki mainly oversees the grove, leaving Peter to manage the oil press. She says she came to Australia in 1958, and worked at picking vegetables all over Australia until purchasing the Bowmans property in 1974, and starting to plant olives straight away.
Niki says she and Peter have always been organic. Both are staunch believers in a natural, healthy diet, and of course the health benefits of olives.
The property is managed for self-reliance, and even produces a lot of food for the table, including fruit and vegetables, chickens and goats. Niki says she has not bought meat since she moved to the property in 1974.
There is significant interest in organic product and there have been some exports to Europe.
There is also a new interest in organic production from olive growers, and many people visit the property. Peter says "there is more demand than supply". "We have to produce a good quality, 100% olive oil product, and not blend olive oil with canola." He is adamant that the industry should develop "truth in labelling' rules, with legislative backup, similar to the rules for the wine industry. Peter is actively pursuing 100% olive oil certification with the national and international olive industry governing bodies. "Why has no one done this?" he says "why should it be me that is pursuing this idea, and why has it taken the industry so long to come to this view." He gives no answer, but still manages to leave the strong impression that there is one overwhelming reason - other marketeers do well by mixing cheaper canola oil with olive oil. Recent studies in the UK and the USA revealed that 40% of oil on the shelves was diluted with other vegetable oils. Peter says he knows Australian sellers also blend, and there is no reason to believe that Australian statistics are better then the UK.
"I try to tell them not to do it - they will suffer in the end if consumers loose confidence with the olive oil products."
"My own organic fruit receives lots of compliments, people like the organic growing, like the fruit and the oil."
The wet pickling process
Olives are tipped into 100 litre barrels until the barrel is full. The barrels are food grade plastic, originally used to import olives from Greece. About 8kg of salt is added to each full barrel, which is then topped up with rainwater. Olives remain in the barrel for almost one year. They are then placed on a slicing machine (hopper, belt, row of knives) which make two slits down the side of the olive, and placed in new tins. Into the tins is placed 1 cup of vinegar (made on farm), one cup of lemon juice (if available) and one cup of own olive oil, then the tin is topped with water from the barrels.
The dry pickling process
The barrels are half filled with olives and a layer of salt is added (about 6 - 8 kg of salt). The barrel is then filled and another layer of salt used. The barrel is then laid on its side and rolled over every day for one month. Water from the olives is extracted by the salt and drains through small holes drilled in the side of the barrel. Olives are then washed with rainwater in buckets and dried. They are placed in a 13 litre tin with 2 cups of own oil and sent to market as for the wet olives.
Oil is made in the Callus oil press at Thebarton. The press is also used by many other producers, and most of the price-winning olive oil from South Australia has come through the Maroudas mill
Olives are tipped by fork lift or hand into a below ground hopper and lifted by an elevator. A fan at the top of the elevator blows leaves, twigs and other light material outside to a large removable truck hopper.
The remaining product drops into a water bath. The first part of the bath is deep and has a blower or agitator which creates a positive pressure, for removal of dirt. The overflow pours out over a water-conveyor come inspection table. Dirt is removed in this process and stones or pits sink. The water is recirculated for a while and disposed to a silt trap, grease trap and under floor drain. Peter says his own fruit is picked, rather than knocked and lifted from the ground so the water remains clean when processing his own fruit but is changed quickly when processing non-organic fruit. The water conveyor is fitted with some brushes for dirt removal.
The fruit then drops into a hoper and is lifted by a second elevator into a small hopper above the crushers (or olive mill). In the crushers the product is mashed and slightly warmed. It is mixed with 25%water for this process.
It then passes into the centrifuge separator for separation of water from the oil. Water is pumped out through an under floor drain and the waste pulp is removed via overhead tubes to the waste hopper outside.
The oil from the separator passes through pipes to a small settling tank and is then decanted to 200 litre drums (originally used to import bulk olives from Greece) or to a large stainless steel tank.
When it has settled for 5-6 weeks the oil is bottled into new 375ml or 750ml glass bottles or tins. The oil is bottled continuously throughout the year.
A new stainless steel tank is reserved for organic use only.
Peter says that he produces oil which is really a fresh fruit juice, with no other additives. He advises that pure olive oil will burn at 180o C, whereas canola oil burns at 140 o C 0 causing a harsh smell which can impart bad tastes and tarnish the flavour of food. Another way is to tell if oil has been blended is to pour some oil into a saucer and taste by dipping with good bread. Pure olive oil is more flavoursome, with a sharper taste. It will also not stick to the saucer - blended oil it is more sticky and difficult to remove the residue from the saucer.
Frank Fodera in the olive grove
Frank Fodera grew up on a small mixed farm in Sicilly. He says "I picked olives from about age six, and spread cow and horse manure under the trees."
"Olives are a part of me," he said.
"My father supported a family of nine, mainly from olives, with some grapes and other crops. I had to help in the grapes and olives, because he had six daughters. It was not easy to live in those days and I had to start work in the grove at an early age."
Frank worked in the building industry in Australia for a while, before starting a restaurant and vineyard. When he saw a large olive property for sale in the northern Grampians, he jumped at the chance. "It is what I have always really wanted to do, and I could not pass the opportunity up."
The property concerned contained about 13000 acres of grove, or 13,000 trees, of about 55 years of age. Around 2,500 acres of olives were planted in the area in the 1940's - originally the plan had been for 7,500 acres, but this level of planting was never reached.
Frank also purchased another 300 acres property, soon after the first, and about 6.5 kilometres away. This was part of the old "Mt Zero' property, although Frank does not trade under the Mt Zero name (another producer owns part of the original property and still trades under the original name).
Unfortunately soon after purchasing the first property, the entire plantation was ravaged in a wildfire, (January 1999). The trees were severely pruned and are now recovering, but it was a significant financial blow and a major setback for the business. The trees were pruned hard in the winter after the fire and are now recovering well.
Labour for picking remains the major production problem, and Frank is investigating purchase of Swiss picking machinery. There is a very large capacity press on site too, which is used by many other growers for contract oil production.
Frank echoes the same complaints as Peter Maroudas. "Some people tell me I'm crazy to work so hard producing olive oil when I can buy cheap imported olive oil and mix it with mine. The practice is common, but I won't compromise my quality."
The other major production problem for Frank is kangaroos. The smaller property supports about 1500 roos, because of the extensive National Park next door. Roos stream out of the park to graze under the trees. They also eat the olive tree and remarkably strip ripening olives from the lower branches. Frank is not permitted to cull and is developing electric fencing around all boundaries.
Frank has applied to NASAA for organic certification, and is keen to develop the organic market and encourage other producers. "This is the way it should be done. I am happy with organic methods and I think they are kinder for the tree and produce better oil".
Adrian has been a NASAA certified Almond grower for many years, in the Willunga area south of Adelaide.
Adrian has converted most of the property to vines (3.7 hectares) and olives (1.8 hectares), with some almonds (1.8 hectares), and a small mixed fruit orchard and herb garden.
Many of the almonds and olives are inter-planted, and the almonds will be removed as the olives grow.
Adrian told Acres "the olives are planted on a 3 metre x 8 metre spacing, in a north/south orientation. This is reckoned to be the most productive configuration, although they do need canopy management to ensure that they do not intrude on each other. This means ‘nibbling’ at pruning, rather than heavy cutting, to keep them fruitful and not vegetative. We may also blossom thin, which benefits fruit set. To do this we remove some flower bracks from each large cluster, with the snips."
Peter Maroudas has provided a lot of help to Adrian and his wife Robin and they have visited his property to see olives on wide spacings, also inter-planted with almonds.
Adrian said "we took our first olives to Peter’s press, which was very satisfying after three and a half years. We have made oil and pickled the Kalamata olives. We have practiced on wild olives for the last few years to improve our knowledge about processing and tasting.
Adrian is a strong believer in the future of the olive industry. He chose olives as a crop believing that they were well suited to his climatic region, and mixed well with the other perennial crops. He said "I have noticed that feral olives succeed almonds on neglected almond blocks. It is also a Mediteranean association, which Peter Maroudas has used well (although at wider spacings). At his place the olives are now succeeding and the almonds will be removed, but he has utilised the space in the meantime. We also wanted to diversify the block in various ways and we will strongly resist planting vines from fence-line to fence-line."
"Olives are a fruitful evergreen and it is surprising to see the habitat improvements they have made to the block, which was previously a deciduous regime. They serve as windbreaks, make pleasant avenues down the main access routes through the property and add a lot to the aesthetics. They contribute some pollen and nesting opportunities for birds and the birds also get into them to feed on scale and other bugs."
Terry Smith and Chris Nicholls
Terry Smith and Chris Nicholls have developed ther Glenburn Grove in Victoria. Terry says the property is "a mirror of the Maroudas property".
"We have worked on his farm, bought his trees, listened to his wisdom and copied his practices."
"We have even followed his planting methods, preparing a deep planting hole."
"We use fertiliser from a certified dairy farm and have used a 3m diameter mulch around each tree - that's at least 6 bales of hay per tree, all cut on the property."
The 4.8 hectare property near Yea is certified Conversion to Organic by the BFA.
Terry says "Peter and Niki have been our mentors, they are the star in the sky for organic oil production".
"It has been a financial burden to do it this way, but we are certain it is the right thing for the tree and the land, and will produce an excellent product. The trees are now fruiting well. The wide spacing is most important, if I did it again, I would go even wider, to 10 x 12 metre spacings."
Simon Field is a NASAA certified grower from St Arnaud, in western Victoria, where he has 3,500 trees. The trees will be used for oil and table olive production. Simon has also written an excellent pocket guide for growing olives, called the Olive Handbook, and provided much of the energy behind the recent "Olive Business" conference in Melbourne. His website can be seen at www.olivebusiness.com. Simon also consults to the retail industry
Simon was the head of the Institute of Agricultural Science. He says he moved to olives because he wanted to change from raising pigs.
He says he chose organic production for "commercial reasons" and "the perception of cleaner production, which is the trend in the food industry."
He is happy with the production, and an enthusiastic supporter of the future of olive farming in Australia, including organic production.