Our First Harvest

The weekend of November 9th and 10th saw first (very small) harvest. We only got 200# of fruit, enough for about 2-1/2 gallons of oil. But given that we didn’t expect any harvest this year, it seemed like a bonus. We will bottle our prize in early December and share with family and friends. Our son, daughter-in-law and two of our grand kids helped with the harvest on a beautiful crisp fall day. We trucked the fruit up to Red Ridge Farms and had is processed into oil on Monday, November 11th. Pretty darned exciting!

 

 

Jackson picking olives

Jackson picking olives

 

Our harvest

Our harvest

 

What’s happening on the farm….

As fall arrives, we find that things in the orchard are starting to slow down (thank heavens). The land is plowed, disced, mounded with weed cloth, planted, and irrigated. Although we ran out of irrigation water in early September (another story), the trees have grown amazingly well this summer with nearly 24” of new growth on most trees.

We have spent that latter part of the summer staking trees, pulling weeds, a lot of weeds and fixing the drip irrigation system.

We have one more big project to go. We have a second crop to plant. In mid October, we will plant 10.5 acres of an alternate fresh fruit crop. More on that later.

I am posting some images of what has transpired this spring, summer and fall.

imageArrival of 3,900 trees in early May

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Field drain tile being installed in May

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Tal and Zach Botner, who helped plant the 100 year old trees

The Beginning….

After some 45 years of pursuing environmentally responsible construction and development practices, it became apparent that the limits of contemporary economic practices constantly constrain real transformative progress. Our desire in our retirement years was to do something more restorative. Several years ago, when Jean and I were vacationing in the Marche in Italy, I shared with Jean the fantasy of a small olive orchard on a quaint hillside. With nearly 50 years of experience with my fantasies, Jean said yah, sure … and forgot about it. Nearly five years later, I surprised her by suggesting that we do the same thing closer to home. She surprised me by saying sure, let’s do it.

Thus began our search for a place to undertake our experiment at doing something truly restorative–something sustainable, self sufficient, healthy and a potential legacy for our children, grand children and future generations.

After months of research, we settled on the Umpqua Valley as the best place in Oregon to grow olives. It has the same latitude as Siena, Italy and more Mediterranean climate than any other place in Oregon. While there are several others in Oregon attempting to commercially grow olives, we think our effort may be unique in a few ways. One, we want it to be completely self sufficient with no pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers or other external inputs. To be truly restorative, we feel it needs to continuously operate without these external inputs. Our soil nutrients will come from oil pressing residue, our energy will come from on-site biofuels and solar energy. Our home at the site is already net energy neutral.

Our search began by looking for a south facing parcel with well draining soils in southern Douglas County, Oregon. We hired a professor in Agronomy and Climatology from Southern Oregon University to help us in our site search. He mapped sites throughout the county that met our requirements of Growing Degree Days, frost free days, orientation, slope, soils and irrigation potential.

What began as a search for 20~30 acres and driving every road in southern Douglas County looking for the right piece of property, ended in the purchase of 185 acres just west of Sutherlin, Oregon. I guess our enthusiasm got ahead of us a little bit. An offer was made and after some nine months of negotiations, we succeeded in closing on the property. It is open pasture land with a beautiful stand of mature Oregon Oak on a steep hillside in the NW corner. One key piece to this property is the water rights we negotiated so we can irrigate the orchards.

We shared our vision with our children and surprisingly, after lots of questions and examination of our business plan, we now have the support of our daughter, son and daughter-in-law.

We will begin by planting our first 3800 olive trees in May 2013, with hopes of our first harvest in 2016.

So, the journey begins…

Dennis Wilde