Olives, pickled olives, and olive oil all come from olive trees. Although these wonderful trees are available in several varieties, the differences between olive products is primarily derived from when they are picked and how they are prepared. That means that if you live in the right kind of climate or area, you can have a beautiful olive tree in your backyard.
Growing Olive Trees
Olive trees are picky about climate. Originating around the Mediterranean, they like cool weather in the winter below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, but do not enjoy temperatures below 20 degrees. If the weather becomes too cold, it can cause the tree to die back all the way to the roots.
Although almost any tree can be turned into bonsai or grown in a container, olive trees are really an outdoor tree. they grow to be 20 to 30 feet tall with a correspondingly wide spread of branches. This means that they can be an incredibly beautiful shade tree. They do well in most native soils, with only a small addition of compost. They will produce the best fruit if there is about 20 to 30 feet between trees, so think big if you are purchasing land with the idea of having an olive grove. Olive trees love sun, so plan for the maximum amount to make it through to all parts of the tree. This might require some pruning to achieve.
In 1917, there were severe forest fires in Portugal, Croatia, and several other countries around the Mediterranean. As a result of this experience, naturalists and other people who deal with forests in that area believe that plantings of eucalyptus trees made the fires worse, while olive trees and grape vineyards helped slow the blazes.
There are several factors at work here. Eucalyptus trees are highly resinous, as are pine trees. Resinous trees tend to burn more readily than hard woods that retain moisture. Second, olive trees tend to retain moisture. This make them less likely to burn. Third, olive groves and grape vineyards are cultivated. The land around them and between them is usually mowed or even tilled. With less debris beneath the trees, there is less fuel for a fire. Sadly, this sort of information is only applicable to areas where trees are cultivated for fruit, shade or similar applications.
Green Olives or Black Olives
Contrary to what some people might think, the only difference between a green olive and a black olive is the ripeness of the fruit. Green olives are picked while they are still young and green. They are soaked in a pickling solution of vinegar, salt or even oil to allow the fruit to ferment and move toward edibility.
To obtain olive oil, the fruit is mashed and squeezed, then the oils separated from the juices. As many people already know, olive oil has a wide variety of applications from cooking and salad oil to cosmetics. Olives have been cultivated in the Mediterranean area for untold generations. There is fossilized evidence to suggest that olive trees grew as long ago as the Oligocene era, which was about 70,000 years ago. Olives have been cultivated for at least the last 7,000 years.
One might speculate as to whether olive oil might not have been the legendary oil that Mary, sister of Martha, used to wash Jesus. But no, such was not the case. That oil was nard, or spikenard, a different pressed oil that has both anti-inflammatory properties and well and anti-bacterial. Small wonder that it might have been used to anoint tired feet!
Still, olive oil has long been used to dress hair, treat sunburn, and many similar ailments. Nor can it be beat as a cooking or salad oil. And, of course, olives are delicious. Green or black, pickled with or without the pits.
Downsides to Olive Trees
No tree is so perfect that it doesn’t have a few disadvantages. Olives can be an extremely messy tree. The leaves are semi-deciduous, meaning that they will drop leaves in response to cold weather. When they fruit, the berries drop at the most inconvenient times. They are susceptible to some kinds of pests, especially tree scale and fruit flies.
Charming, Beautiful Trees
When it comes to landscaping, olives are charming, beautiful trees. The gnarled appearance of the trunks puts one in mind of the old, line drawings used to illustrate early fairy tale books. The dense narrow leaves, the blooms and finally the fruit make olive trees incredibly beautiful.