It has been said that the most important ingredient in preserving olives is patience - six months worth to be exact.
Olives contain a glycoside called oleurophin which protects the olive fruit from being eaten by animals and humans alike. Although oleurophin is not poisonous, the taste of raw olives makes them unsavoury to eat. Pickling, a practise which began in 4000BC, makes olives edible, by leaching out the water-soluble chemicals contained within but is not without issue. Two by-products of the fermentation process are carbon dioxide and alcohol and accordingly, olives can 'go off'. If for whatever reason your olives don't smell right - don't hesitate in putting them to good use in your worm farm or compost. Nature will always appreciate what you should not.
Olives and their popular derivation, olive oil, have been proven beneficial for people suffering from diabetes, asthma, constipation, rheumatoid arthritis, stomach problems and arteriosclerolis. Some studies report that high consumers of olives dramatically lessen their risk of developing diabetes later in life. By preventing the oxidation of cholesterol in the body, olives also reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes and they have been known to moderate blood pressure as well as helping the body neutralise free radicals, leading to the prevention of colon cancer. Perhaps their greatest claim to fame is that they are professed to offer 'the fountain of youth' as their Vitamin E content affords cellular protection against free radicals present in the body. Women suffering post-menopause have reported that olives reduce the frequency and intensity of hot flashes and the scientific community professes them to contain a natural chemical that acts like a painkiller in addition to their anti-inflammatory properties, due to their phytonutrient compounds, including polyphenols and flavanoids. No wonder then that olives are deemed one of the top ten superfoods.
If you are looking to plant an olive tree first decide whether you want to propagate it for its fruit or oil as this will determine the variety you choose. Four to six years is typical before fruiting begins with good production occurring in ten. Olives are a good plant to consider for your orchard because they produce a high-cost product and are low maintenance, saving you both money and time. Pruning requires only a light cutting back of branches each year to tidy up the plant and encourage new wood growth. Fertilise with organic fertiliser and use compost after fruiting to replace lost nutrients. Underplanting with legumes such as fava beans will help fix nitrogen into the soil and the application of wood ash, in moderation, can assist the plants' high need for potassium Use the condition of the plant as a guide when considering what to add to the soil, rarely zinc is required. Mottling, small malformed leaves, paleness of colour or poor fruit quality are signs of nutritional deficiencies and most ailments can be remedied with the right organic mix.
Olives do well in New Zealand because of our temperate climate. Long hot summers and cool winters provide ideal conditions for their growth. Better plant yields are encouraged by well-drained, fertile soil, well-watered when the tree starts fruiting.
Harvesting of olives in New Zealand takes place in Autumn and March-May. To determine their ripeness, cut black olives in half. They should be black all the way through when cut. Green olives in comparison will turn straw in colour when ready to harvest.
To begin, wash your olives in water by rubbing them against each other. Strain them through a colander. Fill each sterilised jar to be used with water and then place this water into a central container. The salt brine to be used is a ratio of 10% salt to 90% water. An egg will float in such a solution, so continue adding salt to the water until it does. Add your olives to each container, leaving a 10% gap at the top and compress them with a stiff piece of open weave plastic cut to sizes - such as a gutter guard or similar. This can be held in place with a rock from the beach or river. Pour the brine solution over the olives to the top of the jar and seal. Store in a cool dry place. To speed up the fermentation process, replace the brine solution each month. At the very least though check them monthly and discard any olives which seem to have gone off. Taste in 3 months if replacing the brine as from this time on they may be edible. Olives make wonderful tapenades and there is nothing better than a DIY antipasta platter featuring your own olives. Happy gardening!