May 022013

I can’t believe I forgot to mention this event yet. On next Friday, May 10th, the Georgia Olive Growers Association will be holding its 2013 Annual Meeting and Conference.

Here is the link for information and registration: GOGA 2013 Annual Meeting and Conference.

The meeting will be held in Lakeland, Georgia at the Threatte Center, which was the sight of the last several annual meetings. The information provided is always great and you meet some interesting people.

I hope to see you there.

May the sun shine through your branches.

Oct 072011

Here is the latest olive farming attempt in the southeastern United States. From Bay News 9 in St. Petersburg, FL is a video featuring entrepreneurs, Cambren Davis and Deirdre Rizzo.

After viewing the video I wanted to make sure I made a few points to clear up some misconceptions  stated by Davis and Rizzo and repeated by the newscaster.

Davis states they’re “trying to reintroduce them (olives) as a cash crop for Florida”, but they don’t officially get that pleasure. There are olive pioneers already in Florida.

Three pioneers I can think of are Tony and Shirley Valenza of Olive Branch Tree Farm in Citra, FL and Don Mueller of Green Gate Olive Grove in Jackson County, FL. If there are more, I apologize. The point is, Rizzo and Davis are not the first, but Olive Crazy says to them – ‘welcome aboard to this rapidly expanding global market’.

As Jason Shaw of Georgia Olive Farms reminded me a few weeks ago, “This (growing olives) is no different than any other farming. It is susceptible to Mother Nature. You still have to deal with the elements. You can’t just grow trees – you have to work hard to keep them healthy.” Jason’s statement is a point that I think gets missed as farmers (especially new ones) across the US get excited about commercially growing olive trees.

Olive growing is not a panacea for all that ails the citrus industry or any another agricultural industry. People who think it is, aren’t paying attention to the world olive markets and are looking for quick fixes. Growing olives on a large, commercial scale is very costly, from beginning to end. Olive Crazy likes when people are excited about a new olive project, but lack of realism leads to big disappointments.

The US needs a strong and powerful olive industry, not a weak and unfocused one.

I wish Cambren Davis and Deirdre Rizzo all the best. I love Brooksville and have many fond memories of spending time at the University of South Florida’s Chinsegut Hill with classmates from USF’s History Department – education and a lot of Frisbee throwing. Maybe future students will get to sample local olives, olive oil, and olive leaf tea. It’s a pleasant thought.

May the sun shine through your branches.

Sep 122011

I live in one of the states in the US kudzu belt – Georgia. Kudzu is a native southeast Asian vine and it is a menace. It smothers all in its path and is powerful enough to uproot trees.

Invasive plant and weed control is very important to both the commercial grower and the home gardener. With the advent of commercial olive growing in the kudzu belt, it is essential to look at advice on controlling invasive plants and weeds. Georgia and Florida are new to larger scale commercial olive growing and have specific invasive plant and weed control problems, and potential new problems, especially whenever a new crop is introduced.

Here is some advice from California plant activist, Susan Mason, which was printed on, a Northern California online news magazine. Ms. Mason’s article has some California-specific advice but is full of universal good practices.

Invasive Plant Control, by Susan Mason

What should a gardener know before he/she starts to remove weeds?

• Identify what weeds you have and learn how each weed reproduces and spreads.
• Decide whether your goal is to eradicate, control or maintain the weed population.
• Based on that knowledge, decide how and when to remove specific weeds. Plan ahead so you’re not facing a huge weeding project just as you’re going on vacation.
• Prioritize your weed removal based on what you’ve learned about its reproduction and prevalence. Generally, work on small infestations first and then the larger areas. However, the number of seeds produced by an individual plant and the seed viability and longevity should also be considered.
• Try to identify new weeds while they’re small.
• When possible, remove weed before plant sets seed to reduce future populations. If not possible, try to contain seeds either by covering the plant with plastic, or hand-picking and collecting the seed in sealed plastic bags, before pulling, cutting or moving the whole plant, which will only spread the seeds.
• The California Invasive Plant Council ( is a great resource for plant identification, control methods, and training.


• Use tarping and mulches to reduce or eliminate weeding—cardboard is a great, free weed barrier in our Mediterranean climate and can even survive occasional rains; large pieces are available at bike and motorcycle shops, appliance stores.
• Keep buckets and gardening gloves around the yard to make it easy to do short weeding sessions.
• Use the right tool for the job and make sure it’s sharp (if it’s supposed to be). If possible, invest in higher-quality tools which work better and last many times longer than cheap tools.
• There are specialized tools for specific types of weed removal that can save time and reduce the effort of weeding.
• Buy tools with colored handles, wrap colored electrical tape on handles or paint handles to make it easier to find misplaced tools. Ditto for gardening gloves.
• Fiberglass tool handles last longer, but don’t have the shock-absorption characteristics of wood. Therefore, they’re good for shovels, not so good for axes and Pulaskis.
• Work with your neighbors to eliminate weed sources.

Avoid spreading invasive plants:

• Don’t accidentally spread weed seeds—wash equipment after working in or driving through weedy area, change clothing and shoes or remove weed seeds before moving to new area, work in weed-free areas first.
• Don’t plant invasive plants. See Don’t Plant a Pest brochure (link in main article at bottom) for the horticultural plants that are the most invasive locally and for alternatives to plant that will not get out of control in your garden.
• Don’t dump grass clippings, yard waste, aquarium waste, or seeds and cuttings of horticultural plants in public open space areas or waterways. Not only is it generally as illegal as dumping trash, it can smother the native plants, increase bank erosion on creeks, and spread invasive plants to new locations.
• Be especially careful when gardening or working near waterways. To remove large items from a creekside, could increase erosion. To accidentally drop seed heads in a waterway will increase their dispersal and subsequent damage exponentially. If you are not sure, get advice from an authoritative source.

Here is the link to the entire article by Jennifer Jewell, “What to Do About Weeds, With Invasive Plant Activist, Educator Susan Mason“. This is a must read. It has great resources.

May the sun shine through your branches.

Jul 302011

Now is the time for the gross stuff – critters. Critters of the animal, insect, fungus, bacteria, and heavens know what other kind, variety. I wouldn’t be a good steward of the olive industry if I didn’t mention them.

Agriculture is fraught with peril. Not enough rain, too much rain, and in the case of the olive tree too much standing water. Olive tree roots hate to stay wet. Not enough sun, not enough cold, or too much cold and the bark will crack, weakening the olive tree. Like all other plants olive trees have environmental susceptibilities. But then, there are the pests and diseases too.

I know the environmental part is very important, but whenever someone asks me where they can get an olive tree for their yard, I can’t help but share cautionary tales about the pest and disease perils that their sweet little tree can potentially visit upon the existing and fledgling U.S. olive industry. I let them know it is their duty to their local growers and those who want to eat local produce not to have their own tree. What a worry wart, you say? You bet.

Let me explain. Joe, my brother, lives in Florida. He planted an olive tree next to his pool. Nice. Florida is an agriculture state that has laws in place to deal with commercial crop and non-commercial infestations. Florida is authorized to treat not only commercial crop infestations but non-commercial too, so long as the commercial crop is jeopardized. If olive fruit fly were to alight in Florida, Joe’s tree can be sprayed along with the commercial crops in his state. I live in a state just next door with different laws. Good luck getting on Granny’s property to treat her tree. Therefore, I worry. Georgia has a fledgling olive industry that I don’t want to see die out prematurely or affect the one we have – in California.

Today our featured pest is the olive fruit fly, bactrocera oleae. The olive fruit fly is the most serious threat to the U.S. olive industry to date, and in the U.S. it has no known predators or parasites. Now that the U.S. olive industry is expanding into other states, each with different laws, the olive fruit fly is an important insect to get to know.

In 1998, the olive fruit fly was discovered in southern California. Exactly how it arrived is not certain, speculation is that it was brought from France. By 2002, the southern California visitors had travelled the state and were everywhere. For such a tiny little fly, that was some fast moving. California’s olive industry was in peril, and as we know today, some folks in the industry did not survive.

When the olive fruit fly invaded, it was a good crop year, and eradication was a problem. California has a significant number of trees on private lands and in roadways. Those trees acted as “reservoirs for reinvasion into treated orchards” (Collier, T.R. & Van Steenwyk, R.A. (2003) see below for link to article).

The olive fruit fly is common in the Mediterranean region and in the Mediterranean it has natural parasitic foes. We do not have them in the U.S., however, there are studies being conducted into parasitic alternatives, like a Pakistani olive fruit fly known as psyttalia ponerophaga.

In the mean time, the olive fruit fly is under control in California. Research is still underway for ways to effectively eradicate an infestation or keep one from happening at all.

Here are links to two documents regarding the olive fruit fly. The first is “Olive Fruit Fly” by Paul Vossen, Lucia G. Varela, and Alexandra Devarenne. The second is a research article entitled “Prospects for integrated control of olive fruit fly are promising in California” by Timothy R. Collier and Robert A. Van Steenwyk.

May the sun shine through your branches.

Apr 162011

Let me present player number one in the latest international olive oil drama – California, please take a bow.

The California story I want to tell does not start way back in history with Spanish monks planting olive trees at the missions they established in California. It starts just before World War II when California was first positioned to become an international olive oil powerhouse. It is a story of opportunity and intrigue and reminds me a lot of the new television series, The Borgias, without any of the love interest stuff.

Up until WWII the California olive industry was ticking along. The markets for table olives and olive oil swung back and forth with the table olive market the primary olive market in California before the war. Why? Because the growers made more money for good looking olives that could be cured and canned.

During WWII olive groves around the Mediterranean took a beating. Many of the trees were salvageable but most of the men and women who had, in peacetime, cared for the now war-devastated olive groves found themselves a bit busy doing those things one does when war comes to visit.

California had an opportunity to reestablish their olive oil industry, which had collapsed at the end of the 19th century, and they did. California ramped up olive oil production and business flourished. The “mob” who has notoriously been involved in the Mediterranean olive oil industry bought some of the California olive groves and joined Californians in supplying olive oil to the rest of the world. Business was good.

Then the war ended and Mediterranean folks started working their farms again, free from the “feed my troops” demands of Hitler and Mussolini. Olive trees were pruned back and in a few years the trees were back in production. World olive oil production shifted back to the Mediterranean, the mob moved on, and many California olive oil producing farms went belly up. Those that survived went back to canning (metal was still scarce after the war) and tried to hang on.

Let’s move forward in time several decades to the beginning of the 21st century. The table olive market is close to saturation, and the British Medical Journal published the Mediterranean Diet study done by the University of Florence, Italy, and interest in olive oil as a means of achieving good health exploded. California growers took notice. Spanish olive growers had started 17 years before to trellis and decrease the size of olive trees for easier picking (farm labor is expensive). The newly patented olive tree varieties, called super high density, were sent to the USDA for quarantine and in the early 21st century were planted in greatest quantity in California, spreading to Texas, Georgia, and Florida. The U.S., with California in the lead, is now positioned to be a big player in the world olive oil market.

So when I asked myself “why are so many Californians “graciously” helping Georgians and Floridans develop as potential competitors for the still small U.S. olive oil market?” It’s because they cannot develop a quality olive oil industry alone. They need the help of other states to overcome a similar situation to the one they faced during and at the end of WWII. They are getting ready and the rest of the U.S. should help.

My next article will be about the collapsing European, Middle Eastern and North African economies and how it is affecting the olive oil industry.

May the sun shine through your branches.