The Season for Harvesting Olives
Once an olive tree has started producing fruit, the best time for harvest depends on what you want to do with the olives.
Fresh olives are inedible, due to a high content of oleuropein, an extremely bitter compound. In order to make them edible, olives need to be cured by soaking them in brine, treating them with lye, or using a water curing method.
All olive fruit is green at first and latter becomes purple or black in color. So if you want to process green olives, harvest them earlier. If you prefer black olives, harvest them later when they have turned color.
As olives develop on the tree, their oil content increases and the flavor and color of the oil changes. Earlier in the season, the oil has a stronger flavor, which mellows as time goes on.
Most olive varieties are ready for harvest between late September and early December.
Exactly When to Harvest Olives
Exactly when is the best time for picking olives depends on several factors:
- The olive cultivar.
- Local weather conditions.
- The health and condition of the tree.
- Whether you are harvesting for green or black table olives or olive oil.
When fall temperatures are high, olives ripen faster, and lower temperatures slow down the ripening process. Also, some fruits mature faster than others. Watch the color of the ripening fruit and stay tuned to local conditions as you decide exactly when to harvest.
How to Harvest Olives
Commercial olives are harvested with machines, but home growers need to do this task by hand. You can simply pluck the fruits one by one, using a ladder to reach the upper levels of the tree, or, you can gently beat the branches with a stick, causing the fruits to fall the ground.
If you use the second method, place a tarp under the tree first to make it easier to collect the fallen fruit.
The Average Harvest of an Olive Tree
This also depends on the cultivar and how the tree has been cultivated, but the yield from an average, mature tree is usually between 50 to 200 pounds (22 to 90 kilograms) for a full-sized tree. For semi-dwarf varieties you can expect about 35 pounds (16 kilograms) of fruit.
Whether for oil or table olives, process your olives within three days after picking.