Olives and olive oil are food staples around the world, but many people do not know that olive trees are one of the oldest growing trees in the world - some may live to be as old as 1,500 years, with the average lifespan being 500 years. Olive trees (Olea europaea for you scholars out there!) have been cultivated by humans for thousands of years. Provided with the appropriate growing conditions, this tree can survive in relative neglect and natural elements for hundreds of years.
Olive trees thrive in well-draining, sandy soil. They need full sun, a long, hot growing season, and a winter of at least three months with temperatures ranging from 35 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. That is why olive trees are extremely prominent in Mediterranean areas. When grown in these conditions, the olive trees will begin producing olives when they're about five or six years old. As the tree gets older, the olive production increases, and is the most efficient when the tree reaches 40 or 50 years old.
As previously mentioned, olives do not require a great deal of care in order to survive, but in order to promote the healthiest olives, some regular care and maintenance is needed. Regular irrigation is beneficial during the warmer months to avoid the tree from drying out too much.
Sprouting & Flowering
After the cooler months, the buds of the olive tree, which were totally closed, begin to grow and form flower clusters. As the weather begins to warm up in early spring, the buds of the olive tree become sprouts. The floral clusters are already fully formed and slowly, the olive flower begins to open. Like many flowering trees, the amount the tree flowers can vary from year to year which can affect the amount of olives that grow.
As the flowering comes to an end, the petals naturally fall, giving way to the olive. This process is known as fruit-set. Once the olives are fully grown, normally in the fall, they are ready to be picked. The harvest is carried out when the olives have reached their maximum size but are still green before they begin to ripen. The olives which have already fallen to the ground are collected into baskets and kept separately - olives from the floor can still be pressed but as they are considered "damaged fruit". Nets are then laid under the tree so it can be shaken and beaten, and the olives are collected.
The olive pits that are extracted from the olive do not go to waste. It has become more common that the pits are now used as fuel in manufacturing plants as they produce a large amount of energy when burned. Energy from the olive pits are used to heat the heat-transfer fluid that travels through pipes to a brine boiler. Before olive pits can be used, they must be dried and conditioned. Companies like Solex Thermal Science provide the technology that allows for both optimized heating and drying/conditioning of olive pits for their most optimal use. Visit their site to learn more information about the latest heat exchanger technology - and its many uses in the farming and agriculture sectors.
The conditioning of olive pits in the preparation stage is an energy intensive operation with steam consumption being the largest utility cost. Use of efficient technology, as well as optimized utilization of waste heat can result in major savings of energy.
The waste of the olive pits can then be used for various processes to produce heat within the plant. The most common processes that the olive pits are used for is to provide the energy requirement for pre-heating, conditioning or drying. Low-grade energy that is otherwise wasted or not economical to recover can be a source of cost saving by reduction in steam consumption.
Well, there you have it. If you had done some preliminary research into the olive and how it gets from the tree to your table but wanted to know more - we hope you've found this article helpful.