Organic Olive Grove in Carmona

Organic Olive Grove in Carmona

Yesterday I was invited to the organic olive grove of Antonio González Cantero, geologist to try to understand how olives could be declared “organic”.

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The first thing that surprised me reaching this hidden part of the hilly area of the municipality of Carmona was the distance existing between each olive tree. I asked Antonio, is it a traditional olive grove?

– Yes Indeed. I bought this olive grove which had been abandoned for many years composed of table olives belonging to Gordal and Manzanilla varieties. This olive grove is at least 200 years old.

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The Gordal olive is the biggest and the Manzanilla olive, the smallest.

– How do you know it is 200 years old?

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– Counting the rings of a clean sawn trunk – not this one, naturally, but one sawn near its base.

– There is another way to see that the olive trees are old : their erosion level (lower photo).

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If you look at the base, each olive tree has the same amount of earth surrounding it.

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– How can an olive grove be declared “organic”?

– By definition, it is organic whenever the soil and the trees haven’t got any chemical treatment during at least three years in a row. This olive grove had been abandoned for many years. However, according to the law three years in a row, a sworn inspector had to visit and inspect it each year and issue a certificate proving the conversion.

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He brought me to the border of his grove and asked me showing me the lower photo. “Do you know what that is?. It is an olive tree that has not been worked out because in fact the wild olive tree is a shrub.

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– If you look inside you will see numerous branches. You have to prune the weakest to form strong trunks and branches. In an organic olive grove you need to use physical strength and carry out any and all chores by hand with the help of nature.

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–  You can see an old sawn trunk and two young ones that be become a tree later. In the super-intensive industrial olive groves, each trunk will give approx. 40 kilos olives during seven years. They will then be fallen and replanted. Ours have been producing approx. a hundred kilos for already 200 years!

It was an actual surprise to learn that an olive tree was a shrub! Even though my grand-father had an olive grove and knowing that Spain totalled 200 millions olive trees and that eighty per cent of them where in Andalusia, I had never ever heard such a thing. Then Antonio shows me many olive trees that wanted “to turn into shrubs”.

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You have to cut all that in order for them not to become a shrub again… so does Antonio, throw them on the ground. “You chop them and when they rot, the soil will be enriched by organic matter”.

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– Branches and trunks are used for fire wood.

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In addition I use the horse manure because our neighbour has horses and I produce compost with it.

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– For example, this manure will be used for only five olive trees. Did you know that a horse only eats good grass and drinks clean water?

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In the middle of the olive grove I note something planted and ask what is it?

– It’s beans. Not only will you eat it but they also fix nitrogen into the soil because nitrogen is in the air, you breathe it but the olive tree can’t. Beans fix it. Looking for some kind of explanations at http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nitrato, it is said that “Nitrates form an essential part of fertilizers. Plants convert it into nitrogenous compounds such as amino acids”.

– Remember that as no herbicides can be used we must pull off weeds by hand or with machines.

However despite the fact that my parents help me whenever the can, I  closely work with Enrique Peña, an organic gardener who is also looking for and crops medicinal plants or wild edible plants throughout the olive grove.

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Antonio González Cantero left and Enrique Peña Pérez right

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Medicinal plant healing scar tissues (Verbascum sinuatum). http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Verbascum_sinuatum

Invited home to give more explanations, Enrique Peña mentioned their blog talking a bit more about them. It is   http://withania.blogspot.com.es/search/label/Patrimonio%20natural. This beautiful yellow floweris a wildlands’calendula

acigutre_flor Not only do wildland’s calendulas help healing scars but they are also used to manufacture children tooth paste.

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The last Medicinal plant I saw was the Hypericum perforatum (lower photo)  that also heal scars, but treats a small depression and moderates anxiety .

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This is a garlic leek (Allium ampeloprasum). People used to eat it a lot long ago even befote Roman times.

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This is an anthill. Ants are excellent because they remove the ground oxygenating it and control part of the pests spending part of their time there.

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– And what do you do not to use pesticides?

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– We use nature, as simple as that. For example there is a lizard-worm very prejudicial to olives. If you use pesticide one single time, this worm will disappear, but its natural predator – the praying mantis that decapitates the worm with its mandible – will also disappear. You will then have to wait for three years for nature to prevail again. In an organic olive grove you will never eradicate this worm. You just need to watch that natural balance is kept so that it does not turn into a “pest”.

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– Usually, summers are very hot. This summer has been warm. Under warm temperatures in this region there is a special fly stinging the olive to lay an egg and larvae will then grow in the olive. It is not bad for human consumption. It is bad for the aesthetics of the olive.

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–  In this Gordal you may appreciate the track of the larvae. We thus have to put hormone traps in water bottles and hang them on olive trees all around the perimeter of our grove. Flies, attracted by the smell of hormones get trapped into the bottles.

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– How many olive trees do you have in your grove?

– With 3,2 hectares I have  356 olive trees. I have more Manzanillas than Gordales varieties.  Gordales have a lot o f meat and little oil. I am waiting for the olive to get black (right now) to send them at a traditional mill that presses them without heating them.  You need around 5-7 kilos of olive to get one litre of olive oil.

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My visit ended with  the collect of  red and green bell peppers, the delicious red sweet Italian pepper that Antonio made me eat on the spot and that stood in my mouth and  black and stripped aubergines from the organic garden of Antonio and Enrique.

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I strolled back to the car soothed, interested and thrilled by these young pioneers. Though they hope to get remunerated for their huge and long standing efforts, they prefer to bet for a “natural” future rather than for a fast yielding one.

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More and more  the expression “natural monuments” is mentioned. No doubt that the olive grove of Antonio González Cantero is one of them and as such, it should be visited.

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In addition, during a fortnight, I’ll eat very savoury organic veggies.

What else? Bravo Antonio and Enrique,