Speedy and I were pretty happy this spring as we watched the olive trees blossoming – it looked to be a good year for olives, something we haven’t enjoyed for the last four or five years.  Then came the summer that wasn’t. Uncharacteristically cool and wet, the hot dry days we expect in July and August never materialized. For the first time since we’ve lived here I did not have to water the gardens at all.

The olives didn’t like it. The first problem is an annual problem, but one that has never been as bad as this year: the Mediterannean fruit fly.

Photo by Jack Kelly Clark, courtesy of University of California

Photo by Jack Kelly Clark

This little stinker, only about 1/4″ long, has an ovipositer that allows her to deposit her eggs in ripening olives. The maggots that hatch dine on the meat inside the olive until they are ready to burrow out, leaving behind a black and mushy mess. We’ve always had some fruit with the tell-tale dots that show an egg has been laid. This year we’ve had ample evidence that the larvae flourished. Why they were more successful this year than other years I don’t know; I think I’ll blame climate change.

bad olives-001

Two other problems, certainly climate related, are a kind of rusty growth on the fruit that is called either anthracnose or soft nose. I don’t know enough about either of these conditions to know which has affected our olives; I just know that either one leaves the fruit completely damaged and useless.

Fruit showing both the rusty disease and puncture wounds from egg-laying

Fruit showing both the rusty disease and puncture wounds from egg-laying

Usually at this time of year, if we are having a good year, we are dragging out nets, olive rakes and sheets for our own particular style of harvest. (You can read about our harvest by pressing here and here.) This year there is no point.

bad olives-003Many of the olives have turned dark prematurely and have fallen off the trees on their own. There’s no telling what quality of oil might lie within the few hardy individuals that are still clinging to the trees. We’re not going to invest the not inconsiderable time and effort to find out.

Ours are not the only trees thus affected. We have heard from friends that no-one in our part of Italy has an olive harvest this year. This is a pity for those of us with trees, but it’s a misery for the people who have the business of pressing olives. They will have few customers this year. Fortunately for olive-oil lovers, we have also heard that the crop in the south is excellent this year. With luck they will pick up the slack for those of us in the north.

One thing that never seems to die is hope – and I just know that next year will be the best year ever for olives.

Poster courtesy of Santa Clara Design

Poster courtesy of Santa Clara Design