Simon Gault's olive harvest

It may take some time and energy before you get to enjoy the fruits of your labour, but growing olives – to bottle or press into oil – is definitely worth the effort.

By Simon Gault

This year, I’m really looking forward to harvesting my crop of olives. They’re nearly there! It’s a real sense of occasion in my garden because I get my whole team involved. The chefs from my restaurant Euro come to my garden and all have a hand in the process.

Last year, they piled over and we picked them, prepared them and bottled them. It’s quite a process. We spend an afternoon picking the fruit, and then they need to be soaked in water, which goes on for weeks to remove any toxins. Then they go into brine, before being pasteurised and put into jars. Then – finally – they’re ready to eat. Absolutely delicious.

This year may be a little different, because I’ve got a guy up the street who has just built an olive press so he’ll be helping us to make our own oil.

We’ll be bottling up as much as we can, so we’ll have the freshest olive oil possible in the restaurant. I’ll freeze some of the batch as soon as it’s pressed, so it’ll stay at its freshest.

I just love having a good-quality supply of olive oil on hand. For me, I think the olives have the most depth of flavour when they’re just in the stage of becoming browned, with a hint of green, so that’s what I’ll be looking out for.

My absolute favourite way to enjoy olive oil is drizzled over a salad of rocket. There’s something about the taste of the peppery rocket leaves, combined with the fruity freshness of the olive oil, that’s a complete winner. Delicious. We’ll be watching the olives closely for harvesting time now – I can’t wait.

Simon's gardener Ken says:

“As Mediterranean natives, olive trees have quite specific climate needs in order to get a good crop.

At least two months of the year you need to have average temperatures below 10ºC for them to produce flowers. They also need a 12-15 week period where there are fluctuations in temperature from day to night. To set fruit, it will need a warm-to-hot summer. Luckily, these stats are all in an average season here, so it’s the ideal place for olives!

“Olive trees can be grown in containers for ornamental effect but I prefer them to be in the open ground. Or you plant a small potted tree on your deck or patio, then plant it out later in the year.

“Olive trees are best planted from late winter to early spring to establish before the next winter. They prefer a warm, sheltered spot in full sun and will likely need some garden lime to keep soil pH below 6.5.

“If you are going to purchase an olive tree, make sure you know if you want fruit or oil. You will need to choose the right variety. Most are self-fertile, but double check before buying.

“Olive trees have no major pest issues and can handle poor soils, in fact don’t add too much organic matter.

“Now I’m off to check the letterbox. I have ordered an important seed that Simon told me about. I’d never heard of it before, but it is always exciting to grow something new! I will let you know about it as I learn more.”

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