Field Report #4
From: Robin and Kathryn at Fat Gold
First, a few morsels of news, and then, WE PRUNE.
The next shipment to subscribers will go out the week of May 21, and it will be the oil we made from our moraiolo olives: exceptionally green and grassy.
Fat Gold won its first international award! We snagged a silver medal in the Japan Olive Oil Prize competition. We entered that one because we dream of selling Fat Gold in Japan some day, and thereby justifying many very important business trips to assorted ryokan.
This weekend, the California Olive Oil Council—we’re a member—is having its annual meeting in Monterey. Kathryn is speaking on a panel about olive oil production. Robin will be documenting all the interesting things he learns on our Instagram account.
Now, into the field.
The big accomplishment of the spring is that we finished this year’s pruning. We didn’t do it alone! This year, Fat Gold’s inaugural Pruning Residency was held by our friend Jana Kinsman, erstwhile urban beekeeper, who spent a couple of weeks with us in the grove.
Last year, pruning was terrifying. You’re cutting these beautiful trees—cutting off whole branches! D’Aun Goble, who established the grove, had to coax us through the process, reassuring us: Yes, it’s okay to cut that off. Really, it’s okay. Cut it!
This year, we were bolder, mainly because we’d been through a harvest. The harvest teaches you. Squatting low to reach olives brushing the ground: ugh, should have trimmed that. Trying and failing to reach olives on high branches: ugh, really should have trimmed that. When it’s humans doing the harvesting, the shape of the olive tree needs to match the shape of the human body.
To augment our instruction from D’Aun, we used a slim pruning manual. It features lots of great little diagrams like this:
All three of us—Kathryn, Robin, and Jana—came to appreciate the rhythm of pruning. Each tree takes a bit of initial problem-solving and planning, but once you get going, snipping the little branches away, sawing the bigger ones, it’s mechanical enough that—just like washing dishes—your mind is free to wander. Robin definitely jotted down some story ideas mid-prune.
One of the most satisfying fixes doesn’t involve cutting at all. Up close, olive trees are surprisingly shrub-like; they grow a lot of skinny, dangly little branches. On some days, the wind really howls across the Fat Gold grove, and these dangly branches get tangled into knots. Approaching a tree, it will look like a mess, and your first instinct will be, well, I’ll have to cut this, and that… but then you pause, look closer, reach into the tangle, and extricate a branch. Freed from the wind-tied knot, it suddenly springs back to where it wants to be, with plenty of room to breathe and grow.
This year’s prune is done, and the trees look pretty great. It’s been a wet, wet winter, so we haven’t run the irrigation at all. Summer is on its way, and with it the threat of the olive fly. This year, we’re starting our countermeasures earlier. More on that—and perhaps an introduction to our olive brining experiment—in our next report.
Thanks for following along,
–Robin and Kathryn