Olive Cultivation
Olives and olive oil have always been the principal products of the Messinian land. The origins of the farming of olive trees date back to the 3rd millennium, during the early Bronze Age, while intensive and regular farming of olive trees is noted during the Mycenaean period (1680-1200 B.C.). There are significant archaeological remains from the Palace of Nestor in Pylos, such as the tablets of Linear B script that inform us about this activity in Messinia. Nowadays, most olive trees are located in the municipalities of Messini and Kalamata. The municipalities of Trifylia and Pylia follow next.
Traditionally, the farming of olive trees entails the practice of tree propagation through the procedure of the –so called- ‘grotharomandra’. ‘Grotharomandra’ is a part of the field with densely planted ‘grotharia’/olive branches, which are removed along with their soil to be replanted at a new spot so that an olive tree can grow. The farmers take a lot of care of them for 2-3 years until their roots are strong enough. Five years later, the ‘grotharia’ bear some fruit, but their normal yield requires ten years. In the case of wild olive trees, the alternative method of propagation is grafting/centering.
The traditional olive tree farming involves the following steps: plowingduring the months of October-November or March-April, fertilization, in the past with manure or compost from farm animals and today with the use of chemical fertilizers, pruning (‘psilokatharos’), a necessary process for the revitalization of the tree, and spraying to treat olive fruit fly (dacus) and other olive tree enemies. Additional protective actions contribute to the reduction of the risks threatening the olive oil production.
Τhe olive harvest is an important procedure and includes the preparation of the fields and storage containers as well as olive harvesting. Olives are harvested approximately from mid-November to late January starting first from the isolated or ‘argiologes’ trees and continuing with the olive trees on the hillsides and the lowlands. Olive harvesting starts in the morning. At first, workers place nets around the olive trees and the owner or a skilled worker cuts the large full with olives branches and throws them on the ground. Another worker climbs on the tree using a stepladder and starts hitting the branches with a rod, in such a way as not to hurt the tree. Simultaneously,the other workers on the ground either hit the olive tree with special long rods (temples) or with smaller rods the cut branches so that the olives fall into the net.
In the last 30 years, the cut branches are placed into a special, fuel-powered harvester, which removes the olives from the branches. Traditional processes, such as winnowing and picking the olives that have fallen on the ground (chamoloi/kokkoloi) have now disappeared. At the end of the procedure, the olives on the net are collected, put into jute sacks and transported to olive oil mills. Olive oil production has evolved since the mid-19th century along with the development of olive oil mills, when the manual mill was replaced by the animal powered one, succeeded by steam, motor and hydraulic mills in the late 19th century, and finally with diesel and electric powered mills in the mid-20th century.