Friday, 25 November 2011

A Glossary followed by a blog on Olives

Before posting about the quinta – the Portuguese word that means a farm, I thought I should give a glossary to explain about some things and words that I will be using on a regular basis, otherwise some of what I write would not mean much to people in some countries. It is not always possible to give a precise meaning that is globally translatable. For instance a quinta, which is also the word used for Thursday (although strictly Quinta-feira) is usually a small farm rather than a big one, and whilst this might be called a smallholding in some countries, smallholding translates to hobby farm in other countries. A hobby farm is in turn usually the sort of place where the owner is not reliant upon it to provide a living, perhaps using it only for pleasure, whereas a quinta is more often than not the sole means of support for the owner and perhaps a family too. See the problem? A quinta is not a hobby, it is a means of survival. I find it easiest to refer to all landholdings, whatever their size, by the simple word farm. I hope some of the following will be useful to readers in the future, and if anything is not clear, please feel free to ask for an explanation through a comment. I will endeavour to answer such queries promptly.

Animals. A fairly substantial dictionary could be produced trying to explain all the different words associated with animals. I will try my best to explain things as they occur.

FYM. Farmyard manure. The mixture of bedding, faeces and urine of farm livestock. It may be fresh or old, in a shed or out, stacked, matured into the best fertiliser there is, and possibly mixed with other things too.

Grass. This is the generic term used by farmers when referring to a field that contains either natural or sown species of grasses, with or without legumes or herbs.

Grove. The area of ground in which olive trees are grown. It is never a “field” of olive trees, always a “grove”.

My wife. This is the way I normally refer to her when addressing other people. She has a name of course, but is quite happy to be known to other people as Old McDonald’s Wife. There is no disrespect in this, and we have worked as a team for a very long time, having been married for over 40 years. She feeds me well and is a great asset, having trained as a Home Economics teacher. Sometimes when writing I will write “I” and sometimes “we”. This is primarily because I do most of the horticultural and agricultural work, whilst she looks after the house, flowers and some of the fruit.

Narrow beds. An area of ground in a garden that is bounded by footpaths. The bed is usually narrow enough to be straddled or the middle reached from either side.

Olive mill. A place where olives are taken and “milled” in a similar manner that grain is milled and made into flour. That would, of course, be a Flour Mill. There is an extraction process after milling the olives so that oil is produced.

Patrick. Another immigrant or “estrangeiro” as the Portuguese call us, and who has a similar sized quinta to ours about 5 miles distant. I share haymaking and some other equipment with him. I have never shared equipment with anyone before this, but it just seemed the sensible thing to do and he is such a decent sort of a bloke. He also just happens to be an extremely gifted graphic designer who made the front cover for my book and did all the technical work of making my Word document ready for publishing as well as preparing the ads I have placed in magazines. It is extremely fortunate to have a neighbour such as this. Having had the occasional not-so-good neighbour at times I sympathise with those who have only that sort.  His details appear at the foot of the Copyright page of the book if anyone has need of his talents. 

PTO. The Power Take Off (PTO) is a splined shaft that sticks centrally out from the rear of a tractor, sometimes the front too, and is driven by the engine in a rotating motion. This shaft powers many farm implements.

TPL. Three Point Linkage. The three points at the rear, sometimes the front too, where an implement is attached to the tractor. There is one top link and two bottom links. This mechanism, powered by hydraulics, allows implements to be raised for transport or turning in the field, and lowered for use. A link box is simply a box that is carried on the tpl and a most useful piece of equipment.

Vegetables. I will use standard English names, but where I am aware of another name being used in some English speaking countries e.g. maize and corn, I will use both.


November is the time of year when the olive harvest is in full swing in our area of Portugal – and other places too, of course. Many people are able to commence in October, and depending upon a range of variables the harvest often continues into December and sometimes even later, but November is the peak month. As appears common with harvests around the world, the weather conspires to keep us out of the groves. After the usual extremely dry summer (falls of a few millimetres several weeks apart occur most years) the autumnal rains this year were late in arriving, but 156mm in 10 days from 24th October meant summer was well and truly over. Several more heavy falls adding more than another 100mm in the following two weeks made the ground very wet indeed.

At first it appeared that the olive harvest might be a good one and early, due to a general fall of 30 to 40mm of rain at the beginning of September, unseasonably early and most welcome just as the fruit was increasing in size and moving towards maturity, but as the dry weather continued through October, accompanied by higher than usual temperatures, the developing fruit was adversely affected in non-irrigated groves, which means almost all of them. Rain was needed again at the end of September or early October in order to flesh out the fruit. Instead the olives began to mature and then the excessive rain caused a lot of cracking of the fruit. The poor quality regional crop meant that it was not economic for the only local cash buyer of table quality fruit to open for business this year. This buyer has been the outlet for the bulk of our own crop in past years.

This year saw the first harvest from 440 new trees we have planted and a bit less than half of them bore fruit - anything from a single olive, to the majority with about a handful and a very small number with up to a kilo or so.  Consequently I had a very small crop – helped by five “stray” trees around the quinta. It is not economic to go further afield with a small quantity, so after retaining a few for eating I took the rest for making into oil. I bulked up our small harvest, estimated at about 55 kilos, with Patrick’s bigger one. The yield was a litre of oil to eight and a half kilos of olives. The mill makes a quick test, then does the calculation of the oil that should be produced, retains a percentage in payment for making oil from your olives, and gives you the quantity to which you are entitled.

We only use about five litres a year in the kitchen, and although we make our own soap this takes very little too. We have at least a year’s supply of soap on hand, so we obtained slightly more than enough oil to see us through the year. Pure olive oil soap has been renowned for a very long time as being the best soap there is, and is sometimes known as Castille, although strictly this term should only be used for soap made in Castille, Spain and it should not contain any other oil either. 

Patrick and I are planning to make a trial batch of biodiesel with some of this year’s oil. Our long term aim is to become partially, if not fully, self-sufficient in biodiesel for tractors and irrigation pumps. In future, after selling the table quality fruit we intend to take the next grade below Extra Virgin and Virgin Olive Oil (a non-food grade known as Lampante) in exchange for our remaining olives and make bigger quantities of biodiesel from it. This is the grade of oil we use for soap too.

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