Olive trees growing zones

America’s Tuscany: 9 Amazing Olive Oil Orchards to Visit in the U.S.

Lucero Olive Oil
Lucero Olive Oil is based in Corning, a small community off Highway 5 known as “olive city.” There, three generations of families make the buttery Miller’s extra virgin olive oil (a great EVOO to pair with fruit). See century-old trees and visit a tasting room that is open year-round. More than 16 varieties of olives are spread across six orchards including 2,000 “centennial trees” whose fruit is harvested by hand. Each November, Lucero employs a Sicilian technique known as agrumato (arumi means citrus in Italian), where whole fruits like lemons or oranges are crushed into the oil in order to boost flavor. Take a free tour of the mill and head to the tasting room, which showcases 16 varieties on tap or 12 extra virgin oils in bottles.

Lucero Olive Oil Courtesy of Lucero Olive Oil

Jordan Winery
Besides cultivating its expansive vineyards, Jordan Winery has been making olive oil since the 1990s. It now has 18 acres of scenic rolling hills planted with olive oil trees in Healdsburg, California. The trees grow a mix of Frantoio, Pendolino, and Leccino style olives from Italy, and Arbequina olives from Spain to create a soft and buttery unfiltered blend. Olives are handpicked in the Italian brucatura tradition, where pickers use buckets harnessed around their necks to store olives they pluck off the trees. The oil is blended during the winter before being bottled in March and released in May. Three-hour estate tours are held May to October, Thursday through Monday and cost $120—which includes a gourmet meal pairing food, wine, and olive oil.

Bondolio Olive Oil
With its red clay tile roof and decorative Italian-style clay pots, Bondolio Olive Oil looks like a slice of Italy. Karen Bond and her husband Malcolm turned this former almond farm into an olive orchard after a trip to southern Italy. Then they imported and quarantined 1,200 Sicilian trees for two years before they harvested their first crop in 2009. It’s just under an 11-mile bike ride from Davis, California, one of the nation’s best bicycle cities. Once at the farm, take a tour of the mill and orchard (offered by appointment only). Then, do an outdoor tasting of the farm’s balsamic vinegars paired with pizza made from the built-in-Tuscany wood-burning brick oven.

Central California
Thanks to its Mediterranean climate, this region of California is known as the fruit and breadbasket of the world, and its delicious olive oils are no exception.

ENZO Olive Oil
Turn off Highway 99 and down a long driveway past hundreds of olive trees to ENZO Olive Oil Company, the largest organic producer of olive oil in California—and the United States. Ricchiuti Family Farms produces the 100 percent estate-grown organic extra virgin olive oil in its home of Madera, along with almonds, peaches, plums, and mandarin and navel oranges. Complimentary tours and tastings of their seven types of olive oil, which include garlic and citrus-infused varieties, are offered 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday by appointment.

Fruit-infused balsamic vinegars at Texas Hill Country Olive Company Photo by FotoHogg via Texas Hill Country Olive Company Texas Hill Country
Thanks to its hot and arid climate, Texas is the second-largest producer of olive oil in the U.S. with approximately 250 growers and 4,000 planted acres.

Olive trees in Florida? You bet

If you are looking for a unique item for your landscape, here is something that might peak your interest. Tucked away in Citra is a little jewel of a tree farm owned and operated by Tony and Shirley Valenza. At the Olive Branch Tree Farm they grow and sell olive trees, olives and olive oil. The Farm currently has more than 3,000 trees in stock.
The Valenza family has been growing olive trees in California for more than 80 years and decided to see if any of the varieties would survive and produce olives in the Central Florida area. They have test grown many varieties in the last five years and found at least three that do well in our area. They are Arbequina, Mission and Manzanillo. All three are self-pollinating, cold hardy to at least 12 degrees, and are pest and disease resistant.
*ÊArbequina – a smaller Spanish olive introduced to the United States in the mid 1990’s. This variety is the earliest of the three to produce fruit, some within three years. The olives grow in heavy clusters and have a high oil content. The trees can reach 25 to 35 feet at maturity, but can be trained and kept lower for easier harvesting.
*ÊMission – a variety introduced to the United States by way of Mexico in 1769 is the most cold resistant. It has been known to survive temperatures as low as 8 degrees. Its fruit is larger than the Arbequina and is born singly or in clusters and also has a high oil content. Trees can reach 40 to 50 feet at maturity.
*ÊManzanilla – another Spanish variety introduced to the United States in 1875 with fruit larger than the Arbequina which are born singly. The trees have a low-spreading growth habit reaching 15 to 30 feet at maturity.
These three varieties of olive trees will grow anywhere that citrus trees thrive. They are fertilized much the same as citrus, like well-drained soil and are easy to care for.
Once olive trees become established they require minimal care and make a lovely landscape tree. They can also be planted in a large container for the lanai or patio. Black olives are just ripened green olives so they can be harvested at any stage of ripening. Birds and animals don’t seem to bother the fruit.
Since you would have to be a pretty hearty soul to eat an olive directly from the tree, the Valenza’s will provide brining and marinating tips to help you enjoy your harvest.
The Valenzas welcome all curious visitors with open arms and would love to share their experiences and expertise with you. They give individual and group tours and also offer taste tests of the olives and olive oils. The groves are at 16650 N.E. 47th Court in Citra. You can call 595-4906 for an appointment or visit their Web site at www.olivebranchtreefarm.com.
For more information about gardening practices in Central Florida, contact the Marion County Master Gardeners at 671-8400, or visit their office in the Cooperative Extension Center, 2232 N.E. Jacksonville Road, Ocala.


Baldwin County farmers plan commercial olive production

The Quantzes of Baldwin County have planted nearly 1,000 olive trees in their orchard. They hope to produce enough olives within the next five years to begin processing them.

By Katie Jackson

If you love olives and olive oil, you no longer have to look to Spain, Italy or even California for some truly fine olive products. They can be found right here in the South, and possibly just outside your own door.

Olives are native to coastal areas of the Mediterranean and Middle East where abundant sunshine, temperate climates and well-drained soils offer ideal olive growing conditions. But the trees also do well in other parts of the world, including in the U.S. where olives are being grown on a commercial scale from California to, soon perhaps, Alabama.

Commercial olive production was first tried in Alabama in the early 1800s when a group of French expatriates established the ill-fated Vine and Olive Colony in west Alabama. That colony failed, in part because west Alabama’s growing environment was not suited for olives, and for many years afterward it was assumed that olives were not a viable crop for our state.

However, a renaissance in southern olive production is under way, led by the success of Georgia Olive Farms in Lakeland, Ga., which is producing high-quality, chef-endorsed olives and oils on a commercial scale. And now, thanks especially to the efforts of Baldwin County farmers Steve and Susan Quantz, Alabama may soon show its true olive potential.

The Quantzes stumbled onto the idea of growing olives when they visited a friend in Elberta who had two mature olive trees laden with fruit. “We were looking for an agricultural product that could make economic sense on small acreage,” says Steve, and seeing those two trees spurred the couple into researching the idea of growing olives on their own eight-acre farm.

That research led them to California’s olive-growing region where the Quantzes learned that their farm in Alabama had all the right ingredients for olive production. Soon thereafter they obtained and planted nearly 1,000 olive trees.

Though their orchard is less than a year old, the Quantzes hope to be producing enough olives within the next five years to begin processing them and also to open their operation to the public for tours, tastings and educational programs touting the health benefits and production potential of olives.

The Arbequina olive is ideally suited to Alabama’s climate.

In fact, they are already hosting visitors, including a recent delegation of U.S. Department of Agriculture officials who Steve says had “lots of questions.” The Quantzes like lots of questions, though, because they want to see the Alabama olive industry grow. “We hope to demonstrate the viability of olives as a commercial crop for this region,” Steve says of their farm and their mission.

Interest in small-scale home-use olives is actually already strong, as Jason Powell with Petals from the Past nursery in Jemison can confirm. Petals began selling olive trees about four years ago in response to consumer demand and because they found a knowledgeable Texas supplier who had a great option for Alabama production—the Arbequina olive.

Arbequina, says Powell, is ideally suited to Alabama because it is cold hardy through zone 7, can handle the heat in the southern part of the state and is self-fruiting, so it does not require cross pollination from another olive variety to produce fruit. Customers are buying one or two to use in containers or in the landscape and some are even using them to establish small home orchards.

“These trees have attractive thin, blue-grey leaves and an airy open growth habit that allows you to train as a standard or multi-trunk tree,” Powell says. What’s more, they begin producing fruit within two years of planting, so they quickly become a great addition to a culinary garden.

Want to know more about olives in Alabama? Go to www.petalsfromthepast.com for information on an upcoming olive program at Petals from the Past or contact them at [email protected] or 205-646-0069. To learn more about commercial production of olives in Alabama contact Steve Quantz at [email protected]

September Tips

*Begin preparing the garden for winter by cleaning dead plants and debris from garden beds and the landscape.

*Take notes or draw a map of your beds and landscape, highlighting what worked and what failed in this year’s garden for use as you plan next year’s garden.

*Add lawn and garden debris to the compost, along with any organic (non-meat) kitchen waste.

*Test your soil so you’ll know what amendments to add this fall and winter.

*Plant fall and winter vegetables and root crops, such as cabbage, collards, celery, garlic and onions.

*Continue to mow and irrigate lawn as needed.

*Fertilize azaleas and camellias.

*Plant winter grass seeds on bare areas.

*Plant perennials and biennials and spring-flowering bulbs.

*Divide perennials and thin or transplant irises and daylilies.

*Clean bird feeders and birdbaths and keep them filled throughout the fall for resident and migratory birds.

Olive trees, the olea europa, is one of the oldest trees and most important domesticated crops. First grown over 6,000 years ago in the Mediterranean basin, ancient Greece specifically, it diverged and naturally spread across the globe. Over 2,000 varietals of olives are now grown in regions all over the world! That’s over 850 million olive trees on close to 24 million acres throughout the Mediterranean, North Africa, South America, North America and Australia, making olives one of the most extensively grown crops in the world. Olive trees only made it to the Americas and Australia in the last two hundred years, so many of the varietals grown in California were brought over from other olive-growing countries, like Spain in our case. Here are some of the best-known varietals and the counties in which they’re grown:

  • California: Arbequina, Mission
  • Spain: Picual, Cornibranca
  • Portugal: Galega, Cobrançosa, Cordovil
  • Italy: Frantoio, Leccino
  • Turkey: Gemik, Memeli
  • Greece: Kalamon, Halkidiki, Koroneiki
  • Argentina: Arauco, Arbequina, Frantoio, Coratina
  • Chile: Frantoio, Picual, Arbequina

Each varietal boasts a unique flavor profile and is milled to suit the preferences of the local people. Some olives are grown specifically for curing and eating as table olives, where others are grown specifically for producing olive oil. Larger fleshy olives are generally best for curing, as most of their flesh is made of water and must be separated to extract the oil. Olives with a larger pit (where most of the oil is stored!) and less flesh are, on the other hand, best for milling into olive oil.

On our ranches, we grow Arbequina, Arbosana, and Koroneiki olives; all varietals that are best suited for oil. Arbequina represents the largest percentage of acreage of any variety grown in California. However, the four oldest varieties of olives in the state are the Mission olive, Manzanillo, Sevillano, and Ascolano. These older varieties were used for curing for many years due to their large size, but are now being used more and more to make olive oil.

So, to answer where the best olives are grown, it really is a matter of taste! We hope you get a chance to try our single varietal Arbosana and Arbequina extra virgin olive oils to taste the flavors unique to these olives.

Plant an olive tree in your garden

The history of the olive tree

My love affair with the olive began many years ago on the Ionian island of Paxos. I was captivated by this ancient and beautiful tree, brought to the island by the Venetians in the 15th century. The history of the olive, however, stretches back much further and it has become one of the most powerful symbols of the Ancient World.

The olive has been a part of everyday life in the eastern Mediterranean since the beginnings of civilisation more than 6,000 years ago, but began life as a sprawling, spiny shrub in the Levant (present day Syria and Lebanon). Thousands of years of selection and breeding have turned it into the productive tree we know today. The olive is now an integral part of the Mediterranean landscape and the most important economic plant in the region with 800 million trees in cultivation.

Botanical details of the olive tree

In spring the silvery canopy is covered in tiny flowers, like scattered stars, and the swaying branches protect a wealth of spring bulbs and wildflowers beneath, like cyclamen, poppies, field marigolds, purple viper’s bugloss and tassel hyacinths. During the long, hot Mediterranean summer the trees become heavy with fruit, ripening from green to black as the winter approaches.

Olive trees are extremely tough and can withstand searing heat, drought, fire and temperatures as low as -7°C for short periods. I really admire Mediterranean plants because they have adapted over thousands of years to cope with extreme climatic conditions, poor soils and the effects of fire. Many plants, including the olive have the capacity to regenerate from the base when damaged by fire – that’s how the olive came by its name ‘tree of eternity’.

Our olive grove in the Mediterranean Biome at Eden contains some old, gnarled specimens but these are mere juveniles compared with some you find in the Mediterranean region – many are more than 1,000 years old. Carbon dating of old specimens in Lebanon has revealed trees several thousand years old. I find it amazing that these trees have been producing fruit and giving oil since Biblical times!

Growing your own olive tree at home

This wonderful, evergreen tree will add a touch of the Mediterranean to any garden and when I’m working in the Biome I am frequently asked how to care for them. Here are some questions and answers:

Can I grow an olive tree successfully in a container?

Certainly, olives do well in containers. When you buy your tree, pot it on into a larger pot, preferably terracotta rather than plastic and use a loam-based compost like a John Innes no. 3. Add 20% horticultural grit to improve the drainage. Place in a sunny position, keep the soil moist during the growing season and feed with a balanced liquid fertiliser once a month. In winter you can reduce watering but don’t allow the compost to dry out completely.

Can I plant my olive tree outdoors?

Olive trees are tougher than you think but try and choose a sunny, sheltered, well-drained position and plant in spring, after the risk of frost has passed, but before the end of June to give the tree plenty of time to establish before the following winter.

Will my olive tree need pruning?

Olives grow very slowly so don’t require much pruning when young. Container-grown plants tend to grow quicker, so if the canopy becomes dense, remove some of the branches to let more light into the centre. Keep an eye on the shape of the tree and remove any dead or diseased wood.

Will my olive tree produce fruit?

Trees should begin producing fruit at about three to five years old. Most olive varieties are self-fertile but they are wind pollinated so will need to be outdoors when in flower. (We use a leaf-blower to pollinate our olive trees in the Biome!) Olives need a two-month cold spell in winter and fluctuating day/night temperatures to initiate flowering and fruiting, so keep container-grown trees in an unheated conservatory or greenhouse, with plenty of light. Olive trees flower and fruit on one-year-old wood.

What are the best cultivars for growing outdoors in the UK?

  • Arbequina is a small tree from Catalonia in northern Spain, with a weeping habit, ideal for small gardens.
  • Cipressino originated in Puglia, Italy, and is a vigorous tree with an upright habit. Its name comes from its similarity to the Italian cypress.
  • Leccino comes from Tuscany, Italy, and is a popular, widely planted variety with an open, pendulous habit. It is easy to grow and will tolerate a wide range of temperatures.
  • Picual is an extremely hardy and vigorous tree requiring regular pruning. It originates in Andalusia, Spain.
  • Pendolino is a small, compact, weeping form with architectural appeal from Tuscany, Italy. It will need a pollinator to provide fruit as unlike most olives, this one is self-sterile.

My favourite culinary tip

Try pot-roasting a chicken with plenty of black olives, sliced leeks and peppers, rosemary, lemon juice and olive oil.


Cultivation and oil production

Commercial olive production generally occurs in two belts around the world, between 30° and 45° N latitude and between 30° and 45° S, where the climatic requirements for growth and fruitfulness can be found. Olive varieties do not come true from seed. Seedlings generally produce inferior fruit and must be budded or grafted to one of the named varieties. Olives can be propagated by cuttings, either by hardwood cuttings set in the nursery row in the spring or by small, leafy cuttings rooted under mist sprays in a propagating frame. The trees start bearing in 4 to 8 years, but full production is not reached for 15 or 20 years. Fruits for oil extraction are allowed to mature, but, for processing as food, immature fruits are picked or shaken off the tree. Hundreds of named varieties of both types of olives, table and oil, are grown in warm climates. In California, olives such as the Mission variety are grown almost exclusively for table use. In Europe, olives such as the Picual, Nevadillo, and Morcal are grown mostly for oil.

oliveAn olive grove on the Italian island of Sicily.© anna/Fotolia

Olives are grown mainly for the production of olive oil. Fresh, unprocessed olives are inedible because of their extreme bitterness resulting from a glucoside that can be neutralized by treatments with a dilute alkali such as lye. Salt applications also dispel some of the bitterness. The processed fruit may be eaten either ripe or green.

Olive oil is classified into five grades: (1) virgin, from first pressings that meet defined standards; (2) pure, or edible, a mixture of refined and virgin; (3) refined, or commercial, consisting of lampante from which acid, colour, and odour have been removed; (4) lampante, high-acid oil, named for its use as a lamp fuel, obtained from a second pressing of residual pulp with hot water (some inferior virgin oils are classed as lampante); and (5) sulfide, extracted with solvents and refined repeatedly.

olive oilContainers of olive oil.© fotogiunta/Fotolia

In the early 21st century, Spain and Italy were the world leaders in commercial olive production, followed by Greece. Other important olive-producing countries are Turkey, Tunisia, Syria, Morocco, Algeria, and Portugal.

In Homer’s The Odyssey, Odysseus and his indomitable wife, Penelope, set the modern standard for using olive trees as interior decor: the foundation of their bed was carved into the roots of a living olive tree that had grown deep into the hillside where they built their home. And while Homer’s olive tree stood as an exquisite symbol of the couple’s deeply rooted love, if you decide to keep an olive tree in your home, I recommend keeping it in a large pot so you can move it around for optimal decor and plant health.

Of course, if we’re talking about growing olive trees in containers, we know they’re not going to reach mythic proportions. But because most olives are too sensitive to frost to thrive in our region, containers are a wise approach to cultivating them here. Choosing a variety well suited to interior environments, planting it in appropriate soil and pruning it to manage growth and size make growing an olive tree indoors possible — but keeping it alive is a labor of love. No wonder Homer used one to symbolize Penelope and Odysseus’ marriage.

These trees grow in rocky, dry, hot regions with mild winters. The pots they grow in must drain very efficiently, so choose one made of a natural material like terra-cotta or even wood, and be sure to add a good percentage of perlite or expanded shale to your potting soil so the roots don’t rot. Also, keep in mind that trees are not going to produce abundantly if they live inside at all times. In an ideal situation, your tree would be outside during the hot, dry season and indoors during the coldest months, with a daily minimum of six hours of direct sunlight. These containerized trees do well on patios and are commonly grown this way even in their native regions.

Even restricted to containers, size can be an issue when growing trees indoors. Luckily, fruiting olive trees can be kept petite with careful pruning. Pruning is best performed at the end of winter when the tree is dormant and hasn’t yet begun to flower, so you can clearly see its frame. Trim any “suckers” growing around the base of the tree or new growths protruding from the crotches of major branches, and be sure to remove dead wood. The canopy of the tree needs light to reach into the crown for optimal olive production, and major pruning will remove up to 25 percent of growth. Curiously enough, the olive tree will respond by growing more when it is pruned heavily; perhaps there’s a Homeric lesson hidden in there somewhere as well.

When you go to invest in your own olive tree, note that buying a year-old, foot-tall tree will typically cost somewhere between $25 and $50. They grow slowly, too, and it will take anywhere from three to five years to see fruit, if you see any at all. Select a tree that has evenly distributed main branches, and avoid or remove crossed branches. It’s best if you can look at the roots when buying a tree. They should spread out evenly and easily when you go to pot the plant, and they should not be growing out of the pot’s drainage holes. Similarly, make sure your pot has ample space for the tree you buy, and pot up appropriately as your olive tree grows so its roots have room to feed the tree.

Olive trees typically require pollinating companions, and multiple varietals are usually carefully arranged in groves to provide optimal fruiting; however, the Texas-friendly “Arbequina” variety is self-pollinating. Its fruit can be used for table olives or pressed for oil, if you are so inclined. However, if you simply want the exquisite matte leaves and a piece of the Mediterranean palette to grace your home, there are plenty of decorative varietals from which to choose. They offer a striking contrast to most traditional houseplants and, like Penelope’s, they ultimately symbolize your epic dedication and perseverance.

Written by Sarah J. Nielsen • Photography by Nazar Hrabovyi and the Bialons

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