The calendar may say winter as November arrives in Crete, but the temperature still hovers around a comfortable 20-23°C. And according to the locals, this means one thing: olive harvest season. While other parts of the world may be dull and gray during this time, Crete is alive with vibrant colors of the sun and olives.
On this Greek island, the olive harvest begins as early as October and continues throughout the winter months. The exact timing varies depending on factors such as olive variety, weather conditions, and the goals of the pickers.
For every self-respecting Cretan, owning an allotment with olive trees is a matter of pride. It’s a family affair when the weather is sunny and pleasant. The first step involves spreading large nets under the trees to catch the falling olives. With cautious anticipation, the harvesting begins.
Traditionally, olive harvesting is a manual labor-intensive process. Pickers carefully climb stepladders to pluck the olives or use long rakes to comb through the upper branches. However, modern tools, such as the “electric rake” powered by a generator or gasoline, are also available. Its spinning “tentacles” effectively knock down olives from the branches, creating a rain of olives. While men usually handle the electric rake, women diligently pick fruit from the lower branches by hand. It’s undeniably hard work for all, but the Cretans take pride in their labor, just as their ancestors did millennia ago.
Once the bags are filled with olives, they are loaded into cars and transported to local olive oil mills. Green olives are often harvested, as they are already ripe enough for oil production or preservation. However, some varieties are left on the tree longer to dry in the sun, destined to be canned later. These olives gradually transition from greenish yellow to purple and finally black.
After the harvest, the olive trees undergo pruning to prepare for the upcoming season. Low branches are intentionally left to ensure sunlight freely penetrates through the branches and to facilitate future harvesting.
If you’re lucky enough to participate in olive picking on Crete, you’ll discover that the experience goes beyond physical labor. Tourists often describe a blissful state of mind, where the hands may tire, but extraneous thoughts are banished. As the sun filters through the branches and olive rain falls from above, the aroma of the dry Cretan herbs fills the air. It’s a moment of pure enlightenment. And when it’s time for a break, there’s nothing better than savoring wine with the hosts and dipping freshly baked bread into olive oil from the previous harvest.
The rich history and expertise of the Cretans in olive cultivation and oil production, spanning over four millennia, has undoubtedly influenced the quality of their olive oil. Cretan oil is widely regarded as the finest in the world. Approximately 90% of the olive oils produced here are marketed as first cold pressed, without any chemical or other processing. The result is a sweetish, slightly viscous oil saturated with the warmth of the sun and the joy of the Cretan land.
It’s interesting to note that Mediterranean countries, including Spain, Italy, and Greece, rank among the largest producers of olive oil globally. Greece, in particular, stands out for having the highest per capita consumption of olive oil worldwide, averaging around 19 liters per person. While Spain and Italy sell substantial volumes of oil, they often rely on smaller supplier countries for raw materials. In contrast, Greece takes pride in producing its high-quality olive oil.
The Olive Harvest in Crete
In Crete, the olive harvest is a significant event from mid-November to January. This period is when olives are ripe and ready to be picked. The lush green-grey olive trees adorn the landscape of Crete, creating a picturesque scene in places like Chania and Kolymvari.
- The average lifespan of an olive tree in Crete is 300-600 years. However, at least twelve trees beat the odds, surviving over 3,000 years.
- There are more than 36 million olive trees on the island of Crete.
- The average time the sky is clear or sunny in Crete during November is 11.4 hours.
- Greece ranks as the third-largest producer of olive oil worldwide.
- Every year, the island of Crete produces between 80,000 and 120,000 tons of olive oil, with 80% of it being extra virgin olive oil.
Participating in the olive harvest in Crete is an opportunity to witness the local traditions and immerse oneself in Greek culture.
How Are Olives Harvested in Crete?
The process of olive harvesting in Crete typically involves both traditional and modern methods. Local farmers and workers pick the olives either by hand or machinery. Handpicking is labor-intensive, requiring skilled individuals to harvest the ripe olives selectively while leaving behind unripe ones for future harvesting. This method ensures the production of high-quality olive oil.
On the other hand, mechanized methods involve machines that gently shake the olive trees, causing the ripe olives to fall onto nets or collection trays below. This approach is faster and more efficient, particularly for large-scale olive harvesting.
How Are Olives Processed into Olive Oil?
After the olives have been harvested, the next step is to process them into olive oil. The olives are cleaned to remove leaves, twigs, or debris. They are then crushed or ground into a paste, including the olive pits, skin, and flesh. Traditionally, large millstones were used to crush the olives, but modern methods utilize mechanical hammer mills or crushers.
The olive paste is then spread onto fiber disks or mats, stacked in layers, and pressed to extract the olive oil. The first pressing produces extra virgin olive oil, which is of the highest quality and desired for its superior taste and health benefits. The remaining paste is often pressed multiple times to extract additional oil of lesser quality.
Once the olive oil is obtained, it undergoes a process of separation and clarification to remove any impurities or sediment. It is then stored in containers, such as stainless steel tanks or dark glass bottles, to preserve its quality and freshness.
Tourists can witness this fascinating process firsthand during the olive harvest season in Crete. Many organized tours and activities allow visitors to explore old olive mills, visit olive oil producers, and even learn how to make their olive oil.
- Savouidakis Olive Oil Tasting
- Vassilakis Estate Olive Oil Tour
- Elissos: Olive Oil and Wine Now and Then
It’s an authentic experience that combines education, culture, and the chance to taste and purchase extra virgin olive oil from the local stores.
Remember to plan your visit to Crete during the olive harvest season, from mid-November to January, to witness this captivating event and indulge in all it offers.
When Does the Olive Harvest in Crete Happen?
The olive harvest in Crete typically begins in mid-November and continues through January. This is the time when the olives are ripe and ready for picking. The exact timing may vary slightly depending on weather conditions and the specific region of Crete you are in.
During this period, many olive-picking holidays are organized for tourists, allowing them to participate in the harvest process actively. It’s an excellent opportunity to immerse yourself in Greek traditions and learn about the significance of olive oil production in Crete.
Where Are Some of Crete’s Best Places to Witness the Olive Harvest?
Crete is dotted with beautiful olive groves, providing breathtaking views and a serene environment. Some notable places where you can witness the beauty of olive trees include Chania and Kolymvari. These locations offer a picturesque setting for the olive harvest and a fantastic opportunity to explore the local customs and Greek culture.
During your visit to these regions, you can also participate in olive picking and learn about the traditional methods of olive oil production. The stunning landscapes, combined with the olive harvest activities, create a memorable experience for visitors.
How Can Tourists Partake in Olive Harvesting in Crete?
To take part in olive picking holidays in Crete, tourists can join organized tours offered by tour operators. These tours usually include visits to old olive mills, olive oil manufacturers, and picnics among the olive trees.
By joining these tours, you’ll have the chance to actively participate in the harvest process, learn about the different varieties of olives, and observe how olive oil is produced. It’s a hands-on experience that immerses you in the local culture and allows you to engage with the traditional practices of olive harvesting.
What Other Activities Can Tourists Enjoy During the Olive Harvest Season?
While visiting Crete during the olive harvest season, you can enjoy plenty of other activities besides participating in the harvest. One highlight is olive oil tastings, where you can sample various olive oils and learn about their flavors and qualities.
You can also visit local olive mills and factories, where you’ll have the opportunity to witness the process of olive oil production firsthand. Additionally, cooking classes are available, allowing you to learn how to incorporate olive oil into traditional Greek dishes and appreciate the region’s culinary heritage.
For those seeking outdoor adventures, you can engage in sports activities such as hiking or cycling, allowing you to explore the beautiful landscapes surrounding the olive groves. Along the way, you can indulge in local cuisine and drinks, further immersing yourself in the cultural experience of Crete.
Participating in the Olive Harvest in Crete
If you’re visiting Crete during the winter season, you can participate in the age-old tradition of olive harvesting. Joining the olive harvesting process can be a unique and memorable experience. It allows you to immerse yourself in the local culture, learn about the olive oil production process, and enjoy the beautiful Cretan countryside:
- Find Local Olive Grove Owners or Cooperative: Connect with local olive grove owners or cooperatives who welcome volunteers. Many Crete locals are open to visitors assisting them in harvesting olives. You can start by contacting local farmers, checking with tour operators, or contacting olive oil producers in the region.
- Plan and Reserve Your Spot: The olive harvest season typically occurs from November to January in Crete. However, it’s crucial to plan and secure your spot in advance as the availability for participation in specific groves or cooperatives might be limited. Make sure to inquire about any particular requirements or schedules for participation.
- Experience the Traditional Harvesting Methods: The olive harvest in Crete is traditionally done by hand, without machinery. When you join in, you’ll have the opportunity to learn how to carefully pick the olives from the branches and gather them into large nets or baskets. It’s a labor-intensive process but incredibly rewarding.
- Learn About Olive Oil Production: Participating in the olive harvest lets you learn firsthand about the production process. You can learn about the different olive varieties the stages of olive oil extraction, and understand the role of quality in producing excellent olive oil.
- Engage with the Local Community: Beyond harvesting, joining the olive harvest allows you to connect with the local community. You’ll have the chance to interact with farmers, learn about Cretan traditions, and even enjoy communal meals or celebrations with fellow participants. It’s an excellent opportunity to make new friends and create lasting memories.
Remember, while participating in the olive harvest, respecting the grove owners’ guidelines and following their instructions is essential. It’s a hands-on experience that provides a deeper understanding and appreciation of Crete’s time-honored olive oil production tradition.
The Oldest Olive Trees in Crete
As you explore the picturesque landscapes of Crete, you’ll undoubtedly encounter the iconic groves of olive trees. These majestic trees, with their shimmering silver leaves, hold great significance on the island. Among these olive groves, a few stand out for their age and historical importance. Let’s delve into the fascinating world of the oldest olive trees in Crete.
- In Vouves, a 3000-year-old Olive Tree Is a Fascinating Sight
- They Have a 2000-Year-Old Olive Tree in Vatolakkos, and It’s “Elevated”
The Minoan Olive Tree of Vouves
One such ancient olive tree, the Minoan Olive Tree of Vouves, is located in the Ano Vouves near Kolymvari. This magnificent tree is estimated to be over 3,000 years old, making it one of the oldest olive trees in the world. Its gnarled trunk and sprawling branches reach towards the sky, bestowing a sense of awe and wonder upon all who visit.
The Minoan Olive Tree of Vouves holds great symbolic value for the people of Crete. It represents the enduring connection between humans and nature and passing knowledge and traditions from generation to generation. The tree’s longevity is a testament to the island’s enduring agricultural heritage and the importance of olive cultivation throughout its history.
Efforts have been made to protect and preserve the ancient olive trees as valuable cultural assets. For example, the Greek Ministry of Culture designated the Minoan Olive Tree of Vouves as a protected monument. This recognition ensures its conservation and allows future generations to marvel at its magnificence.
Experiencing the Oldest Olive Trees
Visiting the oldest olive trees in Crete is an extraordinary experience. It offers a chance to witness the intertwining of nature and human history, immersing oneself in the ancient traditions that shaped the island. These old trees remind us of the importance of preserving our natural heritage and nurturing the bond between humankind and the environment.
Whether you’re a history enthusiast, an admirer of nature’s wonders, or simply looking to connect with the cultural fabric of Crete, a visit to the oldest olive trees is an absolute must. Prepare to be captivated by the captivating presence of these ancient giants, standing as guardians of time and tradition.