About olives… and the end of a creative dry spell


First of all: I’m finally back after a “creative break”, which unfortunately was not very creative. It was more owed to work and some private things. This is neither tragic nor particularly unusual. Hey, that’s just the way life is sometimes. So, it came that I have lived photographically in a desert for the last 18 months. Whereby this does not do justice to the expression, deserts are often as inspiring as beautiful.

How much I missed photography in my life as a creative element I noticed not least in November this year during my small project documenting the olive harvest in Greece. Actually, being happy can be very simple… and often it is the little things in life that can create this. In my case, it was the sun, some cool people, and a camera in my hand.

What it’s all about

Enough preamble and self-pity! What is this post about? In a nutshell: It’s about olives!

In a little more detail, it’s about the way they – and especially their wonderful oil – come from the tree to our table.

The main thing is that – surprise, surprise – this path is accompanied by a lot of knowledge about the cultivation and harvest. And, of course, by a lot of hard work. I had the great pleasure and equally great privilege to accompany part of this path with my cameras this year.

To my great fortune, my good old friend Till got into this business (link German only) – or should we say passion – last year. He is now the owner of a small olive grove near Kalamata on the Greek Peloponnese.

Fortunately, he was able to find a fantastic team for the first harvest in 2022 – Carmen, Ioannis, Magnus and Arpad did a great job! Plus, they always had a smile on their faces when they had to put up with the annoying photographer… Thanks for that! 🙂

For those who are not so familiar with the area. Kalamata and its surroundings are known for the olives of the same name. Not only around Kalamata olive trees are – let’s say – omnipresent. They also characterize large parts of the landscape deep into the Mani (the middle finger of the southern Peloponnese). In this case this must not be not a disadvantage – at least visually.

The olive harvest

Back to the topic at hand: the harvest of olives. There are certainly regional, but also pragmatic/economic differences. As far as I know, in some places the owners also harvest by literally shaking entire trees with a large “shaker” on a tractor. If you drive through this area at harvest time, you will see that this is rather the exception, at least there. Most of the olive groves are quite small and are operated by small farmers or even completely private. Somehow almost everyone seems to have a few olive trees somewhere…

Almost all owners of olive trees in the area apparently harvest the olives relatively manually. Relatively because, at least in the case of the harvesting equipment with which he people put the olives down from the trees, the electric variant is becoming more and more prevalent. In the case of “our” harvest, however, this was not the case either. Here they still used the good old harvesters, which look like an oversized trident (though with five tines) on a long broomstick. And with this, in principle, the olives are simply beaten out of the branches and fall on laid out nets.

Whereby simple is again a very relative term.… try doing it for a whole day and you will understand!

If you do the “autumn pruning” of the trees simultaneously with the harvest, you don’t have to cut off all the olives like that.

The olives from the cut branches are pulled over a machine, where fast rotating pins on a roller knock out the olives.

That’s certainly a relief, but hey – it’s work too! And then the olives fell on the nets – with all the branches and leaves. So, the next step is logically the collection and the first manual sorting still on site.

And with that, the first major step is done: the olives end up in sacks, which you don’t fill completely at first and move on to the next few trees.

Attentive observers will probably have noticed that the olives look a little different from the ones we like to eat. This is simply because the “table olives” (we know and love e.g. as Kalamata olives) are a completely different variety than the “oil olives” (e.g. Koroneiki) we harvested here. By the way, most of the olive groves here have Koroneiki olives to produce superb olive oil.

Shortly before the end of the working day, the bags are then piled together, and one has the result of the day in front of one’s eyes. These sacks you can see lying everywhere in the olive groves during the harvest time in the late afternoon.

By the way, such a sack weighs between 50 and 70 kg, which is no fun, I can tell you. I tried to carry it once… and quickly got away from it. For this you should already be cut from different cloth… 😉

Some last words…

The end of the local journey is the oil mill, where the olives are taken each harvest day and quickly pressed – preferably the same evening. But that would be another story, which I cannot show in detail for lack of time and thus lack of pictures…

… but I can assure you: It has arrived in Germany in the meantime 😉

Apart from that, we should not forget one thing: You need good food and sometimes a cold beer in the evening after the hard work is done…

… and of course, a smile on your face!

There is always light somewhere (as well as time for a good chat) – go out and shoot!


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