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The Olive tree is the essential sub-tropical evegreen and has been cultivated in Mediterranean areas since at least 3000 B.C. The olive tree should be grown not merely for the fruits it may bear, but also for its history as a symbol of joy, happiness and peace. Odes to the Sacred Tree, the Silvery Tree and the Nourishing Tree have been perpetuated throughout Mediterranean civilisations over the centuries.
The olive is slow and therefore ideal for keeping it planted in a pot. It is quite a hardy plant and will do well in a sunny/sheltered spot in the garden as well as in a conservatory or sunny windowsill. The olive is hardy to mild frosts but during its first few years it will require some protection from severe winter weather. In order to set good flowers and fruit, the olive will need a cool winter period of about 2 months at an average temperature of 50F.
When you need to re-pot your olive, make sure to use a pot with good drainage (put some rocks or gravel in the bottom) and a sandy based compost.
It is important to ensure that your olive never dries out or becomes waterlogged as this can shock the plant and will result in leaf loss.
As olives bear on the previous year's growth they must have only remedial pruning to remove the dead and diseased or crossing branches. This is best done in late winter or early spring. They can be trained as fans on a south facing wall for the extra protection. If the tops are frosted, they can still come again from the root and be cut back very hard. Old Trees throw suckers as replacements.
The olive produces sprays of scented cream flowers in spring, followed by fruit ripening in mid winter. Olives are wind or insect pollinated, but increased humidity when flowering will encourage a good fruit set.
The fruit should ripen in mid-winter. They are fully ripe when they turn black and drop off the tree, but equally they can be picked when green.
Raw green olives have a bitter taste, which must be removed by soaking. Commercially, olives are immersed in soda solution, washed and then put in bring. To prepare green olives a home immerse the olives in cold water, changing the water every day for 10 days and then pack in brine (11lb salt for 10lb olives with enough water to cover. The perfect brine will float an egg!) for 3-4 weeks before eating.
Black olives do not need soaking-only washing and preserving in bring or dry salt - equal quantity to olives.
A simple way to jazz up any olives - Drain brine from 4 cups of olives. Put them in a jar with the zest of 1 orange, 8 crushed bay leaves, 4 crushed cloves of garlic and a generous slurp of olive oil. Put the lid on the jar, shake well and leave for at least 2 hours for the flavours to develop before eating. They will keep for a week or so, but if refrigerated, make sure you bring them up to room temperature before serving for maximum flavour.