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Olive trees branching into home landscapes

Local varieties thrive in foothill climate
By: Gloria Young Home & Garden
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Olives have been part of California agriculture for generations. Now, they’re becoming staples of the backyard as well as the orchard. Olive trees are one of the specialties at Baker’s Nursery in Loomis. Owners Tom and Carrie Baker say they’re seeing a growing interest in the Mediterranean-rooted fruit. “We routinely stock 10 varieties or more,” Carrie Baker said recently. “In the next year, we’re going to have up to 20 varieties.” The trees are popular because they’re hardy, drought tolerant, evergreen and fast growing. And some enthusiasts don’t mind the labor-intensive process of making the fruit edible. “Some people like to cure the olives,” Baker said. Curing takes about three weeks and there are several ways to do it, using combinations of water, lye and salt. You can even have the fruit pressed to get your own olive oil. A few millers in the Bay Area will take small batches, according to Monica Keller, co-owner, with her husband Michael, of Calolea Olive Oil Company. However, most have large-quantity requirements, she said. The Kellers, who have a booth at local farmers markets, produce and bottle 3,000 gallons of olive oil a year from their farm in Loma Rica, Monica said. For those who do decide to have their own olives milled for oil, there’s an added benefit. “Ninety-seven to 98 percent of oil olive is made outside the United States,” Baker said. “It can be mixed with other oils, so you don’t know how much olive oil you’re actually getting. You have more control over it when you do it yourself.” Price-wise, the Bakers’ olive trees run from $32 for a five-gallon container to $140 for a 24-inch-square box. The most popular are the Manzanillo and Mission varieties. Both produce olive oil, Baker said. Other well-known varieties at Baker’s Nursery are Arbequina, Frantoio, Leccino, Maurino, Wilsonii and “Little Ollie.” The Kellers have mainly Mission and Manzanillo trees, with a few Ascolano and Sevillano. “Our trees are very old,” Keller said. “They were planted by missionaries more than 100 years ago. We’ve been winning awards since 2002 on our Mission varietal primarily. … We feel that our elevation in the foothills, as opposed to the valley, has a lot to do with the type of olive oil we produce.” From an aesthetic standpoint, the varieties are all similar looking. “If they’re new trees, they’ll all have a beautiful appearance,” Keller said. “The Mission trees really have the presence that people attribute to olive trees.” The trees can grow as tall as 50 feet. But if they’re going to be used for fruit, they need to be kept pruned to the 15-to-20-foot range. “We have one here at the nursery that has been growing for more than 20 years,” Baker said. “It’s not like the typical tree with one main leader and a head. It has several branches that twist. It produces crazy in the fall with the olives. (The trees are) very picturesque.” Pruning is especially important as trees get older. “Basically you want the energy level to come back into the trees to produce the fruit,” Keller said. “And you want the fruit to come to you. (The olives are) very hard to pick, so you want them to be reachable.” The trees only produce on two-year wood, so there won’t be olives for two years on pruned branches, she explained. Olive trees need full sun, well-drained soil and a balanced fertilizer. “They’re fairly pest free,” Baker said. “They can get an olive fly, but we’ve never encountered it.” Harvest time is in the fall and can be as late as December. “(Our trees) were flowering about a month or so ago,” Baker said. “Now the olives are about pea size.” The Bakers began as landscape contractors more than 20 years ago. “We always had plants here to show people what they’d be getting,” Baker said Then when the economy slowed, the couple decided to expand the business and create the nursery. “We have two designers that work with us to discuss placement,” she said. “Then if clients want something installed, my husband can do that. We’re very geared for landscaping here.” ------------ • Baker’s Landscape & Nursery 3363 Taylor Road, Loomis Owners Tom and Carrie Baker Phone: (916) 652-5051 • Calolea Olive Oil www.calolea.com • The California Olive Oil Council has a list of olive mills at www.cooc.com. Although most have half-ton minimums, a few will take smaller amounts. According to the website, Dry Creek Olive Company in Healdsburg offers community milling days during the fall harvest season when smaller growers can combine their olive crops for pressing. • For more information on curing olives, see cureolives.com.