Protecting Olive Trees on the Island of Pag With Dry Stone Walls

One olive farmer on the Croatian coastal island is revitalizing olive trees by building an environment to protect and nurture them.

Filip and his father, Branko, with a new dry stone wall that protects olives
Apr. 28, 2022
By Nedjeljko Jusup
Filip and his father, Branko, with a new dry stone wall that protects olives

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The Croatian island of Pag is famous for its sheep, cheese, Lun olive groves and dry stone walls.

There are more than 1,000 kilo­me­ters of them, and today they rep­re­sent an archi­tec­tural her­itage under the pro­tec­tion of UNESCO.

There are kilo­me­ters of old dry stone walls around our olive grove, so it’s hard not to remem­ber my great-grand­par­ents who built them. Therefore, this is our mon­u­ment to them and those who come.- Filip Mandičić, olive farmer

The walls were built a long time ago, from dry stone – with­out any mor­tar to bind them together – as a sign of the bound­aries between pas­tures, and there is a new one. It was built by a 30-year-old mas­ter of agron­omy Filip Mandičić from Vlašići, on the south­ern tip of Pag.

business-europe-profiles-protecting-olive-trees-on-the-island-of-pag-with-dry-stone-walls-olive-oil-times

Filip Mandičić: Olive gives the highest quality in the most difficult conditions

I built the dry stone wall to pro­tect the olives from the impact of the bora [a cold, dry wind that blows from the north] and salt,” he told the Olive Oil Times.

See Also:Olive Farmers on Croatian Island Sue Local City Over Land Ownership

The dry stone wall is one meter wide and almost two meters high, 180 cen­time­ters. It is by far the largest not only on Pag but also in other Mediterranean coun­tries where this con­struc­tion method is used.

What is the fight with the bora, what is the love for olives, are the most com­mon com­ments of locals and passers-by who express their admi­ra­tion for this unusual ven­ture.

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If there is no love, who would do it, Mandičić said. His pas­sion for olives began when he was young due to his father, Branko, 73, who planted about 150 Oblica, Leccino and Pendolino olive trees on 0.7 hectares about 15 years ago.

It turned out that the loca­tion of Veliko Blato in front of the set­tle­ment Vlašić is not very favor­able for olive groves, with severe storms hit­ting the island and wind speeds occa­sion­ally exceed­ing 180 kilo­me­ters per hour.

Certainly more,” said Branko. I remem­ber when we could­n’t walk but crawled to get to the sheep and feed them.”

business-europe-profiles-protecting-olive-trees-on-the-island-of-pag-with-dry-stone-walls-olive-oil-times

Monument to grandfathers: Who would do this if not for the love of olives and heritage?

With the bora, salt is blown down from the Velebit moun­tain. The phe­nom­e­non occurs when the wind from the tur­bu­lent sea in the Velebit Channel lifts drops of sea­wa­ter and cre­ates sea smoke.”

After the water evap­o­rates from these droplets, a thin layer of salt remains that set­tles on the soil, grass, shrubs and trees. Salt is espe­cially harm­ful to young olive trees. As a result, they remain small and with­out leaves. Some do not even sur­vive.

I was 15 years old when I helped my father build dry stone walls around olive trees,” Mandičić said. We made them in the shape of a cres­cent on the north side like a wind­shield.”

Also, at the top and mid­dle of the olive groves, they dug a canal a meter deep and wide in the width of the olive grove.

We brought soil to those canals and planted reeds, pit­tospo­rum and cypress, all for a green fence to pro­tect the olives from the bora,” Mandičić said.

business-europe-profiles-protecting-olive-trees-on-the-island-of-pag-with-dry-stone-walls-olive-oil-times

He noted that the bora does not bother the olives. Instead, the trees are both­ered by the salt brought by the bora from the Velebit Channel. If it does not rain quickly after the bora to wash away the salt, defo­li­a­tion occurs.

The olive trees lose their leaves and have to spend their energy in the fol­low­ing year exclu­sively on renew­ing the leaf mass, so there is no yield or a min­i­mal one.

Over the years, Mandičić observed that the pro­tected olive trees grew more quickly but only to the height of the dry stone wall. Everything higher than the walls was affected by the bora.

However, the olives were left to them­selves for a while. Mandičić said his father became ill and could not care for the trees while he was in high school in neigh­bor­ing Zadar and had lim­ited time to care for the trees.

After high school, Mandičić enrolled in the karst agri­cul­tural pro­gram at the Marko Marulić Polytechnic in Knin, roughly two hours south­east of Vlašići, where he first learned about organic agri­cul­ture and olive grow­ing.

Already, after a few hours of organic farm­ing, I knew that I would con­tinue my edu­ca­tion in that direc­tion,” he said.

Today, Mandičić knows he made the right deci­sion. He said that he is extremely grate­ful that he had the priv­i­lege of lis­ten­ing to lec­tures by Frane Strikić, one of the lead­ing experts in olive grow­ing, which had a sig­nif­i­cant influ­ence on him.

After Knin, Mandičić decided to con­tinue his edu­ca­tion by enrolling in a grad­u­ate stud­ies pro­gram in organic agri­cul­ture in Osijek, in the very north­east of the coun­try.

After com­plet­ing his stud­ies, he was employed as a tech­ni­cal asso­ciate in the then Croatian Agricultural Agency, now the Croatian Agency for Agriculture and Food, where he stayed for less than four years.

In addi­tion to work, he spends every free moment on the fam­ily estate, plan­ning how to revi­tal­ize and pro­tect olive trees.

At first, the olive grove was in des­per­ate need of repair and man­age­ment, so Mandičić applied for a €15,000 grant.

He used the funds to build a 60-meter long, meter wide, 180-cen­time­ter high dry stone wall in the mid­dle of the olive grove to serve as a wind­break, clear the field and har­vest and mill the olives. The stones from the wall came from the sur­round­ing land­scape.

Look, there are kilo­me­ters of old dry stone walls around our olive grove, so it’s hard not to remem­ber my great-grand­par­ents who built them,” Mandičić said. Therefore, this is our mon­u­ment to them and those who come.”

What has been proven in prac­tice and what he has had the oppor­tu­nity to see is that olives give the high­est qual­ity in the most chal­leng­ing con­di­tions.

Last year, espe­cially cli­ma­to­log­i­cally, did not favor local olive grow­ers, but the yield was solid due to the dry stone wall and pro­tec­tion from the bora and salt.

We did the har­vest accord­ing to the pro­fes­sion’s rules,” Mandičić said. The har­vest was on October 15. The fruit was processed in Ljupče, in the Dušević oil mill, within 12 hours of the har­vest to pre­serve the qual­ity.”

The oil went directly into the stain­less steel tanks and, after a month, was poured into dark glass bot­tles.

The obtained oil has a pro­nounced fruiti­ness, medium bit­ter­ness and spici­ness,” Mandičić said.

In addi­tion to olives, he also started sheep farm­ing. Last year, he pro­cured 10 sheep, which this year birthed 15 lambs. Mandičić plans to raise sheep only for lamb meat. Milking as a pri­mary job takes a lot of time.

business-europe-profiles-protecting-olive-trees-on-the-island-of-pag-with-dry-stone-walls-olive-oil-times

10 sheep 15 lambs: Breeding pag pramenka pays off.

There is also a well in the olive grove from which they draw water, which is needed for the olive trees and the sheep, which also graze grass and fer­til­ize the olive groves.

Mandičić added that genetic research has con­firmed that the Pag pra­menka is the most prof­itable sheep in the world.

Next year, the Mandičić fam­ily plans to plant a new 60 olive trees in two loca­tions. There used to be vine­yards in those loca­tions, and today they are kept as arable land,” he said.

As the fam­ily farm is also engaged in the pro­duc­tion of mixed veg­eta­bles, which they planted when they began renew­ing the olive groves with the grant, the fam­ily has also acquired an irri­ga­tion sys­tem for arable land, which they expect to increase the yield by up to three times.

As the adage goes, suc­cess breeds suc­cess and Mandičić hopes to keep his own, and his family’s going through his pro­duc­tion of organic olive oil, Pag pra­menka and sea­sonal mixed veg­eta­bles.


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