`Andalucia Journal: Pruning in Huescar - Olive Oil Times

Andalucia Journal: Pruning in Huescar

Apr. 7, 2015
Charles Lavers

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The month of March in Andalucia means more than just reflect­ing on the win­ter that wasn’t or which recipes are back in play now that spring veg­eta­bles bring new options. A recently sunny day brought me to an olive grove in Huescar to dis­cover the impor­tance of prun­ing olive trees.

Today’s les­son in prun­ing comes cour­tesy of Julian Hernandez Garcia, a Huescar native whose olive grove has been passed down for three gen­er­a­tions.

The trees them­selves are over a hun­dred years old, and some of the only remain­ing Cornicabra this far south of Toledo, he tells me. My pulse quick­ens the moment I see the gas pow­ered chain­saws leav­ing the trunk of his car, and stops dead as he hands me a set of prun­ing shears.

I am instructed by Julian to fol­low him from one tree to the next, clip­ping any branches large enough to be used for fire­wood.

The grove is small at 53 trees, but it is a labor of love done not for profit, but for plea­sure. It’s some­thing you could almost for­get about until the time has come for the olives to be har­vested and brought to the co-op just down the road.


I take a break from the prun­ing to help Julian’s brother-in-law, Raphael, toss the smaller branches on top of what has become an alarm­ingly large fire of olive branches. Raphael inter­rupts me mid-photo attempt to tell me that the burn­ing of the olive branches is ille­gal; I under­stand his south­ern Spanish accent, but not his tone. As a pre­cau­tion, I stop tak­ing pho­tos.

Breathing in the fumes of burn­ing olive branches is rem­i­nis­cent of inhal­ing cig­a­rette smoke, only less reward­ing. The smoke stings my unpro­tected eyes and leaves my brows and lids feel­ing a bit crispy.

While refu­el­ing the chain­saw, Julian goes into more detail. As a rule, less is more, espe­cially in smaller groves such as this one. The key to con­sis­tent and pro­duc­tive yields is the result of prun­ing only the trees which need it to pro­mote ben­e­fi­cial growth. Focusing on the healthy branches allows the nutri­ents to go where they will be most cost-effec­tive and pro­duce the best fruit.

Julian prefers to prune softly every year while neigh­bor­ing grove own­ers will alter­nate every other year for prun­ing. Personal pref­er­ence appears to trump all in these parts. However, in larger groves, the amount of money avail­able to pay work­ers to prune the trees helps to dic­tate the fre­quency and sever­ity of the trees pruned.

For my mild assis­tance, I am rewarded with a bot­tle of the extra vir­gin olive oil that is pressed from the col­lec­tion of groves here in Huescar (includ­ing Julian’s).

Driving home, I note how the smoke from the burn­ing olive branches has thor­oughly per­me­ated my cloth­ing. I look over at the bot­tle of local olive oil and real­ize the smoke from those burn­ing branches holds a deli­cious reward.

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