`Canadian Farmer Succeeds with Olives and Gives Kelp Seaweed Some of the Credit - Olive Oil Times

Canadian Farmer Succeeds with Olives and Gives Kelp Seaweed Some of the Credit

Mar. 26, 2015
Barbara Adams

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For more than a decade, Waterlea Farm has grown olives in the sub-Mediterranean cli­mate of south­west Canada. On Pender Island, one of Canada’s Gulf Islands, farm owner Andrew Butt nur­tures 100 olive trees to grow the fruit for table olives and the future goal of pro­duc­ing and sell­ing the first made-in-Canada extra vir­gin olive oil.

The farmer planted his first olive trees in 2001 using vari­eties he ordered from California. The vari­eties which are cur­rently pro­duc­ing well for him are Frantoio and Leccino. He’s also exper­i­ment­ing with Arbequina. Missions, too, were ini­tially planted and failed early on. However, Butt left a few of the Missions in and the result pleas­antly sur­prised him. They recov­ered very well from the tough start they had,” he said. He still con­firms, though, that the Missions aren’t nearly as resilient in his cli­mate as the Frantoio and Leccino.

There are very few loca­tions in Canada that could even begin to pro­vide the grow­ing needs for good qual­ity and high quan­ti­ties of olive fruit. But Pender Island has sev­eral fac­tors that sug­gested to Butt it’s one of the few best choices in his coun­try. The island gets more sum­mer sunny days and warmth than other areas of Canada. Its win­ters are cold but less harsh than else­where in the coun­try. Although Canada does have one desert which includes the town of Osoyoos in British Columbia, Butt states that its win­ters are too cold.

Pender Island, BC

The com­mon native sea­weed, kelp, is given credit for pos­si­bly help­ing the farm’s olive trees thrive, espe­cially dur­ing one par­tic­u­larly cold win­ter. Pender Island had dipped to minus 12 degrees cel­sius for five days in a row. Though the Waterlea Farm trees had some frost dam­age, when Butt pruned back the dead wood in spring, the trees were loaded with blos­soms.

They had no long­stand­ing dam­age from that cold spell,” Butt said, even though the trees were quite young then.”

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Kelp has long been used as a soil amend­ment for var­i­ous crops, and while Butt agrees olives don’t really need fer­til­izer, he feels the micro nutri­ents in kelp have made a pos­i­tive dif­fer­ence in his olive trees’ pro­duc­tion. Kelp and (other) sea­weeds are packed with micro nutri­ents and min­eral ele­ments,” Butt said. It def­i­nitely boosts growth and builds resilience.” He said that he’s used it on his trees once every year.”

The other fac­tors that help boost the Pender Island olives are the lay­out of the grove and the farmer’s prun­ing meth­ods. Waterlea Farm’s olive trees grow on a Southwest slope with good drainage and full sun all day when the sun is out. He fur­ther enhances the avail­abil­ity of the island’s sun­light by prun­ing his trees in the open vase shape. This method calls for prun­ing the cen­tral leader branch out, which allows more sun­light to reach in through the top of the trees.

The trees on Waterlea Farm have so far pro­duced enough qual­ity fruit for the farmer to process dozens of jars of both black and green olives. For now, he shares them with fam­ily and friends in prepa­ra­tion for gain­ing knowl­edge and increased pro­duc­tion for future sales. He states that his trees’ pro­duc­tion is more con­sis­tent each year.

And that con­sis­tency will, accord­ing to Butt’s plans, lead to pro­duc­ing his country’s first extra vir­gin olive oil grown and milled in Canada. Because he’s the only one cur­rently con­sid­er­ing com­mer­cial pro­duc­tion of made-in-Canada olive oil, he stated the pur­chase and oper­a­tion of the mill would be his respon­si­bil­ity, at least for the ini­tial phase.

Though Butt would be the owner of the olive oil mill, there is talk near his loca­tion about indi­vid­ual nearby non-com­mer­cial olive grow­ers hav­ing inter­est in com­mu­nal milling days. While Waterlea Farm doesn’t sell olive trees them­selves, tours of the farm have gen­er­ated inter­est in grow­ing olive fruit from other Gulf Island and sur­round­ing area prop­erty own­ers. In 2009, the Saturna Olive Consortium was estab­lished to sell olive trees to the Gulf Islands, Vancouver Island, and Canada’s west­ern lower main­land. So olive fruit grow­ing in south­west Canada is mak­ing its way into the non-com­mer­cial sec­tor as well.

The local food move­ment is seen as fuel­ing a large and sup­port­ive mar­ket for Waterlea Farm’s Canadian olive prod­ucts. Individual con­sumers as well as pro­fes­sional urban chefs who embrace the buy-local move­ment have been noted as poten­tially eager and reli­able cus­tomers.

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