Permaculturing in Portugal

One family's attempts to live in a more planet-friendly way

And an olive came down the mountain

On a dull morning with rain threatening, we went up the mountain to the village above the quinta to meet the man with the digger. He had some olive trees he was digging up to plant a vineyard and he knew I was looking for one. We followed him up the mountain tracks to a slope above the village and he threw his arms wide. ‘Choose!”

I looked at the sorry-looking specimens, some of which were still hiding beneath a choking mantle of brambles and bracken, and wondered whether I should just say no thanks right away …

Digging up the olive tree

But olives are tough trees. And these ones growing 550m up on an exposed mountainside at the present limit of cultivated land, surviving years of vegetative burial and neglect, surely had to be among the toughest? Perhaps one of these would be more likely to respond well after replanting at a lower altitude than a larger well-maintained tree would brought up from the valleys?

But which to choose? There were trees with single trunks and others with several main stems, some showing lots of vigour and some barely alive. The most vigorous-looking tree had little spread after being pruned right back to the trunk. Another, already flowering with lots of new growth and a good spread had rot setting in at the base of one of its main stems so would lose it in a year or two. None seemed ideal, except for a couple over the fence in a neighbouring plot, but they weren’t for the taking …

In the end, I compromised and chose one of reasonable vigour and reasonable spread. With some care and lots of water it should come right back in a couple of years and grow to become a good sized productive tree.

Digging up the olive tree

Pushing the tree into the bucket as the digger scoops it up

Digging up the olive tree

The plan was to put it on the back of the tractor, but it was small enough for the digger to carry it down in the bucket

Digging up the olive tree

Lashing the tree to the bucket

Digging up the olive tree

Digging up the olive tree

Arriving 200m below

Digging up the olive tree

Digging up the olive tree

Scooping out the soil in the planting position

Digging up the olive tree

Big hole. Little tree. We had to fill some of it in again …

Digging up the olive tree

Lowering the tree into position

Digging up the olive tree

Levelling out the soil

Digging up the olive tree

Looking like it’s always been there

Digging up the olive tree

And suddenly both space and tree are transformed. A scabby little tree on a mountainside becomes a thing of beauty in front of a house, even in the driving rain. I’m glad I rescued this little tree from the fireplace rather than going for a bigger one. It seems somehow more fitting. And with perfect timing, it’s now raining heavily to water it in.

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  1. Luise April 25, 2012

    It does look beautiful there! Do you take any special measures to help the tree establish well? How well do olive trees transplant?
    My only experience in transplanting trees is with elder and those guys are so hardy that even where I left a bit of root in the ground after transplanting, it grew right back, so I ended up having several! :)
    By the way, some of the links in the Ecosphere Portugal blogroll don’t work anymore. Can’t tell you which ones offhand as I looked at all of them today, but it was quite a few, at least 5 that didn’t work anymore.
    Have a great day and enjoy the rain while it lasts!

  2. Quinta do Vale April 25, 2012

    Hi Luise! Watering seems to be all that’s recommended until the tree is re-established. Olives transplant very well. There’s even a guy here who buys up old trees in the Algarve that are being cleared for development and transplants them to places like the Netherlands and France. Apparently they do just fine.

    Thanks for letting me know about the links. It’s a while since I went through them all. I will do some housekeeping!

  3. José Russo April 26, 2012

    Wendy, pelo que tenho visto em muitos transplantes de oliveiras que vi fazer, parece-me que será bom reduzir a copa da árvore transplantada, não só porque ela perdeu muitas raízes e tem por isso reduzida a sua capacidade de absorção, mas tambem porque ela já não estava com grande vigor vegetativo,e andava há muitos anos por cuidar. É especialmente importante cortar todos os ramos secos e os “ladrões”, ou seja, os ramos mais altos com origem na base das pernadas. De contrário corre-se o risco de a árvore secar na sua maior parte e de vir a ficar, no futuro, com pouca saúde e com uma forma muito inestética.

  4. Quinta do Vale April 26, 2012

    Obrigada José! Sim, eu vou podar a oliveira e reduzir a sua copa. Eu gosto muito da palavra “ladrões” para os ramos com origem na base das pernadas. É verdade!

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