I hope you’re all feeling fit and agile this morning as we have work to do. For the past two weeks the olive groves have been ringing with the rhythmic tsing-tsing-tsing of the mechanical olive strimmers sounding like a bunch of demented crickets which has prompted me to divest my pair of trees of their fruit. As I only have the two trees I don’t go in for such wonders of technology and hand-picking is so much more cathartic. So, you shin up the tree and while you’re up there see what else you can find. Me? I’ll stand down here and hold the sack. (“No point getting older if you don’t get wiser” as my grandfather used to say.)
Found anything yet? I have. Down here on the base of the tree. This is a bracket fungus which could be potentially damaging as they have a tendency to cause a disease called Heart Rot. The fungus enters through a wound in the bark and damages the heartwood in the middle of the tree which weakens it. As this is a well cared for tree that gets plenty of water and nutrients it will probably compartmentalize it, that is, it will grow a protective membrane around the fungus and stop it in its tracks.
What have you got there? A gall of some sort you say? Let me have a look. Ah yes, I wondered about these when I first came out here. It turns out to be an olive knot caused by a bacterium called Pseudomonas savastanoi, a fact that was discovered in the late nineteenth century by an Italian olive worker called Savastano after which it is now named. Just goes to prove that you don’t have to be a laboratory bound academic to make an important biological discovery.
They can cause the branch beyond to wither and die according to the literature but these two trees have happily lived with them for the past ten years and probably long before. They don't seem to affect the harvest so I just let them get on with it. I dare say the trees compartmentalise them the same as the bracket fungus.
Hang on, we’ve got something in the other tree. Oh these are good, little jars full of babies. You remember we were talking about the five instars of the Southern Green Shieldbug a couple of weeks ago (see Rosemary's Restaurant )? Well, this is the start of the process. These little jars with their push open lids are the eggs and it looks as if they’re hatching. At least, I think they were laid by a Southern Green, a bit difficult to tell at this stage. Put them in a container and we’ll watch and see how they develop then we'll let them go.
A bird’s nest? I thought someone would find that but what type of bird made it? You can tell a lot about the builder of a nest from the manner of its construction, the materials used and where it’s built. For instance this is a medium sized nest slightly wider than my outstretched hand. It is solidly constructed from grass, small woody roots and cemented together with mud and it has been lined with finer grass. Also it has been built in a fork of the tree. All of which is characteristic of the blackbird’s nest. I also have the advantage of having watched the building of the nest and the rearing of three chicks which makes identification infinitely easier. Just a minute, I think I have a picture somewhere. Here it is, a young fledgling on its first foray from that very nest on May 14th a couple of years ago.
All the olives picked? Marvellous. We’ll take them down to the olive press next week and swap them for a couple of flagons of olive oil. Come inside I have a treat for you. I’ve brewed an urn of fine Lapsang Souchong tea laced with cloves which is delicious served with a slice of fresh orange. For those of you of a more alcoholic disposition you must try the mulled wine: a pinch of cloves, 4 parts Cabernet Sauvignon, 1 part sweet Sherry, 1 part orange juice and 2 parts boiling water.
Bottoms up and have a Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Positively Glorious Pancha Ganapati or a wonderful whatever else you choose to celebrate at this time of the year. Until next week – happy hunting.
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Twitter Steve Daniels @cretenaturalist
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