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Tuscan olive tree Tuscany (before pruning)
Where to start with that haircut?

With Tuscany's extra virgin olive oil being famous world over, it may come as a surprise that the region's olive tree pruning is notorious for its rather cruel approach: Tuscan farmers used to prune only once every two years (and often still do). Pruning is very time consuming, and cutting the tree a Mohawk hairstyle means you can skip a winter before having to get up the ladder again with shears and saw in hand. 

I'm no expert on the matter of pruning, but from looking after our very own Tuscan olive grove I've discovered two crucial points for pruning success, which are not always mentioned in olive grove manuals.  

  • In my experience the best preparation to pruning is by doing the olive harvest in the very same grove the year before. The chosen pruning style depends on the technique used during olive picking (i.e. harvest by hand or with a particular type of machine). Once you've been driven mad by unreachable olives during harvest (because of the thick canopy not even Tarzan could deal with, or because of olives growing on branches and twigs as high as the moon), you understand why these trees have to be pruned, and already have an idea of what some of the cuts would have to look like. 
  • Don't share trees during pruning; at least not if your partner in crime is the person you share your life with. My Tuscan native and I have argued days on end. He could't understand why I'd cut that particular branch, and I couldn't believe he'd overlooked all those twigs on the bottom (again!). So for peace in the grove put everyone on a separate tree. Otherwise you end up with a broken relationship in the midst of a perfectly trimmed grove. 

For anything else we try to incorporate some sound pruning advice and are a little more gentle with our friends out there than Tuscan tradition would recommend. However, our olive grove is small (only 50 trees, a reason why we can afford to hand pick) and the produced EVOO is for family use only. Therefore, nobody cares if our daughter tries to prune the olive trees with an old nail file, or whether our son invents a revolutionary and totally organic approach of chewing off the twigs. I've even tried doing it whilst tobogganing down the grove (but have given up in the meantime as we hardly ever get enough snow to keep working on the technique). Basically anything goes - as long as the trees like it. 

The essentials:pruning equipment to start off with. Chain saws are for real pros only.

It's a family affair

From tree to tree.

It's the pruning equation: your up on the tree with the secateurs but no extra pair of hands to use them

And yet another cappuccino to warm up and keep going

As close as I'll ever get to carrying heavy weaponry.

The more the merrier

No matter how high you are, there is always that one twig you can't get too

The pruning battle field: things are starting to look good.

The pruning chat

Shears stuck in the tree. Only an amateur pruner like me!

Smoke signals? Our neighbor's pruning fire.

And ours!

EVOO? This is the real reason why we bother with pruning the grove. It's so much easier to
hang the hammock once those trees are back in shape.


More EVOO related musings? Read my olive picking guide for dummies, or just have a look at the photos from our 2012 barefoot picking in Southern Tuscany. 

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