Passionate about olives
Petaluma olive enthusiast Teela Ridgeway strives to educate the public on the care and health of olive trees
Published: Tuesday, December 16, 2008 at 9:49 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, December 16, 2008 at 10:02 a.m.
Chances are, most of us have not thought too much about the many olive trees growing around town, ripe with neglected fruit.
Or maybe you happen to have an olive tree in your yard that you just don’t know what to do with.
While letting the olives ripen and fall to the ground may be the usual course of action, Petaluma olive grower Teela Ridgeway is trying to educate the public about olives and the agricultural hazards of not properly disposing of unwanted fruit.
“There is a pesky olive fruit fly here that can infest and entire area and cause olive growers a lot of grief and loss of crops,” said Ridgeway. “If you get an infestation of olive fruit flies, you have to spray. That’s not what you want to do if you’re trying to grow organic.”
Ridgeway and husband Michael live on 20 acres of land on D Street Extension, where they grow both pinot noir grapes and Tuscan olives. With only 10 acres of land suitable for grapes, the Ridgeways were inspired by nearby McEvoy Ranch, a commercial olive grower, to put in olive trees on the remaining land.
“We started inquiring about olives in 2001 and they mentored us in the process over the last seven years,” said Ridgeway. “We planted about 1,000 olive trees. We’re a small-scale grower.”
The olive harvesting season runs from as early as September to as late as December, depending on the climate. This year, the Ridgeways picked 1,300 pounds of olives, which made 22 gallons of olive oil. “That’s not enough to really sell, but eventually we could produce 800 gallons of oil,” said Ridgeway. “It takes about 60 to 80 pounds of olives to make one full gallon of oil.”
During the Ridgeways’ first season, they picked about 80 pounds of olives, which they took to McEvoy Ranch to have milled on community milling day. “If a small grower has a bucket of olives they want to make a little oil out of, they can take them to McEvoy during community milling day,” she said. “They had two milling days this harvest, the last of which was on Dec. 7. You bring in your olives and they get milled with everyone else’s olives. You get olive oil back based on how many pounds of olives you bring. It’s a lot of fun.”
After her first milling day, Ridgeway was hooked. “I knew I wanted to do this every year,” she said. “In a couple years, we maxed out on the olives for community milling day and went to having our olives custom milled. What they do is set aside your olives to be milled separately instead of blending the olives other people bring.”
Over the years, Ridgeway’s passion for olives has grown, as well as her knowledge of how to keep a healthy olive orchard. Though not completely organic, Ridgeway is striving to be an organic grower, which means the abundance of untended olive trees in town present a danger to her crop as well as the crops of other serious growers.
“It came to my attention as I was driving around Petaluma that there are a lot of olive trees with fruit that’s not being picked,” she said. “They are just left on the tree and eventually drop the fruit. What that does is attract olive fruit flies, and that threatens the crop for growers.”
Ridgeway is now on a crusade to eradicate the fruit fly threat by educating the public on what to do about olive trees. She’s put together an informational brochure on olives that contains fruit fly facts, resources on proper disposal of unwanted fruit, information on organic sprays and blossom removal for those who don’t want their trees to produce fruit.
Community milling days offered at McEvoy Ranch in Petaluma, the Olive Press in Glen Ellen and Jacuzzi Vineyards in Sonoma also offer locals a way to get olive oil from their fruit as well as keep trees free of fly infestation.
She’s also taken it upon herself to harvest olives from unattended trees in Petaluma. “I’ve found five or six locations around town with olive trees with fruit,” she said. “I’ve picked about 150 pounds of olives around town and one-third of them were fly infested. An infestations starts sometime between May and August, when the female olive fruit fly lands on the olive itself and injects larvae into the olive. The larvae grows, hatches and eats the fruit.”
Ridgeway encourages anyone with olives to contact her for information on fruit care and proper disposal at 778-0447 or visit www.mcevoyranch. com for details on community milling and when it’s available.
“My purpose is to educate people about olive growing and to keep the olive fruit fly in our area at bay so it doesn’t infest everyone,” she said. “If we can keep educated, we can keep it under control.”
(Contact Yovanna Bieberich at yovanna.bieberich@argus courier.com)
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