Hobby Farmers’ Assault: Our Olive Update

The olive fruit fly

The olive fruit fly

by cheri arbequina sabraw

Last month, we learned from our host Umberto at La Chiusa in Montefollonico, Italy that the olive fruit fly, too, had obliterated his entire harvest last year. In fact, the fly had stung most of the olives throughout Tuscany in 2014. (Note: much of the 2014 Italian olive oil you enjoy has been pressed with the fly larvae in it, so extra virgin also means extra protein!)

My husband lamented, “The fly has successfully stung almost every varietal in our orchard for the past four years despite my spraying  every week with an organic spray. “ He continued to Umberto,  “ Are you going to spray a pesticide this year after your loss?”

“No,” said Umberto, sipping on his Prosecco and offering one to us. Although it was only 11:00 am, we each accepted a tall elegant glass of the bubbling elixir perhaps to dull the memories of all the rotten olives we have stripped from our trees.

It was out in Modesto, California, last November when we drove the small number of olives ( maybe 75 pounds) that hadn’t turned a piebald and dimply purple and in which were not living wiggly larvae that we learned  our organic pesticide—touted by all at the county, U.C. Davis, and in the Bay Area environmental community as the way to eradicate the olive fruit fly—did not work.

Olives before the onslaught

Olives before the onslaught

“What are you using?” asked the old fella who owned the olive press there and who pressed most of the olives grown in the Central Valley.

“ GF-120,” answered my husband.

The old olive man tilted his head, raised one eyebrow, and nodded. “ Hell, that stuff doesn’t work. Everyone knows that.”

It seems that our orchard, unprotected from the fly by the intense heat of the Central Valley, lies in a micro-climate in which the fly thrives—cool nights and mornings, warm afternoons, and moderate temperatures into the fall. Coming to this orchard is like attending a feast extraordinaire.

Our orchard in the SF Bay Area

Our orchard in the SF Bay Area


“I’ve tried everything I can, “ I overheard my husband say to the county pesticide regulators this past spring.

“Well, you have to take a test in order to administer this treatment,” I heard a cold voice respond on the speakerphone.

July is olive fruit fly month when, during the previous four years,  the pest has stealthily entered our  boutique orchard of Leccino, Maurino, Frantoio, and Arbequina olives in their infancy to set its seed of destruction and leave its babies eating the fruit from the inside out.


Man vs. Fruit Fly

Man vs. Fruit Fly

Not this year, we hope.



About Cheri

Writer, photograph, artist, mother, grandmother and wife.
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19 Responses to Hobby Farmers’ Assault: Our Olive Update

  1. Christopher says:

    The topic of olives is a convenient way to segue back to the topic of Greece, since they grow lots and lots of olives in Greece, and have done for at least the last two thousand years.

    Did you know that men in ancient Greece smeared their hair and bodies with olive oil in order to look good?

    Anyway, if the Banksters stop doing what they’re now doing, and once again allow Greeks to do their thing, this might make things easier for today’s Greek olive growers, who, I feel sure, are suffering just as all other Greeks are.

    • Cheri says:

      I Know I like olive lotion, olive oil, olive tapenade just like the Ancient Greeks. I find the phrase ” doing their own thing ” part of the Greek problem. In my world my students had to follow my rules before doing their own thing was possible.

  2. Richard says:

    Who will take up the case of the fruit flies, Christopher? That’s what I want to know.

    Did you observe the vehicle and the apparel? These insects are not in outer space. This is America. It breaks my heart to see the harsh treatment the flies and their little larvae are being handed out. What, is it supposed olives are for? To smear hair and bodies with oil to look good?

    More orchards should be planted, nurtured and maintained at the expense of the rich in order to help the dire situation these dear little innocent creatures now find themselves in, through no fault of their own, may I say. They will then be able to make love and reproduce freely as Nature intends, which will be good for their economy.

    Montefollonico is a beacon for the rest of the world. In the interests of ever closer union Brussels will, no doubt, introduce the necessary proportionate regulation.

  3. Glenys says:

    Like the outfit. Is it up for hire and who is the brave person wearing it? I could borrow it to paint the house next year.
    I can understand the frustration of waiting months for some produce only to find critters have got there first. I am having a war with black fly on dahlias, cosmos and runner beans. Another devil is the lily beetle who has destroyed many plants. You have to pounce and squash their hard bodies between your fingers before they play dead and fall into the vegetation. They are usually copulating.
    The question is have you now got the right insecticide?

    • Cheri says:

      The warrior in the Hazmat suit is Hizzoner. The suit is hot; he was spraying in 85 degree-heat and came into the house very tired. Your garden is so spectacular and lush. I can only imagine the daily hunt for pests. We so hope we have the right pesticide–Danitol.

  4. shoreacres says:

    This really is interesting. I have a customer who is growing olives northeast of Houston, by about 40 miles. I never had thought they would grow here, but, as I recall, they took about 125 pounds for pressing last year. The last I heard, he was negotiating to buy a second-hand press, so even that part of the process can be done on-site.

    I remember some grumping about low yield, but I’m not sure if that was a result of the drought or insect infestation (or some other problem I don’t know about). Since we’re certainly a hot climate, it may be that your little fly isn’t a problem for him. Inquiries will be made!

    • Cheri says:

      We are looking for a press. Olives grow well in heat so the Houston area might be very good for them. They really are like weeds. Olives must be pressed the day they are picked so logistics are part of the harvest.

  5. Brighid says:

    Yep, you are no longer hobbie farming, welcome to the real world of farming. Survival mode!

  6. I agree with Glenys–I like the outfit–does it come in blue?

  7. wkkortas says:

    This is how it starts, Cheri. First, some oive trees. Then, perhaps, just a few rows of corn or winter wheat. Pretty soon, you’re shopping for some brobdingnagian Farmall tractor and you find yourself three-quaters of a million dollars in debt and asking yourself “How in hell did all this happen?’ Remember, you’ve been warned.

    • Cheri says:

      Dear wk,
      Here in the SF Bay Area, we would never plant wheat because everyone is gluten free. We have the tractor, other farm implements, a refrigerator full of GF120, and now a 10-year supply of latex gloves, masks, and Hazmat suits. Money? I don’t go there for my marriage and my mental health.

  8. Christopher says:

    If, despite the fruit fly, you can still produce some olive oil, you might turn a tidy profit, for olive oil prices are *shooting up* everywhere. .

    • Cheri says:

      This is interesting, Christopher. In Italy, I doubt it was a drought disease as most of the olives were lost to the fruit fly in 2014. Spain must be a different story. We are not engaged in the olive oil pursuit for a profit and are not planning to sell it. We will give it away to our friends and relatives and, of course, use it. We love olive oil on just about everything (except ice cream).

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