Text/photos by Kathy Edenhofer (Master gardener),
If you are looking for a unique item for your landscape, here is something that might peak your interest. Tucked away in Citra is a little jewel of a tree farm owned and operated by Tony and Shirley Valenza. At the Olive Branch Tree Farm they grow and sell olive trees, olives and olive oil. The Farm currently has more than 3,000 trees in stock.
The Valenza family has been growing olive trees in California for more than 80 years and decided to see if any of the varieties would survive and produce olives in the Central Florida area. They have test grown many varieties in the last five years and found at least three that do well in our area. They are Arbequina, Mission and Manzanillo. All three are self-pollinating, cold hardy to at least 12 degrees, and are pest and disease resistant.
*Arbequina – a smaller Spanish olive introduced to the United States in the mid 1990′s. This variety is the earliest of the three to produce fruit, some within three years. The olives grow in heavy clusters and have a high oil content. The trees can reach 25 to 35 feet at maturity, but can be trained and kept lower for easier harvesting.
*Mission – a variety introduced to the United States by way of Mexico in 1769 is the most cold resistant. It has been known to survive temperatures as low as 8 degrees. Its fruit is larger than the Arbequina and is born singly or in clusters and also has a high oil content. Trees can reach 40 to 50 feet at maturity.
*Manzanilla – another Spanish variety introduced to the United States in 1875 with fruit larger than the Arbequina which are born singly. The trees have a low-spreading growth habit reaching 15 to 30 feet at maturity.
These three varieties of olive trees will grow anywhere that citrus trees thrive. They are fertilized much the same as citrus, like well-drained soil and are easy to care for.
Once olive trees become established they require minimal care and make a lovely landscape tree. They can also be planted in a large container for the lanai or patio. Black olives are just ripened green olives so they can be harvested at any stage of ripening. Birds and animals don’t seem to bother the fruit.
Since you would have to be a pretty hearty soul to eat an olive directly from the tree, the Valenza’s will provide brining and marinating tips to help you enjoy your harvest.
The Valenzas welcome all curious visitors with open arms and would love to share their experiences and expertise with you. They give individual and group tours and also offer taste tests of the olives and olive oils. The groves are at 16650 N.E. 47th Court in Citra. You can call 595-4906 for an appointment or visit their Web site at www.olivebranchtreefarm.com