The first stage of olive oil production is olive harvesting, called “liomazema” on Crete. The time when it takes place is very important, as the quality of the oil to be produced depends on the maturation point of the olive fruit. Producers know that the fruit is ready, i.e. that it has reached the highest content of oil, when it begins to redden and acquires a shiny, blackish colour. The period when this happens varies depending on the climate and altitude of the region and usually lasts from autumn to spring. However, in coastal areas, this happens in late October to November. If the harvest is delayed, there is a risk that strong winds and poor weather may cause olives to fall off the tree – this is why during this period one will encounter crowds of people out in the olive groves.

The harvest is a laborious task, since it usually takes place in winter, when it is cold and conditions are somewhat harsh. A proper harvest is very important, as the quantity and good quality of the olive oil depend on it.

From the 5th century up until 30 to 20 years ago, olives were harvested by striking the boughs with canes and collecting the olives from the ground. Today, the olive harvest on Crete takes place almost exclusively by striking the boughs to cause olives to drop into cloth or plastic sheets that producers have previously placed beneath the olive trees. Until 15 years ago, this striking took place using wooden or plastic canes handled by men and women, who would strike the tree along its height. Today, this method is used very rarely and it is almost extinct; it has been replaced by special olive-caning tools handled by labourers. These apparatus consists of a stick, which has plastic strips attached to its end. These strips rotate and shake the boughs of the tree, causing the olives to fall without being harmed. The apparatus is highly mobile, easy to use and greatly increases the productivity of labourers, since harvesting becomes faster and results in improved quality of olive oil.

After the caning, olives are separated from small branches and leaves that may have fallen into the nets. This cleaning takes place using a rake or sieve. After they have been cleaned, the olives are placed in flax sacks placed under trees in small rows until they can be transported to the olive oil mill. It is important that these sacks are loosely woven and not stacked one on top of the other, so as to ensure proper ventilation of the olives – otherwise, harmful fermentation will take place, increasing the acidity and compromising the quality of the olive oil.

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