Queen Creek Olive Mill


olive grove at Queen Creek Olive Mill

     This past week I took relatives visiting for the holidays for a tour of the only commercially producing olive farm and mill in Arizona.  This farm has 2100 olive trees of 16 different varieties, such as:  Frantoio, Grappolo, Pendolino, Mission, Arbequina, Manzanillo, Kalamata.  Queen Creek Olive Mill produces hand-crafted extra virgin olive oil (which means only mechanical means are used to obtain the oil) from olives that are pesticide free.

fallen olives

     The trees blossom in mid April, and by May the olives have formed and grow through the summer.  The olives are harvested in mid October by using vibrating combs that release the olives onto tarps spread around the base of the trees.  Olives that have fallen to the ground naturally are never used.

olive leaves

     The olives are pressed within 24 hours using only mechanical means, never heat or solvents.  First the olives are defoliated of twigs and leaves and washed with water.  Then the olives are milled to a paste in a hammer mill which crushes the olives, pits and seeds.  A centrifugal decanter spins the olive paste, separating the flesh, pits and water from the oil.  The oil is transferred to an oxygen-free steel storage decanter with a conical bottom where further water and oil separation naturally occurs.

mature olive tree

     Different varieties of oils are blended and then bottled to produce distinctive, boutique olive oil products.
One of their boutique products is a citrus oil blend which combines oil from citrus and oil from olives.  Another is chocolate olive oil.  Dark cocoa is added to olive oil, and this oil can be used for baking in cakes, or to top fruit or ice cream.  Shelf life for olive oil is one year open or closed with no refrigeration necessary.

     We all enjoyed this interesting tour, and got to taste several varieties of olives at the end.

      As this New Years Eve dawns, I wish BLESSINGS FOR ALL IN THE NEW YEAR! 

Waiting for Christmas

Lucy waiting for christmas
     The tree is up, the cards are sent and the gifts are wrapped.  Whew!  Now we have a few days to relax while we are waiting for Christmas.  My Christmas plants help span this time of the year while there is not much going on in the garden.

     Some people I know think poinsettias are so commercial and common.  But I love their bright red leaves.  I feel poinsettias give a feeling of warmth to the surroundings and brighten moods with their vibrant color.  I always have at least one at the holidays, and I keep it for months.  I just give it water every week to ten days.  One year I kept my poinsettia until well into June, but by then I had garden flowers to take its place in the house.

Royal Velvet amaryllis
     Amaryllis in bloom is spectacular.  My brother and his wife sent me an amaryllis bulb in a lovely blue and white porcelain pot.  It is a red Royal Velvet amaryllis.  I have been waiting for it to send up its stem, but it has been very slow to start.  I wanted to put it out into the sun every day to give it a jump start, but it has been cloudy and cold almost daily for the last two weeks.  So the dog is waiting for Christmas by the tree, and I'm waiting for my amaryllis to bloom.

                                                 MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL

Cold and Rainy


San Pedro cactus offshoot
     We have had more rain in the last two weeks than we have had all year.  And when it is not raining, there are heavy, dark clouds covering the sky.  It's been colder than normal, only in the 50's during the day.  We are having our normal nighttime temperatures in the 30's and 40's.

     This weather is a little early.  We usually don't get the winter rains until January or February.  But by midweek we are supposed to have warming temperatures and sunny skies.

     With the cold weather, growth in the garden and yard has really slowed down.  But surprising to me, one of my San Pedro cactus in the front courtyard has two pups or offshoots around the base.  It is growing more arms I suppose.

San Pedro cactus offshoot
     The only other thing happening in the yard is that the trailing rosemary is blooming again.  The last time it bloomed was six months ago in June.

trailing rosemary in bloom
     There was one more thing that happened in the yard.  My husband overseeded our bermuda grass that turns brown in the winter with rye that stays green here in the winter.  Well, that drew any birds right to the rye seeds.  The birds were having a feast when a hawk swooped down and killed one of the birds.  It stood there for a minute or two with the bird under its claws before taking off.  I so wanted to go out and rescue that bird.  But I knew it was too late, and that's just nature taking its course.  But it still sent a pain through my heart.

First Freeze

grapefruit tree
     We had three days in a row of below freezing temperatures this week for the first time this fall.  Last year the first freeze was in November.  I wrapped the orange, grapefruit and lime trees in sheets, and laid old sheets over the flower garden.

     Some plants did fine, others not so good.  I don't have enough old sheets and towels to cover everything that would benefit from covering.  I should invest in frost cloths, but I have such a large area to cover.  The citrus trees did fine.

frost damaged lantana
Some of the bougainvilleas do not look so good.  Last year most of the bougainvilleas were damaged, but I cut them back and all but three flowered again this year.  The leaves on some of the lantana turned brown and they will fall off.  When this happened last year, I lightly pruned them and almost all bloomed again this year.

     In the flower garden, some of the vinca and all of the cosmos are dead, but other plants did alright.  The blue maguerite is blooming away, as well as the gazania.

blue marguerite


The petunias are fine, and the pansies, of course, did not mind the cold weather.  The vegetable garden is done for the winter, except for the chard.  We had some with dinner yesterday.

rhubarb chard

Residential Irrigation in the Desert


computers for irrigation system
     Irrigation is a must in order to grow trees, bushes, plants, flowers and vegetables in the residential landscape in the desert.  It is a complicated, computer-driven undertaking, and one almost needs an engineering degree to set up and maintain the system.  My husband and I have spent countless hours reading manuals, adjusting the days and run times on the computer for each season, and adjusting the water amounts for individual plants.

close-up of computer task choices

     We have two types of irrigation in our yard:  sprinkler irrigation for the patch of grass in the back yard, and drip irrigation for everything else.  The front yard is on a drip system with adjustable dripper heads at each tree, bush and plant.  These dripper heads control the amount of water that flows to each plant.  The trees have three drippers that produce 5 gallons of water an hour.  Dripper heads are color-coded as to the amount of water per hour that flows through them.  The trees are watered for 1 hour three times a week in the summer.

tree drippers

     The bushes and plants in the front yard each have one dripper that produces 2 gallons of water an hour.  In the summer the trees, bushes and plants are watered three times a week for 45 minutes.  This schedule changes with each season.

bush dripper

     The drippers for the trees and bushes in the back yard are not adjustable as to water rate flow.  They produce 2 gallons of water an hour.  The amount of water is controlled by the amount of watering time.  In summer the trees and bushes are watered for 11/2 hours three times a week.

non-adjustable back yard dripper

     In the flower garden there is a dripper under or near each plant.  These dripper heads are truly adjustable as to water rate flow.  Each dripper head is a screw on head that can be turned up, down or off by turning it and will produce 2 gallons of water an hour if turned all the way up.  The flower garden is watered daily in summer for 5 minutes.

adjustable dripper at flower base

     The sprinkler irrigation for the patch of grass in the back yard enables the sprinklers to shoot the water across the grass.  The grass is watered daily in summer for 7 minutes.  All these schedules are changed every season.  I know it is not environmentally correct to have grass in the desert, but I (and the dog) had to have a patch of green amid all the brown rock mulch.

sprinkler irrigation for grass

     All of the piping for the irrigation systems was put in before any landscaping was done.  The drip system is the most efficient watering system because water is delivered at the base of each tree, bush or plant so no water is lost in evaporation.  The dripper heads all over the yard have to be changed periodically as they become clogged with not only debris but also mineral buildup from the extremely hard water here.

cut-off valves that control water pressure from the street

     Most homeowners use drip irrigation as opposed to hand watering which can be grueling in 110 F (43 C) in the summer.  It also allows the homeowner to be away from home on vacation, etc. in the summer when many plants would die without water for a week in the heat.  Oh, to live in a place where it just.....rains.