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Design #2:1

The Olive Trees

Client: Myself
Location: Finca Florecer, Tivenys, Spain
Date Started: 2009
Dated Ended: On going
Design Process: SADIM

When I bought the land, the trees had last been registered for subsidies in 1997, with 78 productive olives, These trees had not been managed for quite a long time and not all had survived. When I arrived most of the trees on the top exposed terraces were dead. The rest were very overgrown with 'suckers', which were the size of trees themselves. The woody and spiky shrubs surrounding them were as tall as me (I'm quite short!).

Most of the trees seem to be between 80 and 150 years old but a few look quite a lot older than that, probable in the region of 200 to 300 years. These older trees are growing on the north to south key-point valley, which support the deepest terraces.


Although the olive trees very overgrown they are in good health. The trees are widely spaced apart with appropriately 10 meters between them. The overgrowth is not only limited to the trees and their suckers, but also to the shrubs around them, the main shrubs are Rosemary, Pistacia lentiscus (Mastic tree), Ulex europaeus (Gorse) and a very invasive shrub which I haven't managed to identify yet but is some sort of soft leafed Ilex(?) Asparagus, Thyme and clump forming grasses are surviving as ground cover.

The trees are very tall (some reaching over 6m in height) and with the ground around them inaccessible, they are not producing much fruit. What they do produce is either difficult or impossible to harvest.

Design #2 olive trees map.jpg


  • Bring the trees back into production by reducing height, taking out the dead wood and ground clearance

  • Cut back the undergrowth directly under the trees and clean up the herbs and shrubs around them which have also become woody and unruly

  • Utilise the space between the trees to plant other types of trees to bring in diversity and a yield of other crops such as fire wood, fruit and nuts

  • Plant other ground crops to help soil conditions and attract/deter insects and wildlife

  • Use biological resources to add soil condition


Using the permaculture Principles

Year 1

1. Take one terrace at a time:

- Small and slow solutions

- Apply self regulation

- Observe and interact

2. First cut of trees, Cut out dead and damaged wood bring down height:

- Catch and store energy

- Design from pattern to detail

3. Clear scrub from under trees, maintain herb layer as pest deterrent:

- Use and value diversity

- Integrate rather than segregate

- Use edges and value the marginal

4. Chip smaller prunings and excess herbs as mulch, larger cuts store for fire wood:

- Produce no waste

- Value Renewable resources

Year 2

On previous Years terrace:

1. Strim softer herb layer to stimulate new growth use as mulch:

- Catch and store energy​

- Obtain a yield

2. Feed and mulch with compost toilet waste:

- Produce no waste

3. Remove suckers

4. Select leaders and take out quick growing water shoots, regulate shape by taking 1- 2 meters from height/width:

- Design from pattern to details​

5. Add other trees and irrigation:

- Use and value diversity​

- Creatively use and respond to change

Start Year 1, on new terrace.

Year 3

1. Follow steps 1 to 3 for Year 2

2. Harvest Olives:

- Obtain a yield

Start Year 1, on new terrace. REPEAT!!!

Olive tree Guild.

When I first started pruning the olive trees I was not very confident in my cuts, but as time goes on my confidence has grown. I now understand which branches I can remove to get the desired shape and height of the trees.

I maintain a system in the first year to only cut out the Dead, Damaged, Diseased and Crossed branches. This opens the trees up to the light and air.

By the second year, the trees have given out new shoots lower down on the branches and I am able to see where to make the best cut, (reducing the length of the branch to approximately 1m – 1.5m) bringing the tree to a more manageable size for harvesting the fruits.


The tradition in this region is to cut the trees 'hard' when they are overgrown. I feel this puts too much stress on the tree, as it has to fight to quickly produce shoots and sucker growth. This is the trees way of protecting it's trunk from harsh elements such as sun and wind. The method use might take a while longer to get the appropriate shape, but I have reduced the wasted energy spent, selecting the leaders out from the mass of new growth shoots.

If you make room, light and air, the tree will decide its true leaders.

The Olive trees I have cut have been producing olives with-in the first 3 years.

Neighbour's hard cut trees
New growth after first years 3D's
Year 3, First year with olives!

The addition of fruit trees between the olives has been very successful. It has made me pay extra attention to the terraces where they have been planted (I have to check the young fruit trees regularly to make sure the irrigation is working and to add more soil nutrients and mulch). Using observation, makes regulation and feedback easier. The addition of water for the fruit trees has indirect benefits for all the plants in those areas which in turn has built up diversity.

I have been harvesting olives every year for the last 5 years now with various degrees of success but even when many of the local farmers had no olives (on their irrigated trees) due to a year of drought, I still managed to bring in a harvest.

I have not suffered badly from the olive fly (the main pest of the Olives) which my neighbours seem to be in a constant battle with. If it is due to the herb layer on the ground under the trees or the herbs themselves or even the diversity of bugs and birds that have made habitat on the land I do not know but I am very grateful.

I do try to let the Chicken out to work, as pest-control under the trees but they seem to just want to get in the vegetable garden. In time I will start to fence off parts of Zone 3 to keep the chickens in the areas I want them (see Design #4 The Chickens)

Before and After 
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