The Virgin Olive Farmer: Three Years in Puglia

I can hardly believe that Tom and I have been living in Puglia for more than three years. We are now heading into our fourth winter here, high up in the Valle d’Itria near the white city of Ostuni.

Those of you who have followed our trials and tribulations on my Reluctant Olive Farmer blogs (first, click on 2017, and second, click on 2018) will have read about the, literally, rocky road we have travelled together to get this far.

Our garden has become a veritable oasis around the house…..

….and we are no longer visible from the laneway which runs along the side of our property while we dip in the pool.

View from the pool…..

Our walking expeditions have continued, with our coastal walks still my firm favourite.

We’re spoiled for choice as we can walk out our gate straight onto the laneways that meander throughout the olive groves, with poppies to greet us in spring and “takeaways” in the form of lush figs in August.

In May we had a visitor: a white feather-footed pigeon which we promptly named Walter. He stayed with us for a month and then suddenly disappeared. I hope he found his way home, but one warm, summery night, he vanished without a trace, never to be seen again.

In September, we and our neighbours had some excitement when the men from Ostuni Comune arrived to tar our once terrible laneway. For the first time ever, we can actually manage to get into third gear on the way to the main road.

Having now a large circle of wonderful friends, both Italian and expat, Tom celebrated his birthday with a barbecue here at home, accompanied by a fabulous cake courtesy of Ciccio’s Pasticceria in Ostuni.

Ostuni itself is always lively, especially on summer evenings and we regularly visit just to stroll around or to eat at one of the excellent restaurants in the old town.

Tom has continued his sterling work, bravely taming the virgin earth that comprises Villa Allegra. Here is my view from the veranda – no, it’s not a triptych!

And burning olive tree clipppings…..

Our trees have grown fast and are now, taller than we are. It’s hard to believe that just three years ago they were positively tiny, not much more than twigs.

Our very first olive harvest was carried out on the morning of 20th October, 2019 – exactly three years to the day that we moved into Villa Allegra. Nets were put down and the “tickling sticks” – gas-powered flexible rakes, is how I would describe them – were pressed into action.

In no time at all, we were loading our crates of olives into the boot of the car and heading for the frantoio – admittedly, slightly anxious that we would not make our quota of 150 kgs.

Arriving at the frantoio, we offloaded our precious cargo…………..

…as you can see, nobody told us we should remove the leaves first, but the frantoio did it for us and we’ll know to remove them next time.

A lady on a forklift lifted the crate onto a weighing scales while we held our breath. But we were fine – by the skin of our teeth!

Next day, we picked up our freshly pressed olive oil, which came in five litre drums. We rushed home, purchasing a loaf of crispy crusted white bread on the way. We were dying to taste it and it was delicious!

Incredibly, all the wise prophecies of far more experienced olive farmers than we could ever hope to be, who told us with quiet authority that we would have to wait at least five years before we would have a large enough crop of olives to qualify to have them pressed at the frantoio (olive mill), have been proven wrong. We are now extremely thrilled to announce that our baby trees have just produced a wonderful 150 kilos of olives and we got a fabulous 23 litres of first press Extra Virgin Olive Oil which is as green as a bunch of shamrocks.

As we were unprepared for such bounty, I quickly took a photo of the ceramic sign on our gatepost, photocopied it, printed out five labels, which we promptly stuck onto the cans and “Villa Allegra Extra Virgin Olive Oil” was born.

Next time, our labels will, hopefully, be somewhat more sophisticated!

And now, I’ll wish you a peaceful good evening from Villa Allegra.

Orna O’Reilly

Ostuni, Italy


9 thoughts on “The Virgin Olive Farmer: Three Years in Puglia

  1. I also can’t believe it’s been three years but what a marvelous result for all of your work!! I can’t tell you how this gladdens my heart. Words really can’t convey it. Your place looks wonderful as does your olive oil (and of course the two of you and that birthday cake.) 🙂 Cheers and here’s to many more wonderful, enjoyable years here.


  2. I live in Puglia but are no where near to having a garden full of olive trees to press. Nevertheless, your post has inspired me and who knows what will happen in the furture Your olive oil looks amazing! Glad that you found success in all your hard work.

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