There are olive trees growing in Canada?! One could hardly believe it, but it’s true. Not only are Canadian farmers growing trees for table olives but also, they are pushing for olive oil production – 100% extra virgins.
It’s not everywhere in Canada that you can grow olives because olive trees need particular conditions to succeed and bloom, but the positive side is that once planted, they are relatively easy to nurture. Two Canadians, Michael Pierce, and Andrew Butt are two farmers currently establishing the olives production and the olive oils production in the country.
Saturna Olive Consortium
Michael Pierce began experimenting with various trees that he imported from California years ago in 2009. His olive grove is set on Saturna Island in the Southern Gulf Islands chain of British Columbia.
On Saturna Island, winters go both mild and extreme year on year, and weather following the rest of the year isn’t always olive trees-positive either. It’s a region of microclimates in British Columbia, so growers are never quite sure what to expect.
Nevertheless, Saturna grove nurtures a few varieties successfully, their inventory numbering over 500 trees and expanding. But Saturna doesn’t grow trees to produce olives or olive oils, not just yet anyway. The nursery sells the trees, and quite successfully too.
In SW Canada, on Pender Island in Canada’s Gulf Islands grow no more than 100 olive trees cared for by Andrew Butt, farmer and olive trees aficionado since 2001.
Waterlea Farm’s olive trees come from California, and two of the grove’s most successful varieties are Frantoio – considered first class for making extra virgin olive oil, and Leccino – again premier olive trees for producing authentic olive oil.
Having also experimented with other varieties, which got off to a bad start and were abandoned, the farm focuses primarily on Frantoio and Leccino now that they have proved resilient enough to withstand the sub-Mediterranean climate.
Olive trees aren’t given much of a chance to succeed in Canada, often weather and soil conditions making it difficult for temperate fruits like pears and cherries to grow successfully, let along olives that are picky enough to fail planting. But farmers have found ways to encourage growth by nurturing the soil with the likes of kelp seaweed, good for human consumption and apparently for olive trees too.
While there is no farm to produce olive oil in Canada at the moment, Waterlea Farm goal is to start production within a few years. Momentarily, the farm focuses all of its efforts on caring for the trees, and a big part of the process is pruning.
With pruning, the sun can envelop the trees through the top, very important since olive trees require full sun to produce fruits abundantly. The farm hasn’t yet started commercial sale as it is still in the process of experimenting and increasing production, but we should see olive oil pouring in just a few years.