Dimitris Kostelenos is the eldest son of the family and he kindly agrees to show us around the nursery http://www.kostelenosfytoria.gr/. A very polite and motivated young man, who is obviously very involved with the family business.
Dimitris takes us to the part of the nursery with the parent plants and explains: “we take cuttings from the parent plants, which are subsequently taken to the rooting area. They are placed under the misting irrigation, on disinfected substrates, in pots which lie on elevated beds. They are left to root for a few months, depending on the variety, and are then taken to a chamber where they are left to acclimatize. They are allowed to grow and are then sold to producers.” We move to the growing chambers where we see that the plants are still elevated from the ground, in order for them to avoid diseases. Before the plants are planted in the field, they are placed in an environment which resembles that of the field. If they are to be planted during a cold season they are sprayed with copper in order to inhibit growth and to help immunity, whereas in the summer they are allowed to sit in cemented areas for a while and subsequently sent for planting.
He goes on to tell us that they usually recommend the planting of more than one varieties, provided the soil and climatic conditions are suited, because that way the producer can have varieties which are early-ripening and varieties which are late-ripening and during the harvest he can pace his work from October to almost March. He also explains that, “If we farm only one variety, we devalue our olive oils, because that way our buyers can dictate the prices they will be buying at. It’s ok to plant Koroneiki, which is the well known variety, but plant the other half of your land with the local variety.”
As he continues, we are told that olive oil can be ‘sweet’ tasting or ‘bitter’. “We have been taught to think that bitter olive oils are of higher quality than sweet tasting oils. That is not so. Taste is acquired. You usually like what you are more used to. Also, Koroneiki, for instance, is bitter and not very fruity but if you add it to a softer, more aromatic olive oil it can act as a stabilizer and will give the softer olive oil a longer shelf life. But olive trees are not just about olive oil, they are also about edible olives. The cultivation of edible olives is challenging for the farmer because it’s not easy to produce the right size of olive, the right colour and the right quality.”
We ask him if this is what he wanted to do in life or was ‘pressured’ into it. “This is what I’ve wanted since I was a kid. Everything I did in school was aimed in this direction. We grew up in a home that was filled with books on agriculture, our parents worked very hard, without any help from anyone, to overcome all the difficulties they faced, and we lived through these with them and came to love this place so much we wouldn’t give it up for anything. My brother is also an agriculturalist. You can’t do this job unless you’re madly in love with it and completely ‘nuts’ about plants. It’s highly demanding because plants need you all year round. You can’t just pack your bags and go on holiday. You have to be here regardless of whether it’s Easter or Christmas or the summer holiday period. Also, for a young person, like myself, to be living in the countryside, far from friends and the ‘civilized’ world, is not the easiest thing one can do.”
The olive plants are sold at different prices according to their size (age). The younger the plants, the cheaper the price. They don’t charge according to the variety and the work needed to raise the specific variety. “We are constantly trying to improve our rooting so that the producers are not burdened.” Apparently, they export plants to other countries as well. They’ve exported to Egypt, Cyprus, Pakistan, China, Japan and even Spain, Portugal and Germany (the latter for decorative purposes). “Our aim last year was to produce 1,000 000 olive cuttings and young olive trees and this year we are aiming to double that.”
In a completely different part of the nursery they continue to propagate carnation plants and oleanders, but also fruit bearing trees i.e. 40 varieties of pomegranate, a number of fig varieties, loquats and more recently subtropical plants like mangos and lychees, which are more suited to the climatic change that is taking place.
This was meant to be a quick walk around the nursery and the different chambers, but we ended up spending another good hour with Dimitris, who was extremely welcoming and informative. What a lovely young man! It would do Greece very well if we had more young people like him around.