Olive trees specially-grown
to thrive in South Texas

May 27, 2010

by Helen R. Parks
Victoria County
Master Gardener Intern

edited by Charla Borchers Leon,
Victoria County Master Gardener
Olives can be grown successfully for fruit only in selected areas of East, Central and South Central Texas. Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard is located on 40 acres of land, south of San Antonio, with 11,000 olive trees of 32 varieties from Egypt and California. These olive trees are heat and drought-tolerant, but in a dry year, require irrigation for fruit production.
Gardeners' Dirt

A full line of olive oil and leaf products, including bottled oils, body treatment products, like soaps, creams and lotions, teas, and food items, like jellies, truffles and other pantry items are available at the orchard or online.
An antique stone mill from Egypt with wheels powered by a tractor was used to process olive oil at the orchard until the purchase of a small commercial press from Italy. The commercial olive press processes 500 to 1,000 pounds of olives a day. A mature tree can produce 35 to 40 pounds of olives per year that are harvested by hand at the orchard between late August and October.
Victoria County Master Gardeners recently investigated Texas olive production as one of our continuing education trainings, and visited the Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard just south of San Antonio near Elmendorf.


The gracious lady we met, whose passion for olives has transformed her remote ranch into a profitable business, amazed us with her knowledge and love of this revered fruit. Handmade products from the leaves and oil of the olive trees "hecho a mano con amor" or "made by hand with love" allow her to live her dream, as she cares for select olive trees specially-grown to thrive in our South Texas climate.

11,000 TREES

Sandy Oaks state certified nursery is a working ranch and is open to the public Tuesday through Saturday with thousands of trees on hand for the novice or commercial growers. Owner Saundra Winokur planted her 40-acre orchard starting in 1998 with now 11,000 trees of 32 olive varieties from Egypt and California.

The olive press room, a commercial kitchen, complete with chef and dining area, are all housed in a climate-controlled barn. An antique stone mill shipped from Egypt said to be many centuries old welcomes visitors to the orchard entrance. The gift shop located on site and on the web at www.sandyoaks.com, offers a full line of olive oils, teas, soaps, lotions, scrubs, creams, salves, sachets, jellies, truffles and other pantry items.


Antique stone mill - For centuries, olive oil was processed using a stone mill with 2 wheels. One horizontal wheel forms the base, while the other is upright and positioned on an axle that was usually pulled by a donkey.

The olives are poured onto the flat wheel while the top wheel rolls over the fruit crushing the pits and meat into a pulp called pomace.

The pomace is loaded onto 5 flat, loosely-woven hemp baskets and put on the bed of a screw press operated by hand. The pressure causes the oil to pour into a trough located under the press.

The oil is poured into large containers and allowed to rest as the oil is not yet pure. Some water and pomace seeps through the baskets so after awhile, the oil rises to the top and is poured into the oil barrel. Now it is ready to use and the residue is used to water the crops as it is high in organic matter.

*New commercial press
- Fortunately, the orchard used a small tractor to turn the mill until they purchased the small commercial press, II Molinetto, from Pierilisi, an Italian company. It presses 500 to 1,000 pounds of olives a day. Ten pounds of olives will generally produce a quart of olive oil. A mature tree can produce 35 to 40 pounds of olives per year. Olives are picked green, rose, and black and used in 3 days to avoid spoilage. They are harvested between late August and October. They are picked by hand and flawed olives are removed. The dried leaves are used for soaps, lotions, and tea. When boiled and steeped, olive tea is said to be a healthier antioxidant than green tea. Olives must be processed before eating . either pickled or pressed into oil.


Olives can be grown successfully for fruit in only selected areas of east, central and south-central Texas due to their vernalization requirement for cool to cold winters (not less than 17 degrees) and hot summers.

Olive trees grow best in neutral to alkaline soils. Good drainage and mulching help trees develop a strong, shallow root system while protecting them from extreme temperatures. Olive trees are heat- and drought-tolerant, but in a dry year, require irrigation for fruit production.


Today, all olive oil produced with centrifugal presses is considered "cold pressed." Originally, the term referred to oil obtained in the first pressing, differentiating it from the second pressing, which involved mixing boiling water or steam with the pomace to extract the remaining oil.

Virgin olive oil and extra virgin olive oil must be sent to California for grading. The greener the olives, the greener the oil will be.

There is no difference in "light" and "regular" olive oil. This is an advertising gimmick ... they both contain 120 calories per tablespoon.

When used in cooking, however, olive oil is a good antioxidant. It is not recommended to use olive oil when deep frying as the oil will break down at very high temperatures.

As olive oil is becoming a healthy staple in kitchens everywhere, we may see many yards adding a tree or two to landscapes.


Syria cultivated olives around 6,000 B.C. Greece considered them so sacred in 7th century B.C., that destroying a tree was punishable by death. Only virgins and chaste men were allowed to pick them.

In ancient times, the oil was used to barter for goods, burn in oil lamps and grease axles.

There are olive trees more than 1,000 years old that are still producing today. If left unpruned, some trees can reach a height of 50 feet, although the average height is 12 to 15 feet tall.


Winokur made many trips to the Mediterranean to find the perfect olive match for her climate and soil conditions. Arbequina olive oil, a product of Spain, has a sweet delicate flavor, while the Arbosana oil has a slight peppery flavor.

These trees grow in hedgerows and bear fruit in 2 to 3 years.

Manzanilla olives also from Spain are used as the basic table olive.

Many of the oldest olive trees in Texas are Mission olives brought by Spanish Friars while colonizing the natives.


If your climate is not exact for fruit production, olives can be grown as ornamental flowering shrubs in the landscape or in containers. Visit
www.texasoliveoilcouncil.org for more information.
Olives can be grown as ornamental flowering shrubs
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Source: "The Passionate Olive, 101 Things To Do With Olive Oil," by Carol Firenze
The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or vcmga@vicad.com, or comment on this column at www.VictoriaAdvocate.com.