Olive flavor varies greatly depending on when the olives are harvested. Whether used in olive oil or whole, olives picked one week apart from the same tree can taste very different from each other. More mature olives are sweeter and fruitier. The greener the fruit, the more antioxidants are present in its oil, which means a longer shelf life. However, green olives tend to be more peppery and bitter in taste. Harvesting olives can be done by hand if you have a small crop. If there are thousands of acres, you'll need the help of machinery.
Use an Olive Maturity Index to determine when to harvest the olives. The color of the flesh and skin are indicative of maturity. Scores range from 0 to 7, depicting green to purple colors.
Take the weather into account. Fruit maturation depends on sunlight, temperature and irrigation. If the autumn is hot, the fruit will ripen quicker. A cool autumn might require you to leave the fruit on the tree until winter.
Lay nets down on the ground to catch olives as they are scraped from the branches. Use bare hands, gloves or rakes to loosen them from their branches.
Climb ladders to reach the branches, especially those up higher. Have some people work on the higher branches while others work on removing olives from the branches closer to the ground.
Secure the nets with stakes if you're working on a slope or hill. This will keep the olives from rolling off. Gather the olives once they are all harvested.
Use harvesters that are similar to pecan tree harvesters if the trees are more than 20 feet high. Grape harvesters can also be used for high-density orchards.
Pickle or press olives within three days of picking them. If you wait longer than that, the fruit will oxidize and the quality will suffer.