Olive trees grow naturally in the Mediterranean, but also are planted in temperate climates along the West Coast of the United States. These tall, gnarled trees produce what becomes the green and black olives we eat: the green ones are not ripe, and the black ones are ripe. Olives require careful preparation before they are ready to eat; the raw fruits are inedible without soaking and salting. Before the fruit is processed and brought to the table, the olives must be picked at the correct stage.
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Spread a tarp under the olive tree. Cover the ground from the trunk out to the outermost reach of the tree's branches.
Hand pick under-ripe olives that still are in the green stage if you want green olives. Grasp the stem above the olive fruit, and twist the fruit off the branch. Place it in a collecting basket. Use a ladder to reach the upper branches of the tree.
Pick fully ripened olives for making black olives. Shake the branches of the tree so the olives fall onto the tarp. Alternately, beat the higher branches with a broom to shake the olives loose.
Pick the olives off the tarp. Place them in your collecting basket. Process the olives within 48 hours of harvest so they do not over-ripen.