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Bill Thayer

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Chapters 53‑60

This webpage reproduces a section of
De Agricultura

Cato the Elder

published in the Loeb Classical Library, 1934

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapters 70‑73

Marcus Cato
on Agriculture

[link to original Latin text] 61 1 What is good cultivation? Good ploughing. What next? Ploughing. What third? Manuring.

The planter who works his olives very often and  p75 very deep66 will plough up the very slender roots; while bad ploughing will cause the roots to come to the surface and grow too large, and the strength of the tree will waste into the roots. When you plough grain land do it well and at the proper season, and do not plough with an irregular furrow. The rest of the cultivation consists in hoeing often, taking up shoots carefully, and transplanting, at the proper time, as many roots as possible, with their soil. When you have covered the roots well, trample them firmly so that the water will not harm them. If one should ask what is the proper time for planting olives, I should say, at seed-time in dry ground, and in spring in rich ground.

[link to original Latin text] 62 1 You should have as many carts as you have teams, either of oxen, mules, or donkeys.

[link to original Latin text] 63 1 The press rope should be 55 feet long when stretched; there should be 60 feet of leather cordage for the cart, and 26 feet for reins; the yoke straps for the cart 18 feet, and the line 15; the yoke straps for the plough 16 feet and the line 8.

[link to original Latin text] 64 1 When the olives are ripe they should be gathered as soon as possible, and allowed to remain on the ground or the floor as short a time as possible, as they spoil on the ground or the floor.67 The gatherers want to have as many windfalls as possible, that there may be more of them to gather; and the pressers want them to lie on the floor a long time, so that they will soften and be easier to mill. Do not believe that the oil will be of greater quantity if they lie on the floor.68 The more quickly you work them up the better the results will be, and you will get more  p77 and better oil from a given quantity. Olives which have been long on the ground or the floor will yield less oil and of a poorer quality. If possible, draw off the oil twice a day, for the longer it remains on the amurca69 and the dregs, the worse the quality will be.

[link to original Latin text] 65 1 Observe the following directions in making green oil: Pick the olives off the ground as soon as possible, and if they are dirty, wash them and clean off leaves and dung. Mill them a day or two days after they have been gathered. Pick olives after they have turned black; the more acid the olives the better the oil will be, but the master will find it most profitable to make oil only from ripe olives. If frost has fallen on the olives, mill them three or four days after gathering. You may sprinkle such olives with salt, if you wish; and keep a high temperature in the pressing-room and the storeroom.

[link to original Latin text] 66 1 Duties of the watchman and the ladler: The watchman must keep a close watch on the store-room and the pressing-room, and must see that there is as little passing in and out as possible. He must see that the work is done as neatly and cleanly as possible, that copper vessels are not used, and that no seeds are crushed for oil; otherwise it will have a bad flavour. Place a lead cauldron in the basin into which the oil flows. As soon as the workmen press down the levers, at once the ladler must take off the oil with a shell very carefully, and without stopping, being careful not to take off the amurca. Pour the oil into the first vessel, then into the second, each time removing the dregs and the amurca. When you take the oil from the cauldron, skim off the amurca.

 p79  [link to original Latin text] 67 1 Further duties of the watchman: Those in the pressing-room must keep their vessels clean and see that the olives are thoroughly worked up and that they are well dried. They must not cut wood in the pressing-room.70 They must skim the oil frequently. He must give the workmen a sextarius of oil for each pressing, and what they need for the lamp. He must throw out the lees every day and keep cleaning the amurca until the oil reaches the last vat in the room. He must wipe off the baskets with a sponge, and change the vessel daily until the oil reaches the jar. He must be careful to see that no oil is pilfered from the pressing-room or the cellar.

[link to original Latin text] 68 1 When the vintage and the olive harvest are over, raise up the press beams, and hang up the mill ropes, cables, and cords on the meat-rack or the beam. Put the stones, pins, levers, rollers, baskets, hampers, grass baskets, ladders, props, and everything which will be needed again, each in its proper place.

[link to original Latin text] 69 1 To steep new oil jars: Fill them with amurca, maintaining a constant level, for seven days; then pour off the amurca and let the jars dry. When the drying is finished soak gum in water a day ahead, and the next day dilute it. Then heat the jar to a lower temperature than if you were to pitch it — it is sufficient for it to be warm, so heat it over a slow fire. When it is moderately warm, pour in the gum and rub it in. Four pounds of gum are enough for a jar holding 50 quadrantals,71 if you apply it properly.

The Editor's Notes:

66 Columella, II, 2, 24, advises deep ploughing, "especially in Italy, where land planted with fruit trees and olives needs to be broken and cut through deeply, so that the top roots of vines and olives may be cut off, for if they remain they impoverish the fruits; and so that the lower roots, when the soil is broken deeply, may not fail to take up the nourishment of the moisture."

67 Cf. Chap. 3, Secs. 2‑4.

68 See Columella, XII, 52, 18‑19, for a discussion of the (p75)point, and the disbelief that the olives increase in size or the oil in amount.

69 See note 1, page 24.

70 Careless chopping of fire-wood might injure the presses; or the levers might be cut.

71 So interpreted from dolium quinquagenarium in 112, 3.

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Page updated: 16 Mar 05