The Mosaic law gave instructions about certain daily agricultural activities such as the gathering of grapes and the harvesting of olives.
When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over them again. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. (Deuteronomy 24:20 ESV)
Notice the reference to beating the olive trees here and in Isaiah 17:6. I have seen this in Italy, but have not been in Israel at the time of harvesting. Thanks to the generous use policy of Todd Bolen’s Pictorial Library of Bible Lands I am able to use this photo he made in the Shephelah. I encourage you to buy the entire set for use in your church or school classes.
King and Stager describe the olive tree, the necessary climate, and the length of time necessary for trees to produce olives.
The hardy, long-lived olive tree is an evergreen growing five to eight meters high and with a trunk up to one meter wide. Found mainly in the highlands and in the foothills between the coastal plain and the central mountain range, the olive tree thrives in the rocky, shallow soil of the hillsides during the Mediterranean’s hot, dry summers and cool, rainy winters. It requires an average annual temperature of fifteen degrees centigrade (fifty-nine degrees fahrenheit). Because olives can be grown on mountain slopes with very little soil, the tree does not compete with cereals for fertile, arable soil. The olive tree grows in the Levant but not in Egypt or Mesopotamia, because a certain chill, needed to cause the olives to mature, cannot be achieved in the warmer climes. It takes years for olive trees to mature to full, producing trees, and then they bear fruit only every other year. It is commonly said that one plants an olive yard not for one’s self but for one’s grandchildren. Trees begin to flower only after five or six years. (Life in Biblical Israel, 95-96)
William Albright translated the first line of the Gezer Calendar (925 B.C.) this way,
His two months are (olive) harvest
The time of harvest may vary depending on the type of olive and the particular place. In Israel and the Palestinian West Bank we think of October and November as the two months of harvest.