I practise dry farming in an arid region with an average 350 mm rainfall and cold spells during late winter and spring. Here, soils are mostly calcareous and potassium rich. My orchards have a 3 hectares average size. I have chosen almonds because I work and live far away from the farm. I have looked for a resilient crop that does not require much care and has low running costs. The idea was based in the resilient wild almond trees that I saw in my region when I was a child. Earning money is not my goal. I focus on growing trees, rather than on growing nuts. I just want to enjoy this activity during weekends and holidays, while keeping the land in good condition. The principles of my system are as follows:
– Few trees require large area. I plant 120 trees per hectare. That translates into an extra 60% of rainfall per tree, compared to the common density of 200. Cultivation is the only sensible practise to control weeds and conserve soil moisture.
– I plant conventional almond rootstock. The varieties I use bloom late, are self-compatible and stand fungal diseases. I have planted grafted trees from the nursery, but I have grown others by grafting trees originated from seeds sown in their final location. Rustic rootstock is supposed to be less attractive to parasites. I have only grafted varieties free from breeders rights, such as Filippo Cea.
– Almond trees require special care during the first four years. The most critical moment is late spring for second leaf trees, when the wind can cause bending. The strategy is to keep shoots in the trunk for the time being. If the roots and trunk grow well, the scaffolds will develop quickly afterwards. In winter, short pruning should be practiced to delay production and get sturdy branches. Once the tree has been trained for a period of four years, regular pruning is minimal , just eliminating inconvenient or diseased branches. Significant production starts six years after planting.
– Almond trees are naturally full with insects, they play their role in the living community. Some of them, such as lace bugs, are told to be pests but my experience shows that trees stand them with no problem. The main threat is Capnodis tenebrionis beatle, whose larvae are able to kill trees from the root. Another relevant enemy is Aglaope infausta caterpillar, which may defoliate some trees.
– I avoid plant protection products, mainly because I do not want to spend money or buy equipments. As an exception, I applied broad spectrum fungicides to young trees in winter, which can help scaffolds to develop healthy. There are no effective products to fight Capnodis. Aglaope infausta is very sensitive to insecticides and can be easily controlled by spraying the affected trees.
– According to the soil tests I have carried out, I do not need fertilization, either chemical or organic. Foliar fertilization has been ineffective in my farm. Soil applications of micronutrients mixed with organic substrate have proved to be great to correct micronutrient deficiencies in calcareous soils.
Almond growing at farming scale is something new in central Spain. Agriculture is not profitable. Prices are doomed to fail in the long run because of the inelastic nature of the demand for agricultural products. Production of 6 year old trees thas turned out to be less than 1 kilo of kernel per tree, despite the good fruit set and development.