I have written many posts in this blog for one year. The agricultural cycle has been completed and new posts will not provide significant added value. I just want to sum up what I have learned and explain my system in a few short bullets. I substantiate them all in the previous posts, which I will complete or correct if further experiences make me do so.
I practise dry farming in an arid region with an average 350 mm rainfall and cold spells during late winter and spring. Soils are mostly calcareous and potassium rich. I run a 15 hectares farm. I planted almond trees for the first time in 2012. 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. I saw many resilient wild almond trees in my region when I was a child. Making a profit is not my goal, so this blog focuses on growing trees, rather than on growing nuts. I just want to enjoy this activity during weekends and holidays, while keeping nature in good shape. The principles of my system are as follows:
– I plant 120 trees per hectare. That translates into an extra 60% of rainfall per tree, compared to the normal density of 200.
– I grow what I consider to be able to grow under these conditions. I use conventional almond rootstock, preferably from rustic bitter seeds . The varieties that I graft, such as Filippo Cea, bloom late, are self-compatible and stand fungal diseases. I have planted many grafted trees from the nursery, but I have grown many more by sowing seeds in their final location and grafting then afterwards. I only use varieties free from breeders rights.
– Almond trees require special attention 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.
– 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. As a rule, I avoid using insecticides. Main exception: trees affected by Aglaope infausta caterpillars (treatment in April). These exceptions require treating only the few individual affected trees.
– I avoid plant protection products, mainly because I do not want to spend money or buy big equipments. The exception is applying broad spectrum fungicides (Captan or Thiram) to young trees in late February or early March. This can be done by using low volumes with a manual sprayer. It may be useful to form healthy scaffolds.
– I control weeds with cultivation. Cultivation is also the key tool for conserving soil moisture.
– According to the soil tests I have carried out, I avoid 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.
Set a good regime and leave the rest to nature.