I 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 improve as further experiences make me do so.
I practise dry farming in La Mancha, 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. 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. 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, 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 the land in good condition. 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 I use 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 grafting trees originated from seeds sown in their final location. I only graft varieties free from breeders rights, such as Filippo Cea.
– 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. These exceptions require treating only the few individual affected trees in early spring.
– I avoid plant protection products, mainly because I do not want to spend money or buy equipments. The exception is applying broad spectrum copper and oil to young trees in winter, which can help scaffolds to develop healthy. This can be done by applying low volumes with a manual sprayer.
– Cultivation is also the key tool for controling weeds and 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.
I am an organic farmer, despite not being certified as such. I do not believe either in the organic farming regulation or in the model of agriculture of the European Union. CAP has not stopped water depletion and soil degradation in my region. Despite its phoney green arguments, this policy is basically a set of subsidies to landlords, which makes profitable an unprofitable activity.