We've just completed our first pruning pass, pruning off all branches below 18 inches, eliminating double trunk trees and separating and clearing large branches to provide air flow. Keeping the trees from becoming too dense is going to be the key for preventing fungus and molds and ensuring fruit set and ripening. It's taken us about 2 months to complete pruning and retraining the trees with our motley crew: ourselves, Anthony's brother 2 days a week, 1 part-time former construction worker and 2 WWOOF students. It's been a fun and useful experience teaching young people from all over the world about our farm. As the prunings are placed in the center of the row, Anthony takes the tractor and flail mower over them, rendering them into a mulch.
Gophers and moles are still our biggest pests. Even with our three owl boxes, the momentum is clearly in their court. However, 80% of the trees are large enough that some root pruning by these pests does not kill the entire tree as it did earlier in the year.
Weeds come in a close second. We are beginning an application plan of the OMRI certified, organic approved herbicide called GreenMatch. The active ingredient is lemongrass oil and provides defoliant weed control on smaller weeds in between and directly at the base of the trees- leaving the mower to take care of the weeds in row. We also use a push mower that has a head like a giant string trimmer to keep them at a manageable level. If weeds are allowed to grow, they cause mold in the trees, they host pests and they decrease the amount of sunlight and water each tree gets- decreasing growth and production noticeably. As we get into our stride, we strike a balance between weeds three feet high and the scorched earth management style preferred by most conventional orchard managers. Mowing and mulching will cut down even further on tillage in the field, something that we'd like to get away from as we pursue a more holistic approach to orchard management.
I've begun seeding more wildflowers in our border along the road and we are planning on planting a border of pomegranate seedlings, mostly as ornamentation along the roadside, but with uses such as part of gift baskets and as an ingredient in our planned infused olive oils.
It's truly a joy to see the fruit slowly turning from chartreuse to purple.