FAMILY & FARM | APPRENTICESHIPS
Our land is steep and bowl shaped giving us a diversity of microclimates to work with.
We have planted our orchard and bush plantings to make the most of this potential, locating the heat loving plants such as figs, pomegranates, citrus, peaches, persimmons and jujubes on the hot south facing slopes and placing the cool weather loving plants (such as blueberries, currants etc.) that don"t appreciate their dormant rest disturbed by a mid-winter warm spell, in a more shady northwest exposure. Pears, cherries, apples, raspberries, etc. slowly work their way out from the cooler fringe meeting in the middle of the field with the grapes and peaches. To further cushion our tender-to-heat blueberries from summers hot scorching sun, we alternate every 2 rows of berries with a row of cherry trees creating a moving shade.
All our plantings are intensively spaced with trees generally 9 feet apart in the row and 12 feet apart between rows. Bushes are planted 4 feet apart in rows 6 feet apart. Besides being planted close together most of our trees our growing on steep slopes where it is difficult to move and set a ladder and are planted on standard or semi- standard rootstocks to create a strong long lived tree. To keep our plantings from becoming a jungle and shading out the lower fruit bearing branches we train our trees into a fan shape and keep their height at 12 feet tall. Anything we can"t reach from an 8-foot ladder is cut back to make pruning, spraying, thinning and picking fruit reasonable. We keep our fanned trees to about 3-5 feet thick allowing us to do all the above mentioned chores from ladder sets moved along the row on the uphill side of the trees and give enough of an aisle to let sun reach down to the lower limbs to keep them vital and bearing fruit.
We are transforming the previously star thistle, periwinkle, poison oak and blackberry groundcover into a mix of clovers, alfalfa, comfrey, herbs and flowers. Throughout our plantings we run our 70 chickens, rotating them to different areas depending on the needs of the different crops. The birds are terrific grazers eating many damaging insects and slugs, and significantly mowing most of the groundcovers. The birds also eat any fallen fruit interrupting the life cycle for many insect and fungal pests. We mow the areas, that are flat enough, with our wheeled string mower and the steeper slopes with a hand scythe about once or twice a year. Between the trees shade and the chickens grazing weed growth has become quite tamed. We have planted a living fence along the edge of our field and have put up many birdhouses making for abundant bird life and habitat for beneficial insects, which helps to prevent pest outbreaks. Needless to say we put bird netting over our cherry trees and blueberry bushes before the fruit ripens!