Category Archives: In the orchard

Let Us Spray!

We are ready to start spraying the trees to attack the Peacock Spot. We have a new 100-gallon sprayer that attaches to the back of the tractor and are using a

Just like in 'Breaking Bad'!

Just like in ‘Breaking Bad’!

copper sulfate solution that needs to be sprayed on all of the trees. It should take care of the problem and won’t have any effect on the fruit later this season.

It takes two of us to perform the spraying, one to drive the tractor and one to hold the spray gun. We have to wear protective gear because the spray can be harmful if inhaled. Even though it is organic, it still needs to be handled carefully.

Preparing the sprayer

Filling up the tank

Spraying an Arbequina tree for Peacock Spot

One down, 1999 to go…

The Results Are In…

Finally got the test results back for the yellowing trees in the orchard. Good thing too, as many of the trees are starting to show signs of yellowing as well. It turns out that the trees have a good case of Peacock Spot, a fungus that attacks olive

Arbequina tree with Peacock Spot

Arbequina tree with Peacock Spot

trees. The soil, water, and leaf samples were all relatively normal, though some nutrient deficiencies need to be addressed. But pretty much all the samples had the fungus and need to be treated.

The best treatment for this fungus is copper sulfate, which gets sprayed onto the leaves and trunk. Fortunately, it is an organic treatment, so we will be able to use it. On the other hand, we need to buy a big sprayer so we can apply it easily throughout the orchard. We need to get a jump on this because the rains will only make it worse this winter. It is a good excuse to go the tractor store to see what attachments I might “need”.

Back in November, we seeded the rows between the trees with a mix of oats, peas and beans. We are dry-farming them so, given the light rain we have had so

Looking West down a row of Arbequina

Cover crop in the orchard

far this year, it has taken a while for them to come up. But they are finally starting to fill in! Hopefully this will help to catch more water in the coming storms as well as provide the trees with good nutrients when we cut and mulch it in the spring. Oats sprout quickly to help prevent weeds and provide structure for the legumes. The peas and beans help break up compacted soil and gather nitrogen that will be released when it is cut and tilled into the soil this Spring. It should also look pretty once they bloom, maybe attracting some helpful insects.

Looking East up the row of Arbequina

You can see the oats doing well

Close-up of cover crops

These are the peas


Sick Trees

I have noticed that there are a handful of trees that have turned yellow and started to defoliate. I have heard from other growers that it is normal for olives to yell a bit in the winter, but these seem to be excessively so. And it is only a handful of them, interspersed in the rest of the orchard. The olive expert at UC Davis told me I wasn’t watering or fertilizing correctly, but that doesn’t make sense because it is one tree in the middle of a row and its neighbors are either doing fine or are slightly yellowing. I asked if it could be Peacock Spot, a fungus that attacks olive trees, and he dismissed that as unlikely. Not super helpful…

A distressed trees in the orchard

One of these things is not like the others

Potential fungus

Yellowing, distressed Arbequina tree

So I took samples of the leaves from the trees that are looking sick as well as those that are just marginally yellow, as well as soil and water samples, and packed it off to the labs for nutrient and pathogen testing. It will take a week for the tissue testing results and 3-4 weeks to get the pathogen results back.

Meanwhile, we will keep an eye on them and make sure they get good water.

Preparing the orchard for winter

The weather expert at The California Weather Blog has repeatedly stated we are in for a good, wet winter. Now, betting on the weather is a bit like gambling on horses (i.e., don’t bet the ranch), but Daniel Swain DID identify the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge, which is one of the main reasons we have had so little rain over the past few years. So he is my “go to guy” for all things climactic…

In the hopes of increased water this winter, we decided to plant cover crops in the rows of the orchard. We are using a seed mix called “Paso Plough-down” to hopefully break up the soil so the water will soak in more effectively and provide us with additional nitrogen this spring when we till it in. A number of the vineyards are using a similar method with a lot of success, but little is known for how olive orchards benefit from this approach.

We borrowed a seeder and brought it to the ranch. Had a minor mishap when the tie down strap came loose and the seeder rolled off the end of the trailer as we went up our driveway. The seeder landed squarely and rolled back down the hill, across the shoulder, and through the neighbor’s wire fence, surprising her lounging cattle. With a little help from a friend (thanks Rodney!), we got the fence repaired before the cows could figure out the coast was clear.

We started bright and early the next day and, once we figured out how to set the seeder up correctly, we got down to business.

Despite the new heavier tractor, there were a few tense tipping moments when we raised the seeder and made a turn down the hill.  But the seeder worked beautifully and we got all ten acres completed before the rain. Now we just have to wait for the rain to come and let the seeds do their thing…