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Monday, April 18, 2016

Rain is a good thing

Rain is good thing! We need it. We pray for it. We fight over it. We stress over it. We pull our hair out over it. But it also has consequences. Some good, some bad. I know plenty of cherry farmers weren't very happy with last weekend's rain. Cherries are gearing up to be harvested  in our area and getting ready for market, rain can really put a wrench in those plans when it is unexpected and there is nothing that can be done. But in all honesty, we need rain in the Central Valley. We will take it whenever it comes. We waited all winter for the floods of El Nino that were expected. But of course, this winter brought no dramatic increase in rain and in the Central Valley we are still below our average rainfall for the year. Granted we haven't achieved that average in some time, it would be nice to get it again soon. So in the mean time we took the early April showers with a thankful smile and an appreciation of any water at all.

With rain, usually comes a heavy wind. Especially in the desert region that we farm in the Southern Central Valley. When it is raining or storming in the Northern or Central parts of the San Joaquin Valley, we are generally met with a dust storm or heavy winds with little to no rainfall due to our infamous ran shadow effect. When there is a forecast for rain, we don't get our hopes up, it usually doesn't show up. So, 10 days ago when they predicted a small rainfall, I wasn't expecting much. Much to my surprise we received 1.4 inches of rain in 3 days at our house. Some parts of Bakersfield received 2 inches or more and others less than an inch. To a region of the state where our average rainfall is around 6 inches in a normal year, we were shocked to get this much in an average year in the midst of a multiyear drought.
crop drop under the tree rows

What happens to a drought stricken flat valley when they do finally get rain? Well, I am sure you can guess it. We flood, we loose trees and we have crop damage. Our orchards had standing water puddles a few rows in, with access roads and ditches had water flowing like a river. Some of our shallow rooted almond trees couldn't withstand the wind and drenched root zones. We lost about 100 of our mature almonds trees. Half of that was in an old orchard that will possibly be removed after harvest this year anyways. We also have an almond crop that fell off the tree from the heavy wind, whipping the nuts and rubbing them off. This crop was most likely not viable anyways and would have fallen off before harvest naturally. Needless to say, we spent last week cleaning up the fields and pulling fallen trees out of the orchard.

It may seem like a disaster to some, and some farmers always have it worse than others. But rain is a good thing. We are grateful for the rain we received and wish we received more of it. At the end of the day, Central Valley farmers aren't going to receive any more water from the State or Federal projects so we have to be thankful for the rain. Rain not only helps to irrigate the crop right now, it helps to recharge our groundwater basin, add some water to reservoirs, and most importantly it generally comes with snow in the mountains. So keep praying for rain!

Until Next Time,
Almond Girl




Monday, April 11, 2016

What fertilizers do almonds need?

It's spring and the almond trees are covered with shiny leaves and growing nuts. The trees are beautiful and full of new life. As they grow the 2016 harvest crop, they need fertilizer to help them grow. Fertilizer is like plant food or vitamins that give the trees a little extra boost. Just like you feed your garden fertilizer, your rose bushes plant food, or like how you take your daily vitamins, we feed our almond trees fertilizer.
We prefer the fertigation method to fertilize our trees through the water in our irrigation drip hoses. This helps us to be more efficient and effective in our fertilizer use. When we fertilize in the spring we use three different kinds of fertilizers; Nitrogen, Potassium and Zinc. It is like a farmers version of a a perfect vitamin combination.

Nitrogen is important to help encourage leaf growth and nut development. Nitrogen provides the building block to form protein and oils.  One of the key reasons you probably eat almonds is because they are high in protein. By us adding nitrogen to the soil, we are ensuring the protein levels will develop in the almond. Almonds also have great natural oils, making almond oil a great ingredient in your shampoo or making that almond butter extra creamy.
Nitrogen deficiencies in an almond tree can cause chlorotic older leaves, or most commonly referred to as yellowing leaves. We want the leaves to be healthy and full or nitrogen. We have to be very careful when apply nitrogen because it is so mobile. We don't want it beyond the tree roots or else the tree will not be able to properly use the nitrogen. That is why using drip irrigation is a great tool for nitrogen because we can slowly apply it perfectly to stay in the root zone.

Potassium is another fertilizer almonds need. Almonds take up a lot of Potassium from the soil in developing their nuts, so we need to replenish this into the soil so they can continue to thrive. Just as people require the perfect level of potassium, so do trees. The almond nut uses and stores a lot of potassium, similar to how a banana has a lot of potassium. It is a difficult element to extract from the soil, so we have to apply the potassium to ensure proper nut development. A lack of potassium will cause the entire tree's leaves to discolor yellow. This would cause the tree to stress and be sick, and we want healthy and happy trees!

Zinc is the last of our spring fertilizers we use.  If almonds don't have proper amounts of zinc it will lead to chlorotic leaves on the younger tissues.  It will also lead to shorter distances between the leaves on a branch with a malnourished zinc tree. We have to ensure there is ample amount of zinc in the soil and tree by applying through the drip system to get right at the root zone. This application process will speed up the absorption into the tree. Zinc is not very mobile in the tree or soil either so fertigation is a saving grace for applying zinc.

It is important for farmers to test our soil pH prior to applying fertilizers so we know what our soils are deficient in.  Our trees are our babies, and we want to make sure they have the vitamins they need to thrive. Consider it their toddler doctor check up! Our trees don't talk to us, so by paying attention to their leaves, tissue colors and testings we can learn what they need.  We apply these fertilizers in the spring  to allow the tree time to grow properly and have properly developed nuts. Soon our little almonds will be all grown up and ready to be harvested!

Until Next Time,
Almond Girl