It’s a beautiful morning here at the ranch, so I headed out for a walk to see what’s going on. Once the harvest season is over, there are lots of projects to do that will help the soil, the trees, and the baby avocados that are already growing for next year. Last spring we cut down some of the older trees that my husband planted over 40 years ago. We replaced them with brand new baby avocado trees before the summer harvest season started. These baby trees had the advantage of spring rains and warm growing season. Now it’s time to wrap them up with a warm and nourishing blanket of mulch.
Here you can see the taller, older trees with younger trees that were planted a few years ago in front of them. The baby trees that we planted this year are in the foreground, each with a stake to help it stand up straight and a nice blanket of mulch around the base of the tree. You can also see that each tree has a riser and a sprinkler for irrigation.
This young tree has had a good start because it was planted in the spring. By next March these baby trees should bloom and produce a few avocados. We order our baby trees a year in advance from Brokaw Nursery . These are the Hass variety with the bumpy skin that you find most often in grocery stores. These new trees have been grown on root stock that can thrive in the saltier water that Southern California receives now from the Colorado River.
Water is precious in California, so farmers try to use only the optimal amount needed to grow their crops. Mature avocado trees always have a bed of leaves around them, helping to keep the moisture in the soil. Baby avocado trees need mulch to increase the water holding capacity of the soil around the roots of the tree. Mulch helps prevent soil erosion from wind or heavy rains, and also decreases the need for weeding around the trees.
The mulch is made from composted green organic matter that comes from landscape clippings. Instead of sending all those clippings to a landfill, companies like Agriservice make them into mulch for farmers and gardeners to use. They use good clean trimmings, with no animal waste, and compost it for a minimum of one month. The composting material is kept between 132 and 155 degrees to kill any pathogens or weed seeds. There are beneficial microorganisms and nutrients in the mulch that are slowly released into the soil for plant absorption.
See those huge boulders? There are lots of rocks on the hills in this area. Avocado trees love to grow in soil with good drainage, so you will often see avocados growing on steep hillsides if you visit Southern California. The stumps of the old trees have been taken away for firewood, and these baby trees are all ready to grow. These baby trees will require special pruning, nutrients, and careful observation so that pests or diseases don’t kill them. Farmers watch the weather predictions to anticipate heat spells, freezing weather and winds. With good care, avocado trees can produce for 30 years or more.
As we watch the sun set into the Pacific Ocean, we look back at what we’ve accomplished and plan for tomorrow. It’ll be another early morning and more hard work…those trees need tender loving care to help the avocados size up for next year. The trees need to be healthy so they can bloom again in the spring and set a crop for the following year. The baby trees will take several years to come into full production. Patience. Attention to detail.
“Why do farmers farm, given their economic adversities on top of the many frustrations and difficulties normal to farming? And always the answer is: “Love. They must do it for love.” Farmers farm for the love of farming. They love to watch and nurture the growth of plants. They love to live in the presence of animals. They love to work outdoors. They love the weather, maybe even when it is making them miserable. They love to live where they work and to work where they live. If the scale of their farming is small enough, they like to work in the company of their children and with the help of their children. They love the measure of independence that farm life can still provide. I have an idea that a lot of farmers have gone to a lot of trouble merely to be self-employed to live at least a part of their lives without a boss.”
― Wendell Berry, Bringing it to the Table: Writings on Farming and Food