The old avocado orchard – a story in photos

We spent the weekend down on the family farm, and the kids came with me to explore the original avocado orchard my folks started up in 1973-74. It’s not in commercial production at this time for a number of reasons, but it is still productive and lightly managed, enough to provide avocados for a local farmgate outlet and anyone who makes the trek to our own farmgate. Here’s the orchard, in photos.

A cluster of translucent red new leaves - seven so far with more coming - jut out from under and then curve up past an old, grey branch mottled with white lichen spots

New leaves bud out from an old lichen-covered branch on one of the two-hundred-something trees in the orchard.

Pale gold stems radiate outwards in a six-point star, each with several clusters of unopened buds and a few small five-pointed open flowers, all the same pale gold colour.

A cluster of avocado flowers, some open. Most of our successful trees are Hass which self-pollinate. In the interests of diversity, curiosity, commercial acceptability and longer harvest season there are other varieties in the orchard, most of which need cross-pollination and are planted where they can pollinate each other.

 

A shiny green avocado hangs from a branch in the middle of the picture, most of which is filled with leaves of an avocado tree. At the tip of each branchlet of the tree a small spray of pale gold avocado flowers spikes up.

Avocados stay on the tree for around eighteen months, give or take a bit, but they set fruit every year. That means for half the year you’ll find two harvests on the tree at once. Here fruit for the coming season, to be harvested in January or February 2014, is surrounded by flowers that will set the 2015 crop.

A mostly bare-branched, scraggly avocado tree spurts out in several directions from a bulby and warty low trunk. The few leaves present are on lower branches and closer to the trunk. Around the tree, weeds grow prolifically and green.

This tree would have been grafted nearly forty years ago but it’s still young. The bare branches aren’t age, they’re dieback caused by Phytophora cinnamomi, an introduced fungal pathogen locally known as “jarrah dieback”. Affected trees die back from the tips but can reshoot from older growth. Avocado trees have a surface root system particularly susceptible to Phytophora. It’s the main reason this orchard has always struggled with production.

A small child sits in long grass and weeds, eating an orange and looking off downhill. His seated body is mostly hidden by the tall green grasses and weeds in front of him.

When the orchard was first hit by dieback a clear method of treatment hadn’t been developed yet. One suggestion was to interplant with citrus. That wasn’t terribly effective but the orchard still contains a fair whack of citrus trees. The development of a simple phosphoric acid treatment to manage the dieback (there’s no cure) was a relief to operations.

Several silver-gray stems about 10 cm high sprout straight up from ground that has about half a centimetre of water sitting on top. The stems have small pink flowers at the top.

I tell a lie. There’s one probable cure for dieback, and that’s desertification. It needs moist soil to live, and it gets it here. Much of the orchard gets boggy at this time of year. Our dams are full or nearso, the soil of the orchard is holding all the water it can and starting to leak it out in a few random places. In the orchard, this little weed grows only in the places where water’s sitting on the surface of the ground.

A four year old child with short hair wearing a purple jumper is looking down at flowers. The white and light-yellow wild radish flowers come up to her chest. Her hands are hidden in the flowers and a flowerstalk near the camera hides part of her face.

The wild radish grows on the slightly higher soil, where it can stay out of standing water. There it takes advantage of the very moist soil to grow high enough to hide a small child. Especially one who loves eating things that taste like broccoli as long as they’re not actually broccoli. The orchard is slashed in time for summer and fire season but at this time of year it’s so wet and everything’s growing so fast that the weeds are always high.

Small pink flowers and larger white cruciform flowers hover and spring in front of a drift of yellow flowers.

Spring is glorious in the orchard, the small birds and insects love the feast of flowers and grassy seed heads to be found up and down the aisles. Some sections will be too wet to slash until the week before fire season starts, but snakes can be a hazard and we do need to find the irrigation pipes under all this. So weed management has always been an issue. Many of the trees are sprayed underneath with herbicide. We’ve also had a few inconclusive experiments along the way with trying to introduce into the aisles a weedscape of plants we’d prefer for management purposes. Nothing definite though. In this photo there’s Cape Daisy (yellow), wild radish (white), and French Flypaper (pink).

A pile of kangaroo scat lies in a rough circle on green weeds and grass. Some of the scat is being eaten by a coterie of slaters.

The aisles of the old orchard are grazed by kangaroos. The farm flock of peacocks also wander around, making meals of seeds, flowers and, when they find such as this, convenient collections of invertebrates. And the nutrients cycle onwards. We have discussed formalising and increasing the grazing-to-fertilising process (and reducing the need for slashing and spraying) by bringing in sheep or alpaca but need to confirm they won’t just eat the avocados like the foxes and possums do.

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4 Responses to The old avocado orchard – a story in photos

  1. Cheshire Noir says:

    I remember a mate who used to manage the dropped fruit in his Nectarine orchard by running chickens. It helped keep down the fruitfly and the weeds, and the eggs were a radioactive orange from all the Nectarine flesh.

    • tikiwanderer says:

      Running chickens or fowl of any sort is a good method generally of translating seeds and pests to fertiliser. We use peacocks as they’re able to keep themselves safe from foxes most of the year (except when nesting). Thinking of bringing in a grazing animal or ten though as peacocks don’t really make a dent in the weeds. There’s a farming system in the US that uses cows and chickens together – cows first, then three days later they send the chickens in. The chickens scratch apart the cowpats and eat the bugs, coincidentally mixing the cowpats into the soil for better breakdown. I’d like to get something like that going.

  2. mccnmatt says:

    Gorgeous pictures!

  3. Pingback: Почему у садовых деревьев сохнет верхушка? — EcoMedia

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