Lake County is probably at its most beautiful in May. The mountains that ring the County are full of wildflower blooms: poppies, blue, white, and yellow lupine, native penstemon, Indian Paint Brush, pink spineflowers, whisker brush, plus many more. The poppies and lupine blanket the now green hillsides off Highway 175 which had burned last summer. The flowers carpeting the new green grass under the blackened branches of the scrub brush present a unique beauty that shows off Nature’s hopeful side.
Here on the farm we are taking advantage of warmish days and cool nights to get a lot of work done. In fact the entire Big Valley is buzzing with activity, including tractor work that starts at 2:00 am in the morning.
Our project this week has been to plant about 100 new olive trees to replace those that succumbed to below 20-degree temperatures last winter. We lost quite a few trees in the “new” orchard so that replacement planting will likely go on for the next couple of years.
With good advice from our local UC Extension orchard advisor, we developed a “12-step program” for carefully planting the new trees. The elements are simple enough: breaking apart the tree’s root ball and spreading the roots in native soil mixed with a little clay soil conditioner; watering and gently tamping the tree in; lightly staking the tree so it can move a little in the wind, helping it to build caliper (thickness); and finally generously surrounding the tree with a good three-inch thick layer of playground chips for mulch, being careful to pull the mulch away from the base of the tree. Why playground wood chips? Because CCOF approves of this type of mulch for organic operations. If it’s good enough for children to play on, then it’s fine for the trees to grow in. In addition the new trees will eventually get a coat of orchard milk paint to prevent sun scald next winter.
Next week it’s back to basic farm maintenance: mowing, pruning trees, monitoring the irrigation, and as Rich calls it, “our orchard beautification program,” which consists of re-staking bent-over trees, removing the dead ones, and suckering the trees.