Location: Southern Capay Valley
Irrigation system: Microsprinklers, but not 100% coverage of orchard floor.
Soil type: n/a
Soil detail: n/a
Special farming challenges: n/a
- Cropping Systems Information
- Crop: pistachios, figs, stone fruits
Acres of orchard or vineyard: 200
Other crops: Heirloom tomatoes, melons, winter squash, fall/winter vegetables, mixed veg for farmers markets
Acres of other crops: 300
Organic management: Yes
Certifications: CCOF organic and CCOF Global GAP
Certifications notes: n/a
Where using cover crops: Pistachios, figs, stone fruit. Citrus has been cover cropped in the past, but is currently managed in resident vegetation. Winter cover crops make winter citrus harvest more difficult.
- Grower Experience, Farm Priorities, and Cover Cropping Goals
- When started farming (yr): Farm started in 1976, current generation took over management in 2000.
Farm priorities: Farm has always been a “truck farm” pushing the limits of what could be grown in an area, focus on marketing to deal with the shortcomings of the product. In the 80s’ the farm pioneered market adoption of many specialty produce items. Farm has shifted from maximizing harvest time and diversity of crops from a single location to maximize the markets, to a more focused approach, to work with the resources and the climate he has to produce the best crops. Now with a solid, base, and conscious of the economic danger of over production, incremental expansion of product lines in possible. With orchard crops, no growing things that don’t do well here.
Years growing orchard or vineyard crop: 45 years
Years growing cover crops: ~20 years. First generation likely used cover crops in the late 80s, current generation adopted practices from 2000’s on.
Initial transition to cover cropping: He bought a grain drill at an auction he could break in two, so he had a 8’ seeder for the orchard tractor he could use. It became easy to try.
Goals and benefits: Nitrogen supplement, weed control, aesthetics, water infiltration/retention
Benefits description: Fixing nitrogen in an organic system, controlling weeds, would rather have predictable cover crops than weed species, aesthetics are a great part of it, and bare ground in heavy clay soils creates infiltration issues.
Change in goals over time: In the citrus, cover crops create orchard entry issues during harvest, so grower has moved to managed resident vegetation. Otherwise, similar cover cropping strategies in the orchards over the last 20 years. Now more interested in increasing soil organic matter and improving water holding capacity.
- Cover Crop Details, Planting and Management Methods
Block described here: Pistachios, figs, stone fruits
Current cover crops: Legumes, grasses
Species and mixes: Vetch, oat, fava beans, peas
Planting method: Drill seed
Planting date (2020): November
Was that optimal? n/a
Pre-plant soil prep: Mowed, light disc
Planting equipment: Grain drill with discs to close.
Seeding rate: 75 lbs/acre
Seeding depth: 2 inches
Did it germinate well? The oats did, but the legumes struggled.
Additional management and advice: n/a
- Cover Crop Termination Methods and Biomass Management
Termination method: Mow, disc
Termination equipment and process: Mow, then disc
Termination date: early May
Was it optimal? yes
Biomass management: n/a
- Cover Cropping Challenges and Strategies to Address Them
- Challenges: Establishment difficulties
Challenges description: No irrigation for cover crops, so relying on rain for establishment.
Strategies to address challenges: Try to time seeding after light rains (you don't want it to germinate, and then die) but before major rains. Plant before rain.
Was the cover crop worth it? Yes
Least successful past cover crops: Hairy vetch alone doesn’t work as well because the grasses help them grow. Mustard cover crop doesn’t help with the problems in this orchard. Tried white clover in citrus, and would like to try again—didn’t establish well because existing weeds weren’t under control.