We have been committed to sustainable farming of our citrus groves since we purchased our first ranch in 1988. Because we live amongst the groves we thought it was important to try to reduce the chemicals that were historically applied to the trees. Our results have been both rewarding and reassuring. Our customers have continued to support our program and we feel confident with the sustainable model enough to expand it to our grower partners. Following is a brief outline of what we do differently.
Our initial step was to cut back the inorganic ammonia based fertilizer (produced from petroleum) input from 1.25 units per tree to .50 units, supplementing the balance of requirements by applying cured manure compost and foliar fish emulsion.
We have curtailed the use of seasonal herbicides (Simizine and Karmex are two brands) in our orchards. We have been able to keep weeds in check by:
- Using a heavy mulch base in between trees
- Mowing between rows
- Use of dense plantings to limit sunlight to the ground floor
- Manual spot spraying with glyphosate 2-4 times per season
Since 1992 we have used Aphytis melinus to control Red Scale (our #1 pest to both tree & fruit). These small wasps actually eat and lay their eggs within the scale body. The “soft” approach has also brought back the Vedalia beetle. These beetles eat and control cottony cushion scale. We are proud to point out that we have only used an organophosphate based material in 2 of the past 15 years to control citricola scale. On these occasions we sprayed the material at a much lower level than is commercially acceptable (2 quarts vs. 6 quarts per acre).
We also don’t use standard operating procedures at petal fall to control citrus thrip. Most growers spray at the first sign of insects, our philosophy is to wait and watch. We’ve been amazed by the power of Mother Nature! Predatory mites and other good bugs feast on the immature citrus thrips creating a balance in the groves. All of these examples have saved us money but more importantly they have severed our dependency on chemicals while saving our soil and air from these unwanted inputs.
As a small farmer (and packer for a few other small producers) we realized quickly that in order to make a living in this business we had to be different. We don’t rush out and pick our fruit at the first signs of maturity. Citrus fruit can hang on the tree for a longer period than most people can imagine. Farmers have to choose whether to pick when the taste of the fruit is just tolerable or wait until the flavor and sugar increases. We always choose to wait for the optimum flavor. The waiting is the tough part, freezing weather or lower market prices can all take its toll on the crop. By playing the waiting game we increase our risk exposure but we present to our customers a better tasting and longer lasting fruit. Truly a slow food concept!
Soil conditions, variety selection and post harvest processing also have bearing on how well the fruit is received. We will continue to approach our growing methods with a “contrarian” view. With a little luck, hard work and lots of faith we will be able to deliver fruit the Ripe to You way.