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Sunday, December 10, 2017

New Commercial Orchard in Downtown Las Vegas


Cart paths bordering the block of two-year-old fruit trees at Ahern Orchard
A cart path through the One-year-old plum and plot block of fruit trees at the air Ahern orchard

There is a new Orchard about 1 ½ miles from Las Vegas Blvd., in Las Vegas Nevada and located in the Mojave Desert. It has been called “historic” by some because there is nothing like it anywhere in the United States.
 
Grape trellising at the Ahern Orchard Of two-year-old grapevines
The Ahern Orchard currently has a mixture of about 1600 fruit trees and 400 grapevines, both table and wine grapes. It will expand to over 3000 plants in 2018 after spring planting. It sits on private property, owned by Ahern Rentals, Inc. and fed water from two agricultural wells that have been in existence for decades.
 
First year fruit tree planting at the Ahern Orchard, 2016
The area where it’s located is historic as well, rich in pre-Las Vegas and Las Vegas history. The land was formerly horse and residential property. Before the 1960s, there were artesian springs in the vicinity where the Ahern Orchard is located.
In-line drip tubing used for irrigating fruit trees in the rows
I have been working as a consultant on this Orchard since it’s beginning starting February, 2016, with Lloyd Benson, a VP of Ahern, who is the visionary behind this Orchard.
 
Irrigation valve, filter, pressure regulator and flow indicator (Ecoriser) for a block of fruit trees using in-line drip irrigation tubing
Fruit trees on the property include traditional peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots, apples, European and Asian Pears, figs, pomegranates, pistachios, quince, persimmons and jujube. Not so traditional are the interspecific and inter-generic hybrid fruit trees as well including pluots, plumcots, apriums and others. Complicating this mixture are over 80 varieties that spans a production season from mid-May to the end of December.
 
Delivery of woodchip mulch to use on the fruit tree rows
The layout of the Orchard is with tree spacings 10 feet apart in rows with spacing between rows alternating between ten and 14 feet to accommodate management of fruit tree operations. Trees will be managed to a maximum height of 10 feet. Covering the surface of the soil in the rows are woodchips from local arborists, diverting this rich resource from landfills to beneficial use.
 
Irrigation pattern of the in-line drip tubing when the water is being applied to the row
Trees were planted bareroot using a mixture of about 25% compost from Viragrow, Inc. and triple super phosphate (0-45-0). First year trees were painted with whitewash to protect them from sunburn. Many of the second-year trees were protected from sunburn using white, plastic tree guards.
 
Fruit tree planting holesAre marked with a mixture of compost and triple super phosphate.
Grapevines are supported by either single or double high tension steel cordon wires together with “catch wires” to protect the fruit from sunburn. End posts and line posts are traditional vineyard posts.

All fruit trees are drip irrigated using in-line drip irrigation tubing down tree rows on both sides of the trees. PVC headers and footers are located at the beginning and end of each row that connect all of the in-line drip irrigation tubing in a “closed loop”. This type of irrigation irrigates the entire row while keeping the spaces between rows dry. Fruit tree roots will “follow the water” and eventually spread their roots throughout the entire row.

Grapevines are irrigated more traditionally with drip irrigation emitters, one on each side of a vine, with water supplied from polyethylene tubing.

Currently we are involved with winter fruit tree pruning at the Ahern Orchard. Some grape pruning will be done now but “fine-tuning” the grapes with their final pruning will not occur until February.

Soil in Containers Needs Periodic Replacement

Q. We have two citrus trees (Meyer lemon and Bearss lime) which we put in clay pots. The pots are deteriorating and the trees need to be transplanted into other pots. In the desert, what time of year is best to transplant these trees into new containers?
 
Fruit trees growing in containers should have the soil amended or replenished every 3 to 4 years.
A. Put them into new pots in late Winter or at the beginning of Spring. In our Las Vegas climate around the end of February or so. Containerized plants need the soil in the container “refreshed”, or the plant repotted, every 3 to 4 years or they will begin to decline.
Grapefruit tree in container
            This is not difficult if the containers and plans are relatively small; the plant is gently eased from the container, the roots and soil around the edge of the root ball is shaved off, and the plant is put back in the container with fresh soil or container mix.
            If these plants are large, refreshing the soil still needs to be done every few years. Perhaps the best way to do that is to auger vertical holes throughout the root ball inside the container and fill them with a new container soil or soil mix.
            Yes, this damages plant roots but the soil mix needs to be refreshed.

When to Harvest Myers Lemon?



Lemons on a Myers lemon tree. Not this readers picture.
Q. How long can I leave ripe lemons on the tree? Will they rot or drop? It's a  Meyer about 5 years old.
A. Leave them on the tree no longer the first part of January. Leaving them on much longer than this might interfere with flowering and fruit production in the next growth cycle.

Rabbits Best If Excluded from Herb Beds

Q. I plan on planting an herb garden in the spring but have rabbits in the neighborhood. Which herbs would be most rabbit resident?
You can see the chicken wire on the outside of these vegetable beds. The chicken wire is supported with posts about 6 feet apart.

A. The University of Arizona has a publication on rabbit and deer resistant plants but they are all landscape plants, not vegetables and herbs.
            I have been growing vegetables and herbs near the desert for about twenty years. I have both jackrabbits and desert cottontails to fight with. The most effective way of controlling these plants from both of these varmints is a 2-foot-tall, 1 inch hexagon chicken wire as fencing around the beds. In other words, exclude them from the growing area. 
Basil growing in raised beds surrounded by chicken wire for rabbit protection.
            Barry the bottom edge of the fencing about an inch below the dirt so they can't get their nose under it. I keep fencing pretty tight. I have seen baby cottontails squeeze through the 1-inch hexagon holes at a dead run when they are very young. Sometimes these young bunnies hide in these beds, get fat and can't get out.
            Personally, I would not rely on a list of so-called rabbit resistant plants unless there are lots of other plants for these varmints to choose from. I have found that if they get hungry, they will eat things they normally wouldn’t.
            Rabbit resistant plants work as long as rabbits have food alternatives. So, what you're doing is forcing rabbits to go to your neighbors and avoid yours because they don't like yours as much.

What Makes Dime-Sized Holes in the Ground?

Q. Three years ago when we redid the back yard, they brought in "landscape sand" to make mounds.
For the past couple of years something has been digging out the sand in a couple of areas to the point it is covering the rock mulch as you can see in the photos. I am in the yard a lot and never see any activity so it must be happening at night.(tunnels are a little smaller than a dime), Any ideas on what this is?


A. I don't think the holes are due to scorpions like the bark scorpion. To my knowledge, they are not known to create holes in the ground. Holes smaller than a dime might because by several critters:
  • cicada
  • digger wasps, aka cicada killer
  • June beetles
  • Birds pecking at the ground feeding on insects
  • Earthworms

I'm not an expert at this but those be some of my guesses. Maybe someone else has ideas.

USDA Support for New Farmers and Ranchers

WASHINGTON, Nov. 24, 2017 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) today announced $17.7 million in available funding to support the delivery of education, mentoring, and technical assistance programs that help beginning farmers and ranchers in the U.S. and its territories. Funding is made through NIFA’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill.
The deadline for applications is Feb. 1, 2018, at 5 p.m. Eastern time. See the funding opportunity for details.



Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Ants Not Good Guys in Fruit Production

Q. I searched your blog but could not discover if ants are good pollinators or not. I know bees are. I have over 2 acres in Sandy Valley and have seen 6 to 8 different types of ants scurrying about the property. Are ants beneficial or will they become a problem for fruit trees I am planting? 
Ants and aphids living and working together on apricot. The aphids suck plant juices and release sugary excrement. The ants use this sugary excrement as a food source and take it back to their nest in the ground. Ants move aphids to new locations in the tree or neighboring trees that are touching to expand their "herd" of aphids.
A. The best pollinators for fruit trees, hands-down, are honeybees. More specifically Italian honeybees, the type that produce honey collected by beekeepers. They are workhorses when it comes to pollinating fruit trees and vegetable gardens.
Female leaf cutter bees cut nearly perfect circles in the leaves of many plants including grapes and fruit trees. These leaf circles are used by the bees for raising their young.Leaf cutter bees are good pollinators of late season flowering plants.
            Other types of bees, solitary bees like the leafcutter which cuts near perfect circles in the leaves of roses, grapes and basil, are strong workers later in the year and important pollinators for late spring and summer bloomers like alfalfa and clover.
Rosemary is a good winter and early spring flowering plant to encourage pollinators for spring pollination of fruit trees.
            Ants don’t contribute anything to pollination of fruit trees in my opinion. I consider them mostly nuisance insects that contribute to insect problems in fruit trees in a secondary way. How? They love aphids and will defend them to their death against anything or anyone that threatens aphid populations.
 
This short video is taken at our family farm in the Philippines. It shows Weaver ants, that create their nests in the canopies of trees, protecting some scale insects they have moved and are now farming on the branches of tropical fruit trees. Ants do the same thing in temperate environments but most of our ants have nests in the ground.
            In fact, ants distribute aphids throughout a fruit tree canopy similar to how we move cattle to new pastures. Aphids are common in the spring of the year feeding on new growth of fruit trees. Their feeding causes leaves to become sticky, roll and curl. Ants move mother aphids around to increase populations and their own food supply for subterranean nests.
            While feeding on plant leaf juices, aphids drip sugary excrement that ants use for food inside their colony. Next time you find an aphid problem in fruit trees, look at the ground nearby. You will see an “ant mound”, an opening to a subterranean ant nest. There is a good reason for their close association to aphids.
            For this reason, I don’t like ants in orchards and I make a point of eliminating ant colonies when I see them near fruit trees. Several methods can be used to eliminate them but I find ant baits, taken back inside colony, to be among the most effective. Seldom are ants beneficial when growing plants for human food.