Tell us briefly about your growing philosophy.
We are certified organic and believe certification is the baseline for us to start from in achieving the highest quality nutrient dense food we can possibly grow. We use compost, cover crops (until we can establish permanent cover), mineral fertilizers and great attention to good cultural practices. Since this is only our second season, and last year the whole crop pretty much went for juice, we have been concentrating on producing a good fresh eating apple this year with enough quality to pack for wholesale, while we build up the direct marketing side of our business.
Tell us briefly about your place on earth.
Zea Sonnabend and Terence Welch are partners in Fruitilicious Farm in Watsonville, California. We have two parcels of land that are about 5 miles apart, in adjacent canyons in the foothills above the Pajaro Valley. The one in the picture is 10 acres of mature apple trees on standard and semi-dwarf rootstock that are about 38 years old (about 10 varieties). There is also 1.5 acres where we removed weak trees and will replant in 2014. The other parcel is a southern-facing hillside with about 3.5 out of a total of 8 acres planted in the past two winters. There is about 1.5 acres of apples (50 varieties), a quarter acre each of pears, quince, figs and citrus, about 1/3 acre of blueberries, and a few peaches, avocadoes and other odds and ends of fruit like honeyberries, feijoa, mulberries, goji berries and more. We get some, but not that much frost.
What draws you to growing fruit?
As we used to say at my old farm: phrrrroooooooot!!!!!!!!!! At first it was the idea of more permanence in the agro-ecological system that drew me to my first farming venture in the 1980's (we grew prunes, figs and peaches on 12 acres). Now it is mostly the idea of not having to bend over so much as I am getting too old for vegetables. 8-)
Have you reviewed our take on certification of healthy orchard practices?
I'm still thinking it over; opinion forthcoming....
List a few areas of orchard research to be undertaken.
Clearly a high priority is alternatives for fireblight control from the ground up, i.e. from cultural practices to orchard floor management and a holistic spray schedule. This is vital to preserve any organic apple and pear culture nationwide.
Other research I'd like to see is more on managing nematodes organically, avoiding bitter pit without having to spray calcium so much, and of course better thinning ideas for organic growers that the very labor intensive hand thinning we have to do.
What goes into your nutritional foliar sprays?
So far only kelp and sometimes hydrolyzed fish. We can't figure out how to make enough EM for 10 acres because the prospect of keeping something at 95 degrees for days is beyond us. We haven't gotten into the herb sprays yet but hope to next season.
What might you change if you could do one thing over again in your orchard?
I would've insisted on trying to get a scab spray on during escrow in spring 2012, even at our own risk. I also would've inoculated all our new trees with mycorhizzae, which I didn't do because of not reading Michaels book until half way through the 2012 planting season.
How do you go about marketing the good fruit?
We are working with a grower agent and marketing company, Viva Tierra. Because we don't have our own packing line yet, and because we will have more than 100 bins of Red Delicious, we need them packed and sold for us. We also will be doing Farmer's Markets and selling to some CSA's who supplement their veggies with our fruit.