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Saving my orchard

 
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hello friends, this is my situation:
1- I own a 100 acre orchard (70% olive trees, 15% pomegrenates, 15% figs) the spacing between each tree is 6 meters on both sides.
2- We have a medeteranean climate, and It doesn't rain much here (400 mm/year).
3- Irrigation water has above average salinity.
4- too much invasive weeds in the orchard, looks hopeless (Most are toxic to animals).
5- I started to make biochar from the prunings of a test plot, and activating it by adding the char to the bedding of the chicken coop (120 sqm coop)
I'm hoping by mixing the biochar with compost and applying it under the fruit trees it will help with the salinity problem while reducing the amount of irrigation needed.
6- To get rid of the weeds, there is no way around using herbicides.
7- I want to grow a 2 meter wide strip of cover crop between every tree row, and leaving the tree row bare by applying herbicide in the spring.
I was thinking the cover crop could be a mix of grasses and legumes (mainly alfalfa), that I harvest regularly and sell as hay.
Maybe in the future if everything goes as planned, I'll let chickens have the whole orchard as their run, with rabbits and sheep, and harvest their meat instead of the hay.
I'm overwhelmed by the options, I need your advice guys.
 
pollinator
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Do you know specifically which weeds you have? There might be some removal methods besides herbicides that you don't know about. Some of the worst weeds around where I live are easy to remove if you know the trick to it (and almost impossible otherwise).
 
pollinator
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Weeds are so useful as green manure if you can mow them!  If you can mow and bag them, you can use the bagged material as mulch around the trees to block further weed growth.

I'm actually quite thrilled when I get lots of weeds growing, because I can use them as mulch or for compost heaps.

 
Hisham Husseini
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Meg Mitchell wrote:Do you know specifically which weeds you have? There might be some removal methods besides herbicides that you don't know about. Some of the worst weeds around where I live are easy to remove if you know the trick to it (and almost impossible otherwise).


They are mostly perennials, one is called Silverleaf nightshade, another one is a vining weed that looks like bindweed, and it has seeds like milkweed, it also has latex in its leaves, both of those weeds are toxic to animals, and the second one especially is bad for the fruit trees.
I have looked up other options like flaming but they won’t work on perennials, and tilling can even worsen the problem.
What do you think?
 
Hisham Husseini
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Tyler Ludens wrote:Weeds are so useful as green manure if you can mow them!  If you can mow and bag them, you can use the bagged material as mulch around the trees to block further weed growth.

I'm actually quite thrilled when I get lots of weeds growing, because I can use them as mulch or for compost heaps.



I like your idea, but if I mow them they will grow back again, and I won’t be able to grow the cover crop for hay.
Also I will need to do lots of mowing for a large area of land regularly, which will cost me time and fuel for an end result that I can get cheaply by other means.
 
Hisham Husseini
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This is the look that I am aspiring to achieve:
https://fruitgrowersnews.com/article/keeping-under-cover-the-ideal-look-of-an-orchard-floor/
0455C5C3-4642-42B5-90B2-0D69299A39DA.jpeg
[Thumbnail for 0455C5C3-4642-42B5-90B2-0D69299A39DA.jpeg]
DE9B187B-C995-4C1F-A68D-BD1A326660C2.jpeg
[Thumbnail for DE9B187B-C995-4C1F-A68D-BD1A326660C2.jpeg]
4E326A3B-1ABF-4B60-A710-38108F8D5640.jpeg
[Thumbnail for 4E326A3B-1ABF-4B60-A710-38108F8D5640.jpeg]
8C8594BD-A01B-425A-A074-41D618640BCD.jpeg
[Thumbnail for 8C8594BD-A01B-425A-A074-41D618640BCD.jpeg]
AAEF3570-F0BA-421F-8097-5CF1C355F904.jpeg
[Thumbnail for AAEF3570-F0BA-421F-8097-5CF1C355F904.jpeg]
 
Tyler Ludens
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Any plant will eventually die out if cut regularly.  Grass can endure being cut more than most other plants.  I believe you can eradicate the weeds while establishing the cover crop.  For the first few years keep the cover crop mowed as short as it will endure, and it will probably eventually displace the noxious weeds.  We had some Nightshade on our place but I think it has been outgrown by other plants and grasses.  Nightshades are usually indicators of overgrazing or other disturbance of grasses and forbs.  They don't tend to show up unless the land has been damaged somehow.  

I should mention the mowing should be on a "mulching" setting of the mowing machine, not mowed for hay.  The cut grass will act as a mulch and fertilizer for the cover crop.

 
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Hi Hisham, won’t it require a lot of irrigation in your dry climate to grow grass or alfalfa in the orchard rows?  That could be a problem, especially if you already have salinity issues. Would native wildflowers be an alternative?  Or maybe, as Tyler suggests, just mow the weeds periodically and let the cuttings add to the fertility of the soil?
 
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I agree with Tyler that the weeds can be useful. Instead of using a mower to mulch them, it might be better to simply cut them off and then rake everything toward the trees, covering maybe 1/3 of your soil. It takes much less energy to cut with a sickle bar mower, compared to mulching with a rotary lawnmower.This will give good shade to the soil closest to the trees and it will slowly rob the other areas of nutrients. The weeds in that area will either continue to produce lots of mulch or they will die out. Either way, it represents a ton of work.

I think it could all be done with machines if you cut the stuff like hay in all of the open space between the rows and then use a hay rake to deposit most of the material into a line about two feet from the trunks of the trees. The narrow strip between each tree could be cut in advance but not raked up. A small amount of work might need to be done around each trunk. I would use a cordless electric hedge cutter for this since they work so much better than any sort of string trimmer.
 
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Is there a benefit to keeping bare soil in the line of trees that would offset the benefit of mulch (moisture retention, fertility).

Is it labor savings? Want it to look a certain way?

I wish i had practical advice.  I can take my dozen trees and mulch them and have plenty of day left to do other things. It's not that simple for you from the size. I feel like i should not offer any advice for that reason, but i also think getting poisons out of the orchard would be admirable. How could that happen? Getting organic matter into the soil is a good start.  Mowing for mulch, adding sheep, or both. That is where i would start.






 
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Poisoning your orchard won't save it.

Maybe if you could tell us a bit about your orchard and your goals, we could determine what will get you what you're really after.

Just a few things. Bare soil, like the strips for the trees in your picture, is frowned upon, especially in cases like yours, where you lose so much moisture to evaporation. The more exposed soil you have, the more evaporation, the more you'll have to water with your higher-salinity water, and the saltier your soil will get.

I think you are operating on a number of unfounded assumptions, the first of which being that your orchard needs to look like those pictures. It doesn't.

If you want lanes of grazing open between your rows of trees, that's great. I think you can probably manage what you have there, as many others have suggested, by mowing before anything goes to seed, and then mowing again before everything goes to seed. Herbicides will just cost you money, and ensure that the weeds that pop up later won't care what you spray them with, because they will be descended from plants with immunity enough to survive spraying. They also kill the soil microbiome, which does all the real work for you.

I would suggest getting some mulch on everything. I would look to see what the fastest-growing green manures for your area are, and overseed with those after mowing with a mulching mower, and mowing perhaps a little lower than you would for grass that you want to encourage to thrive, to give the green manures time to overgrow the cut incumbent plants. You haven't told us where you are except that it's a mediterranean climate without much rainfall.

If you haven't looked at Air well (condenser)s yet, I suggest you do. The idea is that you use stacked stones in different configurations so that, by creating cool shaded areas within stacks of stone, you cause humid air to be condensed out onto the cool inner surfaces of the stone piles, which then infiltrate the ground.

This might be helpful.



It might be a good idea to consider mulching with hand-sized stones or rocks on the sunward side of each row or tree. This will shade the soil and the root zone, and if an air well effect is created, will provide added moisture and succor the soil microbiology, to boot.

Just to be clear, bare soil is bad. As long as there's air movement around the trunk at the natural trunk-soil interface, more mulch is better than not enough, and none is just a recipe for failure.

In your position, I would check out to see if anyone has figured out guilds that work well with olives, pomegranates, and figs. You might find that there are hosts of supportive plants that will occupy the soil around the tree in a way that benefits it, by attracting predatory wasps to kill tree pests, by creating scent distraction or acting as a sacrificial trap crop, or like marigolds, by secreting an insecticide through its root zone, so powerful that some types, African and French, I believe, can toxify soil to the extent that nothing will grow, if grown for too many years in the same place.

You might even find that there are berry plants that work in your situation, or some other relatively low-growing food plant that can grow in the strips between the trees (not in the alleys of pasture you want to grow fodder in). If you grow a variety of herbs and flowering plants, for instance, you will be sure to increase the number of pollinators that visit your property, increasing yields.

I don't know if a feed-the-birds mix would work to keep them out of your trees, but I know that many orchardists will plant out mulberry trees as the aforementioned sacrificial trap crop. Birds prefer mulberries, apparently, over many other tree-borne fruit. But I know that a pollinator mix with wildflowers will draw and support many different types of pollinators, including honey and bumble bees, and those mixes will also contain plants like clover, which host nitrogen-fixing bacteria as well as producing a flower for pollinators, and also being a fodder crop.

If you are intent on killing everything with a spray, I suggest looking at vinegar, first, like a good 5% cleaning vinegar. It's honestly the least likely to poison your soil. You could even go with a water sprayer and spray the leaves on anything you want to die right before the height of heat of the day. The magnification of the sun's rays through the water droplets will burn everything, with a tendency to affect broad-leaved plants more than narrow-bladed grasses.

But I suggest you do a little more perusal on this site first. You are far from the first person newly arrived to this site with this same issue. Also, if you could tell us where in the world you are located, that will help us to direct our advice to things more relevant to your situation.

Pictures would be nice. Keep us posted, and good luck!

-CK
 
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hau Hisham,  several people have given good ideas.

I take it from your "Ideal look" photos that you want your orchard to look like a conventional commercial orchard, which is usually done for mechanical harvesting.

Things to think about when you do a conventional orchard; 1. the bare strip under the trees will allow for soil erosion from around the roots of the trees. 2. bare soil looses 5 times the moisture by evaporation compared to a heavily mulched soil. (increases the need for irrigation)
3. Using herbicides that are in vogue today insures that the fruits of the orchard will be tainted with that herbicide, making the product less desirable to an ever increasingly informed consumers (buyers).

If you simply must have the bare space under the trees. It might be a good idea to use one of the plastic mulches made for farming, combine that with a layer of mulch placed ontop of the plastic and you have cut off the light to the "weeds", that will stunt them out and they will end up dying, or spreading to areas with light.

To address the salinity issue you can use calcium carbonate as a soil dressing, that will remove quite a lot of salinity over a year period but it will also increase the alkalinity of the soil somewhat.

I encourage you to not use commercial herbicides since almost weekly we are finding out they are so much worse than ever thought before, many are proving to be carcinogenic and most persist long after they are used on soil as well as being incorporated by the  plants as a  nutrient that ends up in the fruit or vegetable.
Many of the new herbicides drift as much as a mile from where they were applied which can lead to lawsuits by those affected by that drift, here in my USA state there are 14 of these lawsuits filed by one or two farmers against another farmer who believed it was safe to spray his fields. The drift wiped out the other farmer's crops and so they are in court to get their money back.

Redhawk
 
Chris Kott
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I just finished my read of the article you posted, Hisham.

What I noticed was the tendency to stress the specific goal of increasing the rate of growth for trees, of eliminating growing competition in early stages of tree growth, and of maximising fruit production over the short to medium-term. I also noticed a disconnect, wherein predator-prey interactions between beneficial predatory insects and pest species were to be encouraged, but post-emergence sprays were being used, which would kill off your predators, prey, and pollinators.

If your trees are already grown, their roots will be established to the point where having a supportive guild or pasture mix growing to within a foot around each tree won't have any negative effect on tree growth or fruiting.

As to your salinity concerns, I think that if you can increase rapid infiltration of what rain you do get, and if you keep your soil covered, and maybe experiment with air well structures, you could decrease the evaporation enough that you could keep it from salting up more. You could also look to see what halophyte (salt-loving) crops work well as green manures in your area. Especially if you are growing it out for grazing, you could effectively sequester salt in the plant matter you then feed to your animals, removing it from the soil and decreasing the need for mineral salt in the animals' diet.

Even so, pomegranate, fig, and olive trees are in the middle-category of salt-tolerance, with only date palms, I believe, better at it than them. I am not saying you shouldn't worry about salting your soil, but if you adopt salt management techniques now, you might not have to replant in date palms.

-CK
 
Chris Kott
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:hau Hisham,  several people have given good ideas.

I take it from your "Ideal look" photos that you want your orchard to look like a conventional commercial orchard, which is usually done for mechanical harvesting.

Things to think about when you do a conventional orchard; 1. the bare strip under the trees will allow for soil erosion from around the roots of the trees. 2. bare soil looses 5 times the moisture by evaporation compared to a heavily mulched soil. (increases the need for irrigation)
3. Using herbicides that are in vogue today insures that the fruits of the orchard will be tainted with that herbicide, making the product less desirable to an ever increasingly informed consumers (buyers).

If you simply must have the bare space under the trees. It might be a good idea to use one of the plastic mulches made for farming, combine that with a layer of mulch placed ontop of the plastic and you have cut off the light to the "weeds", that will stunt them out and they will end up dying, or spreading to areas with light.

To address the salinity issue you can use calcium carbonate as a soil dressing, that will remove quite a lot of salinity over a year period but it will also increase the alkalinity of the soil somewhat.

I encourage you to not use commercial herbicides since almost weekly we are finding out they are so much worse than ever thought before, many are proving to be carcinogenic and most persist long after they are used on soil as well as being incorporated by the  plants as a  nutrient that ends up in the fruit or vegetable.
Many of the new herbicides drift as much as a mile from where they were applied which can lead to lawsuits by those affected by that drift, here in my USA state there are 14 of these lawsuits filed by one or two farmers against another farmer who believed it was safe to spray his fields. The drift wiped out the other farmer's crops and so they are in court to get their money back.

Redhawk



Kola Redhawk, if the calcium carbonate method was used, could the resultant alkalinity be used in conjunction with overseeding in alfalfa to outcompete what's currently there? If the concern was affecting the tree roots, could it be applied to a mowed strip down the centre of each alley, to be distributed by the soil superhighway?

-CK
 
Bryant RedHawk
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yes that would work nicely Chris.
 
Hisham Husseini
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Artie Scott wrote:Hi Hisham, won’t it require a lot of irrigation in your dry climate to grow grass or alfalfa in the orchard rows?  That could be a problem, especially if you already have salinity issues. Would native wildflowers be an alternative?  Or maybe, as Tyler suggests, just mow the weeds periodically and let the cuttings add to the fertility of the soil?


Hi Artie, the reason why I chose alfalfa is because it’s both drought tolerant and can also tolerate salty water.
I also plan to overcome the salinity problem with biochar:
https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00103624.2019.1574809?journalCode=lcss20
“The results showed that addition of 2.5% w/w biochar can significantly mitigate salinity stress due to its high salt sorption capacity and by increasing potassium/sodium ratio in the soil.”
 
Hisham Husseini
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Chris Kott wrote:Poisoning your orchard won't save it.

Maybe if you could tell us a bit about your orchard and your goals, we could determine what will get you what you're really after.

Just a few things. Bare soil, like the strips for the trees in your picture, is frowned upon, especially in cases like yours, where you lose so much moisture to evaporation. The more exposed soil you have, the more evaporation, the more you'll have to water with your higher-salinity water, and the saltier your soil will get.

I think you are operating on a number of unfounded assumptions, the first of which being that your orchard needs to look like those pictures. It doesn't.

If you want lanes of grazing open between your rows of trees, that's great. I think you can probably manage what you have there, as many others have suggested, by mowing before anything goes to seed, and then mowing again before everything goes to seed. Herbicides will just cost you money, and ensure that the weeds that pop up later won't care what you spray them with, because they will be descended from plants with immunity enough to survive spraying. They also kill the soil microbiome, which does all the real work for you.

I would suggest getting some mulch on everything. I would look to see what the fastest-growing green manures for your area are, and overseed with those after mowing with a mulching mower, and mowing perhaps a little lower than you would for grass that you want to encourage to thrive, to give the green manures time to overgrow the cut incumbent plants. You haven't told us where you are except that it's a mediterranean climate without much rainfall.

If you haven't looked at Air well (condenser)s yet, I suggest you do. The idea is that you use stacked stones in different configurations so that, by creating cool shaded areas within stacks of stone, you cause humid air to be condensed out onto the cool inner surfaces of the stone piles, which then infiltrate the ground.

This might be helpful.



It might be a good idea to consider mulching with hand-sized stones or rocks on the sunward side of each row or tree. This will shade the soil and the root zone, and if an air well effect is created, will provide added moisture and succor the soil microbiology, to boot.

Just to be clear, bare soil is bad. As long as there's air movement around the trunk at the natural trunk-soil interface, more mulch is better than not enough, and none is just a recipe for failure.

In your position, I would check out to see if anyone has figured out guilds that work well with olives, pomegranates, and figs. You might find that there are hosts of supportive plants that will occupy the soil around the tree in a way that benefits it, by attracting predatory wasps to kill tree pests, by creating scent distraction or acting as a sacrificial trap crop, or like marigolds, by secreting an insecticide through its root zone, so powerful that some types, African and French, I believe, can toxify soil to the extent that nothing will grow, if grown for too many years in the same place.

You might even find that there are berry plants that work in your situation, or some other relatively low-growing food plant that can grow in the strips between the trees (not in the alleys of pasture you want to grow fodder in). If you grow a variety of herbs and flowering plants, for instance, you will be sure to increase the number of pollinators that visit your property, increasing yields.

I don't know if a feed-the-birds mix would work to keep them out of your trees, but I know that many orchardists will plant out mulberry trees as the aforementioned sacrificial trap crop. Birds prefer mulberries, apparently, over many other tree-borne fruit. But I know that a pollinator mix with wildflowers will draw and support many different types of pollinators, including honey and bumble bees, and those mixes will also contain plants like clover, which host nitrogen-fixing bacteria as well as producing a flower for pollinators, and also being a fodder crop.

If you are intent on killing everything with a spray, I suggest looking at vinegar, first, like a good 5% cleaning vinegar. It's honestly the least likely to poison your soil. You could even go with a water sprayer and spray the leaves on anything you want to die right before the height of heat of the day. The magnification of the sun's rays through the water droplets will burn everything, with a tendency to affect broad-leaved plants more than narrow-bladed grasses.

But I suggest you do a little more perusal on this site first. You are far from the first person newly arrived to this site with this same issue. Also, if you could tell us where in the world you are located, that will help us to direct our advice to things more relevant to your situation.

Pictures would be nice. Keep us posted, and good luck!

-CK



Hi CK, thank you very much for your great insight s, I agree with most of what you said.
In regards to why the bare soil instead of mulched, I am thinking about using a wood chipper attached to the tractor, then chipping away the tree trimmings to mulch under the trees.
I live in Gaza, Palestine, on the Mediterranean sea.
My soil is clayish and has a lot of organic matter.
I hate the idea of using herbicides as much as you, but I lost hope with organic options.
I want to try mowing all the weeds and using them as mulch under the trees.
Thanks again
 
Hisham Husseini
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:hau Hisham,  several people have given good ideas.

I take it from your "Ideal look" photos that you want your orchard to look like a conventional commercial orchard, which is usually done for mechanical harvesting.

Things to think about when you do a conventional orchard; 1. the bare strip under the trees will allow for soil erosion from around the roots of the trees. 2. bare soil looses 5 times the moisture by evaporation compared to a heavily mulched soil. (increases the need for irrigation)
3. Using herbicides that are in vogue today insures that the fruits of the orchard will be tainted with that herbicide, making the product less desirable to an ever increasingly informed consumers (buyers).

If you simply must have the bare space under the trees. It might be a good idea to use one of the plastic mulches made for farming, combine that with a layer of mulch placed ontop of the plastic and you have cut off the light to the "weeds", that will stunt them out and they will end up dying, or spreading to areas with light.

To address the salinity issue you can use calcium carbonate as a soil dressing, that will remove quite a lot of salinity over a year period but it will also increase the alkalinity of the soil somewhat.

I encourage you to not use commercial herbicides since almost weekly we are finding out they are so much worse than ever thought before, many are proving to be carcinogenic and most persist long after they are used on soil as well as being incorporated by the  plants as a  nutrient that ends up in the fruit or vegetable.
Many of the new herbicides drift as much as a mile from where they were applied which can lead to lawsuits by those affected by that drift, here in my USA state there are 14 of these lawsuits filed by one or two farmers against another farmer who believed it was safe to spray his fields. The drift wiped out the other farmer's crops and so they are in court to get their money back.

Redhawk



Hello Redhawk, thanks for your reply. I’m more interested in the efficiency than the look, even though I do like the look of the cover crop in the orchard which where I live is non existent, farmers here have their orchards tilled regularly to keep it weed free.
I am researching about mulches and different types, and I like the idea of using wood chips from the tree trimmings as the mulch then mixing it with finished compost from the chicken coop’s deep bedding. I’m also thinking of turning tree trimmings to biochar once every two years.
I hope mulches will be the solution to my weed problem.
Thank you redhawk
 
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Chris Kott wrote:I just finished my read of the article you posted, Hisham.

What I noticed was the tendency to stress the specific goal of increasing the rate of growth for trees, of eliminating growing competition in early stages of tree growth, and of maximising fruit production over the short to medium-term. I also noticed a disconnect, wherein predator-prey interactions between beneficial predatory insects and pest species were to be encouraged, but post-emergence sprays were being used, which would kill off your predators, prey, and pollinators.

If your trees are already grown, their roots will be established to the point where having a supportive guild or pasture mix growing to within a foot around each tree won't have any negative effect on tree growth or fruiting.

As to your salinity concerns, I think that if you can increase rapid infiltration of what rain you do get, and if you keep your soil covered, and maybe experiment with air well structures, you could decrease the evaporation enough that you could keep it from salting up more. You could also look to see what halophyte (salt-loving) crops work well as green manures in your area. Especially if you are growing it out for grazing, you could effectively sequester salt in the plant matter you then feed to your animals, removing it from the soil and decreasing the need for mineral salt in the animals' diet.

Even so, pomegranate, fig, and olive trees are in the middle-category of salt-tolerance, with only date palms, I believe, better at it than them. I am not saying you shouldn't worry about salting your soil, but if you adopt salt management techniques now, you might not have to replant in date palms.

-CK



I did have date palms, unfortunately they were decimated by the red palm weevil.
In the article I posted the most successful system was the one where they kept the soil bare only during the growing season, then during the dormant season the weeds were left alone. Still I do agree with you that having the soil covered with something is always better than bare soil.
I love your idea about finding salt loving crops (which btw alfalfa is tolerant to it), do you have any suggestions?
 
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I live in a similar climate as you, and from the sounds of things, similar soil.  As others have mentioned, mulch is a key ingredient to a successful orchard for a number of reasons: retention of moisture, feeding the soil and the soil microbes, keeping the soil and tree roots cool, and suppression of weeds.

You might find it difficult to get enough wood chips to continually keep the orchard mulched.  My orchard is much smaller than what you describe, and I've got an almost endless supply of chips if I need them, yet it's difficult to continually keep a consistent layer of chips on the ground.  Once you start to add them, the fungal life in the soil goes crazy, as does the population of worms.  These are WONDERFUL things, but the wood chips disappear so quickly.  You have to replenish every 6 months or so.  But having a robust fungal community in your soil will help remediate the concern about salt accumulation.  Our water is heavy in salt, and salt build-up is a problem for many gardeners.  You see it in the burnt tips of the leaves.  But heavy mulch (and the fungi that it feeds) help with that considerably.

Consider using black plastic mulch to kill those nasty weeds.  It's inexpensive enough and it should hold up for a couple of years.  You can use it to kill the nasty weeds and then roll it back up to use again in the future.  Just roll it out over the top of the growing weeds, leave it there for 3 months or so, take it away and heavily mulch.  If and when the latent seeds germinate and sprout -- just roll the plastic back over the newly growing plants (before they go to seed) and kill the next generation.  You should only need to repeat this cycle 2 or 3 times before all the latent seeds will have germinated.

If you use the plastic effectively, it channels water exactly to where you want it.  I gently slope the soil before I put down plastic, so that any water that falls on top of the plastic will run toward the hole that I cut into it.  In those holes in the plastic, plant a tomato, a pepper, a squash  . . .  rolls of plastic are tremendously versatile and easy to work with.  Experiment a bit with it -- I think you'll find that to be a much better solution than Round-Up or some other weed killer.

As for plant guilds that work well with those trees, I plant a lot of comfrey.  It needs a healthy bit of water to get it established, but once it's growing, it sinks its roots deep and finds water.  I've seen it growing among olives, and I've got it growing under my pomegranates and figs.  Figs have such an invasive root system, you need something that's got some strength to compete with it.  Comfrey can hold its own.

We grow a lot of ginger and turmeric around our figs and pomegranate.  If you heavily mulch, it grows really well.  That would add another income source to your orchard.  We've got so much of it growing out there now that I can't give it away fast enough.  I don't even plant it any more -- when I harvest it, I just leave a piece of the root in the ground and it comes back strong every year.

Under the figs, we've got fennel that grows wild, coming back every year.  I don't eat much of it but it's a volunteer and appears to be a dynamic accumulator due to it's massive tap root.  Plant it once and it comes back forever.  I hack it down (chop and drop) once or twice a year, using a big machete.

We also grow sweet potatoes under and around the figs.  Like the fennel, ginger and turmeric, once you get it growing out in the orchard, sweet potatoes pretty much come back year after year as volunteers.  They make a nice ground cover and fodder for animals.  They creep right over the top of the mulch and keep things green and cool.  I love sweet potatoes as ground cover, and I love sweet potato fries.  Yum.

Avocado trees seem to do really well as a part of that guild of trees and plants.  We have a Fuerte, in particular, that seems to thrive next to the figs (Kadota, Brown Turkey, and Black Mission).  

Apricots are tough trees and may thrive in your orchard.  They can handle the heat and once established, are not very thirsty the way most stone fruits are.  Do they grow them in your region?  Consider planting a couple of apricots as a part of the greater guild of trees in your orchard.


Best of luck, and please, come back and update this thread as you continue to make improvements.
 
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Being a science teacher my mind goes to experimentation.

You have 100 acres.  
There is no law saying you have to do the same thing on the whole property.
You could pick the methods that make the most sense to you.
Divide the land in to sections.
Do a different method on each section.
As a control, do what you have been doing on one section.

Over time some methods should show different results than others.
At this point you can decide which methods to continue and which ones to stop.
Also, if one method gives disastrous results you haven't done that to your whole property.

 
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Here is an article on Halophytes you might want to read.  At the end of the article it lists plants that help with remediation of the soil salinity.  If you can keep growing a lot of these plants, then cut them down to about 6", eventually they will not only help with the problem, but take care of toxic plants by smothering them.  I live in the High Desert of California where quack grass can become a real problem.  I just kept growing winter cover crops, cutting them down as mulch, then laying straw and bermuda grass bales down, 12" tall, and eventually the quack stopped growing.  I do understand the enormity of your situation.  But really in the end, you are going to have to make the personal decision to do whatever you can to save the orchard, or not.  No halfway measures are going to work.  You make my problems seem small.  

But even if you get the issue under some kind of control, the main problem is lack of irrigation moving enough thru the orchard to keep the problem from occurring again.  Although I do not use permaculture on this farm, it seems the swale idea might be a real consideration for you to try.  

https://www.hindawi.com/journals/bmri/2014/589341/

 
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Burn them.  And since you are in a dry climate, be extra careful doing it!
https://www.youtube.com/results?search_type=search_videos&search_query=flame+weeding+in+orchard&search_sort=relevance&search_category=0&page=
 
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Marco Banks wrote:I live in a similar climate as you, and from the sounds of things, similar soil.  As others have mentioned, mulch is a key ingredient to a successful orchard for a number of reasons: retention of moisture, feeding the soil and the soil microbes, keeping the soil and tree roots cool, and suppression of weeds.

Consider using black plastic mulch to kill those nasty weeds.  It's inexpensive enough and it should hold up for a couple of years.  You can use it to kill the nasty weeds [.....] Experiment a bit with it -- I think you'll find that to be a much better solution than Round-Up or some other weed killer.



I would endorse the black plastic method, as it saves a lot of hard work. The plastic will kill annual plants and the foliage of perennials. You can then dig out the roots of the perennials, if you so wish (easy to see and ground should be reasonably soft as the water won’t have been able to evaporate). The soil underneath the plastic will also have been nourished by the composted weeds.

From my personal experience of cover crops, they don’t prevent weeds, although there are some which are good at sucking the life out of plants around them. In my climate, I can grow mint, strawberries and Jerusalem artichokes, which have this effect, but I don’t know if they would thrive for you or not. (Average rainfall where I am is about 500 mm but we are cooler.)

On a different note, do you have a system for capturing rainwater? (Sorry if this has been answered elsewhere and I have failed to notice.) Presumably, the rainwater is not as high in salt and would therefore be less likely to adversely affect your soil.
 
Marco Banks
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Helen Butt wrote: Presumably, the rainwater is not as high in salt and would therefore be less likely to adversely affect your soil.



Salt will flush through soil and make its way deep into the subsoil with each rain event.  For this, however, you need healthy, friable, crumbly soil.  So to increase infiltration, you need to significantly increase the percentage of soil organic matter (SOM).  If your SOM is 5% or more, you'll have a lot of fungal life to "glue" (glomalin)  the soil particulates into little crumbles.  That allows water to flow through the soil and wash the salt down deep below where the plant roots will interact with it.

You will see your percentage of SOM increase as you:
1.  Add mulch to the surface of the soil.  As the mulch breaks down, worms, beetles and other biota will carry little bits of carbon down into the soil profile.  
2.  Cover crops sink a deep root into the soil, and then when you harvest it or graze it, those roots remain and slowly break down to increase SOM.
3.  No till.  When you till, while it appears to make the soil fluffy and light, in truth, it destroys the soil structure by pumping so much oxygen down into the soil.  All that air causes a microbial bloom that feasts on the glomalin.  In no time at all, those lovely crumbles of soil turn into dust, and all the soil structure turns into a brick.

I used to read such stuff and thing, "Yeah, whatever."  Then I simply did my own observation and research.  I fired up my tiller and rototilled a big spot, turning the soil into a lovely light, fluffy bed.  3 months later, it was hard as a sidewalk.  Even when you till compost into the soil, you'll activate so many of the soil microbes into super-hunger that they'll eat that compost up in no time at all.  What you are left with is a self-tilled/self-created brick instead of light, crumbly soil.

As my soil composition and friablity has improved and the percentage of SOM has increased, my salt problems have gone away.  Cover crop, graze, mulch, repeat.
 
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Any plant will die after it has been deprived of sunlight long enough, so to fix your problem you could cover the weedy ground with anything opaque that you have laying around: tarps, flattened boxes, sheets of roofing, etc. If you don't have enough you can look for empty boxes in the back of your usual supermarket or open your wallet and buy a roll of black plastic.
For keeping your grounds covered at all times you could plant creepers that are sold at gardening stores. And since you have a mediterranean climate you could grow anything that grows in the Provence, where there are already olive groves. Some of those plants are very aromatic and are used in cooking: thyme, savory, and others used in perfumes or phytotherapy: lavender, hyssop and others. Those plants produce their aroma as a way of adapting to drought.
Just last week I discovered a farmer who grows a wide variety of tomatoes, zucchinis, bell peppers, melons etc. from ancient stocks he has improved. He has selected the most drought-resistant and wet-resistant seeds and is very successful, and has videos on Youtube and an online store. Name is Pascal Poot.
I don't know if it's ok to give a link to his online store but I'll try:
https://www.lepotagerdesante.com/en/
 
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Please check the sulfur level in your soil as this is probably low - I want to have 15lbs. of sulfur for every Cation Exchange Capacity of 1 - so a CEC rating of 10 should have 150 lbs. of Sulfur in the soil.  Sulfur is needed first by the soil biology for there own cell structure and immunity and then they can move the extra to the plant.  Elemental Sulfur will reduce the pH if it is high and yours probably is since you do irrigation.  Check the soil pH - should be 6.5 to 7 for most plants to function at optimum levels.  Weeds indicate what minerals are short in your top soil level and are nature's way of bringing these minerals to the top as most have longer roots.  Mowing the weeds will basically speed up the break down process and help the soil microbes have a food source easier for them to eat (feed the soil microbes and they will feed you).  If tillage has been done in the past, your fungal groups are probably low - reduce or stop the tillage and they will flourish which leads to better soil structure to support plant life.   There is 3 dimensions to balance in the soil first is the environment- soil structure, soil organic matter, etc. second is the soil biology - do you have the proper balance of bacterial to fungal ratio and third is the mineral resources for the soil biology - do you have the needed minerals in the proper amounts and ratios to each other.   There is several good organic trace mineral sources like Sea-Crop and Gro-Pal also humates like Reed Sedge Peat both dry and liquid are available - these provide carbon to the soil for the microbes and help with breaking down chemicals in the soil.    Hope this helps you to get started on healing your soil.  And the next level to look at is the predator - prey relationship in your soil food web - check online for Elaine Ingham as she wrote the book Soil Biology Primer for the USDA - this explains what you need in the soil to have healthy soil.  Also she has You Tube videos you can watch.  Blessings
 
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Hisham,

You may want to check out this article.  It talks about the poor cultivation techniques of olive orchards and what to do about it.


If you don't plant something nature will so I'm guessing your orchard was cultivated leaving bare soil.  

You may want to attempt seeding with the right nitrogen fixers and or cover crops.  I fight weeds on 3 acres so I can't imagine doing it on 100 acres.  Maybe experiment with a small group of trees, amp up biodiversity and figure out what works best via observation.

I think using herbicides long term will make things worse, not better, especially when it comes to healthy soil and water retention.  


Olive Cultivation
 
Phil Swindler
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In Geoff Lawton's "Greening the Desert" video he mentions the salinity of the soil on the project site.
I don't remember numbers or time frames.  However, he was clear that the salinity of the soil at that site decreased significantly.
Trying some of his methods may help.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Hisham Husseini wrote:
Redhawk
Hello Redhawk, thanks for your reply. I’m more interested in the efficiency than the look, even though I do like the look of the cover crop in the orchard which where I live is non existent, farmers here have their orchards tilled regularly to keep it weed free.
I am researching about mulches and different types, and I like the idea of using wood chips from the tree trimmings as the mulch then mixing it with finished compost from the chicken coop’s deep bedding. I’m also thinking of turning tree trimmings to biochar once every two years.
I hope mulches will be the solution to my weed problem.
Thank you redhawk



The wood chip idea is golden for your trees and the soil and if you were to add some fungi slurries or a commercial mycelium to those wood chips, you would find fantastic benefits to the soil, trees and microbiology.
If you were to get a broad spectrum mycorrhizae product, you would really help the trees with nutrient uptake, intertree communication and beneficial bacteria movement, mineral processing and the trees would be able to take maximum benefits from all that microorganism goodness you added.
Extra benefits would be the ability of any tree under attack by insects or disease to be able to communicate that to all the other trees so they could prepare themselves to defend against attack. The soil would also become more friable because of the conglomerate properties of the fungi exudates and that opens the soil to better water uptake and retention. Triple win!

Wood chips mixed with compost from the chicken coops bedding is not a bad thing at all either, just be sure the compost is fully finished (nice and crumbly, smells like fresh earth).
This sort of compost is super to mix with any other natural additives and to make compost teas, inoculate fresh char.

Redhawk
 
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