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Any organic/polyculture/permaculture almond farmers here?

 
Dave Miller
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Just wondering if there are any almond farmers here who are either practicing or are interested in organic, permaculture, or polyculture methods in their almond orchard?

I am coming to the conclusion that the industrial monoculture almond industry in California (around 1 million acres) is going to crash. In the larger scheme of things, this could actually be a good thing, if there are almond farmers who survive the crash - because all eyes will be on them. IMHO the survivors will be the organic/permie farmers. We should rally around these farmers, to ensure that they not only survive, but thrive, and thus have 1 million acres of farmers coming to them seeking advice. If there are no survivors, the farmers will continue to turn to "Big Ag" for solutions, which probably won't be pretty.

In other words, this almond crash could be a huge tipping point to get permaculture methods widely adopted.

I could help by providing materials (hollow stems) and advice on increasing the number of native bees on the farms. I have been doing this on my property for several years and it has been going well.
 
Adam Klaus
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Aren't mason bees a perfect solution to the pollination situation with almonds?

Other than pollination, what is so vulnerable about the almond orchards in California?

Granted, I am a permaculturalist, and a polyculturalist, and no fan of industrial ag whatsoever. But it seems to me that exotic honeybees are the problem, and native mason bees are the solution. Seems simple and non-scary to me. What am I missing?

TIA
 
wayne fajkus
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He may be referring to the drought which is killing off orchards.
 
Dan Boone
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The methods they use to grow almonds in the desert require more than a gallon of water for every almond produced. Slate has reported that more than 10% of California's total water use goes to almond production. With the drought they have going on, that is the very essence of "unsustainable".
 
Dave Miller
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Sorry I should have included my reasoning for predicting a crash.

Yes I believe that the drought in California is capable of crashing the almond industry on its own. It sounds like the lack of water is the #1 threat to the California almond industry at the moment. Although some orchards have enough groundwater to survive.

Adam - yes mason bees could be a great solution to the almond pollination situation. However it is my understanding that due to the constant attack from insects and diseases (which is probably due to the monoculture approach), farmers must be spraying their trees with insecticides & fungicides very frequently. Almond trees bloom for about 2 weeks which is when the beekeepers bring in all their honeybee hives. Currently the farmers hold off on spraying insecticides during those 2 weeks since the bees are there. Or they spray at night, when the bees are not in the trees. But many continue to spray fungicides, which do not kill the bees, but may be making them sick. Also since billions of bees are brought together in one place, bee parasites and diseases are spread among the honeybees while in the almond orchards (and probably brought back home with the bees). It seems like it is only a matter of time until either the beekeepers decide it isn't worth the risk to their bees to bring them to the almond orchards, or some new strain of pest/disease/fungicide spray shows up and decimates all the bees which have been in the almond orchards.

Female mason bees live (as an adult) for 6 weeks or so. So in order to utilize mason bees, the farmers would have to hold off on pesticides (and probably fungicides) for 6 weeks. I don't think they are willing to do that. Let's say that they refrain from spraying for just 2 weeks, while the trees are in bloom. Let's also say that the farmers have put out tubes for mason bees to lay their eggs (which are required to keep the mason bees from flying away). The mason bees pollinate their trees, and the farmers are happy. But before the bees can lay all their eggs, the farmers resume spraying, and kill or sicken all the mason bees. The eggs probably survive because they are in the tubes, but their numbers will be way smaller than if the bees could have lived out their lives. So the farmers will have to purchase mason bees every year. This in itself may not be a bad thing. However I don't think there are enough people raising mason bees to supply 1 million acres with mason bees. But supply and demand could eventually balance out. I also think that some people raising mason bees will be hesitant to sell their cocoons to almond farmers who will let the bees live for 2 weeks, then kill them with insecticides.

Also since the almonds are only blooming for 2 weeks, after 2 weeks the bees have no food, since most almond orchards have NO other plants growing under or near them (this is to allow the machinery to pick up the almonds off the ground). So even if the bees weren't sprayed with pesticides after 2 weeks, the bees would probably starve to death, or not be able to find pollen for their eggs, or both. So again the farmers will be forced to purchase mason bees.

If we could get the farmers to plant insectary plants in their orchards, that would solve the starvation problem. But it wouldn't solve the spraying problem. And the farmers would have to switch machinery or methods in order to harvest the almonds with the (remnants of) insectary plants present.

These are the reasons are why I think the California industrial almond monocultures are going to crash.
 
Dawn Hoff
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The almond orchards in California compete w. the Spanish on the world market. The Spanish loose because they have greater variety of taste, which means that there is a greater risk of encountering a bitter-almond. The average consumer does not like that. The reason the California trees don't produce bitter-almond is, as far as I know, that they are grafted. This lack of genetic varians also makes them more vulnerable to pests. Most Spanish almonds are grown from seed and grow in mountain areas where planting anything else would be unproductive. These almonds are usually hand picked. The land around the almond trees have rosemary, thyme, lavender etc. growing - in July the bees eat syrup dripping from almost nature carobs - not much else for them to eat here, except maybe oleander flowers. The Spanish orchards I know of are not watered (but maybe bigger more commercial ones are?)
 
Jacques Naude
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Dave Miller wrote:Just wondering if there are any almond farmers here who are either practicing or are interested in organic, permaculture, or polyculture methods in their almond orchard?

I am coming to the conclusion that the industrial monoculture almond industry in California (around 1 million acres) is going to crash.  In the larger scheme of things, this could actually be a good thing, if there are almond farmers who survive the crash - because all eyes will be on them.  IMHO the survivors will be the organic/permie farmers.  We should rally around these farmers, to ensure that they not only survive, but thrive, and thus have 1 million acres of farmers coming to them seeking advice.  If there are no survivors, the farmers will continue to turn to "Big Ag" for solutions, which probably won't be pretty.

In other words, this almond crash could be a huge tipping point to get permaculture methods widely adopted.

I could help by providing materials (hollow stems) and advice on increasing the number of native bees on the farms.  I have been doing this on my property for several years and it has been going well.


Hi Dave,

I am in the process of buying a 40 acre farm in Portugal and am very keen to start a permaculture Almond orchard. On further reading I am a bit worried about the machinery necessary in harvesting, meaning the floors need to be pretty clean and they are costly!

Bought Martin Crawfords new book "Grow your own nuts" and it seems like a good start.

Any of you know of harvesting methods for say 6 acres which wont entail investing in a huge machine? Guess I could employ half the small village for 2 weeks to hand pick?
 
Dave Miller
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Jacques Naude wrote:
Dave Miller wrote:Just wondering if there are any almond farmers here who are either practicing or are interested in organic, permaculture, or polyculture methods in their almond orchard?

I am coming to the conclusion that the industrial monoculture almond industry in California (around 1 million acres) is going to crash.  In the larger scheme of things, this could actually be a good thing, if there are almond farmers who survive the crash - because all eyes will be on them.  IMHO the survivors will be the organic/permie farmers.  We should rally around these farmers, to ensure that they not only survive, but thrive, and thus have 1 million acres of farmers coming to them seeking advice.  If there are no survivors, the farmers will continue to turn to "Big Ag" for solutions, which probably won't be pretty.

In other words, this almond crash could be a huge tipping point to get permaculture methods widely adopted.

I could help by providing materials (hollow stems) and advice on increasing the number of native bees on the farms.  I have been doing this on my property for several years and it has been going well.


Hi Dave,

I am in the process of buying a 40 acre farm in Portugal and am very keen to start a permaculture Almond orchard. On further reading I am a bit worried about the machinery necessary in harvesting, meaning the floors need to be pretty clean and they are costly!

Bought Martin Crawfords new book "Grow your own nuts" and it seems like a good start.

Any of you know of harvesting methods for say 6 acres which wont entail investing in a huge machine? Guess I could employ half the small village for 2 weeks to hand pick?

Hi Jacques,

Here is a pdf which talks about small-scale almond harvesting: http://cebutte.ucanr.edu/files/152899.pdf

I don't have any experience with these but it sounds like they work: https://www.pinterest.com/855sheller/nut-wizards-bag-a-nut-nut-picker-uppers-for-harves/

The Xerces Society is doing some work with almond farmers to provide habitat for bees (native & non-native):
http://www.xerces.org/guidelines-farming-for-bees/
http://www.xerces.org/blog/farmers-bring-back-the-pollinators/
 
Jacques Naude
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Thanks Dave!

Ive read about those nut picker uppers, especially ones pulled behind ATV but wasnt sure it would work for Almonds. Where I live in france, the sticks with metal spiral on end works really well with walnuts.

I was also wondering whether inter planting almonds with other nut trees or nitrogen fixing trees could improve production and lower maintenance. The Monoculture thing just doesnt sit right with me.

Thank you soo much gor your help. Ill post some more stuff as I learn. I was thinking of doing Almonds with comfrey in understory, kept clean by sheep and trailed by free ranging chickens. Do 1 Ha and see how it goes... Organic almonds sell for 28€ a kg in France!!! Meat also unbelievably expensive when organic! If I can get just 15€ with low input and say 2 tons per hectare, thats 30k a year. Would pay for all the other stuff Im hoping to install on the farm.

Thanks again!
 
Dave Miller
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In my yard, things do seem to produce more when they are growing together with their "natural" companion plants & animals.  So I think that mixing certain types of trees & shrubs is an excellent idea.  I like to visit local natural areas and abandoned orchards, where I make observations about the plant+animal communities which seem to be thriving, then mimic that in my own yard.  I include a lot of native plants, which seem to form the "base" of all the life in my backyard food forest.

Of course directly under the trees, the vegetation needs to be mowed if you want to use any sort of machinery to pick up the nuts.  But there are plenty of low-growing beneficial plants which can handle mowing/grazing/burning.

Around here, there is a lot of interest in native bees for pollination.  I have been experimenting with "raising" mason bees and have had a fair amount of success.  They require very little work - 4 hours per year.  I sell my extras for about $250/year which isn't bad for a 1/2 acre backyard.  I don't know anything about native bees in Portugal, but I imagine there may be similar interest.

I would also recommend growing a variety of nuts.  That way you can see which ones are more popular in your area.  And tastes change over time.  e.g. in my yard I have walnut, hazelnut (filbert), almond, and chestnut.  I also forage walnuts, hazelnuts, and chestnuts in the neighborhood where I work.  A quick side note - the most productive nut trees I have found are in a dog park.  This makes a lot of sense because in most places, squirrels eat a lot of the nuts.  But there are very few squirrels in a dog park.   So if you have a dog, you might encourage it to chase squirrels out of your nut orchard.

I don't have nor want chickens, so instead I attract wild birds by throwing black oil sunflower seeds under my trees.  This seems to provide all the fertilizing my trees need (from bird droppings).  I suspect that the birds also uncover grubs (of pests such as apple maggot) while scratching for the seeds.  I am hopeful that this will reduce insect damage, but so far I cannot say for sure.



 
Dave Miller
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Here is a local couple that has 10 acres of chestnuts: http://www.chestnutsonline.com

They have a few videos in the "About the farm" section.  They also have a forum, perhaps you might find something interesting there.

I always thought these folks had a pretty good model & website for selling directly from their farm.  I don't know how successful they are, but they have been doing it for many years so it must be worthwhile.

I see that they are now selling the farm: http://www.chestnutsonline.com/farmforsale.html
 
William Bronson
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I am building a tiny orchard. Right now it has a variety of pear trees and one peach.
To avoid the trap of too much fruit, I was considering nuts.
Almonds fit my diet and the marketplace,and some seem to fit my  climate.
I will be running poultry among the trees.
I aim to supply chefs and foodies in my area,after I get enough for myself.
Water seems to be the issue in California, late frosts here.
I will use grafted trees,I don't have the room for "spitters".
Where should I look for cold hardy almond trees? Any good vendors?
Do I need to keep bees or could the wild local ones suffice?
I've grown some nice peaches without irrigation,I think the rainfall and soil banked water will suffice for the almonds.
I never got any peaches due to squirrels, so I think the almonds will certainly need netting.

 
Jacques Naude
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William Bronson wrote: I am building a tiny orchard. Right now it has a variety of pear trees and one peach.
To avoid the trap of too much fruit, I was considering nuts.
Almonds fit my diet and the marketplace,and some seem to fit my  climate.
I will be running poultry among the trees.
I aim to supply chefs and foodies in my area,after I get enough for myself.
Water seems to be the issue in California, late frosts here.
I will use grafted trees,I don't have the room for "spitters".
Where should I look for cold hardy almond trees? Any good vendors?
Do I need to keep bees or could the wild local ones suffice?
I've grown some nice peaches without irrigation,I think the rainfall and soil banked water will suffice for the almonds.
I never got any peaches due to squirrels, so I think the almonds will certainly need netting.



Id be careful with peaches and Almonds in the same place, they can cross pollinate as I understand it.

Thanks Dave! I'd mob graze any understory down to the roots just before harvesting. Those ATV nutpickers would allow me to have a pretty nice sized orchard. Nice thing about europe, The farm is 8 hours drice from France, 1 hour from spain and 75min from large city of Porto, not mentioning the many towns and villages around within 45min.

Idea for my wife and I would be to do " BackToEden" garden for veggies, "Miracle Farms" for fruits and nuts and then two productive orchards of a hectare each. Tgen plant other nut and useful trees scattered around the property.

Really hope to be able to create a type if Garden of Eden as we will be having guests too as a type of retreat.

Anyhow, have a great day!

J
 
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