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Saturday, April 2, 2011

A Little History on the Truffle Growing Venture at Keep Your Fork Farm

Sometime in 1995, we (Rick and I) started growing shiitake mushrooms on logs.  That experiment led us to Franklin Garland who was a commercial producer of shiitake and in the process of transitioning to supplying truffle inoculated seedlings.  Franklin gave us a quick tour of his first truffle orchard.  That planted the seed.

We never thought seriously about this being a pioneering venture.  We just thought it would be interesting.  We talked about how lucrative that crop could be and how different it would be from planting grapes.  Lots of folks here in the Yadkin Valley were doing grapes already.  Why do something everyone else was doing?  We always liked doing things that were out of the ordinary.  With a philosophy of "the best is yet to come" we settled on the name of the farm, Keep Your Fork.  We both loved dessert and had grown up hearing - "keep your fork." (Read the story of origin at the website www.trufflesnc.com)  We said, well, if we make some money to supplement our retirement, that will be great.  If we don't, it will have been an interesting experiment and we'll learn some stuff.  Now, I ask you, does that sound like farmers?  Not where we come from, it doesn't.  Farmers grow something they're pretty sure is going to make them some money.  Farmers are pretty smart.  The only thing we had in common with real farmers was our love of the land and our intention to stick with it.  You don't plant an orchard and move away from it.  You're there for keeps.

Over the next 5 years, we read about truffles, developed a level of trust and confidence with Franklin and his wife, Betty.  When we moved to a larger place with a little acreage, we decided to give it a try.  In 2000, we planted the first (now dubbed "test") orchard of 125 filbert trees whose roots were inoculated with truffle spores.  We prepared the orchard by tilling in 2500 lbs. of dolomite lime and installing a micro-sprinkler irrigation system fed by our well.  It was a little over a quarter of an acre.  This test plot was mostly red clay.  It had one corner which was a little more sandy and the pH samples from various locations in the plot (tested at the lab at NC State University) started at 6.0-6.5.  Nothing had been planted in that place for several years and the only thing it had been used for was garden space.  It had a border of trees but we kept a 50 ft. clearing between existing trees (mostly pine) and the rows of truffle-inoculated seedlings.  We ran a sub-soiler around the orchard to cut off any roots that might stray into the orchard from the trees on the outer perimeter.  We put in the rows of seedlings, each tree 6 feet from the next one and the rows 10 feet apart.  (We should have spaced the rows wider - 12 feet would have been good.) And we began that hardest part -- WAITING.........

In hindsight, we should have planted some oaks (live oak varieties accept the inoculation well) and some filberts but -- we thought we knew best.  Like I said, we're not farmers.  More on that subject later..............................