So, what's a truffle farmer to do while we wait the 5-8 years for truffles to appear? Plenty!
You don't know that until a mud puddle appears at the spot above the leak but fixing them is fun only if you enjoy digging in hard red clay. You dig down to the water supply, repair the leak and cover it back up. A couple of seasons of that was plenty for us and we replaced it with drip irrigation. http://www.gramacirrigation.com/
Next come the varmints which are ever so curious about what's going on in the orchard. Rabbits proved to be our worst offenders. Unfortunately, I can't show you a picture of one of the little trees snipped off at about 6 inches above ground because of a computer hard drive crash that wiped out all my pictures so you'll have to use your imagination. Picture this, a little seedling about 12 inches tall whose trunk is about 1/2 inch in diameter with a few little leaves poking out. Envision it's trunk snipped off with the top laying beside the base of it and little rabbit pellets in a pile beside the snipped off trunk. That tells you who did it! Other creatures who have enjoyed the fruits of our labor are squirrels, moles and voles. http://www.greenviewfertilizer.com/articles/voles-moles We have had deer walking through the orchard, stepping on the irrigation tape and causing geysers where they made holes; all to be repaired on a practically daily basis. Fortunately, however, the deer haven't eaten the leaves off our trees as they have in other orchards in the area (for which we are eternally grateful.)
And last, but certainly not least, is the tilling. Till between the rows the top 1-1.5 inch of soil in the spring. This is extremely important for the aeration of the soil and to promote root growth. This introduces one of the most challenging and interesting elements of our pioneering adventure. We agreed that having an old red belly tractor would be "neat." Well, it looked neat but it started shedding small parts as soon as it arrived. Eventually we found someone who thrilled to the challenge of restoration and waved good-bye as it left for its new home. Next came the tractor too wide to navigate the rows (remember when I said we should have spaced them farther apart?) Finally, tractor number 3 which serves the purpose very nicely and remains with us to this day performing all kinds of farm-type work.
In addition to these activities, there's the weeding. We learned early on that ours wouldn't be an organic operation. Chemical weed control was regrettably necessary. With both of us still working full time jobs to support our farming habit, time was of the essence. Determined to manage the orchard ourselves, we did what we had to do to keep it up. It was enough to do in a week-end, just managing things as they were and with only 125 trees. We should have begun pruning early to keep the seedlings shaped like upside down umbrellas with the center open for the sun to shine in. Isn't hindsight great? We got to do lots of that later when the branches were MUCH bigger. Oh well, ignorance is bliss and we congratulated ourselves for becoming week-end farming warriors and, after all, we were keeping our eye on the prize. We knew the best was yet to come.
Keep Your Fork www.trufflesnc.com
More next Saturday