With about 1,700 acres of pistachios and 2,500 acres of almonds between them, Mathew Andrew, his father, grandfather, and uncle won’t lack for things to keep them busy this coming season.
As the second week of March began, the bloom of the earliest almond varieties on their Andrew Farms, Inc., operation near Madera, Calif., was about two-thirds complete, with petals beginning to fall.
Meanwhile, as the latest varieties were just getting into full bloom, he had completed his second fungicide spray to control any brown rot blossom blight.
Although temperatures slid below 30 degrees for a short time during the last weekend of February, Andrew says he doubts the weather stayed cold enough, long enough to cause damage to the new crop.
“We’ve had plenty of good days for bees to fly, along with beautiful weather in early March, and I’m pretty optimistic about getting good pollination this year.”
As the almond bloom continued into the second week of March, the male pollinators in Andrew’s pistachio orchards were just starting to swell slightly — right on their normal schedule.
Andrew Farms’ first pistachio trees, Kerman, were planted 15 years ago. The youngest trees, Golden Hills, will be in their third leaf this year.
Originally, the trees were planted on 20-foot rows with trees spaced 17 feet apart in the row. Later, to fit in more trees, the pattern was changed to a 19-foot spacing between rows.
Pruning, which began on the oldest trees in early January, was expected to be completed by mid-March, when crews would finish with the youngest trees. Unlike many growers, Andrew Farms pistachios are all hand pruned and hand tied.
“We’ve invested a lot of time and money training tree growth to control their shape so we don’t have to hedge them when they get big,” Andrew explains. “We’d rather use hand pruning to make our cuts, knowing where the fruit buds are, rather than indiscriminately removing fruit wood with hedging.”
The tying and training are also designed to dampen swings in production between on and off years of the alternate bearing pistachios when the trees are older. Whether that’s successful will have to wait several more years until the oldest trees reach an age to begin alternate bearing, Andrew notes.
His soils require no added phosphorus, but later this month, he’ll begin fertilizing trees with nitrogen, beginning with the almond orchards. The spring applications are designed to minimize nutrient losses due to leaching when fertilizer is applied in the winter.
He’ll include potassium with the nitrogen. The liquid nitrogen, UAN 32, and potassium thiosulfate are fed to the trees through either drip or sprinkler irrigation systems. Andrew Farms switched from shanking fertilizers into the soil to fertigation about 15 years or so.
“It has worked out well for us,” Andrew says. “Because we don’t use a tractor, it really cuts our applications costs, especially for diesel fuel. As long as the irrigation equipment is operating properly, we get good, even application of the nutrients and we’re not tearing up the orchard floors with mechanical application equipment.”