And the almond planting continues.

Veteran row-crop farmer Gary Martin of Firebaugh, Calif., will plant 130 more acres of almonds on his family’s farm once a total row crop operation.

In December, he plans to convert former cotton and alfalfa ground to a Nonpareil-Wood Colony almond orchard on the 1,500-acre Pikalok Farming operation in Fresno County.

The new almond planting will more than double existing tree nut acreage. There are already 125 acres of Butte and Padre almonds planted in 2005 and 2006.

“We have enough hard shells,” he explains. “I want to get into some soft shell, higher-value nuts,”

Plus, he’s not all that happy with the weak structure of his Padres. The limbs tend to break easily when carrying a good crop load, he notes. The Padre blocks were also infected with botryosphaeria canker two years after they were planted. The cankers, which girdle and kill twigs, branches, and trees, were spread by spores from dead trees along the nearby San Joaquin River, he says.

Bee activity in the farm’s almond fields this year was good and, for the most part, so was the bloom, Martin notes.

“I was a little disappointed,” he says. “We didn’t seem to have as much bloom in the top of the canopy where I thought we would have some new fruiting positions. Now, the limbs there are still whippy with nothing on them.”

That may be related to removal of the bees from the fields on March 20. Looking back, that might have been a little too early. “After we took the bees out, I kept seeing a little bit of bloom here and there,” he adds.

Then, again, his trees may be taking a breather from the 3,600-pound crop they produced last year. That’s a good performance for these relatively young seven- and eight-year-old trees, Martin notes. “We were fortunate,” he says “Yields of neighbors’ mature trees were off as much as 30 percent last year.”

Winds of up to about 35 miles per  hour with higher gusts in April dampened his yield prospects a little this year. He lost 15 or 16 trees in one wind storm. The following week, several days of strong winds knocked down three or four more.

The wind damage was scattered among both the Butte and Padre blocks. “Some of the Padre trees were spilt and a few good, healthy Butte trees were twisted off at the ground,” Martin says. “Others in the area had much bigger problems with the winds. Still, you hate to lose even one tree.”

He’s considering hedging his trees in the row middles late this year to let in more sunlight and extend production of nuts on the lower limbs. Martin is still weighing the pros and cons of hedging between each row, every other row or every third row.

Martin completed his May spray for mites and navel orangeworm. This spray also included a fungicide to target rust.

As part of his May spray, Martin also fed his trees zinc and potassium. This follows an application of these nutrients earlier this season with his bloom spray. That treatment included calcium and iron to correct a deficiency uncovered by a July leaf test last year.

In April he’ll include a soil amendment — potassium thiosulfate — with one of his irrigations to supplement a regular fall application of applied gypsum. Since starting this program of annual gypsum and occasional potassium thiosulfate treatments, it seems to have opened up the soils and improved drainage, Martin notes.

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