GROWING PRACTICES AND PHILOSOPHY
When people ask Tony how he grows such great fruit, he always replies “well, the trees do most of the work. We just need to keep them happy”. Keeping a citrus tree happy is not always an easy task, especially when there are several thousand of them, ranging in age from 90 to 1. Each tree varies in its needs due to where it is planted, how old it is and what variety it is.
Citrus trees can live to be a healthy 90 years, but if they get really sick once they won’t make it that long. We do what it takes to keep the trees healthy throughout the year. We do not claim to be ‘organic’ although we employ many organic practices such as using compost, horse manure and beneficial insects. We do also use commercial fertilizer (urea) and occasionally foliar nutrient sprays. Perhaps the most important cultural practice for us is keeping the trees watered through our hot, dry summers and drought years. Because citrus has shallow roots, weeds are in direct competition with our trees for nutrients and water. We try our best to keep weeds away from the root zones of the trees by heavily mulching tree bases, hoeing and weedwacking and spot treating the weeds. Weeds in the middles and edges of the orchards are fine as they provide habitat for beneficial bugs and pollen and nectar for bees.
We are spoiled to live in the Ojai valley where we are surrounded by national forests! Coyotes and owls from the forest help control rodents while beneficial insects and bees can forage in both orchards and forestland. Luckily, much of the wildlife in our orchards is beneficial or unproblematic and we manage our orchard edges to encourage wildlife to be part of our farm. We have many bird species, hummingbirds and owls being our favorites. We also have coyotes and bears (who both like to consume avocados) and an occasional mountain lion or fox. Then there are the multitude of insects including lacewings and praying mantis, many of which we encourage to stick around and deter unwanted pests. We also have our own cats and dogs who enjoy roaming the acres.
We have several pieces of property with different microclimates. Over the years we have learned which varieties prefer which climate. Tangerines are sweetest on our Matilija canyon property; navels do well in the Ojai Valley’s east-end. Each property has it’s own set of trees and issues which we need to address. Our houses are within the orchards and we constantly walk through the groves looking at how the trees are doing. As a small farm we are able to cater to the needs of each tree independently and are able to treat problems when they arise. We also know when fruit is at its peak as we constantly sample the fruit, as do our friends, and pets.
FROM TREE TO MARKET
We pick and pack fruit almost every day, and our fruit is not treated with preservatives or wax, therefore it may be more perishable than that purchased in your local supermarket, but we know our fruit is fresher, tree-ripened, and much tastier!
The methods of picking and packing citrus have not changed significantly in the past 100 years. Each fruit is individually clipped from the tree. Pickers work steadily clipping the fruit and placing into their picking bags. During tangerine season we all help with the picking and packing and may employ some extra help to get the jobs done. Once the bags are full, they are dumped into boxes or bins. The fruit is then transported to the packinghouse where at Friend’s it is packed for sale the same day it is picked.
Readying the fruit for packing can include running the fruit though a sizing machine, brushing the fruit and culling out poor quality fruit. Since it is supplied by order at Friend’s there is no storage and fruit is used within a week or less. The best guarantee for quality fruit is that the trees are well taken care of and that it be fresh when the consumer recieves it. Enjoy!