In this edition of In The Orchard… we will discuss the important tasks that need to be considered over the winter months leading up to the beginning of the new season.
Liaise with your beekeeper about their anticipated ability to provide full strength hives for pollination in August. Early communication should be a part of a normal management program to maintain an ongoing business relationship with your beekeeper. Topics discussed should include:
- Any problems arising from last season’s pollination period
- Current hive strength and seasonal conditions that may impact on hive strength at pollination
- Planting of temporary forage crops to support bee health in the early stages of almond flowering
- Discuss and reinforce the message that all types of spraying will be kept to a minimum and if needed, will occur late in the day or at night to minimise any disturbance to bee activity or health
- Current pollination fee and contract
- Any other ways the grower may help the beekeeper to do their job when dropping down and picking up hives, e.g. providing an accredited driver to help transport around the property, and providing suitable amenities for the beekeeper to take required logbook breaks.
As the time gets closer to flowering, ensure that all important weediciding in the orchard is finished prior to hives being dropped in the orchard, especially Glyphosate. Plan any required foliar spraying operations to be conducted late in the afternoon or at night. Whilst there is always lively discussion around whether the chemicals almond growers use during flowering have an impact on bee health or activity, I urge everyone to act with caution until more rigorous scientific evidence exists. Spraying when bee activity is low could be one of those operations that contribute an extra 1% productivity, on its own may not resemble much but could have a greater impact in the bigger picture. Make sure any orchard prunings are burnt prior to hives being brought into the orchard. This includes bee/burn areas where hives will be located and headlands to facilitate easy access for the beekeeper’s equipment.
Pruning can be a valuable part of any orchard management strategy. Whether you consider the time and expense of hand pruning to open the centre of the tree or whether you judge the cheaper option of mechanically hedging to facilitates good mid-row light interception, pruning can help maintain the required light interception for good canopy health and reinvigorate the tree. The best hand pruning regime encountered so far is where a combination of the number of cuts and size of cuts is instructed to the pruning contractor or orchard staff i.e. two pruning cuts no larger than 5cm to open the centre of the tree.
In regards to mechanical hedging, the best practice to date involves hedging every second row in half of the orchard, the other half of the orchard can then be hedged every alternate row in the following season i.e. winter 2018. Every other unpruned row of the first half of the orchard can be hedged (winter 2019) followed by the last unpruned rows in the second half of the orchard in winter 2020. The need to re-hedge the orchard can be accessed after the four-year pruning program with most growers electing to restart the program after six years i.e. a four-year pruning program with a two-year break. When using mechanical saws in the orchard, for either mid-row hedging or 45 degree skirting cuts, consider mulching the prunings instead of pushing them out for burning. There are pruning contractors that can ‘shred’ the prunings very finely and with the changes in the types of pick-up belts used at harvest time, the residual layer of mulch won’t interfere much with the sweeping and picking up operations at harvest. The mulch will decompose very quickly with sprinkler irrigation or winter/spring rainfall in drip orchards and provides a major benefit in adding organic matter back into the soil.