Saving the Grove: How we either gradually go broke or find prosperity.

My husband recently reminded me of one of his favorite quotes from Hemingway.

“How did you go bankrupt?”

“Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.”

I had mentioned before that we knew our little farm was sick. Most trees are infected with root rot (Phytophthora cinnamomi). It’s a pathogen of the soil with fungal-like attributes that was introduced in the U.S. by Australian eucalyptus trees. It prevents the feeder roots (the most important roots for water and nutrient uptake) from thriving. Thus, the trees die gradually as they are starved of water and nutrients no matter how much you try to feed them. And then suddenly they stop producing fruit, barely grow any new foliage, and start to look like gnarled trees of a creepy forest.  Click here for more info.

Infected soil. Look for the cinnamon-colored roots.

Infected soil. Look for the cinnamon-colored roots.

During a walk around the property with our manager last month, Gary showed us first-hand what a root rot infested “dead” tree was like compared to a healthy one. As he removed some of the leaf brush covering the ground of a sick tree, he could easily pull up handfuls of dark, wet soil that had minimal root systems. The dying roots were all brittle, dark and covered with a cinnamon-like color (thus, the pathogen’s namesake). Beneath a healthy tree, he could barely get his fingers to dig just a few inches below the surface, there were so many roots. Scratching the skin off the roots revealed a bright white interior, a sign of a strong, healthy root.

A little blurry, sorry, but a healthy feeder root.

A little blurry, sorry, but a healthy feeder root.

The problem is that of the 400+ trees on our property, probably less than 25% are healthy. And it probably won’t be long until the healthy ones get infected. So how do we save the grove? Replant with resistant rootstocks, or stump the trees. Stumping is the process of cutting down the trees to about 6 to 7 feet high, whitewashing them, and waiting for them to come back. Avocado trees are magical in that regard. They’ll produce as soon as a year after being stumped and may reach full production again 3 years after. Stumping often does the trick, allowing the trees to become healthy enough again to beat the root rot, but it doesn’t necessarily prevent them from being reinfected. And while stumping will allow the trees to produce a little quicker than replanting, it is likely that they would only continue producing a yield for another 5 years before you have to restump or replant it.

So we’ve begun a “redevelopment” plan that will take several years to implement that involves both stumping and replanting. We just finished the first phase a couple weeks ago. Ninety-three dying trees were cut to the ground and chipped. Another 68 somewhat healthier trees were stumped to 7 feet. We are prepping to replant 125 Dusa and 50 Toro Canyon clonal hass avocado trees that will be resistant to root rot. The replanting will happen in the spring. The hope is that the few remaining healthy trees will partially cover costs while we wait for the stumped and replanted trees to produce. And then we’ll finish replanting the remaining trees.

As my husband was saying, the Hemingway quote is applicable to anything in life: our grove, health, relationships. Life is full of trials that take a lot of tenacity and deliberate action to stave off the gradual decline. But as I stood above the demolished and stumped trees, I couldn’t help feel a shiver of hope and excitement, like renewal or birth. I watched my kids climb the mounds of chipped wood pretending to “conquer” and my lips curved upward. We are building something together as a family. If nothing else, with all the trees gone, we now have a fabulous view! Check out the series of before and afters below and in my photo gallery (unfortunately, I took these pictures and not my sister!)

“Only those who attempt the absurd can achieve the impossible.”

– Albert Einstein

Lots of sad looking trees.

Before: Lots of sad looking trees.

Looking down the hill in the same location after removal. More of our healthier trees are down the ravine.

After: Looking down the hill in the same location  More of our healthier trees are down the ravine.

Before: Gary and Aaron walking up the drive.

Before: Gary and Aaron walking up the drive.

After: The same drive now surrounded by stumped trees.

After: The same drive now surrounded by stumped trees.

Before: X marks removal.

Before: X marks removal.

After: View to the west.

After: View to the west.

Before: Jack shaded.

Before: Jack shaded.

After: Not so much shade anymore.

After: Not so much shade anymore.

Close-up of the stumped trees.

Close-up of the stumped trees.

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