Unconventional Conversion: Cultivating Sustainability in Citrus and Avocado Orchards
The 100-year-old practice of growing citrus and avocado in Ventura County is being eroded by foreign competition, degraded topsoil and increasingly scarce water. Citrus and avocado orchards are giving way to nurseries, row crops and development. Project coordinator Zachary Griffin is departing from the traditional monoculture, pesticide-reliant system. The project is documenting the conversion of a conventional 5.75-acre navel orchard to a diverse mixed planting that incorporates many low-maintenance systems.
Griffin plans these activities to assess the transition from a conventional orchard system to one with diverse mixed plantings with low maintenance:
• He will open up alleys between orange trees.
• Plant leguminous trees to feed the soil with nitrogen and organic matter.
• Plant a border of deciduous trees to protect against wind, frost and heat.
• Sow seasonal vegetables for market – carrots, dill, onions, parsley, squash and sunflower – along with cover crops like clover and vetch.
• Analyze the soil to assess soil-building progress.
• Share results with other farmers.
So far, the orchard is fully interplanted and producing dozens of varieties of tree fruits, poultry, grapes and more. Livestock, free or low-cost inputs and effective low-impact techniques have been utilized to achieve beneficial results that match or better the effectiveness of their conventional counterparts.
However, the project has taken longer and cost more than had been anticipated to complete. Although natural systems farms are always works in progress, Griffin expected to finish the work in mid 2007.
Work to be completed includes community outreach, completion of interplanting and production of a photo-illustrated guide on the methods, techniques and elements pertinent to this operation that could be applied in similar settings in this and other regions.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
The project coordinator said the results so far have exceeded expectations and could not have been predicted.
“It is only by practical experience on this farm and through resources available within the sustainable farming community that this project has come so far,” said Griffin. “It is my hope that others will be able to use my results to further the goals of the community by improving sustainability and reducing the ecological impact of local farming.”