What began as an Eagle Scout project in the 1990s, has become one of our annual outreach projects.  An orange orchard was planted on our church property.  Each year around the end of January, the fruit from the trees is harvested and the donated to the Contra Costa Food Bank.

Orchard Nurturing
There are 36 citrus trees on the property consisting of Washington Navel, Satsuma and Valencia oranges, two lemon trees and two grapefruit trees.  There are also four apple trees, each of a different type, and one fig tree.
Each of these requires maintenance and care to fuel their continued growth and ability to produce fruit.

Oranges ripen and mature at different times in late winter and early spring; Satsuma’s right after Christmas, Washington Navel in January/February, Valencia’s in March/April.  Apples ripen in August/September and figs along the same time frame.  One of the lemon trees will produce a small quantity of fruit at two different times during a calendar year.  The orchard will produce anywhere between one to two tons of fruit per season.

Ripening and quantity of oranges varies with annual rainfall totals, pest control, fertilizer/feeder quantities, and the average summer heat temperatures.

All trees are hooked into a drip irrigation system with auto controls to regulate the amount of water, frequency of watering and duration of watering.  Currently the water setting is every other day at 1 hour per cycle.  These trees are well into their maturity at 25+ years and have adapted to the dry conditions.  Still, they must be monitored for health as they will not survive extended periods without water.  The age of the trees would indicate that they are getting to the end of their production life cycle, but because we’ve always maintained them, they can continue to produce a suitable amount of fruit for many years to come.

The watering control panel is located up the hill behind the orchard and tucked behind a few oleander bushes.  The manual valve controls are also located nearby.  A copy of the instructions for the control panel is in Bill Deane’s in box in the church office, and in the file cabinets under “Orchard” in the church office.

Looking for signs:
If orange tree leaves start curling inward or dropping off, this indicates more water is needed.  Sometimes running a hose out in the orchard for 2-3 hours and moving it among the trees is needed during the long, dry summer to supplement the scheduled drip system.

If leaves start turning yellow or brownish, then nutrients are needed to be added to the soil.  Yellow indicates a need for a nitrogen-based feeder.  The former Navlet’s has bags of two types of “citrus mix” with an organic chemical compound specifically designed for citrus.  We apply this under the trees about twice a year.  This granular and powder mix is then soaked into the soil so that the roots have a chance to absorb the mix.

If leaves start turning black, then ants have moved their nests from the bay leave trees on the Kahrs Avenue side into the oranges and are sucking citrus out of the leaves to help feed their immature soldiers.  The leaves will begin to drop off and ants will begin to journey in vast columns up and down each tree tending their cocoons among the branches.  Buy a sprayer bottle that attaches to a hose, add dish soap into the sprayer, and water the tree leaves in each tree with dish soap.  This will force the ants to relocate their nests away from the trees as the soap is too slick for them to navigate easily and it changes the pH of the citrus leaves to a non-edible substance for them.  Sprayer bottles are located in the tool shed.

To combat ant infestation, every year trim back the fast growing bay trees so that none of the branches reach over and touch the first row of orange trees.  This eliminates one pathway for the ants to access the orange trees.


Annual work:
Watch the drip rings and connectors as they periodically wear out and break a line, creating a gusher when the water turns on.  The contracted maintenance groundskeepers can repair broken lines if informed.  Place a garden marker flag in the ground near the leak to help them identify it.  Marker flags are either on the picnic bench next to the apple trees or stored in the tool shed.

Add feeder around the trees 2x per year; spring after harvest and early to mid-fall.  First, you must rake aside the bark cover soil under each tree in order to lay the feeder on top of the drip ring lines.  Placing feeder on top of the bark cover does not allow the trees to absorb the nutrients; it just sits there.  Use a plastic juice pitcher (in the shed) to spread mix along the water ring line under each tree.  Feeder bags are 20 pounds each; you’ll need 6-7 bags to spread for all the trees.  Use a hose to water under each tree and push the feeding powder down into the ground.  Then rake the bark back over the drip lines.  During the hot summer months the bark cover allows the drip water to stay on the ground longer without evaporating and produces more water absorption back into the soil.  Also saves on our water bill.


Starting in February – weed!  We get an extraordinary amount of weeds!  The good news is that because we have bark ground cover, the weeds only root into the top cover and with the ground soft from rainfall, they are easy to pull up.  The bad news is that the weeds return three times – so you must return to pull them on three separate occasions to avoid having them root down.  Plus it’s back breaking work.  We also use a liquid mix of chemicals (non-toxic) to spray on the ground among the rows of trees, but not directly under the trees.  This also helps with spring weed control.  The mixing elements and sprayer tank are all in the tool shed.

Trim tree branches starting after harvest and continue into early summer.  Remove excess branches within the center of tree canopies.  More light and air should flow among the branches to stimulate fruit production.  If it’s too dark in a tree interior, trim out branches.  Also trim any “runners” or “suckers” that may send a single long line out from the canopy.  Think of it as “feng shui” for the trees.


Ground cover bark or mulch is donated from local landscaping companies that drop loads along the Kahrs Avenue hillside.  Mulch piles must be shoveled into wheelbarrows and distributed not only in the orchard, but elsewhere around the church property as needed or directed by Father Bruce.  Bark/mulch must be spread by iron rakes around the targeted areas.  It takes time to break down a 6 foot high pile of mulch.  Be prepared to engage in the activity over several Saturdays.

When the rains stop in March/April, the trees will blossom.  The density of the blossoms correlates to the amount of fruit that will form later.  You can gauge your annual crop by how thick the blossoms are among the trees.  Each year varies.
Work parties are arranged on certain Saturday mornings during the year, depending on manpower available.


Apple trees:
The apple trees are also on drip lines and have scheduled watering.  The apple trees need trimming each spring as they are mature and are robust in their fruit production.  Thinning the branches and shortening them will allow fewer apples to form and leave them more space to grow.  We still need to strip the young, green apples off the branches when they begin to form in the spring; otherwise they will cluster too tightly together and not have enough room to grow to maturity.  It does not matter how many apples you strip in the spring; there will be plenty on each tree when September arrives.

Fig tree:
The fig tree requires branch trimming each winter to create light and space among the branches.  The tree is a prolific producer and will bend the huge branches down to the ground under the weight of the fruit.  Due to the size of the branches, you will need a hand saw (in the tool shed) or gas chain saw to trim off some of the larger branches.  The tree is crowded by an oak tree and the huge Cypress pine all growing within the same area along the corner of the Peter Pan Pre-School fence line.  Therefore, the fig tree tends to grow towards the sun and over the edge of the Pre-School fence, so trimming in that direction is always necessary.
 
For more information, please contact Bill Deane at building945@yahoo.com.