Good Fruit Grower

April 15

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24 APRIL 15, 2014 GOOD FRUIT GROWER Brix Many fruit growers have meters to measure the Brix level of their fruit, but Omeg also measures the Brix level of leaf sap, which he says is an easy and cheap way to assess the health of the foliage. "The job of leaves is to produce sugars, and the health- ier a tree is, and the healthier the leaves on the tree, the more sugars they're producing," he said. He also has a Firmtech machine to measure the size and firmness of cherries, which are the two most import- ant fruit quality parameters. However, the most import- ant sampling growers do is with their own eyes, he said. It's easy to get busy and forget to check the results if you put on a new spray or a different rate of fertilizer, so Omeg sets an alarm on his phone calendar to remind him. Soil stimulants He's tried many different soil stimulants from as far away as Maine or the Great Lakes and found dramatic differences in how they perform. A locally manufactured liquid fish hydrolysate from Pacific Gro, LLC, has been one of the most beneficial. "A high oil-content product seems to work better for me on my farm in my growing conditions," he said, noting that salmon-based products work well. A liquid crab hydrolysate from Pacific Gro made from fish and crab shells provides a good boost of calcium, which is one of the key elements in fruit firmness. These treatments work well in weak blocks, he stressed, but he does not see the benefit in blocks that are already doing well. In a trial he conducted with Skeena, the fish fertilizer treatment significantly increased fruit size, with 25 percent of the cherries treated with the fish product being 8½ row, compared with 17 percent of the control cherries. The proportion of 9-row cherries also increased. Omeg said the difference might have been enough for his packer to do an 8½-row pack. Soil compaction Compaction of soil in the drive row caused by tractors limits the ability of tree roots to grow in that area. Omeg said he uses an AerWay cultivator to aerate the soil. Its blades make divots about eight inches deep, providing channels for water, air, and fertilizer. He usually applies fertilizer immediately after using the tool. Cover crops Omeg's been planting a seed mix including daikon tillage radish, instead of managing a permanent seed cover crop, in order to stimulate biological activity. The radish dies in the winter, opening up large channels for water and air infiltration and allowing other species to come in. "The more species of plants you have in your cover crop, the better the response is going to be because biological diversity is increased in the soil," he said. Omeg hopes to collaborate with Lynn Long, Oregon State University extension educator in The Dalles, on a trial to look at the benefits to tilling the cover crop bio- mass into the soil versus leaving it on top. He uses a rotary spader to incorporate the green manure, rather than a rotary tiller, to avoid soil compaction. Compost Omeg used to write off compost as being too expensive, but a couple of years ago he decided he should try it out. He concluded that, like fish products, it had little effect on healthy blocks but was worth the high cost of application in blocks that had been struggling. After only two years, soil tilth and fruit size and firmness were improving. In his trials in a young Regina orchard, he tested compost applied at rates of a quar- ter of an inch, a half of an inch, and one inch in depth and found an improvement in fruit size in the half-inch treatment compared with a quarter-inch, but no further improvement by going up to an inch. • PHOTO COURTESY OF MIKE OMEG Jesus Elias, assistant foreman at Omeg Orchards in The Dalles, Oregon, demonstrates the size of daikon radishes in the cover crop. The radishes, which die in the winter, help improve water and air penetration in the soil.

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