Growing an orchard can be a very rewarding and enriching experience. However, there are many things one must take into consideration before they begin growing their own olive trees, and one of the most important things is to do a proper soil and water analysis so that you know your olive trees will grow, prosper, and yield positive results. Simply purchasing an orchard and beginning to plant can quickly turn into a disappointment and huge resource loss; it is best to be prepared and know everything about the conditions of your orchard.
It is easy and necessary to do a thorough analysis of an orchard's soil and water. This will provide you with knowledge about the condition of your orchard and is a must for any new farmer. Most of this information should already be available to you when you consider buying an orchard, but it is also important to run new tests in case that information is outdated. The chemical composition of soil and water can change very drastically, so to ensure the best results, contact a local farm adviser who will be able to recommend a lab and someone who can go over your soil test results with you. It is important to understand the state that your soil is in so that you know how your olive trees may possibly affected.
Before anything is planted, the soil should be tested extensively. Sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium levels should be measured, as well as the pH balance of the soil. These elements and acidity play an important role in the growing of olive trees and it is important that you look out for poor growth and toxic levels.
If there is any sign of toxicity, then further testing should be conducted to see what is happening with the soil. Soil should always be tested for nematodes as well as diseases such as Verticillium wilt. There are many diseases that are present in soil and that will wreak havoc on your trees, so it is important to know what is going on in the soil.
Olives can withstand a high pH tolerance - anywhere from 5 to 8.5. You can adjust this level to 6.5 (the recommended level for olives), but this has not been determined cost effective or worthwhile. For soils high in Magnesium (Mg), calcium and phosphorus can be added to the soil to produce a healthier balance of elements. Potassium (K) is also highly beneficial for olive growing and can be added to the soil prior to planting. Any soil that shows high levels of boron, chloride and sodium should be avoided as it is considered toxic.
Other tips for soil testing:
- Take sub-samples from at least two depths within the root zone, 10 to 18 inches deep.
- Do this for each soil type that can be observed in the orchard. You can research the different types of soil to know what they look like and easily find them in your orchard.
- Avoid home soil testing kits as they are not reliable.
Luckily, olive trees are drought tolerant and will survive through even the driest conditions. Depending on where you live, your orchards may require supplemental irrigation during the growing season to regulate the amount of water your olive trees are getting. Although olive trees are very drought tolerant, making sure they get a regulated amount of water will still produce the best results.
It is important that irrigation water is tested for pH, sodium, bicarbonate, chloride, boron, nitrate, electro-conductivity, as well as sodium absorption ratio. Although olives are said to be tolerant of boron in irrigation water, these levels should not surpass 2 mg/l. It is also important to measure levels of nitrogen and make sure that the levels are not too high, as excessive nitrogen will cause an increase in vegetable growth which will have an effect on fruit production.
If you take the time to properly research and conduct these tests, then you will be one step closer to having healthy olive trees in your orchard. This is a key aspect to caring for an orchard and even the smallest soil or water problem can lead to bigger problems down the road. Evaluate the health of your orchard's soil and water and you will see that having more knowledge will lead to better long-term results.