In 2005 the Foundation purchased a coffee farm of 10 hectares located near sarchi Costa Rica. The farm had produced conventional coffee for a number of years and there were a few lemon trees, mango trees and orange trees planted near the homes. a few There was also a single avocado tree on the property.
These trees had not been maintained by pruning, soil enhancement, fertilizing or irrigation. We were pleased to see that the single avocado tree had just flowered and had produced 500 avocados all the size of a large grape. It was our idea not to interfere with this production but rather to observe and begin some soil building around the base of the tree. To our surprise, before we could begin, the tree aborted the entire crop. We listened to various theories but the one that seemed the most reasonable was that the soil around the roots was lacking in nutrients and organic material. We knew we had a job ahead of us and got to work immediately.
Our first activity to care for these trees was to prune and remove excess branches that were blocking the light from entering the center of the tree. We then did selective pruning in order to reduce the fruit production and to maintain ___________. We wanted fruit that would bloom on the stronger limbs close to the trunk of the tree so as not to put excess weight at the end of the branches. All of the pruning was focused on directing the energy of the tree to where it would produce fruit. All of the green shoots radiating from the center of the tree were cut back, as were any green sprouts originating at the base. In English we call these suckers because they suck the energy out of the tree.
Some of the trees we're so sick it appeared they would need to be cut down. However, we just removed the branches, some being 10 inches in diameter, and cleared away the rotten material that had formed in the trunk. One Washington orange tree near the house is surviving 15 years later even though we cut away more than half of the tree.
Next we began collecting organic material that had fallen below many of the trees located on the farm. This we would bag up and carry to the trees in our small tractor. We also began collecting the fresh cut green grass from the open areas around the homes and barn. We would place a 6 inch thick cap of dark leaves and small branches around the entire base of the tree below the canopy. We took care not to put the organic material right against the trunk to allow for moisture to evaporate and also keep insects from attacking the tree at the base. The dark organic was capped with light branches and then covered with a six-inch layer of grass clippings. We also recovered organic material from where the grass clippings had been dumped in previous years to add around the plant.
After that we proceeded to control the leaf cutter ants that were removing the young green leaves from some of the fruit trees. An uncontrolled colony of ants can strip all of the green vegetation from a 2 meter high tree with a branch diameter of 6 meters in less than three days. We found that the leaf cutter ants were the easiest insect to control by locating their nest and applying insect control direct into the mound. Following the first two applications the insect ants become dormant, however, a small colony with a home of about 2 cubic meters can take several months to completely eradicate. With larger colonies that may contain 10 cubic meters or more above ground we had to cut down the vegetation around it and eventually remove it using a front-end loader to scrape the ground clear.
After giving the fruit trees the attention that they needed they began to improve noticeably with brighter leaves and more fruit that stayed on the tree.