Sustainable, organic, environmentally friendly... we hear it a lot lately and it is a movement that I am happy to jump at and take action to really improve on both at home and for Kings Truffles.
I wont lie, it is not always easy or clear on what to do when the issues seem such large scale and how to really make a difference. But like everything sometimes you just need to start and now I find myself looking for other opportunities to improve. We have looked at all aspects of our operation and tried to improve where we can but the biggest achievement has been moving away from the use of sprays for weed control.
In the past we have used a weed killer called Buster, commonly used in vineyards and orchards at the beginning of spring to knock back any over grown areas while being the longest amount of time until our next harvest. Sections of the truffiere (mainly where there is strong brule and truffle present as well as being very steep) have been spray free for over 5 years. The aim has been to eventually have the whole property managed without the use of chemicals. This has seemed daunting with a property that is unable to easily use machinery, larger scale and a lot of exisiting "weeds". But with a change of mindset as well as the added bonus that the truffieres brules are getting stronger we no longer use Buster on our mature trees. WAHOOOO
As soon as our harvest is complete, usually the end of August, we hard graze the site with sheep for a few weeks. Though they are a pain at pulling out the sprinklers they are very affective at grazing down all the growth and also starting a little pruning of the lower branches for me! It is also a great way to help boost nitrogen with some natural fertilising;)
Once the sheep have been and gone we cultivate under the trees to prevent the soil becoming too compact allows the truffles to push out and grow in a uniform manner. We try to do this without disrupting the soil structure too much so only a light till 2-5cm deep. All of our truffle that has been frozen during harvest due to being over/under ripe, damaged or not sold while fresh gets blended up and put back under the trees. This is all done in September, the earlier the better so we can let the mycorrhizal activity do its thing.
For the rest of the summer we are pruning the trees to ensure maximum sunlight onto the soil and encourage new growth and production of sugars to feed the truffles, irrigating, mowing grass between rows and weed whacking areas where the weeds are getting out of control.
This time of year is when we really start to see our hard work pay off. With the truffle season nearing and a few more rains the burn or brule is a lot more obvious (also a lot easier to see in Spring) and usually means truffles will be found, or if not this year will be the following season. When the truffle is active it causes changes in the environment both physical and biological which largely inhibits the growth of other competing plants. Mother nature doing what it does best and creating an environment where the truffle can thrive while we just lend a helping hand rather than disrupting the balance by introducing nasties.
Already we have signs of a great season to come with a large number of our 10year old trees coming into production and a lot of truffle "mounds" being located already. Truffles from different soils and climates have different aromas. The volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are not only produced by the truffle but also depend on bacteria and yeasts in the surrounding soil. I wonder if this season we will taste a difference in our truffle that reflects our changing terroir?