Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Okanagan Farm Demonstrating Alley Cropping with Black Walnut and Pawpaw

Diversification, building connections and demonstrating the feasibility of agroforestry methods are a few of the motivations behind a Kelowna family farm's alley cropping project.  With funding from the British Columbia Agroforestry Industry Development Initiative, Curly Frog Farms will explore a more economical, sustainable way of conducting agriculture through agroforestry.

Curly Frog will transform approximately 1.5 acres from pasture on a high water table to an alley cropping system utilizing black walnut and pawpaw tree rows.  Black walnut produces a high quality, high value wood, much in demand, as well as a source of supplemental income from the nuts as food or seed.  Only 1.4% of the wood processed in BC is hardwood, thus an opportunity exists to diversify the wood market with increased regional production.  Pawpaw produces a unique and unusual fruit which looks like a mango and tastes like a mix of guava and banana, and comes with many potential health benefits.  Currently demand exceeds supply in Canada and if production results from this demonstration are favourable, the Okanagan could become a new regional production centre for this fruit.

black walnut
Black walnut produces a high quality, high value wood, much in demand
By design, the alley cropping set-up at Curly Frog will create beneficial synergies.  For example, alder trees will be planted within 1.5-m of the other crop trees to supply nitrogen to the soil, to act as a nurse crop to help the black walnut grow straight, and when the alley tree crops begin to mature, the alder will be cut for firewood.  Pawpaw will be planted in between the black walnut trees.  Pawpaw can be found in the wild growing under black walnut and should therefore be able to survive juglone sensitivity (black walnut can produce allelopathic effects on neighbouring plants) and the dappled shade of the walnut overstory.  In order to graft the pawpaw trees to produce known quality and character, Kentucky State University has graciously consented to contribute bud wood from their horticultural research station. 

Synergies are also hoped to develop through the choice of herbaceous crops in the alleys.  As a natural pest control strategy, beneficial insect plants (e.g. yarrow, dill) will be planted between the tree rows to help with pest control and promote biodiversity during the establishment of the trees.  Other potential benefits of this farming system may come through improved economics.  Alley cropping allows you to grow high value crops on less land while sharing the same farm infrastructure (e.g irrigation).

It is hoped this project will serve as a pilot to connect the forest industry, the agricultural industry and environmental concerns.   Once established, the farm will be open for tours that will focus on production methods, resources and costs.

Curly Frog Farms is a family-run farm whose overall purpose is to provide an environment in which spiritual, physical, mental, emotional and financial needs can be met.  Their goal is to integrate people, habitat and agriculture in order to gain a better understanding and appreciation of the environment.  The farm is located on 26 acres in Kelowna; 7 acres are wetland, pond and brook with an existing 2 acres of black walnut and Christmas trees planted beside it.   Another 2 acres of chestnut, oak and yellow horn are in the works slated to be completed by this fall.

For more information on this project or Curly Frog Farms, please visit: www.curlyfrogcreations.com/Farm.html