Black Truffle Tree Maintenance
Plowing / Tilling
Plowing your black truffle farm is done in Spring time and maybe mid Summer if the trees are young. Try to plow it when you know it wont rain for a week or so to give the up turned weeds a chance to die. You plow it with a cultivator - a thingy that has a few rows of metal thongs or forks that break the ground and with a roller on the back that smashes the clods of dirt left behind. Try to plow the land when the soil is some what moist, not bone dry. Preferably you will have a tractor to pull the cultivator with as they are some what heavy. Another thing to keep in mind is the depth that the forks or prongs go. Try to keep the plowing as superficially as possible as not to damage the roots of your black truffle trees. If for some reason the weeds grow back with a vengeance after the 1st plowing (which is normal), you can plow a 2nd time up until mid Summer if need be in a young plantation of up to 5 years or so. Always keep in mind that you are trying to avoid compacting the soil as much as possible, as the black truffle prefers loose soil so it can grow under ground with as least resistance as possible. Some what like a carrot prefers sandy soil as it doesnt impede its growth. The point I would like to make here is thats its a big No - No to have heavy tractors and machinery driving around your land when its wet after a rain. Obviously, wet soil compacts more when wet than dry. The work that the bull dozer did to break the sub soil will be diminished. I am neurotic about any type of machine driving on my land even in dry conditions, much to the exasperation and ridicule of the locals. I have a drivable path that runs along the inside perimeter next to the fence. Makes for carrying tools and having the lunch pail / fresh drinking water to near where your working nice and dandy. I dont own a tractor and use a local guy for about 30 euros an hr. Why buy a tractor that you will barely use and will most likely stop using altogether 10 to 12 years after planting your trees?¿?¿?
Word of warning!!!!!! Under no circumstance do you plow / till the land after the end of summer, in the fall or winter!!!!!!!! The holm oak will be preparing for winter, the sap slows down, the tree is sort of going into hibernation and you will reactivate the tree. The tree is then more susceptible to frost burn and will most likely die, along with its roots system. Not a good thing. This point is argued by many but I find the logic behind the reasoning very convincing, there fore I mention it. Last but not least, when your dealing with mother nature, its very hard to get her cooperation. So you might find that you cant plow in Spring because its been raining too much. If this happens, make sure you remove the weeds directly from around the tree by hand. There are farmers who never plow the land after they have planted it and leave it to mother nature to take her course. Some of these plantations do well, others dont. Even thou black truffle farming is generally a low maintenance farming technique, after initially planting your trees, it doesnt mean you can abandon your farm completely and show up in 10 years to start reaping the fruits of your labor.
You have to manually dig around each tree to remove the weeds. Cheating with a weed whacker just doesnt cut it for a number of reasons. When the black truffle trees are young, its very important to remove all weeds surrounding them. You cant plow too close to the tree to begin with so there will be a small patch of ground with weeds around the tree. Take care not to dig too deep around the tree and damage the roots. Superficially moving the top soil to loosen the soil should be enough to remove the weeds, this also aireates the soil. The loosened weeds can then be hand removed from the loose soil. The saplings are small and will soon be over grown by weeds impeding their growth, if the weeds are not removed. The weeds also suck up precious water that the young truffle trees will need to survive. Weeds can and will eventually kill the sapling, if you let them. If your trees have protectors around them, weeds tend to grow inside the protector next to the saplings. These have to be removed by hand. But, before sticking your hand in a dark tube that might be harboring a wasps nest or something, have a good look / see into the tube to make sure the coast is clear before inserting your hand to fish out the weeds. Spiders have a tendency to make their webs over the mouth of the protectors. Thats actually a good thing as it protects wind blown seeds from entering the protector. A clove of garlic is used here in Spain to sooth a wasp or bee sting. Rub the peeled garlic on the sting. It burns like the devil for a second or 2 but relieves the venom quickly. Garlic also keeps vampires at bay they say......... If you dont have garlic handy and have been stung by something, pee on some loose soil, take the paste and apply to the area. Sounds yucky but urine has alot of positive properties and it works. Dont forget to get to a hospital if need be.
Wasp Nest In Truffle Tree Protector
You can use " Round Up " or similar to spray the areas around the truffle trees to control the weeds. The active ingredient that kills the weeds and almost anything it touches is “glyphosate”. Take care not to let it touch your truffle trees. I personally dont like the politics of " Monsanto ", the maker of round up, so I dont use it. Under no circumstance do you apply the weed killer spray inside the black truffle tree protector tube, fish the weeds out by hand very carefully. As mentioned above, you will need to remove the weeds from around the black truffle trees for the 1st couple of years. Your truffle trees will be better off and they will thank you for this positive attention you give them. I have yet to use weed killer spray around my trees, I prefer to sweat a bit and hoe around them. I try to keep my black truffle farm as organic as possible. Alot of people inquire about using weed killer spray hence I´ve added some comment about it but I personally dont agree with it. Its quite common now to use weed killer spray here in Spain to manage the weeds but try to keep it to a minimum.
Best not to use any. The holm oak prefers a marginal soil type in the 1st place. Even thou after doing a foliar analysis you might have to correct soil imbalances. See Soil for more details. Another thing I should mention here is the use of " Pig Urine / Pig Waste " ( Purin in Spanish ) from a pig farm. Pig farmers need to get rid of their accumulated pig waste and it is common practice in Spain to apply this as a fertilizer. Do not let any one persuade you to do this on your proposed black truffle farm. It is highly concentrated in nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. This mixture takes 2-3 years to break down in the soil. It is so strong this pig waste, that it will literally burn your truffle tree roots and will kill the truffle tree. Or your holm oak will grow at a great rate but the black truffle spore that was on your roots has died from fertilizer intoxication. Pig urine might be good for corn, wheat, barley, etc but its no good for your black truffle farm.
Take the time to watch the movie " Dirt! - The Movie ". It's a great documentary about dirt / soil being a living organism. It explains how modern farming technics are a bunch of rubbish, how the multi national companies only care about profits, etc.
Removing The Tree Protectors ( Updated - April 2012 )
The tree protectors are removed after a yr. or so after planting your trees, in late winter of early spring. Or when the crown or top of the truffle tree has grown outside of the tree protector. Always do this before the tree shows any sign of budding or growth. This also a good time to give the truffle tree its 1st pruning. You actually rip off any unwanted branches, tearing downwards. Do not clip the branches with pruning shears, unless the branches are too big that you will damage the tree trunk. Wear gloves as the holm oak has spiky leaves. When you rip or tear the branch off, this impedes that any branches will grow back in its place. Sort of scars the wound, I guess you could say. If you give the holm oak a clean cut, many branches will grow back. Make sure the rip is as close to the tree trunk as possible. You might want to steady the sapling with your free hand. Avoid damaging the tree trunk as much as possible. This might sound like a brutal way to prune a tree but the holm oak is a sturdy type of tree & doesn't seem to mind this mild abuse.
Measure up from the ground about 20 cm or a hands width, fingers spread out, along the tree trunk to get an approx. height of where you want to start to prune the truffle tree. Dont over do the pruning. Just do the lower branches along the main trunk.
Click here for some photos of holm oaks that have been pruned in this manner.
Pruning is done after the 5th to 7th year after planting. Then maybe after the 10th yr. People argue the pros and cons of pruning the holm oak. Some say to try to prune the holm oak into a ice cream cone. But, the holm oak is the type of tree that when you snip one branch, 7 suckers grow from where the initial branch was clipped. So take care what you decide to do on this subject. Dont let just anyone prune your trees, they might just ruin years of your labor. Pruning should only be done in late Winter or early Spring. It must be done before the holm oak starts to bud or giving off new branches. In other words when the tree is still dormant. I do not have too much information on this subject as I have yet to prune my trees ( See above ).
Burn or Brule
Usually 4 - 7 years after planting your black truffle trees, a burn or brule will start to form around the black truffle tree. This is a patch of ground around the truffle tree truck which doesnt allow weeds or anything to grow. It will look burned or as if you have applied weed killer to that area. The soil also gets a spongy type of texture. This is a very good sign that the mycelium ( black truffle spore ) is active under ground and all your labor hasnt been in vain until now. It is sort of the black truffles self defense mechanism to eliminate competition for nutrients and water. Once the burn / brule appears, it is only a matter of a couple of years or so, that you should be collecting them funky smelly tubers. Some times the burn / brule will make a complete circle on the ground around your truffle tree or just be on 1 side of it. One way or the other it is a positive sign that all is well underground.
5 year old black truffle farm with small burns
If your black truffle trees are healthy, wealthy and wise from the nursery, you really dont have to worry about diseases. There are diseases that do effect the oak family but it isnt common. But to be safe, always keep a look out for any abnormalities. As far as I know, there are no diseases that specifically attack the root system.
You collect leaves from different trees thru out the farm and have them analyzed by a laboratory. Mentioned earlier, high PH soil can impede certain trace elements that the holm oak can absorb, so deficiencies can occur. The laboratory will then send you a detailed report of its finding. Since I have not done this yet, I cant exactly say what the procedure is. Make sure you ask how to collect the leaves from the laboratory that will be doing your analysis. A happy black truffle tree will produce more black truffles, so try to keep your black truffle farm as happy as possible. You do the foliar analysis once the trees are about 4 - 7 years old, or at any time that you think that your trees might be suffering. Trees are living beings and need their tender loving care too.