Growing pomegranates in Morro Bay

MORRO BAY — John Alcorn leads a busy life. During the week, he is manager of the Morro Bay Aquarium, but on days off and weekends it’s out to the orchard he goes! Alcorn grows pomegranates.
“My decision to go into farming pomegranates was easy,” Alcorn said. “My wife’s family has been growing pomegranates for years. Stacy’s grandfather grew them and now she is the third generation growing them.”
Finding the acreage for farming can sometimes be a challenge but Stacy’s grandfather left some land to his children, among them Stacy’s father. Acreage was added to and ultimately the Alcorn’s purchased 19-1/2 acres in Cutler in Tulare County. The field was not exactly empty and had old tires buried in it. Some trees and an old home site were there too so Alcorn had a lot of cleaning up to do.
Alcorn had never done farming before but Stacy has a degree in agriculture from Cal-Poly University and has worked for the United States Department of Agriculture, so that helped and there was family help. Thus, they established J & S Farms.
Alcorn disked the field and turned over the soil, put in electricity, and drilled a well, and put in pumps.
“For the first year, I used only a part of the acreage and planted watermelons,” Alcorn said.
Pomegranate trees were planted in 2009 and each tree has a sprinkler outlet near it. Eventually Alcorn will plant all 19-1/2 acres and have about 5,800 trees. Each row of trees is a quarter of a mile long. In the beginning a lot of the work was done by hand but Alcorn has finally put in buildings and got himself an ATV and his beloved tractor. The tractor is a 1973 model and he had to do hydraulic work on it.
“I painted it in Morro Bay on the back dock of the aquarium,” Alcorn said, laughing.
Alcorn’s 2011 harvest wasn’t large. He picked enough for about 15 boxes. With not enough fruit to market he went ahead and made jelly. While J & S Farms is not organic, Alcorn doesn’t use Roundup and once the flowers show on the trees he stops using any type of pesticide.
“I also let the weeds grow but remove them from right around the trees,” he explained, “so I try to keep everything as organic as possible.”
Alcorn uses a special organic product on the trees that acts as a sun block on the fruit so that it doesn’t get scorched. While he obtained some fruit after two years of planting the trees, getting the orchard to produce a good amount of fruit takes about five years. And the fruit is sweeter after a three-year growth period.
Pomegranates are a fruit that old testament people grew. It is the native fruit of Persia, which is now Iran. It represents fertility probably because of all the seeds found within it. It was found as far back as the time of Moses and is now abundant in the Middle East and India. It is thought that it was the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden and not the apple. In Jewish customs, the fruit was significant because it contains 613 seeds that represent the 613 commandments in the Torah. Because of the princely blossom crown, it has gained the distinction of being a royal fruit. Spanish Conquistadores brought the fruit to the Americas and Jesuit missionaries brought it north to the missions of California. Currently it is grown in the west and south but isn’t popular yet in other geographic areas.

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