Visions of dark green pompom clouds bob on the rolling hills of the tranquil Perigordian countryside. A perfect marriage of untouched rural beauty with exhaustive human efforts. The holm oak has been manipulated to such a degree that indicates extreme appreciation of the exquisite Black Diamond. Happily, these neat little orbs peppering the rolling hillsides here do give a very manicured look reminiscent of a stately home topiary garden.
In order to achieve such a stunning finish many years of endeavor are needed. It all begins when the tree is in its early years. Here, we explain in detail how to prune your young truffle tree: https://www.blackdiamondtruffletrees.com/post/how-to-prune-a-young-truffle-tree
After this first major prune at around 3 - 5 years old, the tree should then be pruned lightly during its annual dormant phase (late autumn - early spring). As with most tree pruning, avoid removing more than 30% of the foliage to ensure healthy growth. The lower branches are completely cleared from the trunk exposing around 25% of its overall height. The aim is to make the rest of the foliage take the shape of an inverted cone. However, it is not merely aesthetics that guide the hand of the truffle cultivators and more a hunger for a ridiculously tasty truffle treat. When the truffle tree is producing the truffles, it should continue to be pruned to encourage larger, ripe, more plentiful truffles. The idea is to keep the tree strong while allowing maximum sunlight to penetrate the canopy and reach the soil; especially important in a truffière where the trees are planted close together.
So that's that sorted isn't it! Or is it?
Imagine if you will the stereotypical image of paysan Frenchman: flat cap, head to toe in olive green, ample nose, hands as gnarled as the land he works, a beard you could lose a badger in and eyes as old as the hills themselves. Some of the local inhabitants describe him simply as "wild". Now imagine that this sagacious man had a truffière 100m from your own. The trees are left to nature's will, growing to their own design. Minimal human interference. No pruning, no harrowing or tilling roots, no feeding with extra truffle spores, no fencing, no irrigation. And yet, it is claimed that there is a hefty haul from this naturally kept truffle plot. After all, truffles have grown in this valley long before humans gathered the knowledge to begin cultivating them and they still do grow wild here. They seemed to grow rather well without any interference at all. Without any 'help'. Actually, you might think that mother nature has it figured out and doesn't need our human ideas and strategies; straight lines and pruning shears.
With the extraordinarily hot and dry summer of 2022, the truffle harvest in the following winter was compromised. After a lengthy chat with the President of the 'Sarlat Nord' Truffle Association we garnered that harvests this past winter had been devastating. So what is the answer? Irrigation? It would seem so and is certainly something we plan to increase as our truffière starts to produce . Yet our paysan, quite literally 'truffle nosed' neighbour had a plentiful harvest. Plentiful! Including one truffle weighing in at a whopping 600g! How can this be when all of the other truffières struggled?
Perhaps the answer to the activity below our feet is a result of what is happening above our heads - the closed canopy. The sun cannot penetrate the dense network of branches. The soil around his truffles therefore retained more moisture, suffering less from drought.
Is this going to be where the climate is heading? Are we going to be wanting to hold on to the precious resource of water rather than exposing the soil to the sun to allow it to warm up. Maybe he knows something that we do not. Maybe he knows something the President of the North Sarlat Truffle Association does not. This man has worked with the land for so long that he resembles the earth. I can only imagine the sight of his root like feet. His family for generations have done the same. Never changing, not experimenting or moving with modern techniques, but preferring instead to stick to the way they do it, what they know with a stubborn integrity that demands our respect and admiration.
The overgrown truffière also happens to be the place that I have spotted the most wildlife in the neighbourhood: deer, hares, red squirrels scamper in the cover of darkness to get from one wooded area to another. Perhaps this is reason alone to keep a truffière in a natural way.
It's a very interesting dilemma, and one that we will enjoy watching unfold around us. For 2023, it is clear that the majority of truffle farmers are opting for the harder prune, preferring to keep the trees in a globe form. In fact, they are so compelled that this winter saw vigorous clacking of shears and, at times, even chainsaws over the tops of many larger overgrown tress, giving them a hard prune. We will watch and see how they fare over time compared to our traditional wild style neighbour. The question remains: To prune or not to prune? Answers on a postcard please!