Sunny Slope Orchard

Sunny Slope Orchard
In the coast range foothills overlooking the Sacramento Valley

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Bloom Time

In a way, bloom time is a period of climax in the orchard, when the benefits of pruning, composting and cover cropping launch this years fruit crop. This regular routine of pruning and soil enrichment, together with kind weather, almost always delivers a heavy bloom in our trees. So this is always a season of optimistic anticipation of healthy blooms and a good fruit set.

So far this season has been good, nice and wet but yo-yoing from warm to cold and dry to wet, in all combinations. So we've had a start/stop in the bloom where some flower buds  opened and set fruit in our warm early February, but most stalled when the weather turned unusually cold

This photo shows buds in several stages on one stem: the red "popcorn" stage buds just ready to burst open, the white petaled fully open flower, and the lower bud after pollination and petal-drop, with a tiny apricot forming inside. Those are the ones we like to see.

Meanwhile the cover crop is maturing into a lush mini-forest of green matter. Right now the orchard floor is an absolute jungle of microbes, fungi, earthworms, insects, and birds. The bell beans, peas and vetch loosen the soil with deep roots, bring soil minerals to the surface, capture nitrogen from the air, attract beneficial insects and pollinators, prevent erosion, and hold rainfall on our slopes. Later it will be mowed, left to break down and feed the microbes that then feed the soil, which then feeds the trees.

Bell beans blooming
I'm convinced that one of the major benefits of a cover cropped, mowed-not-tilled orchard is the habitat it provides to beneficial insects. There will always be opportunistic bad bugs, but attracting a diverse insect population helps to keep things in balance. The bell beans in the cover are just popping out, and are alive with lady bugs, green lacewings, and bees, all doing their good deeds. Next the field peas will bloom and finally the vetch, providing an ongoing habitat for beneficials.

Mustard is another great part of the mix, with a great root system and a heavy load of pollen. Native bees, bumblebees, and honey bees all like to come.

So, for the next three weeks we're anxiously waiting to see how the fruit set turns out. We'll be hoping for mild dryer weather during peak blooms but also for more rainfall to store in the soil to get us through next summer. We're optimistic!