Sunny Slope Orchard

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

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Successful Bloom!

We're now basking in the afterglow of a wonderful heavy orchard bloom, thankful that mother nature and our trees have come through once again - no devastating hail storms or severe freezes to ruin the blossoms, but cooperative weather that let the trees burst out in glorious bloom.

Apricots in full bloom
Peach trees at sunrise

The flower buds formed during last year's growth, then sat dormant overwinter waiting for the required 400 or so chilling hours (hours below 45 degrees) needed to make them viable. Once the required chilling hours have been met, the next hurdle is avoiding extreme cold during bud swell, bloom and beyond. So far so good.

Bristling with little pea sized fruits, the trees are now sprouting this year's leaves as they transform from winter's dormant skeletons into vibrant bushy fruit factories. Notice that the tiny apricots already show the beginnings of that beautiful red blush that makes them drop-dead beautiful when ripe.

For the next few weeks the main hazard for apricots are fungal diseases, a problem made worse by wet weather. We try to minimize this by spraying a copper compound several times during the dormant season.

What's that, how can you be organic if you spray? Well, the question is not whether you spray, but what you spray. Spraying is just a method of applying something to a plant. We use a sprayer to apply many things to the trees: fish emulsion and kelp for foliar feeding, bacillus thuringiencis (a naturally occurring bacterium) to kill leaf eating caterpillars, a light colored clay powder to reduce sunburn on walnuts, a natural soap solution to control aphids, and a copper product as a fungicide. The key is that any "input" to our farm must be labeled as approved by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI). Generally that means only non-synthetic ingredients. Copper is a naturally occurring (and necessary) soil nutrient, not a synthetic chemical, and the particular product we use is OMRI approved. But first and foremost we try to promote a condition of balance in the orchard where diseases and pests are kept in check by natural enemies. More on this topic next time . . .