Sunny Slope Orchard

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

Thursday, June 30, 2011

A rain disaster

Well, the apricot crop that we have nurtured for so many months suffered a major blow on Tuesday June 28th in the form of 1.3" of rare June rainfall. The result is lots of splitting as the ripening fruit absorbed the water and swelled. And with fungus and mold problems already prevalent from our very wet spring, we expect to lose lots to rot. And what we do pick cannot be trusted to have much of a shelf life.

Splits in apricot skin allow mold and fungus
So now with half the crop still on the trees we're in salvage mode, trying to put some of the fruit to good use while disposing of moldy fruit before it spreads its evil spawn.

So canners and jammers, sharpen your paring knives as now is your chance to pick up some bargain fruit.

It's first come, first served, but hurry since the heat wave coming in the next few days will complete a one-two punch on this year's cot crop. And this, folks, is why so many apricot orchards have been torn out over the years.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Apricots are here, time to eat and make jam!

At last, the apricots are beginning to ripen. We have started picking and should have fruit for approximately two weeks. We have lots of orders for apricots and a smaller-than-usual crop, so do call ahead before driving up here to be sure we have what you want. Phone 707-448-4792.

We ran out of our 2010 apricot jam very early this winter. The recipe was new to us and was intriguing because it used both the apricot flesh and the kernel found inside the pit. The full recipe can be found in Chez Panisse Fruit by the incomparable Alice Waters on page 25. This recipe alone is worth the price of the book; but any fruit lover will find dozens of delicious ideas inside as you work your way alphabetically through the crops, one chapter at a time, from Apples to Strawberries. Buy this book!
Alice uses just four simple ingredients for her jam: apricots, sugar, a few apricot kernels (called noyaux) and lemon juice. We followed the recipe as written except that we reduced the amount of sugar to suit our taste. That yielded us a softer jam; it was more the texture of a thick sauce. We loved it on pancakes, toast, and ice cream. Four thumbs up, our highest praise!
Another version of apricot jam, using similar techniques but not calling for cot kernels, is available in Fanny at Chez Panisse: A Child’s Restaurant Adventures with 46 Recipes, written by Alice Waters, Bob Carrau and Patricia Curtan.
Not all fruit is born perfect; Mother Nature likes variety and is apparently bored by sameness. This spring's weather was unusually wet and the result is lots of scarred fruit. We sort our crops  into three categories. Our #1 grade is the most perfect, with the best size and appearance. The #2 grade has some skin blemishes and oddly-shaped fruits. The #3 grade are the culls; they include over-ripes, bird pecked and insect-damaged fruit. To be frugal and use the harvest to the fullest, we try to find good homes for all our fruit.
Here on the farm, we use a lot of culls for jam making, drying, freezing and baking. This year, for instance, most of our apricots have some shot hole fungus because of the late rains. The taste of the fruit is unaffected but the tongue feel of these “freckles” may not be suitable in all dishes. Over the years we have found it wise to have sharp knives in the kitchen and use them well. I love the fruit that is picked dead-ripe off the tree and am willing to cut my way through lots of culls to get those soft, succulent apricots for my jam.
One final story from a woman who lives in Italy and shops the farmers markets there: At Italian outdoor markets, a customer tells the seller how many fruits she wants and the farmer selects them. If she requests three fruits, she gets one perfect, one somewhat blemished, and one ugly. That way all produce is put to good use instead of ending up discarded. Seems an admirable custom given that in our country almost half our food is wasted.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Harvest update June 18th

Peaches are going, going, almost gone. We've had the shortest peach season ever, and expect to do the seventh and last picking tomorrow, Sunday 6-19. Most #1 and #2 grade peaches are sold or spoken for, but for jam makers or bakers we will have cull peaches available until probably June 21st. These are undersized or damaged fruit best for processing uses where some sugar is added.

Cots are still mostly green(!) so it looks like picking won't begin until maybe June 24th or so. And due to extremely wet and cool weather this winter & spring, the crop is much lighter than in recent years and has a fair amount of fungus damage. So for our longtime customers we will do our best to get you some cots but unfortunately cannot make any promises at this point.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Finally, signs of ripening!

It's been an unusual year so far, with almost continuous below normal temperatures. As a result some of the fruit is very late in ripening. Surprisingly, we were still using the wood stove just a week ago when most years we would be needing to cool the house starting in May. But at last we're seeing some progress.

Peaches are coloring up nicely and we are just doing the very first picking here on June 12th, not much later than usual. The first few to ripen are always "seconds", with split pits or other imperfections. But we expect to have good supplies of quality Springcrest peaches starting around June 15 - 18.

The apricots are another story though, still mostly green and hard. We don't expect to be picking many until around June 20th or later. Just a few are starting to get a tiny bit of orange color, about what you would find advertised at Safeway as "Ripe Summer Fruit!" But we insist on letting fruit ripen on the tree as far as possible, picking when it is just a couple of days from dead ripe. We lose some to wind, rot, and birds that way, but the taste difference is night and day compared to fruit picked too green.

Frequent spring rains keep fungus spores active, so this year we expect to lose more fruit to brown rot, a nasty fungus that can spread quickly over a fruit both before and after harvest. So the fruits' keeping quality will probably suffer a bit. This year the apricots also have much more "shothole fungus," those freckles visible in the picture above. This is mainly just a cosmetic problem though, and after all who among us is completely free from a few warts and moles?

Santa Rosa plums will be later than usual as well, probably starting around the end of June. Please bear in mind that these dates are just rough estimates; hot weather can and often does fool us. So check back here often during the season for updates and feel free to call with your specific needs. We won't be setting up the fruit stand outside the gate until we have cots in good supply, but are happy to take specific orders for fruit ahead of time for customer pickup. Call us at 707-448-4792, or email to

While we wait for the fruit to ripen we're busy setting up our famous bird scare machines, a variety of home built contraptions that limit bird damage and amuse passersby. This photo shows one device in action, with flying plastic bottles tethered to gyrating ropes. An electric motor drives the system and is controlled by an intermittent timer. Videos of the machines in action can be found here:
Follow the link and click on "slideshow." Don't laugh, they work!