We can hardly believe it, but after little more than a week we are already sold out of peaches and apricots for the year. The peaches all ripened within a very few days, beating all previous records. So instead of having at least two weeks to gradually pick and slowly sell the fruit, we had only days. We were able to get some into a few customers' hands, but ripe fruit can't wait around so we had to sell most of it in bulk to a produce store and restaurant. But at least we made good use of the fruit and little went to waste.
The apricots are another story. They began ripening gradually as usual, and we were picking a few boxes every day as they ripened up nicely in moderate temperatures. Then this week hit, with temperatures in the upper 90's and expected to top 105 in a few days. High heat slows down photosynthesis, especially when the soil is dry as it is again this year. The leaves turn away from the sun, hiding from the heat, and stop transpiring moisture to the air. This slows down nutrient flow in the tree and fruits, and if the hot spell lasts more than a few days, the fruit stops ripening and begins to decay inside. Apricots are especially prone to this problem. So sadly we can only look on as the 80% of our cot crop still on the trees deteriorates. It is too green to harvest and is unlikely to survive until cool weather returns, so this looks like the end of our apricot season. We're sorry for all our customers who will miss their annual batch of cots for eating, jam, and canning. We were hoping for a reasonable apricot year, but it is not to be.
Monday, May 30, 2016
Thursday, May 26, 2016
|A ripe Springcrest peach meets the sunrise|
With the past 11 months of irrigation, weed control, cover cropping, pruning, pest control and fruit thinning behind us, it's show time as we are now literally enjoying the fruits of our labors. Cots, peaches, and a few plums are ripening and we will be picking daily for the next few weeks.
Harvest is rewarding, but is also the most stressful and exhausting season for us. Since individual fruits ripen over a 2-3 week period, each tree must be picked 10 times or more. That way we can allow near-complete ripening on the tree for maximum flavor, rather than picking green and letting the fruit "ripen" off the tree (think flavorless grocery store fruit). The difference in flavor is dramatic, the difference in labor is also huge. And we lose a lot to birds, insects and wind fall the longer it hangs on the trees. But to us, flavor is the whole point. Our loyal customers seem to agree.
The season is short, with peaches lasting barely two weeks, cots maybe three. Plums are in limited supply and will only be around until mid to late June. So an intense few weeks awaits.
|Royal Blenheim apricots|
Monday, May 16, 2016
|Springtime's green hills are quickly fading to brown|
Here we are in mid-May, a time of quickly changing seasons. The vibrant green hills of spring are fast turning dry and golden. Temperatures are rising and most likely we have seen about the last of this season's rain. All manner of plants are doing their best to produce seed, especially thistles and other invasive pests that require constant mowing and hand pulling to control. But our focus is mostly on the ripening fruit crop.
Last year we stripped just about all the fruit from our drought stressed trees, thinking this would help them endure that fourth year of drought. That seems to have payed off, as this year the trees are showing great vigor despite getting only 85% of average rainfall. After winter pruning to ensure plenty of space between trees for ladder access and light penetration, the strong growth has just about filled any empty space.
|Vigorous spring growth in apricot trees|
|Ripening peaches tease with their vibrant red color, but are still hard as baseballs|
As we mentioned in the previous post, our cots suffered a lot of cosmetic damage from untimely rains in March. We stripped off the worst affected fruit, but there will be quite a bit of speckled skin. Still, many are looking quite good and the size is impressive. We are just now starting to see the first hints of yellow among the green cots. And like the peaches, we project our first pickings will be around Memorial Day.
|A few cots are just starting to change from green to yellowish|
|Shade cloth helps shallow rooted trees like figs and|
citrus cope with summer heat and limited water
Bill and Fern
Thursday, April 14, 2016
After months of high hopes for a bountiful rainfall year to break the four year drought, mother nature has once again disappointed. So far we have received only 85% of our average rainfall to date. That is an improvement over the past four years, but we really needed an above average year to get ground water levels back to what the orchard and native vegetation need to get through the coming hot summer without stress.
Still, we did get to enjoy a few heavy rains, and have been feasting our eyes on emerald green hills. And unlike last year, we have decided to go ahead and leave fruit on the trees rather than stripping it off. Bloom time was warm and dry, resulting in a heavy fruit set on most trees.
|An apricot tree bristling with fruit|
|Shot hole damage to apricot fruit and leaves|
|My walk behind sickle bar mower cutting down the cover crop|
But don't we want as much fruit as possible? Well, not exactly. We would like as much good sized and healthy fruit as possible, within the limits of what the trees can support. With favorable weather conditions during bloom, most stone fruit trees set way too much fruit. So our goal in thinning is to leave some space between each fruit so that insects and fungus problems do not easily move from one fruit to another. Also we want to limit the weight of fruit so branches will not break during a strong wind. And we want the fruit to attain the biggest size and develop the best flavor. Since each tree only has so much energy to put into its fruit crop, an excess fruit load reduces both size and flavor.
As the newly set fruits begin to grow, many will fall off or "self thin" on their own. So it's best to wait until that happens before doing your thinning. But to get the most benefit from thinning, it should be done before the pits harden. That way the fruit left on the tree will continue to expand to the largest size and reach maximum flavor. Test by cutting open a green fruit as shown below. If the pit is soft and jelly-like and no hard shell has developed around it, the time is right. But late thinning is better than none at all, even if done after pit hardening.
|This apricot pit is very soft, indicating an ideal time to thin|
|Apricot branch before thinning, with tight clusters of small fruit crammed together|
|After thinning, no fruits are left touching, they will grow to much larger size,|
and the chance of branch breakage is much reduced
|Thirteen 3/4" peaches are jammed together on long skinny stems that are|
guaranteed to break as the peaches grow to baseball size
|After thinning only two peaches remain|