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|