Sunny Slope Orchard

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

Monday, May 30, 2016

Cots and peaches are done for this year!

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.


Thursday, May 26, 2016

Harvest time is here!

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
For our drive-in customers, please email ahead before coming out, to sunnyslopeorchard [at] gmail [dot] com.



Monday, May 16, 2016

It's beginning to feel a lot like summer

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 
Meanwhile the fruit is showing good color and sizing up nicely. The peaches are looking gorgeous, but are still small and hard. We guestimate the first picking will be around the first of June.

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
So for now we are feeling the familiar excitement of a fast and furious harvest season racing toward us. We are busy weeding, propping up heavily laden branches, banding tree trunks to protect against ants and earwigs, and setting up our famous bird scare machines. The shade cloth has been suspended over the citrus and figs to protect them from summer's heat.

Shade cloth helps shallow rooted trees like figs and
citrus cope with summer heat and limited water
As soon as picking starts in earnest we will be sending out an email to our regular customers letting you know what is ripe. Anyone wanting to be on our list, please email your contact information to sunnyslopeorchard [at] gmail [dot] com. 


Bill and Fern