Sometimes, I go to great effort to try to protect the fruit from squirrels.
This chicken-wire basket worked. And was worth it. This is the only fruit the Hunza apricot tree has had since either 2010 (when we were away, so I would not know) or 2009 (when it had several fruits, before being transplanted to our current location).
It is an incredibly richly flavored fruit, and also has an edible kernel. (See previous discussions.)
The forecast says the snow level will drop to as low as 2000 feet Saturday evening, locally 1000. We are at 1500.
It has been a really cold week, by local standards, especially for late February.
Too bad all this chill is basically useless for the deciduous fruit trees, coming this late. We surpassed 500 chill hours earlier this month. However, we really won’t get more useful chill, as almost everything is leafing out or blooming by now. And getting snow, or freezing temperatures on the buds and blooms is not a good thing.
Thursday, early in the morning, one of the most incredible storms this region has seen finally moved out. We had 6.25 inches in just over six days, 2.76 of which fell on Wednesday; many areas to the north had a good deal more.
It rained heavily enough for a time on Wednesday that we had a little river running through the property, not to be deterred by fresh prunings off one of the apple trees (which has several varieties that were grafted on to it last spring).
The main event of the rain lasted about 72.5 hours. During that time, only near the end were there as many as five straight half-hour increments (the archive time on my weather data-logger) in which no rain was recorded. At one time on 20-21 December, rain was recorded in 42 consecutive half-hour periods. That was part of a run of 123 of 132 half-hour periods in which rain was recorded. So, it rained rather persistently.
I can recall some phases of rain over a week or so long in the past that were impressive. As recently as January of 2010, for example. And no one who lived in Southern California at the time will forget “epic” rainy periods in 1983 and 1969. But usually these involve a series of discrete heavy storms, punctuated by several hours of some sunshine and no rain. This time, as the stats above reveal, it just kept raining. And raining. There were not even any breaks in the clouds, at least during daylight hours (and the record suggests not at night, either) from Saturday afternoon till Wednesday afternoon.
Today it was sunny and relatively warm (first time over 60 since 14 Dec.). But more rain is forecast for Saturday night and at some point during the coming week.
It’s a bit saturated around here.
We won’t have to irrigate for a while. And, thanks to that cold snap in late November, and more than a week of cool days (albeit fairly warm nights for the time of year) during the rain, we are almost to 250 chill hours already, which is good for the stone fruits.
The ‘Earli Autumn’ apricots are quite large this year, and already close to ripe.
The ‘Earli Autumn’ is the trunk at the right of the photo, while the one to the left is another late-ripening apricot, known as ‘Autumn Glo.’ This latter variety has only a few fruits this year, and they are going to ripen somewhat later, is obvious from their lack of any ‘glo’ thus far.
Finally, in the category of late-ripening apricots we have the ‘Autumn Royal.’
This fruit always has a tendency to crack before it can ripen, and the fruit has also attracted considerable interest from snails. I am not confident that I’ll get to harvest any of these. From past experience, it is by far the tastiest of the three late varieties. Oh well.
The Mesh Mesh Amrah had a pretty good crop, and ripened earlier than usual. Pictured here on the last day of May, part way through the harvest period.
And the Flavorella, always somewhat of a shy bearer, had a better crop than usual (pictured on 5 June).
The Mesh Mesh Amrah has gotten so big (even with my regular pruning) that I can hardly believe that it is the same tree that I dug up, with some assistance from my wife, from our old place in Carlsbad in 2002. (I still had a relatively healthy back at the time.)
Plumcots have such a distinctive flavor–clearly a best of both worlds!
The Hunza apricot has a dozen or so fruits this year. No, that is not a big crop, but it is more than I ever really expected. This was not, by reputation, a variety likely to succeed here. But reputation never keeps the scientific farmer from an experiment!
The fruit is barely noticeable in the photo, because only a few of them (lower branch to the right) yet have any color beyond green. But most of them are quite large (which should mean a good sized tasty kernel inside!). And it was time to (try to) protect them from other species that co-habit at the finca.
So, now the tree is netted, after a little summer pruning to control size and help fit the netting over it. Note also the metal wrapped around the trunk, which sometimes seems to help (a little bit) with climbing rodents.
Behind the Hunza are a grapefruit tree and a “volunteer” Coast Live Oak. I fear the latter is going to need to be cut down, which I would hate to do to a native. But I have many others–opportunists growing on the water of the grapefruit grove and actually more valuable in many ways than grapefruit–and this one will soon provide too much shade and competition for the Hunza and the nearby corralito.
Now certainly is a good time for summer pruning, given that it is officially–axially–summer! At sundown, it also will be Rosh Chodesh Tammuz, so this year the day of maximum light* will have to wait a couple of weeks past the solstice.
(And, an aside: contrary to what I had thought, Hunza is in the Pakistani-administered part of Kashmir, and thus near, but not in, the Swat region.)
* Assuming the gloom stays away–which, this year, is not a safe assumption.
I think this is the first bloom ever on the White Gold cherry.
This is a variety I planted as an experiment a few years ago, because it is a lesser known variety that is supposed to be self-fruitful,* and has some ‘Stella’ parentage. Stella always blooms well here (though fruit is another matter–our damp and gloomy late spring season is not cherry-friendly).
The tree looks like it may have more blooms yet to come. Meanwhile, the Stella and Royal Rainier (another somewhat reliable bloomer) are both near their peak blooms. There is also one bloom each on Bing and Craig’s Crimson, but these (not self-fruiful) varieties have fooled me before with their few flowers.
* For some reason some self-fruitful cherries seem to be able to set fruit in mild climates like ours, whereas those that need cross-pollination seem to need more chill as well.
After a winter with on-and-off again chill (two pretty good cold periods of about two weeks each sandwiching an exceptionally hot January). the Hunza apricot is in full bloom. When I planted this tree three years ago, I didn’t necessarily count on getting fruit. It was very much an experiment. The tree had a few blooms a year after planting, but no fruit. Last year it had a sporadic bloom, and actual fruit (and tasty kernels, albeit without the amaretto complexity, to enjoy later). Having our own Hunzas is probably the most exciting and rewarding fruit-growing experience I have had. This year the bloom is amazing. This does not guarantee a good crop, of course, but it certainly is promising. The catalog said the Hunza’s chill factor was unknown but “probably high.” But don’t believe everything you read in catalogs!
One of my other favorite stone fruits, the Shaa Kar Pareh, has bloomed quite well this spring. The bloom period is about over now, and there is some fruit set. (This variety is generally understood to be relatively “low chill.”)
The Canadian White Blenheim had its first ever crop (just a few fruits) last summer. Spring, 2008, was also the first in which it had a ‘normal‘ bloom, by which I mean flowers appearing ahead of the leaves, as is typical of stone fruits. In the two or three previous years following planting, this variety had a habit I had never seen in an apricot before: being fairly well leafed out and then starting to bloom. And no fruit those years.
This year it has done a little of both. It had very few blooms appear before any leaves, and then burst out into a pretty good bloom after most of the leaves had appeared. It will be interesting to see if any fruit sets, and if so, if it is only on the buds that opened the early flowers.
Meanwhile, the Moorpark (my favorite of the ‘apricot’ apricots–the others mentioned so far being more or less ‘white‘) looks very bad. It has the classic symptoms of inadequate chill: delayed foliation and minimal bloom (just one so far, in fact). (No photo: it’s not a pretty sight!)
Of course, as usual, the Newcastle bloomed early and well, and has fruit set. The regular Blenheim went ‘crazy’ and already has needed some fruitlet-thinning. The two newer fall ripeners (Earli Autumn and Autumn Glo) have had minimal blooms (nothing unusual there, in my experience), while the old favorite variety, Autumn Royal, which is in its second year at the finca, has set some fruit. The Royal Rosa and Flavor Delight (the latter an aprium) set well, as usual.
It will be some months till stone-fruit season arrives (the end of the first week of July, if last season is a guide), and a spring set is no guarantee of anything. But my mouth already waters at the sight of these blooms and baby fruits–especially that Hunza!
On this Tu Bi-Shvat, there is much to celebrate as the fruit trees begin a new year. With the very hot January (or perhaps I should say most of Tevet and of Shvat’s first half) I had feared we would be too far behind in chilling accumulation for many of the deciduous fruit trees to bloom adequately.
It is still early spring (and today it feels rather wintry), but the signs are already very encouraging. The Mesch Mesch Amrah plumcot, which is always one of the harbingers of the bloom season, is now covered in blooms. A few blooms are now open on the Flavor Delight Aprium and Minnie Royal cheery. These all have quite low chilling requirements (300 or less?), especially the Minnie Royal, so their blooms are perhaps not especially indicative of significant chilling having been received. However, several moderate-chill (over 400 hours?) varieties are also showing bud swell, including the Autumn Royal apricot (usually a later bloomer), and the Moorpark apricot. Others that have chilling requirements most likely in the 300-400 range are also showing significant bud swell, including Newcastle, Katy, Royal Blenheim, Royal Rosa, and Shaa Kar Pareh (!) apricots and the Flavor King, Flavorosa, and Dapple Dandy pluots, as well as the Flavorella plumcot.
That concentrated chill in the second half of December/Kislev may have produced more chilling hours than I had dared to believe.
All in all, a good way for the trees (and their keeper) to start the new year!
As for Tu Bi-Shvat, with rain having washed out the trail, our shul’s annual ‘walking seder’ for the day was canceled, but the rabbi suggested we all hug a tree and eat dried fruits and nuts for the occasion. And my thought was, for that we need an occasion? Baruch ata Adonai, bo-rei p’ri ha-eitz! Now pardon me while I complete the blessing by enjoying some dried Royal Rosa or Shaa Kar Pareh from last season…
We are in the midst of a very unusual hot streak. For the seventh straight day here at Ladera Frutal, the high temperature passed 80 degrees (on the quaint Fahrenheit scale). This is quite a contrast with December, which featured seven straight days with a high below 60. I am not sure which 7-day streak would be rarer, but neither could be counted on to occur most winters. To have one such hot and one such “cold” streak in the same winter might just be unprecedented. (The December streak even featured a day when the high was only 49; that’s the only 24-hour period in the six-plus-year history of Ladera Frutal’s weather station to feature a high of less than 50!)
So the weather has been weird. And all this weirdness greatly confuses the fruit trees. There have been a few blooms sporadically on the Earlitreat peach since late December. This is not usually one of our first bloomers–it would usually start in mid-February after a few other peaches–but it always is the first ripener. One year it gave us fruit at the end of April. Maybe this year we’ll have peaches in March!
And I was out picking the sumptuous new crop of Page mandarins and suddenly my nose detected one of the most delightful of all fragrances. Could it be? Yes, there are a few blossoms on the Page! (Citrus usually start blooming after mid-March.)
There is still no sign of bud break on the usual first-bloomers: the Mesch Mesch Amrah plumcot, Newcstle apricot, Flavor Delight aprium, or Tropic Snow peach. (There have been blooms on the Anna apple, but that doesn’t count; that crazy no-chill apple always blooms in December.) But with such warm weather, I’ll be surprised if one of these is not beginning to bloom by the end of next week.
Of course a limiting factor in triggering blooms will be whether chilling requirements have been met. In fact, it is precisely to guard against too-early a bloom, with possible later freeze or frost damage, that deciduous fruit trees evolved their chilling requirements. If they have not had their chill needs met, they will hold off at least a little bit longer. But at some point, if the warmth continues, they’ll break dormancy anyway, but may not flower or fruit well.
Despite the warm spell, the chill count is pretty good, thanks to two factors: (1) that extraordinary cool week in December, and (2) the dry air. When the air is dry and there is no cloud cover, the nights can be chilly even when the days get quite hot. And it is with dry and cloudless nights that the full flowering, so to speak, of Ladera Frutal’s microclimates become apparent.
Up here at LF HQ, at one of the highest locations on the finca, the hottest day reached 89. That night it cooled to 56. Down the slope, at the coldest part, where all but the lowest-chill deciduous fruits are planted, the high was a bit lower, at 87. But the following night it got to 45. Yes, a 42-degree difference from high to low, and an 11-degree difference in low temperatures between the two locations! What a difference 100 or so feet of vertical change over 200 or so feet of horizontal can make! And in the protection of the big old grapefruit trees, the hedgerow (where I cheat on chill) stays cooler still: the hottest day was 83, rather than 87 or 89, and it is almost always 1-3 degrees colder at night. At times, even just shortly after sundown, we experience a 9- to 12-degree difference in temperature between the locations. Following Madison’s “scientific farming” principles, we have planted varieties in locations intended to maximize their microclimatic adaptation.
As a result of these microclimate effects and the dryness, the chill count is not too bad. Of course, it is not as good as the December cold seemed to promise, but it’s decent. By estimate it seems to have peaked around 310-320 at LF HQ, although we have been subtracting 15-22 hours a day during the hottest phase of the warm spell and now are probably under 250. By my understanding of chill models (and they are just models, not empirical descriptions) that means anything that needs 300 hours to bloom well would be OK, but anything requiring 400 would now need an additional 150, rather than 80-90 before it would be satisfied. Of course, anticipating that this part of the finca might often get under 300 chill hours, I have planted only low-chill varieties up here. (As well as tender subtropicals here and even higher, though that did not work out so well.)
Down in the corralito, at the lowest part of the finca, the chill count is much more impressive. We probably already had 265- 280 by the end of December, and with the impressive cold air drainage down the slope on these dry and cloudless nights, we have had very few significantly negative days. (In fact, at the coldest hedgerow location, none, unless you consider one night of an estimated -.25 chill hours to be “significantly negative.”) Thus down there the trees that are most exposed (to the air mixing of wind and to daytime sunlight) may have had no less than around 350 hours at their peak, while the more protected ones may have had as much as 375 even now (and counting!).
So as long as the heat wave breaks soon and we get even “normal” temperatures for a change, there remain grounds for optimism about the fruit season to come. The forecast calls for only moderate cooling for the next few days, but then a “pattern shift” by the middle of next week. If we are lucky, maybe the rains will return, too.
The fog was dense this morning, and is unlikely to break completely before sundown. Viewed from LF HQ, and looking out over our house below, one can just make out a little bit of our driveway and the grapefruit grove. Somewhere just to the right of the palm you can see the corralito. Oh, you can’t? Well, it helps when you know it’s there.
Down at corralito level, the fog is not quite as visible, but the deciduous fruit trees are being treated to a nice chill-containing blanket.
Thanks to the fog, the temperature stayed chilly. It did not even reach 45 till after 10:00 a.m., nor 50 till after noon. That meant many hours of chill accumulation, which should be great for the Shaa Kar Pareh apricot (foreground), and the cherries (back by the fence).
It has been a chilly winter so far, with more than 225 chilling hours accumulated at almost all levels of the finca, thanks in part to an unusually high number of days with lows in the 50s (and one that did not even get that high). And, while normally the chill is significantly less up the hill (due to cold air drainage down the steep slope) this year there is little difference, in part due to some near- or sub-freezing nights at the corralito. When the temperature is in the mid 30s and below, there’s little or no chill accumulation. (Prime temperatures for chill are about 38-45, and anything up to the mid 50s is still weakly positive.)
Late next week it may get rather warm. That will slow down the chill accumulation. But 225 hours is a good total as of the first of January, especially as some warm days at the start of December meant we did not really get started till well into the month. If we get another cold snap or two later in January or early February, 2009 might be another good year for the deciduous fruits.
Peak apricot season has arrived within the past week. And that’s always one of the best seasons of the year!
The ‘Newcastle’ reached its peak this year a little later than usual–first week of July rather than end of June. A very heavy crop again, as usual. And always one of the best tasting–at least of the apricot apricots (that is, those with “apricot”-color flesh).
This year, we also have several varieties of “white” apricot.
We had a few fruits on this ‘Shaa Kar Pareh’ apricot last year, but this year the crop is quite heavy. This is an amazing fruit, and they are not even fully ripe yet. So sweet, they are edible even while still a little on the firm side. Incredibly juicy and with a tang that might lead you to think it was a plumcot, rather than an apricot.
We also have fruit on the ‘Canadian White Blenheim.’ This is actually not as white as the Shaa Kar Pareh’ but it certainly is paler in color than any “ordinary” apricot, and also distinctive in flavor. It has never set before for us, even though it has bloomed in some of its five previous springs since planting. What a treat!
Exciting as all the above is here at Ladera Frutal, nothing in Ladera Frutal history quite beats the thrill of harvesting one’s own Hunzas!
It had only three fruits, but this tree has earned its keep on just those three precious apricots. I have previously had ‘Hunza’ apricots only dried, imported from Pakistan, where they are a staple of the diet in some of the valleys of their origin. The dried fruit has a sugary intensity unlike any other dried apricot, and the fresh ripe fruit is just intense! It is amazingly sweet, very juicy and just packed full of flavor unlike any stone fruit I have ever eaten before. It also is one of the largest apricots you will ever see. To top it all off, the kernels are edible, too. (I have not yet cracked open the pits, but that’s on the to-do list.)
Here are a cut Shaa Kar Pareh (left) and a Hunza alongside the pit of another Hunza. There should be a tasty little kernel inside that pit!
(We did not yet have any ripe White Blenheims at the time I took that photo.)
I am not sure if the ‘Hunza’ really qualifies as a white apricot, but I think I have seen it so-classified. It certainly is paler than your typical apricot. Let’s just call it an unbelievably delicious apricot and leave it at that!
Yes, this has been a good year for apricots! And here I have not even gotten into the ‘Flavor Delight’ aprium and ‘Royal Rosa’ apricots earlier in the season, or the ‘Autumn Glo’ and ‘Earli Autumn’ yet to come. Nor did I even mention ‘Royal’ (small crop this year, just about done now, but not to be forgotten).
The Royal Rosa, the first of our ten or so apricot varieties to ripen, is now at its peak. It probably ranks near the bottom of our varieties in flavor, which is only to say that while the others range from outstanding to truly phenomenal, the Royal Rosa is merely excellent.1 Of course, any minor deficiencies the variety has in flavor it at least compensates for by being so far out front of the top varieties in its harvest season.
The crop this year is exceptionally heavy. In the background, you can see the Mesch Mesch Amrah “black apricot” which is really a natural plumcot (Prunus x dasycarpa). We just harvested the first of this tree’s typically light crop in recent days. Another plumcot (not pictured), the Flavorella, also is now ripening–and also has its typically light crop, but by far its best in five years since planting.2
Just as the Royal Rosa is reaching its peak (it was much heavier than this a few days ago), we have begun receiving the first fruits of the Flavor Delight aprium.3 The aprium tastes a lot like a really richly flavored apricot, and looks like a really large one. Its crop is heavy, and typically so. It is one of the most reliable apricot-family varieties we have, right up there with Newcastle, which will begin ripening about the time the apriums are done.
Summer is here, in fruiting terms.
Katy is the only one I have that I would consider getting rid of; if you like subacid apricots, you might like Katy. Ours did not set fruit this spring–no loss, but surprising given the high chill of the past winer and the heavy set on almost all of our other stone fruits. [↩]
There has been some talk, including here at F&V, that maybe this variety needs an apricot such as Goldkist–a variety I do not have here–for cross-pollination. Maybe so, but it did set just under a dozen fruit this year. (It is always a heavy bloomer.) That’s not many fruits, but we’ll gladly take them! As for Goldkist, it never fruited for me well in Carlsbad by the Sea, despite its being claimed as one of the lowest-chill varieties that is alleged to be best for the coast. I always had better crops there on Newcastle and often on Royal/Blenheim. Goldkist is a good tasting variety, though I would not put it in my top 7. [↩]
Also a plum-apricot cross, but like a pluot, one that does not occur naturally. Unlike a pluot, it leans more in flavor and appearance towards its apricot lineage. And for anyone who may be wondering, it is not GMO; I would have none of that in my organic orchard or, knowingly, in my food supply! It is human-assisted hybridization, but done by Zaiger Gentics the (relatively) old fashioned way: controlled transfer of pollen from one variety to another–in this case, multiple varieties over several generations (thus known as a complex hybrid). The Flavorella is also hybridized under controlled conditions, rather than naturally occurring like the Mesch Mesch Amrah. [↩]
If by my laws you walk, and my commands you keep, and observe them,
then I will give-forth your rains in their set-time,
so that the earth gives-forth its yield
and the trees of the field give-forth their fruit.
--Vayikra 26: 3-4