The ‘Tropic Snow’ is always one of the first deciduous fruit trees to bloom here, and within the last week, its buds have sprung, right on schedule.1
Much more surprising is the ‘Arctic Jay’ nectarine. The catalog from the grower indicates it requires 800 chill hours. Well, it is has been a pretty chilly winter, but by the time this started to bloom early last week, we might have reached 400.
Obviously, this tree has yet to be pruned. Speaking of needing to prune:
This is one of the late-ripening apricots, and this twisted branch shows how much trees in a hedgerow have to compete for sunlight. Competition is one of the benefits of hedgerow planting: Competition in fruit-growing, much as in party politics, makes the end-product better. Before spring gets too far along, these trees need to be thinned and cut down to size a bit: More fruit, less branching!
Rats! Tonight is the new moon that marks the Chinese New Year. Back at the pre-finca we had a traditional harbinger of spring, an ume apricot (sometimes referred to as an ume plum). It surely would be in full bloom about now. In China itself, of course, signs of spring would be most welcome about now.
And of course, be happy!, as tonight’s new moon also means it is Rosh Chodesh Adar I.
A half moon cycle since Tu Bishvat and still no almond blooms! [↩]
These are even more–far more–luscious to eat than to look at. These are Emerald Beaut plums. It is incredible enough that, with this variety, we can actually be harvesting plums in the second half of October. It is even more incredible how rich and sweet the flavor of this plum is.
At 500-600 chill hours, it isn’t something that can be grown just anywhere. While it had bloomed in the two previous years (it was planted in 2003), it had never brought fruit all the way to maturity before. (It had set a few here and there in past years, but they all dropped.) So, I can’t say whether it really needs closer to 600 chill hours–which we certainly got this past winter, and then some!–or if it might just be entering its peak bearing age. I sure hope it’s the latter. I don’t need as heavy a crop as we had this year, but I sure hope to get this great taste annually.
Also remarkable is not only the lateness, but also the length of the season of this plum. I harvested the first ones as one of our Rosh HaShanah “first fruits” and, while that one was well short of fully ripe, it was certainly good. We have been getting fruit of full ripeness and sweetness since shortly thereafter, and there are still a few left on the tree that are not quite ripe yet. They also keep off the tree, if harvested slightly under-ripe, much better than most plums. One drawback has been that a significant number of the fruits have had some sort of fungus or other problem that I have not seen before–the affected fruit develops reddish patches. If said fruit continues to ripen, it is fine. But some of these fruits have then wrinkled and shriveled without ripening.
It really is a “beaut.” But “emerald”? Most of the summer, yes, but they have not been really good to eat until they have turned this reddish-tinged yellow.
In an earlier planting, I showed what the tree and its heavy load of fruit looked like at the end of August (the third photo at that link).
Only a few deciduous trees in this Mediterranean climate show good fall foliage color, and those that do often don’t show it till late October or into November. So, around these parts, “fall color” means the ripening of the persimmons.
The tree in front is the ‘Coffeecake’ (a.k.a. ‘Nishimura Wase’), always the first to ripen here. It has its color, but it will be several days before the first fruit is edible. Other persimmons stand uphill from it, with fruit that will ripen in the coming month.
Above the persimmons, at around 0900 local time, the moon is visible, at just about halfway between its full and third-quarter phases. Just as it should be, with today being the fourth day of Sukkot. (It is good to know some things remain in alignment!) This is the waning harvest moon, and persimmons are always one of the main harbingers that the late fall harvest season is coming.
As August turns to September, this will be the last of three plantings on my favorite topics–baseball, fruits, and votes.
As we reach September (how did that happen, anyway?), most of the stone fruits are done for the season. The 4-in-1 pluot has now completed its fruiting season.
It is pictured here on 10 August. Those are the Dapple Dandys (Dandies?) there on the left side of the tree–not yet dappled at the time of the photo. Over on the right side are the Flavor Queens, which remain yellow at ripening. The one lone Flavor King that we had this year is visible hanging low in a mesh basket near the trunk. The Flavor Supreme (at the back of the tree from this angle) had no fruit this year.
Pluots have such complex flavors. The Flavor Queen is better than any yellow plum–well, make that almost any (see below). The Flavor King is true royalty in its wine-like complexity.
The Golden Nectar plum is unusually large for a plum, and with a very distinctive shape. Viewed here through the bird/squirrel netting,1 this was our first crop. The Golden Nectar has flavors that I never knew a plum could have. Very rich and sweet. It gets my vote for best yellow plum–so far, anyway.
The Emerald Beaut has a really heavy crop this year, pictured here before I put the netting up. I suppose its name implies it is a green plum, but I suspect that it will turn at least somewhat yellowish as it ripens (as do the Green Gages). I have tasted these only dried, not counting the one under-ripe one that I had a few days ago. For an under-ripe plum, it was pretty good! Still better than store bought.2 But it will be intensely sweet once it is fully ripe. And you can’t find many plums that ripen this late–in this climate, anyway.
Then, just as the stone-fruit season approaches its end, we will be getting ready for the full swing of pome-fruit season. Apples, pears, and quinces. Some apples ripen almost year round, but all have good crops this year and most will ripen September to November. The pears, like this 4-in-1 Asian pear, have really heavy crops this year.
In addition to the 4-in1 (which includes the sumptuous butterscotch-like Yoinashi at the upper right), at the left of the photo is the heavily laden Hosui.
It has been a year of heavy crops–that freeze that was so bad for the (non-citrus) subtropicals meant great chill for the stone and pomme fruits.
If those leaves in the foreground look like apricot leaves, it is because they are. This is from the hedgerow, where the trees are crowded by design. Note that these are the leaves outside the netting–on the neighboring tree, one the very late-ripening apricots, which set only one fruit this year. And, unfortunately, it dropped just the other day. [↩]
And more ripe than most of what is sold in stores would have been at time of harvest. [↩]
I have written before about apriums and pluots and the Mesch Mesch Amrah plumcot. Here is yet another: the Flavorella plumcot.
We had only three Flavorellas on our tree this year, yet as desirable as a bountiful harvest would be, the tree still earns its keep with the incredibly luscious flavor of this fruit. It may be the best of the class of plum-apricot hybrids, and that is saying something.
Speaking of Mesch Mesch, it also had a light crop this year. This is about half this year’s crop depicted here.
The Mesch Mesch has had heavy crops in some past years, and none in others (including 2006). The Flavorella has never had a heavy crop; in fact, the three this year probably bring its total bounty up to about five in four years. I am not sure what the problem might be. Mesch Mesch Amrah blooms heavily almost every year, but early. Flavorella usually blooms well (though not as heavy as MMA), and also on the early side. There could be a problem of a shortage of compatible pollen so early, and perhaps these two plumcots are not inter-fruitful. Some years, though certainly not this one, there may have been inadequate chill (despite the bloom) or the spring may have been too wet. Continued experimentation with other early blooming plums, apricots, and their hybrids would seem to be in order.
The summer solstice is here,* so it is time to continue my occasional forays into the intersection of agronomy, astronomy, and spirituality!
With the sun at its highest angle of the year here in the San Diego area, there is only minimal shadow beneath the hedgerow (or over it, from the tall grapefruit trees at the left/south), in stark contrast to the maximum shadow exactly six months ago, at the winter solstice, or even what we saw three months ago at the vernal equinox.
Today, the sun rose at 5:41 a.m., the earliest it will be all year. The sunset will be at 8:00 p.m., giving us 14 hours, 18 minutes, and 30 seconds of daylight. (The sunset will actually get a bit later–as late as 8:01 from 28 June to 1 July, but by then the sunrises will be creeping later as well.)
The winter solstice this past year occurred very close to the darkest time of year, taking into account the moon cycle as well as the sun. In fact, that is why the winter solstice coincided almost perfectly in the year 2006/5767 with Chanukah, during which we remember the re-dedication of the ancient Temple by kindling candles at sundown during the waning moon closest to the winter solstice (follow the first link above for more).
So, when will we have maximum light? That would be the full moon closest to Tekufah Tammuz (the summer solstice), and in the year 2007/5767 that will be the night of 29-30 June (14 Tammuz, which also happens to be Shabbat). Unfortunately, by then we will have to settle for a mere 14 hours, 16 minutes, and 40 seconds of daylight preceding our full-moon night. (The solstice and a full moon closely coincided last in 2005 and will not again till 2024, in both cases the middle of the month of Sivan, whereas this Gregorian/solar year we are already several days into Tammuz at the solstice; today is 5 Tammuz, 5767, on the lunisolar Jewish calendar and the moon is thus just about to reach its first quarter.)
The summer solstice for many centuries has been marked by various pagan festivals. However, there is no holiday on the Jewish calendar to mark the summer solstice, despite the obvious fact that other holidays like Chanukah and Passover are built on the backs of pre-Jewish pagan celebrations (as are Christmas and Easter, too). Nonetheless, as the OC Register (not my favorite paper, but whatever) article just linked notes:
some modern Judeo-Christian groups are reviving solstice worship. [Let's assume the writer intended that to be taken as not worship of the solstice but worship on it.--MSS]
“Many of those who grew up in Jewish and Christian religion want to see the modern holidays in their agrarian origin,” Lucas said. [Amein--MSS] “These green Jews and green Christians are incorporating the solstice into their current practices.” [Hey, Green Jew, that's me!--MSS]
Some religious groups point to biblical passages that may have occurred on the summer solstice, including the verse in Joshua 10:12 in which Joshua stops the sun in the sky. (The term solstice is actually from two Latin words meaning “sun stands still.”)
“There is also a legend that Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden on the summer solstice,” said Rabbi Jill Hammer, director and cofounder of Tel Shemesh, a Jewish organization focused on the celebration of nature. “In the Jewish tradition, the summer is always about this trade-off: abundance but also danger. The summer is about exile and sorrow and loss.”
Tel Shemesh offers a description of its summer-solstice ritual. As for the Joshua 10 reference above, it refers to the narrative of the battles for the conquest of Canaan (as re-told well after the events). Often ancient battles stopped at nightfall (night-vision technology being rather primitive back then); might the battle have taken place at the summer solstice?
“Joshua Commanding the Sun to Stand Still” by Gustave Dore, (d. 1883) (courtesy Wikipedia.)
Some tradition says the battle was on 3 Tammuz. While we can’t possibly know–and the historicity of the events described in Joshua is dubious in any event–if there was an ancient battle on 3 Tammuz, the impending night after the standing still of the sun indeed would have been very dark (being just days past the new moon).
Of course, as the orchard photo above and its counterparts at the two earlier linked plantings show, each of these solar seasonal transitions (equinoxes and solstices) marks an important transitional point for the grower of deciduous fruit trees in a Mediterranean climate (such as the Land of Israel or southern California). At the winter solstice, the trees are in their deepest dormancy, while at the vernal equinox most of them are blooming or have just set their fruit. Now, at the summer solstice, we are approaching peak season for the fruit of the deciduous trees.
As the photo above shows, the ‘Geo Pride’ pluot has much fruit that is nearly full size, although not yet turning color and ripening (though it will do so very soon!). In the vernal-equinox photo, this tree was days past its peak bloom. As if on queue, the ‘Newcastle’ apricot, which is immediately to my back as I take these photos, dropped its first ripe fruit today!
The “production cycle” for the deciduous fruits and other crops may have much to do with why there is no Jewish holiday tradition at this time of year. Unlike in the winter and spring, there are few natural forces that seem to contend with one another in “battles” the outcome of which will determine the farmer’s bounty for the coming harvest (completed shortly after the autumnal equinox, and celebrated one full moon cycle after that equinox with Sukkot!). In the winter, we worry about warm days preventing good flower-bud set and about not having enough rain. In spring we worry about too much rain, or early heat and drying winds. For an ancient people being slowly weaned off polythesim, each of these battles was a temptation to stray and “bow before other gods” (paying homage to the god of rain or the god of sun, or whoever.)
Here at the summer solstice–the tension between “abundance but also danger” notwithstanding–we have the bounty of sunlight, the warm days and calm nights, almost no threat of major storms (in Mediterranean climates), and thus little to threaten the fruit.
Summer thus offers few temptations by those other gods, but plenty for which to give thanks to the One.
* Unless, you are way down south, of course, in which case it’s the winter solstice.
** Well, other then the squirrels and birds that the Ladera Frutal Dept. of Fruitland Security is always looking for new ways to keep at bay.
The connection between agriculture, mono- vs. poly-theism, and the Jewish festivals is developed in a terrific book by Nogah Hareuveni, Nature in our Biblical Heritage (Kiryat Ono, Israel: Neot Kedumim, 1980). There is nothing in that book about the summer solstice, however, because of there being no significant Jewish tradition about this solar event. There is an interesting discussion about Tu B’Av, however, but one thing at at time! That’s not till next month.
The Aprium tree has a really heavy crop this year. The fruits are fantastically rich in flavor, better than any orange-fleshed apricot (other than perhaps Moorpark).
An Aprium is a complex hybrid of plum and apricot that leans genetically in the latter direction. They are thus cousins of pluots, which are likewise complex hybrids but are much closer to plums. This variety–and so far the only available variety, as far as I know–is ‘Flavor Delight.’ It may not be a very inspiring name, but it most certainly is accurate.
In the first photo, the companion tree at the right is a ‘Katy’ apricot, which had a very light crop this year, but much tastier than usual. Normally I am less than impressed with Katy, which is too sub-acid for my taste. In front, with the reddish leaves, is the re-growth of the ‘Citation’ semi-dwarf rootsock on a tree that originally had both ‘Royal Rosa’ and ‘Tomcot’ on it, both of which died. I recently replaced the Royal Rosa, which had its first crop this year. It is the best early apricot I know of (although Flavor Delight, for all practical purposes an apricot, is also quite early). I hope soon to secure some scion wood of an apricot variety not currently in the collection and graft on to the rootstock sprout.
Our Department of Fruitland Security has tried many things–with mixed success–to keep squirrels and other rodents, as well as birds, from getting the fruit before the humans can harvest and enjoy it. But a snake in the tree could be the most effective yet.
The problem with the snake-in-the-tree solution is, of course, that the snake doesn’t like to hang around in one spot. This one did, however–literally. It got itself caught in the bird netting draped over the cherry tree. To say the least, it was quite a shock for your orchardist as he went to harvest the cherries and was just about to sit down on the ground underneath the tree to untie the netting when he noticed the snake! (And I will admit that snakes give me the willies bad. I’ll put the photo on the inside branch in deference to others with the snake-willies. Click “more” at own risk!) (more…)
With the first deciduous tree fruits of the season (the ‘Earlitreat’ peach) already harvested (they were especially good this year!) and most of the other deciduous trees fully leafed out and developing their fruit for the coming season, there are a few stragglers down in the corralito. Here we are in the middle of May, and one peach tree is still in bloom.
This is the “mystery flat peach” that I have written about before (note the developing fruit along with the blooms). Its late blooming only adds to the mystery.
Some of the apples, such as this one, espaliered in the corner, also are only beginning to leaf out.
Having any deciduous fruits still not well on their spring growth patterns this late is unusual–especially this year. A deciduous tree blooming and leafing out late often is a sign of inadequate chill. The trees depicted here (and some others) are always late, but this is ridiculous. And there is no way that chilling was inadequate this past winter!
There’s nothing like getting 650-700 hours of chill!
All four varieties of mature cherry tree are in bloom this spring. From right to left:
Royal Rainier (low chill, fruited deliciously two years ago; blooms but no fruit in the wet spring of 2006)
Stella (low chill, has fruited more than once, even in its former home at Carlsbad by the Sea; heavy bloom this year)
Craig’s Crimson (by reputation, one of the best cherries; bloomed last year for first time, but no fruit)
Bing (yes, the famous Bing, listed at 700-800 hours and showing a few blooms for the first time now; is fruit possible?)
A fifth variety, much younger and not shown, is White Gold. It has Stella in its parentage, and like all our varieties other than Bing, is self-fruitful (a feature that is claimed by some growers to favor low-chill fruit set). It is starting to wake up only in the last few days and it’s too early to know if it will bloom, too.
Update: On 15 April, three flower buds on ‘White Gold’ opened!
Another in the occasional series at the intersection of agronomy, astronomy, and spirituality…
Today, 21 March, is the first day of spring, with the vernal equinox* having arrived at 00:17 UTC (meaning technically spring began here yesterday afternoon). The following photo was taken at solar noon today from approximately the same point as the “Low noon” photo posted here on the winter solstice.
Because it is mostly cloudy today, unlike the sunny day we had on the winter solstice, the extent of shade cast over or near the hedgerow by the nearby grapefruit trees is not as obvious as I would have liked. Even so, you can see that it is only really dark on the south side (left of the photo) of the trunks of the trees in the hedgerow. With the sun angle at this latitude being 57.6 degrees today, compared to 33.9 degrees on the winter solstice, the greater part of these trees is already out of the shade and will be more so day by day as the trees grow (and, I hope, fruit).
Obviously, from the standpoint of the trees themselves, it has been spring here for a while. The tree in the foreground is the Geo Pride Pluot, days past its peak bloom. Several other trees are well on their way to leafing out and some are done blooming.
The upside of the freeze is that we had a lot of chill. Probably in the 650-700 hour range by the time a warm spell essentially ended chilling accumulation after the first week of March. And, as a result, some varieties that are marginal for the climate due to high chilling needs are blooming.
For instance, the Canadian White Blenheim. This has had some blooms in the past, but only sparingly and after being fully leafed out. I had never seen any stone fruit bloom after being fully leafed before, and the absence of any fruit from this tree’s few blooms in springs past confirmed my suspicion that such behavior indicates non-viable blossoms. As the photo above shows, this year it is blooming before the leaves, as one would expect if its chill requirement had been met. At the center of the photo are two open blooms from one set of buds, and several other buds about to burst. Unusual for an apricot, the flowers have a slight pink blush to them.
Even the Hunza is blooming!
As I have explained before, growing Hunza–and doing so right in the shadows of a large grapefruit tree–is very much an experiment in chill-cheating, and I had low expectations upon planting it. Blooms do not guarantee fruit, but they are a necessary condition, for sure!
Spring is here. And if the vernal equinox has arrived, then Pesach is right around the corner, at the full moon, as perfect for illuminating one’s liberation as the flowers of spring are for reminding us of the opportunities ahead. It is one thing to have freedom; it is another to make good use of it, whether we are talking about religious or political freedom. And, inspired by an orchard in bloom, this is as good a time as any for reflecting upon such gifts and their responsibilities.
On the Hebrew calendar, today is 2 Nisan.** The full moon will be (as always) 15 Nisan, the first day of Pesach. And for Christians (both Eastern and Western, this year***), Easter is the Sunday immediately following, 8 April.
* Unless, of course, you are in the southern hemisphere, in which case it’s the autumnal equinox, or the first day of fall.
** Meaning that 1 Nisan corresponded with the beginning of spring here–as presumably it should–given that the equinox was actually 20 March in North America, as noted above, and here the equinox was before sunset, meaning it was indeed still 1 Nisan.
*** If someone can explain the rules for calculating the date of Easter used by Orthodox Christians, please enlighten me. If Wikipedia can be trusted, Orthodox Easter will be 27 April in 2008. I believe Eastern Christians use the Julian calendar, but nonetheless, the equinox is the equinox, and this date would be more than a month after the start of spring.
With all the cold weather, this should be a great year for cherries and apricots. However, the buds can’t flower and fruit if they’ve been eaten. Birds, apparently lacking for food in the dry winter, have stripped more than two thirds of the buds off the ‘Moorpark’ apricot and attacked several other trees as well.
To help protect the remaining buds, I added some flash tape to the corralito.
Normally I put this up only as the fruit ripens. The look of the bare trees and the flash tape is sort of surreal.
In a comment earlier in the week, Doug Young noted that at his location in El Cajon (roughly 25 miles southeast of here) there were no freeze/frost problems. He mentions the location is about 1100 feet above sea level. That is much higher than here, where the Ladera Frutal office is about 525 feet elevation, as are the bananas that have been so badly ravaged by our freezing conditions. (Day by day, they continue to look worse than in the photo I posted on 14 January).
Doug notes how he can “feel the cold air draining downhill on a calm night.” I know what he means. That is usually the case here, too. On many a clear, windless winter evening, as I walk down the hill from the office to the house (elevation 450 or so), I can feel the air getting significantly colder as I descend. But not so on the recent evenings when the cold air mass settling overhead.
Compare 6 January, a more typical dry clear winter night, to 14 January, the coldest night of the recent snap. On 6 January, the low temperature down at the lower level (below the house, at maybe 350 feet) was 30 degrees, while up here at the office it got to only 36. Six degrees difference over an elevation change of 175 feet. Yet on 14 January, when the temperature reached 24 at the lower level, it was 27 at the office level. The cold air just was not draining. Instead, it was parked firmly overhead and the differences from elevation to elevation just were not very significant.
The steep slope here normally makes for a near-perfect mix of micro-climates–above-freezing at the top but very chilly down below. But it looks a lot less perfect than it did as of 12 January. This week, it would have been good to have been at 1000 feet (as the highest nearby ridgelines are). As an aside, I wonder how high, under local conditions, one can be and still get the advantage of cold-air drainage. At some point, the “thin air” effect of higher elevation has to take over, and one would be too high for cold-sensitive crops. One can see this effect on some of the hills east and south of here in Valley Center and San Marcos: Avocado groves begin part way up the slope and stop before the top, taking advantage of the parts of the slope that are out of usual freeze range. Of course, there was nothing “usual” about the weather this past week–and the impact on the local ag industry will be devastating.
Every day, more damage appears as the plants’ diminished ability to take in moisture leads to more and more collapse of tender young tissues and browning/yellowing and curling of foliage, even on some trees that appeared unaffected as of two days ago (such as the sapodillas, lychee, and some of the citrus).
On the upside, the cold snap has left the chill-hour estimate down below at 370+ hours, or about 100 hours ahead of where it was at this point a year ago.
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