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 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.
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!
As I noted last summer, we were fortunate enough to have an actual crop of ‘Hunza’ apricots on our 2-year-old tree. When I planted this variety, it was very much a low-expectation experiment. The Hunza comes from the high Himalayan valley of the same name, in Pakistan. Our sea-level and much milder climate would seem a poor match for such a plant.
But it has grown well, and in 2008, following a winter with unusually high chill for us, it actually set a few fruits. As reported previously, their taste is simply amazing!
The Hunza apricot is also justly famous for its tasty kernels. I had almost forgotten than I had put one away for later. Well, later finally came, and fortunately, that shell is an excellent container for sealing in freshness!
Pictured here, on the left, is the last of our finca-grown kernels, along with the shattered remains of the shell. On the right are some Hunza kernels purchased at a local store under the brand Himalayan Harvest.
This was the first time I had compared the taste of our own to the store-bought. Not surprisingly, the home-grown Hunza kernel was fresher tasting (even months from harvest), but it lacked the complexity of flavor of the Himalayan Harvest kernels. Climate and altitude do matter! Sometimes the purchased kernels have an almost amaretto-like flavor profile. Ours tasted more like a very rich and fresh almond; I mean, like the best almond I have ever tasted, but without the amaretto complexity. Here’s hoping we get more of our own in the coming summer, but in the meantime, I’ll be continuing to buy and enjoy the imported ones.
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).
I had been thinking that this year’s spring was late.1 Apparently not. I was just checking records of last year’s spring via this blog and saw that the cherry trees looked about the same in 2007 as they do right now–about three weeks earlier. They were in bloom in the middle of April in 2007.
Now, with almost a week of March, 2008, remaining, the Royal Rainier and Stella were already at their peak earlier in the past week. Meanwhile the Craig’s Crimson and Bing have their first few blooms.
Many other trees have indeed bloomed later this year.
The winter just ended certainly resulted in more chill overall, notwithstanding that in 2008 we had nothing remotely like the highly concentrated cold snap of January, 2007. The best evidence of greater chill is that this year, the bloom dates of different fruit trees are more closely aligned than last year. That should be good news for pollination.
The Canadian White Blenheim apricot has its best bloom by far.
It has bloomed before, but usually staggering a bit, and before last year, it tended to bloom only after being almost fully leafed out–very unusual for a stone fruit. It has not fruited since planting (2003). Immediately behind the white apricot is the Flavorella plumcot, always one of the first to bloom and here seen almost finished blooming and leafing out. In past years it has fruited only sporadically, despite good blooms. It evidently needs cross-pollination, despite what the catalog said when I bought it. This year, with so many more trees in bloom simultaneously, things are looking up. There is clearly fruit that has set, though I have been growing fruit long enough to know that an apparent set in March is no guarantee of fruit to eat come summer.
There is even hope for the Hunza apricot. It has a few blooms, and appears to have set at least one fruit. I would not count on its holding, however.
Even in this year of significant chill, the Hunza’s delayed leafing (note the still-bare long whip branch off to the right) suggests it really did not get the chill it needs.
Spring is by now very well sprung!
Measured by when fruit trees are blooming, that is. The equinox always arrives on schedule. [↩]
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.
On December 22, I noted how one can take advantage of the lower position of the sun in mid-winter and plant deciduous fruit varieties near tall evergreens in a way as to maximize the accumulation of chilling hours. That post contained a photo of the hedgerow located within the corralito, which is itself located within the grapefruit grove at the lowest part of the finca.
The above photo is a close-up, taken today, of the middle portion of the hedgerow after I pruned the trees. Notice that the lower and back-side branches, on which I was careful not to prune off too many flower buds, remain in shade, even though the upper parts of the trees are in sun.
The tree in the foreground is a Moorpark apricot (the best, in my assessment). The two beyond it are Earli Autumn and Autumn Glo apricots. The latter two are new varieties with an unknown chilling requirement, but probably over 500 hours (but certainly not the 800 shown in the Bay Laurel Nursery catalog). Moorpark probably has a chilling requirement of around 600 hours, which is more than we can count on accumulating over our short and mild winters. However, by maximizing winter shade, one can obtain more chill than would be the case in a location that remained sunnier in the winter months, and thus can greatly expand the range of varieties that can be grown.
All three trees fruited last year, and all the fruit was on lower or back-side branches. Chilling accumulation works through the individual buds, not the tree as a whole or the roots.*
Today around 11:15 a.m. when the photo was taken, the temperature differential between sun and shade was enormous: 79 in the sun, but only 71 in the shade. The termperatures will converge somewhat later in the day, but the difference in late morning indicates how much more slowly the shaded area warms up. [UPDATE: The temperatues did not converge. The high in the shade was 82, while out in the open it was 89. I should have known: shade/sun high temperatures converge less the lower the humidity.]
In December, 2004, the average lows and highs were 43 and 67 in the sun, but 41 and 66 in the shade. For January, 2005, the figures were 44/67 versus 43/65. (The lows are affected as well as the highs partly due to the large trees trapping cold air that keeps on flowing downhill out in the open, but also because with less daytime heating, the shaded region also does not stay as warm overnight.)
This difference of a degree here and there may not sound like much, but can accumulate to 100 or more estimated chill hours for the season compared to what the electronic half-hourly count indicates for the thermometer in sun. The greater chill is at least as much a product of the slower warm-up in the shaded area as it is of differences in the ultimate high (or low) temperature over any 24-hour period.
Below is the manual thermometer that I keep in the shade of some grapefruit trees just outside the corralito.
The photo below shows the electronic thermometer that relays to the Davis Instruments Weather Pro console (and ultimately to the Ladera Frutal computer station) and proviudes half-hourly termperature readings used to compute chilling accumulation.
Note that while this thermometer, visible on the pole to the right of the photo, is in the sun, it has a plastic shield around it. This prevents sunlight from shining directly on the sensor and giving a false reading. In other words, it ensures that what is being measured is ambient air temperature and not the intensity of reflected solar radiation.**
The above photo (more easily viewed in a larger version) also shows the networking system that transmits the data up to the office. Off to the far left of the photo is a second temperature station (as a backup) on a pole that is slightly askew (and almost obscured by the white trunks of grapefruit trees that have been cut down for re-grafting). On the lower part of that pole is a wireless data repeater. Also visible through or between native shrubbery up the slope are three other posts (some of white PVC) on which other repeaters–five in all–are arranged to relay the data.***
This is shaping up to be a much lower-chill winter than last, when we reached around 550 hours according to the half-hourly data transmitted through the network (and thus perhaps 650 in the shaded area). As of the morning of January 1, 2006, we were sitting at around 174 hours at the lower part of the finca (and 68, with a prior peak before the warm spell of around 95, up here in the more subtropical climes of F&V HQ). A year ago by January 1 we were already closing in on 300 hours below (and 190 at the office). Unless a good cold snap comes soon, the higher-chill varieties are unlikely to fruit next summer. Thus it is a good thing I have planted lower-chill varieties, too, to the extent possible.
One last photo below shows a Hunza apricot, which I planted last January. The Hunza comes from the high moutain valley of the same name in Pakistan. This tree is outside the corralito, but nearby. Notice how it is planted at the edge of a shady area. As it grows, much of the tree will be shaded. Hunza probably has a very high chilling requirement, but given how fantastically sweet and toffee-like the dried fruit of this apricot is (and with an edible kernel, too, with reputedly cancer-fighting properties), it is worth experimenting with.
*I mention roots because I have heard of people packing ice around deciduous plants to maximize bloom, but freezing the soil is hardly useful to buds located some distance above.
**Always be skeptical of news reports in summer of intense heat on the pavement or an artificial-turf field; placing an unshielded thermometer on a hot surface reveals that the surface is indeed hot, but tells you nothing about just how hot the air, which is what actual weather data are based on.
***Only matters of practicality, and unwillingness to invest in a chain of 8 or more repeaters, keep me from having an electronic thermometer located back in the shady region of the hedgerow. The elevation of the electronic station is the same as that of the corralito, and that is the most important factor; it just means that my electornic data are more representative of the sunny portion of the corralito than of the winter-shaded hedgerow.
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