Last Week (3/25/13):
Apricot abbondanza. What a glorious sight to see all those little baby “cots” lined up on both sides of every branch like soldiers marching in double file. But, it also means a lot of work to be done to reduce the crop load to a level which can be handled by the tree. This process is called thinning. It is the removal by hand of excess fruit, one by one, by workers up on ladders, using their thumbs and fore fingers to pinch off the fruit and drop it to the ground. The fruits are small (about the size of a nickel), green, and hard. My men are all highly skilled at this task and the fruits rain down like hail, clattering and chattering as they strike the metal steps of the ladders on their way to the ground. It really makes quite a racket but it is music to my ears as it is the harbinger of a big crop. It will be a good year for all. There is excitement in the air when thinning begins. The men are thrilled because it means more work, warmer days, and lots of camaraderie in the lush green orchards.
While the “tree teams” are up on ladders thinning, the “ground teams” are on the ground, of course, weed whacking the tall grasses up and down each row of trees. This is in preparation for their next job, irrigation. What conventional farmers call weeds, we call our cover crop. It’s a diverse mixture of grasses, legumes, and broadleaf plants which this time of year are dense, tall, and lush. That’s why we need to mow them down all along the tree row….so that our micro sprinkles can disperse water to the entire root zone of each tree. So, as the weather warms up, so too, all of our crews become energized in preparation for the fruit, which we now can see in the trees!
This Week (4/1/13):
Our long, lucky period of no rain in any blossoms ended over the weekend with several torrential downpours. Our peaches, nectarines, plums and apricots are fine…they have long since passed their vulnerable period of full bloom and are now showing lots of fruit. It’s the growth stage known as fruit set. And they all have nice crops. It’s the late blooming fruits we’re worried about…pears, apple and cherries.
I walked through the muddy ground today to inspect the cherries and was relieved and delighted to see a nice fruit set on our earliest variety, the Brooks. But, it’s still a bit early to tell on the Bings and Rainiers. The pears and apples are the most at risk crops for a rain event like we just had. They are susceptible to the dreaded disease known as fire blight.
Fire blight is caused by a bacteria erwinia amylovora, which begins in the soft tissue parts of the blossom during warm wet, weather. It will quickly spread into the shoot that the flower clusters are growing on, and then race down through the cambium layer of the shoot to the main branch or trunk of the tree. If this infected wood is not identified and removed by pruning, it will kill the whole tree, often in a matter of weeks or months.
The very best way to avoid this killer disease is to plant varieties which are immune or resistant to it. Our Warren pear is one such variety. It will not get sick, which is wonderful and amazing. However, the Golden Russet Bosc and the Taylors Gold varieties are extremely susceptible and over the last several years (since that miserable warm wet spring of 2011) we have lost over 300 trees, about 25% of the total trees of those varieties. The Pink Lady, our very best apple variety is the most susceptible of all! So, this is the dark shadow that will haunt us for the next few weeks, and we’ll have to be hyper-vigilant in walking through these orchards and identifying any out breaks at the earliest possible moment.