Our trees have trained us to live in the moment and in the future, all in the same breath. In January, we’re looking forward to late April or early May – that’s when our Apache apricots will be ready to harvest.
We’re looking at our apricot trees every day to see how they’re progressing. We’re looking for growth stages. These are the changes in a tree when it moves out of dormancy.
Bud, popcorn and bloom
Right now, our apricot trees are in a stage known as “bud swell.” As the bud continues to push through, the tip opens just a little, and a tiny red petal will peek through. We call this “red bud.”
After red bud, the trees move into the “popcorn” stage. The bud begins to open and looks like a popped kernel of popcorn.
After popcorn, we get into “bloom.” We measure bloom in percentages. We look at the trees and say, hmm… it’s 10 percent bloom. Then a few days later, we look at the orchard again and say, ok now it’s 50 percent bloom. Then we go back a few days later and look for 100 percent bloom.
“Ideally, bloom happens in rapid succession,” Farmer Al says. “You don’t want a straggling bloom. You want it to go quick. That means the crop is going to grow on each tree in a uniform way, so when the pickers are out there, most of the fruit is ripe and ready for them.”
Different trees, different terms
You’re probably saying to yourself, “bud swell, popcorn and bloom don’t sound like scientific terms to me!” You’re right – they aren’t scientific. Oddly, farmers don’t use a standardized language to describe growth stages. A farmer in New York probably uses different terms than Farmer Al does in Brentwood, CA.
And there are different growth terms for different types of trees. Apricots go through the “red bud” stage because the petal that shows through is red. Peaches have pink petals, so Farmer Al describes the same stage in the peach orchard as “pink bud.”
Apricots are finicky
Farmer Al says that climate change over the last decade has led to growth stages that are all over the board. This year, growth is happening a little early, which is similar to what we saw in 2022.
Apricots are very finicky, and they want the weather to be just right. We were happy to have the rains when we did, and now we’re happy to have the clear, sunny days that are energizing the trees. The biggest dangers right now are frost and warm rain. Frost burns the tree and kills the fruit. Warm rain – like an atmospheric river out of Hawaii – can lead to brown rot, a fungal disease that attacks the apricots.
Don’t forget the ground
We look at our trees, we look at the sky, and we look at the ground. We’re keeping the grass short in the orchards. Tall grasses hold a lot of moisture, and that moisture drifts up to the lower branches and creates humidity. Brown rot loves humidity. We are keeping our orchards well-trimmed to prevent brown rot.
It’s a daily balance here on the farm – we do our part. And Mother Nature does the rest.