The ultimate F&V post?

Via Growing Produce:

Michigan’s apple, cherry, peach, and plum producers have approved a referendum to continue the Michigan Tree Fruit Research & Development Program, according to a press release from the state’s Department of Agriculture & Rural Development.

[…]

A total of 171 valid ballots were cast in the referendum. Of those, 120 producers voted yes (70%) representing 406 million pounds of apples, cherries, peaches, and plums (81%); and 51 producers voted no (30%) representing 95 million pounds (19%).

For renewal of the program and its activities, more than 50% of the voting producers, representing more than 50% of the production of those voting, must have approved it.

 

Tu Bi-Shvat 5779

Tu Bi-Shvat is here! It is the “new year for trees” in Judaism, which here at Fruits and Votes we take as a pretty special occasion. The full moon of the month of Shvat marks one of those seasonal turning points–winter is coming to end (for those of us in northern-hemisphere Mediterranean climates, at least), and the fruit trees will be blooming before long. Traditionally, this observance is said to mark the time when the almond trees begin to bloom in the Land of Israel. Here, where our climate is broadly similar, it is coming a bit too early this year. It makes me think we just might need a second month of Adar, following the first month of Adar that will start with the next new moon in about two weeks. In fact, by the lunisolar calendar used in Judaism, we will indeed have two Adars this year, as otherwise we would be putting ourselves on a path to celebrating Pesach (Passover) too early. It needs to be at the full moon of the first lunar month after the vernal equinox. With the winter solstice only about four weeks behind us, it is indeed a bit early in solar-season terms for the almond trees to be blooming. Here is mine now, for instance.

The buds have been swelling for a while, but it’s not ready to bloom just yet. By comparison, last year buds began swelling around the 9th of January, but the first blooms did not open till the 30th–conveniently, the eve of Tu Bishvat, so right on time! In 2017 it also began its bloom on the eve of Tu Bishvat, even though that happened to be the 10th of February! The range of late January/early February is about right for first almond blooms, and is also generally when Tu Bishvat, but as I elaborate a bit below, the Jewish calendar by no means guarantees that Tu Bishvat will line up with any specific point in the season, but it will always be one of the first two full moons following the winter solstice.

Notwithstanding the date on the Jewish calendar, then, it seems the almond will be a little early, relative to Gregorian calendar dates of past years. And that may be a harbinger of early blooms on many of our fruit trees, something I have expected ever since the surprising bout of chill very early in the season, occasioned in part by the heavy smoke. At least the varieties that are relatively low chill should have had their requirement met by now; given that January has been quite warm, the higher-chill fruits may still be waiting around longer for further chill (which we may not get; outlook is for unseasonably warm weather, which alas, is becoming the new normal).

While the almond may not be blooming for Tu Bishvat this year, just now it is about peak season for some flowering/fruiting trees:

This is an ume apricot in the UC Davis campus, obviously already in full bloom, as of late last week. The ume is traditionally associated with new year in Japan, which on the Chinese version of the lunisolar calendar will be at the next new moon (the one that on the Jewish calendar will be I Adar this year). Chinese years start on the first or second new moon after the winter solstice; the next new moon will be the second.

So we have one “new year” (the Jewish one for trees) that is coming a little too “early” (in solar-season terms), and another one that is coming too late (although I’ll grant that in Japan, two weeks from now might be about “right” for the first ume blooms*). Such are the challenges of lunisolar calendars. On the one hand, the months are true months–i.e., they are set by moon cycles (the root of the word “month” is moon, but Gregorian calendar months have nothing to do the moon). On the other hand, the calendar must be adjusted ever few years by the insertion of additional month to avoid slipping too far out of synch with the solar cycles, if the culture in question (Jewish or East Asian) has annual observances that must keep to the proper season. (The Islamic calendar, for example, is strictly lunar, so there are no such adjustments and thus Ramadan and other observances can occur at any time throughout the solar year.)

While this year’s New Year for Trees may be a bit early, the timing is nonetheless fortuitous in another sense. It coincides with a lunar eclipse. In fact, with a “super blood wolf moon.” The Tu Bi-Shvat seder includes three different kinds of fruits, where the categories are: (1) inedible exterior, edible interior; (2) edible exterior, inedible interior; (3) entirely edible. To mark the occasion of the “blood” moon, our fruit for the first category will be blood oranges, which happen to be in season now.

Let’s all enjoy some good fruit and fruit-tree blooms as spring approaches!

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* Various ume festivals start in early February and run until some time in March.

Smoke and chill

We have been dealing with heavy smoke from the Camp Fire in Butte County, which is a couple hours’ drive north of us. The weather conditions have been such that the smoke has settled and some days it has been like a fog that starts out moderately thick and never totally clears.

What I did not expect was that it would be so cold during this smoky phase. The fire began on 8 November, and the winds that initially made the fire so devastating died down late in the day on the 11th. Since then, we have had six straight mornings with low temperatures at 36F or lower, including three at 32 and two more at 33. This is substantially colder than the norm for this time of year. Usually–at least in the years I have been at this location–we do not get a morning below 32 until some time in December.

The NWS forecast discussion last night mentioned, “The smoke is keeping temperatures below normal blocking heating from the sun during the day and allowing heat to escape at night, unlike cloud cover.”

It is obvious that smoke cover would keep daytime highs down. In fact, we have not had a high temperature higher than 66 for the past six days, and some days have been only 62 or 63. That is near or a little below the norm for mid-November. (Normal low and high temperatures for the month of November around here would be more like 41 and 66.)

I would not have expected smoke to help keep it so cool overnight. Perhaps naively, I would have expected it to act more like cloud cover. Evidently, however, the fire has had the effect of getting our winter-chilling off to an early start. The deciduous trees are presumably dormant enough by now to “receive” chill, so this early cold snap is a good start.

The fire has been one of the worst disasters in the state in some time, and the air quality has resulted in UC Davis being shut down since 12 November and through the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. Through all the awfulness, these cold mornings have been welcome.

5779 is upon us!

Last Thursday when I looked straight up as I ascended the gravelly knoll for shacharit it really hit me. That little bit of moon meant Rosh Hashanah must be really upon us. The yellow leaves on the fig tree offer further hints that we are well into the season of turning.

This year’s “first fruits” for Rosh HaShannah. Muscat of Alexandria and Zinfandel? (could be Syrah) grapes, Arkansas Black and Hudson’s Golden Gem apples, Warren pear, and the season’s icon, our first pomegranate (I used to think it was Desertnyi variety, but now I am thinking maybe Parfianka).

It was a fruitful end to 5778. Maybe 5779 be sweet and bountiful! See you on the other side.

 

Temperature means, winter months, 2013-18

By popular demand*, here’s a full accounting of our winter temperatures since moving to the current location.

The stats really drive home just what an unusual winter this was, with the colder temperatures very much concentrated towards the latter part. I discussed the consequences of this for the deciduous fruit tree blooms in an earlier “planting“.

February’s mean low was more than four degrees below the five-year mean, and the March high and low were both 3-4 degrees below the five-year means.

December was also colder than normal, in terms of overnight lows although the daytime highs were the warmest experienced in a December thus far. The December cold was not as far below norm as we experienced our first winter here, 2013-14, when an extreme freeze was very costly to some of my citrus and other subtropical trees. Even the Eucs had damage that winter.

* Not really, I must admit.

Apricot blooming, 2018

The ‘Canadian White Blenheim’ apricot has reached full bloom. It has the pinkest flowers of any of the ten or so apricot varieties I’ve ever grown over many years. Strange, given that its fruit has one of the palest flesh tones of any apricot.

Canadian White Blenheim

This variety has fruited for me before, both here and in inland San Diego County. However, we have never had more than a few fruits in any one year, and the modal number of fruits of this variety per year has been zero. That is because it has had blooms that were anything but profuse. It is a pretty clear law of fruit-growing that if you have no blooms, you get no fruit.

In past years, when this variety has bloomed, it has been not only sparse, but also very late relative to the leafing out. That is unusual, in that most stone fruits are at full bloom before leaves really begin to emerge. I always assumed that the culprit was chilling; a stone fruit is unlikely to have a proper bloom if it has not met its winter chilling need during the dormant period. (Dave Wilson Nursery suggests 700 hours chilling needed for this variety.)

There was no question of chill not being met this year. While January was quite warm, both December and February had good long periods of chilly weather and deep cold snaps. In fact, the big fear I had was that an unusually late cold snap would adversely affect fruit trees, many of which typically begin blooming here by mid-February. Indeed, the ‘Flavor Delight’ aprium was in full bloom just when a hard freeze hit. While the tree’s foliage has recovered, there is no sign of any fruit set. The freeze hit it at just the wrong time.

Meanwhile, the ‘Royal’ (‘Blenheim’) apricot has had an odd spring. Normally, it would be blooming in mid/late February. It has a relatively low chilling requirement (from much experience, I’d estimate it at around 350, even though many catalogs and other sources say 400-500). Yet it remained mostly dormant until well into March. And it was not just my own rather old tree; a few trees with ‘Royal’ tags on them, planted on the UC Davis campus a few years ago, did the same. This is very strange.

Perhaps even stranger is that just now my ‘Royal’ is blooming like the ‘Canadian White Blenheim’ normally does–after it has leafed out. It has about a dozen blooms right now, scattered amidst well developed foliage.

Royal apricot

In many years of growing this variety, I have never seen it do this. So, just as one variety that normally blooms sporadically post-leaf-out is instead having a more normal-looking bloom, here an old reliable is exhibiting the staggered behavior of a tree that got insufficient chill.

It has been an odd winter, and even odder bloom season. It is too early to know if the white apricots will set fruit. I express that in the plural, because the ‘Monique’–another even whiter variety that also is hard to get to set in our climate–also had a pretty good bloom this year. The ‘Hunza‘ (a real favorite of mine with luscious complex-tasting flesh and an edible kernel) also is in full bloom right now.

So, while one can’t count one’s fruit this early*, indications are promising for the later-blooming trees. Another law of fruit-growing is that a profuse bloom does not guarantee a good fruit crop, but it certainly makes it more likely.
_________
*Today is the eve of Pesach (Passover). Somewhere in the Talmud it is suggested that Shavuot is the “Yom Kippur of fruit trees”, the day one which they are judged. That is about right, as in roughly fifty days we will have passed through (over?) the most perilous time for developing fruit. What holds that long has a pretty good chance of making it.

Freeze of 2018 update

It got cold. Even colder than forecast. Five out of six nights over the past week saw sub-freezing temperatures. Friday night it was 29F as early as 10:30 p.m. and it was 26 as late as 6:30 a.m. Saturday and not above freezing till about 8:20. That is a lot of cold for the time of year, especially given that this time of year is bloom season for almonds and many stone fruit.

The most sensitive trees I have here are two citrus trees. This is how I covered the ‘Gold Nugget’ mandarin. In addition to this tent, I have a string of lights on the tree (note orange extension cord). I placed a hi-lo thermometer inside. The temperature under the tent never reached freezing, thanks to the heat from the lights and the thick greenhouse-style plastic.

The other one I always protect in freezes is the ‘Wekiwa‘ tangelolo. In addition to this plastic over a frame, inside I have placed not only a string of lights but also a heat lamp (the kind made to keep chicks warm). On that cold Friday-Saturday, the lowest it got in here was 39.

Note the new leaf shoots at the top of the branches. These are what I was most worried about, as this is where flower buds will form soon. This variety may be hardy down to the low 20s (and this tree did survive 20F, albeit with extensive damage, without a heat source in Dec. 2013). But new growth would not take well to repeated freeze exposure.

Blooms of deciduous fruit and nut trees also do not take well to freezes. Many such trees were already breaking dormancy when the cold struck. My ‘Flavor Delight’ aprium was in bloom by about the 15th of the month. All signs were encouraging for good fruit this year, after a year when it did not fruit (due to heavy rain during this time of year in 2017).

Immediately after the freeze, the tree looks like this:

The flowers have all collapsed. They were near the end of their bloom anyway, but this dramatic a collapse likely means major damage. There also are no leaf shoots, as there normally would be as the bloom wraps up. There are a few buds in evidence, and the tree itself likely will be fine. But I certainly would not count on any fruit. Many other stone fruits had buds swelling before the freeze, and those could have been rendered non-viable by cold temperatures.

As I said in the earlier post in anticipation of the freeze, I do not have to count on fruit and nut trees for income. For those that do, this past week has been very rough. Almond growers, whose trees reach peak bloom around this time, are looking at substantial damage. Some will come through OK, others may have total losses. It will be a while before a full damage assessment can be made. If you like almonds, expect to pay more for them this year. California’s Central Valley produces most of the world’s supply. The effects of this freeze will reach far.