Aviv 5781

We are in Aviv! Spring, and this day before the day before the spring festival, Pesach, starts, please join me on a little walk around the orchard.

Thanks to a good amount of winter chill (750–800 hours or even more) and a mostly benign spring (more on that qualifier later), the bloom is the best I have seen yet at this location.

oarchard view 24March21

It is getting to be late spring, and so the trees are in various phases of bloom and fruit set. Only a few remain in full bloom at this point.

The first foursome consists of a plumcot, two apriums, and an apricot. As we enter the orchard, the first stone fruit we encounter is the on the upper left of the gallery, the Summer Delight aprium (plum–apricot hybrid that leans towards the latter). It is just wrapping up its bloom. To the right–in both orchard-row terms and in the gallery–is the Cot-N-Candy aprium, a luscious white-fleshed variety that had its best bloom yet for me.

The plumcot, in the lower right, is the Flavorella, one of my favorite of all the stone fruits. It blooms early; the photo shows some of the last few blooms among its well developed foliage. Because it blooms so early, getting cross-pollination, which it needs to set fruit, can be a challenge. The key companion here is the Royal Rosa apricot (lower left), which as this image shows, has a heavy set of fruitlets. It is one of the earliest ripening apricots, and its correspondingly early bloom is one of the traits that makes it an ideal pollen source for the Flavorella.

We then enter a group of peaches and nectarines.

Each has its distinctive shade and shape of pink blossom. In the upper right, Baby Crawford. To its left, Heavenly White nectarine, Donut, and Raspberry Red nectarine. In the bottom row, Sweet Bagel (L) and Liz’s Late nectarine. Donut and Sweet Bagel are called thus because they are flat or “saucer” peaches. None of these has fruited well for me in past years, but the extensive blooms and lack of rain during the bloom time gives me hope of good fruit set this year.

We then enter a realm of great expectation for 2021, the white apricots. These trees do not normally bloom well, although I have had a few fruits one one or both trees in some past years. The blooms this year are the best I’ve seen, and while that’s not a sufficient condition for a crop, it certainly is a necessary one.

On the left is the Monique. This is one of the sweetest and most soft-fleshed stone fruits I know of. It is as true a white apricot as any I have had (as white as the best white peaches). It is a shy bearer, but it is such an amazing fruit that I am happy to keep it going in the orchard row even if it gives only 2-3 fruits every other year. This year maybe it will give a lot more–if all goes well for the next few months. On the right is the Canadian White Blenheim apricot. This is less true white, but is very pale for an apricot not named Monique. It has also had a shy-bearing tendency. But look at that bloom! It is not quite a full yet (note many swollen buds that should open in a day or two). This bloom is impressive; I hope the fruit set is a success!

Now it is pluot time! These plum–apricot hybrids lean more towards plum. They have become better known in recent years as farmers markets and even grocery stores now carry them. I have three varieties. In the gallery below, the upper left shows Splash, a yellow-fleshed pluot. This is always the earliest of the pluots to bloom, which can be tricky for pollination, but the Flavor Finale (upper right) and Flavor King (lower left) always catch up and we get concurrent bloom. The bigger issue with Splash is its tendency to develop some condition (a fungus, presumably) that prevents ripening of the typically heavy fruit set. Hoping the near absence of rain this season–while bad for other reasons–might inhibit fungal growth this year.

I alluded earlier to a caveat about the being spring. We actually had a 32-degree night and a couple others near freezing but with frost in mid-March. This can be bad news during bloom and early fruit set, and a couple of past years, including 2020, had frost or freeze conditions that really devastated some varieties’ bloom or set. The Flavor King, as you can see in this picture, may have suffered some bloom damage. That brown on the blossoms is not a good sign, but fortunately not all the blooms seems to have been hit. Rounding out the gallery in the lower right is the Flavor Delight aprium. This is usually the first stone fruit tree to bloom (it is self-fruitful, fortunately), and as you can see, the fruitlets are relatively large for late March and the tree is fully leafed out by now.

Now come the two pluerry trees. A pluerry is a plum–cherry hybrid. The Sugar Twist (left, in gallery below) had an utterly profuse bloom! However, it looks to have been hit quite hard by the brief cold snaps during its bloom. There may be some fruit setting here, but it will be more sparse than it might have been without the cold. The Candy Heart, which bloomed a little earlier, seems not to have been hit at all by cold. In the photo, you can see one of the last blooms as well as some tiny fruitlets. These two need cross-pollination, and so their not blooming together could be a problem, although they do overlap somewhat. They also have nearby the pluots (Flavor King is a good all-around pollen source for other pluots, as well as plums and pluerries). I also have (not shown) Santa Rosa, Beauty, Methley, and Emerald Beaut plums. With all these blooming, there should be enough pollen to go around for those that need a mate. And there are definitely bees! In fact, look closely, as a couple of the photos actually show a bee in a flower providing a benefit for the orchardist.

The last of the plums or plum hybrids to reach full bloom is the Emerald Beaut, a delicious late-ripening yellow-fleshed plum that is one of my favorites. Its bloom is especially profuse right now.

Emerald Beaut plum

That is a lot of fruit trees and blooms! And the images above do not show all the varieties. The Hunza apricot (in my opinion the best tasting apricot, which also has an edible kernel with amazing complex flavor) is having a good bloom, as is the Shar Kah Pareh apricot (plumcot?), although the latter may have suffered some blossom damage from the cold. I also focused here only on stone fruits, although in the first photo with the overview of the orchard, you can see the Warren pear in bloom in the right foreground. These and more are at the Flickr site. Here is hoping for a lot of fruit!

The end of pomegranate bloom season

All three varieties of pomegranate that I currently am growing have recently finished their bloom. Fruit set is well underway. These photos were taken on 7 June.

Two excellent varieties I grow are Parfianka and Ambrosia. The Parfianka fruit is deep red and has a wine-like complexity. It is the richest tasting pomegranate I have ever tasted. The Ambrosia has flesh that is pink, almost white, and very soft seeds, and is also very sweet. (If you think you do not like pomegranates either because they are too tart or the seeds bother you, try Ambrosia!) What I find really interesting is that the flowers roughly match the color distinctions of the fruit varieties they lead to. Here is a Parfianka blossom, with some already set fruit visible as well.

That is deeper red than common varieties. The fruit arils (the flesh surrounding the seed) is even darker red when ripe. Now compare to Ambrosia, showing here a flower that is about done and is transforming into a fruit.

The flower is obviously much lighter in color. The arils are even more so–as I mentioned above, almost white.

Here is a Parfianka fruitlet with just a hint of blossom petal left on it.

Finally, the third variety is the ubiquitous Wonderful. If you buy a pomegranate or the juice, at least in the US (and also our exports), it probably came from this variety, grown somewhere in the Central Valley. I used to think it was badly misnamed, but that is because I’d never had a tree-ripened one grown in the proper climate. Here they are really good, although I would still take either of my other two any day. As you can seem its flowers are also very red, but not quite as vivid as the Parfianka.


Fruits and Votes in Battersea

It is far too rare that the two themes of this blog intersect so nicely. Here is a tidbit from my checking of the Wikipedia page about Battersea constituency (related to research, for real).

In 2001, the candidate T.E Barber used the candidate description “No fruit out of context party”, and advocated the end of, amongst other crimes against food, pineapples on pizza.

He got 1.1% of the vote!

The orchard, March 2019

This has been one of the best years I can recall for fruit-tree blooms. Come with me on a walk around the orchard–the real one. These photos are from 19 March.

The first tree we come to is one of the oldest trees in the orchard, the ‘Royal’ or ‘Blenheim’ apricot. It is having a less than profuse bloom, but better than the strange, staggered one it had last spring. In prior years, this tree had set really well. It may not be in the best of health, as a tree that was here long before I arrived six years ago.

Now, as we enter the main part of the orchard, the first stone fruit we come to is the ‘Cotton Candy’ aprium, one of the younger trees in the orchard (planted two years ago). It had a couple fruits last year, but this year it has had its first substantial bloom. Still, however, a less profuse bloom than I expected, given all the winter chill we got this year.

The ‘Donut’ peach, also one of the younger trees, is having a nice bloom.

The “flavor Delight’ aprium was one of the first trees I planted five years ago. So it is quite mature now. Here we see its last few flowers, and also the fruit set from the main bloom, which got underway in mid-February.

The ‘Flavor King’ pluot looks around the orchard and says, you all are doing fine, but no one does full bloom like I do full bloom.

The ‘Monique’, a white-fleshed apricot of unparalleled sweetness, never blooms well for me. But this winter was cold enough to get some blooms out of it, and you can also see some other buds about to open here. It has had its best bloom since I first planted it five years ago, which is not saying much. But I am hopeful of at least a few fruits, and this one earns its keep even if it fruits only once every few years.

This is the ‘Raspberry Red’ nectarine. It is a pretty rare variety, and I took a chance on it six years ago in the first batch of trees planted just after we moved in. It has had a few fruit–really intensely flavored–but never blooms or sets well. It has more blooms this year than ever before.

Since these photos were taken, the ‘Hnuza’ apricot has gone into full bloom like I’ve never seen it before, as has the ‘Canadian White Blenheim’ apricot. And several other varieties of plum and peach/nectarine are blooming nicely. It really has been a spectacular spring. Of course, a good bloom does not guarantee a bountiful harvest, but it certainly raises the odds of one!

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!

* 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.

Here comes the freeze of 2018

I just can’t believe these local forecasts. For tonight:
“Patchy frost after 4am. Otherwise, mostly clear, with a low around 30. West wind 11 to 21 mph, with gusts as high as 26 mph.”
For tomorrow night:
“Areas of frost after 4am. Otherwise, mostly clear, with a low around 27. Northwest wind 10 to 13 mph.”
Normally here, if it is going to be that cold, there’s no wind at all. This is the most ominous forecast I’ve seen since January, 2007, when we were still in San Diego County. That week, I lost a large percentage of my subtropical fruit trees.
In this climate, I don’t have subtropicals, but I do have citrus. Plus because it is the second half of February, the deciduous trees are either blooming, or have buds ready to open. A freeze could ruin any hope of fruit.
I don’t make a living growing fruit. But spare some thoughts the next few nights for those who do. California looks like it is about to be hit hard by one of its worst freezes in over a decade.

A tale of two curry-leaf trees

When I planted our older, potted, curry leaf tree last summer, I thought where I was putting it would be protected and that the tree would do better in its new ground location than where it had been growing in the pot. Apparently not.

That is it, in a spot protected by taller trees and a fence, with only a few leaves on it in early February. (It is an evergreen, but will drop leaves in response to sharp cold snaps.) Meanwhile, an offspring of the tree, growing next to a different fence where the parent used to be, looks great.

Sometimes plants really surprise me. The potted one looked pretty unhappy its first winter at the location when we had some significant cold snaps. But the offspring has shown no leaf loss this winter, even though we’ve had a couple of periods of temperatures in the high 20s.

Both should be fine–the transplanted one gets less sun this time of year but will get plenty as we get farther into spring and summer. And it shows no major stress, even if it has few leaves at this point. In fact, with another cold snap coming, it may be better off than its offspring on account of being somewhat dormant.

Spring 2018. Or is it winter?

Sometimes in a climate like this one, the seasons kind of mash together. It was an unusually warm January, and some trees are in bloom now. Yet this morning the temperature was 30F and there were ice crystals on the grass.

First blossom one one of our almond trees–8 Feb.

The Flavor Delight aprium is in bloom, 11 Feb.

The blooming is not early, despite the January warmth. The almond depicted above usually has its first bloom around the same date in February: the 12th in 2017, 6th in 2016, 3rd in 2015. The Flavor Delight likewise tends to have its first several blossoms open around now: 14th in 2017,  7th in 2016, 15th in 2015.

What is somewhat more unusual is below-freezing temperatures at this time of year. (I am sure they were common at this point in February decades ago, but not recently.) The latest date of a below-freezing temperature in 2017 was 25 Dec. (29F, though it was 32 on 24 Feb.), in 2016 2 Jan., in 2015 3 Jan, and in 2014 5 Feb. And the current forecast calls for a few days of low temperatures in the 20s and 30s. This could be bad for pollination of the trees in bloom and for tender young leaf growth on the citrus and some other trees.

That is the nature of a Mediterranean climate–“spring” begins in early February, but winter can keep hanging on.