Fall color, Ladera Frutal style

Only a few deciduous trees in this Mediterranean climate show good fall foliage color, and those that do often don’t show it till late October or into November. So, around these parts, “fall color” means the ripening of the persimmons.

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The tree in front is the ‘Coffeecake’ (a.k.a. ‘Nishimura Wase’), always the first to ripen here. It has its color, but it will be several days before the first fruit is edible. Other persimmons stand uphill from it, with fruit that will ripen in the coming month.

Above the persimmons, at around 0900 local time, the moon is visible, at just about halfway between its full and third-quarter phases. Just as it should be, with today being the fourth day of Sukkot. (It is good to know some things remain in alignment!) This is the waning harvest moon, and persimmons are always one of the main harbingers that the late fall harvest season is coming.

Nearing the end of stone fruits, but here come the pomes

As August turns to September, this will be the last of three plantings on my favorite topics–baseball, fruits, and votes.

As we reach September (how did that happen, anyway?), most of the stone fruits are done for the season. The 4-in-1 pluot has now completed its fruiting season.

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It is pictured here on 10 August. Those are the Dapple Dandys (Dandies?) there on the left side of the tree–not yet dappled at the time of the photo. Over on the right side are the Flavor Queens, which remain yellow at ripening. The one lone Flavor King that we had this year is visible hanging low in a mesh basket near the trunk. The Flavor Supreme (at the back of the tree from this angle) had no fruit this year.

Pluots have such complex flavors. The Flavor Queen is better than any yellow plum–well, make that almost any (see below). The Flavor King is true royalty in its wine-like complexity.

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The Golden Nectar plum is unusually large for a plum, and with a very distinctive shape. Viewed here through the bird/squirrel netting, ((If those leaves in the foreground look like apricot leaves, it is because they are. This is from the hedgerow, where the trees are crowded by design. Note that these are the leaves outside the netting–on the neighboring tree, one the very late-ripening apricots, which set only one fruit this year. And, unfortunately, it dropped just the other day.)) this was our first crop. The Golden Nectar has flavors that I never knew a plum could have. Very rich and sweet. It gets my vote for best yellow plum–so far, anyway.

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The Emerald Beaut has a really heavy crop this year, pictured here before I put the netting up. I suppose its name implies it is a green plum, but I suspect that it will turn at least somewhat yellowish as it ripens (as do the Green Gages). I have tasted these only dried, not counting the one under-ripe one that I had a few days ago. For an under-ripe plum, it was pretty good! Still better than store bought. ((And more ripe than most of what is sold in stores would have been at time of harvest.)) But it will be intensely sweet once it is fully ripe. And you can’t find many plums that ripen this late–in this climate, anyway.

Then, just as the stone-fruit season approaches its end, we will be getting ready for the full swing of pome-fruit season. Apples, pears, and quinces. Some apples ripen almost year round, but all have good crops this year and most will ripen September to November. The pears, like this 4-in-1 Asian pear, have really heavy crops this year.

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In addition to the 4-in1 (which includes the sumptuous butterscotch-like Yoinashi at the upper right), at the left of the photo is the heavily laden Hosui.

It has been a year of heavy crops–that freeze that was so bad for the (non-citrus) subtropicals meant great chill for the stone and pomme fruits.

Plum-apricot hybrids

I have written before about apriums and pluots and the Mesch Mesch Amrah plumcot. Here is yet another: the Flavorella plumcot.

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We had only three Flavorellas on our tree this year, yet as desirable as a bountiful harvest would be, the tree still earns its keep with the incredibly luscious flavor of this fruit. It may be the best of the class of plum-apricot hybrids, and that is saying something.

Speaking of Mesch Mesch, it also had a light crop this year. This is about half this year’s crop depicted here.

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The Mesch Mesch has had heavy crops in some past years, and none in others (including 2006). The Flavorella has never had a heavy crop; in fact, the three this year probably bring its total bounty up to about five in four years. I am not sure what the problem might be. Mesch Mesch Amrah blooms heavily almost every year, but early. Flavorella usually blooms well (though not as heavy as MMA), and also on the early side. There could be a problem of a shortage of compatible pollen so early, and perhaps these two plumcots are not inter-fruitful. Some years, though certainly not this one, there may have been inadequate chill (despite the bloom) or the spring may have been too wet. Continued experimentation with other early blooming plums, apricots, and their hybrids would seem to be in order.

High noon

The summer solstice is here,* so it is time to continue my occasional forays into the intersection of agronomy, astronomy, and spirituality!

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With the sun at its highest angle of the year here in the San Diego area, there is only minimal shadow beneath the hedgerow (or over it, from the tall grapefruit trees at the left/south), in stark contrast to the maximum shadow exactly six months ago, at the winter solstice, or even what we saw three months ago at the vernal equinox.

Today, the sun rose at 5:41 a.m., the earliest it will be all year. The sunset will be at 8:00 p.m., giving us 14 hours, 18 minutes, and 30 seconds of daylight. (The sunset will actually get a bit later–as late as 8:01 from 28 June to 1 July, but by then the sunrises will be creeping later as well.)

The winter solstice this past year occurred very close to the darkest time of year, taking into account the moon cycle as well as the sun. In fact, that is why the winter solstice coincided almost perfectly in the year 2006/5767 with Chanukah, during which we remember the re-dedication of the ancient Temple by kindling candles at sundown during the waning moon closest to the winter solstice (follow the first link above for more).

So, when will we have maximum light? That would be the full moon closest to Tekufah Tammuz (the summer solstice), and in the year 2007/5767 that will be the night of 29-30 June (14 Tammuz, which also happens to be Shabbat). Unfortunately, by then we will have to settle for a mere 14 hours, 16 minutes, and 40 seconds of daylight preceding our full-moon night. (The solstice and a full moon closely coincided last in 2005 and will not again till 2024, in both cases the middle of the month of Sivan, whereas this Gregorian/solar year we are already several days into Tammuz at the solstice; today is 5 Tammuz, 5767, on the lunisolar Jewish calendar and the moon is thus just about to reach its first quarter.)

The summer solstice for many centuries has been marked by various pagan festivals. However, there is no holiday on the Jewish calendar to mark the summer solstice, despite the obvious fact that other holidays like Chanukah and Passover are built on the backs of pre-Jewish pagan celebrations (as are Christmas and Easter, too). Nonetheless, as the OC Register (not my favorite paper, but whatever) article just linked notes:

some modern Judeo-Christian groups are reviving solstice worship. [Let’s assume the writer intended that to be taken as not worship of the solstice but worship on it.–MSS]

“Many of those who grew up in Jewish and Christian religion want to see the modern holidays in their agrarian origin,” Lucas said. [Amein–MSS] “These green Jews and green Christians are incorporating the solstice into their current practices.” [Hey, Green Jew, that’s me!–MSS]

Some religious groups point to biblical passages that may have occurred on the summer solstice, including the verse in Joshua 10:12 in which Joshua stops the sun in the sky. (The term solstice is actually from two Latin words meaning “sun stands still.”)

“There is also a legend that Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden on the summer solstice,” said Rabbi Jill Hammer, director and cofounder of Tel Shemesh, a Jewish organization focused on the celebration of nature. “In the Jewish tradition, the summer is always about this trade-off: abundance but also danger. The summer is about exile and sorrow and loss.”

Tel Shemesh offers a description of its summer-solstice ritual. As for the Joshua 10 reference above, it refers to the narrative of the battles for the conquest of Canaan (as re-told well after the events). Often ancient battles stopped at nightfall (night-vision technology being rather primitive back then); might the battle have taken place at the summer solstice?

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“Joshua Commanding the Sun to Stand Still” by Gustave Dore, (d. 1883) (courtesy Wikipedia.)

Some tradition says the battle was on 3 Tammuz. While we can’t possibly know–and the historicity of the events described in Joshua is dubious in any event–if there was an ancient battle on 3 Tammuz, the impending night after the standing still of the sun indeed would have been very dark (being just days past the new moon).

Of course, as the orchard photo above and its counterparts at the two earlier linked plantings show, each of these solar seasonal transitions (equinoxes and solstices) marks an important transitional point for the grower of deciduous fruit trees in a Mediterranean climate (such as the Land of Israel or southern California). At the winter solstice, the trees are in their deepest dormancy, while at the vernal equinox most of them are blooming or have just set their fruit. Now, at the summer solstice, we are approaching peak season for the fruit of the deciduous trees.

As the photo above shows, the ‘Geo Pride’ pluot has much fruit that is nearly full size, although not yet turning color and ripening (though it will do so very soon!). In the vernal-equinox photo, this tree was days past its peak bloom. As if on queue, the ‘Newcastle’ apricot, which is immediately to my back as I take these photos, dropped its first ripe fruit today!

The “production cycle” for the deciduous fruits and other crops may have much to do with why there is no Jewish holiday tradition at this time of year. Unlike in the winter and spring, there are few natural forces that seem to contend with one another in “battles” the outcome of which will determine the farmer’s bounty for the coming harvest (completed shortly after the autumnal equinox, and celebrated one full moon cycle after that equinox with Sukkot!). In the winter, we worry about warm days preventing good flower-bud set and about not having enough rain. In spring we worry about too much rain, or early heat and drying winds. For an ancient people being slowly weaned off polythesim, each of these battles was a temptation to stray and “bow before other gods” (paying homage to the god of rain or the god of sun, or whoever.)

Here at the summer solstice–the tension between “abundance but also danger” notwithstanding–we have the bounty of sunlight, the warm days and calm nights, almost no threat of major storms (in Mediterranean climates), and thus little to threaten the fruit.

Summer thus offers few temptations by those other gods, but plenty for which to give thanks to the One.

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* Unless, you are way down south, of course, in which case it’s the winter solstice.

** Well, other then the squirrels and birds that the Ladera Frutal Dept. of Fruitland Security is always looking for new ways to keep at bay.

Source notes:

Moon and sun data from timeanddate.com.

The connection between agriculture, mono- vs. poly-theism, and the Jewish festivals is developed in a terrific book by Nogah Hareuveni, Nature in our Biblical Heritage (Kiryat Ono, Israel: Neot Kedumim, 1980). There is nothing in that book about the summer solstice, however, because of there being no significant Jewish tradition about this solar event. There is an interesting discussion about Tu B’Av, however, but one thing at at time! That’s not till next month.

Aprium season is here

The Aprium tree has a really heavy crop this year. The fruits are fantastically rich in flavor, better than any orange-fleshed apricot (other than perhaps Moorpark).

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An Aprium is a complex hybrid of plum and apricot that leans genetically in the latter direction. They are thus cousins of pluots, which are likewise complex hybrids but are much closer to plums. This variety–and so far the only available variety, as far as I know–is ‘Flavor Delight.’ It may not be a very inspiring name, but it most certainly is accurate.

In the first photo, the companion tree at the right is a ‘Katy’ apricot, which had a very light crop this year, but much tastier than usual. Normally I am less than impressed with Katy, which is too sub-acid for my taste. In front, with the reddish leaves, is the re-growth of the ‘Citation’ semi-dwarf rootsock on a tree that originally had both ‘Royal Rosa’ and ‘Tomcot’ on it, both of which died. I recently replaced the Royal Rosa, which had its first crop this year. It is the best early apricot I know of (although Flavor Delight, for all practical purposes an apricot, is also quite early). I hope soon to secure some scion wood of an apricot variety not currently in the collection and graft on to the rootstock sprout.

Don’t tread on my cherry tree!

Our Department of Fruitland Security has tried many things–with mixed success–to keep squirrels and other rodents, as well as birds, from getting the fruit before the humans can harvest and enjoy it. But a snake in the tree could be the most effective yet.

The problem with the snake-in-the-tree solution is, of course, that the snake doesn’t like to hang around in one spot. This one did, however–literally. It got itself caught in the bird netting draped over the cherry tree. To say the least, it was quite a shock for your orchardist as he went to harvest the cherries and was just about to sit down on the ground underneath the tree to untie the netting when he noticed the snake! (And I will admit that snakes give me the willies bad. I’ll put the photo on the inside branch in deference to others with the snake-willies. Click “more” at own risk!) Continue reading

Late bloomers

With the first deciduous tree fruits of the season (the ‘Earlitreat’ peach) already harvested (they were especially good this year!) and most of the other deciduous trees fully leafed out and developing their fruit for the coming season, there are a few stragglers down in the corralito. Here we are in the middle of May, and one peach tree is still in bloom.

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This is the “mystery flat peach” that I have written about before (note the developing fruit along with the blooms). Its late blooming only adds to the mystery.

Some of the apples, such as this one, espaliered in the corner, also are only beginning to leaf out.

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Having any deciduous fruits still not well on their spring growth patterns this late is unusual–especially this year. A deciduous tree blooming and leafing out late often is a sign of inadequate chill. The trees depicted here (and some others) are always late, but this is ridiculous. And there is no way that chilling was inadequate this past winter!

Cherry blossoms

There’s nothing like getting 650-700 hours of chill!

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All four varieties of mature cherry tree are in bloom this spring. From right to left:

    Royal Rainier (low chill, fruited deliciously two years ago; blooms but no fruit in the wet spring of 2006)

    Stella (low chill, has fruited more than once, even in its former home at Carlsbad by the Sea; heavy bloom this year)

    Craig’s Crimson (by reputation, one of the best cherries; bloomed last year for first time, but no fruit)

    Bing (yes, the famous Bing, listed at 700-800 hours and showing a few blooms for the first time now; is fruit possible?)

A fifth variety, much younger and not shown, is White Gold. It has Stella in its parentage, and like all our varieties other than Bing, is self-fruitful (a feature that is claimed by some growers to favor low-chill fruit set). It is starting to wake up only in the last few days and it’s too early to know if it will bloom, too.

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Update: On 15 April, three flower buds on ‘White Gold’ opened!

Buds and birds

With all the cold weather, this should be a great year for cherries and apricots. However, the buds can’t flower and fruit if they’ve been eaten. Birds, apparently lacking for food in the dry winter, have stripped more than two thirds of the buds off the ‘Moorpark’ apricot and attacked several other trees as well.

To help protect the remaining buds, I added some flash tape to the corralito.

Normally I put this up only as the fruit ripens. The look of the bare trees and the flash tape is sort of surreal.

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Low noon

A foray into the intersections of agronomy, astronomy, and spirituality…

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Today is the first day of winter (for those of us in the northern hemisphere), and thus the day of shortest daylight. The winter solstice–as a turning point from darkness to renewed light–has long been imbued with spiritual significance. Chanukah is timed to it (on which more below), and clearly many of the Euro-American Christmas traditions stem from the pagan Yule festivals of the pre-Christian era. The setting of Christmas itself to December (in the fourth century) must have been tied to the Roman Saturnalia holiday at this time of year. Both Saturnalia and Yule were apparently marked by the festive use of evergreens to symbolize renewal (sound familiar?). The burning of Yule logs gave light and (along with the mead!) warmth.1

At 11:47 this morning was solar noon on the first day of winter. Thus even at the point of the day’s maximum sun, the higher-chill deciduous fruit trees in the southern hedgerow of the corralito, shown in the above photo, are mostly in the shade of the tall grapefruit trees (a few branches of which are just barely visible at the left). This dense planting of deciduous trees in winter shade is a “trick” to maximize the chill that they receive.

The new moon was yesterday, meaning last night marked the point of maximum darkness. Last night was the sixth night of Chanukah, the eight-night festival of lights that straddles the new moon closest to the winter solstice–one would not want the festival commemorating rededication, using lights at the darkest time of year (and thus ending one of the darkest times in Jewish history up to that point), to occur at the full moon, after all. A year in which the new moon and the winter solstice come so close to one another is thus a special time. The new moon appears to have last fallen on the same night as the solstice in 1995 and to have last fallen on the night before, as it did this year,2 in 1987. The next time that the new moon will occur on the longest night is 2014 (in other words, it’s a 19-year cycle3), and the next time it will come on the night before is 2025 .

And, while we are on the themes of the corralito and Chanukah, doesn’t the espaliered ‘Freyburg’ apple bear just a little bit of resemblance to a menorah?

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1. The Weather Notebook, School of the Seasons, and Shambala are among various useful on-line overviews. A large bonfire as the shortest days come is also key to the ancient Zoroastrian festival of Sadeh.

2. Barely, as the solstice comes at 1622 here in the San Diego area, or about twenty minutes before sundown on 30 Kislev/21 December, while the new moon was at 0601 on 29 Kislev/20 December. I calculated this from the US Naval Observatory Phases of the Moon and Earth Seasons pages. The Earth Seasons page covers only 1992-2020, while the Phases of the Moon pages go from 1980 to 2035.

3. Why nineteen? Presumably because the leap month (Adar II) must be included seven times in nineteen years in order to keep the (lunar) months consistent with the (solar) seasons.

Fall color

One of the great signs of fall in these parts is the the persimmon trees. Just as their leaves begin to drop, the fruit reaches its peak color as it nears maturity.

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Pictured just before sunset on a recent day, this is a row of five different Asian varieties, all with fruit. The one on the left is ‘Maru,’ then ‘Chocolate’ (only one fruit, not visible in the photo), ‘Tamopan,’ and then the two with really heavy crops this year (barely distinguishable in the most distant part of the photo: ‘Matsumoto Wase’ and ‘Coffecake’ (‘Nishimura Wase’). The latter was previously pictured here just over a year ago–actually, in late August: Like almost all of our fruits, the ‘Coffeecake’ is much later this year than usual.

North San Diego County is a major producer of persimmons, and entire groves can be seen with these reddish orange orbs this time of year. Almost all the commercial production is of ‘Jiro’–like ‘Matsumoto Wase,’ a Fuyu type. I find ‘Jiro’ and its close cousin, ‘Imoto,’ rather bland. ‘Matsumoto Wase’ is, in my opinion a superior non-astringent persimmon. The other varieties mentioned above are all astringent,* meaning they need to be rather soft and fully ripe before they are edible, whereas the non-astringent types are best when they are still a bit firm and even crunchy.

The most famous astringent Asian persimmon is the ‘Hachiya,’ which has to be almost slimy-soft before it can be eaten. They are very much an acquired tast–or, rather, an acquired texture. I like them, and we have one of these trees, too. Many people, however, think they do not like persimmons because all they know is ‘Hachiya.’ (Frankly, I will take a ‘Hachiya’ or another astringent variety, if fully ripe, over a Fuyu type any day, if I had to choose. Fortunately, I don’t have to choose.)

There are also American persimmons, native to eastern North America. I am not aware of these being grown here, and I have never tried one.


* I was just looking back at the catalogue descriptions (which are interesting for their own sake) that are quoted in my previous planting, linked above. The ‘Coffeecake’ is supposedly non-astringent. Not in my experience!!

Three peaches and a peach-plum on a plate!




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Originally uploaded by
laderafrutal.

Back left is ‘Red Baron’; back right is ‘Tri-Lite’ peach-plum hybrid; front left is ‘Arctic Supreme’; front right is ‘Double Jewel’.

All of these have been harvested in the last several days. The ‘Tri-Lite’ is certainly the most unusual. It looks like a peach–though the dappling would be somewhat more typical of a plum (or the ‘Dapple Dandy’ pluot)–and it has fuzzy skin. Its texture is more like that of a plum. The flesh is almost pure white, and its flavor is clearly a mix of the parents albeit leaning somewhat in the peach direction. Nonetheless, the finish is unmistakably plumlike. It is also a clingstone, like plums and unlike any peaches/nectarines I have ever grown. (There are, of course, clingstone peaches and nectarines, but I assume they are all high in chilling requirement, or otherwise unsuited to this climate.)

‘Red Baron’ is a very mild flavored and juicy yellow-fleshed peach. Its name comes from its spectacular spring display of double red blossoms–the only peach I know of with such vivid red blooms.

The ‘Double Jewel’ is also a flowering-fruiting peach, in this case with pink flowers. It is a very richly flavored peach, with an orange-yellow colored flesh. It is one of the best peaches you could ever eat!

I have not yet had a fully ripe ‘Arctic Supreme.’ All of last year’s crop was chomped prematurely by squirrels. The fruit depicted here dropped early and may not ripen properly (just as all fruit that is picked too early–such as the grocery-store imitations–do not ripen properly). There are many others on the tree. With luck I will get to taste at least some of them fully ripe!

As for chilling requirements, the two double-flowering varieties should be quite low. We have them planted up in one of the lower-chill portions of the finca and they bloom well every year. The other two are planted down in the corralito, where chilling would typically be 500-600 hours. The peach-plum is moderate chill (and so far, a shy bearer); the ‘Arctic Supreme’ was listed as needing 800 hours, but clearly does not need that much.

‘Earli Autumn’ apricot




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Originally uploaded by
laderafrutal.

The ‘Earli Autumn’ apricots are just starting to ripen. They are pictured here moments before I transferred the bird netting from the ‘Moorpark,’ which is the next tree in the row. (If you think it is accidental that successively ripening varieties are planted right next to one another, you clearly have not read my “scientific farming” section of the Mission statement! It is a whole lot easier to move netting between two trees when they are within just a couple of feet of one another.).

‘Earli Autumn’ is obviously a slight misnomer (unless “earli” means “not yet”). And it is far from the best apricot (that would be the ‘Moorpark,’ as I frequently say, or the ‘Newcastle’). But who can complain about having tree-ripened apricots in the autumn–or even at the peak of summer? Up next (and, of course, also next in the row) is the ‘Autumn Glo,’ though its crop is far lighter than the ‘Earli Autumn.’

(This morning I managed while harvesting to embed something from the mulch in one of my fingers. Painful and hard to type!)

The donut and the donut hole

This is an example of the previously referenced ‘Donut’ peach, both before and after surgery. (Pardon the less than totally clear photos.)

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A legend–and I can’t provide a source or any claim that it is true–is that these pintau peaches (i.e. flat peaches) were favored by a Chinese emperor because he could eat the whole thing without ever getting his fingers sticky. (It is sort of possible; I tried it once, for the historical significance of it all.)

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And then you can look through it.

Fun with fruit!

The best part, of course, is the eating. These are great peaches.

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Finally, a nomenclature note: These peaches are sometimes called ‘saturn’ peaches, but appropriate though that name may be, there is also a patented ‘Saturn’ variety that is not a flat (donut-type) peach, but rather a double-flowered tree with ‘ordinary’ fruit. I have seen them confused in some catalogs and other sources. As far as I know, there is no flat peach on the market that also has double flowers, so if you see such a variety advertised, ask some probing questions.