Not fool’s gold, but White Gold

I think this is the first bloom ever on the White Gold cherry.

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This is a variety I planted as an experiment a few years ago, because it is a lesser known variety that is supposed to be self-fruitful,* and has some ‘Stella’ parentage. Stella always blooms well here (though fruit is another matter–our damp and gloomy late spring season is not cherry-friendly).

The tree looks like it may have more blooms yet to come. Meanwhile, the Stella and Royal Rainier (another somewhat reliable bloomer) are both near their peak blooms. There is also one bloom each on Bing and Craig’s Crimson, but these (not self-fruiful) varieties have fooled me before with their few flowers.

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* For some reason some self-fruitful cherries seem to be able to set fruit in mild climates like ours, whereas those that need cross-pollination seem to need more chill as well.

Rare apricot watch

This is a pleasant surprise.

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After a winter with on-and-off again chill (two pretty good cold periods of about two weeks each sandwiching an exceptionally hot January). the Hunza apricot is in full bloom. When I planted this tree three years ago, I didn’t necessarily count on getting fruit. It was very much an experiment. The tree had a few blooms a year after planting, but no fruit. Last year it had a sporadic bloom, and actual fruit (and tasty kernels, albeit without the amaretto complexity, to enjoy later). Having our own Hunzas is probably the most exciting and rewarding fruit-growing experience I have had. This year the bloom is amazing. This does not guarantee a good crop, of course, but it certainly is promising. The catalog said the Hunza’s chill factor was unknown but “probably high.” But don’t believe everything you read in catalogs!

One of my other favorite stone fruits, the Shaa Kar Pareh, has bloomed quite well this spring. The bloom period is about over now, and there is some fruit set. (This variety is generally understood to be relatively “low chill.”)

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The Canadian White Blenheim had its first ever crop (just a few fruits) last summer. Spring, 2008, was also the first in which it had a ‘normal‘ bloom, by which I mean flowers appearing ahead of the leaves, as is typical of stone fruits. In the two or three previous years following planting, this variety had a habit I had never seen in an apricot before: being fairly well leafed out and then starting to bloom. And no fruit those years.

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This year it has done a little of both. It had very few blooms appear before any leaves, and then burst out into a pretty good bloom after most of the leaves had appeared. It will be interesting to see if any fruit sets, and if so, if it is only on the buds that opened the early flowers.

Meanwhile, the Moorpark (my favorite of the ‘apricot’ apricots–the others mentioned so far being more or less ‘white‘) looks very bad. It has the classic symptoms of inadequate chill: delayed foliation and minimal bloom (just one so far, in fact). (No photo: it’s not a pretty sight!)

Of course, as usual, the Newcastle bloomed early and well, and has fruit set. The regular Blenheim went ‘crazy’ and already has needed some fruitlet-thinning. The two newer fall ripeners (Earli Autumn and Autumn Glo) have had minimal blooms (nothing unusual there, in my experience), while the old favorite variety, Autumn Royal, which is in its second year at the finca, has set some fruit. The Royal Rosa and Flavor Delight (the latter an aprium) set well, as usual.

It will be some months till stone-fruit season arrives (the end of the first week of July, if last season is a guide), and a spring set is no guarantee of anything. But my mouth already waters at the sight of these blooms and baby fruits–especially that Hunza!

Enough chill after all?

On this Tu Bi-Shvat, there is much to celebrate as the fruit trees begin a new year. With the very hot January (or perhaps I should say most of Tevet and of Shvat’s first half) I had feared we would be too far behind in chilling accumulation for many of the deciduous fruit trees to bloom adequately.

It is still early spring (and today it feels rather wintry), but the signs are already very encouraging. The Mesch Mesch Amrah plumcot, which is always one of the harbingers of the bloom season, is now covered in blooms. A few blooms are now open on the Flavor Delight Aprium and Minnie Royal cheery. These all have quite low chilling requirements (300 or less?), especially the Minnie Royal, so their blooms are perhaps not especially indicative of significant chilling having been received. However, several moderate-chill (over 400 hours?) varieties are also showing bud swell, including the Autumn Royal apricot (usually a later bloomer), and the Moorpark apricot. Others that have chilling requirements most likely in the 300-400 range are also showing significant bud swell, including Newcastle, Katy, Royal Blenheim, Royal Rosa, and Shaa Kar Pareh (!) apricots and the Flavor King, Flavorosa, and Dapple Dandy pluots, as well as the Flavorella plumcot.

That concentrated chill in the second half of December/Kislev may have produced more chilling hours than I had dared to believe.

All in all, a good way for the trees (and their keeper) to start the new year!

As for Tu Bi-Shvat, with rain having washed out the trail, our shul’s annual ‘walking seder’ for the day was canceled, but the rabbi suggested we all hug a tree and eat dried fruits and nuts for the occasion. And my thought was, for that we need an occasion? Baruch ata Adonai, bo-rei p’ri ha-eitz! Now pardon me while I complete the blessing by enjoying some dried Royal Rosa or Shaa Kar Pareh from last season…

Peak apricot season!

Peak apricot season has arrived within the past week. And that’s always one of the best seasons of the year!

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The ‘Newcastle’ reached its peak this year a little later than usual–first week of July rather than end of June. A very heavy crop again, as usual. And always one of the best tasting–at least of the apricot apricots (that is, those with “apricot”-color flesh).

This year, we also have several varieties of “white” apricot.

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We had a few fruits on this ‘Shaa Kar Pareh’ apricot last year, but this year the crop is quite heavy. This is an amazing fruit, and they are not even fully ripe yet. So sweet, they are edible even while still a little on the firm side. Incredibly juicy and with a tang that might lead you to think it was a plumcot, rather than an apricot.

We also have fruit on the ‘Canadian White Blenheim.’ This is actually not as white as the Shaa Kar Pareh’ but it certainly is paler in color than any “ordinary” apricot, and also distinctive in flavor. It has never set before for us, even though it has bloomed in some of its five previous springs since planting. What a treat!

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Exciting as all the above is here at Ladera Frutal, nothing in Ladera Frutal history quite beats the thrill of harvesting one’s own Hunzas!

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It had only three fruits, but this tree has earned its keep on just those three precious apricots. I have previously had ‘Hunza’ apricots only dried, imported from Pakistan, where they are a staple of the diet in some of the valleys of their origin. The dried fruit has a sugary intensity unlike any other dried apricot, and the fresh ripe fruit is just intense! It is amazingly sweet, very juicy and just packed full of flavor unlike any stone fruit I have ever eaten before. It also is one of the largest apricots you will ever see. To top it all off, the kernels are edible, too. (I have not yet cracked open the pits, but that’s on the to-do list.)

Here are a cut Shaa Kar Pareh (left) and a Hunza alongside the pit of another Hunza. There should be a tasty little kernel inside that pit!

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(We did not yet have any ripe White Blenheims at the time I took that photo.)

I am not sure if the ‘Hunza’ really qualifies as a white apricot, but I think I have seen it so-classified. It certainly is paler than your typical apricot. Let’s just call it an unbelievably delicious apricot and leave it at that!

Yes, this has been a good year for apricots! And here I have not even gotten into the ‘Flavor Delight’ aprium and ‘Royal Rosa’ apricots earlier in the season, or the ‘Autumn Glo’ and ‘Earli Autumn’ yet to come. Nor did I even mention ‘Royal’ (small crop this year, just about done now, but not to be forgotten).

Apricot season is underway!

The Royal Rosa, the first of our ten or so apricot varieties to ripen, is now at its peak. It probably ranks near the bottom of our varieties in flavor, which is only to say that while the others range from outstanding to truly phenomenal, the Royal Rosa is merely excellent. ((Katy is the only one I have that I would consider getting rid of; if you like subacid apricots, you might like Katy. Ours did not set fruit this spring–no loss, but surprising given the high chill of the past winer and the heavy set on almost all of our other stone fruits.)) Of course, any minor deficiencies the variety has in flavor it at least compensates for by being so far out front of the top varieties in its harvest season.

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The crop this year is exceptionally heavy. In the background, you can see the Mesch Mesch Amrah “black apricot” which is really a natural plumcot (Prunus x dasycarpa). We just harvested the first of this tree’s typically light crop in recent days. Another plumcot (not pictured), the Flavorella, also is now ripening–and also has its typically light crop, but by far its best in five years since planting. ((There has been some talk, including here at F&V, that maybe this variety needs an apricot such as Goldkist–a variety I do not have here–for cross-pollination. Maybe so, but it did set just under a dozen fruit this year. (It is always a heavy bloomer.) That’s not many fruits, but we’ll gladly take them! As for Goldkist, it never fruited for me well in Carlsbad by the Sea, despite its being claimed as one of the lowest-chill varieties that is alleged to be best for the coast. I always had better crops there on Newcastle and often on Royal/Blenheim. Goldkist is a good tasting variety, though I would not put it in my top 7.))

Just as the Royal Rosa is reaching its peak (it was much heavier than this a few days ago), we have begun receiving the first fruits of the Flavor Delight aprium. ((Also a plum-apricot cross, but like a pluot, one that does not occur naturally. Unlike a pluot, it leans more in flavor and appearance towards its apricot lineage. And for anyone who may be wondering, it is not GMO; I would have none of that in my organic orchard or, knowingly, in my food supply! It is human-assisted hybridization, but done by Zaiger Gentics the (relatively) old fashioned way: controlled transfer of pollen from one variety to another–in this case, multiple varieties over several generations (thus known as a complex hybrid). The Flavorella is also hybridized under controlled conditions, rather than naturally occurring like the Mesch Mesch Amrah.)) The aprium tastes a lot like a really richly flavored apricot, and looks like a really large one. Its crop is heavy, and typically so. It is one of the most reliable apricot-family varieties we have, right up there with Newcastle, which will begin ripening about the time the apriums are done.

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Summer is here, in fruiting terms.
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Heavy Kuban


(Yes, contrary to blog appearances, I am still here.)

The Kuban Burgundy plum, growing just outside the corralito, seems rather happy with the amount of chill we had this year. I think there are about 15-18 fruits on this one (weighted-down) branch. ((Actually, 33. So much for my estimation skills.))

Of course, that chill is a distant memory now. It was 99 yesterday, and today marked the third straight day, and the fifth this month (April!), over 90. ((And then on 30 April it would almost feel like winter again.))
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Spring?

The ‘Tropic Snow’ is always one of the first deciduous fruit trees to bloom here, and within the last week, its buds have sprung, right on schedule. ((A half moon cycle since Tu Bishvat and still no almond blooms!))

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Much more surprising is the ‘Arctic Jay’ nectarine. The catalog from the grower indicates it requires 800 chill hours. Well, it is has been a pretty chilly winter, but by the time this started to bloom early last week, we might have reached 400.

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Obviously, this tree has yet to be pruned. Speaking of needing to prune:

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This is one of the late-ripening apricots, and this twisted branch shows how much trees in a hedgerow have to compete for sunlight. Competition is one of the benefits of hedgerow planting: Competition in fruit-growing, much as in party politics, makes the end-product better. Before spring gets too far along, these trees need to be thinned and cut down to size a bit: More fruit, less branching!

Rats! Tonight is the new moon that marks the Chinese New Year. Back at the pre-finca we had a traditional harbinger of spring, an ume apricot (sometimes referred to as an ume plum). It surely would be in full bloom about now. In China itself, of course, signs of spring would be most welcome about now.

And of course, be happy!, as tonight’s new moon also means it is Rosh Chodesh Adar I.