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.

European Parliament votes to review Daylight Savings Time

As an ardent foe of the so-called Daylight Savings Time, already practically dreading that in less than a month, suddenly the sunrise will again be almost as late as 7:30 a.m., my day was brightened by some news.

The European Parliament voted 384-153 “to review whether Daylight Saving Time is actually worth it.” Some excerpts:

The claim that setting clocks an hour ahead in spring doesn’t save energy or make societies safer is often used by Daylight Saving opponents. In the past, when lighting a home was the primary driver of electricity consumption, adjusting clocks to take advantage of late-evening sunlight might have made a dent in that consumption. But in today’s world, air conditioning and electronics are also significant portions of electricity demand, and optimizing business hours to coincide with daylight hours doesn’t significantly impact that draw of electricity.

In fact, the US added three more weeks to Daylight Saving Time in 2005, in part in the hopes of capitalizing on potential energy savings. But by 2007 that dream hadn’t panned out: people just consumed more electricity in the dark morning hours instead of in the dark evening hours.

The vote is small and preliminary step, and even the finding of “not worth it” would not directly help me in California, but it’s a start.

Daylight Savings–an idea way past its time.

Yes, all is well

It has been a long time since a post, so I thought I should confirm that I am indeed still here. And all is well.

I blame the inactivity on the fact that APSA is coming up. Plus a trip to see the total eclipse!

Regarding the eclipse, I don’t have photos of the totality itself–that really takes skills I don’t have–but I may post some of the period just before and after, which is itself interesting. The whole experience was amazing in one of those “no words” kind of ways. We were able to view the total eclipse from Prineville, Oregon. And we also were able to avoid crowds! (Some heavy traffic on the way back, but not too bad, and none getting into the area.)

I hope to be back with things to say in September. In the meantime, enjoy the rest of August!

If there’s anything current going on in the Fruits & Votes field, feel free to use this as an open thread.

The longest night

Today is solstice day–the winter solstice for us northerners.

It is not just any old winter solstice, but supposedly the longest night in world history. Or at least since 1912 (the story I am referencing has revised its claims).

Tonight, we will need that increasing light of the sixth candle all the more. It will be an unusually long night, and tomorrow is Rosh Chodesh (the new moon), meaning tonight will be especially dark as well as long.

Chanukah always straddles the new moon that occurs near the winter solstice, but the addition of light each night is extra-special when that new moon and the solstice coincide or nearly do. And extra-extra-special when we it’s “the longest night in the history of the earth” (or even since 1912)!

The beginning of the months

This month shall be for you the beginning of the months, it shall be for you the first of the months of the year.


It’s the first day of spring* and Nowruz, the Persian new year. Tomorrow, the 25th of Adar, is Shabbat ha-Chodesh on the Hebrew calendar, the Shabbat preceding the first of Nisan, when we remember the blooming of liberation. The 25 of Adar also just happens to be the anniversary of the day when your orchardist and his beloved were under the chupah.

So what better time to celebrate amidst the blooms?




* If you are north of the equator, of course.

Crescent over LF HQ as spring comes early


(moon and planet; photo taken just after sundown on 29 January 2009/ 5 Shvat 5769)

We may be only a days past the second new moon following the winter solstice, but I think we can say that spring is here at Ladera Frutal. The days have been clear, dry, and very warm since the second day of 2009. It is still chilly at night, thanks to all that clear and dry air. But signs of early spring are all around.

For example, the ‘Tropic Snow’ peach.


(photo taken on 31 January 2009)

This variety has a very low chilling requirement, and while it has begun blooming in late January many times before, I have never before seen it at nearly full bloom before the month of January was out!

Even the little ‘Garden Prince’ almond is starting to get into the act.


(photo taken on 29 January 2009 / 4 Shvat 5769)

Maybe this year it will be in full bloom by Tu Bi-Shvat! That’s now a less than a week away, but it just might make it.

The two trees pictured above are just a little way down the slope from Ladera Frutal HQ, where chill does not stick around in weather like this. Down in the corralito, on the other hand, it is still getting cold enough each night for continued daily chilling accumulation–barely. (As I type these words about an hour and a half past sundown, there is a 7-degree difference between the two locations.)

Even in the corralito, several trees will have many blooms in the coming days.


The ‘Mesch Mesch Amrah’ plumcot–always one of our favorite fruits–is about to burst with new leaves and a few blooms. This last picture was taken on 29 January. In the meantime, I have seen two or three flowers open. But it probably had only marginally sufficient chill this winter and it looks like it is leafing out without much of a bloom. Other trees nearby with at least a few flower buds swelling include the ‘Newcastle’ and ‘Katy’ and ‘Royal Rosa’ apricots and the ‘Flavor Delight’ aprium. All of these tend to be early, and have had the stray late-January bloom before, and all are pretty low chill. Even so, spring does seem to be just a bit early this year.

As for all those trees down in the corralito with higher chilling requirements, I am hoping they can hang on to their dormancy just a little longer. A blast of chill may come later this week, but it probably will not stick around long enough to reach the 500 chill hours that I normally could count on in this coldest part of Ladera Frutal. It could be a somewhat lean year for many of our deciduous fruit varieties.

Happy new year!

Somehow I forgot to note that last night was the second new moon following the winter solstice.

That makes this the Chinese New Year!

So, happy new year, wherever you may be celebrating. Of course, if you are doing so in China, you are not reading this. F&V is far too subversive to be read in the PRC. Must be all that pornography about luscious apricots!

Also, the second new moon following the winter solstice is Rosh Chodesh Sh’vat, meaning the new year for trees is two weeks from today.

Rejoice, as spring is coming!

The first full moon following the winter solstice


Visible here last night above the blueberries that are potted beneath the eaves of LF HQ, the first full moon following the winter solstice tells us two important things:

1. The Chinese New Year (4706, Ji Chou, a.k.a. the Year of the Ox) is fifteen nights away! Are the umes ready to bloom? (I had a beautiful pink one in our former place in Carlsbad that would probably be in bloom any day now–had the new heathen owners not cut it down.)

2. The New Year for Trees, Tu BiShvat 5769, is one month away! Given the cold late December and the warm early January (and with an assist from a leap year), I suspect the almond blooms will come out “on time” this year.

(Lunisolar calendars are the best!)

Increasing light

Early this morning (just after 0400, Ladera Frutal time) was the winter solstice. Tonight’s darkness will be about one second shorter than last night’s, as the days begin to lengthen.1

When the sun sets tonight, it will be the 25th of Kislev, marking the first night of the 8-day festival of lights, Chanukah. The convergence of solar and lunar calendars this year is fortuitous, as we will be adding a candle each night for the week ahead, almost as if we are willing the sun to increase our day length–a little jump-start to what I like to think of as the solar new year.

Given the cycles of a 30-day lunar month2, the 25th of Kislev is, by definition, a week before the new moon. Hence the period straddling the full moon closest to the winter solstice is the darkest time of year, a perfect time for both literally and figuratively bringing new light into the world through the Chanukah celebration. The solstice and new moon will not always coincide this nicely, however.

A CBC item today notes how few people today even give the winter solstice a thought, yet the setting of various culture’s holidays, including Christmas, at this time of year is obviously a means of giving religious meaning to winter’s key solar event. Chanukah, however, clearly has one additional reason for its timing: this is the season of new oil,3 thereby providing a practical connection to the “great miracle” that occasioned the re-dedication of the Temple at the heart of the Chanukah story.

Chanukah and (solar) year’s end: the perfect opportunity to re-dedicate ourselves to increasing the light in one another’s lives. Chag Urim Sameach!

1. I trust that our friends on the other side of the equator will forgive this northern virtual orchard’s hemispherism as I wish them a happy first day of summer!

2. Technically “lunar month” is a redundancy, given that month derives from moon, but the Gregorian months are not tied to moon cycles as are the Jewish ones.

3. In Mediterranean climates such as the land of Israel, or California, olives begin to be harvested in late autumn. So, whereas Sukkot is particularly associated with the grape (and wine!), whose harvest wraps up in late summer, Chanukah is associated with the olive (and its oil). That these two great fruits of Mediterranean agriculture have their 8-day festivals (with Sh’mini Atzeret actually a separate holiday, but immediately following Sukkot) is highly significant historically as well as agriculturally: The original Chanukah was a delayed Sukkot, because the war of religious freedom, led by the Maccabees, had to be won before the Temple could be re-dedicated. The war had prevented Sukkot from being observed that year.

Please see past year’s Chanukah plantings:

Summer sun

Just a little bit ago, at 4:59 p.m. Ladera Frutal Daylight Time (23:59 UTC), was the summer solstice. And it felt like it, too, as minutes before, the temperature peaked at 102. (That’s about 39 for those of you using the more sensible Celsius scale, though, really, “102” just sounds more impressive.)

Yes, summer is here. We are celebrating with the ripening of the first ‘Tropic Snow’ peaches of the season–a rare kind of snow that can stand up to this heat.

Let’s celebrate!

Noted, appropriately enough, in Time:

Ed Reingold and Nachum Dershowitz, co-authors of the books Calendrical Calculations and Calendrical Tabulations, determined how often in the period between 1600 and 2400 [C.E.] Good Friday, Purim, Narouz and the Eid would occur in the same week. The answer is nine times in 800 years. Then they tackled the odds that they would converge on a two-day period. And the total is … only once: tomorrow. And that’s not even counting Magha Puja and Small Holi.

Neat article (dated 19 March, on Pope Gregory’s solar calendar). (Thanks to Jewschool for the tip.)