Thursday, January 05, 2012

The Orchard Report 2012

It's time to prune deciduous trees, so it means it is time for me to write about my trees again. In planning my annual progress report on my deciduous fruit trees, I had fun looking back at what I've written already about them. E and I moved here in the fall of 2008. That winter, I planted a row of bananas and an Owari Satsuma. In the early part of 2009, I planted an Elephant Heart Plum and a Bavay's Green Gage. I dug and dug and dug in 2010. That year, I planted three peaches: Eva's Pride, Mid Pride, and what was supposed to be a white nectarine but turned out to be a peach, White Tiger. I also planted two nectarines, Arctic Star and Desert Delight. Two low-chill cherries, Minnie Royal and Royal Lee, two apricots, Blenheim and Gold Kist, and another plum, Howard Miracle, joined their brethren in the front orchard. In the back, where most of the subtropicals live, I planted a Cara Cara orange, a strawberry guava, a Black Jack fig and a Kadota fig, and a Meiwa kumquat. In 2011, I took it easy: I removed the Bavay's Green Gage and replaced it with a Mariposa plum, added a third apple, a Lady Williams, and in the back, put in a Gold Nugget mandarin and a Nezemetz feijoa. Also, in 2011, I began sheet mulching under the front orchard, a process we continued late in the year. Whew.

So, now we're caught up. That brings us to examine how things are currently growing, and where I'd like to grow from here.

All of the cherries, peaches, nectarines, and apricots were single sticks in 2010. Here they are now.

Minnie Royal (front) and Royal Lee cherries.

Mid Pride (front) and White Tiger peaches.

Desert Delight (front) and Arctic Star nectarines.

Desert Delight is blooming already!

Eva's Pride peach.
Gold Kist (left) and Blenheim apricots.
Of the nine trees above, I received fruit this past year from five of them. The cherries need to cross pollinate, but only Royal Lee bloomed last year, so no cherries. Desert Delight nectarine bloomed beautifully last year, but the frost came and took all its baby fruit away. Gold Kist apricot didn't bloom.

But, I had a few deliciously jammy Blenheim apricots, a few sugary-tutti-fruity Arctic Star nectarines, a handful of juicy but too mild White Tigers, and one mediocre Mid Pride peach. (I'd like to graft varieties that I enjoy more on the White Tiger and the Mid Pride.) The stand-out winner was Eva's Pride, which tastes like what you'd dream a good peach to be: sweet and acidic, juicy, that rich peach funk that doesn't happen in every variety. Yum.

Here is the bed o' plums. They've struggled along in the last few years, and I have yet to receive any fruit from them, but the thick layer of horse manure, cardboard, and mulch, as well as the newly installed drip lines, should strengthen them this year.

Elephant Heart, Mariposa, and Howard Miracle plums.
The two established apples, Wickson and Golden Russet, fruited very well for me in 2011. Wickson ripened in early October, and each little fruit was a flavor bomb of an apple, sweet-sour and snappy. Golden Russet ripened mid-November, and once ripe, the fruit were spicy and dense, a great mix of sweet and mystery. The youngest tree, Lady Williams, went in as a benchgraft last year, so it has a year or two to go before fruiting. Each tree needs its bed enlarged this year, along with another thick layer of mulch.

Golden Russet apple.

Wickson apple.

Lady Williams, with weighted clothespins to direct its young branches.
This summer I made ceramic name tags for every tree variety, every graft I've put on a tree, and each tree's rootstock. I haven't attached them yet, as I'm still deciding the perfect medium by which to do so. It must be sturdy enough for the elements, but not damaging to the bark. Suggestions?


I'll be pruning in the next couple days and getting ready for the local CRFG chapter's scionwood exchange. The best resource I've found in guiding my pruning decisions is R. Sanford Martin's tiny yet extremely helpful book, How to Prune Fruit Trees. Though I am growing a high-density orchard and some of my trees need to be pruned a little differently because of that, this book still gives me so much valuable advice every time I pick it up.

Among the subtropicals in the back, the wind and dry weather have done their worst. The dog hasn't helped much with the smaller trees either; the kumquat has lost a few branches as he's whipped his way through them. The tree most affected by the dry weather right now is my Meyer lemon, a tree I happily inherited when moving into this place. With no rain to wash the buggers off, it has developed a nasty case of citrus scale. I first noticed something wrong when I saw the sooty mold.

Sooty mold on the leaves.
The sooty mold shows up because the "honeydew" the scale releases provides just the right conditions for it to grow. Another clue (though I didn't see any in this case) that a tree is infected with scale is the presence of ants. Just as they do with aphids, ants farm scale in order to consume the honeydew. To combat the scale, which sucks nutrients from the bottom of the leaves, I sprayed the entire tree with Dr. Bronner's Peppermint Soap diluted with water, making sure to completely drench the underside of each leaf. It's a large tree, and it took forever, but the process is worth it. This treatment isn't harmful to bees or other beneficials, yet it melts away the protective wax of the scale, leaving them to dry out or be consumed by predators.

After washing the tree down, I gave it a present, in fact, a whole container of presents. Watch out scale. Here comes your doom.

So, what's next in 2012 with the fruit trees? I have a lot more grafting I want to try on the deciduous trees up front. I need to mulch under the subtropicals in the back. And, I have one more tree to plant, a very special one: a Reed avocado. 2012, you're going to be a very fruitful year.


erik said...

I am curious how many chill hours you get in Altadena? You and I have many of the same fruit tress, mostly for low chill areas, but you also have some higher chill trees like the Wickson plum. I am in Encinitas, so I am lucky to get 200 for the year.

Thanks, and your trees look great.

Christina said...

Hi Erik. Nice to meet you. The Wickson plum typo resulted from me losing my mind; every time I wrote Wickson, I meant Howard Miracle. I'll fix it now. I don't know why I did that, especially since Howard Miracle is my mom's favorite plum, and that's why I planted it! But, we do get more than you--we're closing in on 300 hours so far (calendar for chill hours begins on November 1st). Also, while some of the stone fruit just won't work in warmer climates, experiment with apples, if you haven't already. Many of them are more flexible than we give them credit for. Good luck in your 2012 garden!

Robert Brenchley said...

Where were your fruit varieties bred? If you have a warmer climate, southern European ones might be better. I know varieties from warmer climates don't do well in Britain, and it may be the same in reverse. Are there plums from the south? Alternatively, did you get cold weather at flowering time? It doesn't necessarily take frost to stop fruiting, just weather too cold for pollinators to fly.

Christina said...

Hi Robert! I did a lot of research before planting my trees. All of my plums and most of the rest of my stone fruit were bred in California, many specifically for Southern California, where I live. I have a few exceptions, trees with which I'm experimenting. The frost we had last year was very late and unusual, so that is why my Desert Delight got hit. And the trees that haven't given me fruit yet, they're young! Some trees were planted as recently as last January, so I don't yet expect fruit. I was excited to get the stone fruit I did get, considering how young the trees are. Especially my Eva's Pride. Oh, how I lurve that tree--it thrives in the microclimate of my yard. Thanks for your ideas. Is there a fruit tree that you love for your microclimate?

lisa said...

Hi, just discovered your blog. I also have a lot of trees and live a little east of you, La Habra Hts. I have desert delight nectarine, in bloom right now, eva's pride, in bloom right now and arctic star in bloom right now. I also have a reed avocado. Sounds like you might not have a whole lot of space as a reed is a columnar growing avocado. Fruit does not quite have the oil that fuerte and hass do. My reed is on right now. I also have a mexicola grande avocado which grows more like a bush and hass and fuerte trees, 11 avocado trees to be exact. I am interested in your white tiger. I just ordered one and will plant it next week. I also have your low chill cherry varieties and a pie cherry that has been producing even though my yard face is southwest and I struggle for chill hours of any type. I have 5 varieties of apple: dorsett golden, fuji, spitzenburg, pink lady and gravenstein. All produce but pink lady does the best. On the plum/pluot varieties I have burgundy, beauty, elephant heart, laroda, santa rosa, weeping santa rosa, dapple dandy, flavor king, flavor grenade, flavor finale and peacotum. Apricots are blenheim, autumn something, katy, flavor delight aprium and cotton candy. On the nectarine peach row is desert delight, double delight, mid pride peach, snow queen, fantasia, strawberry free, red baron, heavenly white, eva pride, earlirich, babcock. Cherries are minnie lee and royal lee and surefire (pie). Also have a quince and assorted citrus, lime, orange lemon and tangerine. My tres are mostly dave wilson and since I have clay soil I am picky on the rootstock. So far we have had fabulous results on all fruit varieties, but the cherries do struggle. If you could please give me info on the white tiger would be great. Lisa

Christina said...

Hi Lisa! Nice to meet you! I'm not the best expert on White Tiger. I ordered my tree from Trees of Antiquity, a company I really like and from which I've received great customer service. It produced its first year in the ground with two _peaches_! Not nectarines! I emailed the owner with pictures, and he told me that two things may have happened: one, and seemingly likely, the tree was mislabeled; and two, the nectarine bud may have reverted back to a peach, which apparently can happen. (He sent me another tree to make up for the nectarine-that-wasn't. I asked for a Mariposa plum, which grew well for me last year.) But, the tree that I have is precocious and appears to be a moderate grower. The fruit the first year was great--firm, very sweet, well-balanced for a white peach/nectarine. However, last year's fruit were simply sweet and mild--maybe because of all the rain last year? Sorry I am not more of an expert on the tree.

It sounds like you have quite the orchard! Wow! Which is your favorite of the trees you've listed--is there one you just couldn't live without?

The Reed avocados I've tasted that come from our neighborhood have been delicious. I'm really excited to have a tree of my own, and I'm glad that it has a narrower growth, a good choice for the space available in my yard.

Once again, thank you for coming by my blog, and I look forward to hearing more from you.

lisa said...

The tree I could not live without just for my own favorite is flavor king pluot and strawberry free peach. Santa Rosa is a must as a pollinator, but not my favorite in fruit. Other really good one is that arctic star white nectarine. We made wine out of the desert delight. It produces over a hundred pounds and what do you do with that much fruit that is on for only 20 days?

I also ordered the white tiger from trees of antiquity. The tree I wanted from them was old mixon peach. When I talked to Neil up there he had grafted it on some other trees or misc. rootstock stuff and was waiting for it to bud out and see what will happen with it. Much colder in Paso Robles than we are and things are quite cold there right now. I also ordered a seckel pear just for giggles to see how it will do. With my luck it will be 20 feet tall and 15 feet wide -- yikes. Only need something around 12 feet. Will be getting them next week and get in the ground and see what happens. Old mixon will get next year and see how that does.

Dealing with the no chill stuff has been kind of a challenge. You are colder than me, probably border zone 10/9. I am the other way, 10/11. I went to the ice store and bought about 300 lbs of ice. I iced gravenstein and spitzenburg and the pie cherry every year until 2011. Each got a hundred pounds with a straw bed on top. We get the crazy hot in January just like now and those trees stayed dormant and the ice stayed frozen for about a month. This is a trick I learned from the folks in Northern Nevada who would have trees start to bud out early and they would get a hard freeze come through in April or early May and that would be it for fruit as freeze would kill all the buds. So when that would happen with potentially warm weather, they would get that ice out and ice those trees to keep them dormant. I applied the same concept the other way, rather than keep them dormant, make them dormant. It works by the way, just a lot of work. My special picture is my pie cherry with fruit with the back drop of my big hass avocado in fruit behind it. A subtropic with a high chill fruit tree right next to it. There you go for the folks that say "that won't grow where you live."

Just some ideas for small scale higher chill varieties that you can grow here with a little ingenuity.

All apples if grafted on Mollings 111 rootstock will grow zone 10, but as far as I know the other stuff not so good. Even though mine are all on M-111, I still iced the higher chill ones and had better results than not icing. I just need them to acclimate a little better to our warm winters. Most of my trees were planted in 2007, so I want to give them a chance to see how they will do with no icing. Still have a few fuji apples hanging in the tree and no apples lost their leaves. So far I am in favor of icing and will probably do so next year.

How are your apples doing? Are you dormant or still in leaf?

I saw your pruned tree pics. Hard to tell your spacing. Are you about 8 feet apart or more? You have nice low scaffolds which is good. Lower scaffolds is easier pruning the following years and much, much easier picking.

Your trees look great by the way!!


Christina said...

Hi Lisa.

With some of my trees, I have planted them in the "high density orchard" model that Dave Wilson and other sources suggest as a possibility for backard orchards ( So far, I like how it works. When I have paired trees for high density, I have planted only two/hole. There are 10 feet getween each pair of trees (if paired, not all are) or individuals.

I am so excited to hear that you are happy with Arctic Star. My young tree only gave me a few delicious fruit last year, but it is beginning it's bloom now, and it shows promise for a larger crop. I will have to check out the srawberry free peach. Yum! And nectarine wine? That sounds amazing.

What a good idea about the ice and straw! I am a little late on trying at this year, but I can imagine doing it next year. My apples are all dormant--they gave up a little before Christmas and finally went to sleep. Each apple is on M111, like yours. I am really happy with that rootstock so far.

Avocado with a cherry in front--awesome!

Once again, your orchard sounds amazing. If you are ever in the mood to swap scion wood, let me know.