Helpful Fruit Orchard Series & Tour

041514_FrontyardHi everyone. For those of you who are blessed to have yummy fruit trees growing in your home back yard (or front yard!), I hope you’re getting through your orchard to-do list without issue or stress.

For those of you only growing veggies, flowers, or nothing at all… start planning now! I challenge you to plant at least one fruit tree. Whether it’s planted in the ground or in a large container on a patio, there’s a fruit tree out there that will meet your needs. So I hope to hear the words, “Challenge… accepted!” You’ll be so glad you did.

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Re: photos above.  You may notice quite a difference between my front and back orchards (i.e., lush vs. sparse).  If you’re thinking the wood chip mulch made the difference, that assumption would be false (at least in this case).  Though our back orchard is lovin’ the wood chips, which will ultimately benefit the trees and soil enormously, we just recently put the mulch down.  Also note, that both orchards were planted at the same time with the same amendments and soil.  Both orchards are healthy and producing wonderfully delicious fruit.

I believe part of the difference is the type of fruit we’re growing.  With the exception of our pomegranates and citrus, the fruit trees in the back are all stone fruit.  The fruit trees in the front are small seeded fruit such as apples, fig, and asian pears. Though the fig is a fast growing tree, the apples seem to take a little longer to fill out this time of year.  Plus the Pink Lady Apples and the Hosui and Chojuro Asian Pear trees have a tendency to grow straight up to the sun giving them a very linear appearance.  We’ll be amping up our efforts in the next few weeks with the limb spreaders on these guys :)

And the little scrawny tree you see in the front orchard is an almond that failed to take off.  We’ll be replacing this tree next year and will plant it in a new location.  This is the third almond tree we’ve planted in this spot and all have failed :(  Time to do something different.

Just wanted to mention that small bit of info in case you were curious.

 

Helpful Planning Tools

A while back I started a “how-to series” on starting a home fruit orchard. Here’s what I’ve posted so far…

Step 1: Plan

Step 2: Design

Step 3: Purchase

FYI… Each post has a link at the bottom of the page that will take you directly to the next post in the series. How convenient is that!?!

My illness stopped me in my tracks while writing this series, but now that I’m recovering and feeling better, I am going to finish the series this year. So keep a look out for more informational posts. I’ll also plan to revisit my original posts to see if any updates are needed. If I do make an update, I’ll be sure to let you know.

Come, Take A Stroll With Me In My Orchard

This morning, as I was walking through my orchard, I stopped at every tree and took photos of all the wonderful fruit developing and thought you might like see how everything is progressing.  I snapped the photos as I strolled by, so you will get to experience them as I did.  So without further adieu, I present… the fruit of 2014 (sounds so formal :P).

041514_Apple1 In the front orchard, our first stop is my Golden Dorsett Apple.  I’m really anxious to see how the apples turn out this year.  See, last year, we lost most of our crop to what we think was a calcium deficiency.  We’ve done things a little differently this year and hope to keep every last piece of fruit on this tree. So far, the fruit looks fine.

041514_PinkLadyAs we continue strolling to our right, with the morning sun now behind us, we come up to our two Pink Lady Apples.  Out of all our fruit trees, these two trees, and our pomegranates, are still blooming and continue to be a source of pollen and nectar for our honey bees. This is a late season apple, that will be harvested in the fall, and is the last tree in our orchard to drop its leaves each year.  In fact, they hang onto most of their leaves well into January.

In addition to installing limb spreaders this weekend, I’ll be thinning the fruit to one apple per cluster. Then, in a week or so, I’ll be protecting the little fruitlets from sunburn either with kaolin clay or little booties that I used successfully last year.

With a sharp right towards the house, we’re greeted by my Chojuro Asian Pear…

041514_Chojuroand Hosui Asian Pear.

041514_HosuiBoth trees are loaded with fruit.  I just finished thinning all the fruit in the back orchard and will be thinning the front orchard this coming weekend.  Like the Pink Lady Apples, I plan to thin the Asian pears to one fruit per cluster.

Last but not least, my Black Mission Fig.

041514_FigAround these parts, our fig tree is VERY popular with the local mockingbirds and desert squirrels.  The tree has lots of fruit and I plan on keeping a close eye on them every day until “I” harvest them.  Last year I was only able to harvest a small handful of fruit from this first crop of the year (also known as the berba crop).  The rest of the fruit was either pecked to the point of obliteration or chewed off and carted off, in a hurry I’m sure, by the ground dwelling furry critter.  Sure, there’s more than enough to go around, but these visitors are ungracious guests. They’re like those people who like to either take a nibble out of each piece of chocolate in an assortment box or push their finger into the top looking for a firm nut & chew piece.  Does this one have nuts?  Squish… yuck, cream.  Ooh, this one’s maple. They basically ruin the entire box for anyone else who come’s along wanting a piece. Dagnabit.

Rather than talk your ear off about my winged and furry foes, let’s head in, through the house, to visit the back orchard.  Watch your step, please as you enter.

First up, our Weeping Santa Rosa Plum.

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Oh.. my.. gosh..  This tree has so much fruit.  And this is even after I filled up one-half of a 5-gallon bucket with the fruit I thinned off the tree. Also, this is another popular tree… with both the mockingbirds and wild finches.

Just a few steps away is my beautiful Flavor Delight Aprium.

041514_ApriumSince this tree is an early harvest fruit tree, it rarely has issues with pests (except for the birds ~ the one constant in my orchard).  I’m dreaming of its sweet and juicy fruit as we speak.  Soon.  Very soon.

As we continue walking west through the crunchy wood mulched ground, we come up to my Artic Star Nectarine.

041514_Nectarine2With the odd weather challenges this year, we failed to address any thrip issues early on and as a result, we have thrip damage.  Most of the fruit looks beautiful, but some are just downright, well, ugly-looking.  We’ll keep an eye on them until harvest.

Next up… our Saturn Peach.

041514_PeachEvery year I look forward to our peaches… okay, you caught me, I look forward to all my delectable fruit, but the peach holds a special place in my heart and my sense of smell.  When its close to harvest time, the peach scent in the orchard is just heavenly.  Even as I thinned the small fruitlets from the tree this past weekend, I could smell a faint hint of peach in the air. The scent that makes me swoon is probably the same scent that attracts every creepy crawlie to the tree.

Last year, we had a real issue with black beetles.  They’d tuck themselves away into the tight area where the peach connected with the branch and nibbled their way into the fruit.  In most cases, the fruit would fall off the tree and make an absolute mushy mess.  The fruit would rot so quickly ~ it was just gross picking up peach slop from under the tree ~ which I’m sure exacerbated the beetle issue.  It also didn’t help that I was unable to thin the fruit like I wanted to.

This year, we thinned the fruit really well and have a plan of action (avoiding of course all chemicals and pesticides), so I’ll keep you posted.  Hold onto your seats, folks.  Peaches are coming.

Now, my cherries.  I have four cherry trees, two Minnie Royal (one dwarf, one semi-dwarf) and two Royal Lees (one dwarf, one semi-dwarf).  Two are new trees, but with our two-year old cherry trees, only our Minnie Royal bloomed (the Royal Lee is the pollinator) and to our surprise, the Minnie Royal produced one single cherry fruit (a mystery). All the other unpollinated fruit, tiny in comparison to “the one”, turned brown and withered away.

041514_CherryHonestly, I have very low expectations of this singular little piece of fruit, but if it ripens up and turns red, I’m compelled to taste it all the same.

As we continue through the orchard, back toward the house, we stroll past our new May Pride Peach and Gold Kist Apricot as well as our pomegranates, citrus and future test site for an avocado tree.

Check out the flowers on my Eversweet Pomegranate…

041514_Pom1…such a vivid orange-red.  There are more than double the flowers this year than last.  I would have taken a photo of our Wonderful Pomegranate, but the bees were very active just outside their hive and I wanted to leave them bee (corny, I know ~ that’s to be expected when you’re following me around my orchard).

As we continue past the pomegranates, we come up to my Flavor Queen and Flavor King Pluots.  Now, when it comes to this fruit, let me just say… Wow! So sweet with an awesome flavor.

041514_KingPluot 041514_QueenPluotOut of the two trees, I have to say that the Flavor King Pluot outperforms the Queen by way of fruit volume (at least for now) and taste.  Now, don’t get me wrong… the Flavor Queen Pluot is still tasty and enjoyable, but the Flavor King Pluot wins hands-down.  Last year, the Flavor King Pluot produced buckets full of fruit.

In addition to these pluots, we have two new baby pluot trees… a Flavor Supreme and a Flavor Grenade.  I’ve been told that the fruit from these trees are way beyond that of the Flavor King Pluot.  Well, we’ll just have to wait and see :)

And finally, we have our new Spice Zee Nectaplum. The tree has beautiful dark burgundy leaves right now and the fruit is supposed to be wonderful.  Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait a couple of years before we’ll be able to taste its fruit.  I could stop by the local test orchard and purchase some when they’re being harvested, but why spoil the fun :)

Well, that concludes my fruit/orchard tour and it was so nice to have the pleasure of your company. Until my next post, be sure to enjoy life to its fullest ~ do something you love to do.

 

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God Bless,

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Bulbing Onion Test ~ Ready, Begin

Onion Plants

Boy am I still beat from this past weekend. I think the back-to-back weekends of building and filling two new raised beds (alongside my husband) on top of my already busy schedule in my orchard and veggie garden, pushed me to my limit.  Age combined with my ongoing illness recovery has set the “work-limit bar” down a few notches lower than it was in my youth. Wait a minute… did I just admit that I’m getting older? Okay, time to move onto my intended subject… sweet delicious onions.

Onion Test…

Recently hubby and I purchased 36 bulbing onion plants (starts) from a local garden and orchard extraordinaire, horticulturist Bob Morris. Both hubby and I follow his blog and jumped at the chance to buy onions when he posted that he was pulling together a bulk onion plant order for local blog followers.

We met Bob about four years ago at a presentation he did for an Organic Gardening group here on the north end of town. Just a few days prior, I had initiated an email to him seeking out info on recommended fruit trees for our area, and he’s the one who told us about the group and invited us to his presentation.  Yes, this is where it all began and what kick-started our long-time fruit orchard dream into gear :)

Well, several fruit tree classes and demonstrations later, along with several weekends of volunteer work at the test orchard, a class or two at Plant World Nursery, and a few conversations later, we’ve come to appreciate and respect Bob’s expert knowledge, witty humor, and his availability and dependability as a gardening and orchard “go-to-guy” here in town.

The Order Pick-Up

On Friday, March 21st, we picked up our baby bulbing onion plants from Bob at ViraGrow, a local soil amendment company (i.e., compost, amendments, etc.). Bob’s been set up there for a short-spell while he and Sal, the owner of ViraGrow, work on some business together. By-the-by, ViraGrow is the company we use to deliver the orchard and garden soil we use.

During our visit with Bob, he mentioned that the onions we purchased from him were bought from Dixondale Farms in Texas and then proceeded to give us a quick onion presentation. Turns out, Las Vegas is a great place to grow onions… short-day, intermediate-day, and long-day.  They all do very well in our desert area.  He also gave us a quick tour of ViraGrow’s facility and products available and asked if we would be interested in testing a product in our garden. The product… Kelzyme. I rarely turn down an opportunity to test something in my garden and readily accepted.

With our 36 five-inch to six-inch tall baby bulbing onion plants (say that three times fast) in hand and a big thank you and wave goodbye, we headed home.

032514_Onions9

Upon arriving home, I promptly gave our plants a quick misting of fresh water from my hand-held sprayer and placed them in a cool dark area until we were ready to plant. I continued to mist them lightly 1x a day until planting day.  I’m sure this was completely unnecessary, but it forced me check-in on the “plants in waiting” to see how they were doing, but more importantly, to make sure Jaspurr, our spunky Ragdoll kitty, had left them in peace (he liked the crinkly brown tips and skin).032514_Onions5

Our onion order consisted of the following:

  • 12 Texas Legend onion plants
  • 12 Red Candy Apple onion plants
  • 12 Candy onion plants

 

 A Little About Kelzyme

First of all, I want to let y’all know that I am not being compensated in any way to test or promote this product.  I’m helping out a friend and I’m curious, actually. I’m always on the look out for organic/holistic products that can make a positive impact on my garden and the nutrient density of my garden greens and veggies.  My feedback on this product is just that and is my unbiased honest opinion.

Okay, with that said… I went on-line to do some quick research… this product is 100% OMRI certified organic and is labeled as a soil conditioner and plant stimulator and is fossilized sea kelp that is mined from a deposit of fossilized marine macro-algae mineral in the northwestern portion of the state of Nevada.

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Here’s the packaging description…

Kelzyme® is an organic soil conditioner and plant stimulator derived from a one-of-a-kind ancient seabed deposit of fossilized marine kelp/seaweed rich in highly absorbable “ORGANIC CALCIUM”, with up to 70 trace minerals.

 

…and a few links for your perusing pleasure.

http://www.mineralocean.com/category/organic-soil-conditioner-plant-stimulator/crop-testing/origin-kelzyme

http://www.kelzyme.com/

 

Additional Instructions

In addition to the instructions on the package, Bob mentioned that previous tests performed demonstrated that the product was much more effective when applied “dry” in the planting hole at the time of planting and then watered in well after planting was complete.

Kelzyme_backThe Plan

My plan consisted of the following:

1)      Draw up a planting plan in my favorite graphics program

032514_Onions42)     Divide the 36 onion plants into two equal test groups (6 of each onion variety = 18 plants total in each group)

3)     Plant test group 1 (applying Kelzyme to) on the southwest side of the raised bed and the other test group will be on the northeast side with approximately 2 ½ feet between the two groupings

4)     Plant each onion plant about 6-inches apart and 1-inch deep032514_Onions6032514_Onions7

5)     Side-dress each onion plant with blood meal (nitrogen)

6)    Each planting area is approximately 6 sq. ft.

Planting Day

On Tuesday, March 25th we prepared to plant our baby onion plants in our new raised bed (Bed #3).

Group 1 (southwest side) was planted first and prior to planting, I measured out approximately 4 ounces of product for the 6 sq. ft. of planting area then portioned it out equally amongst the 18 onion planting holes. The Kelzyme instructions state that the 8.8 ounce package is enough to cover 15 sq. ft. of planting area, so if anything, each planting hole received slightly more than required.

032514_Onions15 032514_Onions1

Each onion plant was planted according to my plan, then watered in well.

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Group 2 (northeast side) was planted next using an organic soil product that I typically use both in my veggie garden and my orchard.  I planted this group according to my plan and watered everything in.

032514_Onions13032514_Onions14

Irrigation: My raised bed is set up with four lines of Netafim Techline CV .9gph, 12” sp with 12” spacing between lines. The two outside lines are about 6” away from the sides of the bed. I am currently watering Monday, Wednesday, and Friday two times per day for 10 minutes each watering (approximately 1” of water per week).

Status Update

It’s too early to tell, but both groups have new growth appearing. I’ve kept the raised bed soil moist and will be feeding my onions in the next couple of days with a foliar spray of fish hydrolysate (cold pressed, enzymatically processed, and biologically live liquid fish).

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Keep an eye out for future updates.

God Bless,

AG_Signature_Color_Transparent

 

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April Orchard Tasks

040314_KingPluot For the past week, the weather here in Las Vegas has turned cold (again) and windy ~ dipping back into the high 40′s at night making it a little more challenging to get a handle on things in the garden ~ especially for summer seedlings.  Today hubby mentioned that there was ice on the wind shield of our car this morning.  Yikes!  Probably the combination of rain, wind and cold air.

A few weeks back, we had 50+ mph wind gusts that came in like a big ole mean bully, ripping thoughtlessly away at the my temporary wind breaks I had on my veggie beds.  It took a beating.  Spring in the desert is typically our “windy-time” wreaking havoc on plants, roofs, garden structures, and the like.  So far this Spring it’s been business as usual for the wind.  Note to self... before next spring, find a sturdier wind block solution (i.e., greenhouse poly) instead of using delicate frost blankets folded in half to block the wind.  Honestly, with no money in the budget right now for a better solution, I had to be a little  creative and go with what I had on hand… clamps and light purpose frost blankets.  Trust me when I say this combination really doesn’t play well together in the wind.

040314_BlanketWind

For my newly planted 4×10 veggie bed, we had one piece of plywood long enough (about 10′) and was just tall enough to divert the wind away from my delicate seedlings and onion starts.  Other than that I had nothing, zip, nada.

Well, I’m happy to say that my seedlings fared well through the wind and my more established veggie plants (greens, peas, brussels sprouts, beets and lettuce) sailed through with flying colors ~ except for the single large brussels sprout leaf/stem that was ripped away from its host.  It looks like a dog grabbed it with its teeth and violently thrashed it about like prey then dropped it a few feet away from the raised bed.  My two frost blankets fared about as well.

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For the past four days we’ve been hammered over and over again with wind gusts from 20 mph up to 52 mph and my blankets have had their fill.  There are several new large holes peering at me where the clamps were secured.  I tried to do multiple folds underneath each clamp being careful not to stretch the fabric too tightly, but the delicate fabric was no match. I’ll be taking down the blankets soon and will assess the damage and see what I can salvage :(

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How did my orchard do with all the winds?  Really well, thank you.

040314_BackOrchard

During our orchard’s first year, we secured our fruit trees to heavy-duty coated metal stakes that we drove into the ground at the time of planting.  They held in place the entire season and in the fall, we cut off the green ties and pulled up the stakes.  By then, most of our fruit trees had strong roots to firmly hold them in place with the exception of two fruit trees… my two pink lady apples in my front orchard.

Shortly after removing the stakes (our trees were just about a year old at the time) we had an unfortunate series of events which resulted in these two trees leaning pitifully to one side.  First, there were back-to-back heavy rain storms with never-ending wind.  One right after the other soaking the ground and giving everything in its path a good thrashing.  To add insult to injury, I forgot to turn off the water at the onset of the storms.  With horribly saturated soil in combination with strong winds, our two Pink Lady apples began to lean. We failed to address the issue immediately, so a few more rain storms and windy days later… the damage took hold.  Needless to say they now resemble the leaning tower of pisa.  We did try to “tent stake” them for a while, but the nylon rope failed to hold in our aggressive wind and by this time I had become horribly ill and my husband had his heart attack.  Ugh.

040314_LeaningApples 040314_LeaningApples2

Now that the dust has settled a bit (literally), we plan to address the issue aggressively with more thoughtful planning and better tools. At this point, it may be beyond repair. Hope not.  Only time will tell.

Uh oh… the secret’s out. Well, not really. As you can see, my hubby and I are just ordinary “imperfect” folks just like everyone else who make mistakes and sometimes learn by trial and error.  Yet despite our imperfections, we continue to trek on forward, try to learn from our mistakes and share our successes and failures with you hoping that we can give you a “leg up” so to speak in your orchard and garden.  Plus we hope that you can benefit from our “anal perfectionist ways” ~ I’m always happy to share :)

Now that I’m so over the wind discussion and my big “oops”, here’s my Orchard Task List for the month of April…

  • Continue to thin fruit this month to reduce the weight load on limbs and to improve the quality of the fruit.
    • Peaches, apples, pears and nectarines ~ leave fruit about every 5 to 6-inches along the branch (avoid side-by-side fruit)
    • Plums, pluots, apricots ~ leave fruit about every 3-inches along the branch (especially if you suspect fruit load could lead to limb breakage)
  • Irrigation ~ continue to water trees 1x a week until May 1st ~ this is when watering will change to 2x a week.  Weather may dictate something different, but for now, this is the plan.
  • Irrigation for newly planted trees ~ continue to water new trees 3x a week until they leaf out nicely, then cut back watering to 2x a week.  This should occur about mid/late April.  Irrigate for about 10 minutes if using a garden hose or flood bubblers to irrigate; The ideal water flow is about 1 gallon per minute.
  • Continue to install branch spreaders ~ especially on new young growth.  Branch spreaders can be installed anytime during the growing season, but from experience, the more leaves on a tree, the harder it is to see the tree’s “structure” and to install the spreaders through a sea of green.  See March Orchard Tasks for more installation details.
  • Continue to monitor any traps set out for Peach Twig Borer.
  • Watch for early signs of Peach Twig Borer damage to new growth on peach and nectarine trees ~ if present, treat with Bt and/or Neem oil (use at 0.5% concentration ~ about 2.5 ounces per 4 gallons water) along with a soap emulsifier (like unscented Seventh Generation dish soap or Dr. Bronner’s Castile soap) .  Some people use Spinosad (or alternate its usage with other products).  I personally use this as a last resort only.  This product is harmful to bees, and the last thing I want to do is to cause any harm to my hive.
  • Continue to monitor any traps set out for Coddling Moth. If present (and in larvae stage), use Bt and/or Neem oil (see task on peach twig borer above), or Spinosad
  • Continue to perform summer pruning and remove some of the “new growth” to allow light penetration into the fruit tree. For summer pruning, I like to focus my attention on new growth growing straight up first to see how much impact that has on the overly shaded areas before moving on to other new growth.
  • Pinch off shoots on young trees to correct crow’s-feet situations from heading cuts made earlier in the season.
  • Put out traps for squirrels, especially if you want fruit to harvest this year. These little buggers love to “squirrel” up the branches of my fig tree and steal my figs!  I’ve watched them do it. Aaargh.  To eradicate them, we use humane and safe traps that allow us to capture these little critters and relocate them.
  • Gather together bird netting, scare tape and other supplies necessary to deter uninvited “winged” guests who love to help themselves to your fruit tree bounty.
    Truthfully, I’ve tried the scare tape on my fruit trees in the past with very poor results.  We even tried a “fake” hawk to scare the birds.  The birds stayed away for a total of 2 days and seemed to laugh at the tape and hawk as they flew in for a sip of my fruit’s nectar.  Tired of holes in our perfect and great fruit, we devised a structure that was quite successful.  Our first prototype failed to hold up in the desert winds, but through trial and error, we came up with a solid structure.  It may be a little over the top for some, but it works for us.  I’ll share our secret weapon in the next couple of weeks.
  • Keep a watchful eye out for aphids on new growth ~ if present, blast em’ with water or soapy water solution.
  • Replenish mulch and/or compost underneath each fruit tree canopy ~ if the trees are less than 5 years old, be sure to pull back mulch about 6″ or so away from the trunk.
  • Ants will be out in full force now ~ Address the issue now!  Make a “feeding” trap with some boran/borax added ~ yum… dingalingaling… calling all ants.
  • Keep an eye out for Leaf Footed Bugs and Stink Bugs ~ they can be very damaging to fruit.  I began to see them in my orchard last year toward the end of May. Some folks say to hang yellow sticky traps in the affected tree because the bugs are attracted to the color.  Sounds interesting, so I might give it a try this year ~ couldn’t hurt.  Neem oil is supposed to make the fruit less palatable.  I’ll keep you posted on whether this works or not.  Last resort is a spray solution of Pyrethrum and Diatomaceous Earth (food-grade).  This stuff is pretty deadly to bees and beneficials, so if it must be used… use on targeted areas as a “knock-down” on infestations only.
    Last year, I used a homemade soap spray using 32 ounces of water with 2 teaspoons of Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Castile Soap.  It must be sprayed directly on the Leaf Footed Bug or Stink Bug to kill it (takes a couple of seconds to work its magic).  When I started to use this method last year, it was kinda late in the game and there were too many of these guys to make a difference.  If started when they are first seen, it could help to keep their numbers at bay.
  • Something eating your fruit tree leaves?  Chances are they are the offspring of moths or those pretty butterflies that visited the orchard during bloom.  Yeah, that’s right.  Those pretty little fluttery things come bearing gifts… the munching kind.  Spray with Bt for creepy crawlies every few weeks to resolve the issue.

040314_leaves 040314_leaves2

  • Continue to update your Orchard Journal
    Things to note…

    • Dates
    • Fruit observations
    • Fruit thinning timing
    • Types of pest pressures seen, when and what was used to address them
    • Traps used, placement and removal dates, observations
    • Amendments and quantities used
    • Be sure to note enjoyable moments in your journal ~ something that will make you smile when you read it a year from now :)
  • Now is the time to plant “frost sensitive” fruit trees like citrus and avocados (do this toward the end of the month)
  • Start foliar feeding fruit trees every 10-14 days with fermented or aerated compost tea, molasses, humic and fulvic acid, hydrolyzed liquid fish, trace minerals as well as powdered seaweed/kelp (be sure to use kelp every other spray ~ it’s a pretty powerful growth stimulant.  Do the same with liquid fish ~ nitrogen is a good thing in an orchard, but too much of a good thing will make an ideal feasting and breeding ground for aphids).

Hope this list helps in your orchard and garden.

 

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God Bless,

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March Orchard Tasks

021214_Bee3Ahhhh. Spring.  I love it!  This time of year is my absolute favorite. That and Christmas. Spring-time, everything just feels fresh and clean.  It’s as if our senses are awakening from winter’s slumber in sync with the trees and flowers in time to see nature bejewel the trees, flowers and plants with a myriad of exquisite colors and fresh floral scents. It brings with it hope and renewal and the sweet promise of vibrant life.021214_AppleBloom

Take a stroll outside and enjoy Spring!  Make it a short break cuz there’s tons to do in the orchard.  Here’s March’s Orchard Task List (late I know ~ sorry).  A lot of these tasks continue in the month of April as well.

  • Thin fruit this month to reduce the weight load on limbs and to improve the quality of the fruit.
  • Irrigation ~ continue to water trees 1x a week this time of year and remember to turn off your irrigation when it rains to help save water and keep your trees from drowning.
  • Irrigation for newly planted trees ~ water them 3x a week (for about 10 minutes if using a garden hose or flood bubblers to irrigate); The ideal water flow is about 1 gallon per minute or a little less.  Continue to irrigate like this until the new trees leaf out nicely, then cut back to watering them 2x a week.  This should occur about mid-spring (mid/late-April).
  • Fertilize your mature fruit trees this month ~ remember to use an organic fertilizer. Important Note for Newly Planted Trees:  refrain from feeding/fertilizing newly planted fruit trees for the first year.  New trees need to focus on growing a strong root system their first year and need very little nitrogen (which fuels leaf growth) or potassium (essential for bud and fruit development).  Bone meal is a good natural source of phosphorus ~ which is vital for root growth. It’s best to toss in a couple of generous scoopfuls of bone meal into the planting hole (under, in and around the roots).  This will provide the tree with a slow release of phosphorus.  Forgot to add it when you planted?  Gently mix some into the top layer of soil and soak in.
  • Install branch spreaders on older growth.  Why?  This helps to “fix” structural issues within a fruit tree such as a limb growing straight up reaching for the sky instead of growing out at a nice 45 degree angle from the trunk. It’s best to install branch spreaders when the trees start to leaf out and when secondary or “new growth” occurs.  When this new growth is visible, the sap is flowing nicely within the tree and the limbs will be much more flexible to manipulate and bend.  Done too soon, there’s a good chance the branch will break or snap off the tree when bending it down to install a spreader ~ yikes! Leave the spreader in place for about 1-2 growing seasons.  If the tree is older, it may take up to 5 growing seasons to make the branch stay in place.
  • Keep an eye on the weather this month for late frost or freeze.  Protect frost/freeze sensitive trees such as Apricots, Apriums and Pluots.  Be rest assured that the fruit tree itself will be fine in the event of a late frost or freeze, but it’s an entirely different story for the delicate blooms and young fruitlets.  Frost/freeze damage on blooms or young fruitlets = little to no fruit for the season :(
  • Check in on honey bee hives this month and gently harvest any available honey!  The bees should have enough honey to share now since they’ve been busy feasting on fruit tree blooms for the past few weeks.
  • Be sure Blue Orchard Bees have access to water and mud so they can securely tuck away their new-born as they gather pollen and food from the fruit tree blooms for their next generation.
  • Set out traps for Peach Twig Borer (early March).
  • Set out traps for Coddling Moth (early March). To be perfectly honest, I have yet to set out either types of traps in my orchard.  I’m a bit of a pesticide / chemical phobe (understatement) and I know the lures / traps are neither, but I hate the thought of attracting or should I say “luring” these pests into my orchard then having to address them.  Tempting fate if you will.  Silly, I know. Perhaps it’s a possibility that I’ll see these in my orchard some day, but for now I’m content focusing my efforts on holistic preventative measures.  I’ll keep the lures I have in storage for now and put out a couple of traps just to see what’s flitting around in the orchard.
  • Now is the time to address thrips while it’s early in the season.  Now these I’ve seen in my orchard (or at least seen their damage since these pests are so miniscule).  Here in Las Vegas, Nevada we have a real thrip problem.  The damage occurs on the fruit they feed on and can leave the fruit looking very unsightly.  Thrip damage looks like a rough brown dry patch on the fruit surface ~ almost like sunburn damage.  The fruit is still edible, just ugly and deformed looking. In most cases, this damage covers the entire fruit… yuck. In our orchard, the thrips seem to especially like our Artic Star Nectarine. When our fruit tree came into production last year, we did see some damage but nothing too horrible.  This year, we have a few holistic non-toxic methods we are going to try (my orchard is pesticide and chemical free and I rarely use organic pest control methods which can be harmful to my bees and other beneficials).  I’ll keep you posted on the results. In the meantime, if you’ve had a problem in the past, use Spinosad sparingly (only 4x per year) and alternate with applications (spray) Dr. Bronner’s Soap & Water or Neem Oil just after petal fall and before fruit set.  Be sure to spray early in the morning (about 5 AM) or at dusk when bees are not active.
  • Perform summer pruning (late March) and remove some of the “new growth” to allow light penetration into the fruit tree.
  • Put out traps for squirrels, especially if you have almond or other nut trees and want to harvest this year. These little buggers also love to “squirrel” up the branches of my fig tree and steal my figs, too! We use humane and safe traps that allow us to capture these little critters and relocate them.

Keep growing!

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God Bless,

 

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Flavor Delight Aprium

021214_Bee2I know, some of you are saying, “Cute… really?”  Well, bees truly are cute.  Just look at that sweet little face in the photo.  How can that be anything but cute?  Especially knowing that behind all the buzzing, flybys and pollen collectin’ in a single day is a simple miracle.  One of God’s divine plans.  Pollination. Which ultimately leads to… sweet, lip smacking juicy FRUIT!  There’s only one word for all this sticky goodness… Scrumpdelilicious. 

To think that in about mid-May we’ll begin harvesting the first of our Flavor Delight Aprium fruit ~ our first fruit tree to come into harvest.  Yes, it happens that fast!  Just a few weeks ago our trees were waking up from their winter nap, then seemed to suddenly burst into color puffs of flowers like a dry corn kernel bursting open into a puffy piece of popcorn, and now this…

Mar2014_ThinFruit13BAM! Fruitlets galore.

I have to say that I am smitten by the whole “cycle of life” thing our trees so eloquently illustrate in our home orchard.  And just when things appear to calm down and the honey bees focus their attention elsewhere, our Aprium will begin to glow with the color of sunshine.  Deep rich golden goodness. The scent in the air will shift from a floral scent to a glorious apricot sweetness attracting all who wish to sample its promise of taste bud delight.

021214_ApriumBloom2

With all this amazing insight and visual proof of divine order, I’m unable to get past the thought that there are people out there who feel the cycle of life is happenstance.   A spin of the wheel so to speak.  How can such a beautifully orchestrated process come from something other than heavenly?  Simple answer… it’s all part of God’s plan and is absolutely lovely if you ask me :)  So grab yourself a piece of fresh-picked sun-warmed fruit, sit back, sink your teeth into all its sweet promise and take comfort in today’s joy and blessings.

021214_ApriumBloom

Have an awesomely sticky sweet day :)

God Bless!

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February Orchard Tasks

021214_FruitBloomWell, things are really buzzing around here and my fruit trees are waking up from their winter slumber.  Honestly, even with our colder winter weather recently, it would be hard for me to say that my trees were in a deep slumber.  Maybe their dormant period could be referred to as a short nap.  Last December the majority of my fruit trees dropped their leaves and by early February they were already waking up.

This time of year is my absolute favorite.  The various shades of pink (my fav) and white sprinkled about my orchard and the emerging pollinators taking advantage of the sun’s warmth just takes my breath away ~ every time. Today was no exception.

As I was walking through my orchard this morning the intense buzzing sound and the sweet captivating fragrance in the air made me pause and gaze into my blooming fruit trees.  I focused on a point within the center of my Flavor Delight Aprium and within just a few seconds the crimson and cotton candy pink filled canopy came to life!  The gentle and purposeful movement of my honey bees was so amazing.  There were so many honey bees dancing from flower to flower. I grinned happily from ear to ear at the thought that my honey bees are back hard at work so early in the season. Of course I grabbed my camera, a staple tool I bring with me just about every time I go into my orchard or garden, and started snapping photos at every turn.

021214_ApriumBloom3

Inspired by this sight, I ran into the house, grabbed my blue orchard bee cocoons, which I’d taken out of the refrigerator the night before, and set them out in their house so they too could begin to emerge and join this wonderful spring dance.

021214_NectarineBloom2

February Orchard Tasks

With the arrival of fruit tree blooms comes a few more orchard tasks as we prepare for the onslaught of yummy fruit!  Fruit begin to ripen in my orchard around mid to late May when my Flavor Delight Aprium comes into harvest.

With my pruning tasks all wrapped up and my fruit trees coming back to life after their winter “nap”, I’m ready to forge ahead with this month’s tasks.  As I describe my tasks, I’ll be sure to add some helpful tips along the way for those of you who are interested.

  • Whitewash tree trunks and main scaffolds

    • Use an interior latex (water-based) white paint (do not use enamel and/or oil based paint); A different color can be used as long as it’s very light in color (to help reflect the heat and sunlight)
    • Mix together 50% paint with 50% water
    • When fruit trees are young and small, using a natural bristle paint brush works fine but as the trees grow, this becomes a lot more challenging.  A few years ago, hubby and I purchased a refurbished HVLP (high volume low pressure) paint sprayer and it works like a charm making this task almost fun! Just throw down several scrape pieces of cardboard around the base of the tree and spray away. I focus on putting a nice coat of paint on the trunk and on my main branches (especially in the branch crotch areas).  It’s important to get good coverage on the South and West sides of each tree.  I typically leave my smaller branches (one inch and less) unpainted or I’ll just do a quick spray pass over the entire branching structure.
    • Why whitewash fruit trees?  In the desert, whitewashing helps fruit trees from getting “sunburned” and leaving an open wound for insects and nasty borers to enter into the tissue of the tree.  This would be trouble for the tree and could mean it’s ultimate demise.Here’s a bit of info that some home orchardists may be unaware of… whitewashing also helps to protect fruit trees during winter as well.  When a fruit tree is exposed to extremely cold or freezing temps at night and is then subjected to warm temperatures during the day it could cause the tree to “thaw” too quickly.  The result:  scaffold breakage or trunk cracking.  The whitewash helps to reflect the heat and sun off the tree during the winter months reducing the risks involved.

    021214_newtree

  • Plant new bare root fruit trees!

    • Now is the time to plant ~ be sure to complete this task by early/mid-February to avoid planting when the new growth starts
    • Water newly planted fruit trees 3x per week for about 10-15 minutes until they leaf out nicely ~ then cut back to 2x per week until the end of Spring
    • Do not fertilize newly planted fruit trees… let them settle into their new homes for their first year and not rush their growth ~ fertilizing starts their 2nd year
    • Remember to whitewash newly planted trees
    • Tip: Always face the tree graft towards North ~ doing this will help protect this tender area from heat and sun damage
  • Sharpen, clean and sanitize pruning shears and loppers before, during and after pruning
    • This is an important repeat from last month’s task list
    • After all pruning tasks are complete, be sure to clean, sharpen and sanitize all pruning tools so they are ready to grab for future pruning tasks (which will be summer pruning that actually takes place in late April / early May here in the desert)
    • Tip #1:  grab a dedicated spray bottle and fill it with alcohol (denatured if you can find it); when you go to clean/sanitize your tools, just spray the tool liberally then wipe off with a clean dry rag ~ makes the task easier than having to pour it from a bottle onto a rag
    • Tip #2: dropping your tools onto the ground (dirt) and immediately using it to cut a branch or clip a twig is a big no-no!  Though soil is a good thing in its own right and it’s relationship with fruit tree roots is nothing but spectacular… what it carries can be transferred to an open wound of a fruit tree which can be detrimental to the tree’s health.  Can you say, soil-borne diseases?  So if a tool is dropped onto the ground, be sure to give it a spritz of alcohol and a quick wipe down before cutting into your beautiful innocent tree.
  • Expand and/or repair water basins around base of fruit trees

    • I like to mound up dirt to form a ring around my fruit tree water basins to help keep the water under the tree canopy
    • Tip ~ be sure to apply water to at least half of the area under a fruit tree’s canopy; if it’s been a while since the irrigation to your fruit trees have been expanded to accommodate it’s growth and size, be sure to fix that issue now
  • Inspect your Fruit Trees daily and take notes
    With a small hand-held notebook or journal, take a quick stroll every day through the orchard making note of things like…

    • when buds start to swell
    • when a little green tissue can be seen at or on the buds
    • when a little color (pink, white – whatever color the tree’s flower may be) can be seen
    • when the flowers bloom and petals drop, etc.
    • Also, inspect trees for insects / weather damage while walking through the orchard
    • And remember to make note of actual dates ~ this information will become a valuable resource as the orchard matures
  • Fertilize / Amend 1 year and older fruit trees
    • Use an organic fertilizer ~ commercial fertilizers will kill your soil (and the microbes in it!)
    • After broadcasting my amendments under my fruit trees, I like to add a 2″ layer of compost and water it in nicely
  • Inspect Fruit trees for Borers (if unable to do in January)

    • Use a clean sharp knife to cut out borers from trunks and main scaffolds

    021214_Tool

  • Weed
    • As the weather continues to warm up, these nasties will pop-up more and more
    • Every time I’m in the orchard I carry around my handy dandy weeding tool – as I’m inspecting my trees and writing notes, I’ll glance around at the ground every so often and if I see a small weed, I hit it with my tool.  Quick and easy!
  • Replenish wood mulch

    021214_BlueOrchardBee

  • Time to setup the bee house and place blue orchard bee cocoons inside

    • Weather is warming up in this part of the country and my fruit tree buds are bursting open in gorgeous colors of pink and white ~ its such a lovely sight.  It’s time for my blue orchard bees to wake up and get busy pollinating!
    • I like to remove my cocoons and straws (with cocoons inside) from the refrigerator and set them in a protected area indoors to warm up a little before putting them outside.  A protected area is an absolute must otherwise Jaspurr, my 1 year old ragdoll kitty, will knock them off from wherever he finds them and scatter them all over the floor. What great fun ~ definitely not!
  • Pull out honey bee hive supplies and prepare for inspection next month
  • Gather, make or purchase branch spreaders
  • Gather together integrated pest management tools (i.e., sticky traps, pheromone traps, etc.) ~ always remember to use organic / natural / botanical pesticides only and use sparingly – - – -> use only when absolutely necessary as we must protect our beloved pollinators
  • Get ready to thin fruitlets starting end of next month
  • Last but certainly not least, I like to say a prayer for my fruit orchard this time of year and ask for God’s blessings over my fruit trees and upcoming fruit harvest :)

Hope you find this helpful. Do you have fruit trees? What’s favorite spring-time orchard tip?

God Bless!

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January Orchard Tasks

012414_Orchard2January… this is the month things start hopping in the orchard and if the weather has been kind and uneventful, in the veggie garden, too.

It’s the start of a new year and I already feel a bit behind in completing my garden and orchard tasks.  Too many things cookin’ in the kitchen if you know what I mean. Lately, Hubby and I have been focused on house repair projects that required our attention for a city inspection we had a few short weeks ago.  We have another inspection coming up in June and lots more house repair projects as a result, so we’ll need to find a balance between the work needed for the house and the tasks we need to complete in our garden and orchard.  No simple job.

That’s where my task checklist and schedule helps.  The checklist and schedule are a “guideline” really.  In an attempt to keep in step with life’s ebb and flow, both my checklist and schedule are fluid and flexible and can change at a moment’s notice (as is often the case). For this reason, I typically work from a hard copy version that allows me to scribble out notes as I work in my orchard or garden.  Then later, I reference the notes and changes I made on my folded dirt smudged hard copy to update my original version on my computer.

012414_Orchard5So what does a typical January look like in my orchard?  Well, let’s take a look…

January Orchard Tasks

January is a busy month in the orchard.  This is the time for pruning and preparing the orchard for the upcoming harvest season.  I’ve jotted down some of the tasks that I typically do in my orchard this time of year along with some helpful tips…

  • Sharpen, clean and sanitize pruning shears and loppers before, during and after pruning
    • Always sanitize pruning shears and loppers with alcohol before moving to the next fruit tree
    • Avoid using soap and water – these can cause your tools to rust
  • Prune Fruit Trees

    • Complete before flowers bloom – the sooner the better
    • Inspect trees for insects / weather damage
  • Inspect Fruit trees for Borers
    • Use a clean sharp knife to cut out borers from trunks and main scaffolds
  • Weed
    • Here in the desert, January is usually the month these little buggers start peaking up out of the dirt; snap them up when they’re small to help keep things manageable
  • Replenish wood mulch
    • Now’s a good time to replenish mulch in and around your trees
    • If your fruit trees are 5 years old or less, be sure to keep the mulch about 6-8 inches away from the trunk
    • While pruning, rough cut twigs (the newest growth – no larger than 2-1/2 inches in diameter) into 4″-6″ long pieces and just toss them onto the ground. There’s a ton of nutrition in this new growth in the form of soluble lignin which contains loads nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium and more.  A feast for fungi in the soil which in turn supports the health of our fruit trees. Larger branches (larger than 2-1/2″ in diameter) are rich in carbon and take a while to decompose and ties up nitrogen temporarily during the decomposition process.  This could negatively impact fruit tree growth.  Its best you save these for fire wood, or perhaps to add wonderful flavor and aroma to a future BBQ fixin’.
  • Prepare record-keeping tools for upcoming harvest season
    • I create and print blank record-keeping forms (using MS Word) and keep them in a binder for quick and easy access
  • Check and repair orchard irrigation
    • This is a big “must” here in the desert
  • Apply final application of dormant (horticultural) spray
  • Apply Iron to trees
    • Use EDDHA iron
      • Here in the desert we have calcareous soil that is high in calcium carbonate (also known as caliche or free lime) making our soil very alkaline.  The result: a high pH that is typically 8 or even higher.  This can have a negative influence on nutrient availability (i.e., phosphorus and iron) and iron chlorosis is common.  Only iron chelates (EDDHA) is effective on this type of soil.
    • Recipe Per Fruit Tree: Mix together 1 Tablespoon EDDHA iron, 1 teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar and 1 gallon of fresh water; pour 6″ away from the tree trunk out to the drip line
      • the vinegar acts as a buffer so the iron is more readily absorbed
  • Gather tools and supplies needed to plant new bareroot fruit trees
    • Stakes
    • Amendments (please use organic – the commercial stuff will kill your soil)
    • Bone meal
    • Shovels
    • Bucket (to soak your new bareroot fruit trees)
    • Rakes
    • Gloves
  • Check for and remove borers
    • Use a sterilized sharp knife
  • Review your watering schedule
    • This time of year, water every 10-14 days about 15-20 minutes per tree
  • Receive and refrigerate new blue orchard bee cocoons
    • Mine arrived about a week ago :)
  • Check existing blue orchard bee cocoons for signs of mold; clean if there are any visible signs
  • Clean and repair blue orchard bee house – you’ll be putting these out soon!

Harvest season… here we come.  All I know is that miss Pinny’s ready to help protect the fruit from thieving birds.

013113_OrchardAwakening_4

Hope you have an awesomely blessed weekend!

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2013 Fruit Orchard Review

102413_PinkLadyApples

Hi everyone!

With the 2013 fruit harvest season behind us, hubby and I are gearing up for this year’s harvest starting mid-May.

Winter in the desert came early last year with an unexpected freeze in November.  Since then, we’ve had our share of chilly days and nights so I’m certain the accumulated chill hours are more than sufficient for this year’s upcoming harvest.  Though there are no visible signs of frost or freeze damage on my fruit trees, keep your fingers crossed that this remains true as my fruit orchard awakens from its slumber.  Sometimes freeze damage is hard to detect while the trees are dormant and can become quickly apparent when the new growth begins.

Typically, most trees here in the desert require very little in terms of frost or freeze protection with one or two exceptions. Citrus and avocados.  There are a number of options available to help protect these trees during the cold winter months, but everyone I know here who have been successful with citrus use either frost blankets or Christmas lights strung on the tree or a combination of both. The only person I know growing an avocado is growing it in a hoop house.

Now that I’m back from my unscheduled blog hiatus (sorry for my absence), it’s time to prepare for the upcoming fruit season. I find that it’s always best to start the planning process by reviewing what happened in the orchard the previous season.  So, I’d like to share my harvest numbers and a few lessons learned with you along with a few photos from our Pink Lady Apple harvest that took place in late October.

Keep in mind, most of our fruit trees were planted in 2011 and last year was our first harvest season. We expect our fruit trees to be in full fruit production this year and anticipate a very busy year of harvesting and preserving :)

102413_PinkLadyApples6

In the months of April and May, I will definitely pay close attention to thinning the fruit on all of my fruit trees since we anticipate more fruit this coming harvest season.

2013 Fruit Harvest Record

Fruit

Harvest Dates

Tl # Fruit

Tl Lbs

Aprium, Flavor Delight

5/18 – 5/26

332

35.25

Nectarine, Artic Star

6/2 – 6/14

220

104

Plum, Weeping Santa Rosa

6/14 – 7/3

147

11.5

Peach, Saturn White

6/27 – 7/15

38

5

Apple, Golden Dorsett

7/3 – 7/17

0

0

Pluot, Flavor Queen

7/26 – 8/4

65

17

Pluot, Flavor King

7/26 – 8/6

104

10.5

Asian Pear, Hosui

9/16 – 9/19

19

3.5

Asian Pear, Chojuro

n/a

0

0

Almond, All-in-One

n/a

0

0

Pomegranate, Eversweet

10/27

2

-

Pomegranate, Wonderful

10/27

5

-

Apple, Pink Lady

10/21 – 11/9

62

11.5

Fig, Black Mission
5/27 – 11/9
35
1.5
102413_PinkLadyApples7

The fruit on our two Pink Lady Apples had a wonderful apple scent as I picked them off the tree.

2013 Fruit Loss Record

Fruit

Tl Lbs Lost

Lost to…

Aprium, Flavor Delight

2

Leaf footed bugs

Nectarine, Artic Star

15+
Leaf footed bugs

Plum, Weeping Santa Rosa

9+
Mocking birds and finches

Peach, Saturn White

lots!
Leaf footed bugs, beetles, birds

Apple, Golden Dorsett

All
suspect calcium deficiency

Pluot, Flavor Queen

6
finches

Pluot, Flavor King

7.5
finches

Asian Pear, Hosui

0

Asian Pear, Chojuro

1
fruit drop

Almond, All-in-One

All
disease

Pomegranate, Eversweet

2
fruit cracked

Pomegranate, Wonderful

5
fruit cracked

Apple, Pink Lady

2
fruit drop
Fig, Black Mission
lots!
Mocking bird favorite
These little nylon socks did a great job protecting my apples from getting sunburn during out hot desert summer

These little nylon socks coated with Kaolin Clay did a great job protecting my apples from getting sunburned during our hot desert summer.  They were very easy to install and remove.

Replacement Fruit Trees for 2014

The following trees (see below) were planted in February 2013 and failed to leaf out.  We purchased these trees from Bay Laurel Nursery (who is an excellent source for bare root fruit trees) and they stand behind their product.  Because of their awesome guarantee policy, they will be sending us replacements this February. All we have to do is pay for shipping.

  • Apricot, Gold Kist
  • Nectaplum, Spice Zee
  • Peach, May Pride
  • Pluot, Flavor Grenade
  • Pluot, Flavor Supreme

We’re unsure as to what happened with this batch of bare root fruit trees… but all will be right come next month.

In addition to the trees above, we will be replacing three other fruit trees in our orchard.  Two of our cherry trees and our All-in-One Almond tree.

  • Cherry, Minnie Royal (semi-dwarf)
  • Cherry, Royal Lee (semi-dwarf)
  • All-in-One Almond

One of our cherry trees has extensive trunk damage and because two trees are planted 18″ apart in the same hole, it’s just too difficult to extract one and leave the other.  So out they both go :(  We still have our two low chill dwarf variety cherries we planted last year and they are doing very well. I have to say that we’re very anxious to see how many flowers we get this year.

As for our almond tree, this will be our 2nd replacement tree. The first tree failed to grow well the first season and the second tree struggled through our early extreme heat wave last year (which occurred a couple of months after we planted the tree) and it did not recover. Instead of replacing it with another All-in-One Almond, we’ll be switching it up with a Garden Prince Almond.  Hopefully three’s a charm.

February will definitely be a “planting month” and we’ll also be fixing the irrigation in the front orchard!

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During harvest, I always record the total number of fruit as well as the total weight. A simple food scale does the job. Some day I’ll invest in a higher capacity scale, but until then, this scale does the trick.

Lessons Learned

Last year was our fruit orchard’s first harvest season.  As I mentioned before, we planted our trees in 2011 (mid-February to be exact), so our trees are still very young in their growth, but you’d never know it to look at them.  Thanks to our honey bees and blue orchard bees, we had more fruit than we ever could have imagined for our first harvest.  As a result, the volume of fruit and interest of both birds and insects definitely took us by surprise, so we jotted down a few tasks for this year’s harvest.

Pests

  • Put out traps early in the season and monitor them regularly to help determine when to address insects/moths
  • Follow a regular/consistent organic pest control protocol throughout the season
  • Check trees daily for insect populations throughout the fruit development process and address early before the insect numbers become out of control
  • Put up bird netting a few weeks before anticipated harvest to discourage bird damage

General

  • Thin fruit to fewer/higher quality fruit and to encourage flower set for the next season
  • Last year our irrigation schedule was interrupted when we installed our irrigation in the back orchard; this definitely affected our pomegranates and cherries.  This year will be better and much more consistent.
  • Install small nylon socks (coated with Kaolin Clay) on each apple versus a cluster of fruit.  I  fixed a few by removing the original sock from the cluster and placing socks on each individual fruit.  I left the rest to see what would happen. The result… a bit more challenging to harvest a fruit in a cluster (some unripe fruit were yanked off by accident) and there was some fruit damage as a result.

Preserving the Harvest

  • Plan, plan, plan!

These were just some of the main points.

As part of my record keeping, I note the "average" size of my fruit.

As part of my record keeping, I note the “average” size of my fruit.

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I keep record of my harvest on charts I created and store them in a binder – very handy when you’re in the middle of cleaning, weighing and sorting newly harvested fruit.

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Hope you found this helpful and interesting.

God Bless,

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So Who is Stinky?

Stinky the Stink Bug

StinkBug

From my research, I discovered that “Stinky” is from a long line of fine garden munchers.  He is a stink bug.  More specifically, a Say’s Stink Bug (Chlorochroa sayi).  Though some Say’s Stink Bugs are green in color, my particular capture is dark brown with a distinct solid beige outline around its armored back.

StinkBug2There are a few different types of stink bugs, each differing in color and pattern, but they all have the distinctive “armor” back.

At first, I thought my six-legged captive was a squash bug.  A common mistake that a lot of gardeners make ~ trust me, I’ve seen lots of posts and videos where gardeners blurt out their error for all to see.  Though Squash Bug adults kinda look similar to the Stink Bug, the squash bug’s eggs and nymphs look noticeably different. The recommended pest control practices differ between the two bugs as well.

SquashBugsource: Squash Bug (Anasa tristis) adult

SquashBugEggssource: Squash Bug (Anasa tristis) eggs

SquashBugNymphssource: Squash Bug (Anasa tristis) nymphs

StinkBugsource: Stink Bug (Chlorochroa sayi) eggs & nymphs

Is it really that important to know what you’re dealing with in the garden?  Yes!  I cannot say it enough times… knowing an insect’s true identity will ultimately help you to implement the “correct” pest management process at the right time (typically the nymph stage).  A little knowledge goes a long way!

Friend or Foe?

Spined Soldier Bug

And the answer is… Friend.  This my friends is a Spined Soldier Bug (Podisus maculiventris) who has a voracious appetite for mexican bean beetles, European corn borers, diamondback moths, corn earworms, beet armyworms, fall armyworms, cabbage loopers, imported cabbageworms, Colorado potato beetles, velvetbean caterpillars, and flea beetles.

As you’re pickin’ off the bad guys, it would be a terrible shame if this friendly little guy got caught up in the mix, well… just because you didn’t know any better :(

Happy gardening.

God Bless,

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Identifying Pests

Stinky the Stink Bug

With the cooler fall weather settling in nicely here in the desert, I’ve hung up my wide-brimmed shade hat and pulled out my lavender-scented long-sleeved shirts.  The same shirts that I  washed, folded and neatly tucked away with a dried lavender sachet last spring for just such an occasion.  Now, all I have to do is sport a silly grin while I wave enthusiastically goodbye to the hoards of pesky pests exiting my garden like a land rush on opening day.  Goodbye squash bugs.  Farewell leaf-footed bugs.  Good ridden aphids.  Toodles tobacco horned worm.

I can finally sit back and rest while I watch my fall garden grow in peace.  W—e —l—l … unless you live in fairytale garden-land, the land rush… it’s to your property.  And the pests… some have familiar faces while others are new, but they all have the same goal in mind.  Eat your plants!

Okay.  I admit, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it feels true.  For most gardeners, when the weather cools, they do see a reduction in the number of insects and other pests munching on their beautiful fruit and veggie plants.  But any noticeable warming in temperature, the bugs do a reboot and proceed where they left off.

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Why mention this?  For the past few weeks it’s been fairly quiet in my garden.  Every day my visits have been carefree as I enjoyed watching my honey bees delight in their feast of pollen and nectar from a variety of basil and Lemon Queen Sunflowers lovingly grown in their honor. At least this was the case up until earlier this week.  The bees and bumblers (a nickname for the cherub-like bumble bee) are still lovin’ their pre-winter buffet and recent wing warming 81°F day-time temperatures, but what caught my eye was the damage I found on a few of my yellow pear tomato fruit.

Without much thought, I went about my business finding no other damage, until I saw it.  An insect, with the shape of a shield for a back, sitting on one of my tomato leaves without a care in the world.  Sitting there, out in the open, middle of the day daring me to catch a glimpse of him or her.

To add insult to injury, a day later, I found a medium-sized tobacco horned worm (similar to a tomato worm), which I promptly plucked from its suction grip on my tomato branch, zipped it away in a plastic baggie and tossed it into the trash.

No sooner had I patted myself on the back for my triumph against the insect world, I found a “hopper”.  A name hubby and I have designated to those pesky erratic hopping nuisances that can munch down half a plant in no time.  And I bet you’ll never guess what plant I found it on.  Yup… my tomato plant.  Ah, come on!

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Once I got over the fact they were going after my yellow pear tomato plants, I scooped up my little hopping foe and quickly imprisoned it within a plastic baggie and dealt the same fate as I did to the worm and armored insect – to the trash with em’ :)

Why not squish them and put them out of their misery?

You see, I’m not an insect prude or anything.  Actually, I’m quite the opposite, but… I just can’t make myself squish them.  Something about green goo sends shivers up my spine. Yeah, at the sight of a good squish, I do the smooshed up face thing, hop around with one knee tucked in closely to the other like I’m doing the pee-pee dance, and repeatedly jut my arms out at my sides shaking them like I having a seizure or something. Of course I’m completely speechless.

Or, the more subtle approach is when both my hands immediately cover my gaping mouth and stay stuck there throughout the whole ordeal.

Okay… it’s not all that bad, but I think you get the picture.  Now, let’s move onto what I’m really here to talk about… identifying the pests you find in and about the garden.

Identify That Bug!

After capturing an insect, caterpillar, worm, etc., my first order of business is to properly identify it.  I am a firm believer that all gardeners need to make this important habit a regular part of their lives.

I can think of a number of reasons why properly identifying what’s lurking in and around your garden is important, but rather than bore you with a long list, I’ve narrowed it down to what I feel are the top three reasons.

Proper identification will help you to

1) make certain it’s not one of the good guys (a.k.a. beneficial insect)

2) determine the most effective pest control methods and application timing, and

3) visually identify the insect in its various life stages (i.e., eggs, nymphs, adult, moth)

1) Is It One of The Good Guys?

Just this point alone motivates me to do the necessary research in identifying what I’ve found, but this can be a tricky one because a lot of the good guys look almost identical to the rebel rousers you want so desperately out of your garden.  It requires patience and focused observation.

Tip: As I come across an unidentified bug within my garden, I log a photo of the it along with any pertinent information I’ve discovered through my research. I created my log using Word and a simple table, then I slip my nicely formatted pages into plastic page protectors and keep everything in a three-ring binder. Okay, stop it.  I can hear some of you cringing.  I know, I know… the computer age.  Trust me, I’m very comfortable with computers and have all of my originals well-organized {on my computer}, but as a gardener, I just find that it’s easier and less messy to grab my binder when I step outdoors.

In addition to searching for the identity of the bad guy, I also look for any beneficial/predatory insects that look similar to the one I’ve found.  I copy the photo and place it along side the bad guy’s photo making note of (for both the good and bad guy)…

  • it’s common and scientific name
  • identifying markings and size, and
  • in the case of the good guy, what it preys on

2) Determine Most Effective Pest Control and Timing

With the common and scientific name in hand, it’s now easier to really dig into researching your specific pest.  During your research, make certain to find out what others recommend for addressing your specific insect issue.  Also, be certain that the information you find is from a reputable source and the control methods tested and well documented.

To help, I’ve listed below a couple of great resources I discovered during my research.  One resource has lots of visuals and an awesome insect database.  The other, lists details on several common garden and agricultural pests which include temperature ranges, life cycle info, control methods and timing, etc.

From this point, you may decide to seek out even more information on your foe.  With the scientific name in your back pocket, it’s easy to Google it.

Side Note:  When doing my research, I always seek out holistic, organic and botanical control options with special attention to bee safety, and paying little attention to the “chemical” solutions.  With that said, I am obviously not a fan of chemical controls and I try to avoid them at all costs.  Also, just because it’s organic or botanical in nature does not automatically make it safe.  Even some of these options are harmful, especially to beneficials and predatory insects, as well as our soil (more good guys… microbes, fungi, bacteria, etc.), and even our own health.

Please, please, please…Hold on a second.  I’m a little verklempt… talk amongst yourselves.  I’ll give you a topic… The peanut is neither a pea nor a nut. Discuss.

Okay, now that I’ve taken a moment to regroup… please, take great care in what you put on your plants and in your soil.  Lives depend on it.

Here’s a great list of common organic controls and their impact on bees.

To support my passion, and a lot of yours I’m sure, using an integrated pest management (IPM) approach makes good sense for both my veggie garden and my orchard.  Though this approach has a place for chemical control (as a final solution if all else has fails), it supports its usage very responsibly.

3) Visually Identify Life Stages

Simply put, it’s being able to visually recognize the insect at all stages of its life… eggs, young (nymphs/larva), and of course, its adult state.  Being able to identify an insect, bug, worm or caterpillar early in its life will allow you to put your IPM strategy into play early in the game before the pest has a chance to become a real problem for you.

Yes, life does have a way of interfering with the best laid plans, but with this knowledge you will be better prepared for what may come next… at least where your garden’s concerned.

Resources

Stink BugThere are several books out there in the world on the subject of insect identification.  Unless you’re willing to shell out more than two pockets full of change for a bug encyclopedia, or two, or three, most insect reference books leave gardeners shrugging their shoulders clearly stating “I dun-know” when asked, “what is it?” by the shrieking person frantically tugging at the arm of their shirt.  At least, that’s been my experience to date (well, not the shrieking part, of course).

In my search to find an effective source that could help me to quickly identify an insect without having to ship it somewhere, or take a visit to my local cooperative extension office, I turned to the internet and came across two reputable resources listed below.

University of California Agriculture & Natural Resources – Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program

This site has GREAT info on several common garden and agricultural pests as well as extensive details regarding Integrated Pest Management. Their pest and IPM information is well documented, though I found their insect listing a bit lacking and it’s obviously California focused.  The site more than makes up for it with its vast and detailed gardening and pest control information.

Bug Guide

This site is awesome!  The most extensive visuals and insect listing I have ever seen.  And, if they don’t have what you’re looking for, you can send in a photo and they will identify it for you.

One word of caution: because of the site’s volume of insects, it can take a bit of getting used to.  I found the best approach is to start by finding an insect that has a similar shape, features, etc. by either scrolling through the visuals on the site or in a book.  You can scroll through until you come across something close to what you’re looking for then start drilling down until you locate an exact match.  If you find something close in a book, you can type the name in the site’s search field.  Using the common name at this point will help to keep your search broad until you’re able to dig in a little deeper.

Despite the site’s extensive database of visuals, categories and sub-categories, etc. it usually doesn’t take me long to find what I’m looking for.

Note:  This site really doesn’t provide pest control information.  It’s mainly for identification. But having the “real identity” of the insect you found makes it much easier to search for info on-line.

Hope this information helps.  Now onto the big question… who is “Stinky”.  Let’s have a little fun.  I’ll post the true identity on Tuesday, giving you a chance to identify it before I post the answer.  If you want to play along, just leave a comment with your answer :)

With all that said, happy gardening and pest hunting!

Sharing this week with…

The Chicken Chick

God Bless,

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