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.

040314_BlanketWind3

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 😦

040314_BlanketWind2

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.

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  • 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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4 Comments

Filed under Fruit Trees/Orchard, Monthly Task Calendar

4 responses to “April Orchard Tasks

  1. Hi April,
    You got ice in Vegas in April! What a weather! I thought you was always in hot, hot days in desert areas.
    Sounds like that protecting the fruit trees and vegetables from the strong wind there is a very serious job. Here, in north Texas, we got 90 F with wind yesterday. But, the wind in my back yard is not as strong as yours. Because the stronger wind here in spring time is from the northern east and eastern south, our fence and our house decrease the powerful wind and block it most of time, the plants-corns, vegetables, flowers in my garden ( size: 20′ * 20′ ) have not got severes damaged. These years, I start my summer seedlings in house or garage since February. When the temperature is over 50 F and it is sunshine, I move the seedlings out. After the last frost day, I transplant them to the ground—like, eggplants, tomatoes, peppers, parsley, onion, basil. Some summer squash, winter squash, beans and other asian vegetables are seeded into the ground directly when the temperature is warm enough.
    I am sorry to see that your Pink Lady apple trees had that poses because of the strong wind. I am sure they will be fine after you fix them. My new fruit trees in front yard are not protected by staking sticks ( I am a little lazy ). Well, so far, they are still having their proper poses which they have to be. -:) The bad thing is that my new Granny Smith Apple just has only two shoots. I don’t know if it is normal. and Lang jujube doesn’t make it, I am pretty sure. Maybe I will have to wait till next year and plant another one.
    Yes, your orchard is doing really well. They are in a limited heigh that you want. They have very good shapes in the picture. There is no weeds and the ground is covered with mulch. You really do a good job!

    Thank you so much for shareing your experience and your monthly tasks.

    Have a nice weekend!

    Lily

    • Before I moved here, I thought the same thing… always hot and dry. Living here for about 10+ years, I have certainly discovered that it can get very cold here from about December thru February. We even got into freezing temps this past December. Occasionally, we’ll have a bit of snow but it usually doesn’t stay around for long. June thru August is typically “hot and dry” getting into 100+ temps. The remaining months are pretty comfortable.

      Thank you for the nice compliments. Also, be a little patient with your Granny Smith Apple.

      • Hi Asher,

        Each article you wrote are so informative and useful for me, a new orchardist.

        Here I have some questions about orchard:

        We don’t have drip irrigation system in front orchard yet. Maybe the system will be set next year after the fruit trees are filled up in the front yard. And now I use the buckets or hose to help water the fruit trees.

        I used the wood clothpin for spreading young branches. There are 7 or 8 young branches on the trunk of each peach, plum, persimmon, asian pear fruit trees. Do I have to keep all branches? or just keep 3 or 4 branches for each tree? I know that persimmon and pear trees will be kept a structure like open vase shape and the peach, plum and apple trees will be central leader shape. I don’t know what to do with their very young branches because I am not sure which one that I have to keep to build their future structure. Will I have to wait till Summer prunning? What is crow’s-feet situations? I can’t find the answer on the websites after google it.

        For peach, nectarine trees:

        I really like peach or nectarine flavor and tastes. And the attractive pink blooms in early spring are a big bonus in the orchard, I really know. One day, when I drove my truck passing in a neighbood. I saw a beatiful, double, pink flowers in the fence of someone’s backyard. I took a little longer time to enjoy the unite view that the truck rode over the concrete edge. Some crashed marks are still on the front tire and wheel. -:( But, now I know it is difficult to grow them organically. For the beautiful flowers, I will try my best for the first year and see what is going on. I have Dr. Bronner’s Castile soap and Neem oil . What is Bt? What does it look like?

        Citrus is my orchard must fruit. We use and eat them all the time. In northern Texas, most of citrus trees have to be moved in the house, garage, or greenhouse in winter. I have been trying to find a right one to fit into my orchard.

        I remember that you make your fruit harvest chart. Do you write your orchard journal in a chart or a callendar?

        Thank you so much for your time and your help.
        Please don’t work too hard.

        Best Wishes
        Sincerely

        Lily

  2. Lois

    Looks like the orchard keeps you busy. A lot on your to do list and the wind isn’t your friend.

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