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Saturday, August 13, 2011

August Todo List for the Orchard

I know that you’re harvesting wine grapes right now but July and August are the months for harvesting plums and plum relatives such as pluots as well. Plums such as Emerald beauty and Elephant Heart should be coming on soon or ready now. Flavor Queen pluots should be ready or very close to being ready.

There should be apples coming on so walk the apples and see. If the apple looks like it might be ready then bite or cut into it and inspect the seeds. The seeds should be brown if they are ripe and ready to pick. Do some fruit evaluations on apples if they are ready. Remember to get multiple brix readings and do not combine evaluation scores but record them all independent from one another.

Hosui Asian pear 2009 and we are now working on
developing size by increasing our thinning
Yutaka on Saturdays can give you some advice regarding Asian pears but the early producers should be coming in soon. Please get some evaluations of this fruit as it ripens because we have scant data on how well they are performing. Last year was the first really good year for many of them and many achieved very high quality both visually and taste. They are getting better and better under Yutaka’s watchful eye. This is an important fruit to document since this is definitely not the Asian pear climate.

The remaining almonds were pretty much decimated by ground squirrels before I left. Good thing we sold a lot of them as green almonds this year. That would be a good market for us next year if we can let local chefs know that we have them. They went to San Francisco this year and sold at $4.00 per pound that their farmers markets. We sold them to a broker for $2.00 per pound.

Fallen fruit is always going to be a problem this time of year and if you do not keep it picked up you will have an outbreak of pests that attack ripe fruit such as the confused sap and dried fruit beetles. Fallen fruit should not be kept very long in buckets or exposed to the open air or the same thing will occur. If you leave the fruit sitting in buckets you are just moving the potential for infestation from the orchard aisles to buckets. These beetles can fly and they will go out looking for girlfriends and boyfriends. Remember, we used to put them in large containers that had lids. The lids kept them from getting infested. Somehow you need to keep this picked up fruit from getting infested and not leave them exposed.

Bubblers should have a perfect cone if they have no debris
in them and the pressure is adequate.
Because of the frequency of irrigation right now bubblers will have a tendency to plug more often. Once a month the irrigation bubblers need to be walked and checked for plugging. The easiest way to do this is to use the remote for changing irrigation stations and have two or three people inspect the bubblers for plugging. These inspectors should carry spare cleaned bubblers and replace plugged ones as they see them. You can flag the plugged bubblers and when the irrigation has moved to the next station then replace the bubbler unless of course you are hot and want a shower.

Pests that can occur now are still the peach twig borer which is the little worm that gets in the soft fruit, dried fruit beetle if you don’t pick up fallen fruit and we may have a short outbreak of Green June Beetles but they will be gone in a couple of weeks if they occur. It is also possible that we can act of revisit by the grape flea beetle soon which chews holes in the leaves. They cause some damage to the leaves but we don’t get real excited because the damage is minimal and they disappear in a couple of weeks.

I am sure Jon will have numerous things to do but here it is a short list of things that might be coming up in the orchard

Jujube fruit from the contorted jujube. There are quite a few
varieties to pick from. Along with almonds displayed still
in their husks these are showstoppers at farmers markets
because people want to know what they are
Remember to keep harvested fruit out of direct sunlight as much as you can or you will build up excessive heat in the fruit and internal breakdown of the fruit will happen much more quickly. After harvesting put the trays in the shade of the trees until you are ready to take them to the cooler or the shaded area.

Todo for August

• Pick up fallen fruit and make sure they are properly disposed of
• Irrigate and make sure bubblers are not plugged.
• Help with the wine grape harvest on Saturdays.
• Inspect apples for ripe fruit.
• Inspect late plums and pluots such is Emerald Beauty and Elephant Heart as well as Flavor Queen pluot if they have not already been harvested.
• Vegetables should be sprayed regularly with our insecticidal soap.
• Inspect asparagus for female plants and remove them.
• There should be table grapes and figs ready for harvest
• Don’t forget jujube as it should be coming in very soon. Some people like it mottled brown and green and still plump while others like it dried, brown and shriveled. It would probably be a novelty and attract people to a farmer’s market table just to ask what it is

Monday, August 8, 2011

Blueberries Won't Grow in the Hot Desert. So... Let's Give it a Try!

Q. I am interested in planting various fruits in my backyard. One that I am curious about is growing blueberries in our region. Do you know how they do here? Would you have any recommendations? I did not realize the varieties of blueberry plants that are out there! In my search I also came across pink lemonade blueberries, I am definitely interested, but I do not want to put forth the effort if they will not be a productive plant in our area.

A. This is the case where your gardening skills are going to be challenged. They are definitely not suited to our climate and definitely not suited to our soils. So let’s give it a try!

This means we have to modify the climate they are in as much as possible and also the soils. Pick a microclimate in your landscape that will be as cool as possible yet still provide 6 to 8 hours of sunlight every day and out of the way of strong winds. This would most likely be an east or north side of a landscape that avoids late afternoon direct sunlight. Find a location or create a location that is protected from prevailing strong winds.

Next, modify the soil. Blend anywhere from half to 2/3 of the existing soil with a good quality compost. To this mix and sulfur that is as finely ground as you can find or in a liquid form. If you are not opposed to it, aluminum sulfate can help lower the alkalinity. It is not used much any more and may be hard to find.

Water the soil thoroughly and let it drain several times before planting. Use only southern high bush blueberries in the planting holes and space them according to the directions. Stake the plants securely in the soil the first season of growth.

You will need pollenizers so make sure you get the correct blueberries together for good fruit set. Drip irrigation can be used or you can flood the area with water from bubblers. Cover the planting area with 3 to 4 inches of wood mulch, keeping the mulch away about 6 inches from stems that enter the soil.

Grow them for one season and see how they do. If you see signs of leaf scorching on the edges you might want to put 30% shade cloth over the top of them to help them a bit from intense sunlight. Every year you should be adding compost and acidifying the soil with finely ground sulfur or aluminum sulfate plus a good fertilizer and a soil applied iron chelate containing EDDHA. This is done in the spring before you see new growth. This should help get you started.

Stop Horsin' Around With My Pear Tree!

Q. Short story, we had a horse get out of their corral while we were out of the house today for probably 4-5 hours. While out, he ate most of the bark off of 60% of the trunk of one of our pear trees. The tree has quite a bit of fruit on it right now. We are more concerned with saving the tree than this year’s crop. Suggestions or ideas on anything you would suggest we should do would be very much appreciated.

Pruning cut healing over. Notice the wood is rolling over
the dead wood in the cylinder of the tree. Smoothing out
rough damage on the edges will help promote faster closure.
Use a sterilized instrument.
A. Long answer. The good part of this is that your tree, provided it is healthy, will probably survive. I have had fruit trees with that much damage to the trunk survive in the past.

Your horse probably ate all the way down to the wood. This means that the tissue which transports food from the leaves to the roots is gone in that area as well as the tissue which transports water from the roots to the leaves.

With 40% intact on the trunk the tree may struggle but it should still survive. I would recommend that you mulch the ground around the trunk with wood mulch which you can obtain free from our orchard. Saturate the ground around the trunk of the tree with water 2 to 3 times each week.

Clean the wound created by the horse with a sharp, sterile knife, cleaning the jagged edges of the damaged bark so that it is smooth. You do not need to paint the wound with anything. Just let it go after you have traced the wound with your knife.

Make sure you fertilize the tree next January and each January while it is trying to heal. Enjoy the fruit. But next year thin the fruit out why it is the size of the silver dollar so there is only one fruit per cluster.

Summer Brown Dead Spots on Lawns

Q. I need your assistance. The photo I sent depicts the present condition of my backyard. It has patches of dry or dead grass. I don't know what caused the problem. Is there some way to revive the grass without going to the extreme of re-sodding? And what shall I do to prevent this in the future?
Lawn with patches of dead grass; damage is past
and now the grass surrounding the dead spots
is recovering

A. Thanks for the picture. The picture helps and it doesn’t help. It would have helped if I saw something in the picture that gave me a clue. But there is nothing in the picture that is distinctive to me. It would be interesting to know if those dead spots were in any kind of pattern in relation to your irrigation heads.

I did notice in the picture that whatever caused the damage appears to be gone. This would tend to eliminate irrigation as a problem unless you changed your irrigation schedule. If these dead spots occur in the same spots year after year it is usually associated with irrigation. I tend to think it is either insect or disease from your picture.

Browning due to poor irrigation coverage
by the sprinklers; darker green near the
sprinklers and brown between; not well defined
Let me just point out some weaknesses in the design that might contribute to the current problem. I tend to discourage homeowners from designing a turfgrass area other than straight lines. I know this might be somewhat boring but water from sprinkler heads tend to be thrown in straight lines.

Irregular lines or curving lines tend to cause those areas inside the curves to be under watered or the areas outside the curves and no longer in the turfgrass to be overwatered.

I noticed in your picture that most of the damage is closest to the non turfgrass area while the solid turf area are less damaged. Another point, those areas of the turfgrass closest to rock mulch, sidewalks or patios in full sun tend to use more water than those areas deep inside the turf area. These areas close to non turfgrass areas tend to be warmer and more prone to insect attacks than others.

Insect damage that is fresh tends to cause the grass on the edge of the damaged area to pull up freely from the lawn. If the insect damage is long gone, then it will no longer pull up.

Lawn diseases can also cause patterns like this. Unless a sample is sent to a qualified plant pathologist or we have seen the disease many times before it is a shot in the dark as to which disease it might be. From your picture, it is not a disease pattern I recognize.
Distinct horseshoe shape dying spots of summer patch
disease on winter overseeded perennial ryegrass

Since the problem is gone, there is probably no need to apply an insecticide or fungicide. At this point leave the dead grass alone and do not rake it up or you will open the soil surface to invasion by weeds. Since the cause of the problem is unknown it would be hard to tell you how to prevent it from happening again.

Around the end of September through mid October rake up the dead grass and broadcast the same seed or nearly the same seed in the dead areas and mulch the surface with top dressing and fertilizer.

White Fluffy Stuff on Cactus

Cochineal scale on Opuntia cactus
  Q. At desertusa.com, I found out that cochineal scale is what is affecting my prickly pear cactus. Although it described the problem, there was no explanation on how to get rid of it. I used a hose to wash off the scale. Do I need to do something else to save my cactus?

A. Cochineal scale is that white, fuzzy stuff that you see on some cacti. If you crush it between your fingers it has this very pretty dark red color that oozes from inside the white fuzzy stuff. The scale insect itself is under this layer of white fuzzy stuff where it lies protected and can feed on the plant juices. They can infest a cactus quite quickly and can be difficult to control. They can be quite a problem on the edible cacti.

Red dye coming from cochineal scale

In Mexico they use hard pesticides such as Sevin to help keep them under control. We usually just use a sweep nozzle on the end of the hose and turn it on all the way. A strong, steady stream of water will wash the scale off of the pads.

The problem is that once infested you will probably have to hose them off once every week or two during the summer season. During the winter season it is not as often. You are right, this is Cochineal scale. This is not the same scale exactly that is used for the red dye but a very close relative and still gives off a wonderful color that can be used for dyeing.