Sunday, August 19, 2012


Weather: Severe late afternoon storms three days in a row; the far arroyo ran Thursday; 13:21 hours of daylight today.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid perpetual roses, buddleia, bird of Paradise, silver lace vine, trumpet creeper, red yucca, rose of Sharon, datura, Heavenly Blue morning glory, sweet pea, Russian sage, purple garden phlox, single sunflowers, zinnias, Sensation cosmos; pods on honey locust; berries on pyracantha.

Beyond the walls and fences: Leatherleaf globemallow, bush and ivy leaved morning glories, white and pink bindweeds, white sweet clover, silver leaf nightshade, knotted spurge, prostrate knotweed, goat’s head, yellow and white evening primroses, Queen Anne’s lace, pigweed, ragweed, Russian thistles, gum weed, goat’s beard, horseweed, wild lettuce, golden hairy asters, Tahoka daisies; showy milkweed pods splitting open; Virginia creeper berries ripening.

In my yard, looking east: Bouncing Bess, Jupiter’s beard, hollyhock, winecup mallow, sidalcea Party Girl.

Looking south: Rugosa, floribunda and miniature roses, Dutch clover, Illinois bundle flower.

Looking west: Caryopteris, Siberian and Seven Hills Giant catmints, calamintha, leadplant, David phlox, perennial four o’clock, sea lavender, Mönch asters, purple coneflowers.

Looking north: Nasturtium, California and Shirley poppies, larkspur, chocolate flower, coreopsis, blanket flower, black-eyed Susan, Mexican hat, chrysanthemum, yellow cosmos.

Bedding plants: Petunia, nicotiana, snapdragons, sweet alyssum.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, aptenia.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, hummingbirds, small brown birds, geckos, bees, hornets, harvester and small black ants.

Weekly update: Apples are having a bumper year. Everywhere you look trees are covered with ripening fruit. Next year, no matter how great the spring, there may be nothing.

Apples produce in two year cycles. First the branches send out small thin spurs, which produce buds that take a year to mature. The following spring there will be two types of buds - the ones that will bear that year, and the ones that will bear next. A good spur will elongate and produce for ten years.

For the past two springs, late snows and cold killed the fruiting buds, but left the less vulnerable future buds. Then last year there was the drought. Trees tend to respond by conserving their resources; they selfishly send energy to their roots, preventing viable buds from developing. This reinforces the tendency of trees to become biennial, because those undeveloped buds will emerge the next year along with the ones scheduled for the next year.

Commercial growers, of course, can’t afford trees that don’t produce one year and overproduce the next. Much of their pruning in January and February is done to interrupt the biennial tendency.

The fruit appears in closely spaced pairs. Where apples touch, blemishes appear which don’t affect the fertility of the seeds, but make them less marketable. In addition, when they are closely spaced, none can get very large - again, something that concerns the grower but not the tree which wants to perpetuate its species with as many seeds as possible.

At one time, growers manually thinned the buds in late spring, hoping they were preserving the ones most likely to produce good fruit. Now, chemicals have been developed which do the thinning for them, eliminating pairs and leaving widely spaced buds.

This year, it’s obvious there’s another reason growers need to treat their trees. With the accumulated effects of the drought, trees not only are producing heavily, but what they are producing is heavy. The ripening apples are pulling down the valuable spurs.

One person went out Friday and propped up his branches his planks. Another did not, and Saturday a branch had pushed down his fence and was protruding into a road at a point where it was already difficult for two small cars to pass. It hadn’t broken, but someone with a short temper was going to do something if it wasn’t removed.

It’s usually easy to tell the men who care for their trees from those that don’t. They have the orchards that produce every year on properly spaced trees with some kind of mown grass beneath to keep in moisture and keep out weeds. This year, it’s even easier, for their trees have only a few spurs dense with fruit, while the neglected trees are fountains of bent branches.

One problem for those people is, at some point, that fruit is going to have to be picked, if not from the trees, then from the ground. If they’re not removed, they will attract insects, and rot. Next year, the other growers will have to spray more to protect their trees from the consequences of these neighbors’ poor sanitation habits. I could already smell the apples at one place I passed on Friday.

The other problem is that when apples do decide to fruit, they expend all their resources of begetting seeds, and neglect the accumulation of food reserves they need to survive the winter. Those trees that are overburdened now may have serious problems this winter. It’s likely the fact they are bearing so heavily is evidence the roots were already damaged by the drought, and this is their last attempt at self preservation. A bough has already come down on one man’s tree.

Such abundant trees fit some satisfying image of the bountifulness of nature for us, but it’s the trees which are bearing lightly that are the healthiest.

1. Well maintained apple orchard, 17 August 2012.

2. Storm Thursday, 16 August 2012. The reason I indulge that black locust tree is it can survive such winds.

3. Apples growing in pairs, 17 August 2012.

4. Spur bending out from young tree in generally well maintained orchard, 17 August 2012.

5. Trees branches propped with plants in another maintained orchard, 18 August 2012.

6. Neglected, overbearing tree, 17 August 2012.

7. Fruit falling from overbearing tree in a neglected orchard, 17 August 2012.

8. Broken branch in moderately maintained orchard, 18 August 2012.

9. Small tree bearing sparsely in well maintained orchard, 17 August 2012.

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