The Longest Bloom

I was talking to a stone fruit grower this week – a guy in his late 50s at least – who said this bloom is the longest-lasting one in his memory. I had a sense that it was stretched out, but I’m a real newcomer in this business at two years. (A fair number of the people I sit around tables with on a regular basis were literally born into this work.)

Bloom typically starts around President’s Day; it was right on time this year. Most trees are in leaf now – small leaves – but there are definitely still blooms hanging on out there in a few orchard blocks.

An extended bloom period isn’t harmful; a short bloom or a long bloom can yield just as good a crop. What it does affect, though, is the exact window when the fruit must come off the tree.

In a short bloom, pollination is compressed into a smaller window, which means more fruit comes ripe at once. Stone fruit can’t be left to hang on the tree (like oranges) or held in long-term storage (like apples) – it has to be picked and on its way, pronto. So a short bloom means more fruit all at one time, which makes harvesting easier, because it’s all ready at once. However, it also means there’s a lot of fruit available at the same time – a spike in the crop – with all that can entail.

A long bloom means ripeness will be more staggered. Additional passes through the orchard will be needed to harvest the fruit at the right stage, as it’ll be maturing more gradually. That’s more work, but the upside of those multiple passes is that fruit will be coming into the market in the same way it’s being harvested – bit by bit. The gains of more controlled pacing are somewhat offset by the added cost for more rounds through the orchard.

So why the long bloom this year? It’s been cool and rainy. I keep finding myself thinking, “Hey, the weather’s not half bad,” which, when I’m thinking it, usually means the weather is atypical for central Californina.

The cool weather slows the trees down. It also slows down the bees that are necessary to pollinate plums – they don’t fly when it’s below 60 degrees Fahrenheit or raining or if the wind is blowing 15 mph or more, and at least one and sometimes all three of those conditions have been the case for many of the days this month. It’s kept the bees in their hives knitting antennae warmers.

The long bloom also makes for an awfully pretty commute; the last ten miles or so of my drive are lined with orchards and vineyards on both sides. The picture above was taken on my way home from work today.

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