The apples are picked, sorted and packed, mostly eaten. Our sprayer is winterized and temporarily at rest in the orchard. "Whew, that was a lot of spraying!" - W
October 18, 2007, 7:00 AM. I’m sipping tea at the kitchen table as night gradually gives way to the day. Last evening we had a hint of snow and the mercury dipped to 27. Miro’s agroecology class is packing for their return to Colorado College. They picked and packed our Winter Banana heirloom apples and, with that, the last of the harvest is in. The seasons continue their inexorable turning; autumn is slipping past.
I cast memory back over 2007, our second full farming cycle: The harvest was affected by an unseasonably warm March, followed by a cold April, and killer frosts the end of May. Our neighbor who’s been growing fruit here all his life says he’s never had such a thin crop.
We adapted by initiating two pilot projects: our Farm Fruits Direct clubs and “value-added” processed foods. In Colorado Springs three of our friends organized their friends and neighbors into organic buying clubs. In the North Fork we organized our farmer friends to join us in supplying produce. We made five weekly deliveries and were rewarded with rave reviews from our customers. We will expand next year.
Wink plants winter rye cover crop where we removed red delicious in the spring, and in alleyways of new vineyards.
Max developed recipes and worked our way through the bureaucracy to enable us to cook and package processed foods suitable for sale. We now have an inventory of spicy peach chutney and grape juice cold-pressed from our chambourcin wine grapes. We are preparing to make a zesty apple butter.
We were honored to host several visits from Colorado College groups. Beginning at Spring Break when four students arrived to help with grape trellising and hoop house construction. When Miro brought his summer session ag-ecology class we…. A group of entering freshmen arrived just in time to pick and pack our Galas. A Synergy House reunion group constructed and planted the wetland peninsula in the new pond. And the class just departing picked our last apples.
While politicians pontificated their impotent paranoid pander around illegal immigration, migrant laborers stayed away, and farmers agonized over who would gather-in their crops — our adaptation was to offer rewarding work to our CC friends. It worked! And we are immensely grateful for their help. We will expand those opportunities next year for sure.
In addition, Miro’s classes conducted valuable and timely research and data gathering that help us better understand the intricate ecological web that we are farming within and how we can continually improve the ways we work with nature. One specific outcome is that we are reducing the amount of tilling we will do. We plan to increase our educational offers next year to the benefit of students, ourselves, and the organic farming community at large. - W
Following hot and heavy on the peach harvest, which was successful given the "slim pickings" (see Slim Pickens for a peice of rural arcana), Galas stepped up to the plate. This apple has a narrow window of primetime, otherwise the stem side splits and becomes apple juice, pennies on the pound.
Colorado College inbound freshman were scheduled to help on the farm as the Galas were crying for help. The New Student Orientation (NSO) trip was led by two of our volunteers during March springbreak, who did a great job of introducing the farm to the new students. As part of their experience, they visited Mark Waltermire's Thistle Whistle Farm, picked beautiful produce while there and cooked it to share with us.
The Golden Delicious and Winter Bananas will be picked at the end of the month then the orchards will begin their long sleep. They deserve a rest after a big drink of water!
The old apple trees made music when Nel and her brother Nik hung garden chimes on one of their sturdy boughs.
"The Colorado peach crop this year is costing farmers and disappointing peach lovers around the state." We are one of the luckier growers and so are our customers. We haven't been seeing split pits and our peaches are well sized.
Many of the farmers in the North Fork Valley this year were dissappointed that their fruit crops were basically wiped out this spring. The cold temperatures were on time and normal, but the unseasonably warm temps pushed earlier blossoms.
Farmers have learned resilience throughout their careers, and this early destruction triggered "Plan B". One of our neighbors decided to focus attention on their vineyard, a crop that needs the most attention the second season after planting. (See what we did this year in Meadowlark Vineyard!) Another long time organic grower decided to plant lots of eggplant along with other annual vegetables to make up the difference.
We've made one delivery to our former home town, Colorado Springs, and expect to deliver more on request. The thing about peaches is a timely delivery, and our challenge now is to get our peaches into the hands of eaters!
We picked into totes this year, then packed into boxes to minimize handling.
A full harvest of peaches requires 5% of the fruit reach maturity. That didn't happen to us this year unfortunately, but the peaches we have are delicious as usual.
Peaches are more vulnerable to freeze damage when the blossom is more developed. By April 10, these flowers may have looked good, but many of them did not set fruit.
Peach blossoms the day after Wink fired up the wind machine (below) to raise temperature from 26° to 28° F.
Fruit crops and spring freezes
As the trees get closer to bloom, their tolerance of cold temperatures decreases. March, April and May, the farmers in the valley watch the weather very closely. Many farms have wind machines that stir the air layers. The "wind" moves the warm air which sits higher, to nearer the ground where the trees are.
The night of March 29 we expected low temps of 23° so we set our temperature alarm to the stage of tree bloom and cold hardiness. The cloud cover however meant the lowest temp was close to 28° until 6:30 this morning, but warmed fast after that, so we dodged the bullet.
Fortunately peach tree buds only need a 5% survival rate for a crop. Last year the early peach variety was frost damaged so the harvest wasn't "full" but neither did we have to thin those peaches!
Tonight low temperatures threaten again.
John and Raman gathering up the prunings.
Unseasonable warm weather has pushed up the bud swell 3 weeks ahead of average. When the students arrived during CC spring break, we knew we had to clear the prunings out of the apple alleyways and begin peach pruning as soon as possible.
We hauled the tops of many trees out of the orchard by hand this year (see photos below), burned them, then rented a flail mower to chop the smaller prunings inside the rows rather than raking and burning with the tractor like last year. With the students to help rake into the centers, this job was finished in a jiffy!
The jury's out on whether the November frost hurt the peaches and grapes. After the late March freezing nights, we will see which buds lead to fruit and which ones didn't have a chance.
We're counting on Salvador and Octavio to prune the peaches again this year. Max hopes to help some too.
Lots of wood to be raked and burned, but we now are closer to our goal of "pedestrian orchard."
All the fruit trees on Rogers Mesa have completed their rest, which means they are ready to grow when the temperatures have reached a certain number of "degree days".
The next stage is called "bud swell" and the estimated dates for that is about two weeks sooner than the 20-year average— 2006 was also two weeks ahead of average and remained ahead of schedule for the fruit stages through to harvest.
Of course the trees proceed according to internal programming. What concerns most of the farmers is when outside conditions don't cooperate. For example, November's coldest temps of the winter (minus 10 on our farm) probably damaged the buds.
When we prune the peaches we will also test the buds to arrive at a percentage of bud loss and see if we have 5% of fruit left. That's all that's necessary for a crop. We'll have to get all the way from bud swell, blossom, and fruit set without a dangerous freeze. Do the chances of a late freeze seem to increase with earlier warm periods? It's a threat in any case.
The apple trees are looking shorn and tidy as Salvador and Octavio have completed pruning. We continue to head-back the trees’ central leaders (main trunk) as we transition to a “pedestrian orchard” which will increase efficiency by reducing ladder use.