Saturday, April 28, 2012

Strawberry Harvest & Peach Thinning

  Strawberry harvest began a few days ago and is going strong.  Since we never had a spring frost this year, no blossoms were killed, so we have a huge strawberry crop this year.  The berries are large and great-tasting.
Customers are picking many quarts of flavorful 'Earliglow' strawberries.
  Raspberries and blackberries are blooming now and will have huge crops this year also.  All these berry crops can support large numbers of berries, since each berry is relatively small.  Most tree fruits, however, cannot support all the fruit that set in a frost-free year like this one, or all the fruit would end up being so small and lacking in sweetness that nobody would want to buy them.
  So we need to thin tree fruits, removing the excess fruit so the remaining ones will grow bigger and sweeter.  Apples and pears can be thinned about 3 weeks after full bloom, by spraying a growth-regulating spray that causes some of the young fruit to drop.  We sprayed our apples and pear trees last Mon. April 23, and have seen some resulting fruit drop, but not quite enough.  So we will have to remove even more fruit by hand later.
  For the past 10 days we've concentrated on thinning the peach trees, in between customers coming to harvest strawberries.  No growth-regulating sprays work well to thin peaches without causing damage to the foliage, so we have to thin peaches mechanically.  With the huge fruit set this year, we have to remove 90% of the young fruit.
  So we invested in pneumatic limb shakers this year.  We placed these on each branch and give it a vigorous shake for a second or two, knocking some young fruit to the ground.  I just finished going over the entire one-acre peach orchard of about 100 trees yesterday, after spending 40 hours using the limb shaker.
I spent 40 hours shaking excess tiny peaches from our 100 trees using a pneumatic limb shaker, powered by an air compressor that runs via the power take off of our tractor.
  Now four workers and I are doing follow-up hand thinning.  We leave the best fruit, spaced 6 to 8 inches apart, on the trees, and twist off the rest.  In 2010--another year with no spring frost--before we got the limb shakers, we had to spend 350 hours hand thinning, about 3 1/2 hours per tree.  With the limb shakers, I hope to cut that labor requirement to about 2 hours per tree, or 200 hours total plus 40 hours using the limb shaker.
This peach branch, after using the limb shaker but before hand thinning, still has far more fruit than the branch can support.
The same branch after hand thinning now has only the biggest, best fruit, that will ripen into large, sweet, flavorful peaches.
  Growing great peaches takes a lot of work!  Come buy some peaches this summer to taste the results of our labor.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Earlier Fruit Ripening Seasons This Year

  Due to the warm winter and spring, all our fruits are ripening earlier this year.  I've changed the fruit harvest seasons sidebar to reflect that.
  I picked a few strawberries today, on April 18!  Usually we don't start strawberry harvest until early May.  Strawberries are pick-your-own only, by appointment only, so call 620-597-2450 to arrange a time to come pick them.  We'll start having people pick strawberries next week.
I picked these 'Earliglow' strawberries today, and have already eaten some on ice cream!
  Red raspberries should start ripening by late May this year.  Our earliest thornless blackberry varieties, 'Natchez' and 'Ouachita', are blooming heavily now, so blackberry season should start at least a week earlier than normal, by June 8 or so.
'Natchez' thornless blackberries, the earliest to ripen, are blooming heavily now and should start ripening by about June 8 this year.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Planting More Strawberries & Blackberries

  Yesterday, on Good Friday, since two of my workers were off from school, they helped me plant our new strawberry field.  We transplanted 300 plants, 100 each of 3 different varieties--'Galletta', 'L'amour' and 'Mesabi'--in 9 rows, 3 rows of each variety.  We set the plants two feet apart on the raised beds that Bill made a few weeks ago.  I'll need to apply mulch around the plants in the next couple weeks.  As the new plants get established, they'll send out runners, and I'll set the first runners where I want them on the beds, to fill in the rows.
Brandon Ledford, left, dug holes while Joel Zwahlen, right, and I transplanted strawberries into 9 rows of raised beds in our new strawberry field.  Our apple orchard was blooming in the background.
  The plants will bear their first crop in 2013, and hopefully continue producing well for about five years.  Our existing 'Earliglow' strawberry planting is fruiting for its 4th year this year, is blooming now, and has an excellent crop since we've had no killing frosts during strawberry bloom this year.   Strawberries should be ripe about May 1 to 28 this year.  Strawberries are pick-your-own only, by appointment only, so call 620-597-2450 to set up a time to pick.
  I've also been transplanting 100 more 'Natchez' blackberry plants over the last few days.  This thornless blackberry variety is very early-ripening and has very large, excellent quality fruit.  The existing 'Natchez' blackberry plants are blooming now.
  This morning we just about finished pruning the peach orchard before the rain set in.  We have a huge peach crop this year, so we'll start thinning the young fruit heavily in a few weeks.  We bought pneumatic limb shakers to help with peach thinning this year.  Removing excess young fruit is necessary so the remaining fruit will develop decent size and sweetness.