Friday, April 8, 2016

Pruning & Breeding Apples

   We've had two more frosts since my last blog post, for a total of 6 frosts during peach and pear bloom.  One frost got even colder, to 25 F, and it now looks like most of the peach crop was lost.  We should still have some late-ripening peaches, about 30% of a normal crop, as there are still a fair number of young fruit on 'Intrepid', 'Contender' and 'Glowingstar' varieties.  These should ripen from about July 20 to about Aug. 20.  Almost all fruit on the early peach varieties were lost, so there will be only a very few peaches to sell before about July 20.
   Pears were hit even harder by the frosts.  It looks like we'll have about 10% of a normal European pear crop this year, and about 25% of a normal Asian pear crop.
Last Saturday, our workers Tim Epler (left) and Tre Maxton (right) helped prune apple trees, using pneumatic loppers, while trees were blooming.
   Apple trees have been blooming for the past 10 days, and we've been very busy pruning them.  We should have a full apple crop this year.  We're also still pruning raspberry and thornless blackberry plants.  These berries bloom later, and we should have great crops of both raspberries and thornless blackberries.
   Apple bloom is also the time I make controlled crosses for my apple breeding program, which takes a lot of time.  When apple flowers on the trees I'll use as parents are in the bud stage, I remove anthers, petals and sepals from them, leaving only the pistils.  I pick out the anthers containing the pollen, dry them, and store the pollen in vials in the fridge.  Then I use a small artist's paintbrush to hand-pollinate the pistils on the female parent tree with pollen from the male parent tree.
Here I hand-pollinated pistils on 'Sun Giant', the female parent tree, with pollen from 'GoldRush', the male parent tree.
   When the apples ripen, I can tell my crosses because they have no sepals, the small green leaves at the calyx end of the fruit.  So I save the seeds from those fruit, stratify them over winter, plant them in pots next spring, and plant the potted trees in the field in fall 2017.  After 8 or 9 years, these trees start to bear fruit that I can evaluate.  Promising selections get numbers, and if very promising are named and later propagated.
Bill just grafted 'Sun Giant' to this rootstock, as mature trees of 'Enterprise' and 'GoldRush' bloom in the background in our main apple orchard.  In a few years, this tree will bear fruit identical to the original 'Sun Giant' tree, a selection from my apple breeding program.
   Last week Bill grafted some selections from my apple breeding program onto rootstocks in our main apple orchard.  I especially like 'Sun Giant', a cross of 'Sundance' and Coop 34.  I made that cross in 2003, selected it in 2014, and named it in 2015.  Last year and this year I used 'Sun Giant' as a parent in making controlled crosses.
   We still have many 'Enterprise' and 'GoldRush' apples for sale.  These apples taste much better than any sold in grocery stores, and are great for baking as well as fresh eating.  I give taste samples.  We also still have cracked 'Kanza' pecans for sale. 
   Asparagus harvest has just started, and goes until late May.  These are nice thick spears, and I snap asparagus off where it breaks easily, so almost the entire spear is tender and usable.  Asparagus is sold harvested for $2.78 per pound + tax.  Phone 620-597-2450 a few days ahead to order asparagus, and leave a message on the answering machine.
   From Dec. 1 to May 31, we're open by appointment.  That means to phone 620-597-2450 a day or so ahead, and leave a message on the answering machine saying the day and about what time you're coming.  I do not need to call you back; I will get the message and meet you in the sales building when you come.  (The phone rings in the house, so if you wait to call until on your way here, I probably won't get your message before you come, since I'm working outside or sorting apples in the sales building.)
   Strawberries will be very limited this year, as many plants that I planted last year died from excess rain, and I didn't have enough time last summer and fall to control weeds in strawberries.  Strawberries are blooming now, and some early blooms were killed by frosts.
Some early strawberry blooms were killed by frosts, such as the 3 flowers with black centers in the middle of the photo.  Healthy flowers, with yellow centers, will develop into fruit.
   Strawberries should start ripening in early May, and are sold pick-your-own only, by appointment only.  Picking strawberries will be harder this year, due to excess strawberry runners and clover which invaded the strawberry field.  After this strawberry season, we will retire from growing strawberries for sale, after providing pick-your-own strawberries to this area for 13 years. We'll still grow and sell 10 other species of fruit crops, plus pecans and asparagus, which keeps us extremely busy!