Our great Central Valley is fully in bloom this month. The flashy show of flowering trees is unique, and should be appreciated by all who live here and drive country roads to enjoy this lovely season.
The largest flowering show is about finished, as the almonds have now been in bloom for several weeks great orchards filled with white flowers, a touch of pink to set off the brilliance of the blossoms.
In fact, when the petals drop the first emerging green appears from the new leaves that surround the almond nuts. Branches that were brilliant white now suddenly become green. These leaves are critical in preventing sunburn on the branches as well as the emerging nut crop.
The stone fruits are now coming into bloom, and they present such a wide variety of color everything from bright white of the cherry trees to the rich pink and reds of some varieties of peaches. (Stone fruit is the term given to those fruits which have the traditional "pit," such as peaches, plums and nectarines.)
While the wide range of varieties makes visual color identification difficult, it is generally true that the brighter pink blossoms now on display are freestone, or table peaches, while those blossoms that are more pale in color are likely the cling, or canning type of peach.
The emerging almonds are very sensitive to the temperature and the weather. Since most almond varieties need pollination, the temperature needs to be above 50 for the bees to effectively do their work. Also, while rain is not fatal to the blossoms, continuing rains during pollination time prevent the bees from doing their work, resulting in poor pollination and thus a smaller crop. In a wet season it is most important to have some warm and sunny days in between the rainy periods.
Temperature is even more critical when it comes to frost, because from the time of the first blossoms the nuts and fruits are extremely vulnerable to any temperature below freezing. As soon as the blossom appears, the tiny nut kernel begins to develop. And any temperature below freezing from then until harvest puts these nuts at great risk. Too much cold, and the nut simply shrivels up and does not develop.
Various methods have been employed to prevent frost damage. When I moved to Modesto in 1967, the principal strategy was to place "smudge pots" throughout the orchards, which were simply containers filled with heavy oil, which could be lit and radiate heat, much like a pot-bellied stove. This method not only required multiple pots and oil, but created great black clouds across the valley on frosty March mornings. I vividly recall driving to the office before dawn, seeing entire orchards aglow with the orange from the subdued flames, and then after sunrise watching the sooty black cloud slowly work its way across the valley and dissipate. Imagine the reaction today by the air quality controllers in our region were those smoky black clouds to reappear.
These were replaced by the wind machines you will still occasionally see a tower standing in an older orchard with an airplane propeller attached to a large motor. I can also recall the rumble, hum and vibrations across our valley when multiple wind machines were all cranked up and operating. Theoretically they moved the air across the trees to prevent frost damage again with only partial success.
Today we see farmers turn on the sprinklers on a cold morning. Nothing is more fascinating than to drive past an orchard on a freezing morning, and see the great icicles hanging from branches and limbs. Interestingly, if the temperature is not too much below 32 degrees the ice can actually form a bit of a protective jacket around the fruit and prevent damage, but only if the cold is not too severe or too prolonged.
Meanwhile, we can continue to hope for sunny skies, active bees, sustained blossoms, great colorful landscapes and a bumper harvest in the fall.
Hagerty is an Oakdale real estate developer active in community nonprofits. Send comments or questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.