The second round of springtime is now in full bloom across our valley, bringing the bright green to our orchards and vineyards as we await the first fruits of the summer season to arrive.
The brilliant white floral displays across the almond orchards have long fallen to the ground, replaced by bright green leaves and emerging nut kernels. And the even more brilliant pink petals in the peaches also have gone as those trees now sport their green colors for the next six months.
Walnuts and grapes are now the main attraction. Walnut trees awaken several weeks after the other orchard trees, and their "flowers" are actually those long fuzzy looking pendants knows as catkins. These are already dropping, to be replaced by the nut crop and the leaves which will hang on these trees until late fall. Simultaneous with the emerging walnuts come the vineyards which become green in stages, depending on varieties. Some vineyards have been in full leaf for weeks, while others are just now beginning to show signs of life.
The walnut is quite distinct in its maturation process from the almond tree. While almonds will begin producing crops at just three years, walnuts need more than double that growing time and do not reach full production until somewhere around 10 years. They will keep producing well past the prime production time of almonds, however, which tends to offset the time involved in awaiting profitable crops.
Almost all nut and fruit trees in our valley are grafted. Thus while we have dozens of varieties of almonds, peaches and walnuts, nearly all of these are grown on just a couple of basic root stocks.
Almond root systems are notoriously weak, and are subject to infestation by parasites in the soil, particularly nematodes, an insidious microscopic wormlike pest that will infect and destroy an otherwise healthy root structure. Thus, nearly all almonds are grafted onto peach root. Nurseries grow great quantities of a variety of peach that is very poor in fruit quality, but very durable in root structure, and these fruits are harvested and the peach pits dried and planted to yield millions of small peach trees. At six months of age these tiny trees are chopped off about 8 to 10 inches from the ground and the desired almond bud is grafted on. The resulting tree is actually a hybrid of peach root and almond body and product.
You can see the results of the weaker peach-almond root systems after any strong windstorm. Hundreds, if not thousands, of trees are uprooted in strong winds, while the walnut has a deep water-seeking tap root that makes the tree much more stable.
The threat of frost damage to any of our crops is now pretty much past for the season, although old timers will tell you that frost has occurred in our area even into summer. However, there is an interesting flip side to the element of the frost damage our cold winters actually make it possible for our peaches to thrive.
Peaches require extended periods of winter chilling to put the tree into an annual dormancy. While experts vary on the exact numbers, it is safe to say that temperatures below 40 degrees for at least 800 hours, and preferably 1,000 hours, are required to promote quality peach production.
Our frosty winters, coupled with our traditional (but not so much recently) fog keep winter temperatures in the range that promotes the quality peach crops we have come to expect and appreciate.
So, enjoy the sights as our annual greening process now comes to an end. And, sooner than you think, our fruit stands will be brimming with those abundant crops that we have come to know and to love.
Hagerty is an Oakdale real estate developer active in community nonprofits. Send comments or questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.