Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Tree Anticipation

Precipitation 1/8th inch. The weather had cleared for most of the day, but decided to pepper the area with some heavy drizzle just to make the commute home interesting.

I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of a Dorsett Golden Apple tree that should have arrived yesterday at San Lorenzo Lumber. I ordered the bare
root tree last summer as a pollinator for my Pink Pearl Apple. I spent a
great deal of time researching apple tree culture as my Mom wanted me to
pick a variety for her. Turns out I misinterpreted her request. When I
heard "a variety" I thought she wanted a few trees, not pick the correct
variety for the one tree. But I gathered some interesting data about
apples. And I hope one day to talk to someone more knowledgeable to see if
I understand what I was learning.

For one, there is a range of ripening times for apples, and if you have the
interest in having a group of different varieties, you can plan to harvest
apples from July until October by planting varieties that ripen
successively. My plan is a little different, I want to have fruit of
different types available fresh from about March until October. My unknown
pear usually ripens in October, at least that is my assumption. The fruit
can be gently pulled from the tree in October, at least the year that it
did fruit. I had one pear this year, just like the first year on our
property, and I have two theories as to why. Theory one: not enough chill
hours. Last year was pretty warm. I didn't have to turn the heat on in
the house most of the winter, so I'm thinking there were very few chill
hours, therefore, no fruit. 2004 was very cold, with frost appearing a few
times that winter; an unusual occurrence in Sunset Zone 17 with heavy
coastal influence. The tree produced a profusion of delicious russet pears
that I had to thin vigorously and then the fruit still broke a couple of
branches. Theory two: it is a biennial variety, bearing every other
year. Too bad the previous owner didn't know which pear variety it is, she
thought it might have been an Asian pear. This year's crop may help me
decide which theory is more correct.

The second consideration is regarding pollination. Apples seem to fall
into three categories; self fruitful, diploid, and triploid. Self fruitful
is what you pick if you want only one tree. These trees are often chosen
to pollinate the second type, diploid. Diploid varieties need another
variety flowering in the near vicinity to create fruit, a lesson learned by
my next door neighbor. The first year he had two trees and a ton of
apples, which made him very happy. Then, he decided to remove one tree, as
it was looking pretty bad, with cracks and rot and such on the tree. But
he didn't add in a new apple to replace it and the remaining tree didn't
have any fruit on it in 2004, although it flowered profusely. Then
triploid trees have sterile pollen. They can't pollinate other trees and
in order to make them fruit, you need pollen from 2 other trees. I'm not
sure, but it seems that a triploid needs pollen A to cross with pollen B in
order for the triploid to generate fruit/seeds. The lesser know factor in
this consideration is the flowering time. Just as trees ripen at different
times, they also flower at different times, namely early, mid and late
season. So my Pink Pearl is an early "flowerer". If I put in a late
"flowerer", it may miss the "pollination window" for the Pink Pearl. So I
wanted to find an early season flower, self-fruitful apple, with low chill
hours, that hopefully would have fruit useful for pie. And the candidate
that remained was the Golden Dorsett, which I am hoping will fulfill all of
these prerequisites.

There are so many factors to consider, it amazes me that backyard
orchardists are successful at all. I can see why some have "inexplicable"
disappointments. A great example is the plum tree in Watsonville. It is a
beautiful tree, but it never produces fruit. I was lucky to find a label
on the tree, and it helped to explain the mysterious lack of fruit. It's
apparently a French Improved plum, needing 800 chill hours, which is highly
unlikely to happen in Watsonville. One of the regular volunteers in
Watsonville was asking me why I thought his apple didn't fruit, or at least
only had a couple of apples at best. He has a Red Delicious, and no other
trees. I promised him some scions out of the apple tree in the Watsonville
garden that he can graft into his tree. This was the advice from one of
the guest horticulturists at a Master Gardener event if you want a diploid
or triploid variety, but want only one tree. I thought grafting the
pollinator in was a terrific idea.

So, as you can see by this post, I am very enthusiastic to see what has
come in and how it will work out. Now if I can remain restrained enough
not to buy a host of other bareroots, when I pick up my order.

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