Tuesday, July 17, 2012

success with apricots/ cherries: failure

one of three chinese apricots from our tree this year.  two seasons ago this tree was a stick.
As if I needed any more proof that the climate is changing- there's this.  A rock-solid, guaranteed hardy, reliable Minnesota staple, the sour cherry, succumbs to a fungal disease, while a fruit native to Turkey and Iran thrives here in the same season.

After a promising bloom this spring- a tree covered with cherry flowers- my Evans Bali cherry has not produced a single cherry.  Instead, there are hundreds of 'mummies'- dark, shriveled fruits, looking like the pits of cherries, still attached to the stems.  20 feet away, the apricot tree has produced three sweet beautiful apricots, after being in our yard for only a little over two years.

evans bali 'cherries'  only mummies are left
This really bums me out because I was looking forward to our first really big crop of sour cherries- watching the largest-yet-by-far bloom-  planning what to do with them- then sometime in late May or early June I noticed that a few were turning brown, then more, then all I could find were brown ones, some with fuzzy spots on them.

The best match via Google images is European brown rot, though even that isn't a perfect match.   But it seems depressingly close.  And it could be back next year.  What to do?  The tree is reaching full size, and is a prolific bloomer.  All the advice I see says to spray fungicide, but that's some of the worst stuff- potentially affecting all of the fungi- good and bad- on my eighth acre.  I don't want to.

I have all winter to think about it I suppose.  I'll pick off the mummies and hope for the best.

Of course, the good news was that the apricots did well and were delicious.  I've never had a store-bought apricot this good.  Firm, juicy, sweet without being too sweet- just a little bit of acidity to make it bright.  More like a firm, ripe peach than an apricot- and absolutely wonderful.  I can't wait to see how many we have next year.

Gita got the first one, while I was sleeping in the basement after an exhausting afternoon, so I made sure to pick the next one a few days later and taste it (and photograph it, above).  I was glad I took it when I did, because a squirrel (I think) got the last one.  It disappeared without a trace.  No pit, no flesh.  It could have been a neighbor kid, but I prefer to blame the squirrels.

this year's garlic crop

So far the squirrels have left the garlic alone.  I planted it late last year- so I wasn't expecting much- and that's about what I got.   I planted a lot to make up for what I was pretty sure would be small bulbs, and sure enough, they were tiny.  It didn't help that it was dry as a bone last fall, so there wasn't much time for them to root in before the freeze, and I suppose I should be happy that I got any at all.

Garlic is one of those things that I still haven't figured out where to plant.  It's off-kilter with everything else that gets planted in the spring, or occasionally the fall.  Mid-summer planting feels so weird.  Everything else is lush, in the way, saying 'pick me'!  while I'm sticking these dead white things in the ground.  And how to know where I'm going to plant all the other veggies next year anyway?  I try to mix up the locations of everything each year so as not to let any diseases establish themselves.   So how do I remember where the garlic was?   If you have a method that works, please tell me.  I am ready to listen.

I like garlic, and so does Gita, so it's worth the trouble.  Really, it amazes me that we can grow it in Minnesota at all.  But maybe that's a sign of changing climate too.

So now it's drying on the south wall of the house, hanging from the rose trellis that the roses have mostly ignored.  I like it there.  I'll probably keep it there for a while just to look at it.

bitter melon that gita was drying in the sun
If nothing else, this hellishly hot weather is really good for drying things outside.  I came home from work a few days ago, and found that Gita had cut some bitter melon from the Chinese market and laid it out in a nanglo, a traditional Nepali woven tray made for just this- drying stuff in the sun.  It was almost dry after only part of a day in the sun.

It's a great way to preserve food, when the sun cooperates, as it often does in her native Chitwan.  And the last couple of weeks have reminded me of the heat in that part of Nepal when we visited three years ago.   Unrelentingly hot and humid.

I'll miss this heat in February, if it's a normal February, which is seeming less likely all the time. 

In other news- Gita is finally done with treatment for her (now past tense) breast cancer.  The burns from the radiation have yet to heal, but she has made it through unscathed inside.  She's cheerful and energetic today- more than I think I could be if I had gone through what she has endured in the last eight months.  The shock of the diagnosis, sixteen weeks of chemotherapy, then major surgery followed by six weeks of radiation.  Hardly any time to rest between therapies.  This was not an easy path.  She is a strong woman, and my respect for her resilience has grown greatly over that time.

I'm lucky to have her, and feel even luckier now, after having to go through this with her. And having to think through what I'd have to do if the doctors' bag of tricks hadn't worked.  I'm exhausted mentally and physically at this point and glad that there isn't anything more to be done.  I've been falling asleep with the kids at 8:30 and not waking up until the middle of the night- thinking of the blog post that I was going to post that night, and which was postponed, again.

I want to believe that this is the end of the cancer story, and that it won't be back.  Gita has to go in for checkups every three months for a while, then less as time goes on.  She is in good hands, so I trust.  Thank you to everyone for your thoughts, prayers, support and encouragement through this.  I don't know all of you, but you have buoyed me at a time when I needed it, so I'm grateful.  And an especially large 'thank you' for those who brought food- the kindest strangers who we never met- and who's generosity caught both of us by surprise.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.  This is why I keep this up, even though I'd rather go to bed most nights.  That, and the arguments over soil tillage methods. Those are pretty good too.




  1. I'm glad to hear Gita is well. I'll pray the cancer doesn't return.

    I'm not familiar with European brown rot. I'll have to take a closer look at my cherries. I've been blaming the birds, and I still suspect them. One day they look fine and almost ripe, and the next day they're gone. Especially suspicious is the fact that I did find one ripe cherry, well hidden under a leaf.

    What I do have some experience with is mummy berry, a fungal disease of blueberries. Picking and disposing the affected berries has worked for me, but another option I've read is to use mulch to break the life cycle. The spores come up from last year's fallen fruit and infect the bushes while they're flowering. Putting a decently think layer of mulch on after all the fruit has come off helps prevent the spores from getting out next year. Don't disturb the mulch until the same time the next year, at which point putting the mulch into a hot compost pile is a good option.

  2. Hey Jeff - For all your orchard whoas', I would refer to Michael Phillips book, The Holistic Orchard. He covers everything the home orchardist needs to get through the year. No chemicals, no poison, just plant based, organic solutions! By the way, I have the same problem with my cherries:( Can't wait to meet the family over dinner and we can talk garlic, orchard fruits, climate change, and peak everything! Also, I have a few fig trees with your name on them, until August, Peace & Cheers - Andy

  3. I don't know if you heard or not, but pretty much the whole northern tart cherry harvest this year was destroyed. http://www.startribune.com/business/162410096.html That heat early in March set the blossoms too soon, and they were damaged by frost. As little as 10% of the typical harvest expected.

    My garlic seems to be healthiest with morning sun as opposed to afternoon.

    Give my best to Gita. A strong woman indeed. You are blessed. Dance for the kids for me. I stole that apricot (kidding, but I'm definitely stealing one next year.)

  4. (Actually if the tree's missing - I didn't take it.)

  5. Good luck with everything for you and Gita, Jeff! I know intimately what it is like to go through cancer with a family member, and I am so very happy that things have turned out so well. My tomatoes *are* starting to set flowers and fruit finally, except the "broader leafed" heirloom kind. Hopefully soon...my latest epiphany was that maybe I wasn't directing enough love toward my garden, a kind of "where attention flows, energy goes" kind of thing. Have you ever tried growing apricots or figs? I had some fresh figs in CA and they were amazing! :)

    1. oops I see you grew apricots...not enough coffee yet this AM. :)

  6. Thanks John- I think I'll be mulching under the tree this fall- and building a sandbox around part of the tree as well. We'll see if that does the trick.
    Andy- I'll have to look that book up sometime. Looking forward to seeing you and your family soon!
    Hunter- thanks for the Strib article referral. I should have thought that it could have had something to do with the early heat followed by frost- but it didn't affect the plums or apricots. In any case- a total loss of the cherry crop this year. And if I look out the window and don't see the tree some morning, I'm heading over to your place.
    Beej- glad to hear the 'maters are finally flowering. I'm seeing a few here too. The weird, hot weather has to be affecting them. The plants are lush and huge, but not putting on fruit like I'd expect. And hot peppers have hardly done anything. The plants are still 2 or 3 inches tall. So weird. And yes- apricots- you saw the photo at the top, no?

    1. i don't have any pepper planted but I do have 3 eggplant, 2 of which have noticably large fruit - i know that they at least like the heat. one year i had eggplant planted in a bed near the edge of my driveway, and they seemed to take off...i think it was something with the radiant heat of the blacktop. do you know how kale etc do with the heat? of the three greens i have growing (kale, swiss chard and tatsoi), the tatsoi seems to be doing the
      best. usually the kale/swiss chard have get large and leafy, but not so much now. more watering maybe? I did see the apricots...just not at the end of that reply :)

  7. Hi I'm Heather. I have a question about your blog, please email me when you get a chance. HeatherVonSJ(at)gmail(dot)com Thanks!!

  8. Get a copy of Michael Phillips book - The Holistic Orchard, and devise your natural attack. Our Bali cherries fruited well this year but unfortunately the raccoons thwarted our fencing and got part of the crop.

    Here's some more info:

    Best of luck from Colorado.

  9. Could the mummy fruit have been the result of a freeze after the bloom? I hear that many of the commercial orchards suffered near total fruit loss this year due an extra early Sring hot spell which was followed by a freeze. It could be as simple as that. Normally any true fungal infestation will also show itself in damage to leaves as well, whereas a pollenation/freeze damage can manifest as mummy cherries that can hang on or drop as "June drop". Maybe a good pollenation year next year will result in a beautiful crop.

    Best of luck, it seems that there are always various successes (some planned and some just dumb luck) and other failures (just when you thought you had it figured out).

  10. Homesteading- Thanks for the recommendation! Coincidentally, another person just suggested the same book to me- I will have to order it. I like your blog by the way- sounds like the weather in high altitude Colorado is as weird as it is here.
    Anonymous- Thank you- I agree. I should amend what I said, as several people have pointed out the frost related crop losses, particularly in cherries this year in the Upper Midwest. The funny thing was that they really looked OK after the frost, even for a couple of weeks, then they shriveled and turned brown. And it mystifies me that the plums and apricots were OK, only a few feet away. But that's what makes gardening interesting- the mysteries.

  11. First, I'm glad Gita's made it through the treatments. I haven't had much time to keep up with my blogs lately, and I've been wondering how she's been doing.

    What I do to keep track of my garlic (and everything else) is to make garden maps. Ideally, my vegetable garden would be in an easy-to-remember 10 year rotation. However, I keep adding and deleting crops, so it's never quite that easy. Even with that in mind, though, the maps help, especially since I keep them for at least a few years.