Almost all vegetables are annual crops, planted for a single season that may last as long as 9 months or as short as 9 weeks. Most are planted in successions over time, growing and then coming to a harvest that can last for a few days or a few weeks. Every year, vegetable growers like us evaluate how the season went. You can reduce some crops, increase others, change varieties.
Fruit is another matter. All fruit grown in California other than strawberries, melons, and watermelons grows on trees or vines — perennial plants that take several years to bear fruit. Deciding to plant them, and choosing what to plant, is an agonizing decision.
When we first decided to start planting perennial fruit, our goal was to add variety to your CSA boxes and to even out some gaps in our vegetable season. Particularly late summer, when many of our hot weather veggies start to peter out but it’s still too hot for fall crops.
We were very careful to design our peach orchard and our grape vineyard, for example, with multiple varieties that ripen in succession over several months. The trouble is that the weather can make a huge difference in when this happens. Once the trees begin to bloom, it starts an internal countdown in the tree to when the fruit will ripen but it is governed by the number of “heat units” experienced.
The same variety of peach planted here and in Sonoma County, for example, would not ripen at the same time even it bloomed on the same day. Planted somewhere even cooler, it might never ripen at all. The same is true of apricots, grapes, figs and even apples and pears.
This schedule can change dramatically from one year to the next. For example, we were harvesting a peach variety called “June Pride” in May this year. And we are about to start picking one called “Augustglo” that is supposed to ripen in mid-August. Our latest ripening peaches, called “Carnival”, were off the trees last year before the end of August — they are considered a September variety. They might finish even earlier this year.
Grapes are ripening at a similar pace. “Autumn Royals” for example, are getting set to ripen well before autumn arrives.
This is all a long explanation for a simple fact: summer fruit is going to be gone long before the end of summer this year. Not just in Terra Firma’s CSA boxes, but all across California. And if you assume the last few years have given us a glimpse of what climate change holds in store, it’s going to keep happening in the future.
I’m sure that tree breeders all over California are already working on coming up with new varieties of peaches, grapes, and other fruit that ripen later in the season. After all, even though climate change is in full effect, people are still going to want to eat peaches in the late summer.
In the meantime, we will be trying to figure out to cope with these changes and how they affect your CSA boxes.