We have a bumper crop of Apricots this year: a real “branch-breaker”.  It’s definitely the biggest crop we’ve ever had, which is all the more surprising because we’ve had hardly any ‘cots at all the last several years.  We’ve gotten more fruit off one tree this year than we got from all 300 trees in 2022, for example.

When I first started working at Terra Firma, Apricot harvest was a big deal every year.  We would pick and sell thousands of boxes every year from the 40 year old trees at our original farm location.  Most of those were removed ten years ago, and we planted a new orchard in a different location.

But the newer orchard has been such a dismal failure recently that I decided this winter to skip hand-pruning it.  Usually an annual task, pruning the apricots takes two people a couple of weeks — a big expense when there ends up being no income produced as a result.  So instead, we used a mechanical hedger to give the orchard a flat-top haircut. I promised myself that if the trees did not produce this year, they were coming out.

As the spring progressed, it looked more and more likely that TFF’s apricot orchard was destined for the chipper.  In a normal year, apricots blossom in March and some years they even start in February.  But this year the trees just sat there dormant through March and into April.  The Fuyu Persimmon trees next to them in the orchard — which usually come out of dormancy after the ‘Cots —  were already leafing out.

Then the apricots started to bloom, just a few flowers.  That’s what they have been doing the last several years, putting out a weak bloom that doesn’t provide enough pollen to even yield a crop.  “They are done”, I told myself, mentally adding “Orchard Removal” to the list of tasks we would need to do later in the spring once it stopped raining.  But two weeks later, in mid-April, the trees were covered with so many blossoms they looked more like Almond trees than Apricots.  By early May, just about all of those blossoms had become a tiny green fruit:  way too many for the trees to support.

It might surprise you to hear than in our Peach and Nectarine orchards, we have to “thin” the fruit almost every year — picking off anywhere from 1/3 to 3/4 of the fruit on the tree to allow the remainder to size up and to keep the branches from breaking.  It’s an expensive and time-consuming task.  But those trees are always pruned during the winter.  The unpruned Apricot trees had 10x as much fruit on them as a pruned Peach tree.

So instead of thinning, we pruned them.  The TFF tree pruning crew looked at me like I was crazy when I told them to do it, but as soon as we started, it was pretty clear that it would work:  every time we touched a branch to prune it, half the fruit fell off.  We were pruning and thinning, simultaneously.  It wasn’t perfect the way it is when you remove fruit one by one, but it was really the only way to get the job done.   And it still took two weeks to finish.

Now, we have another big job in the Apricot orchard:  Harvest.  Despite how late they flowered and made fruit, the Apricots started ripening last week — essentially right on time.  With 100 degree days and warm nights this week, we are now in a race to get them all picked before the fruit turns into jam.  We’re not accustomed to harvesting a thousand pounds of tree fruit each day in the summer.  To put it in perspective, we have either 25 or 50 trees of each variety we grow in our Peach and Nectarine orchard.  All summer long, we have just two people picking peaches most days.  Occasionally, they ask for another person to help.  Yesterday, we had 8 people picking Apricots.

The “Fruit” department of your CSA boxes is crowded this week, what with the last of the Strawberries plus the other Stone Fruit.  But we’ll try to share as much of the Apricot bounty as we can with you over the next few weeks.  They will be larger quantities in your box next week, and they are also in bulk through the web store.

As far as the orchard goes, it has won a reprieve from the wood chipper.  I don’t know if not pruning the winter somehow made a difference or it was just a coincidence — probably the latter.  But I’m certainly going to leave them unpruned next year and hope for similar results.