Greenhouse fruit update

fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TXJanuary 28, 2007

I'm starting the 3rd season of trying to grow fruit in a greenhouse. The greenhouse is 32ft by 54ft and 16ft tall. Trees are planted 6ft by 8ft and pruned to 8-9ft tall. Chilling cycle ran Nov 1 to Dec 28 2006 with about 950-1000 Utah hrs. Then I went to highs in 70s and heater set to maintain 34F min at night. Has been cold so most nights in 30s.

Apricot material is starting to bloom. Am using bumblebees in a class C, small, hive. These bees are maniac pollinators so they do the job but about 50 of them are too many...they damage the bloom if left too long. So I am allowing them out of the hive only 2-3hrs every other day. Yes, I can force them into the hive with a one-way entrance.

Last yrs fruit was the best I've ever grown but several problems remain. The apricot and plum material is still not blooming as well as I'd like, thou much better than last yr. I suspect the problem is excessive water stress on the trees last summer. Thought I was doing a better job watering than 2005 but my drip system plugged up late in 2006 and I didn't notice it until this winter. The drip tubing is underneath the weed barrier because the water runs too far from the point of application if applied on top the weed barrier. I've installed a new, better water controller for the drip system. I could just flood irrigate every 2-6wks but the trees are too vigorous when I do that. I may need to remove the weed barrier and plant bermuda grass to help control tree vigor.

Next yr I should ease into the bloom cycle by running the first month after chilling with 60s for high temp. This might improve the bloom. But I'm in a hurry for fruit and, more importantly, want to be able to keep high temperatures down as long into the growing cycle as possible. Would like to be able to stay out of the 90s until the real summer fruit begins to mature. This relates to the other problem I'm having. That is that the nectarines, after the very earliest ones are suffering internal breakdown before the fruit fully matures. This may be because it is too hot. My temp contoller and thermometers seldom indicate temp in excess of low 90s, cooler than central Ca. But I have no other hypothesis for what is happening other than maybe the light level is too low. I have a light refective weed barrier on the soil to compensate for the roughly 50% reduction in light caused by the double poly top.

Despite the problems I continue to think this project was worth the expense and trouble. I've learned a lot. And having trees in bloom and blueberries past bloom this time of yr is a big plus. The Central valleys of CA, which is what I model my greenhouse system after, have had a miserable yr with excess rain last spring and now a devastating freeze.

Had I planted the same trees outside in this climate I'd have had almost no fruit in 2006. With the greenhouse I had Apricots starting Apr 15 and enough fruit to give much away all summer until the Crimson Seedless grapes ended in early Nov.

Good luck to all in 2007!

The Fruitnut

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I would love to see some photo's


    Bookmark   January 28, 2007 at 8:36PM
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Fruitnut, That's interesting. You don't say what you are doing to control the heat - shade cloth, fans, roll-up sides, AC???

    Bookmark   January 29, 2007 at 9:04AM
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Ditto, pictures would be interesting.
About the nectarines' internal breakdown, I've had the same thing with peaches and wondered if too much water was the cause of it. I have rows of low-lying pop-up sprinkles between by rows of fruit trees and they're so convenient to use I think I may have overwaterd a bit in the summer. Just a theory.
I'm very interested in how you got a colony of bumble bees nested in you greenhouse. Commercial supplier? Or did you manage to entice them with nice living quarters? I've tried the latter with no success.

    Bookmark   January 29, 2007 at 11:38AM
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snowbush(z8 SoCal USA)

Yr. whole project really interesting! Sounds like it might work anywhere, so could have orchard in, e.g., Alaska. Would also love to know how you control heat.

    Bookmark   January 29, 2007 at 12:53PM
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franktank232(z5 WI)

I would also really like to see some pictures of your setup.

    Bookmark   January 29, 2007 at 1:27PM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

I control heat with three 36 inch fans and an evaporative cooling system. In winter dew points are low and I can maintain air temp about 10 to 14F below outside temp. Ave winter outside temp 60/30F. Requies shade cloth above trees to do this. This is needed in winter in order to get the required chilling hrs. During chilling I run the heater at 37F because most effective chilling is 37-48F.

In summer without shade cloth can maintain inside temp about like outside. Summer highs ave 85-95F here and dew points ave in 50s, fairly low. I will try shade cloth this summer over at least the nectarines. Probably 40% aluminet, the best looking shade cloth I've seen.

The bumblebees are commercially avaliable. Shipped overnight. Small hive is about $100 and is supposed to last 4-5wks.

Am getting a new computer in March. Need to get a digital camera. But biggest holdup on pics is my lack of ability on uploading.

The greenhouse for fruit would work best in the intermountain west above 4500ft elev. If summer highs are above 90 or dew pts above 60, would be difficult. Choice of crops will have large effect on heating requirement. I have citrus and a short window for chilling so have to maintain temp in 30s in winter. But I never use the heater to warm above 37F, only the sun does that. If one dropped citrus and had a long window for chilling, a cold winter, then I could see having a house where you would heat to no warmer than 10F or even zero. This would greatly reduce heating costs in a cold climate. After bloom started you would have to maintain 34F. If one only grew grapes, you don't need chilling, could allow midwinter temp to fall to 10F, and you might not even have spider mites. These crops can nearly be grown organically. That is nearly immpossible outdoors anywhere.

Last yr I sprayed only four times. Three were for spider mites. Sprayed grapes once for leaf hoppers. But the grapes didn't get spider mites.

The optimum system and greenhouse design will be highly depend on crops chosen and climate.

The Fruitnut

    Bookmark   January 29, 2007 at 6:35PM
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snowbush(z8 SoCal USA)

Thank you for such a detailed report! It's vy. helpful to now have an idea of some of the variables involved & under what circumstances such a setup feasible.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2007 at 11:45AM
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What are you using for spider mite control? Systemic?

    Bookmark   January 31, 2007 at 2:16PM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

Kiwinut: There are some very good new miticides for fruit: Acramite, Envidor, and Zeal are three. Hardest thing is to find a place to buy them. I am still on the prowl for Envidor. Settled for Floramite which is a greenhouse formulation of Acrimite that costs twice as much.

All have different modes of action...and resistance management is important. Floramite is very effective...I have found at least 6wks control. And I think it is very safe for people.

The Fruitnut

    Bookmark   January 31, 2007 at 7:54PM
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Thank you for posting such a detailed description. Your comments are real inspiration.

I'm at about 750 feet in central Texas. I've been keeping citrus for 3 years. This year, I've got a fig tree sharing the greenhouse with the citrus, just to see what it does.

I've also got about 20 assorted fruit trees out doors. Late freezes have been a problem, though. In 2006, late freezes caused me to get almost zero 'outdoor' fruit. My citrus crop is steadily growing, though.

My general plan involves working towards a minimally heated, 3-6 month greenhouse for 'in the ground' trees.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2007 at 11:59PM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

Mytrees: The thing I like best about the greenhouse is not being at the mercy of the weather. I spent 30 yrs getting knocked around by the freezes, hail, and wind in Amarillo. If I hadn't had such a good job I'd have left sooner.

This morning it was 26F in Alpine. The greenhouse thermometer read 32F. But that 6F makes all the difference. My plums, peaches, apricots, and pluots will be full bloom this coming wk. Sweet cherries the wk after.

Had a fair crop of Clemenules mandrin last fall. That variety ripened in spring in CA. Think my house is too hot or too long season for it. But have about 60 Washington navel oranges in the second season. They are large, sweet, and easy to peel. Also have a Chandler pummelo but it is only second leaf coming up. Hope it blooms this spring but may not because it is too vigorous. The Chandler was my favorite citrus in CA.

You may be able to grow good grapefruit in a greenhouse in central TX. They like lots of heat. That is why they are so good in the valley.

How do you keep your greenhouse from overheating in the summer? Guess I would be thinking of removing the top during the freeze-free season in that area.

I have had spider mites on the citrus. Has that been a problem for you?

Am going to try figs in pots in the greenhouse. They supposedly do very well in pots. Am also going to try some varieties of peach, nectarine, and pluot in pots. This will allow the option of moving them outside for there seems to be plenty of honeybees outside even in Febr. Also by moving the nectarines around I may be able to figure out what is going on with them.

Good luck and thank you for the encouragement. Good to know I'm not just talking to myself!

The Fruitnut

    Bookmark   February 3, 2007 at 10:05AM
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>The greenhouse thermometer read 32F.

Mine got down to 34 last night. It was 20 degrees outside. I get a 12-15 degree differential between outside and inside with a few strings of Christmas lights on a thermostat. If the temps drop below 20, I cover everything with sheets. Under the sheets, I can get a 30+ degree differential which is plenty.

>My plums, peaches, apricots, and pluots will
>be full bloom this coming wk. Sweet cherries the wk after.

Wow, that sounds great! I've got pomegranates, pears, plums, peaches, apricots, pluots, figs and a cherry, but they are all outside (except for a new potted fig). Of course, none are doing anything. The inside fig might be getting ready to put out some leaves, but really hasn't changed at all over the last week.

>Had a fair crop of Clemenules mandrin last fall.

Wonderful! I have not been able to get any fruit from my clementines. They blossomed, but the fruit failed to set last year. There is lots of baby fruit and blossoms on it right now. Same for my Dancy.

>You may be able to grow good grapefruit in a
>greenhouse in central TX. They like lots of heat.

I've got two 'rio red' grapefruits, and they have been my best producers (20 fruit per year).

I've also got a satsuma, moro orange and sunquat. The sunquat was a good producer 2 years ago, but last year I only got 1 fruit off it. The fruit failed to set.

>How do you keep your greenhouse from
>overheating in the summer?

I take the greenhouse down around April 15th and put it up around Nov 15th. This year, it is 16' x 8'. The biggest cost I incur is replacing the plastic each year.

How much of the year is frost free in Alpine?

>I have had spider mites on the citrus. Has that
>been a problem for you?

No. I've had aphids, but no other problems.

>Am going to try figs in pots in the greenhouse.

What size pots are you thinking about using? My citrus are in 20 gal trash cans, but these are getting difficult to move as the trees get bigger and the plastic ages.


    Bookmark   February 3, 2007 at 1:21PM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

Mark: Alpine is frost free from about mid April until mid Oct. But medium to low chill fruits bloom in Feb or March so are often ruined by frost. High chill fruit like apples don't bloom until April and even into May. Our summers are cooler and less humid than low elev areas of TX.

I have my potted fruit including blueberries in 15 gal black nursery pots. These last a long time even in full sun. I use a light, well drained potting mix and put aluminum window screen in the bottom. If sat on the soil, plants sometimes root into the underlying soil, not good with blueberries.

Your citrus is well ahead of mine but mine should be blooming in the next month. Mine are held up by the nearly two month chilling cycle needed for some of my stock. Last yr my citrus set very well even though there were no pollinators in the greenhouse.

What variety of pluot do you have? My favorites are Flavor Supreme and Flavor Grenade. But they bloom too early to have any chance outdoors.

The Fruitnut

    Bookmark   February 3, 2007 at 9:22PM
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>What variety of pluot do you have?

I have a dapple-dandy and flavor-supreme. Also, I have a flavor-delight aprium. All were planted last year and did not bloom.

We have the late frost problem here. In mid-march, it can warm up to the mid 70s, then fall to the mid 20s over-night. We haven't had an April frost for a decade, but they happen.
Last year, the late frost struck prior to any visible growth, but at an apparently critical growth phase. Even the wild Mexican plums failed to bloom. I'm a bit puzzled by the whole thing.

Do you try to mimic central California temperatures/humidity? If so, how did you come up with this program?


    Bookmark   February 4, 2007 at 9:28AM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

Mark: I cann't expain your lack of bloom last yr. But am very experienced with spring frost damage after 30 yrs trying to grow fruit in Amarillo. They have frost damage to something in the spring almost every year. When I was there it was rare to have damage before the blossoms began to open. It had to fall to about -10F in Dec-Jan to cause damage to buds not swelling. In Feb when some buds were swelling but not opened, I cann't ever remember damage even when the temp fell to near zero. But once the blossoms began to open we had losses of some kind 9 yrs out of ten. Damaging temp in that period were usually between 10 and 30F.

I had Dapple Dandy in CA. It sets very heavily and I would recommend heavy thinning in the yrs when it sets a heavy crop. I wasn't impressed with it's quality, not sweet, but maybe even heavier thinning would help that. Hopefully you will have better results. Flavor Supreme on the other hand is among the best if not the very best fruit I have ever grown or tasted. Naturally, it is hard to set a crop...always seems to work that way. It is blooming in my greenhouse now and the bumblebees aren't attracted to it. So I am spending an hr a day hand pollinating it.

I model my greenhouse somewhat to follow the chilling and temp found around Fresno CA. This is the stone fruit capitol of CA. But in the same area they have lots of grapes and citrus. So you can grow most fruit there. To me it seems too hot in the summer, daytime temp about like you and a little cooler at night. But about 30 days a yr over 100F. That seems too hot to me for most things and I don't think it is ideal but it works. I'm trying to stay cooler in mid summer.

On the humidity question I try to keep it as low as possible. For most fruit this is best and it reduces disease pressure. In my greenhouse, where it never rains, there has been almost no diseases other than a small amount on overripe or split fruit. This is one of the big pluses of having a house that is covered all yr rather than an open roof for natural ventillation. We get frequent rainshowers in late summer. This alone will ruin much of the CA fruit like grapes, plums, pluots, and nectarines. You will have a hard time with things like Flavor Supreme when it rains.

The Fruitnut

    Bookmark   February 4, 2007 at 10:41AM
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Just found your webpage. The info is very encouraging. We are building our 3rd greenhouse and thought we would try fruit trees. We also have a horrible time with late spring snows and snap cold spells as late as late May. My big concern is keeping the greenhouse cold during the day in winter when the sun is beaming down. Thought we would try blueberries, plums and maybe bush apricots. Our greenhouse is only a little over 10' high, but in Montana fruit trees don't get terrible tall. Some apples thrive outside but we haven't had any large fruit from our honeycrisp apples yet. Planted them in 2009, order full sized, but I think they are dwarf. It has been burning hot here this summer, over 100 degrees many days. Our smaller greenhouse houses vegetable and they love the heat when they are damp.
Any comments would be sooo helpful. Not many people here around Three Forks know anything about greenhouses so your comments are awesome. Thanks so much.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2011 at 11:56PM
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