dry farming stone fruit

fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TXSeptember 10, 2012

I've stated several times on here that the best stone fruit in CA is grown dryland in coastal valleys. Finally have a name to go with that, Mike Cirone who farms in See Canyon only 2-3 miles from the ocean near San Luis Obispo.

The video is mostly about the water savings but does show him selling fruit at a farmers market.

His trees are widely spaced in order to ration out the water over 6 months without rain in the summer. Summer temperatures that close to the coast would be mostly 70s and 80s by day and 50s at night, pretty mild.

My trees in the greenhouse are spaced more closely so I'm using more water but I've applied only 11 inches in 2012 after wetting the soil deeply last fall.

Here is a link that might be useful: Mike Cirone dry farming stone fruit

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Very interesting subject fruitnut, thanks for posting it.

Whenever I go to Southern California I'm also reminded of how much the humidity factors into things -- evapotranspiration is much lower there than throughout the Intermountain West. Even with the long summer drought, some places near the coast don't even qualify as "drylands" (defined as areas where annual evaporation exceeds annual precipitation).

    Bookmark   September 11, 2012 at 1:52PM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

fab native:

What I don't know about Mike's situation is how much ground water is available to his trees. He doesn't know either. As can be seen in the video the trees are planted mostly on fairly flat bottomland in a steep valley. So there could be a permanent or seasonal water table within reach of tree roots. Thus while the annual rainfall can be recorded there is no way to quantify water that runs across his fields or soaks up from below.

My situation is more defined. The water table here is below 20ft. Some of my trees might be rooted outside the greenhouse, probably are. But the water available there is usually limited.

My total water use is between 20 and 28 inches for a growing season with leaves on the trees about 300 days. That's less than 0.1 inch per day. In summer I figure 0.1 inch per day but this year that's only been 0.07 inch per day.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2012 at 4:11PM
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bamboo_rabbit(9A Inverness FL)


How far down do the fruit trees roots normally extend?

    Bookmark   September 11, 2012 at 7:27PM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX


I'd expect some fruit trees root down 6-10ft depending on many factors. Some trees can root much deeper. I think pecan can root down 15ft but they don't seem to root down to the water table in my yard which was at 22ft last I knew. Mesquite is reputed to root much deeper.

I'm estimating that fruit trees can extract at least 6 inches water from my soil. So when I flood in the fall to recharge the soil I apply about 7-8 inches. I want some drainage to keep salt buildup at bay.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2012 at 7:41PM
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bamboo_rabbit(9A Inverness FL)

Interesting. The water table here is at 7 feet where my peaches and plums are planted so I guess at some point they will always have access to water......guess dry ripening them isn't going to happen.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2012 at 8:06PM
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This is a very interesting video and much appreciated. My tiny 14 tree orchard is a 'dry' orchard. My trees are only hand watered when newly planted for the first two months. How much rainfall does Mike expect each summer growing season? This was a very HOT, dry summer in Rhode Island. My newly planted plums, apples and peach made it through the summer just fine; as did my established trees. We usually have enough rainfall in RI to make up for drought. This past summer was unusal as it was one of the hottest summers on record. I had my fingers crossed at times. Mrs. G

    Bookmark   September 11, 2012 at 8:35PM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

Mrs G47:

San Luis Obispo, a few miles from Mike Cirone's orchard averages about one inch total ppt for May thru September. Average annual ppt is about 22 inches. So the amount available to the trees during summer is highly dependent on soil available water.

San Luis Obispo is farther from the ocean so may be warmer in summer than Mike. And SLO never averages above 77F at the warmest point in the summer. My greenhouse runs in the upper 80s to low 90s by day for about 7-8 months.

The key feature here that results in high brix fruit is a long period of water deficit. My fruit the past few years has run nearly all 20-30 brix. That's 5-10 points above what Dave Wilson Nursery lists in their descriptions of my fruits.

Here is a link that might be useful: San Luis Obispo rainfall and temperature

    Bookmark   September 11, 2012 at 9:26PM
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Your brix numbers are huge. I must say, I have not yet purchased a gauge, but my fruit is as sweet as can be! Very interesting. Wished it worked as well for my tomatoes!

    Bookmark   September 11, 2012 at 9:51PM
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Bradybb WA-Zone8

This post reminds me of an email a friend sent earlier this year.Granted ,the guy lives out on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington,probably in or close to the rain forest,but says he never has to water.To me,that makes the one in California seem even more of a feat.
The video is good,even if a person is not into the Bible,as it gives some good advice.It got me to start putting down wood chips. Brady

Here is a link that might be useful: Back to Eden site and video

    Bookmark   September 11, 2012 at 10:34PM
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I see plums, loquats and even peaches in parking strips that don't get watered. They generally have really sweet fruit. There is also an untended asian persimmon in a vacant lot I know and it is in really great shape, puts out tons of fruits. I'll have to hop that fence sometime, they all just fall and rot. This is in San Jose/Santa Clara Valley FWIW....

    Bookmark   September 12, 2012 at 12:02AM
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bamboo_rabbit(9A Inverness FL)


I also am a firm believer in the woodchips, I go through 15 tree service truck loads a year here.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2012 at 8:29AM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

I had trouble getting through all the Back To Eden video, very long but beautifully done. And beautiful weed free gardens. He's using the same principles to some degree. Notice how spread out his vegetables are so as to ration out the soil water to fewer plants. The lack of weeds saves water for use by fruits and veggies. The guy knows what he's doing for sure.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2012 at 9:48AM
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I buy Mike's fruit exclusively at the local Farmer's Market here in Los Osos. His product is superior to just about everyone else for most of the year, IMHO. He also grows avocados, cherimoyas, white sapotes and mandarins at another location near Morro Bay. Whatever he is doing and with the soil type he has, shelter from surrounding hills, etc., it works. Some people have opined in the past that only apples or pears could be dry farmed, but Mike's stone fruit is juicy and his peaches, especially, are huge.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2012 at 7:53PM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

Thanks Steve, it's very nice to hear from someone with firsthand experience eating Mike's fruit. I get some good natured kidding about being a brix junkie. But when most people give an opinion they favor the highest brix fruit they can find.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2012 at 8:18PM
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I've heard stories of folks who (back in the day) dry farmed all their crops here in the Valley. It ends up being myth without a detailed account of some of the finer points. I'm not saying it can't be done, it just has a high chance of failure without knowing all the facts going in.

Does anyone know the exact root stocks he is using? Any specific horticultural practices being used? These details all seem a little vague.

Here is a photo series of some CRFG folks top working his peach trees in See Canyon, and I can clearly see what looks to be either water lines or soaker hoses running through the orchard. The tree spacing appears to be fairly normal as well. It doesn't matter all that much to me because my goal has nothing to do with dry-farming, but I did expect a bit more curiosity and skepticism from our esteemed members.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2012 at 7:19PM
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I think Mike (who is a CRFG member himself and has hosted the local chapter before at his orchard) mentions in the video referenced above that he put in the drip system years ago but has not used it for about 15 years.

His yields *are* variable. Some years there is a lot of this and not much of that, or this will be small and that will be huge. Of course, that happens to everyone, but being off the water line means that his crop is more subject to the vagaries of the weather. I've been to the orchard and it's certainly packed with trees--not that you can't get around them (the pickers have to be able to do that), but they are "close". I have no idea about his rootstocks.

The canyon acts as a huge bowl when we do have rain (not much the year before and not so much this past year) and the soils there are deep, not like the cursed dune sand I live on. I'm pretty sure he waters trees to get them established, but I would not presume to guess at his overall cultural practices.

One thing you have to remember is that our climate here is exceptionally mild. The canyon intensifies the highs and lows somewhat, but we're still not talking about typical Central Valley infernos or freezers. Once in a blue moon his Rainier cherries (he has two huge old trees) actually bloom and set fruit, but typically there is not enough chill for them, even though they sit in a shaded trough through the winter. Late frosts and rains can be a problem for the stone fruits just like anywhere.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2012 at 7:38PM
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Kippy(SoCal zone 10. Sunset Zone 24)

Living just down the Hwy from SLO and hearing that their temps never exceed 77 seems a bit....wrong (news had it much higher today)

On the other hand, our best tasting peach did not get much if any water other than rain this year. It might get a bit from the veggie garden lines 15 feet away.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2012 at 1:37AM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX


I said their average high never exceeds 77F. Their record high has exceeded 100F every month from April thru October. Take a better look at the data linked below.

Here is a link that might be useful: San Luis Obispo rainfall and temperature

    Bookmark   September 16, 2012 at 9:58AM
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calistoga_al ca 15 usda 9

Growing up here along the mountain edges of the Napa Valley, we had two farms about 5 miles apart, each with about 30 acres of prunes as the major crop, with some grapes and walnuts. The only water on either farm was from springs, and only enough for household use. Watering anything other than the vegetable garden was unheard of. Today everything is watered, the result is more tons fruit per acre, not better fruit. We now have only a family orchard, but still dry farm it. Al

    Bookmark   September 16, 2012 at 10:09AM
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alan haigh

The sad thing is that most of the land in the first coastal valleys south of San Fran have been developed and are no longer farmed. The really good land for fruit further up coast is all in grapes for wine- I'm an ale drinker and consider that a complete waste. I guess the masses have no hope of ever enjoying dry farmed CA fruit. If I lived there I'd certainly be doing it.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2012 at 12:45PM
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Kippy(SoCal zone 10. Sunset Zone 24)

fruitnut I don't see the location of their measurements-closer to the beach and the temps will be lower more hills to block the fog and the temp goes up. But if you look at this weeks 10 day forecast only 2 days are below that 77 degree average and it always seems like they are posting the temp from the inside of the air conditioned airport control tower and what they post is much lower than what most people find. Not sure if the weather channel is using the SLO airport, but it is inland in a valley that might pick up some cool air on its way to the ocean or pick up the ocean breeze. For a good example of how the temps can vary, check out the averages in "Santa Ynez" vs "Santa Barbara (taken at the airport under a mile from the beach in Goleta)

See Canyon is also closer to Avila Beach, but might have a climate closer to Arroyo Grande, closer to the beach than SLO but still inland.

Living in the area, the weather report usually lists the beach-coastal-inland forecasts as 3 different reports because the distance to the ocean is a big controller in what the temps will actually be.

This is probably a fine example of how micro climates can work. An averages table is going to list measurable rain. But not measured would be the moisture that collects on the leaves and drops down to water the trees from the thick coastal fog we get for a couple of months each summer (depending on the year can run from April to August). The fog burns off by mid afternoon and it heats up for a couple of hours and then the fog rolls back in. Also, at the Avila end of See Canyon there are two mineral springs resorts, makes me think that area might have a bit more underground water than other places. Additionally, I notice the creek that runs to the ocean there also seems to have more water in it that other creeks in the area, the plant life reflects the additional water. So even if you have the same averages on a flat piece of land in a different state, your own results may vary.

Our oranges are showing the heat stress by this point, we will be watering them, but the established fruit trees are on their own.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2012 at 1:20PM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

All this talk of temperature shifts the focus away from the key element leading to exceptional quality stone fruit, namely water. I'd say that See Canyon is probably only marginally warm enough to sweeten most stone fruit. It's advantage is that temperatures and therefore water use are low enough that the trees can adjust and survive 6 months with no rain. This allows deeply rooted trees to slowly adjust their osmotic potential over many weeks and maintain a water deficit for many months. It's this long period water deficit that produces high brix fruit.

A short period of water deficit just before harvest, as most people would consider imposing on their trees, isn't adequate for maximum fruit eating quality.

I'm imposing and maintaining a water deficit for longer than See Canyon in a desert climate in west Texas but I need a greenhouse to do it. Most people could do the same if they wanted. In humid climates one needs control over rainfall. That requires potted trees or some kind of structure, high tunnel or greenhouse.

I'd like to see what I could do around Modesto where Zaiger breeds his fruit. This is the type of climate where large commercial orchards produce the fruit we buy in stores across the country. That fruit probably gets about 8 inches water per month in summer. This maximizes yield but not fruit eating quality.

Here is a link that might be useful: Modesto climate

    Bookmark   September 16, 2012 at 2:56PM
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olpea(zone 6 KS)

I have a few observations regarding a dry orchard. Keep in mind my comments are restricted to my own climate which is considerably different than CA. Namely, I think our soil is much higher in organic matter and is probably much heavy than California soils, thus has more water holding capacity. Several years ago, a soil test revealed organic matter at 5% at my small home orchard. Since then I've used many big truckloads of mulch and pickup loads of grass clippings and leaves around the trees. I wouldn't be surprised if the organic matter content is now much higher. I noticed the grass in our yard never did go dormant in the drought, whereas the grass in other yards was completely brown. It's for this reason, I think the water holding capacity is above average at my house, so it's hard to compare with other dry orchards in other climates.

Nevertheless, this summer was the driest on record for most of the summer for my locale. We received 6.5" of rainfall from April 1st to almost the end of August (about a 5 month period). During that time we had many days over 100F with almost no humidity. Many of those days had significant wind (which is unusual for our dog days of summer). When you walked outside it felt like you were using a blow dryer. There was no morning dew. The water demand through plant transpiration had to be extremely high.

I did not water the peach trees, but did water other fruit trees (to keep them alive).

The fruit was noticeably smaller, but was very sweet. The exception was that I had a few peach trees later in the season that had yellowing leaves. Most of the fruit on these trees was not sweeter, but more sour. My only explanation for this is that it was so hot and dry for so long that the drought finally caught up with the trees and shut down photosynthesis. A lot of these peaches I didn't sell, or sold them as seconds for canning only. We got a 7" rain around the 1st of Sept. that broke the drought in my locale.

My new peach planting (7 miles away) planted this spring did not receive any supplemental water either. The trees were mulched with wood chips and chemical weed control was used. Trees were planted on the tops of terraces. Following are some pictures I took today of the planting. They follow in multiple posts. You can see the trees did fine, despite being first year trees with no water. The first pic is a row that was not pruned all summer. Here it is:

    Bookmark   September 16, 2012 at 5:56PM
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olpea(zone 6 KS)

Here is a picture of a row that was pruned (about 50% of the foliage removed) at the end of July. The row middles need to be mowed.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2012 at 6:04PM
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olpea(zone 6 KS)

Although off topic, I thought it might be interesting to post these next two pictures which show how much difference the size of peach trees makes at planting. The first pic (below) is a typical peach tree that I grafted (as a sleepy eye) that was planted this spring. The bud was no bigger than a small seed. If you look closely at the bottom of the trunk, you can see a bit of white paint I use to mark the grafted buds. Here is the tree after one season:

    Bookmark   September 16, 2012 at 6:13PM
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olpea(zone 6 KS)

This last picture is of a peach tree that was purchased (as most of them were). I don't know what particular size this tree was at planting (I received trees from 3/8" to 3/4") but it's typical in size of the other peach trees. You can see from these last two pics the size of peach trees at planting doesn't have much correlation with the size after one season.

I've noticed this doesn't hold true for other fruit trees like apple and pear, where size at planting heavily influences precocity, as they grow much slower.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2012 at 6:21PM
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Kippy(SoCal zone 10. Sunset Zone 24)

Remember that the stone fruit you buy from Modesto in the grocery store in Texas is not picked at the peak of ripeness, they have to pick unripe to process, pack, distribute and ship.

To sell here at the farmers market, it needs to be picked same day or kept in a refrigerator truck (our health dept is very very picky)

    Bookmark   September 16, 2012 at 6:40PM
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