Roots 'n' Shoots: June 2015

Why is RnS Moving to whiskerflowers.wordpress.com?

Google had brought out an algorithm update in May 2017. With previous updates like Panda or Penguin, Mr G had penalized blogs or websites with low quality content and those more focused on aggressive adverts (including multiple ads or pop-up ads in articles). However, many blogs/websites that weren't shady got penalized beyond recovery too and a lot of people lost their income. The May 2017 update has had wide-scale effect on blogs and websites, but without any explanation from Mr G as to why or what it does. RnS has been hit by it too and hard. RnS organic search stats (i.e. users from Google) have dropped by 75% since. Even though RnS is not a source of income, I tried to figure out why RnS is being culled. It seems that it doesn't really have anything to do with RnS per se, but likely because RnS is FREE and not paying for page ranking (via AdWords or Ad Ranking). Now it is likely being aggressively shoved to lower page rankings to accommodate the paid ads.

I cannot rely on Mr G anymore to get RnS' content where it is needed. And so I am busy moving RnS to Wordpress where you can find me as Whisker Flowers @ whiskerflowers.wordpress.com I am also imposing 301 redirects from already moved posts and pages!

- The Shroom -

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Apricot: How to Grow - Fruit of the Month

Apricot stats/requirements at a glance


Ease of Raising:
2/5
Weekly check-ups
Water:
4/5
Daily
Sun:
3/5
Full sun & dappled shade
Training:
5/5
Absolutely, train for optimal production
Fertilise/Feeding:
4/5
Fortnightly
Time to Harvest:
5/5
Forever, 5+ months
Frost Hardiness:
4/4
Very hardy, can’t cope with black frost



Uses
Culinary

Most Problematic Nemesis:
Aphids, Scale, Caterpillars & Birds

Container Plant:
Yes, purchase dwarf stock, else miniaturize


Apricot
Prunus armeniaca
Germany Flora in Pictures
1796
Kurt Stoberts Online Library

Quick intro

The Apricot is one of the backyard orchard staples. For gardeners in the Highveld; stone fruits, which include apricots, are one of few fruiting trees that thrive in hot and dry climates. It is first to put on a show after the cold winter nights to the delight of the gardener and bees alike. Once pruned correctly a dwarf stock or miniaturized tree produces enough for a family to eat as well as to preserve for leaner times. It has endless culinary uses in both sweet and savoury dishes, which makes it a valuable investment for the frugal gardener.

History

Apricots share origins with Peaches and have a colourful history. It is suggested that the Apricot comes from the mountainous regions of Tibet and western China being domesticated as early as 2000 BC. It quickly spread throughout Europe, the Mediterranean, Africa and to America. Persian trade routes brought it to Greece in 300 BC and it continued to travel towards Italy. English settlers took the apricot to colonies in the New World during the 17th century.

Science Stuff

Apricots, Prunus armeniaca (Armeniaca vulgaris) belongs to the stone fruits or Prunus genus. This genus includes nectarines, plums, peaches, almonds and cherries. They are part of the larger Rosaceae family, which as the name implies, includes roses, raspberries, strawberries, apples, pears and cotoneasters. Upon close inspection of the flowers from these plants you would notice the similarities in structure and colour!

Apricot First Blossoms
Prunus armeniaca

Growing Apricots

Apricot trees are deciduous becoming dormant in winter. Dormant trees are planted during winter in a sunny, well drained position. You will likely get a ‘maiden whip’ from your local nursery, a tree with a single central trunk that is 2-3 years old. From the initial time you receive your tree and for the remainder of its life you will have to prune it correctly to ensure proper fruit carry and tree health. Your maiden whip will produce either during the spring following its planting or the next year, either of which your harvest will be small. From there onwards the tree will produce more and more as it grows and receives corrective pruning.

Apricots do well in the garden and dwarf or miniature trees can be planted in containers. Container-bound trees will not produce as much as an open-ground tree, but the produce will likely be more than you can handle. Apricots do not appreciate acidic soil, which won’t be an issue in the Highveld as our soils are on the alkaline side of the pH spectrum. They can be grown in sunny areas with some mid-day sun protection if possible. A spot near a wall will assist with breaking dormancy as well as fruit ripening. Be sure to water the apricot during very hot spells and reduce the water to a minimum in winter (2/3 days if pot-bound). As with many fruit trees the apricot requires a decent cooling period in order to fruit properly in the next season. It requires 300-900 chilling units; this means it needs 300-900 hours of temperatures under 10oC depending on the cultivar.

Blooms appear on the previous year’s growth. Be sure to cover blooms with some protective fleece should your regions be prone to late frosts in spring. My apricot tends to bloom around end August during the high wind season, luckily it is situated diagonally from the Avocado which protects it from the winds and heat of the midday summer sun. Two-three weeks after the blooms, the fruits start to develop. Some of the fruits may need a little help getting rid of the flower left-overs, but remove them gently - else you are left with one less fruit. During this time you can feed the tree more regularly (once every two weeks) with half-strength liquid feed with a high potassium or K value. The fruits swell and mature for another 1-2 months and take about another month to ripen, this means Apricots are ready to eat by mid-end November.

Apricot, Prunus armeniaca
A: First blooms, B: Flowers,
C: Developing fruits
D: Small fruits, E: Medium Fruits,
F: Unripe mature fruit, G: Ripe Mature Fruit

After fruiting continue to feed every two weeks in order to build up resistance in the tree as well as supplying nutrients for new growth that will bear fruit the next year. Fruit trees start to drop their leaves in April and are fully dormant by June. Do not overwater and reduce feeding of container plants to once a month.

Pests and disease

Although apricot trees are fairly robust, aphids and scale can infest new leaves and stems respectively. The major problem is keeping fruits away from hungry critters of the crawling, flying and feathered kind. Several caterpillars, beetle larvae and - adults as well as birds love to swoop down and devour your crop long before it is ripe for human consumption. We have tried various protective and organic methods to protect the fruits and have come up with quite a strange method… we use hair nets! Yes hair nets with a little string sown at the bottom to tighten around the fruits (and even flowers should ominous weather prevail). We have tried frost fleece on its own, but frost fleece gets heavy during rains and blows like a sail in the wind, only causing more damage to the flowers, fruits and tree itself. Brown paper bags are also an option, but when fruits are nearly ripe the weight of the bags may cause them to fall prematurely. Here is a picture of our hair-net infested apricot tree J:

Apricot, Prunus armeniaca


Other Apricot Tips

Pruning of a fruit tree is a bit more complicated than that of your smaller garden fruiting plants (such as the Tomato, Peppers, Eggplants and Peas for instance). There are many different ways to prune fruit trees, the best shape for an Apricot would be a fan (against a wall), but if space doesn’t permit this a standard is more than suitable. In very tight spaces one can opt for a cordon. I will likely do a few future posts on fruit tree pruning, with my Nectarine and Peaches as examples (the Apricot was my first fruit tree and my practise tree – so it looks a bit strange to say the least J ). In the mean time I suggest getting your hands on a good pruning how-to book; the one I have is absolutely fantastic (The Ultimate Practical Guide to Pruning and Training, by Richard Bird), which you can find more information on at the Reviews Page.

Apricot pruning timeline
Prunus armeniaca

Harvesting & Storing

Apricots produce perfect flowers each with 5 petals. These are insect pollinated, which may be a scarce comodity during the beginning of spring, hence you can pollinate the flowers by yourself with a soft horse-hair paint brush. Simply brush over the entire contents of the flower - you will get both the pollen as well as stigmas between. A backyard orchard only needs one Apricot tree as they are self-fertile.

Apricots are ready to harvest when they have a lovely sunny colour, red cheeks and are soft to the touch. You can eat them from the tree as needed, but if all are ripe and falling/fruit thieves are looming/bad weather threatening – then pick them all to eat within the next two weeks or preserve in an assortment of ways such as jams, jellies, stews or chutneys.

Propagation

You can propagate apricots either with hardwood cuttings or from a pit, but many apricots require grafting with the appropriate stock and therefore it is better to get yours from a reputable nursery.

Something interesting: Apricot Kernels

Apricots or stone fruits are also known as drupes due to the layers of fruits and seed. The fruit is made up of two parts, one is the outer fleshy part (the one we eat) that covers an inner hardened part. The pit or stone when cracked open will reveal the seed or kernel. Kernels are usually bitter and poisonous due to their hydrogen-cyanide content, yet a few cultivars from the Mediterranean and China have sweet kernels and their cyanide content is low enough that normal consumption won’t lead to poisoning. Therefore, these apricot kernels are used as replacements for almonds especially in Italian amaretto liqueur and amoretti biscotti.

Apricot Kernels,
Prunus armeniaca

My Apricot

My apricot is our first addition to the backyard orchard and it has been my pruning practise tree as well as trial and error tree when it comes to keeping it alive thorough the season. It isn’t of the best fruit stock, my Peach and Nectarine are far more robust, but for honing pruning skills I’d rather practise on a poor specimen than to destroy a good one. It produced 5 fruits it very first year, after than we got up to 13 and this year we managed 26 fruits! I am thinking of giving it a hard pruning this winter in order to get it back into the appropriate shape, so that will be another experiment in ‘rehabilitating’ a poorly pruned fruit tree J. The Peach and Nectarine have been properly pruned since I got them and they produced 23-26 fruits in their first year! Just goes to show how important proper pruning is to a fruit tree…

I got my Apricot from LifeStyle Nursery, which does not sell the best in fruiting trees. Rather go to Austraflora (see my Nurseries & Stockist Page) who are fruit tree specialists from whom I purchased my Peach and Nectarine.

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Please share with fellow gardening enthusiasts via the various sharing buttons at the end of posts/pages! Else you can vote for posts through the Google reactions bar at the end of articles. To stay up to date I have provided several reader and social networking platforms with which to subscribe: TwitterPinterestRSS Feed Reader or Email/Follow directly using the Blog Followers widget on the left hand side toolbar. Thank you for reading and please feel free to ask if questions arise - I appreciate comments and ideas too! 😆
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Sunday, 21 June 2015

Season Lore for the Southern Hemisphere

I thought as we are in the region of Winter Solstice this weekend I would provide some elaboration on the topic, especially for those of us in the Southern Hemisphere.

Ecological Seasons & Annual Rings

The Earth's seasons are created due to its rotation around the Sun (365.256363004 days) and its axial tilt of 23.4 degrees. As the Earth orbits the Sun, certain sides are more or less exposed to the Sun's rays, resulting in warmer and cooler periods on Earth. The Northern Hemisphere is inclined towards the sun for one half of the year and the Southern Hemisphere is inclined towards the sun for the other half. This is how our season are created and they are at opposites during the year with regards to the Northern and the Southern Hemispheres.

Summer Solstice in the different Hemispheres

Ancient civilisations across the world observed the seasonal phenomenon as well as the Sun's path through the Earth's sky and the day lengths associated with these. This lead to the division of the seasons according to day length and the sun's position in the sky. If you were to stand at the North Pole, you would notice that the Sun reaches its highest position in the sky during June, hence the Sun spends the longest amount of time in the sky during this time and the day lengths are the longest - thus it is Summer Solstice (or Estival Solstice) in the Northern Hemisphere. Whereas the opposite occurs in the South and the Southern Hemisphere experiences their longest nights, and so Winter Solstice (Hibernal Solstice). The Southern Hemisphere has Summer Solstice in December, when the Northern Hemisphere has Winter Solstice. The first day of Spring and Autumn are referred to as Equinoxes, where night and day lengths are equal, for Southerners Spring Equinox (Vernal Equinox) is in Spring and Autumn Equinox (Autumnal Equinox) is in March.

Earth's orbit around the sun and the division of the seasons.
Peroapsis is when the Earth is the closest to the Sun,
whereas Apoapsis is when the Earth is the farthest.

The arrival of Solstice and Equinoxes are celebrated by many cultures around the world. The most well known are likely those from the Pagan cultures. For example, Harvest Festivals are celebrated between Autumn Equinox and Winter Solstice such as Halloween or Samhain, when summer bounties are harvested and stored for winter months. Unfortunately many of the popularised dates are for the Northern Hemisphere, thus Southerners should be celebrating Harvest times around April-May...

Earth's axial tilt

For those interested here are the exact astronomical dates & times for the Solstices and Equinoxes for the Southern Hemisphere, Johannesburg, South Africa. You can generate similar tables for your region at timeanddate.com

Year
Autumn Equinox
Winter Solstice
Spring Equinox
Summer Solstice
2015
March 21, 00:46
June 21, 18:39
September 23, 10:22
December 22, 06:49
2016
March 20, 06:31
June 21, 00:35
September 22, 16:22
December 21, 12:45
2017
March 20, 12:30
June 21, 06:25
September 22, 22:03
December 21, 18:29
2018
March 20, 18:16
June 21, 12:08
September 23, 03:55
December 22, 00:24
2019
March 21, 00:00
June 21, 17:55
September 23, 09:51
December 22, 06:21
2020
March 20, 05:51
June 20, 23:45
September 22, 15:32
December 21, 12:03


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Please share with fellow gardening enthusiasts via the various sharing buttons at the end of posts/pages! Else you can vote for posts through the Google reactions bar at the end of articles. To stay up to date I have provided several reader and social networking platforms with which to subscribe: TwitterPinterestRSS Feed Reader or Email/Follow directly using the Blog Followers widget on the left hand side toolbar. Thank you for reading and please feel free to ask if questions arise - I appreciate comments and ideas too! 😆
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