Mother Nature has a serious case of the grumpies this year. She has been kind to us for so many years, that I guess it is to be expected that she might get out of the wrong side of the bed at some point. But it is starting to feel like she is dog piling things on. Drought, deluge, frost, fireblight, deer, hail, and now this week – brown rot. More on that in a minute, but first lets look back at the year.
From January until mid-April it looked like a drought similar to 2002. We were ready to start irrigating in early April. Then the switch flipped and it was the deluge of 2015 with snowpack increasing in May, rather than decreasing, and rain nearly every day for several months. Of course, there was that little issue of the night in April that froze most of our fruit blooms, resulting in many trees looking like this before harvest – beautiful tree, no fruit.
Our peach crop is about 25% of normal, but our pear and apple crops are even worse – maybe 5% of normal.
Then a few weeks ago I walked out into our young block of Zestar! apples. They had a nice little crop on them that I thought would be fun for all of you to try – except that the deer herd that has decided to call the orchard home ate most of them as they matured, along with parts of the trees. And they didn’t share.
Have I mentioned the hail storm of several weeks ago? If you see peaches like this, you can attribute it to the rain that had some sharp edges in it…
And now, brown rot. The wet, humid year has led to this fungal disease that we have never seen in our orchard before. I have heard of it and read about it, but our dry Colorado climate meant it was not something we worried about, until now.
All this week we have been getting reports from customers about peaches they bought not holding well and literally breaking down before their eyes. These were the same peaches that looked perfectly wonderful when we packed them and sold them. We’ve been scratching our heads trying to figure out what is going on since it happens so fast and is different than anything we have seen before. We always guarantee our fruit and we will replace anything that is not how it should be, but it is still disheartening for our customers and us to get fruit that isn’t simply wonderful. And especially to get fruit that turns into a brown glob almost overnight.
After lots of thought and discussion I finally realized we were seeing brown rot showing up in our orchard for the very first time in my life. It is a fungus that thrives on warm, wet conditions. Just like this year. Not only can it cause good fruit in boxes to break down, it can actually cause fruit on the tree to break down as it is growing.
As I walk through the orchard, each tree has several peaches like this and others that are just the left over shell of what was a peach. Each of these is spreading spores that can infect other peaches. Those other peaches may or may not succumb to the fungus and that is what is giving us grey hair.
There are so many beautiful peaches that we can’t just walk away from the crop and throw up our hands. Yet, we know a certain percentage may just fall apart in the box. There is no way to tell which ones are fine and which ones will fall apart. We are doing our best to toss anything that looks suspicious, but we know we won’t find every infected peach. On the other hand, most of the peaches are fine and juicy and wonderful.
At this point in the season there is nothing we can really do – the controls for brown rot generally occur around bloom time and early summer. We will certainly be applying those controls next year, but for now please bear with us. Let us know if you get something that isn’t right. We will always make things good with you. And understand that this is completely new learning curve for us. A learning curve we are trying to figure out from the bottom of a dog pile…
When the last few things have happened I have just started to shake my head and smile. Of course Mother Nature would throw something else at us. My hope? That Mother Nature can just vent and get this all out of her system this year. Better these problems on a small crop than a big one. Maybe she can have a good cry at the end of the season and wake up seeing the world a little rosier for next year. Meanwhile, thank you for your support and feedback – we appreciate everyone we sell fruit to and will continue to strive to do our best, even when Mother Nature is grumpy.