I had hoped to make a trip to a few apricot orchards last summer.
Spurred on by blog and cookbook author, Lisa Prince Newman, I had noted the location of some orchards in what people now think of as Silicon Valley, but it was not always so. I grew up just north of the Golden Gate and remember a family jaunt to orchards south of the city. Little farms that welcome visitors and have ripe cherries and apricots on the trees make a pretty indelible memory.
Pre-covid, back in the last months of 2019 and maybe even a week or two in January 2020, I was imagining an early summer trip to Monterey County to visit friends on the coast south of Carmel. On our return home I had hoped to wind our way to a few orchards I had read about. Timing is everything with apricots; it is a short season and a fragile fruit, but the possibility of tree ripened apricots seemed within my grasp.
Sadly, the 2020 apricot events had to be cancelled and family farms and orchards were not open to the public. Visiting our friends was not an option either. Our trip to the central coast is still a hope for another season.
As the summer of 2020 unfolded, my gratitude for our garden and fruit trees grew, but I was wishing I had an apricot tree. We twice had planted an apricot in our home garden. The first was one of the many fruit trees crushed by a neighbor's giant Cedar tree while we were renting out our house and working in Carmel. The tenants in our house telephoned to tell us of the fearful sounds as the huge tree fell on a stormy night. Thankfully the heavy trunk and long limbs had just missed the house. Everyone was safe; there was much to clean up but more for which to be grateful.
We bought new young trees and made a Saturday trip north to plant them; but alas the apricot replacement was not one of those we found alive when we returned home a few years later. While apricots are available in the markets, they are often either green or over ripe and generally pretty expensive. So why didn't I promptly plant another apricot? Let's just say it was a very busy and complicated time.
Imagine then, my delight, when in the shut-down summer of 2020 the oldest local fruit stand, which has grown over the years into a trendy expensive market, used a notorious social media platform to advertise organic apricots clearly at a "loss leader" price. We donned our masks and headed down the road and were possessed of twenty-two pounds of blushing apricots within the hour.
Oh, and they were good, those apricots, and we ate as many fresh as we could and made jam together in several sessions and felt pleased with the results and ourselves.
Now I had a heap of pits. I just couldn't bring myself to toss them. Many fruit trees grow best from cuttings, but having grown my favorite peach tree from a pit that sprouted in my compost pile, I was pretty sure an apricot stone could yield a tree that would carry on the most desirable traits of its parents.
|My favorite peach tree in spring 2020 bloom|
I knew that different seeds require certain conditions in order to germinate because as a child I had watched my father. He would admire a tree in Golden Gate Park and gather some seeds and start experimenting. He explained to me what botanists call stratification as a process of tricking the seed into waking up by mimicking the conditions of the seasonal changes of nature. I knew I had to wake my sleeping pits, stir them from their complacent dormant state.
A quick search led me to the school of "youtube" where I found several generous instructional videos about germinating stone fruits. One method was to put the whole pit in some soil in a bag and stick it in the refrigerator, while another proponent said to remove the kernel from the outer shell and store them in soil in the fridge. A third tree sprouter said to put bare kernels alone in a bag and store them in the freezer.
So on July 27th, 2020 I did all three of those things.
I could've checked them in August. I surely could have inquired on their well being in September. Several weeks at low temp would have been enough to wake them, but it was October 13th before I rescued my bags of moist dirt and pits and brought them to the light of day. The package of soil-less naked kernels is still tucked in the freezer, so that part of my experiment is on hold for now.
I was excited to find that both whole and naked kernels were sprouting. I planted two of each and labeled the pots on 10/13/2020
On 11/03 I repotted the two viable trees, they were both from whole pits. I think that au natural is the best way to go. I have continued to have success with additional pits from the whole pit bag.
The other pots surrounding the trees have additional sprouters that I have since popped into soil. If you try it, put the root poking out of the now cracked open pit facing down and keep them moist. I have plastic egg crates over my pots to keep them a bit warmer but more importantly to stop the visiting squirrels from digging them up. I have had fun gifting sprouting apricot seeds to nearby friends ... we all need something to watch grow in these strange days. And hopefully we can all look forward to apricots on our little trees, maybe three to five years down the road.
Today, in between trying to find the hidden typos in this story of pits, cold dirt and hidden hope, I realized all these hopeful trees already need taller pots because they want to put down a nice long tap root, so I transferred them to bigger pots.
I don't mean this post as instructions for growing stone fruit trees, there are many sources available with more and better information. I'm just saying hello and sharing a little project that buoyed my heart of late. I hope you're finding ways to keep as much of your life on track as possible during these prolonged and challenging days of covid related restrictions. It is so easy to get derailed.
February 15, 2021***UPDATE***13 little trees and growing.