Serving California producers and their professional advisors, covering almonds, pistachios, walnuts and other tree crops. Sponsored by the California field staff of BASF.
Owen Taylor, Editor
Overall, this has been a fast bloom by any measure. Nonpareils and other early almond varieties are decidedly into petal fall across much of our coverage area. The later varieties should quickly follow, our contacts tell us.
Irrigation has started in places, although a couple of our contacts said that water demand right now is so low that overwatering could do more harm than good.
We continue to hear speculation that the bloom came and went so fast that bees probably weren’t able to make it to every bloom, despite generally favorable flying weather. It will be a while before anybody can determine if pollination came up short. Trees appear to be greening more rapidly, too, which is another point of concern.
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Chris Morgner, PCA, Agri-Valley Consulting, Merced: “We had a fast almond bloom anyway you look at it. In a week – from February 13 to February 20 – our Nonpareils went from 2% or 3% bloom to 100% bloom. We thought things might move fast, but that was still a little quicker than we expected.
“The Butte-Padres, which bloom later, are beautiful right now but will probably be in petal fall this weekend (2/27-28). Where petal fall started, trees already are looking a little green. They’re certainly not solid white anymore.
“I’m already getting calls from clients who want to start irrigating and applying fertilizer, but I keep reminding them that it’s still February. This warm weather has gotten people ramped up, I guess. Water demand is increasing now that days are getting a little longer and more leaf tissue has developed, and in a couple of weeks we’ll see demand at a half-inch per week.
“At that point, we’ll start watering then. If it cools off, we’ll wait a little longer. Some people have already started, although I’m not sure why. When I have asked why, these guys have said they’re just putting on a small amount. Frankly, I don’t like irrigation at all during bloom. One guy even said his advisor recommended that he put on 2 to 3 inches. Dumping big amounts of water would saturate the roots right now, plus the added humidity could trigger disease activity. Again, it’s still February and plenty of moisture already is out there.
“I’ve voiced some concern about whether bees could have gotten to all the flowers fast enough, considering how quickly the bloom moved. We’ll just have to wait and see how that played out, and we can’t do anything about it now, anyway.
“We started with fungicides on February 12, which was a Friday. Rain was in the forecast for the following Wednesday, so we started spraying. With certain growers we had to go early. Some sprayed every other row, then came back the next day or two and caught the rest of it. Again, it all happened fast. In places, we went from pink bud to 30% bloom in 3 days.
“All of our clients sprayed everything with a fungicide at least once, plus some applied foliars and/or a bee-friendly insecticide for PTB. If they didn’t complete the application ahead of the rain, they finished afterwards. It wasn’t a big rain, maybe a quarter- to a half-inch, depending on the area.
“It hasn’t rained much since then and we’ve had limited fog, so nobody feels threatened by diseases at the moment. No growers have asked if they should spray again rightaway. No rain is in the immediate forecast, either (as of 2/24). I haven’t written any recommendations since that first round. If a guy really wants to spray, I won’t hold him back but would sure talk with him about his objectives.”
Franz Niederholzer, UC Farm Advisor, Sutter/Yuba Counties: “Bloom moved along quite nicely, and a lot of green is showing now, which worries some people. The warm weather really pushed things. But as one long-time PCA said, it will be another month before we know where things stand.
“Rain is in the forecast for Friday (2/26), so people have been considering whether to apply a fungicide ahead of it. Some guys will be spraying, while others will sit tight and plan on going in with a fungicide if it does rain. AccuWeather is predicting maybe a quarter-inch on the east side around Yuba City, while only a couple hundredths of an inch is expected around Arbuckle.
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“Prunes are moving along hard and fast, so we might have an early bloom in that crop. This week we have almost perfect conditions for plant development across any crop, but who knows what will happen in March?”
Brian Gogue, PCA, Helena Chemical Co., Hanford: “The majority of our almonds, I’d say, are in the petal fall stage (as of 2/24). The Montereys seem to be hanging on the latest. The Butte-Padres are basically in full bloom right now. My earliest block out west already has quite a bit of leaf on it and the trees are more green than white. My younger blocks are all right around full bloom.
“For 90% of my blocks I would call this a flash bloom. We had Nonpareil blocks that went from zero bloom to 100% in 7 days, with blocks at 5% to 10% bloom reaching 100% in about 4 days. Things moved slower in some blocks around Hanford and were closer to 12 days from zero to 100%.
“Overall, the bloom looks pretty good. The Nonpareils seem to be okay, nothing exciting. The bloom looks pretty good in our third- and fourth-leaf blocks. Fritz seems to look pretty good, overall, and Montereys are loaded just about everywhere. The young Independence blocks are loaded, as well, as are the Independence-Nonpareil blocks. Butte-Padres look great. On average, things are okay.
“I guess the big question now is whether bees had enough time to work everything, considering the way bloom progressed so fast. We had excellent bee weather, but you’ve got to wonder if they could reach 100% of the blooms in maybe just a week. I think the bloom has been very similar to last year’s. It moved very fast early on in 2015, although the weather got a little cooler toward the end, which slowed bloom some on later varieties. But last year the Nonpareils did go very fast.
“Most of my blocks got 2 fungicide applications about a week apart. In some cases that early treatment didn’t go on when we’d planned due to a small shower. So, we just made a good shot at full bloom.
“We’re starting to find some activity on pistachio root stock, so they’re waking up. On some of the suckers I’m seeing 4 inches of growth. In grapes, Siestas are starting to push in areas out west. We’ll have tomatoes going in the ground next week and cotton planting starting the week after that, if it stays warm.”
John Moore, PCA, Growers Crop Consulting, Bakersfield: “I kind of circled February 19 as the day we hit peak bloom with almonds and today (2/24) we’re already at petal fall, so there wasn’t even a week between those two points. That’s really fast. I consider it petal fall when I look at the orchard floor and it’s white enough that it looks like snow.
“Fungicide treatments have varied with the selected fungicides and the grower’s temperament. Some growers had a fungicide on when that earlier rain came through, and that was a good program. Some haven’t done anything at all, while others are starting their second spray. The forecast indicates possible moisture in 7 to 10 days, and those growers want to have some protection in place in case the rain does come. It’s a flimsy forecast, but it’s at least out there, maybe.
“For disease to do much, you’ve got to have moisture and temperatures. So far, we’ve had just a little moisture, and the real threat hasn’t been there, at least in our area. That high pressure system keeps causing the storms to move north.
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“It’s a little concerning about whether we had enough bee activity, considering how quickly the bloom came and went. We probably didn’t get the bee hours we needed, overall. The longer you can keep a flower going, the better. We did have a beautiful bloom, but when you have a bloom like this with no moisture or fog, the pollen's lifespan is shortened. That forces the bees to do a lot of work in a brief time. Maybe we’ve had more hours than I’m thinking, which I hope is the case.
“Was this a flash bloom? I’ve heard that term kicked around but have never seen an exact definition. But if you’re looking at what’s happened this year, then I would say, yes, that’s what we’ve had.”
David A. Doll, Pomology Farm Advisor, Merced County: “For the most part the almonds are pretty much through bloom and into petal fall. The Nonpareils are probably 80% through petal fall. The Butte-Padres look like they’re holding a lot of flowers and are at 2% to 5% petal fall, maybe just a little more, depending on the location.
“We’re starting to see leafing out and can probably find an inch of growth in the newly emerged leaves. The cooler temperatures have been nice, from the lower to mid 70s in the upper valley, and that’s reasonable weather for pollination and the reproductive process.
“Sadly, the weather forecast calls for mostly clear conditions through Thursday, March 3. More rain would be great. Any further fungicides probably won’t be needed until we have a period of leaf wetness. And even with rain, it depends on conditions that follow it. Any sprays made in the last week would probably carry things through to when it might rain, although so much new tissue has been added that you probably should consider spraying if we get into a back-to-back storm pattern.
“People have started irrigating trees. I’m not sure why, though, since water use is so low right now. Maybe those guys are trying to supply deep moisture, but they should have done that before now. Anybody taking that approach this soon is killing roots by saturating the soils, which is like shooting yourself in the foot. At most, trees are using 4 one-hundredths of an inch of water a day, based on the crop’s stage this week.
“Some people are getting ambitious with nitrogen now, too, and it’s early for that, as well. Really good work by UC – including dissection of trees – shows that the tree relies on stored nitrogen through full leaf expansion. Dumping a bunch of nitrogen on the ground as an excuse to irrigate could hit you with a double whammy – losing nitrogen to leaching, plus losing root capacity due to over irrigating.
“A lot of people also are into the notion that they need to use calcium nitrate right now because soils are too cold. That begs the question: what is too cold? These soils are relatively warm. Nobody seems to be basing these decisions on using a temperature probe. In fact, with some pistachio work we’re finding that the soils at 8 inches deep are in the high 50s and almost to 60 degrees.
“We’ve had these days with weather in the mid 70s, so we’re not talking about Midwest conditions. In this case, I don’t see a difference between calicium or urea-type fertilizer unless you need calcium. And even then, you can apply calcium through other products.”
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