Love of the orchard as well as concern for a healthy environment shone through the dialogue between orchardist Phil Doetsch and about 33 citizens who joined him for a walk in our heritage apricot orchard on Saturday, April 13, 2019. Drawing on personal experience working in his dad’s orchard, Phil helped us better understand the adjustments in agricultural practices needed to care for fruit trees in a city.
For Phil, this orchard is a jewel. It is one of a handful of commercial orchards remaining in Santa Clara County. In harvest season, folks may buy apricots from our orchard at DeMartini Orchard, a farm stand on San Antonio Road, or order boxes of cots from City Hall in early July. The sweet taste of a Blenheim variety apricot, ripened on a local tree, greatly surpasses apricot varieties picked prematurely for shipping.
So much care goes into keeping these Blenheim trees healthy. Phil cultivates the soil this time of year, to reduce compaction and improve water availability for the roots. Tractor work, as he calls it, also removes invasive woody plants and works organic matter back into the soil. As Phil works each row, he has an eye for the health of each tree and gathers information to help make decisions about fertilizer, irrigation and treatments to reduce the risk of disease. He notes which of the old-timers are on the way out and makes plans for replacing them. He placed an order this month for 100 new bare-root trees that will arrive for planting in February. Orders are placed 9 months in advance because the Blenheim tops will be grafted onto hardy root stock from other stone fruit species. Phil is experimenting with which root stock does better in the sandy patches compared to adobe patches of soil.
Along the walk, the topics of pruning and spraying stimulated lively exchange. Pruning usually is done in the fall when labor is available, avoiding wet months when the risk of fungal infection is higher. Noting the signs of curling dead bark due to brown rot and buds damaged by fungal pathogens, Phil feels the responsibility to protect the trees from disease by applying treatments at specified times before the fruit is set. However, any mention of spraying raises alarm bells in the minds of a concerned public. Committed to keeping both the public and the trees safe, Phil is collecting more information on suitable organic treatments provided by certified applicators. He also plans on installing drip irrigation to conserve water and improve healthy tree resistance to disease.
Many were surprised to learn that Phil is not a city employee; rather a contractor who also cares for other sites. Clearly it is not just a job for him. He expresses genuine satisfaction for returning to the lifestyle that brought joy and built character in his youth. Phil enjoys sharing knowledge and encouraging anyone who wants to grow fruit trees. Participants expressed heartfelt appreciation to Phil for caring for our city jewel, despite the multiple challenges of fruit production in an urban setting.
Contributed by Jane M. Packard