Have you noticed the orange apricots decorating the trees of our Heritage Orchard along San Antonio Road? The summer harvest is underway, two weeks earlier than in the previous century. Old-timers planned for apricot harvest around the 4th of July. Maybe this is an indicator of climate change?
“When the apricots ripen is the highlight of my year,” declared one orchard friend who purchased an entire box from the tailgate of the orchardist’s truck. Tailgating is one option, for those of us who enjoy rising early and walking among the trees. Most would prefer buying these sweet Blenheim apricots, an heirloom variety, at DeMartini Orchard across San Antonio Road.
Our orchardist, Phil Doetsch, arranges apricot picking by experienced workers who care for the trees and ensure that the fruit meets health standards. Watch for Eliseo Perez perched high on a ladder. He has been tending our orchard for over 35 years. Each morning, Eliseo takes ten boxes a day over to DeMartini. The annual harvest ranges from 100-200 boxes depending on rainfall.
Recently, I coached a new museum volunteer, whose eyes grew wide when I explained this orchard has been in production for 120 years. We watched Eliseo’s nimble fingers pull handfuls of apricots into the metal bucket hanging from his shoulders. Eliseo explained that picking clusters of fruit is more efficient than selecting the single ripest fruits.
When squirrels and birds select the ripest fruit, many apricots fall to the ground. As some folks walked by the orchard, they were compelled to pick up the “wasted” fruit on the ground. Our volunteer goodwill ambassadors explain that the fallen fruit does not meet health standards. Instead, we pick up the fallen fruit to be composted. It feels like an Easter egg hunt.
Collecting the fallen fruit also is important to restore the health of the orchard. Fruit falls prematurely when a tree is stressed by drought, disease, or ground squirrel diggings. To address drought, we will install drip irrigation. Fallen fruit may serve as “spore bombs” spreading the brown rot fungus to otherwise healthy trees. Removing fallen fruit also reduces the bait enticing squirrels into the orchard.
Our apricot orchard is a city landmark, thanks to the vision of J. Gilbert Smith. He planted this orchard in 1901 and sold it to the new city of Los Altos in 1954 for construction of the Civic Center. As part of the deal, he specified that the orchardist would receive the profit from the harvest, as a way of reducing the cost to the City and an incentive to maintain orchard productivity for generations to come.
If you would like to learn more, visit the outdoor exhibit at the museum. We invite you to bring your family to the Apricot STEM Fair, or to join our volunteer team. If you have suggestions or questions, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contributed by Jane Packard, Chair of the Orchard Commons Committee