Peach Bud Development

Lots of nervous peach growers.  In Fredericksburg we are sitting right at 660 hours of winter chilling, 100-150 hours short of what we really need to break dormancy on many of the standard varieties.  Some growers are opting to apply Dormex, a growth regulator that helps overcome insufficient chilling.  The risk is that once it is applied, there will be nothing holding the buds back and advancement could mean increased risk of spring  frost.  Yes, farming is a gamble.

Yesterday, a number of growers brought in shoots of different varieties to check on bud development to help in knowing if/when/ and how much Dormex to apply.  Here is an example of what we saw

Eckhard Jersey Queen



Top photo is a bud still receiving chilling, middle bud is transitional and bottom bud is ready to open.  With more than two weeks of February still to go, its going to be an interesting spring!

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Virginia Still Knows its Winter

I was invited to speak at the Virginia Vineyard’s Association’s annual meeting in Charlottesville this past week and on the way back to the airport, Tony Wolf, Viticultural Specialist with Virginia Tech offered to give us a brief tour of a local vineyard.


In this photo, Carl Tillam, vineyard manager, Tony Wolf and Hans Walter Peterson, Finger Lakes Grape Specialist get a chance to tour a Petit Verdot block outside Charlottesville.  A welcome cold spell with a few days of light snow is just what the growers are looking for to keep vines dormant until later in the spring.  From my interaction with the VT faculty and staff, having a few days to visit with Virginia grape growers and a chance to taste some world class wines, Virginia obviously has its act together.  Unlike Texas, The Commonwealth of Virginia continues to invest in the research, education and marketing efforts needed to advance their industry.  As a state, we should pay attention!

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Ug, 81°F in January

Well, forget everything I said about having a good chilling season.  Our warm spell for the past ten days has certainly not been good for perennial fruit crops.  These high temperatures roll back the chilling accumulation, although we cannot really say how much.  We are stuck at about 550 hours of winter chilling in Fredericksburg, TX.  We need the groundhog to see his shadow this Saturday or we are in serious trouble.  Not enough chilling to set a crop and if we do bloom, the chances of losing the crop to frost/freeze are pretty good.

Think snow!

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Pierce’s disease management guide

After over ten years of applied research across the state and over a year of publication preparation, we are happy to release a practical overview and management guide on Pierce’s disease.  During the late 1990′s, this bacterial pathogen was devastating vineyards in the Texas Hill Country and was moving into production areas north and west of where it was thought to occur.  A cooperative research between USDA/APHIS and Texas A&M research and extension personnel as well as colleagues at the University of Houston-Downtown and the University of Texas at Tyler provided funding for us to begin to answer the pertinent questions about the transmission and epidemiology of Pierce’s disease in Texas.

PD Guide

This guide reviews the history of the disease in Texas, California and other grape producing regions of the country.  The results of eight years of insect trapping have resulted in a rouges gallery of insect vectors as well as a review of some of the field conditions that impact vector number and disease incidence.  In addition, practical management information and a review of ongoing work will provide growers in Texas and other growing areas east of the Rockies with a new resource to aid in the management of this disease.  This guide can be downloaded and freely distributed from the following url:


Hope you all find this useful.




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Winter Chilling Update

Its the middle of January and at this point, growers are starting to wonder how the year is shaping up for winter chilling.  Commercial growers can apply growth regulators to overcome insufficient chilling, but they need to know and make the application in early February if it is needed.  For most, they may wonder, or worry, but we still want to know how we stand in comparison to other years.  I posted some comments last month about the kind of equipment we use to record weather data, but wanted to share a little more about what that equipment gives us.  I normally download weather data every couple of weeks, tally hours below 45°F, and keep a running total.  Our Hobo Dataloggers give us this kind of a graph:

chilling chart


We can then export those data into an excel file and count chilling segments  (we have the dataloggers set to record temps every 15 minutes).  As of today, January 14, 2013, the we have recorded 487 hours of winter chilling below 45°F, which is about on par with what we have been seeing the past few years.  The chart below can give you some perspective on how we stand compared with the past six winter seasons.


comparative graph

It appears we are on track, at least so far, for a normal, to above normal chilling year.  I commonly get questions about climate change and variety selection.  Often people wonder that if our temperatures are getting warmer, shouldn’t we be planting trees with chilling requirements somewhat lower than the old average chilling zones we have been using.  Our answer is that at least so far, this change has not really affected our chilling totals.  The amount of chilling we receive from season to season does fluctuate, but in Fredericksburg, where the average is about 800 hours per winter, over the past six seasons, we have been over the norm.  This will cycle and we will get some warm winters in the future, but from what we can tell, no need to change the chilling range of the varieties we are planting.

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Holiday Pastime

Not sure about others, but slowing down and enjoying domestic life has always been an important part of enjoying the Christmas holidays for me.  With a bountiful pecan crop this year, I have been buying sacks of five to ten pounds of natives or improved seeding pecans from Weinheimer’s General Store in Stonewall, and shelling them out  in the evenings when I am enjoying down time with the family.  Locals pick up pecans in from their trees, sell them to Weinheimer’s who then resell them to their customers.  Traditionally, native pecans don’t bring prices anywhere that of larger improved varieties, but if you pick them carefully, you can find some very high quality nuts at a fraction of what shelled pecans bring in the store.  I have fancier nut crackers, but I like to use my old manual Perfection Nutcracker, Model 28.




Found this cracker  in a junk store, but didn’t really know anything about it, I think I paid two dollars for it.  Not sure of all of the history, but this model was made by Malleable Iron Fittings Company in Branford, Connecticut, probably in the late 1800′s or early 1900′s.  I have seen other models, virtually identical, but that were made in Waco, Texas.  Those crackers date from around 1919.  No batteries to replace, no rubber bands to break, it always works as long as I do.  So for tonight, I’m going to fry some redfish throats, enjoy the family while they are still here, and crack out some nuts for ourselves, the rest are already eaten or given away as presents.

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Fig Propagation

Now that plants are finaly in rest, its time to take cuttings from those we most easily propagate from dormant woody cuttings.  Figs are among the most easily propagated of all fruit crops.  We don’t use rootstocks with figs, so just own rooted cuttings do fine.  Fig trees themselves do better if they are tip pruned during the dormant season to remove apical dominance and encourage lateral growth the following growing season.  The terminal plant material left after these cuts are ideal for propagation.  Below is a photo of ‘Rattlesnake Island’, one of our local favorites that has been tip pruned.

Once we find out how much, if any winter injury the plant receives this winter, we will probably remove some of these shoots to allow more sunlight interception by the remaining shoots.  Remember, dormant pruning is an invigorating action.  So, after pruning, we bundle and label the dormant terminal cuttings and place them in a callus box.  Figs are sub-tropical and really do not need any appreciable amount of winter chilling, so we don’t need to put these cuttings in the cold room for any length of time.  We do with grape cuttings.  So, the callus box is made up of media that resists fungal growth.  We use either cedar cell, the remnants of fine cedar grindings after oil has been extracted, or cypress mulch, which resists rot, holds a sufficient amount, but not excessive water.  If you can’t find either of these, perlite works ok too.  We keep the callus box about  80°F until callus tissue forms at the base of the cuttings.  We then stick them in pots and put them in the greenhouse.  Below is a box with cuttings shown ready for the callus process to begin.

Drop me a line at if you have any questions, or feel free to leave comments on the blog.



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Finally fully dormant!

After a pretty slow start to the winter(ish) season, a good hard freeze the past couple of mornings have taken us to full dormancy.   20°F on the morning of December 11th and 23° on the 12th appear to have taken care of what leaves were retained after mild freezes in mid-November.  Below are some of our plots in Fredericksburg.  Pear, fig and pomegranate.

We commonly get asked how we calculate winter chilling for the Hill Country.  We actually use a modified formula that begins counting  winter chilling hours beginning with the first 32°F reading, then we count all hours below 45F°.  Yes, subfreezing hours really do little to overcome dormancy, and yes even temperatures above 45F° are quite efficient at breaking rest, but on the average, this method seems to characterize the season pretty well.  We are actually using equipment in the field that is somewhat dated.  Ten years ago, these basic “Hobo” units were state of the art, but many newer versions of these data loggers are now on the market.  Pictured here is our standard temperature and relative humidity station.  We have the hobos set to record data every 15 minutes, so they can actually stay in the field for quite some time and hold several months worth of data.  We download temperature and relative humidity data every couple of weeks to keep track of where we are, and the software will give us a graphic chart and save raw data in an excel file.  Pretty handy, and they are paid for.  As noted, its been slow start, but here is hoping for a cool and wet winter.


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Pomegranate Tasting

Its a great time of the year to be out in the orchards, the brutal heat of summer has passed, we have had some wonderful early fall soaking rains and some of my favorite fruit are ripening.  At our Fredericksburg Sustainable Fruit Plots, we have or are in the process of evaluating 26 varieties of pomegranates.  Many have their origin in Russia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and northern Iran and some have shown us excellent quality and remarkable cold hardiness.  Most of the varieties that have nominal to no winter injury are hard seeded, but the variety of flavors is amazing.

With an increased interest in small scale sustainable agriculture, interest in growing pomegranates is at an all time high.  The Texas Pomegranate Growers Cooperative, in conjunction with Texas  A&M AgriLife Extension Service will be conducting their annual pomegranate tasting on Friday, October 5th at the Uvalde Research & Extension Center in Uvalde, Texas.  We will have a chance to taste and evaluate many of the varieties grown in different parts of the state and review information on variety performance

Tasting begins at 11:00am and a Coop board meeting will follow.  Participation is open to the public and free of charge. The center is located at  1619 Garner Field Rd, Uvalde, TX 78801.  Hope to see many folks there!






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2012 Fruit Conference Scheduled for October 11th & 12th

After a number of years’ rest, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Specialists are once again sponsoring a two day conference for prospective, new and seasoned fruit growers alike.

The renewed interest in locally grown produce and a heightened interest in high quality food not available at most stores has given rise to a new generation of fruit growers.  Attached is the pdf flyer that outlines  program topics and speakers as well as logistical details of this year’s conference.

2012 Texas Fruit Conference

Feel free to drop me an email or leave a comment if you would like any additional information. Hope to see many of you in October!


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