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.

Posted in Uncategorized

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.

Posted in Uncategorized

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.



Posted in Uncategorized

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.


Posted in Uncategorized

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!






Posted in Uncategorized

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!


Posted in Uncategorized

Pears Are Ripening!

We always look forward to the end of August and September for the maturity of one of my favorite fruit, and really one of the easiest to grow sustainably, pears.  Across Texas, and indeed all of the south, the variety of pears we can grow is limited by fire blight, a bacterial pathogen that will flat out kill susceptible varieties like ‘Bartlett’.  In the highest rainfall, most hot and humid part of the state, standards like ‘Kieffer’ and ‘Orient’ are the most durable and long-lived choices, but in the Hill Country, drier parts of Central Texas and West Texas, we have many other varieties we can grow successfully.  .  At our sustainable fruit planting in Fredericksburg, we have 14 pear varieties planted, both Asian and European Hybrid types, and we like what we see.  There are problems and setbacks however.  This week during the first week of May, we had golf ball sized hail for about twenty minutes that hammered our vineyard and everything in the orchard.  Most fruit were lost and almost all were at least damaged.  A few escaped however and here are a couple of samples of what we have ripening.

The first is the old blight resistant standby ‘Orient’.  Not a favorite fresh eating pear, its great for canning or cooking.  Very blight resistant and productive, this pear is a good choice for growers in East Texas or the Gulf Coast.

The next and one of my favorites is ‘Ayres’, a  1954 release from the Tennessee Ag. Experiment Station that arose as the result of a cross between ‘Garber’ and ‘Anjou’.  ‘Ayres’ can be a bit small, but its attractive blush, sweet, aromatic flavor and melting flesh make it one of the best pears we can grow.  ‘Ayres’ is pollen sterile, so it must be planted with other varieties to set fruit.  It has held up to fire blight pressure very well across the Hill Country.

This next pear came to us from my neighbor across the creek, Lewis Hussing.  His pear tree is easily forty years old and when he gave me fruit a few years ago, I flipped.  Easily the best pear I have ever had.  Sending photos around, George Ray McEachern identified this pear variety as ‘LeConte’.  That’s what we think it is, and fruit from our Fredericksburg orchard this past year did not disappoint us.  Amazing that from the old heirloom varieties we already have that there are pears we can grow that are this good!



Posted in Uncategorized

Late Season Iron Chlorosis

Scott Korcz from Williamson County, Texas wrote with these photos inquiring about the advisability of treating peach and plum trees in late summer for iron chlorosis. In many of our high pH soils, iron may be present, but the high soil pH makes it chemically unavailable to the plants. Treating with simple elemental iron as some use on lawns do little good because the iron is immediately tied up. The use of a chelated iron product overcomes that restriction and allows symptomatic plants to take up iron and re-green the affected tissue

Its important to keep fruit tree foliage as long as possible going into the fall. Late season photosynthesis is important to keep trees loaded with carbohydrates going into winter. These stored carbohydrates are important for fall and winter root growth, optimal winter hardiness and to get trees off to a good start the following spring.

Posted in Uncategorized

Peach problems

Along the year, we always get photos sent to us to help diagnose a problem. This photo was sent to Monte Nesbitt from Schleicher county where a homeowner was having problems with their peaches.

Our best guess (we have seen this before) is Rhizopus rot. Common bread mold can be a post-harvest pathogen or even attack fruit while it is still on the tree. There are no visible signs of sporulation yet, but within a day or two, these lesions will display a black mat of spores on the surface of the fruit. No real remedy for this other than to consume the fruit before it gets to this stage of softness.

Posted in Uncategorized

2011 Pomegranate Processing

For those of you that are as fond of pomegranates as I am, you too are probably looking forward to harvest later this summer throughout the fall. There are endless ways you can enjoy the fruit. I have not yet developed a taste for just eating the arils (at least the hard seeded varieties), but the juice can be enjoyed all year long. Last year we had fruit hanging in our evaluation plots in Fredericksburg that was not harvested and a hard freeze was predicted in the days ahead.

With a free weekend, I picked five varieties, took them home and started to work. Well, it was a little more than I bargained for. I worked through the weekend juicing about 200 lbs of fruit but did not get finished canning jelly and pomegranate molasses until Wednesday night. I do have a wall of pomegranate products to share with family and friends though.


Posted in Uncategorized