Monday, October 14, 2013

Looking Back: Heavy Lessons on Thinning Young Fruits

Peaches in my garden - summer 2013 

Too much of anything is not a good thing.  There is balance to be observed between that which is beneficial and that which is permissible for a healthy life - plants included.   This year we were delighted to see a beautiful crop of peaches which is attributed to the absence of leaf curl infection.  The drier weather from late winter to early spring was not conducive for the proliferation of the pathogen Taphrina deformans.  In previous years, the tree would lose all its early leaves leaving the developing fruits to starve until the new set of healthy leaves come out.  Sometimes the fruits also get infected which results not only in low yield but poor quality crop.  

As the fruits grew larger under the summer sun, the problem slowly surfaced.  The slender stems laden with fruits began to hang straight downwards.  One of the larger branches was so heavy. I was afraid that it might break.  We had to prop it up with three pieces of 2x4x8 lumber.  I admit that my tree is not in its best form.  Pruning on this tree has been mainly for the purpose of making sure it does not arch into our neighbors' yard.  (I doubt they appreciate peaches falling into their swimming pool.)  This effort has led to the formation of a lop-sided tree.  It is a nice tree but it not strong enough to bear a heavy crop.  
A heavy fruit load can be detrimental to the tree.

Based on the situation described here, the problem that needed to be addressed is excessive fruits.
Under favorable growing conditions, such as what we had this year, fruit trees set more fruits than they can support adequately.  And this problem is magnified when trees have not been properly pruned in the previous season.  A heavy fruit load can result in branch breakage.  When there are too many fruits competing for carbohydrates, the fruits cannot reach their optimum size.  The tree also gets nutritionally deprived and weakened - making it more susceptible to pests and even sunburn damage.  Another possible effect of excessive fruits on trees is alternate bearing (the cycle in which the tree bears a heavy crop in one year and a skimpy or no yield in the next).  This phenomenon happens when the tree is nutritionally deprived while supporting its fruits - a situation that will continue to plague my tree until I will muster enough discipline to remove the excess fruits when they are young.  

Rule for fruit thinning:  Mature fruits should not be touching each other.

Peaches are among the fruit trees that require fruit thinning for best results - superior quality fruits are produced while maintaining a healthy tree.  As a general rule, allow room in between fruits so that at maturity fruits should not be touching each other.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

HortiCOOLture - Designed for Dispersion

Bitter Melon fruits are dehiscent - they crack open when ripe.

Plants continually amaze me.  The designer of life, I personally believe it to be God, made sure that each one is uniquely equipped with everything it needs to succeed.  For plants, success means to be able to reproduce their kind.  They photosynthesize and grow in order to flower.  Flowers eventually turn into fruits.  Fruits bear the seeds.  The seeds are dispersed to begin a new life.  And the cycle goes on.  Unlike other organisms plants do not have the mobility that would facilitate dispersal of seeds.  Nonetheless, plants have the ability to lure other life forms and the environment into scattering their seeds.  In the wild world where cultivation is not an option, plant seeds are dispersed by animals, wind, and water.

Case Example
Bitter melon (Momordica charantia L.), a member of the Cucurbitaceae family, produces fruits that are characteristically bitter.  Unaided, this unpalatable plant has a chance to grow only on the same place over and over again.  That would be a losing proposition.  But this plant is equipped with a mechanism that compensates for the bitterness of its fruit.  First of all, this plant is equipped with dehiscent fruits.  Dehiscent fruits are those that split open at maturity.  Most plants in the Cucurbitaceae family produce fruits called pepo with thick rind like that of the watermelon, pumpkin, and cucumber - they are indehiscent fruits.   But the bitter melon is one of the rare exceptions.  The fruits crack at maturity.  Secondly, as the fruit opens, the seeds that are encased in sweet red membrane are revealed to the rest of the world inviting all to come and have a taste.  Animals cannot resist the succulent and sweet seed-covering but they leave the seeds elsewhere.  At this point, seed dispersal is complete.

Have you observed any special plant features that aid seed dispersal lately?

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