We attended an open house event, free to the public, at the University of California Research Station in Irvine, California. This research facility focuses on fruiting trees and shrubs, testing new varieties for potential commercial production, and investigating pests and diseases of commercially grown fruits. California continues to have a robust agricultural industry, and the University of California contributes to this industry via testing and other science.
Vendors were there to discuss their garden-related products, including pest control, climate-appropriate plants, planters, seeds, and irrigation devices and supplies. Samples of fruit grown at the station were available to taste, and California Master Gardeners were everywhere supplying information on all sorts of gardening topics.
Held in one of the buildings that simulate a suburban street with suburban climate-appropriate gardens, there were talks and demonstrations about subjects including effective and efficient irrigation, garden tool maintenance, and chicken-keeping.
Another of the buildings hosted California Master Gardeners and County Vector Control personnel providing information on control of rodents and other garden pests.
A too-brief tram tour of the two hundred acre facility showed some of the research being performed with fruiting trees (citrus, avocado, apple, pluots, and subtropicals like cherimoya) and plants (Kiwi, turf grass, blueberries--even Stenocereus and Hylocereus cacti fruits--commonly known as "dragon fruit").
Thanks for the lift, Deere!
One test involved Avocado trees, which left unpruned can reach 40' feet in height. A large number of well-established trees were "stumped": cut to a height of 12" (30 cm); within five to six years of stumping, they were multi-branched, 12'-15' tall, healthy, vigorous, and producing fruit with less water needs.
The facility is currently conducting a major study of "dragon" fruit. The cactus are grown rather like grape vines, on long trellised rows. The plants are netted in, because bird like the fruit just as much as some people do. The background of this photo makes clear that this research station, once isolated in the middle of vast farm fields and orchards, is now surrounded by development.
I wish the tram had lingered longer near the two long rows of high chill apples, all producing fruit. The guide explained how when the trees were planted, they were cut back to a height of 12". The trees immediately produced a candelabra of multiple branches. Over the next few years, each of those branches was cut to a different height to maximize sun exposure and air circulation. The entire pruning process creates a short tree with very stout, strong branches easily able to support heavy crops of fruit.
I would have liked to ask many questions about these "high chill requirement" apples growing and fruiting happily in a no-chill climate but there was no time. It was also getting very hot. We arrived early, but so did late September heat.
Beloved enjoyed the groves--it brought back memories of what this area looked like when he was a small boy.
Large scale development is closing in on all sides of this once rural place. A large part of that far foothill was recently cut away to build a massive development of ocean-view homes. How long will this 200 acre collection of trees and scientific endeavor survive human greed and overpopulation?
At least there was a plant sale with screaming excellent prices. There were healthy, thriving 18" Pachypodiums and silver Sanseverias for sale for bargain prices ($5-$10) as well as common Agaves, Euphorbias, and other succulents.
We came home with a beautiful well-grown Dasylirion wheeleri for the bargain price of $5. For years, I've been passing over small, weak, sometimes rotting specimens of D. wheeleri priced at $20-$30, waiting for a healthy well grown plant, and my patience finally paid off.
The open house is a yearly event, free, and well worth attending. The facility hosts other events throughout the year, as listed on their website. I'm still wondering about those high-chill apple trees, and will be for a while.