Sunday, September 25, 2016

UC ANR Urban Landscape & Garden Education Expo 2016

Above:  high chill(!) apples growing and fruiting(!) in Irvine, California.

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!
 All the trees are pruned short (8'-10');  testing haven proved that keeping fruit trees short reduces water needs significantly while still producing generous crops of fruit, and making that fruit easier to harvest.
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.  

12 comments:

  1. Oh, this is so fabulous. Wish I had gone. (Except for the heat. Awful bad today. Monday more. Ugh.) Bookmarked for next year, though. Really all the chill requirements for deciduous trees are nonsense here. I have some that have never bloomed although they are supposed to "low-chill" e.g. Burgundy plum and Goldkist apricot. This year I cut back to three feet the pluots and the apples because they looked so dismal. They came back in exuberant health producing nicely shaped three-foot branches much to my amazement. Homegrown Fuji is the best apple I've ever tasted. It's a "high chill" that doesn't read the rules. I once had 22 kinds of fruit trees in my tiny urban lot, but am slowly getting rid of the non-producers. I want to try Honeycrisp.

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    1. Yes we are back waiting for gardening weather.

      Do you get a lot of bugs on the apples? I guess it is not only humans that like apples. 22 kinds! Wow. I have to say, being able to go outside and pick delicious fruit to eat never gets old--it's magical, isn't it? Every time. It's feels like such a privilege.

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    2. The only bugs I have ever gotten on my apple trees (Anna and Fuji) which I've had at least ten years are the woolly apple aphids I reported in this post "My Contribution to IAGBFS". Yes, magic. I have a favorite book called "The Magic Apple Tree" by Susan Hill. I've worn all the edges off the covers and pages are loose.

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    3. I will go read that post. Thanks!

      You know it is a good book if you wear it out. :)

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  2. Interesting! I have to mark my calendar to check for next year's event. The sale plants are a bonus!

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    1. They always have some expert speakers, so well worth it. Hopefully the weather will be cooler next year.

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  3. This is fascinating, every bit. Makes me want to see more of what our state ag school (VA Tech) is doing.

    Particularly interesting is the news of water frugality and productivity of trees kept to 8-12 ft; I bet it has something to do with their having the root system of a larger tree but with significantly less canopy to support.

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    1. Ag school fascinates, wish I'd been able to do that. Never fortunate enough to have had a mentor.

      Less top growth to support, less water needed. Not as urgent in VA, I would think.

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  4. :: Not as urgent in VA, I would think. ::

    Relative to California, no, but our droughts are getting longer and more intense when they do happen. Easier picking/care plus drought resistance is a powerful combination for orchard-suitable areas. Which we are, to the point of becoming a hot spot for cider making (traditional, alcoholic kind).

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    1. Of course, absolutely yes. Should have qualified that with "yet".

      Cider--yes there's always money in booze. I read about Johnny Appleseed, apparently all those apple seeds were for hard cider--a detail omitted in the childhood version of the tale!

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  5. That was a great post. The avocado trees we saw in Morro Bay over Spring Break looked just as you described them. Now I know what they did to them and why.

    I would have picked up the Dasylirion wheeleri too. Like you, I don't have one. Funny, considering how common it is compared to many other plants I have growing.

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    1. The leaves are extremely prickly--didn't realize that. I went to pick it up and OUCH!

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