This time last year, we were awash in both apples from our backyard tree and plums from the trees along the lane behind the house. This year? Not so much. I’ve noticed a squirrel or two with an apple here or there, but nothing more than that. And plums? Zilch. Nada. Bupkis. We’ve gotten some in the produce shares from Backyard Harvest, but our own “backyard harvest” has been abysmal. On the retail level, I haven’t noticed any price increases or product absences that would tell of a pervasive crop failure, though fruit did seem to run a bit late this year. We’re going up to the big orchard north of here again in two weeks, so I may get a better sense of things then. Meanwhile, I would like to figure out what’s happening with these nearby fruit trees.
I looked up the website of my county’s Cooperative Extension office. The Extension System is a great resource, especially in rural communities. (I could swear I’ve written about it before.*) If you’ve ever gotten advice from a Master Gardener or enjoyed a 4-H project, you have an Extension office to thank. While our county office’s website is a bit circular, I managed to find the e-mail address of someone who specializes in fruit trees. I sent in a query regarding the fruitlessness of ours, and in less than 2 hours I was rewarded with a reply. It turns out that the cold snap of last November may very well have been the culprit in the case. Buds can be severely damaged by extreme cold, and damaged buds do not produce fruit. Who knew? Someone at the Extension Office did, that’s who.
Further research produced another possible scenario: “biennial bearing.” This is a situation where a tree will produce prolifically one year, then sparely if at all the next. It seems that heavy fruit production can interfere with the next year’s buds, and thinning the buds during a heavy year may help re-balance production. This information is thanks to a page from yet another Cooperative Extension Service. Tax dollars at work as we help each other out.
*I remember where now! It was during my project in spring of 2010 on invasive species in parks in the Northwest. I should post that report sometime; it was pretty good.