Enticing Interspecifics

Friday, January 13th, 2017 by Jenny Watts
    • Bare root season is here. Choose and plant your favorite fruit and shade trees now.
    • Spring flowers and vegetables can be started from seeds now on your window sill. Try pansies and snapdragons, broccoli, cabbage and lettuces.
    • Lilacs and wisteria have beautiful spring flowers. They come in a variety of colors and can be planted now from bare-root plants.
    • Tree collards are delicious winter vegetables. Set out plants now.

Enticing Interspecifics

Many of the most outstanding new fruit varieties that we carry have been developed by Zaiger’s Inc. Genetics of Modesto, California – “A Family Organized to Improve Fruit Worldwide”. For over 40 years, Floyd and Betty Zaiger have spearheaded a breeding program that has produced outstanding fruit varieties and intriguing crosses.

Some of these crosses, like Pluots® and Apriums®, have been around for decades and the fruit can be found in grocery stores each summer. But the Zaigers have continued developing new kinds of hybrids such as NectaPlum® (nectarine-plum), Peacotum® (peach/apricot/plum), and Pluerry™ (plum-cherry). These hybrids are known as interspecifics, meaning that they are crosses between two or more different species, like plum and apricot.

There is no genetic engineering involved in these hybrids. In fact, a century ago, Luther Burbank hybridized plums and apricots to create plumcots, although they never became commercially successful. Stone fruits – apricots, peaches, plums, and cherries – are in the same genus, Prunus, and are closely enough related that many combinations of species are possible, though they are not easy to create.

In the late 1980s, Zaiger crossed plumcots with plums and created Pluots. Almost half of the plum-like fruits grown in California now are interspecifics, like Pluots. He also crossed plumcots with apricots and came up with Apriums.

The first NectaPlum introduced was called Spice Zee. It is a white-fleshed, nectarine-peach-plum hybrid. Skin is dark maroon at fruit set, and turns pale pink when ripe. Fully ripe the fruit has a delicious flavor, and both nectarine and plum traits are easily detectable. It is a taste-test favorite for its meaty texture, wonderful spicy-sweet flavor and plummy aftertaste.

The next major breakthrough in interspecifics brought us the first peach-apricot-plum for home orchidists: Bella Gold Peacotum™, a beautiful, delicious and unique fruit. The tart, slightly-fuzzy skin gives way to mildly sweet amber flesh for a delightful eating experience. It is an early bloomer and does well where apricots grow.

Two years later, the first plum-cherry interspecific, Sweet Treat™ Pluerry, was introduced to the home market. Much larger than a cherry, Sweet Treat™ delivers its sweetness with a zing and it hangs well on the tree.

Candy Heart Pluerry™ has dark speckled-red skin and the amber-red flesh that is slightly tart and very sweet, with a wonderfully unique flavor. Until recently cherry-plums were just a name for small plums. Now we have true crosses that incorporate cherry flavor into what looks like a plum.

The newest Pluerry™, Sugar Twist, has red skin and yellow flesh, with the sugar-sweet taste of a ripe cherry and a twist of plum.

For a delicious new taste treat, choose one of the new interspecifics for your orchard.

The Diverse Family of Plums

Saturday, February 6th, 2016 by Jenny Watts
    • Delicious raspberries, blackberries, loganberries, boysenberries and blueberries are all available now for early planting.
    • Pansies will brighten your flower beds with their happy faces. They will bloom all through the spring.
    • Plant strawberry plants now for delicious strawberry shortcake this summer.
    • Spray for peach leaf curl with copper spray. Peach and nectarine trees may suffer from this fungus disease without a protective spray.
    • Cabbage, broccoli, lettuce and other cool season vegetables can be started now from seed. There are many wonderful varieties available on seed racks.

The Diverse Family of Plums

Plums come to us from both Europe and Asia, bringing with them their characteristic traits and flavors.

Best known to us are the Japanese plums with their round, juicy fruits. Santa Rosa is the most popular plum in California with a purple skin and tangy, flavorful amber flesh. Late Santa Rosa is very similar to Santa Rosa but ripens a month later. An interesting variation is Weeping Santa Rosa Plum which is a beautiful 8-10 ft. tree with long slender limbs that bow gracefully to the ground, covered with delicious fruit.

Burgundy has maroon-colored skin and flesh with a sweet, pleasing flavor with little or no tartness. While Elephant Heart has heart-shaped fruit with sweet, juicy, richly flavored, firm red flesh. It has dark reddish-purple mottled skin and is very productive.

The European plums include the prunes. They are all very sweet and richly flavored. French Prune is California’s commercial prune, and Italian is larger and later ripening. They have purple-blue skin and amber flesh and can be eaten fresh or dried. Blue Damson is an ancient variety with small, tart, blue-black plums that are excellent for jams and jellies.

Green Gage Plum is a small to medium sized green plum with very sweet, richly-flavored flesh. It is a long-time favorite for dessert, cooking and canning. Emerald Beaut is a greenish-yellow plum that becomes exceptionally sweet as it ripens.

Plant breeder Luther Burbank was the first to cross plums and apricots, thought to be impossible at the time. His goal was to produce an apricot-like fruit which would bear consistently in our wet north coast climate where apricots fail to set fruit most years. Floyd Zaiger developed some new hybrids in the 1980s which he called Pluots and Apriums. Pluots, which are 75% plum parentage and 25% apricot, do well here while Apriums, which are 75% apricot and 25% plum are difficult to grow here. He went on to develop peach/plum hybrids and nectarine/plum hybrids.

Flavor King is a wonderful tasting pluot with a sweet, spicy flavor. It is very large and resembles a huge, heart-shaped Santa Rosa. One of the most highly flavored pluots ever developed, it is a reliable producer in this area. Dapple Dandy is a taste-test winner with creamy white and red flesh and a wonderful plum-apricot flavor.

Spice Zee Nectaplum™ is a cross between a white-fleshed nectarine and a plum. The skin turns pale pink when ripe and it has outstanding nectarine/plum flavor. Sweet Treat Pluerry® is a cross between a plum and a sweet cherry, and is much larger than a cherry. It has purple skin and yellow flesh and combines the sweetness of cherries with the zing of plums.

For a variety of delicious flavors, be sure you have a good selection of plums, prunes and pluots in your orchard. Fruit trees of all kinds are available to plant now.

Flavorful, Fresh Fruits

Friday, January 10th, 2014 by Jenny Watts
    • Bare root fruit trees are now available. Choose one tree or a whole orchard and get them planted while the soil is good for digging.
    • Blueberries are a delicious fruit that can be planted now from young plants. Give them a rich, acid bed prepared with lots of peat moss.
    • Start seeds of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and other cool season crops indoors for planting outside in March.
    • Prune fruit trees, grapes, berries, and ornamental trees this month. Take in a pruning class and sharpen your shears before you start.
    • Start off the new year with a new house plant to brighten your indoor spaces. Choose from many fine varieties now.

Flavorful, Fresh Fruits

Each year the list of mouth-watering summer fruits grows longer with new hybrids introduced and sometimes antique varieties making a comeback. Home grown fruit is becoming increasingly popular as we learn the benefits of local food production.

Discovering new flavors and even new fruits can be an exciting taste experience. Here are some varieties that may be new to you.

After nearly disappearing from the marketplace, apple varieties that were popular decades or even centuries ago are making a come-back. These varieties, known as antique or heirloom apples, number in the thousands and carry names such as Sheepnose, American Mother, Lady Sweet and Nickajack.

A couple of antique apples that you can find right here are Spitzenburg and York Imperial. Spitzenburg is regarded by some connoisseurs as the very best dessert apple. It has red over yellow skin, yellowish flesh, and is firm, juicy and moderately sweet, with renowned flavor. It ripens in late October here and is a good keeper.

York Imperial is one of the very best apples for keeping: in a cool location, it holds its flavor until April or May. It has a fine quality for dessert use, and is excellent for baking and cider. It may have a light red blush or be nearly fully red. It is a firm apple with coarse, yellow flesh that is crisp and juicy with a semi-sweet flavor. It is harvested late in the season.

A fun and productive way to grow apple trees is called espalier, in which the branches are trained to grow flat against a wall or fence supported by a framework or trellis. They are excellent space savers perfect for small gardens, producing more fruit in less space than conventional trees. This practice dates back to the Romans, but now you can buy an apple tree already started as an espalier with four different varieties of apples grafted onto it.

Another unique shape for apple trees is the columnar apple tree. With a compact, upright, narrow growth habit (they mature to be about 7-8′ tall and 2-3′ wide) they are perfect for planting in small yards and gardens or growing in containers on balconies and patios. Two varieties, which pollinate each other, are Northpole and Scarlet Sentinel. Northpole has large, red-skinned McIntosh-type fruit that is crisp and juicy. Scarlet Sentinel has dense clusters of white blossoms followed by large, delicious, red-blushed, greenish-yellow fruit.

Interspecific hybrids are an entirely unique type of fruit. They are complex hybrids of plums, apricots, peaches, cherries and nectarines in varying combinations and proportions that are in no way genetically modified. Of the plum/apricot crosses, Pluots and Plumcots have more plum than apricot parentage while Apriums are more apricot than plum.

Tri-Lite is a peach/plum cross. This white-fleshed peach crossed with a plum has a mild, classic white peach flavor and finishes with a wonderful plum aftertaste.

Sweet Treat Pluerry is a cross between a plum and a sweet cherry, with the size of a plum. It is extremely sweet when fully ripe, and will hang on the tree for over a month, getting sweeter and sweeter. Burgundy plum is recommended as a pollenizer.

Burgundy Plum has medium-sized fruit with flesh that is deep red, mellow, and sweet covered with a reddish purple skin. An all around great plum, it is good for fresh eating, cooking, drying and in jams and jellies, and it is self-fertile.

Now is the time to plant fruit trees of all kinds from bare-root trees available at local nurseries. Be sure to add some of these tasty varieties to your orchard.