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Apricots and The First Sign of Summer

By James Parker, May 24, 2011  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by James Parker

I planted a new tree in my backyard last summer. It was actually a rescue – one of my neighbors put an apricot tree in a pot, it had grown too big and they had nowhere to plant it in their yard. I placed it in a sunny spot in between a magnolia and a strange small tree I cannot identify that has beautiful white blooms in the spring. The apricot variety is Royal Blenheim – my favorite so it didn’t take much convincing to get me to adopt it.

The weather around my home is not ideal for apricots and there is no other tree in the immediate area that I am aware of for pollination, so I have pretty low fruit productivity expectations.  But mature apricot trees are beautiful – dark, textured trunk and branches, elegant red stemmed leaves, and a beautiful leaf drop and bloom stage. Even if I don’t always get a crop I won’t be disappointed. I’m sure the little apricot will be a happy addition to my family of trees. I imagine long-time commercial apricot producers must have similar thoughts — particularly during the winter and spring weather months. 

The life cycle of an apricot tree is treacherous and fraught with dangers and, like cherries and other early varieties of summer fruit, there is a long list of climate events that can kill a season. This year we dodged an early bullet with apricots – the January freeze that wiped out so much of the southern U.S. and northern Mexico crops happened before the blossom set in apricots, while the trees were still in their winter dormancy stage. The bloom and pollination periods in apricots went off about as well as can be expected but the new concern is maturity and mold – brought about by an unusually cool and wet spring.  This kind of weather will almost always result in harvest delays, which can create problems that extend beyond the farm. Growers plant tree varieties that mature at different times over the course of the season so if the weather does not behave in a predictable way, it can cause these varieties to “bunch” — creating periods of short or over supply. Fresh apricots are also a difficult item to bring to market. Since they bruise easily when ripe, the fruit you see at your supermarket will rarely be ready to eat immediately. Mature (but not ripe) apricots should be uniformly yellow and firm – there can be a little green on the stem end but not much. Many varieties will have a red blush but this is created by the fruit’s direct exposure to sunlight and is not a factor in determining maturity. It is best to let the fruit you buy sit at room temperature for a few days before you eat it. When I buy apricots for the week (dozens at a time), I put some in my fruit bowl and the rest in my refrigerator — bringing them out when my room temperature supply runs low. Apricots should be soft to the touch but not too soft – many varieties ripen from the inside out and overly soft fruit can be overripe around the seed cavity. Another reason to eat apricots at room temperature is fragrance — cold fruit will not have that iconic smell that separates apricots from all other fruits. The bloom stage this spring for my new apricot tree was short and small. There is no fruit on the tree but I wasn’t expecting any. I know it will be a few more years before my awkward adolescent is established enough to spare energy for anything outside of roots, leaves and branches. We can talk about being a productive contributor in my garden when we are both older and know each other a little better. But even in its youth my little apricot tree is a place holder for a very special time in our cycle of seasons. Its tiny branches and new leaves are already among the first signs of the summer to come.

Category: Produce




Lauren says ...
Thanks, James. Lovely piece! I have an adolescent blenheim in my front yard in Santa Clara, too. A tribute to its many ancestors who used to cover the entire Santa Clara Valley. We got 3 fruits last year and 5 this year. It's so much fun to watch it grow! Thanks for always tickling my produce funny-bone!
05/24/2011 6:03:04 PM CDT
parkerj says ...
Hi Lauren, It always amazes me what a few short miles inland will do for apricot growing conditions. I lived in San Mateo many years ago in a house that had two apricot trees (patterson variety I think). It's a shame progress comes with a price at times- you are correct the tresured bay area climate was/is ideal for growing apricots. I am happy to hear you are in a small way helping to keep the apricot growing tradition alive in Santa Clara I am also happy by the way, to take any excess fruit off your hands in the future. Best, JP
05/25/2011 11:30:52 AM CDT
Bart Noone says ...
I liked apricots when I was a kid, but I'm never sure when they are ripe or how to store them so this article was helpful
06/02/2011 9:53:52 PM CDT
Matin says ...
Hello there! This is not a comment, but may seem to you a wired request Is it possible to get unripe green apricots from you this time of year? I really need them (I don't need much maybe 1-2lb). Please let me know if you have some and would be possible to ship them to me. I would be very very thankful if you could help me. Sincerely, Matin
06/28/2014 10:37:41 PM CDT
Nikki - Community Moderator says ...
@MATIN - At this time we do not offer shipping on perishable items. You can always check with your local store to see if they have these in stock and if they can deliver them to your area.
06/30/2014 11:29:39 AM CDT