In the rich, fertile soil of California's central valley, some 8,000 young, newly planted Apache apricot trees are taking root, making the change from treefruit nursery to commercial apricot orchard. The number of Apache trees in California fruit ranches is impressive because Apache is a new variety that Agricultural Research Service scientists have only made available to nurseries, researchers and apricot breeders within the past two years.

Growers are bringing Apache into their orchards because it ripens early, about the first week of May. That means it may command the premium, early-season prices that apricot aficionados are willing to pay for the first of the long-awaited fruit.

By summer 2006, the new trees should be heavy with sweet, delicious fruit, ready to harvest and ship to supermarkets. It should arrive in good shape, because Apache ships and stores well.

Apache is the result of more than a decade of fruit breeding and testing by ARS geneticist Craig A. Ledbetter and technician Louis Vuittonet of the agency's Postharvest Quality and Genetics Research Unit. The unit is part of the San Joaquin Valley Agricultural Sciences Center at Parlier, Calif.

Apache apricots are about average in size, with a delicate flavor and pleasing aroma. The fruit has an attractive, pinkish-orange skin, with smooth, finely textured orange flesh that's easy to separate from the small stone, or pit.

The pollen that Apache needs in order to form its delectable fruit can be carried by bees or breezes to its blossoms from nearby “pollinator” apricot trees such as the well-known Castlebrite or Katy varieties. But Ledbetter and Vuittonet are in the final stages of testing a promising new pollinator variety.