Making the most of dry weather and warm temperatures since early May, Lake County’s 2012 walnut crop has been making nice progress, says Rachel Elkins, Lake County University of California Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor.
This comes after cool, wet weather early in the season, including 14 inches or more of rain in March and frost in various parts of the county in early April, followed by more rain.
“The trees were a little late starting this year, but they really ramped up growth with the good weather we’ve had,” she says. “We had just a tiny bit of walnut blight, but in general, the crop looks pretty darn good.”
While doing a grafting demonstration in an orchard the first week of May, she saw nutlets that were just becoming visible.
“Right now, the nuts look good and are nice and clean, with no sunburn or walnut blight,” Elkins says.
There has been some branch dieback on younger trees, which don’t harden off as quickly in the fall as older ones. Just how much that affects regrowth will become more evident once temperatures increase enough to stress the trees, she says.
“After all is said and done, I doubt if the winter kill will set them back too much. Often, such trees put on new buds and new shoots, and by the end of the season it’s hard to tell that they have even been injured.”
Despite a wet start to the season, the county is still 10 inches to 15 inches short of normal total rainfall since last July 1.
Crop development in Lake County’s Northern California walnut orchards typically lags three to four weeks behind the Central Valley. Due to the shorter growing season, the county’s walnut farmers grow only late-maturing varieties, including Chandler, Hartley, and Franquette, along with a few Tulares.
This year, catkins dropped much faster than usual, Elkins says. “In some orchards, there was a pretty good gap of time between catkins and pistillate bloom. But there was plenty of pollen in the air.”
This year’s bloom occurred a little later than usual, but not as late as last year, when cool, wet weather throughout the season resulted in a very late harvest. Some 2011 walnuts were harvested on the green side, as growers raced to get their crop in before the rains, Elkins says.
“There’s still quite a bit of time left this year, but I really don’t think we will be in that situation this time.”