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[nafex] Tom the Apricot


    Your memory serves you well.  I did wax on about the virtues of the
Tomcot --- must have been about last Spring.  I cannot explain why an
apricot released by Wash. State Univ., and recommended for Western
Washington State, does well here in N. Virginia, but there are so many
things I can't explain.  I really wanted to grow apricots (against the
advice of Diane Relf of Virginia Tech. Extension, who says apricots
shouldn't be tried in Virginia), and had tried at least 8 varieties
before I found Tomcot in the Mellinger Catalog.  Here's what I like
about it:

1.  It blooms prolifically, beginning here in the third week of March,
and the blooms work their way up the tree over about a 3-week period.
When we get the inevitable late freeze, usually in the 2nd week of
April, there are still buds opening on the higher branches.  Even with a
heavy late frost, my 2 trees will set a decent crop, and in years when
the freeze passes us by the trees will be covered with little apricots.
Wherever it sets fruit, it requires extensive thinning or the fruit will
be small.  Well thinned, to at least 4" inches apart, size is excellent.

2.  Wood of the tree seems to be stronger, more flexible, and far less
prone to gummosis (I call it that for lack of a more scientific term)
than the other varieties I tried.  It is a vigorous grower, and requires
extensive top pruning to keep it down to where you can thin and spray
the tree.  All the other varieties I tried had extensive oozing gummy
spots, but so far the Tomcots, now 7 and 9 years old, have none.  It has
a good, spreading growth habit.  This year, I pruned the tree down right
after harvest, and it responded with quite a bit of twiggy growth that
should ensure even more blossoms for next spring.

3.  The Tomcot is extremely early.  All of the fruit is down by June 30,
just a week or so after we have picked the last cherries, and well
before any of the peaches.  Perhaps as a result of their earliness,
Tomcots suffer almost no brown rot, even without fungicide application.
Equally important, they show no cracking at all, which took nearly all
the fruit of later varieties like Wilson, Tilton, Earliorange and
Hungarian Rose.  Once the fruit cracks, the game is over.  Because the
Tomcot ripens in its own time niche, we can focus on it better for
processing, and we freeze dozens of quarts with very little trouble.
It's the best frozen fruit we have, and terrific for pies and drying.
Apricots have the curious property of developing some tartness and
better flavor with a little cooking.

4.  Some of the fruit may develop russeting which may be fungal or
bacterial in origin.  I just don't know.  It seems to occur particularly
where fruit is close together, and is minimized by thinning.  The
russeting makes the skin somewhat tough, although the fruit is still
useable.  All the varieties I grew did this, and it may be that it could
be eliminated by use of a fungicide like Captan.  I do use Imidan on the
small, developing fruits to discourage plum curculio, but discontinue
use by early June.

5.  After I posted my previous piece on the Tomcot, I heard from Richard
Ossolinski who grows a related variety, Puget Gold, up in Maine.
Richard sent an electronic photo of a heavily laden branch of his tree
which was the most beautiful apricot photo I have seen.  (I think
Richard may be a good photographer as well as fruit grower.) So I sent
for a Puget Gold from his source, Burnt Ridge Nursery in Onalaska, WA,
and put it in this past spring.  As Richard predicted, it has quite a
different growth habit than the Tomcot (he describes his tree as
curiously shaped), with much less vigor.  But the fruit is beautiful,
and I am going to nurse the tree along.  The Puget Golds from Burnt
Ridge are on St. Julian, which I believe is a dwarfing rootstock, so
this may account for the difference in vigor and habit.  Mellinger's
does not specify rootstock, and I don't know what stock is under my
Tomcots ---  possibly one of the common stocks used for peaches.

6.  It wouldn't seem that your zone 6 PA climate would be all that much
different than mine --- perhaps 10 degrees colder for winter minimums,
and your bloom could come somewhat later.  If  it is later, so much the
better.  If I could get my Tomcots to bloom in mid-April, I could grow
apricots commercially.

Best Rgds, Don Yellman, Great Falls, VA

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