Apricots (Prunus armeniaca) are drupes or stone fruit prized for their taste and medicinal properties. Cultivated thousands of years ago, they were favored by the ruling classes and later immortalized in the Turkish adage “the only thing better than this is an apricot in Damascus.”
By the 1700s apricots had spread to Europe and the New World via the Spaniards. Unfortunately, the fruit did not thrive in the colonies, and it wasn’t until trees were planted in California that production and demand grew. The Golden State is responsible for the vast majority of the U.S. commercial production, followed by Washington, then Utah. Other states (including Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Ohio, Oregon, and Pennsylvania) grow lesser quantities for local harvest and consumption.
Types & Varieties
Fruit of Prunus armeniaca and its related species range in taste from tart to sweet. There are many popular North American varieties including Blenheim, Castlebrite, Earli Autumn, Flavor Giant, Harcot, Improved Flaming Gold, Katy, Modesto, Moongold, Patterson, Perfection, Superb, Titan, Tracy, Veecot, Vivagold, Westley, and Wilson Delicious.
Top varieties for processing include Blenheim, Bonnie, Patterson, Tilton, and Westley. More apricots are bound for processing than for the fresh market.
Like other stone fruits, apricot trees prefer mild, dry climates with irrigation. Soil should be loamy, well-drained, and free of salt and toxins. Fruit requires adequate chill hours (ranging from 600 to 1,000) for the blooms in February or March; but spring frosts can kill blossoms. Trees generally begin bearing fruit in the third or fourth year.
Fruit is ready for harvest when firm and skin turns from green to gold or orange. Picking is done by hand (due to bruising) in multiple sweeps per day. Apricots do produce ethylene when ripening, and exposure will speed up the ripening process. Excessive amounts, however, will cause decay.
Pests & Diseases
Clearing away debris will help prevent and control pests. Excess moisture from rain or dew can lead to a host of viruses and diseases, just as too much heat (sun) can lead to pit burn or premature softening.
Major pests include aphids, citrus cutworms, earwigs, leafrollers, mites, peach tree borers, oriental fruit moths, and plum curculios. Among the major diseases affecting apricots are bacterial canker, brown rot, coryneum blight, jacket rot, Phytophthora root or crown rot, and powdery mildew.
Storage & Packaging
Under ideal conditions, apricots have a shelf life of little more than a week. Recommended storage is 32 to 36°F, colder temperatures can cause chilling injury, mealiness, and loss of favor. Temperatures dipping below 29°F will cause freezing.
Apricot sizing falls into five categories for shipping: medium (16 per pound), large (14 per pound), extra large (12 per pound), jumbo (10 per pound), and extra jumbo (8 per pound). Single or double-tray packs are usually comprised of 84, 96, or 108 pieces of fruit; some shippers also use poly bags.
References: California Apricot Council, UC Davis Postharvest Technology Center, University of California Agriculture & Natural Resources, University of Illinois Extension, University of Minnesota Extension, USDA.