By LISA BRITTON
For the Baker City Herald
RICHLAND - Fruit trees are bursting into bloom at Eagle Creek Orchard, painting the landscape with whites and pinks.
It's pretty and fragrant - and the blossoms hold clues to this season's harvest.
Linda Cordtz, who owns the orchard with her husband, Robert, plucks a fallen blossom from the grass and splits it open.
"We've had lots of blanks this year," she says, pointing to the hollow spot where the tiny fruit should be. "We have to figure out why."
The orchard is located near Richland, which has a milder climate than the 1,200-foot higher Baker Valley. However, there was one sub-20-degree morning in early March, which could have killed some apricot blossoms.
Right now the Cordtzes' temperature alarm is set at 27 degrees - if that happens, they quickly turn on a fan that circulates the air through the orchard to ward off frost.
"From the first of March to the first of May," Linda says.
But on this sunny spring morning, there's no thought of frost as the honeybees start visiting blossoms and the Cordtzes tour the orchard.
They have 1,200 fruit trees on the five-acre orchard, which has been certified organic by Oregon Tilth since 2008.
They grow apricots, peaches, plums, pears, apples and nuts.
Being organic, they must adhere to strict rules for any spraying or treatments.
This spring, for instance, Robert has been killing whitetop with white vinegar (he adds a drop or two of liquid soap, too).
"It's pretty effective, actually," he said.
Although harvest doesn't begin until July, with the first rosy-orange apricots, the couple have been hard at work since the first of the year.
It takes time to prune 1,200 trees.
After the blossoming stage comes the thinning process.
Robert points to an Asian pear tree loaded with clumps of pearly-white flowers.
"You thin them about eight inches apart," he says.
This ensures the tree won't break under the weight of the fruit, and produces larger pears, peaches, etc.
In the peach section, they point out newly planted apple trees. There are 17 varieties of peaches here, and they had too many that were ripening at the same time.
"We couldn't pick them fast enough," Robert said. "We had 10 people out here and couldn't get it all."
To keep updated on the orchard, find them on Facebook, or check out their website, www.eaglecreekorchard.com, where they list the fruit varieties and also keep the blog updated with news.
And come July, start watching for the fruit at the Baker City Farmers Market, or head out to the orchard.