October Growing Tips
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October is a great month to harvest and enjoy the fruits of your year’s labors.
Following are the topics covered in our October Growing Tips:
Check for ripeness and harvest: sea berries (a.k.a. sea buckthorn), Cornus mas, pawpaw, hardy and fuzzy kiwi, grapes, persimmon, late pears, apples, quince, strawberries, autumn-fruiting raspberries and blackberries, medlar (after frost), nuts, passion fruit, lingonberry,and cranberry.
Kiwi: (The plural of Kiwi is Kiwi.) If the fruit have softened, they are ripe and ready to eat. Kiwi tend to ripen unevenly on the vine and can be picked as they soften over several weeks. Or the whole crop can be picked when the fruit is firm ripe (berry feels firm, and when you cut them open the seeds inside are mature, dark brown in color), and stored in a cool (35-45°F) location. Finish ripening the fruit in a warm area when you are ready to eat it. Kiwi are enjoyed fresh, and made into jam, jelly, or wine. Small fruited kolomikta or arguta kiwi are also delicious dried like a raisin. To dehydrate, the fruit needs to be at the fully ripe soft stage. Remove the blossom end and a pinch of skin, and place the fruit on the dehydrator.
Grape harvest times can be determined by the personal test system (try a few, if they’re good, they’re ready); or you can take a more accurate approach by using a Refractometer. We offer it as catalog #T205. Measure the soluble solids in the fruit to determine the sugar content and harvest at the optimal time for fresh eating and making raisins (table grapes) or for making juice or wine (seeded dessert or wine grapes). The refractometer can also take the guess work out of harvesting apples, pears, and other fruit. In the Pacific Northwest most early ripening grape varieties ripen in October.
Sea Berries are ready to harvest when the fruit starts to soften and you no longer taste the astringency. The ripe fruit will have a combination of sweetness and acidity. The fruit can be harvested by cutting whole branches and then working the fruit off the branches into a bowl. Or pick the fruits from the plant if your bush is young. Use the juice to make jellies, syrups, or to mix with other juices. The raw fruit and juice are not recommended for fresh consumption in large quantity, the high vitamin C content can cause nausea.
Cornus mas are ripe when the fruits readily drop from the tree or are soft and no longer astringent. Yellow fruited cornus mas will be translucent and incredibly sweet when ready to eat. The fruit tends to ripen unevenly, so check your bush regularly to harvest them fully ripe. Laying a ground cloth down and shaking the bush to loosen the ready fruit can work. Or harvest the berries at the firm ripe stage when they have turned from orange to red (or from white to yellow in the case of the yellow fruited), but are still firm; they will finish ripening off the bush at room temperature. Process berries that are soft when harvested right away, they don’t store well. The red varieties vary in flavor, and are usually preferred for cooking, rather than fresh eating.
Pawpaw When the fruit is soft and aromatic and the skin has become speckled and streaked with brown, it is ripe and ready to eat. It may also be picked in the firm ripe stage and ripened off the tree, which may be the best option for those growing pawpaw in short season or cool growing areas. Look for background color changes in the portion of the fruit facing away from the sun, from green to a light yellow. Check one or two fruit by cutting them open, the seeds should be mature, very dark brown or black. Harvest and store in a cool place (above 40°F to avoid off flavor), or finish ripening the fruit in a warm area and enjoy its exotic banana-like flavor. Remove the pulp with a spoon and use in drinks, ice cream, custard pie, or eat fresh.
Persimmon fruit persist on the tree well into fall in the Pacific Northwest, but may be earlier in warmer locations. Astringent type persimmon (american and some asian) are ready to eat when the fruit has softened and lost it's astringency. They may be harvested at the firm ripe stage (no more green color in the skin, seed (if present) dark brown to black, then finished indoors. Non-astringent types (some asian varieties) lose their astringency before softening. To hasten ripening of astringent persimmons, put them in the freezer for one day, or expose to ethylene. Bananas and apples give off ethylene, put persimmons in a paper bag with 1-2 bananas or apples for several days. Drying and cooking the fruit also removes the astringency.
Walnut, Butternut, and Heartnut harvest. Cure and store like the filbert, (see our September fruit harvest section) but cleaning them is a bit more involved. Knock the nuts from the tree when the green hulls begin to split and the packing tissue between and around the kernel halves has just started to turn brown. Remove the hulls as soon as you can. There are several ways to remove the hulls: Use a knife, stomp and roll the nuts with your foot, roll over them with the car tire, between two boards, or work them over a rough screen to loosen and remove the hulls. If the hulls stick tightly to the shells, moisten them and cover with a moist tarp or burlap sheet for several days to loosen. Particularly with black walnuts, but also with the others, wear gloves when handling the hulls to avoid staining your hands. Wash the nuts to remove clinging fibers, discard any floaters. (My first big harvest of butternuts and heartnuts was 90% floaters, we cleaned them up anyway, they were all blanks!) Spread the nuts in thin layers on the floor or on wire mesh trays in a warm well-ventilated area out of direct sun to cure that is pest proof (mice, squirrels, jay birds, etc.). Curing will take several weeks; the nuts will tend to rattle in the shell when they are done. Store the nuts in their shell in a cool, dry, well-ventilated location for several months. Shelled nuts may be frozen for up to a year. We offer the Kenkel Nut Cracker #T360 for hard shelled Black Walnuts, Butternuts and Heartnuts.
Quinces are ready to harvest when they are aromatic and the seeds have matured to a dark color, late October into November in the Pacific Northwest. The background color in the portion of skin that never sees the sun changes from green to yellow or yellow-green about the same time the seeds mature. Eat non-astringent varieties while firm, sliced and mixed with fruit salads or mixed into an apple pie; or allow them to soften and use in the same way as astringent varieties. Store astringent varieties until they have softened, then make jellies, jams, butters (see recipe in Nov Growing Tips), candies, etc.. Interesting Fact: Quince is higher in pectin than apple, and before commercial pectin products were available it was cooked down to a paste that was used as the pectin source for jams and jellies with low pectin fruits.
Lingonberry and cranberry are harvested when the fruit are fully colored (bright red lingonberries to deep red cranberries). They are both used to make sauces, jellies and wines, or in baked goods. The fruit can be frozen for later processing if your time is short when you harvest. While they are used in the same way, the flavors of the two are a bit different, lingonberry tend to be more complex flavored and aromatic than cranberry.
Medlar are not ready for harvest here at Raintree Nursery until late November or December, but may ripen earlier in warmer summer locations. This is another fruit that is astringent until soft. Harvest the fruit when the background color of the skin has no more green in it, and the seeds have matured to a dark black color. Finish ripening indoors right away or keep cool to ripen later. When ready, the pulp will remind you of a spiced applesauce.
Here at Raintree Nursery we enjoy making apple cider each October. We use a Cider Press to extract the juice from the apples, ours is made by Correll. They are hand made and do have a waiting list. www.correllciderpresses.com Often you can find a community cider pressing event in your area. At Raintree we are making cider this year on October 28. This year fruit set was light for most apples and pears. Fruit ripened 1-3 weeks earlier than usual, with lots of early drop, resulting in a low quantity of fruit harvested. Please do not bring any apples to Raintree because of the possibility of spreading apple maggot and coddling moth.
We start harvesting ripe apples several weeks before we’re ready to make the cider, different varieties ripen at different times. The apples are stored in a cooler at about 40° F, or they could be stored in any cool dry place protected from rodents. We label each box of apples.
The apples are washed with a fruit and vegetable wash product available at the grocery store. Apples that are heavily infested with apple maggots or scab are discarded.
We find the best cider is made by mixing sweet and tart varieties. This makes a delicious full bodied cider. If you note which combination of varieties you use to make each batch of cider, you can develop your own favorite house blend. On average ten pounds of fruit makes one gallon of cider.
We toss the apples into the grinder on the press. The ground apples fall into a tub. When the tub is full the pomace (ground fruit) is pressed, thereby releasing the juice. The juice pours into a mesh covered container that removes any remaining solids. It’s then ready to drink or preserve. Unfortunately sweet cider (non-fermented) doesn’t keep for long, even in the refrigerator. It can be canned in a water bath to be preserved or it can be frozen. If you ferment it without adding yeast it will often turn into vinegar.
To make hard cider (alcoholic), pour the squeezed juice into a large glass (carboy) container with a narrow neck. We add champagne yeast and then put a cork airlock in the top of the carboy. For more details please consult the cider making book below.
What is the difference between juice and cider? Juice is extracted from the fruit with heat and cider is extracted with pressure.
If you’re really serious about making apple cider we recommend you read ‘Cider Making, Using and Enjoying Sweet and Hard Cider’ #S340, 'The New Cider Makers Handbook' #S342, or 'Hard Cider in the Pacific Northwest' #S343
Wine grapes should be ripening now also, you may find 'The Organic Backyard Vineyard' #S183, to be helpful.
In most locations fall rains should have begun and plants would then no longer need regular irrigation. If that is the case where you are, drain irrigation lines and winterize. Here in the Pacific Northwest our good fall rains have begun, after our extended dry and very warm summer welcomme relief for the plants. And fall frosts are just around the corner. While withholding or reducing water is a good technique for hardening plants and preparing them for frosty nights, too little water will result in stress on plants that could increase potential damage from frosts and impact fall ripening fruits. If you have been watering regularly and fall rains have not yet started continue to do so, but reduce the amount of water you provide somewhat, without causing wilt in your plants.
If you have not been irrigating take a good look at your fruit trees and shrubs, you may need to provide at least one good soaking to plants that are showing stress from lack of water, particularly those you planted this year.
Figs: Remove un-ripened figs on outdoor trees once ripening temperatures have ended, but leave smaller pea-sized embryo fruits which will grow and ripen next summer. Next September, if your fall crop normally doesn’t ripen for you, try fertilizing with a bloom fertilizer to hasten ripening of fall fruit. You may be able to encourage that fall crop to ripen.
Strawberries: Clean up strawberry beds (june-bearing and/or ever bearing after fruiting has finished) by removing and burning old leaves and straw, then replenish their mulch. Cover less hardy strawberries with cloches or polyethylene tunnels in coldest areas to over winter.
Collect fallen leaves, shred the larger sized leaves, and apply as mulch to cover the soil beneath fruiting trees and shrubs to control weeds. This will also conserve water through the summer months and support the beneficial mycorrhyzal fungal organisms (#T185) you inoculated your trees with at planting time.
If young fruit trees are not going into dormancy as quickly as similar neighboring mature trees, they could be more prone to winter freeze damage. Sometimes this is because they are young and vigorous. Reducing irrigation now will help them go into dormancy. Do not use a high nitrogen fertilizer. You may use a formulation that emphasizes phosphorous and potassium with little or no nitrogen, to help reduce winter damage. Next year, reduce irrigation and nitrogen fertilization earlier in the year to help vigorous young plants go dormant. As the trees mature they will be more inclined to go into dormancy sooner.
By October, mason bees have finished pupating inside their cocoons and are mature, waiting for springs’ signal to emerge. Between now and early December you can handle the bees inside their cocoons without damaging them, or waking them up accidentally, making this the ideal time to clean your mason bees and blocks, and prepare them for winter. It is important to keep naturally occurring mites and parasitic wasps to a minimum to maintain the health of your bee population.
Gently remove cocoons from the stacking trays. Trays should be cleaned with a mild (5%) bleach solution. Cocoons can also be carefully washed in a mild bleach solution to remove mites and maintain a healthy population. For complete instructions refer to 'Pollination with Mason Bees' (#S426).
If you are using the block and straw system, carefully remove the bee filled straws from the block. New clean straws can then be inserted in the block. The book 'Pollination with Mason Bees' has instructions on removing the cocoons from the straws if your bees are infested with mites and need to be cleaned.
If you are using home-drilled blocks without straws it is best to make new blocks each year and not re-use older ones. It will not be possible to remove the cocoons without damaging them, or remove mites and other debris. Place your new block where the filled one was and store the filled block outside or in a refrigerator as described below. Late January, or when your fruit tree flowers appear ready, position the filled block a few feet lower and below the new block. When your bees emerge in the spring they will use the new block.
Storing your bees outdoors :
Mason bees over winter outdoors and survive temporary periods of below freezing weather in the Pacific Northwest. Store the bees (loose cocoons or straws) in a mouse proof container with small breathing holes until late January. Loose cocoons or straws should be cushioned on several layers of soft paper inside a cardboard box inside the mouse proof container. Keep the container in a dry location. Bee filled wood blocks will benefit from being stored in a mouse proof container also. Then in late January you can put the blocks out, or the cocoons out in the release box, and they will become active as outdoor temperatures warm. You can also manage when the bees emerge by storing them in the refigerator, see instructions below.
If your environment is more extreme, the bees may not survive the winter outdoors. You will need to store them in the refrigerator, as described below, for best results.
Storing your bees in a refrigerator:
If you need to protect your mason bees from severe winter weather, or you want to manage when your bees emerge in the spring, to coincide with blooms in your orchard, you need to keep them in the refrigerator at 36-39° F. Put the bees in the refrigerator late September or early October, or just after cleaning and drying the cocoons, for the most reliable results. It is important to maintain proper humidity for the bees if you store them in a frost free refrigerator. Put the cardboard box of cocoons or filled wood block inside a plastic bag that you put several small holes in, along with a barely moist paper towel. Close the bag, and put it in the refrigerator. Mason bees will be eager to emerge from their cocoons by mid-February, earlier if you waited to put them in the refrigerator until January. Look for hints regarding releasing your bees in the February Growing Tips, or the book 'Pollination with Mason Bees' (#S426).
View our Bees and Bee Supplies page to order bees, nest blocks, or books.
Spray copper on apples and pears affected by anthracnose or European (Nectria) cankers at 50% leaf-fall. Apply spray for bacterial canker to stone fruits. Control pear leaf blister mites with an oil spray combined with lime sulfur following fruit harvest. Reduce brown rot inoculum next spring by picking up and destroying all mummified or infected fruit this fall, along with infected twigs and branches. Apply a copper spray at 50% leaf fall on peaches and other fruits (except apricot) showing shothole (Corynium blight) disease symptoms. Apply sprays for botrytis on grapes.
Refer to the Raintree Plant Owners Manual, pg 16-24, which you will find on our website under Growing Info, for a general insect and disease identification and control methods chart. For more information on specific timing and spray products for insect and disease control in your area, contact your local co-operative extension service, which you can find on our Useful Links page under Growing Info.
Keep fallen fruits cleaned up. In apple maggot and codling moth infested areas collect and destroy any unused fallen apples, Asian pear, and sometimes European pear fruits. Other potential hosts for these insects include hawthorn and flowering crab apple. Destroy the infested fruit by cooking; or seal the fruit in plastic bags and put in the garbage to prevent maggots from getting into the ground and over-wintering after they emerge from the fruit. Do not put fruit in the compost pile, apple maggot larvae will happily over-winter in such a comfortable environment.
Late September thru November is typically the least desirable time for pruning trees and shrubs in the Pacific Northwest. Plant growth is slowing and moisture levels are generally increasing, giving disease organisms increased opportunity to cause infection. If temperatures are warm enough new growth will occur after heading cuts or heavy pruning that will be too tender when winter settles in and be damaged. The actual timing of when pruning should be avoided varies from year to year, pay attention to temperature patterns and humidity levels where you are. Fungal infections are more likely to occur when day time temperatures are still consistently in the 60’s, night time temperatures are dropping well below 50°F, and humidity levels are high. Once the trees have dropped their leaves and are fully dormant pruning can resume for plants that are normally pruned during the dormant season. There is benefit, however, to waiting until the worst of the winter weather and its damage to your trees has occurred before beginning your pruning.
Cut out old fruited canes from blackberries, raspberries, and related hybrids after fruiting and tie in the new canes for next year. You can cut ever bearing raspberries and blackberries to the ground after all the fruit has been picked; or cut the fruited canes back part way, to just below where they fruited this fall. The lower portion of the cane will give a small crop next summer, after which it can be removed entirely.
FALL BULBS: It is time to Plant your Spring Flowering bulbs when the soil has cooled to about 50-55°F. October is a great month for planting potted plants and spring flowering bulbs in the ground in USDA zones 6-10. For best results have your plants and bulbs in the ground at least 6 weeks before your first hard freeze (26°F) to give roots time to establish. Pot up extra bulbs in containers and sink the containers into the ground for the winter. When the bulbs come into bloom next spring, remove the pots from the ground and use them to add color to your landscape or home, or as gifts.
To pot bulbs for best growth and display, use a container that is deep enough to allow the tops of the bulbs to be several inches below the surface, and broad enough to hold several bulbs. Remember bulbs need a well-drained soil, so use a potting mix with good drainage properties. The following example is for a 12” deep and 12-15” wide container. Start by putting 3” of potting mix in the bottom of the container. Select 8-10 daffodils or tulips, and lightly press them into the potting mix, equally spaced randomly or in a pattern. Make sure the flat looking bottoms are down and the pointed or narrow tops are pointing up. They will be closer together than you would normally plant them in the ground. Gently add soil to cover the bulbs and fill the pot.
In order to have bulbs blooming for many weeks in the same container, place the bulbs in layers in the container. Start with daffodils or tulips on the 3” base layer of soil. Add just enough soil to barely cover the bulbs and arrange another layer of bulbs. Use a smaller sized narcissus or tulip bulb, or perhaps Dutch Iris. Again add enough soil to just cover the bulbs, if there is enough room in your container you could add more Dutch Iris. You could also top off your container with an everbearing strawberry; alpine, lipstick, or pink panda would top the container equally well. Add soil to just cover the last bulbs or plants and water in. Sink the finished container in the ground and mulch. Next spring as the first green shoot tips emerge remove the container from the ground and position where you can enjoy the show. As each variety finishes blooming the next will come along for a long spring show. The everbearing strawberries will keep the interest in your container going, with beautiful flower color, or fruit from the alpine strawberries. Please view our Fall Bulbs page to see what we have to offer this year.
POTTED PLANTS: In all zones follow the regular planting instructions in the Owners Manual and be sure to mulch well afterward. Mulch helps protect the roots from winter freeze damage. Keep the mulch at least 2-4” away from the trunk of your plant to prevent rodent damage. Water in well at planting, and then as needed to keep the soil evenly moist. Do not fertilize, except for some bonemeal or other slow release source of phosphorous.
When severe weather threatens, such as a sudden major decrease in temperature, overnight temperature predicted to be more than 10° F lower than temperatures that have been experienced so far, or day time temperatures will stay below freezing, new plants that are not sufficiently hardened off could be damaged. If there is no snow cover to protect your new plants from drying freezing winds or persistent below freezing temperatures, pile lose straw or other insulating material around the plant, and then cover with plastic to keep dry. Provide support if there could be snow that would crush your plant under the plastic. Remove the cover when the threat of severe weather has passed, but keep handy in case there is another weather event.
We include Fall Planting Instructions with each fall order we ship. View the Fall Planting Instructions in advance for fall specific recommendations.
When should I transplant a tree or shrub I previously planted in the wrong spot? Late fall is an excellent time for relocating your oversized or struggling plant that has been in the wrong spot. At that point your plant should be fully dormant, or nearly so, to minimize shock. Make sure the root system is well watered a week or so before digging it up. Get as much of the root system as you reasonably can and water well after you re-plant.
If you need to move a larger tree, plan to take a little more time with the process. Start in October, when the plant is nearly dormant. Dig straight down into the ground 12-18”deep, to sever the roots, along 1/3 of the planned root ball perimeter. In November dig along the next third of the perimeter. In December dig the final third along the perimeter and under the root-ball so you can lift the tree out. Carefully reset it in its new location and water in well.
A little bone meal, or slow-release phosphorous source mixed in with the back fill when you re-plant is beneficial, otherwise do not apply fertilizers. If you did not add mycorrhizal fungi to the soil when you originally planted, adding some now will be helpful. Finish your planting with a surface mulch of 3-4” of coarse material, keeping the mulch 4-6” away from the trunk.
As your first frost date approaches, prepare hardy plants you are growing outdoors in containers for winter. Plant roots are generally not as hardy as the top of the plant, so they need to be protected from freezing during severe winter weather. Sink containers in the ground, or surround containers with sawdust or other insulating material. Another option is to move dormant plants to a cool (35°- 45° F.) location during severe weather episodes, returning them back outdoors when the weather has moderated.
If moving frost-tender plants indoors for the winter, be sure to harden them off (see owners manual, pg 2 available on our web site under Growing Info) and inspect for insect infestations. Move your lemon tree indoors about the time night temperatures start falling consistently below 50° F to avoid interrupting bloom flushes, and keep your tree producing nearly year-round. Wait until plants are fully dormant to repot or pot up to a larger container (there will be more on re-potting container plants in the December Growing Tips).
Are you planning to put in an orchard next spring, or re-design your landscape with more edible plants? Robert Kouriks’ ‘Your Edible Landscape Naturally’ (#S490) will guide you through each step of the design process.
A good starting point in landscape design is to make a drawing of your landscape, including the hard-scape (buildings, paths, other structures, or the drain field) and existing plants; to scale would be the best. From this drawing you can figure out where your possible growing spaces are and how big they are. Also note where North and South are, areas shaded by structures or other plants and how long those areas receive direct sun (especially from July –September). It is also valuable to note any microclimate locations or other exceptions to what you generally find in your landscape. For example: spots that stay wet into or through the summer, or dry into or through the winter, or vice versa; spots that tend to be particularly hot in the summer or cold and windy in the winter, or vice versa; spots that are in shade year ‘round or are always in full sun; or spots in which the soil is different from the rest of your land.
Do a pH and nutrient (Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Potassium) test in various possible planting locations so you know what you are starting with. Remember to use distilled water for the test, tap or well water may affect the results. Determine if you have sand, silt, or clay soil, and what kind of drainage you have. Moisten some soil and rub it between your fingers. If it feels very smooth and sticky, there is a lot of clay in your soil, if it feels gritty there is a lot of sand, in between would indicate a more silty soil. Dig a hole and fill it with water. If the water drains out right away you have fast drainage, if it takes more than a couple of hours your drainage is very slow. Keep in mind that the slope of the land does not affect drainage within the soil profile, only how well water drains off the surface. The goal is to have a good understanding of what you have.
Make a wish list of what you want to grow. Maybe you know of a specific named fruit variety, or perhaps you have a good idea of the type of fruit, harvest time, plant size, or foliage color you are interested in. The November and December Growing Tips will provide you with more help with the plant selection process, such as pollination and spacing. Or refer to last year's November or December Growing Tips in our archive.
Once you have an idea of where you want them, you can prepare the ground for spring planting of fruit and berry plants now. Remove weeds, loosen soil, and mulch the surface with leaves or straw.
FALL COLOR: Could your fall landscape be more colorful? Many of Raintree’s shrubs and trees provide reliable fall color in addition to tasty fruit, consider adding some of these to your landscape. Some examples are: Aronia (red fall leaves, berries are juiced for jellies or beverages), Lingonberry or Wintergreen, both have bright red edible fruit on low growing evergreen plants, Red Sunset Maple (brilliant orange and red fall foliage), Fruiting Quince (glowing yellow fruit, fruit are mixed with apples in pie or sauce, or juiced for jelly), Asian persimmon (colorful fall leaves followed by lantern like orange fruit, fruit are made into jams or eaten fresh), and Blueberry (yellow, red, orange, or burgundy leaves, depending on cultivar, we offer many flavorful varieties).
Can we ship the order to you now? Only if the plants you are ordering are now in shippable sized pots (1 gallon or smaller). The majority of the trees and berries we offer are shipped to you as bare root dormant plants in the spring to save on shipping costs. At this time, those bare root plants are still in the ground, growing. After they have gone dormant (Nov-Dec), and we have a dry period in which to harvest (usually late December), the plants will come out of the ground. To keep everything organized we wait to start shipping until most of the plants are tagged and put away, which is usually mid to late January. Then we will ship to you at the best time to ensure the plants survive in transit and conditions are right in your area for spring planting.
Fall is an excellent time to plant if you are in a USDA Zone 6 or warmer location, but only, of course, if the potted plants are available. Check your local nurseries, or come to Raintree Nursery and view our selection of potted fruit trees, ready for fall planting but too big and heavy to ship. If you prefer to plant in the fall, and you can not find what you want in a container right now, you will have to plan on receiving your plants as dormant bare-root in the spring when we can ship them to you. At that time you can either plant them in containers, or in a temporary protected location, and re-plant them in their final location in the fall.
Is mid-October still an OK time to order plants for fall shipping to plant in the ground? Yes, if you live in a moderate winter part of the country where the first expected hard freeze (overnight temperature to 26° F, or daytime will stay below freezing) will usually be at least 4-6 weeks after we can get the plants to you. If you live West of the Cascade mountains or in other USDA Zone 8-10 areas, you could still order for shipment this fall. Otherwise, order now for Spring shipment! Remember to allow 3-5 business days for shipping, weather permitting and depending on where you are.