The 2016 Penang Durian season is here. I’ve already been at the Bao Sheng Durian Farm for a month, but I did not expect to be eating durian yet. I’d actually walked up to the main house to eat a very unenthralling banana when I smelled the first durian of the season. Excited much?
Excuse the slightly lower quality photos. I was afraid to leave the scene long enough to run down to get my real camera, so I just used my phone to capture the moment.
The date was April 26th. We knew it would be an earlier-than-normal season this year, but even Mr. Chang was surprised.
I was surprised by the variety that dropped first — Kun Poh. I had fully expected the early ripening 604 or Centipede, but Kun Poh felt like a really good omen for the coming season.
I never tell my favorite durian, but if I did say one, it might be a really good Kun Poh. It was one of my top durians in 2015.
This one felt pretty special. It’s the beginning of the season, so the flavor was a bit sweeter and hadn’t yet achieved the depth and coffee-like undertones of a really good Kun Poh. Zhi Voo was also quite critical of the color, which was a bit more yellow and less translucent-orange.
But when it’s April, and the first durian to drop of the year is Kun Poh, who’s complaining? Not me.
Update and Predictions on the 2016 Penang Durian Season
It’s an El Nino year guys! Things are coming to be a bit weird this season. The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) predicted that El Nino’s impact on Malaysia would peak between November 2015 and January 2016, but we’re still feeling the effects.
Here are some characteristics of the weather and how it will affect the 2016 Penang durian season.
It’s been really, really hot. My poor parents decided to visit me last month in the middle of a searing heat wave that put parts of Malaysia and Thailand into an emergency alert. More than 250 schools were closed as the temperatures hovered an average of 5 C above the normal for March and April, which are, by the way, already the hottest months of the year.
It’s also been really, really dry. So dry that some politicians have suggested water seeding (forcing clouds to produce rain) in a panicked solution-grasping response to the lack of water. The stats are drastic enough to put anyone into a state of panic. In April 2015, the Air Itam dam on Penang collected 955mm but as of April 16, 2016, the dam had received only got 91mm of rain.
On Bao Sheng Durian Farm, Zhi Vooi has been moving water sprinklers to each durian tree in an effort to keep the trees alive. Other trees have not been so lucky, and you can see the shriveled, brown, sad-looking trees from the roadside.
The durian season is early. Maybe because of the prolonged drought, the durians flowered early this year and our beautiful Kun Poh dropped more than a month earlier than durians last year.
The durian season will be reeeaaally long. The season isn’t going to end early either. The long period without rain means the trees just kept flowering, and flowering, and even right now some of them are still flowering.
It’s kind of weird seeing fully mature, nearly-ready-to-drop durians on the same branches as a huge spray of creamy, honey-scented flowers. They coat the roadsides and release a beautiful aroma when my bicycle tires crush them.
A durian takes about 3-4 months to mature, so if these flowers really do mature into fruits, there will still be durians dropping at the end of August. Crazy, right?
From my bike surveys, it appears that there are still more flowers on the side of the hill toward Teluk Bahang, while the fruits on the side of the hill toward Balik Pulau are more mature.
The durian yield/quantity may be up to 50% less than last year. All week media and newspaper people have been visiting the farm. After all, a year with less durian is like a crisis, right?!
The dry, dry weather means that a lot of trees couldn’t support the fruit, and aborted them. There are baby durians fallen over the orchards.
This doesn’t mean the quality will be worse. Stress is a funny thing. It can bring out the best in people, or the worst, and it’s the same for trees.
Some trees are floundering and the fruits, at least the one that survive into maturity, will be hardly worth eating. Other trees are going to love this weather. Assuming that they get enough water, are not burned by undiluted fertilizers, and are thinned properly, some durian varieties are really going to shine this year.
One of my favorites, the elusive Jackie Chan’s Wife, was most delicious during a dry year. I also suspect that Hor Lor is going to be quite good this year.
The durians may be more expensive this year. Fewer fruits means higher demand, means the growers get to charge slightly higher prices and we poor hungry durian lovers crazed with desire just have to suck it up and pay for it.
Why Organic Farmers Are Fine. Or at least pretty close to fine. According to both Mr. Chang and Eric of Green Acres, their trees are not suffering the losses as much as non-organic farms.
Organic durian farms are protected from the drought by the thick layer of both foliage and organic material in the soil that absorb and hold water, meaning the trees don’t dry out as fast. They also don’t use artificial fertilizers that need to be diluted in order not to burn the root systems of the trees. It’s an example of when it really pays to use organic farming practices.
Bao Sheng Durian Festival (BSDF) is still going to be Awesome. All of this doesn’t really affect those of us going to the Bao Sheng Durian Festival. The price of the festival is the same, so you’re getting even better value this year, and we’ve been promised an unlimited supply of freshly dropped, high quality fruits.
If it stays dry, we’ll just get more sunshine to spend poolside, at the beach, on the hiking trails, and exploring the beautiful island of Penang. Check out all the activities and pictures of the smorgasbord here.
Are you coming to Penang?
Hope to see you in Penang this year! Even if you aren’t coming to the BSDF, send me a message with your travel plans and maybe we’ll get to eat durian like this together!