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Posts Tagged ‘pears’

Early Fruit Blossoms in my Small Kitchen Garden

This spring’s early start has peach blossoms busting out all over with pear and apple blossoms anxious to pop. When a fruit tree gets and early start, it often loses fruit when more typical weather returns.

Every year that fruit trees have graced my small kitchen garden, I’ve faced an uneasy springtime vigil: Will my fruit blossoms survive?

Fruit trees produce blossoms in response to increasing warmth. By late April, the temperature has usually been high enough for enough days that we get a dramatic display of white, pink, and purple.

Early Spring Kills Small Kitchen Garden Fruit

Two phenomena are particularly distressing to any fruit-grower: a late freeze, and an early start.

While the pear blossoms have held off longer than the peach blossoms, this cluster will probably pop within two days. Meteorologists predict a freeze in two days. Will my peaches and pears survive?

Late freeze—In some years, we see the typical gradual warming that brings on the blossoms in late April. However, with all those gorgeous blossoms on the trees, a cold front drops out of the north and temperatures plummet below freezing.

The opened blossoms freeze, killing the fruit. The kitchen gardener loses out.

Early start—In some seasons, the air temperature rises in March, staying relatively steady for several weeks. Fruit trees react by budding up and putting out blossoms weeks earlier than is typical. If the “unseasonable” warmth continues, there isn’t a problem. However, usually an early start leads to an abrupt return of “seasonal” temperatures. This means sub-freezing nights that can kill fruiting blossoms and destroy hope for a fruit harvest.

Edgy Vigil in my Small Kitchen Garden

During an early start, I can’t help but monitor the bud clusters on my fruit trees. As long as the buds remain tightly closed, even a deep freeze isn’t going to hurt them. When the clusters start to loosen up, I become particularly concerned. Will blossoms pop early this year? If they do, will a nighttime freeze exterminate my fruit crop?

So far, my apple trees are keeping a tight grip on their petals, but the warm weather will almost certainly make them let go in early April. It’s more common for them to wait until late April. That two-to-three week difference could make the difference between a bumper crop of fruit, or a very poor harvest.

This year the vigil started in mid March. It has been crazy warm, and the trees are responding. In fact, my peach trees are in full bloom, pear trees are close on their heels, and my apple trees—the late bloomers of my fruit trees—are threatening to pop. Experience tells me this is very, very bad. Heck, last year we had a killing frost in lat May!

I’m enjoying the gorgeous fruit blossoms, but I’m not happy about them. If Mother Nature blankets us with cold air, there may be nothing to harvest this summer and fall. While I continue my vigil, there’s nothing I can do about the outcome. I don’t need the fruit harvest to survive, so I’ll merely be disappointed if there’s a killing freeze. I can’t imagine the anxiety of a commercial fruit grower when faced with such an early start.

Subscribe to Your Small Kitchen Garden Vlog

Your Small Kitchen Garden blog has introduced a video blog titled Visit with the Gardener, in which I share snippets of what’s going on in my garden and/or kitchen. I try to keep the videos under two minutes and provide either useful tips and techniques – or encouragement – for you to try new things in your kitchen gardens.

Please have a look, and jump over to Youtube to subscribe to my channel. Here’s the link to my channel: Your Small Kitchen Garden Vlog. And here’s an example of a recent post on the vlog. Please enjoy:

Other useful information about fruit blossoms:

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Small Kitchen Garden Fruit Tree Update

Back in November when I planted them, the roots of my young fruit trees looked a lot like this one. Still, all three tree, two pear trees and a sour cherry tree, are growing vigorously.

Last autumn, I reported in Your Small Kitchen Garden about my decision and subsequent effort to plant fruit trees in the fall. Only after ordering trees from an on-line nursery had it occurred to me to seek customer reviews of the nursery. The reviews I found made me a bit edgy, and I wrote about it in a post titled Aggravation in my Small Kitchen Garden.

Still, I was pleased with the arrival of my order, and with the condition of the plants when I unwrapped them. In a post titled New Pear Trees in my Small Kitchen Garden, I shared the story of planting them.

More Angst About Summerstone Nursery

My post about Summerstone Nursery (the Aggravation post) has drawn a few comments from obviously unhappy customers. I don’t doubt these people have had bad experiences, and I stand by my earlier comments: I suspect there are exponentially more satisfied Summerstone customers than there are angry ones. I happen to be one of the satisfied customers.

Consider the photograph from last November’s post (above, right), showing the bare root of the sour cherry tree I planted then. I imagine a large number of people would say that this tree has no roots; it looks, after all, like a stick. The roots of all of my new bare root trees were similar to this one.

The blossoms on my new moonglow pear tree are a beautiful soft pink. The leaves of the plant are a greenish purple. It will be a bit of a wait, but I’m looking forward to seeing this in bloom once it’s full-grown.

Now have a look at the gorgeous blossoms and purple/green leaves growing from my Moonglow pear this spring (left). The sour cherry tree and my Bartlett pear tree aren’t as sensational, but all three fruit trees have produced new branches and leaves and are growing vigorously. (I have no photo of the sour cherry tree because it’s inside a makeshift tree tube to protect it from rodents and cutworms.)

The pecan trees look dead, but I can’t blame that on Summerstone Nursery: a few days after I planted them, a wild animal gnawed several inches off of each one. My subsequent efforts to protect them from further damage stressed them, and I think they’re not coming back (though I continue to hope).

Summerstone or Not?

Based on my experience with Summerstone, I would buy from them again. Here’s my rationale:

  • Their prices are low; replacing dead plants at half price is inconvenient, but it would bring the total cost up to what you’d pay for your first purchase at other on-line nurseries.
  • They have variety that many on-line nurseries don’t.
  • All my interactions with them have been satisfying.

Would I recommend that you buy from Summerstone? No. Don’t buy from Summerstone Nursery unless you live near them and can pick up your plants in person. Don’t buy from any nursery unless you can pick up your plants from them in person.

You could learn a lot from visiting a nursery or garden store, and when you’re there, you can select specific plants with the help of experienced professionals. The advantages of buying locally in-person are so great that I can think of only one reason to buy plants on-line: Buy plants from on-line nurseries only if you can’t find what you want at a store near you.

My Fruit Tree Prognosis

I’m confident my two new pear trees and my new cherry tree will be fine… assuming I take care of them properly. I won’t be harvesting fruit from them for several years because they’re all under two feet tall. Still, I’m pleased with how this fruit tree project is going.

 

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New Pear Trees in my Small Kitchen Garden

A mailing tube leaning next to my front door signaled it was finally time to plant fruit trees.

It seems a whole season has passed in my small kitchen garden since I started encouraging people to plant fruit trees in autumn. Then, I reported on the impending demise of my pear tree and my decision to add a new tree this fall. Autumn arrived very slowly, so the frost that sends trees into dormancy came late—the nursery didn’t ship my trees until early November.

The good news is: they arrived at the end of last week, and they look fine. What’s more, I planted them during the weekend, and documented the experience as-promised. Of course, autumn made itself known during the weekend, so tree-planting was less pleasant than I’d have liked: I don’t believe the temperature rose above 40F degrees, and a dusting of snow fell as I was packing my gear back to the garden shed.

According to instructions on Summerstone Nursery’s web site, I unwrapped the young trees and watered them from root to tip.

Kudos to Summerstone Nursery

A young bare root sapling may have very few roots branching off the main stem. This is the sour cherry tree’s root section lying against the back of a shovel. It’s easy to understand why someone might feel they received “sticks.” Young trees are sticks that haven’t yet grown into logs.

In one of my posts about the fruit tree saga, I explained that I first ordered trees, and then looked for customer reviews of the vendor from whom I ordered. Most reviews were negative, and I was a tad concerned. Later, I reported that I had ordered three trees via the vendor’s web site, then emailed a change request to add two more trees. When I received a shipping notice, it listed only the original three trees along with the charge for just those three.

Surprise, surprise: when I opened the package, I found five trees inside. All were clearly labeled, and all were apparently in good or better health. Assuming they are actually the varieties of trees I ordered, I have only a tiny complaint about the vendor, Summerstone Nursery: I wish they’d managed the change request accurately. Now I need to review my credit card bill and mail a check to Summerstone if they didn’t charge for the additional trees I’d requested. Still, based on this one experience with Summerstone Nursery, I’d buy from them again, and I’d recommend them to other gardeners.

To plant trees in a lawn, first remove the sod where you’re going to dig a hole. I’m planting two pear trees in the same hole. This simplifies a lot compared to spacing the trees out: Pruning two trees so close together is like pruning one tree. Watering and treating for insects is easier with the trees close together, and bees will work both trees as one, with luck, resulting in a high pollination rate. I dug a rectangular hole because I used this patch of lawn for illustrations in another blog post about cutting a garden bed into a lawn (including detailed instructions for how to cut sod). Eventually, I’ll mulch the area into an oval shape. For a single bare root tree of this size, you could dig a hole about the width of a shovel, and a foot deep… but I encourage you to dig broader and deeper so you loosen the soil where roots will grow a year or two down the road.

Bare Roots for a Small Kitchen Garden

With the sod removed, dig. You need to dig several inches deeper than the root section of the tree. Pile the sod and soil on a tarp or in a wheelbarrow; you’ll need it later (don’t bury the sod under the soil as you’ll need the sod first). Planting instructions from most nurseries tell you to set the tree so that the graft is above the soil line. In many cases, a layperson can’t identify a graft, so this information is useless. If there’s an abrupt bend or a bulge in the twig just above the root line, that’s probably the graft. If the twig seems continuous, embed the tree so that all roots projecting from the main twig are underground… but all tree branches or leaf buds are above ground. If you’re just not sure, planting shallow is safer than planting deep—the root stock will hold up better in contact with the soil, but anything above the root stock may suffer if it’s underground.

One recurring criticism of on-line nurseries is that the trees they ship are no more than sticks. For the uninitiated, I understand this concern: young trees are pretty much just sticks. Were you to buy a tree of this age already potted, you wouldn’t think twice about it; what few roots it had would be concealed by soil.

However, the trees I purchased were delivered “bare root.” This means they were removed from the soil in which they were growing at the nursery and wrapped in moist packaging for shipping. The leaders of my bare root trees (the leader is the top-most vertical branch with a terminal bud on its tip) looked like perfectly healthy branches on any of my mature fruit trees: thin, supple, and lined and tipped with healthy leaf buds. The bare root end of my trees had only a few thin roots—but certainly adequate roots to support trees of this size.

When the hole is six or so inches deeper than the root section of your tree, line the bottom of the hole with the sod you removed at the outset… but with the grass side down. You don’t need to do this, but why waste the great nutrition in that sod? Buried, the sod will break down over the winter, and make your tree happy when its roots grow down in the next growing season. (Don’t plant the tree with its roots in contact with the sod.)

Planting such young trees creates a few challenges:

1. When grass and weeds are under a blanket of snow, tender tree bark becomes particularly appealing to rodents. If you don’t take precautions, your young trees will be perfectly healthy one evening, then barkless and dying the next morning.

2. If prevailing winds perpetually blow on your young trees through the winter, the trees may dry out. Sometimes you’ll lose a leaf bud or two and the tree will remain viable, but if all the buds go, there’s little hope for the tree. Ideally, you protect the stick-like baby with a windbreak… and if you’re clever that windbreak can double as a rodent-excluder.

Some years ago, the industry invented tree tubes. These are rigid or semi-rigid cylinders that can surround your saplings, protecting them from rodents and deer until the trees are tall enough and woody enough to withstand furry pests. If you’ve driven through tree-planting country, you might have seen forests of these tubes springing up in fields.

Spread soil on the sod until the hole is the correct depth to accommodate the tree. Then hold the tree in place and gently fill with soil around it. Continue adding soil to cover the roots of the tree; stop when the entire hole is about an inch below the surrounding soil.

A tree tube might extend four feet above the ground, completely hiding a seedling whose crown is only two feet up. That seedling concentrates on growing up the tube to reach sunlight. Using a tree tube increases your tree’s chances of surviving its first years in your small kitchen garden.

I can’t tell you yet how easy these tubes are to find. I phoned a local garden store in search of tree tubes, and they suggested I consult a local forestry authority. I’m hoping a home improvement store might carry them, but if that doesn’t pay off, I’ll be back to ordering on-line. There are plenty of companies selling tree tubes, or tree shelters, or tree guards, or grow tubes on-line.

I wish I’d thought to track these down before my trees arrived. Now I have to fight off rodents hand-to-hand until I can acquire some tree tubes.

Add water. Don’t add a little water. Your job now is to flood the hole. Do so gently without washing away soil. Rather, let water trickle into the hole so it soaks in and eventually saturates the soil you dug out and added back; this may take ten or fifteen minutes (for a single tree in a much smaller hole it might take two or three minutes). When there are puddles around your tree, shut off the water and lightly press down the soaking soil with your foot. As you do this, gently adjust the tree so it points straight up (or at the angle you desire); the soil will be so loose and sloppy that the tree will move around easily, shifting often as you tamp down the contents of the hole. Add more soil on top to soak up excess water.

Erect some type of anti-rodent protection… and a wind block if the tree isn’t well sheltered. I fashioned a three-sided fence using sections from my planting bed; I won’t need them around the vegetable patch until spring. However, if I find tree tubes, I’ll remove the fence… What ho! I just got an idea for fashioning makeshift tubes from junk. I’ll experiment and let you know how it works.

Here are some other articles about planting fruit trees:

  • Peach Tree Guild | The Lazy Gardener – Luckily for me now is a good time to plant fruit trees: when they are dormant. The cultivar is Elberta, which seems to be a pretty reliable peach according to what I have read. With some of the species I already posses I threw together …

  • Vegetables Gardening Fruit Trees – Well the first thing that I want to talk about would be that fact that it is a great time to plant fruit trees in Winter this time is best because all the sap in the stems and leaves of the tree has fallen back down into the roots to …

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Pears Are Ready

Back in August, my pear tree was full of large, beautiful pears just starting to drop off the branches… and attracting the attention of a local squirrel.

On about August 15th, the pear tree in my small kitchen garden dropped a pear. All the pears on it at that point were green: completely not ready for eating. However, I long ago learned that when the pears in your tree(s) look full-grown, and then one falls of its own accord, it’s time to harvest. My blog post of August 15, Harvesting Pears, explains.

It’s Pear-Eating Time!

From mid August until a week ago, I’ve had about three dozen pears cold-aging in the refrigerator in my basement. That’s about six weeks of cold-aging. Last weekend, I removed four pears from the fridge, and set them on my kitchen counter. Yesterday, I ate one of those pears. I wasn’t disappointed: it was sweet, juicy, and smooth as any pear I’ve ever eaten.

I don’t know what variety of pear grows on my pear tree. I’d guess Bartlett because there is no pollinator nearby, but the pears always come in full. Oddly, my pears never seem to ripen yellow. Rather, they become light green when they’re ripe, though some develop a reddish patch on whichever side gets the most sun.

To determine whether they’re ready for eating, I sniff them. If they smell like pears, they’re ready—or close enough.

A Harvesting Pears Amendment

As I’ve been sniffing pears during the past week, it occurred to me that in my first post about harvesting pears, I didn’t mention something that seems painfully obvious: It’s important to monitor the pears you put into cold-storage. If a single pear turns ucky (in my experience, at least one pear always turns ucky) it will try to share its uckiness with all surrounding pears. Leave a pear that’s turned bad with your other pears for three or four weeks, and they’re likely all to come out bad.

This little gem came out of cold-storage about a week ago and is exactly ready for eating. If you let pears ripen on the tree, they’ll likely develop hard spots and become grainy. Several weeks of cold-storage before final ripening assures they’ll come out smooth, sweet, and juicy.

I hope this hasn’t happened to any of you. And, I hope that if you didn’t believe me when I wrote about this in August, that you ran a test with at least a few pears. If you had harvested and stored your pears when the first ones fell from the tree, you should have a luscious store of fruit to carry you for several weeks—or even months into late autumn or winter.

For those of you who left pears to ripen on the tree: if the pears are already soft and you find them unpleasant to eat, use them to make jelly. Pear jelly is sublime–a perfect spread for toasted english muffins (but a rather odd flavor in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich).

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Aggravation in my Small Kitchen Garden?

 

An anonymous visitor to Your Small Kitchen Garden raised concerns about Summerstone Nursery. In my last post (Pear Trees for my Small Kitchen Garden), I explained that I chose Summerstone from among more than a dozen web sites, and I explained my selection process. Admittedly, in researching these nurseries I made a classic blunder: I failed to research what customers of the businesses had to say about them.

I’m flabbergasted at the oversight as I’ve been shopping on line since the 1990s and I approach I thought I approached all information on the internet with a kind of “Oh, Yeah?” attitude. Not this time.

Problems with Summerstone?

Will I be one of the disgruntled few, or will I be happy with the vendor from whom I ordered pear trees? I may not be able to answer until next summer (and I don’t expect homegrown fruit for three or four years). In the meantime, I have visions of large, beautiful pears that are just out of reach.

So, a day late and about $36 short, I’ve read some consumer reviews of Summerstone Nurseries. The reviews aren’t all rosy (they’re also not all bad). I probably wouldn’t have bought from Summerstone had I read the reviews first… but I’m not sure. I also did belated due diligence on Willis Orchards, Raintree Nursery, and Nature Hills—the other on-line suppliers I mentioned in my last post. It would be wrong to say that any impress… though, perhaps, Raintree has the best ratio of positive to negative reviews… Summerstone’s ratio is the worst.

I’m not Thrilled…

When reading reviews, I always remind myself: If things go OK, I don’t go out of my way to tell the world about it. I expect things to go OK, so why bother reporting OK to a consumer watch organization? Businesses such as eBay make customer and seller reviews central to the basic sales strategy: you leave good review, I leave good review, we’re good eBay citizens… but a customer can really mess up a seller’s business by leaving a bad review. The dynamics encourage everyone to leave reviews whether good or bad.

For sales web sites, you can predict the behavior of customers: when things go well, they move on. When things go poorly, they complain. So, I’m sure you see mostly negative reviews of vendors who don’t participate in shopping communities or web 2.0 networking—even when the vast majority of shopping experiences with the vendors are neutral or positive.

Do I Feel Better Now?

Rationalization complete, I’m still bothered by the negative reviews of Summerstone Nurseries. It occurs to me that if left to their own devices, people are more likely to complain than to compliment (or simply move on), then a compliment on an independent consumer watchdog web site must carry substantially more weight than does a negative review. Sigh!

Well, I’m an optimist and I’m very patient. So, while I’m still not recommending a particular on-line nursery, I’m not denouncing any either. I’ll stay the course, and continue to report as the pear tree saga unfolds.

I feel I’ve learned what I thought I already knew: get your hair cut where the barber goes for a haircut; buy donuts where cops buy donuts; eat at the crowded restaurants… You know: seek other people’s recommendations before making a purchase.

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Fruit Tree Neglect in a Small Kitchen Garden

While this completely neglected apple looks scrumptious in the tree, there is a near 100% certainty that it’s home to a grub or a worm or a burrowing insect.

I’ve explained in past posts (about fruit trees) that growing fruit trees as a part of your small kitchen garden strategy adds a boatload of work to an otherwise potentially low-impact activity. Especially with apples, if you don’t follow a regular maintenance schedule, your fruit trees won’t reward you well.

Even as I’ve embarked on the simple mission of planting a new pear tree in my own home kitchen garden this year, I’m ruing the near total neglect I gave my fruit trees through the growing season.

Tree Things I Didn’t Do

Dormant Oil—This is a bigger confession than I care to make: I have never completed all the annual fruit tree maintenance jobs recommended by expert agriculturalists. One that has always eluded me is supposed to happen in mid-to-late winter: spraying the tree with dormant oil. Dormant oil kills several types of bugs that can weaken a fruit tree—and that may attach themselves and hold on through the winter.

As in every year I’ve had fruit trees, I didn’t apply dormant oil this year.

Pruning—In very late winter, it’s important to prune a fruit tree. You remove dead wood, take out branches that cross each other (to reduce rubbing that may damage the bark), open up the tree’s crown so sunlight can make it to the tree’s lower branches, do some shaping to make the fruit-bearing branches more accessible, and cut back limbs to promote new growth.

Traditionally, I’ve pruned my trees properly, and I’ve even done a lot of grafting. I didn’t do any pruning or grafting this year.

Mulch & Fertilizer—It’s helpful to mulch around a tree that grows out of your lawn. Mulching retains moisture, guards the soil from insects and burrowing animals, and keeps your lawnmower away from the tree’s trunk. Mulch helps retain moisture, cuts down on plants that compete for the moisture, and provides shallow roots with some insulation against rapid freezing and sudden extreme swings in temperature. Fertilizer is a quick pick-me up, providing nourishment at crucial developmental points during the year.

I’ve never been good about mulching, though my wife sometimes does the job. I do usually fertilize… but I neither mulched nor fertilized my fruit trees this year.

Culling—Especially with peach trees, and with apple trees to a lesser extent, a tree’s tendency to be prolific can result in production of small fruits. Peach tree branches may be lined with blossoms, and if every one of them grows into a peach, they’ll be small peaches indeed. So, shortly after the petals drop off and you can clearly identify baby peaches, it’s a good idea to pick off and discard a lot of the babies. Usually a two-step process, you first pick off fruits from clusters leaving just a single fruit where there was a cluster. A week or two later, you pick off the smaller fruits, leaving one every eight or nine inches along each branch.

This is typical of an apple that has had no help in fending off insect marauders. I’d have no desire to bite into this one, and paring it for use in pie or apple sauce would be only slightly less appetizing.

Certain insecticides cull fruits when the fruits are small. For example, applying Sevin brand insecticide to an apple tree right after the petals fall will usually cause some fruits to fall… and using a higher concentration of Sevin culls a greater number of fruits.

I didn’t do any culling this season.

Pest-prevention—Pears, peaches, and plums grow surprisingly “clean” in central Pennsylvania even if you do nothing to fight off insects. Apples are another story. If I don’t treat my apple trees with some type of bug spray repeatedly, nearly every apple I harvest will hold hidden biological treasures. Chemical insecticides require application immediately after petals fall, and again every ten to fourteen days until harvest. Admittedly, I’ve not tried organic treatments to protect my apples… if you’ve had success with any, please leave a comment that tells about frequency of application and efficacy of the product.

This season, I applied insecticide right after petal-fall, and, perhaps, two weeks later. After that, my apples became insect incubators.

Woodchucks, skunks, porcupines, raccoons, and, perhaps, smaller rodents, suplement their diets with my rotting apples. There is also a healthy bee and wasp population eating the sweet fruit. The alcohol fumes coming off the apples might draw attention from prohibitionists.

Harvest—Of course, if you grow fruit but never harvest it, you don’t actually have fruit. Peaches provide a window of as long as a month during which you can pick some, let them ripen indoors, pick some more, and so on (picking a peach speeds it to ripen—but it should already look ripe before you pick it). Then, all at once, the ones still on the trees soften, shrivel, and drop off. Pears seem to hold on for several months, but you should harvest pears the moment any full-sized one drops off on its own account. You can start picking apples when they first look ripe, and continue picking right up until leaves are falling. The apples will start to jump out of the trees on their own, so it can become a daily chore to pick up fallen apples before rodents chew on them, and then to pick apples off the trees so you get some that aren’t bruised by the fall.

Yes, I’ve harvested apples this year, but my motivation is very low. Most of my apples are fermenting in my lawn while providing nutrition to insects and rodents. The ones I’ve gotten to before the predators all have been colonized by boring insects—even apples I’ve picked from the trees.

There’s Always Next Year

When the season started, I had been excited about mild weather and a bumper crop of apple blossoms. A few awkwardly-timed rain storms (which interfere with insecticide treatments), and heavy focus on non-gardening-related activities made me miss insecticide application for about six weeks. At that point, it was pointless to jump back in and hope for good results; I could see most fruits were already badly formed.

It sometimes takes a year like this to get me motivated for the next five years: With last year’s bumper crop of well-cared-for apples, I canned some nine gallons of apple sauce. I enjoyed canning two gallons of it, and canning the rest felt like a forced march.

When it comes time to prune and graft in March, I’ll remember the overwhelming smell of fermentation and the sticky gushiness under the apple trees during my autumn lawn mowing. It’ll be enough to get me out to work on my fruit trees.

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