Category Archives: fruit trees

May 20th Pollinate Event

Do you know the myrobalan plum tree? Of course you do! It’s the volunteer plum tree that seems to sprout up overnight in your sideyard and proceed to take over, dropping meh-tasting plums all over the ground come summertime. Some people harvest the fruit but the flavor tends toward bland, and the jam from these plums tends toward soupy. A friend of mine tried rebranding them into “big ass cherries” but if we are honest with ourselves we know that these plums lack that cherry bite that almondy-cherry yumminess. So what do you do if you have one of these trees in your backyard and you don’t have a chainsaw and a stump grinder?

Look toward Pollinate, the urban farming supply store in East Oakland. They have one of these cherry plum trees in their “back 40”, but they have transformed it. With John Valenzuela, Yolanda at Pollinate transformed that meh tree to a wow tree by grafting all kinds of yum plums and apricots onto the tree. Because the myrobalan was a pretty large tree, the new grafted branches are now huge too, only a few years after being grafted.

Come see it–and me!–in the flesh May 20th as Pollinate celebrates 5 years of business. I will be there at 2pm, hanging out and signing books by the old plum tree. They have a great selection of urban farming supplies, beekeeping stuff, and plants! and of course, trees.

Pollinate is on 2727 Fruitvale Ave; for more info, https://www.pollinatefarm.com/

Fig Leaf

The orchard looks pretty wild these days with all this good rain. Blue borage flowers are everywhere, the raspberry canes seem like they grow an inch a day, and some brassicas have gone to flower. All the trees are in leaf now, too, including the late to the scene sour cherry. The fig tree has its terminal bud leaves which means it is time to cook!

Chris Lee or Samin Nosrat told me about the power of a fig leaf as a cooking vessel. You just pick large fig leaves, give them a wash, and use them as a wrapper around protein. Here’s some halibut I wrapped in fig leaves, drizzled with olive oil and sprigs of thyme.

After tightly wrapping the fish, throw them in the oven at 400 or on the bbq, even better.

As the fish cooks, the fig leaf gives off a subtle flavor of coconut which infuses into the fish! This halibut was so good, we ate it before I could take a photo. But it’s also good with salmon.

Happy spring!

Burnt branch blossoms

Ah, the sweet cherry blossoms are bursting forth!

You have to look closely in this photo, but the branch closest to the camera suffered in the great fire of 2017 that took out my mulberry tree and beekeeping shed. This cherry tree was growing next to the shed and, post-fire, had black limbs. I trimmed those off, and left that upright branch that seemed to be alive. They are blooming and leafing out, just more slowly than the rest of the tree–it’s about a week behind the non-fire scorched limbs. But why?

My theory is that the heat of the fire reset this limbs sense of chill hours. So most fruit trees like apples, cherries, pears, etc need exposure to cold temperatures–that is, they need to know that winter happened. A chill hour is an hour of temperatures below 45 degrees. So when you buy a fruit tree, you need to look at the tag and make sure your area has the same number of chill hours recommended on that tree’s tag. In the East Bay, we get between 600-800 chill hours, depending on where exactly you live. (If you live in California, you can look up your chill hours here.) There are varieties of apples that need, for example, 1000 chill hours in order to stimulate blooming and to set fruit, so it would be a poor fruit producer here, but in Minnesota, look out!

But what about my slow-to-bloom cherry limb? It got the same number of chilling hours as the other branches. I’m wondering if the idea that extra warm temperatures can cancel out some chill hours is at work. There is a different model that UC Davis uses, called the Dynamic Model, which uses something called Chill Portions instead of hours. Here’s what they say: “The model calculates chilling accumulation as ‘chill portions’ (CP), using a range of temperatures from ~35-55°F (some temperatures are more effective than others), and also accounts for chill cancellation by fluctuating warm temperatures.”

Maybe my conflagration was like a super warm temperature that reset the tree’s chill hours? Send any theories my way….

P.S. Note that my cherry tree is pruned in an open center pruning style. Not ideal for cherry trees–that’s more of a peach thing. According to Stella Otto’s the Backyard Orchardist, cherries should be on a modified central leader. I wish someone told me that 7 years ago!

 

 

Bulldozer of My Dreams

Actually, I think it’s this Bobcat.

bobcatinaction

It’s small but mighty. It was time to pull up the rest of that darn concrete in the center of the garden. Last year, a man named Steve came to me and asked if I had some work for him. I handed him a dig bar and he pried out literally tons of concrete over a few days of work. Steve was real tall. He also liked poetry, a crow flew by one day and he recited a Mary Oliver poem about crows, “From a single grain they have multipled. When you look into the eyes of one, you have seen them all…”

Second best concrete remover is my friend Hilary, who runs Hulk Hauling. He told me years ago: “When you are ready to liberate that good dark earth from the concrete covering it, just let me know. I thought I was ready. All I had to do was watch, but it was still hard. There’s just something about a big machine driving into a garden. Hilary was really careful and no living thing got squashed, it was just somehow…exhausting. bobcat2action

An old man named Doc left a container to load the broken bits of rubble into. I was happy to hear the rubble will get smashed and reused to make more concrete, instead of going to a landfill. It only took a few hours for the concrete to get scraped up then loaded into the container. By the end of the day, Hilary said it was about 10 tons of urbanite hauled away. I know someone will say that you can build stuff with urbanite. To you I say: come get it. There’s still some left!! I had it surrounding some of my veg beds but frankly, I just don’t like concrete rubble. Weeds grow into it. Rats hide in it. It makes the place look a little messy. Still, come get it if you want some–just email me.

Here’s the hole that was left.
postbobcat

I felt like I had given birth. There’s something about destruction, even of an annoying concrete foundation in the garden, that is mentally taxing. Next day I ordered a bunch of compost, dug out all the rubbley bits until I hit that sweet black earth underneath. Last year I tested the soil and it was all fine–rich even.
The pile of compost attracted my neighbor, Chao, who is a monk at the monastary across the street. When he came over and started helping, my daughter, who wasn’t that keen on loading up a wheelbarrow, suddenly wanted to help. Thank god for men of the cloth.
franandchao

Next up is to get some free woodchips! My friend Willow suggested putting in some apple trees along the pathway. Let me know what’s your favorite apple to grow! I’m thinking Hudson Golden Gems or Newton Pippins.

Fruit and Nut School

It’s basically springtime here in Californai! And if you’ve been wondering where I’ve been…don’t assume that I’m so busy out in the garden, weeding and prepping and planting I don’t have time to sit down and write a post. In fact, my garden is looking horrible. the chickens escaped and ate all my broccoli plants, the nettles have take over, the fava beans are only just starting to come up.
I blame it on Fruit and Nut School.
I was lucky enough this year to attend the UC Davis agricultural extension class called Principles in Fruit and Tree Nut Growth, Cropping, and Management.
The class is held up in Davis, CA at UCDavis, which was historically, the Ag school for the University of California, Berkeley–hence their name, the Aggies. It’s only an hour and a half drive from Oakland, but it’s a world of difference up there. Hot, flat, fertile. Perfect place for growing fruit trees. There are also bicycles everywhere. In general, though, the community is a bit more conservative than the flamboyant Bay Area. Dudes are wearing rodeo belts and driving big ol’ trucks. It’s farming, with lots of big ag. Some of the guys (there were about 8 women in the class of 50) were running 20,000 acres of fruit trees down in the southern part of the Central Valley. Me and my 36 fruit trees felt very small indeed.
Even though I’m small potatoes, I still wanted to learn as much as I could. Every day was a total mind meld, filled with fruit biology and tree physiology. For instance, stone fruit trees are actually making flowers at the bud level even when they are full of fruit. So that’s why in the summer you want to give them a burst of water to ensure good flower bud formation (when you don’t, you might get those weird double looking, Siamese twin fruit because stress sometimes causes double pistils). It’s all so intricate and beautiful.

I can’t go through everything I learned but I’m hoping I’ll be able to document some of the thinking I gained as I move forward with a big project in my garden this year: planting even more fruit trees on the lot! Totally inspired by the class and our field trips to places like Wolfskill and the UC Davis fruit orchards, I’m going to plant like a “real” orchardist, no more random trees in random places. First step: concrete removal.

Happy spring!

End of the Season

All is quiet on the farm. I just harvested the last of the tomatoes–man, they were ugly but oh so tasty. I turned them into some yummy ketchup by cooking them with molasses and vinegar and mustard seeds all the rainy day. Tomorrow I’m going to plant the last of the fall starts–broccoli, kale, cauliflower; and some fava bean seeds and call it a day. Bring on the rain! This time of year is a good time to look back and reflect on what worked/what needs further development. Here’s my list…and plans for next year:
Working
Drip irrigation. Finally, finally, I took the plunge and installed a drip irrigation system. Of course after I hooked it up, I wondered why I hadn’t done it before. It actually took a visitor on the farm tour–a young lady who was a school garden teacher–who said, “You know, things would be growing better if you had a drip system.” Girl, you were right. Thanks for the nudge. It cost me about $400 and I installed it myself. So far, especially through the hot streak in October, the drip system has earned its keep. Everything next to an emitter line thrived. The citrus trees each got their own line and even the blueberries, notorious water hogs were happy. I saw the chickens drinking from the emitter line, too, which was an unexpected bonus. I think I always resisted a drip system because of all that plastic. But from what I’ve heard/seen, the lines can last many many years without breaking down.
Chicken Pull-It Shut Door. Lord, I am a lazy urban farmer! Besides my new fangled drip system, I have a chicken door that closes at night and opens in the morning. I love it! The chickens love it.
Chickens. I’ll say it again: chickens are the best weeders! Remember that unsightly patch of bermuda grass that had taken over the garden by the MLK street side fence? I sheet mulched it but it kept coming back. Welp, I moved the chicken coop over yonder and lo and behold: no much bermuda grass. Those girls are ruthless grass eaters.

Not Working
Fig tree. My enormous white fig tree. We got some really uneven ripening and the tree has gotten freaking huge. Gotta hack it back. Chickens do like to sit under it–but what am I, doing everything for the chickens? (As it turns out: yes).
Passion Fruit. So many flowers, so little fruit. There’s this hairy white stuff growing on the vines. Could that be a factor? This was its first year and the few fruits we did get were yummy. Won’t get rid of the vine because it is so cool, spreading really far along the fence and um, the chickens like to eat the leaves…
Minor problems!
OK, now onto the next phase of GT Farm…
Goals 2016 (hoping for 50% of these to actually happen but it’s good to dream)
1. Giant rain catchment tank. Like 5000 gallons. Plumbed from my neighbors roof. Gotta catch all that rain.
2. Break up the rest of the concrete. And install into more organized raised beds. Easy for harvesting.
3. Circular hang space/gazebo. Thinking a circle of fruit trees, seating area, vines growing all over the place. Maybe a guest yurt can go there in the summer months?
4. More flowers. I’m becoming an old lady! I want a cutting garden.
5. Nut trees? I’m taking a class through UC Davis extension all about fruits and nuts so will keep you posted.

Hope you all have a great holiday–see you in January

Power to the Peachful

Ok, so I’ve struggled growing good peaches in Oakland. I had a Muir and one with a number from some field station. After three years, I got only 5 peaches. And the taste? Meh. A little bitter. A little mealy. Not the ecstasy that a peach should stir up. So I yanked the peach tree (I’m a bruiser), and sent it up to Chico, with a friend there, who might get better peaches in a hotter climate. But I did feel a certain…lack. Peaches, peaches, peaches–they are my favorite summer fruit. And so, I turned to adoption.

Yes, you can adopt a peach tree. I had read David Mas Masumoto’s book, Epitaph for a Peach, about his struggles as a family farmer trying to grow heirloom fruit that isn’t exactly “shippable”. And I was delighted to find out he and his family offer peach tree adoption. Now, if I’m going to adopt a tree, Masumoto’s is the place where I’d like to make that happen. It’s a solution for a problem they have as small-scale growers–we give them money up front for the chance to pick the fruit of a one of their trees.

The process required coming up with a name for our group–my buddy Zach came up with Power to the Peachful, and telling the family what we would do with the fruit. Our list included salsa, ice cream, peach liquor, canned peaches with rum. This all went down around March. The picking would happen in late July/early August.

Now I’m a bit of a literalist. I thought I would be sent images of baby fuzzy peaches, and given gushing reports about my tree’s health (I also thought the money I sent to Heifer went straight to that goat for a family, but that’s another story). In reality, I found out we would be adopting a tree, and then I promptly forgot. Then July hit, and we got word that picking would happen July 18 and July 25.

The farm is outside Fresno, picking started after orientation, one at 7:30am, another at 8:30. Our posse decided to camp outside of Fresno the night before. (Kelly’s Resort, check it out next time you are on the 99). The Masumoto’s had told us to be early because it’s hot in the Central Valley, and that we would be given boxes and brunch. Yay!

We drove in two separate cars because we needed a car to take home all our fruits. We were on our way to the farm at 7am. Our pals were driving behind us, following us to the farm, when we suddenly heard a giant explosion. I looked back and saw our friend’s car moving in a weird way, and the stuff we had just touched–a coffee pot, a lantern–shattered onto the busy street, and then cars ran over them, making a huge racket. Somehow their car was up on the median. I jumped out of our car and ran toward our friend’s car. The car was totaled. Mangled. And it was one of those heavy metal cars that don’t injure easily. The semi-truck that hit them was up the road a bit. I said the thing everyone says in this situation, even though it is moronic: Are you ok? They nodded and got out of their car. At that moment, seeing my friends alive in all that twisted metal was the best thing that had ever happened to me. We got them out of the car and onto the sidewalk. Strangers stopped to give them water. The cops came. Ambulance and firemen. I went to the car and got everything out of it. We would never see this car again, I thought. It would stay in Fresno. I got my friends purse, eyeglasses. Cowboy coffee had spilled everywhere in the car. I got all the cassette tapes out of the glovebox and popped the tape out of the radio. I worked methodically, it calmed my nerves, which were screaming: they almost died!! They are ok! They almost died! they are ok! Picking up the wreckage made me feel like I could at least do something while they gave the policemen their report. “You should buy a lottery ticket,” the cop said, “because you should be dead. Today you are very lucky.”

And I’ll admit it, my brain also thought, besides worrying about my friends: all those peaches. We would go home. We had to just go home and not pick peaches. But after the car was towed away, and we packed all their salvagable stuff into our car, my friend looked at his watch: “We can make the 8:30 orientation! Let’s go!” And so we did. And the farm was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, not because it was actually physically beautiful (it’s neat and the trees are lovely, and they are peach trees full of fruit but it’s pretty flat and non-descript) but because we were alive, goddamit and we were there to pick the peaches. The Masumoto’s were also the most beautiful family I had ever seen–so giving, so kind and concerned about our friends and our group.

And so we picked. It turned out we had twins. The peaches were Elberta’s. Heavy and yellow. Dense. Golden. We got to climb orchard ladders and get every last fruit off those trees. We picked 16 boxes. A kindly man told us he would take our peaches to Berkeley, where he lived, and we could pick them up later.

IMG_5343

We ate a delicious meal in the orchard. We were alive, laughing and talking. Then all the groups who had assembled there were told that the Masumotos were throwing in an Le Grand nectarine tree into our adoptive families. So we picked another dozen boxes of nectarines. They tasted like mangoes and sunlight.

IMG_5340

Another truck said they’d drop the nectarines at my place in Oakland. We were blessed. There are only a few times in life when such grace can happen, when you feel like yes, you are special and lucky, and that was what that day felt like.

Now, back at home, I’ve just started the fruit processing odyssey. So far, I’ve made nectarines in syrup, nectarine and mulberry jam, peach ice cream, peach pie, and dehydrated peaches. As I slice the peaches, I think of my friends, who are bruised but happy, and I think they are the most amazing people I’ve ever met. When I asked them, “why did we go pick peaches after that accident?” They explained, “We didn’t drive down to Fresno to get in a car accident and go home; we drove to Fresno to pick peaches.” And ain’t that what life is all about?

peachesdried

Speaking of amazing people, there’s a movie about the Masumoto family! It’s showing at SPUR this Wednesday, August 5th. I’m told it’s sold out–so let’s ask SPUR to have another screening!!

Hope the rest of your summer is peachy: next up is an blogpost about my field trips of the hacked version of Early Girl tomatoes, called Dirty Girls. I’m going to do a side-by-side taste test.