Category Archives: fruit trees

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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

Grow a Little Fruit Tree

First class of 2015!! Because I’m teaching full-time at University of San Francisco, I’m not teaching regular classes at GhostTown Farm any longer. Such a bummer–but I can only do so much…However, the lovely, talented Ann Ralph of Berkeley Hort fame will be teaching a class at my place. It’s a pruning class and she will be going over all the aspects of growing fruit trees in backyards. She’s a big advocate of keeping trees small and manageable. Since we have over 30 trees on the farmlette right now, this is the perfect classroom to learn winter pruning by actually pruning my trees (please, don’t f- them up!!).

More details here; the GT Farm class is February 1!!!

East Harvest Pruning: Winter Workshop – $40
http://www.littlefruittree.com

Saturday, January 17, Oakland, 10:30 am -12:30 pm
Sunday, January 18, Berkeley, 10:30 am – 12:30 pm
Saturday, January 31, San Pablo,10:30 am – 12:30 pm
Sunday, February 1, GT Farm Oakland, 10:30 am – 12:30 pm
Sunday, February 8, Berkeley, 10:30 am – 12:30 pm

Preregistration is required.
Contact littlefruitree@gmail.com or (209) 296-5797

“I loved your workshop! The information, the clarity of your teaching style…all of it!”

Timed pruning offers a simple and revolutionary approach to fruit tree care: winter prune for shape and summer prune to keep trees small and easy. This hands-on class teaches the simple logic of pruning. You’ll learn the benefits of creating short trees, how to engage in the pruning conversation, make aesthetic decisions, and trust your judgment. The class includes information about seasonal fruit tree routines and pest and disease control with ample time for questions.

Instructor Ann Ralph’s book, Grow a Little Fruit Tree, about using pruning to fruit trees at people-appropriate heights, is newly available from Storey Publishing. She managed the fruit tree department at Berkeley Horticultural Nursery for ten years.

Fruit Tastings

Wolfskill. I kept hearing about this mythical USDA germplasm reserve that sometimes hosts fruit tastings of the specimens that grow there. Someone told me they once went and wandered through a fig orchard, plucking ripe fruit as they walked, tasting the mind-blowing varieties. I somehow missed the invite to the stone fruit tasting (must’ve been in July or August) at Wolfskill but managed to make it to the persimmon and pomegranate tasting this October.
In a word: WOW.
The location is up in the Capay Valley, near the town of Winters. It’s hard to find, the signs are subtle. For a reason: fruit nerds might swoop in constantly to taste the 100 plus varieties of fruit growing on the more than 150 acre plot of land. I know I would. But about three times a year, they swing open the gates and allow the public to come taste. persimmonspeoplewolfskill
The grounds are lovely, bursting with fruit at every turn (gentle reminders not to pick grapes or olives were posted). Instead of traipsing through the orchards willy-nilly, the good people at Wolfskill had harvested the fruit for us, and arranged it in a decorative but functional manner. The fruits were all labeled and we were given a tasting sheet. Fruit geeks (recognizable by their pith helmets) and families milled around the long tables, sampling.
The persimmons: I dunno. Persimmons are weird. I loved them when I first tried them after moving to California, but these days I feel like they are just a leetle bit bland. I do adore dried persimmons, though.
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I can really get excited about pomegranates, though. I have a Wonderful growing at my place, and the shrub makes the most delicious, juicy fruit. The only problem with poms is the staining color.
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So, imagine my delight when I saw the white (ok, yellow, really) pom there at Wolfskill. Only problem? It was kinda bland. The good news was this most delectable pink, non-staining variety called, myagkosenyannyi rozovyt. It tastes just as complex and rich as Wonderful but it is pink. The poms from Wolfskill are mostly from a former Soviet botanist named Gregory Levin–hence the long-ass name. Read his memoir, Pomegranate Road, if you want the skinny on his life as a pom collector. Now the trick is to get a hold of some of the myagkosenyannyi rozovyt germplasm (aka a cutting). Because it’s a research orchard, you can only get cuttings if you are affiliated with a research institution (GhostTown Farm Laboratories?). I’m trying to work my USF credentials to get a few stems, though–wish me luck. If I’m successful, I’ll have a few myagkosenyannyi rozovyts to harvest in the next few years.
Photos all by Leilani Buddenhagen

Grafting fruit trees

Went to the California Rare Fruit Growers scion exchange in Berkeley this weekend, went to the exchange in San Jose the weekend before that, and now I’m deeply excited to be going to the exchange up in Santa Rosa this Saturday.
Yup, I’ve become a scion groupie.
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Some wise woman at a CRFG told me that I should definitely go to all the scion exchanges to get a feel for how the different chapters operate. And she was right: the Santa Clara chapter scion exchange, held in San Jose at the awesome Prusch Park, was lovely, airy, convivial. There was even a six acre urban farm right there! I bought the most delicious cabbage from them.
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The Berkeley (Golden Gate chapter) event was a full-on scrum of lovely weirdos, anarchists, urban farmers, and a couple old timers. There was a permaculture table and community groups like City Slicker Farms tabling. I ran into way too many friends (I was supposed to be volunteering) and bought the best cara cara oranges I have ever tasted. People were also giving away plants and limes. I rode home with a huge grin on my face.
I also scored some apple rootstock.
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These beauties will be the rootstock for the Make an Apple class at Ghosttown Farm. Which reminds me: there are still slots left in the class on February 16!! Please email me if you are interested, novellacarpenter at gmail. It’s going to be great, taught by Bethalynn Black, who is a total plant genius. I’ll have lots of different scions to choose from; so you can make the following apple trees: mutsu, pink lady, honeycrisp, king david, pink pearl.
I hear the Santa Rosa exchange is all about apples, so I’m hoping to scoop up some unusuals, and of course, the mighty Gravenstein. The exchange will take place January 25th, at the Santa Rosa Veteran’s Building, 1351 Maple Avenue, just across the street from the county fairgrounds. Doors open at 9 a.m. (free) for CRFG members.
See you there!

What I Learned This Year

I stopped writing in my journal a few years ago (2014 New Year’s Resolution: Write in your journal!), and so I can’t remember what happened, even events from a few weeks past. Even epic events are forgotten quickly. It makes me sad, but I guess that’s one downside to living in the moment. Still, I did shoot some photos, and I’ve been closing out the year by uploading them on my computer. Here are a few of my favorites.

1. Go slow, fava beans are worth it.
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2. You can go back home again. My sister with morel mushrooms she picked on the ranch where we were born.
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3. Make these walnut cookies that Rosetta Costantino wrote about in her new Southern Italian Dessert cookbook. The book is gorgeous, and even I can remember the recipe because it only has three ingredients. A egg. One cup of sugar. 2.5 cups of walnuts. I couldn’t help myself and sprinkled salt and fennel pollen over some fresh from the oven.

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4. Grow pumpkins, like these sugar pies, which were prolific and one roasted made a great pumpkin pie. As for the rest, kabocha “jade” was the best of the batch (not pictured here).
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5. You can do a vegetarian Thanksgiving. I wasn’t up for raising a turkey this year, so we did Indian inspired dishes. It was delish. Next year, though, I think we are going to get turkey legs and smoke the hell out of them, Texas style.
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6. Conserva, sun dried tomato paste, is divine. Learn how to make it at my tomato processing class this August!
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7. Plant a tree–or 8 of them. The citrus hedge I jackhammered a place for in the garden, was well worth it. They are doing great despite the frost and dry weather. We even have two tangelos on one of the youngest trees.
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8. Forgive. It’s hard, but once you let that past go, you are free.
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9. Finally, love them while they are here. We miss you Phil Druker.
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Happy New Year to Everyone; I can’t wait for 2014!!

Pomegranate explosions

They started to explode on the shrub/tree I planted years ago. My first good crop of Wonderful Pomegranates. I had thought: they’ll never ripen here.
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I thought they needed heat. Dry heat. Which we don’t have much of here in Oakland. But ripen they did.

We ate them raw. Frannie is allowed to eat them outside only because they are so messy and juicy. They are one of her favorite snacks, partially because of the work they involve, digging the seeds out, pulling off the pith and membranes; partially because (I think) of that incredible crunch, the explosion of fresh juice in the mouth.
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Until now, there’s nothing left.
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Besides snacking on them, I sometimes threw them into salads, like massaged kale salad, to add a bright sweetness. Some people recommend cooking with poms, like Ken Albala. I had never heard of Ken before, but I found myself in Idaho of all places, at the Bookpeople in Moscow, Idaho, and the owner highly highly recommended his book, The Lost Art of Real Cooking, and its companion, The Lost Arts of Hearth and Home. The books are instruction manuals for how to make all sorts of crazy stuff like a koji rice mold and rag rugs; and stuff that you wished you made but haven’t yet like corn tortillas (nixtamalizing your own corn, of course), olla podrida (look it up!), and marmalade.

I’ve never met Ken or his co-author, Rosanna Nafziger, but they are totally my people! Ken lives in Stockton where he teaches food history at the University of the Pacific. I think he must have some pomegranates growing in his garden because in the Hearth and Home book, there’s a recipe for pomegranate molasses that sounds out of this world. Basically you just cook the pomegranate seeds with some sugar and vanilla for a million hours on low. The result is that gummy blood-like sludge that tastes like heaven.

Sadly, Frannie and I ate all the poms fresh. Next year I’m hoping the pomegranate tree will have biggered itself and I’ll have enough to try the recipe…But if you find yourself with an overabundance, give it a shot. Any other good pom recipes out there?