Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Thinnings

I know a woman who refuses to thin her fruit trees. She says it is because she's got a strong maternal instinct. Her trees bear and bear and their heavy, burdened limbs break in the windstorms. Ripe fruit litters the ground, bringing clouds of vinegar flies. But as generous as she is with her trees, she is with her friends and neighbors. All are welcome to walk away with bags of limes and apples, feijoas and jujubes.

I'm less generous with both my trees and my fruit.

Eva's Pride is my pride; I want her fruit to be plump and beautiful, and her well-shapen limbs to last for many years. This year, it seems as if every flower has left a velvety teardrop future-peach. It is too much. Mid Pride, Eva's less lovely sister, has done the same, a few weeks behind Eva, but she also suffers from many "double-fruits" which often split and rot near ripening. This commonly occurs after late summer drought—I need to monitor Mid Pride's drip line this year to make sure she's getting the water she needs. Neither of my nectarines this year are suffering from overbearing, and the mysterious White Tiger is just thinking about beginning to bloom, far behind its prunus cousins.

A small branch before thinning. The ten inch branch has ten fruit on it, far too much for it to bear.

Here is Eva's Pride after thinning some of it. The small branch in the picture above now has three fruit, probably still one too many.

So much fruit that won't be.

Misshapen and doubled Mid Pride peachlings.

Today, I thinned my peaches. Trees benefit from early thinning, as the earlier competition is removed, the earlier the tree can focus on what will be its final crop. Commercial orchards thin trees to bear peaches every eight inches or so. I couldn't quite make myself be so strict. Instead, I removed all the smallish, misshapen, and most of the doubled fruit. I tried to leave, at the very least, four inches between each fruit. Eva's branches, already heavy with the young fruit, lifted after the thinning.

Looking at what I removed from the trees almost made me sad; it looked like pies and jams and dribbles of juice running down my chin that I wouldn't have. But looking back at the trees and seeing how much still clung to their branches was reassurance enough.

There will be peaches. And, I will share, after I've had my fill.

Saturday, March 17, 2012


When I mentioned the farmers' market the other day, a friend said to me, "Oh, the farmers' market . . . I haven't needed to go since LA Farm Hands installed my garden last year."

This made me feel both impressed by what she has achieved in her garden and frustrated with myself.

I've worked on this property since we moved in, and though we are closer and closer to providing for ourselves all of our basic produce needs, we are not there yet. I still need to supplement what we grow and trade for with purchased items. I figured it was time to figure out how much we really do produce here, not in terms of weights, but in terms of purchases: what do I find myself buying?

In these produce items, we are completely self sufficient for the two of us (I may need to make purchases only when I am feeding a crowd):
Green beans
Green onions
Peppers, both hot and sweet (and pepper products, eg hot sauces, flakes, ground, etc)
Poppy seed
Salad greens (in winter)
Summer squash
Sweet potatoes
Swiss Chard
Tomatoes (and tomato products)
Winter squash

In these produce items, we are neighborhood-sufficient (we grow some of them and are able to trade through RIPE for the rest of our needs and wants):

In these items that we eat regularly when in season, we must make purchases (asterisked items are plants we grow but are not yet able to produce enough to keep from purchasing):
Blackberries and Raspberries*
Dry beans*
Peaches and Nectarines*
Salad greens (in summer)

Looking through this gives me a new goal for this year: bump up the dry bean crop. I'd like to grow enough to get us through the year, and homegrown dry beans are so nice; they cook much more quickly and some varieties have wonderful, unique flavors. Plus, already purchased and on its way in April, a new tree will enter our yard—a Reed avocado. This list also makes me so happy to have the community in RIPE. Finally, writing this proves to me (for the umpteenth time, really, though I keep trying to ignore it) that we're never going to be completely self-sufficient in our produce needs. Just like in other parts of my life, I need to do what I can and not beat myself up about what I can't. My garden and my farmers' market are both healthy, good places. I'll enjoy them both.

The first purple sprouting broccoli of the year.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Plants on the Road

Jaboticaba branch just beginning to bloom at Papaya Tree Nursery.
A few days ago, my friend Russ, proprietor of LA Farm Hands, and I took a roadtrip from here to Carpenteria and back in order to visit nurseries. We saw many nurseries, but four of those we visited stand out. These are the niche nurseries, run by people in love with their niches and passionate about sharing those niches with others.

Papaya Tree Nursery
12422 El Oro Way Granada Hills Ca 91344
When you call Papaya Tree Nursery, it will be Alex, the owner, who answers. The nursery is his back yard. And what a backyard.

I was shouting, "It smells so good," to Russ even before we got out of the car. The citrus was all abloom and especially fragrant in the warm day. But there were other scents, too. As Alex showed us around his backyard nursery, we crushed allspice leaves (from a tree that was just about to bloom) in our hands. A few minutes later, we did the same with leaves from a cinnamon plant.

Alex's parents started the nursery, so he grew up surrounded by bananas and papayas, mangoes and starfruit; it is as if he's absorbed knowledge from the plants he's known so long. He told us about the semi-dwarf mangoes his family has bred and that he sells, about the various mulberries available to us (and about his breeding experiments with them), and about the beautiful, delicious, yet temperamental Ae Ae banana. Ae Ae, a Hawaiian variety with variegated leaves and fruit, sounds like a cruel mistress, so I'll stay away and ogle from afar.

Cherimoya fruit on a large tree that contains grafts of various cherimoyas and atemoyas.
While not inexpensive, Papaya Tree's prices, at least to Russ and myself, seem very fair. His plants are much healthier than we've seen elsewhere, his stock of tropical and unusual edibles is extensive, and his deep knowledge is part of what a customer pays for.

Matilija Nursery
8225 Waters Road, Moor­park, CA 93021

We drove through the back hills of Moorpark to get here. Each farm framed by old windbreaks of huge eucalyptus, hills rolling with citrus, avocados, and horse pasture, this area looks like what my mom identifies as "classic California impressionism." The roads twist and bend to accommodate canals and creeks, and the filtered light is silvery from the eucalyptus. It is beautiful.

We wandered through the growing grounds for a bit, we noticed very healthy plants, including very large specimens of the rare and hauntingly beautiful Chalk Dudleya. We also noticed huge collections of Pacific Coast Native iris (Douglas iris is one species of the native irises). They were just beginning to bloom, sporting shades Russ, much more knowledgeable about Pacific Coast iris than myself, had never seen before.

Pacific Coast iris hybrid.
The proprietor, whose name I didn't catch, was friendly and knowledgeable, clearly passionate about iris. He's not only rightfully proud of his breeding work with Pacific Coast iris, producing colors unavailable anywhere else (Russ bought a plant named "Harry's Rootbeer"), but he's also a great resource about many iris varieties. From him, I learned that the unusual, not-quite-Dutch-iris-and-very-drought-tolerant iris clumps in my yard, that I had previously not been able to identify, are I. spuria. (Finding this out led me down a whole new rabbithole of Iris spuria research, but that is for another time and, perhaps, post.)

Matilija does much of its business online, but if you can make the trip, do. Not only will you have a gorgeous drive, but you'll also be able to purchase strong, rooted plants that will likely transplant better than rhizomes.

Australian Native Plants Nursery
9000 Nye Road, Casitas Springs, CA 93001

I didn't know it was possible, but this place smelled even better than Papaya Tree. The grevellias were blooming, as were several of the acacia varieties, and the citrus-scented Australian willow was just beginning to burst into blossom.

The owner, Jo, and her dog greeted us happily. She gave us general guidelines about her nursery, then gave us space and time to roam. When we had questions, she was immediately available and cheerily replied, even pulling out reference books to show us more pictures and information. The front perimeter of the nursery is planted as a demonstration garden, so it customers can see how plants grow into a landscape. One hoophouse holds Jo's special plants, her favorites, and as such, these plants aren't for sale, but instead used for propagation, demonstration, and education. In fact, education is the word the rings most true about this nursery: Jo is a natural teacher.

A luecospermum.

Another leucospermum.

And another. Did I tell you I love leucospermums? I didn't know I did until I visit Austrailian Natives. But now, now, this love is real.

A crazy-awesome Banksia ericafolia. Russ brought home a groundcover banksia with similar blossoms, but a prostrate habit and leathery, antler-y leaves.

An hour at Australian Natives made me want to turn all the non-edible parts of my yard into an Australian landscape, at least for a moment. But then I remembered irises. One new Australian plant, Lechenaultia biloba, came home with me to join the few I already have in my yard (and Australian willow and a pearly-pink bottlebrush), but I foresee another trip to Australian Natives in my future, with more take-homes as well.

Desert Images Nursery
505 Prospect Street, Oak View, CA 93022

We didn't originally have Desert Images (sorry, no website) on our itinerary, but Jo told us we had to go, and we learned while visiting her nursery, that Jo knows. So we went.

Once again, I didn't catch the proprietor's name, and he wasn't nearly as friendly or as informative as our previous hosts, but he did have an incredible stock of healthy plants and remarkably inexpensive prices. Some of the low price tags made me do a double take. Really? Yup, really.

Flats of blooming cacti.

This is the view from the nursery. It is a lovely area.

One of the many hoophouses.

Another hoophouse.
There isn't much else to say about this place other than what I've said: great plants, great prices. If you're a cactus-nut, get your gloved hands there.