Citrus Are Summery Winter Fruits

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Kumquats are now at their prime.

Citrus seem like such summery fruits. Chilled lemonade and lemon meringue pie are best during warm weather. There are certainly plenty of lemons that ripen randomly throughout the year, and plenty that last for months on their trees. Most limes, some grapefruits and ‘Valencia’ oranges will be around in summer too. Otherwise, most citrus are at their best right about now, through winter.

Mandarin oranges are traditional ingredients of well stuffed Christmas stockings. Where winters are cold and snowy, far from where they grow, they seem contrary to their natural ripening season.

Of all the citrus, they are the most perishable, so are best as they ripen. Their loosely fitting skins, that are so easy to peel, allow them to oxidize and dehydrate more readily than other citrus fruits.

Tangerines are just Mandarin oranges that were developed in North or South America. ‘Rangpur’ limes are actually sour Mandarin oranges that are somewhat less perishable because their skins happen to fit more firmly. Calamondins, which are odd but likely natural hybrids of Mandarin oranges and kumquats, are diminutive tangy fruits that do not last much longer than Mandarin oranges.

‘Bearss’ limes are preferably harvested right as they grow to mature size, but just before they ripen completely. Their flavor mellows as they ripen and yellow. Fortunately, they develop sporadically through an extensive season, so can be available any time fresh limes are desired. Grapefruits can be left intentionally to mellow on their trees after ripening, although this tactic can inhibit bloom.

Otherwise, many citrus fruits can last for more than three months on their trees without consequence. Some improve with mellowing. ‘Meyer’ lemons, which are a hybrid of an orange and a lemon, ripen like richly flavored lemons, and then mellow like very tart oranges. Since citrus fruits stop ripening when harvested, it is advisable to taste one before harvesting too many that are not ready.

Some ripened Mandarin oranges may have slight green blotches. ‘Valencia’ oranges may be slightly yellowish.

Horridculture – NO TRESSPASSING

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NO TRESPASSING? . . . No respect!

Growing fruit takes a bit of effort. Trees that produce the fruit must be planted and maintained for all the many years that they produce. They might need to be irrigated through summer. Most need specialized pruning every winter.

Canning surplus fruit takes a bit of effort too. All the jars must be cleaned. All the fruit must be collected, processed and cooked. The jars must be packed and boiled and so on.

Drying fruit is less work than canning, but takes a bit of effort nonetheless.

Where I lived in town, I grew a peach tree closer to the apartment building to the north, and a fig tree closer to the apartment building to the south. I maintained both trees meticulously. Many of the neighbors appreciated the fresh fruit. At the end of their season, there was (almost) always surplus peaches for canning. Sometimes, there were surplus figs for drying.

I really would not have minded if there had not been surplus fruit. It would have been better to have it consumed by the neighbors while fresh, than after it had been canned. Besides, it would have been less work for me.

One summer, there was a major surplus of peaches. We wanted to can them as efficiently as possible because we know how perishable they are. We planned to do all the canning on a Saturday, so got all the jars from the attic and washed them on Friday afternoon. The canning pots and utensils were ready to go. We had purchased lids and several pounds of sugar.

Also on Friday afternoon, the so-called ‘gardeners’ came to the apartment building next door to the north.

The major surplus of peaches, every last peach, was completely gone when we went to collect early Saturday morning.

Now, really, I don’t mind sharing. That is what the tree is there for. I really don’t even mind if a few people want to take all the surplus fruit. I just want to be told about it before I make plans and prepare to do something else with it. What really angered me was the complete disregard for those of us who put the effort into growing all those excellent peaches.

The fig tree to the south produced an early crop of figs before the peaches, and a late crop of figs after the peaches. Each crop lasted a long time, so there were not often too many figs at any one time that needed to be dried. Most were eaten fresh.

I often noticed an annoying absence of figs each day after the so-called ‘gardeners’ came to the apartment building next door to the south. It was not as bothersome as the missing peaches, since I got quite a bit of figs in between. What angered me was that every fig that could be harvested at the appointed time was taken, leaving none for anyone else.

Pear

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Ancestral species of modern pears grow wild from western Europe and northern Africa to eastern Asia. Long before they were domesticated and developed in China about three thousand years ago, their fruit was eaten by indigenous people. Farther west, dozens of cultivars were developed and popularized in ancient Roman societies. There are now more than three thousand cultivars.

Most pears that are popular in America are descendants of European pear, Pyrus communis. Asian pears, which are mostly descendants of Pyrus X bretschneideri and Pyrus pyrifolia, became a fad in the 1980s, and are still somewhat popular, particularly in California. Asian pears are generally rounder and firmer than the familiar ‘pear shaped’ European pears that soften as they ripen.

There are too many cultivars of pear for all to conform to similar characteristics. All that are grown for fruit are deciduous, and almost all have potential to exhibit remarkable foliar color in autumn. Abundant clusters of small white flowers bloom in spring. Floral fragrance of some cultivars might be unappealing. Semi-dwarf trees can get more than fifteen feet tall, so should be pruned lower.

Pears can be shades of yellow, green, red or brown, and might be blushed or russeted. They can be canned, dried, juiced, or eaten fresh.

Fruit Trees Need Specialized Pruning

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Even almond trees need some pruning.

For centuries, fruit trees have been bred to produce unnaturally abundant and unnaturally big fruit. That has worked out well for those who enjoy the resulting fruit. It is not such an advantage for the exploited trees that must produce it. Without specialized pruning, most of such trees are unable to sustain healthy development of all the fruit they could potentially produce, or support the weight.

Specialized pruning concentrates resources into less excessive fruit of superior quality. It improves structural integrity of limbs that support the weight of all the fruit too. Trees that produce smaller and lighter fruit, such as cherries, may only need to be trimmed occasionally to eliminate structurally deficient growth. Heavier fruit, such as peaches, necessitates much more aggressive pruning.

Almost all deciduous fruit trees should be pruned about now, before they bloom and foliate at the end of winter. Such pruning is too severe to be done while the trees are active in spring. Summer pruning to maximize production within less space is the only practical option to dormant pruning. Evergreen fruit trees, such as citrus and avocado, should not be pruned or groomed during winter.

The main group of deciduous fruit trees that require dormant pruning in winter are stone fruit, of the genus Prunus. This includes peach, nectarine, apricot, plum, prune, cherry, various hybrids and almond. The second main group are pomme fruit, such as apple, pear and quince. Fig, persimmon and grapevines, as well as roses, need specialized and perhaps very aggressive pruning too.

Dormant pruning of deciduous fruit trees, roses and grapevines is too complex to describe adequately here in just a few paragraphs. Nonetheless, those who grow such plants must be aware of how important it is, and ideally, know how to do it. Nowadays, it is nearly impossible to procure services of horticultural professionals who know or care how to execute such procedures properly.

Prune

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Prune trees get planted bare root.

Does anyone remember when champagne produced in California was formally classified as ‘sparkling wine’? ‘Champagne’ is a technical classification for that which originates from the region of France for which it is named. That makes sense. The technical classifications of prune and plum formerly made sense also, even if not universally understood. Reclassification in 2001 ruined that.

Prune, Prunus domestica, is primarily a European freestone fruit. (The pits of freestone fruits separate from the ripening flesh.) They have firmer flesh than plum, so are more practical for canning and drying. They also have higher sugar content, so might be dried without sulfuring (which prevents molding). Darkly purple and rather oblong fresh prunes are less popular than dried prunes are.

Plum is primarily a Japanese cling fruit. (The pits of cling fruits remain firmly adhered to ripening flesh.) They are softer and juicier than prune, and contain less sugar, so are not as efficiently pitted and dried without sulfuring, or canned. Larger, rounder, more colorful and more richly flavored plums are instead best fresh. They might be bluish purple, purple, red, ruddy orange, yellow or green.

Nowadays, all prunes and plums are known collectively as plums. Dried prunes are just dried plums.

Horridculture – Half-Breed

70726thumbCher explained a long time ago that a half-breed is nothing to brag about. Some of us just don’t get it. A few clients still introduce me to their weirdly bred stone fruit trees as if they are both justification for great pride, as well as something that a professional horticulturist of the Santa Clara Valley has not already encountered a few thousand times. I at least try to act impressed.

The stone fruits that grew in the orchards of the Santa Clara Valley half a century ago were the best. That is why they were grown here. The climate and soil were ideal for their production. Traditional cultivars produced so abundantly and reliably that there was no need to breed new cultivars. The quality was exemplary. Consequently, only a few were actually developed here.

Half-breeds, or weird breeds of any unnatural ratio, started to be developed more than a century ago. A few happened incidentally where different species of the same genus of Prunus grew. They were enjoyed as novelties for home gardens, but were not sufficiently productive or reliable for orchard production. Their fruit was for fresh eating only, since it did not dry or can well.

Now that the orchards are gone, and the only stone fruits in the Santa Clara Valley are in home gardens, these weird half-breeds and others are becoming more popular. Nurseries will soon be stocking several along with their incoming bare root stock. There is certainly nothing wrong with them. However, they are not necessarily any better than their well bred ancestors either.

Apricot, cherry, nectarine, peach, plum and prune, as well as almond, are the traditional stone fruits, of the genus Prunus. (Almonds are the seeds or ‘stones’ of a stone fruit that does not get eaten, but instead gets discarded as a hull.) There are many cultivars of each. Some can be canned. Prunes and some apricots can be dried. There is no need for more, or for ‘improvement’.

Pluot, plumcot, aprium, apriplum, nectaplum, peacotum, pluerry and others like them are the weird interspecific hybrids (which are hybrids of two or more species within the same genus, which for these examples is ‘Prunus‘). Some are half-breeds. Some are breeds of different ratios, such as a half-breed with a half-breed parent, or a half-breed grandparent. It is confusing!

It is also an unjustifiable fad. There are more disadvantages to these weirdly bred stone-fruits than there are advantages. They really don’t get the best of both parents, but might get half of each. Again, there is certainly nothing wrong with that. There are those who legitimately prefer such hybrids. The point is that fads are not necessarily good, and many are just plain weird.

Persimmon

41126A mature persimmon tree, Diospyros kaki, is often too much of a good thing. The fruit is both big and abundant as it ripens this time of year. Much of the fruit in taller trees is out of reach. Nearly ripened but somewhat firm fruit can be picked and shared with neighbors for a while, but must be picked immediately once completely ripe. Otherwise, it falls and makes a squishy mess that can not be raked up! Nearly ripe fruit ripens easily off the tree. Individual fruits only need to be spread out in a single layer to limit molding.

‘Fuyu’ is probably the most popular variety because the ripe fruit can be eaten while still firm, or after it has gotten soft. ‘Hachiya’ produces the largest fruit, sometimes bigger than a softball; but the fruit is too astringent to eat until completely ripe. It is actually best after it is so overly ripe that it is too squishy to handle. Persimmon fruits are very bright orange. ‘Hachiya’ fruit can be slightly reddish. The foliage gets just as colorful. Typically, the foliage colors first, and then falls to reveal the fruit. This year, the fruit seems to be coloring first.

Colorful Autumn And Winter Berries

41126thumbBefore the colorful foliage of autumn falls and gets raked away, a few types of berries and fruit start to provide a bit of color to last into winter, or at least until birds and other wildlife eat them. Technically, the most colorful berries are actually intended for the birds, both those that overwinter and those that migrate south for the winter. The berries are designed by the plants that produce them to both entice birds, and to reward them for dispersing the seeds within.

Pyracantha (or firethorn) is the most colorful of the berries. Cotoneaster is similar, but not quite so prolific. Toyon and English hawthorn, which can grow as small trees, produce open clusters of similar bright red berries. Of these, only English hawthorn is deciduous, and can defoliate before the berries disappear. Although such fruit is abundant, it is not often messy because it gets devoured before it reaches the ground. However, the birds can be messy.

English holly really should produce more berries than it does, but there are not enough pollinators out there. (Hollies are dioecious, which means that plants are either male or female. Female plants need male pollinators to produce fruit.) Decades ago, when horticulture was taken more seriously, male pollinator plants were marketed with female plants. Some other types of holly somehow make a few more berries, especially as they get older.

Loquat, mahonia, pomegranate and some flowering crabapples try to produce colorful fruit, but are not quite as colorful. Pomegranate fruit can be impressive in its own way, but are just rusty reddish brown on the outside. Strawberry tree produces a few red berries throughout most of the year. Many types of pittosporum develop fruit, but most are about as green as their foliage. The sticky amber seeds are ‘interesting’ when the fruit splits open, if anyone happens to look that closely.

Oranges, lemons, grapefruits, mandarins and other citrus will be colorful later in winter, even though they do not care if they attract any birds. For now, persimmons are the biggest and most colorful fruits out in the garden.

The Wrath Of Grapes

P91006Jocular reference was made to ‘The Grapes Of Wrath’ on our our backward version on the way to Oklahoma several years ago. We happened to drive through Salinas, where author John Steinbeck was from, and Bakersfield near Weedpatch, where the migration from Oklahoma in the story ended. From there, we literally drove the same route from Oklahoma, but in reverse.

I never read ‘The Grapes Of Wrath’.

I do enjoy growing the sort of grape vines that some of us grow in our home gardens for fruit that can be eaten fresh. (I loath wine grapes and vineyards, but that is another topic for later.) There happens to be a nice big unidentified grapevine at work that needed major pruning last winter. It was a sloppy and formerly unpruned mess, with rampant long canes strewn about.

Some of these canes developed roots where they had been laying on the ground long enough to do so. The process is simply and conveniently known as ‘layering’. It is actually a technique for propagation that is sometimes done intentionally to plants that are not doing it naturally, (Again, that is another topic for later.) After giving a few rooted canes away, there were a few extra.

Since last winter, seven copies of the original grapevine are still here! I really do not know what to do with them. I could give them to neighbors before the end of this winter, but would then worry about them not getting the annual pruning they need, and overwhelming the landscapes they inhabit, just like the original vine did. Even in their cans, they are already a sloppy mess.

Many surplus plants are accumulating here. Many will go into landscapes as rainy weather starts. However, there are a few that will not be so easy to accommodate.

AGAIN – NO Blue Ribbon!

P90929After all that fuss yesterday, about how much I wanted to win a first place blue ribbon for one of my jams or jellies at the Jam, Pie and Chili Contest of the Santa Cruz Mountains Harvest Festival, I must still do without! Not only did I not win the ever elusive first place blue ribbon that I so desperately crave, but for the first time ever, I did not win second or even third place!

However, it is not as disappointing as it seems. There were no ribbons to win. There was only the same single prize for each of the three categories, which is a winter pass for the hot tub and sauna at the Bear Creek Recreation and Community Center of Boulder Creek. Although it is not the blue ribbon that I can flaunt and brag incessantly about, it is a fabulously generous prize.

What was more disappointing was that the Contest was canceled. For the Jam category, there were only two other contestants with only a few submissions, and neither showed up! How can that even happen? My six submissions were the only six to compete! It was even worse for the Pie and Chili categories, with only one contestant bringing pumpkin pie and two types of chili!

Yes, it was disappointing, but only briefly. No one minded that there were only identical pumpkin pies to vote for in the Pie category. In fact, we all easily agreed that they were the best pies in the Contest! Selection of the best of two types of chili in the Chili category was slightly more challenging only because no one wanted to say that one chili was less excellent than the other.

I still crave the elusive first place blue ribbon, but can easily do without it too.