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.

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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.

Six on Saturday: Still NO Blue Ribbon

 

That could change later today, at the Jam, Pie and Chili Contest of the Santa Cruz Mountains Harvest Festival. My jams or jellies have won second place every year for the past few years, except for only one year when my mother’s peach jam won second place. How embarrassing! Anyway, for some of the past few years, my entries have won both second and third place.

However, none of my jams or jellies have won a first place blue ribbon!

This could be the year!

Will it be? Well, that is doubtful.

Blue elderberry jelly is what most often wins second place, except only when blackberry jelly . . . or my mother’s peach jam . . . is better. Unfortunately, blue elderberries were rather scarce this year, and what I got were not very good. In fact, they were downright bad. Other fruits, such as currants and gooseberries, were too scarce. Dogwood berries did not ripen soon enough.

For this year:

Peach jam looks and tastes great, but is about as chewy as a gummy bear.

Plum jelly is a sloppy mess that tastes sort of burnt.

Elderberry jelly is a bit sloppier, and, as mentioned above, is made with inferior fruit.

Blueberry jam is sort of like preserves. It is not bad. However, it is made from surplus ‘store-bought’ blueberries from a neighbor, instead of from locally grown or collected fruit.

Blackberry jam tastes great, but the seeds are weirdly tough this year, like wooden gravel.

Blackberry jelly is probably the best of the six, but tastes more like sugar than berries.

1. Do you notice anything missing among these few of the several ribbons that have been awarded to our jams and jellies in the past? There is not a single blue ribbon . . . yet. It will be mine!90928

2. Do you see what else is missing? Of course not. If you could see it, then it would not be missing. It would also be blue; as in the blue elderberries that normally make the ‘second’ best jelly!90928+

3. The native currants were no better. They are never abundant like blue elderberries are, but there are normally more than there were this year. I did not bother looking for gooseberries.90928++

4. Kousa dogwood made plenty of fruit, but it is not ripe yet! Oh well. Ironically, this particular tree might get cut down this winter. The abundant fruit is too messy on the pavement below.90928+++

5. Tomatoes are insultingly abundant where they grow wild around the compost piles and on roadsides. I do not need any more stoopid tomatoes! They will not help me win my blue ribbon!90928++++

6. Six submissions are ready for the Jam Contest later today: peach jam, plum jelly, elderberry jelly, blueberry jam, blackberry jam, blackberry jelly. I will write about the results tomorrow.90928+++++

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/18/six-on-saturday-a-participant-guide/

Himalayan Blackberry

90828Of all the aggressively invasive exotic species on the West Coast, Himalayan blackberry, Rubus armeniacus, could be the nastiest! It seems to be impossible to kill. It forms dense thickets of wickedly thorny canes that develop roots where they touch the ground. Even if canes are cut to the ground, and the roots are pulled out, new plants regenerate quickly from remaining bits of roots.

Individual canes can grow more than twenty feet long in their first year! They may lay on the ground to creep under a thicket, or arch up and over other plants that are fifteen feet tall. These canes develop blooming and fruiting branches in their second year. By their third year, they are replaced by new canes. The palmately compound leaves are smaller for the fruiting second year canes.

Trusses of white or very pale pink flowers bloom late in spring. Dark purplish black berries that started ripening a few weeks ago are now being depleted. Some experts believe that Himalayan blackberries are bigger and sweeter than the fruit of most garden varieties. However, berries are only bigger among well cultivated canes; and keeping canes contained and pruned is not easy.

Fruit From Non Fruit Trees

90828thumbThose of us who grew up with the old fashioned stone fruit orchards or vineyards might remember some of the traditional methods for protecting the ripening fruit from birds. Mulberry trees were grown on the corners of some orchards to keep birds well fed and less hungry for the ripe orchard fruit. Mulberry cultivars were selected to ripen just prior to the fruit within the particular orchards.

The trees were not there to produce fruit to be harvested like the fruit within the orchards was. Most, but not all of what the birds did not consume fell to the ground and rotted. Only small quantities of the overly abundant fruit was taken by a few neighbors who made jam or syrup with with it. Mulberries were a byproduct of the orchards that some put to good use just because it was available.

Decades ago, it was much easier to get a bit of fruit from neglected or naturalized fruit trees in rural regions and on roadsides without offending anyone. Isolated remnants of the old fruit orchards were common. American plum, which had been used as understock for orchard trees, had naturalized in some regions. For those daring enough to harvest them, so had Himalayan blackberry.

Even now, we can find a bit of fruit where do not expect it to be. A few plants that are grown more for their visual appeal can be surprisingly generous with their fruit production. Pineapple guava, which is now popularly grown as a simple evergreen hedge, used to be grown instead for its small tart guavas. Purple leaf plum, as it matures, may not be quite as fruitless as it is purported to be.

The difficulty with the more unfamiliar types of fruit is finding practical uses for it. The native blue elderberry makes excellent jelly or syrup, like black elderberry, but not many of us even know it is edible once cooked. Australian brush cherry, strawberry tree, English hawthorn and ‘Majestic Beauty’ Indian hawthorn, are never overly productive, but might sometimes make enough fruit for jelly.

Of course, no unfamiliar fruit or nut should be eaten prior to confirmation that it is safe for consumption.

Horridculture – Fruit Theft

70726thumbGrowing fruit trees is quite a bit of work. While producing, some of the fruit trees need nearly as much attention as annual vegetable plants in the vegetable garden. Then, while dormant, they need meticulous and specialized pruning. Some fruit trees get damaged by insect or disease infestation, or severe weather. Some fruit can get taken by wildlife. Yet, for most of us, the reward of fresh fruit is worth all the hard work that goes into growing it.
Unfortunately, most types of fruit, especially the stone fruits, ripen simultaneously within their respective seasons, and are suddenly and briefly too abundant to be consumed while still fresh. Unless shared very efficiently with plenty of friends and neighbors, some of the fruit must be canned, frozen or dried for later consumption. Then, as suddenly as it started, the season for the particular type of fruit is done. There will be no more until next year.
That had never been a problem us, even though some of the fruit trees produce quite a bit. There was one particular summer, about 2004, when we were expecting an unusually abundant crop of unusually big peaches. We got all the jars out and cleaned on Friday afternoon. All the big pots and utensils that we would need for canning were out on the counters. We must have purchased ten pounds of sugar, and even got some pectin for jam.
Early on Saturday morning, we went out to collect the peaches while it was still cool, and found them GONE! It was as if they had never been there. All the work of pruning and pampering the tree was for NOTHING!
Now, I know that when I was a kid, we shared abundance with neighbors. We children were expected to take brown paper grocery bags of produce to neighbors who lacked the trees for particular fruit. For example, I delivered cherries to those who lacked cherry trees. I delivered apricots to the few who lacked apricot trees. Neighbors sometimes stopped me on the road to give bags of fresh produce for my parents or other neighbors.
Also, I know that there was nothing wrong with taking a few fruits from a neighbor’s tree. We often went behind the Charles Residence to get a few oranges when we got out of school. We sometimes got apples from the back yard of the Richmond Residence. Of course, we first asked if we wanted more than a few for a recipe or something. No one really minded because the system was respected, and none of the trees were exploited.
That was a long time ago. By the time I was in high school, we started hearing about fruit trees getting stripped of every last bit of fruit while no one was around. Over the years, it became progressively common. Some neighbors had me cut down fruit trees from their front yards because there was no point in all the maintenance if they could not get fruit from them. It was saddening, wasteful, and so contrary to our formerly idyllic lifestyle.
When it happened to the peach tree that I had taken such good care of in the garden next door, I was furious! What made it even worse is that we knew who did it! The so-called ‘gardener’, who was supposed to ‘maintain’ ONLY the front lawn stopped by the prior evening, just after I checked on the fruit. I sort of wondered why he was there so late, and why he was in back, but gave it no more thought than that.
He later told me that no one wanted the fruit, and that it was just going to fall on the ground and go to waste. Really, I would not have minded if he had taken a few peaches. I would not have minded if he had taken several or even most if he had asked before we got ready to can them. It would have been better for someone or several someones to enjoy them fresh than to can them as surplus.
About a year and a few months or so later, the fig tree in my back yard was stripped by the so-called ‘gardener’ who supposedly ‘maintained’ the landscape next door on the opposite side of where the peach tree lived. There had been no preparation to dry the figs yet, since I had planned to leave them on the tree a bit longer. Also, there was not as much fruit as there was on the peach tree.
The theft of the fruit was not the worst of the problems in this situation. The main problem was that the tree was so severely damaged in the process. I had pruned the tree so meticulously for several years, both for good (late crop) production, and also for clearance above a parking space. I did not mind the slightly elevated canopy; but the guy who stole the fruit without a ladder broke the limbs so that he could get the higher fruit!

Lisbon Lemon

90417It may not be the mother of all lemons, but Lisbon lemon, Citrus limon ‘Lisbon’, is the original cultivar from which ‘Eureka’ lemon was derived; and ‘Variegated Pink’ lemon was later derived from ‘Eureka’ lemon. ‘Variegated Pink’ is still uncommon, and the pink juice is unusual, but because its variegated foliage is less efficient than greener foliage, it is more manageable in small spaces.

The only distinguishable difference between ‘Lisbon’ and ‘Eureka’ is the scheduling of the fruit. Both are the biggest of the dwarf citrus, and can get as tall as second story eaves. Both have nicely aromatic glossy green foliage. Both are somewhat thorny, and get big thorns on vigorous growth. Yet ‘Lisbon’ is now rare, while ‘Eureka’ is second in popularity only to the unrelated ‘Meyer’ lemon.

That is because, after primary winter production, ‘Eureka’ continues to produce sporadically throughout the year, which is what most of us want in our home garden. ‘Lisbon’ may seem to be more productive, but only because it produces all of its fruit within a limited season that is finishing up about now. The fruit that ripens now may linger for months, but no new fruit ripens until next season.

Wild Plum

60224Unlike all the fancy and popular Japanese plums and European prunes, wild plum, Prunus americana, is almost never planted intentionally. It is a common understock for the more desirable types, and usually grows as suckers from below graft unions. In fact, it often grows from the roots of plum or prune trees that died or were cut down earlier. They can eventually form thickets.

Well groomed trees can get more than fifteen feet tall and broad. Even diligent pruning can not remove all of the sharp short twigs that make the stems seem thorny. Collectively, the simple and small white flowers bloom very profusely. The thin leaves that emerge after bloom are about two or three inches long. The small and soft red plums are only about an inch wide, with big pits.

Wild plum trees are very resilient, and can can survive in abandoned gardens, but really prefers occasional watering. They will lean away from the shade of larger trees. New trees do not often grow from seed, but if they do, they might be distinctly different from the trees that produced the seed. Some might be hybrids with other plums. Some might produce amber yellow plums.

The fruit may not be as fat and sweet as popular garden varieties of plum, but happens to be excellent for traditional plum jelly, either red or amber.

Avocado

60217Avocado trees, Persea americana, grown from seed need to be about five years old to produce fruit that can be considerably different from the fruit from which the seed was taken, although such fruit is almost always quite good. Some trees need to be twice as old to produce. Grafted trees from nurseries are specific varieties that can start to produce their specific fruit immediately.

Fruit production is notoriously variable. Some healthy trees may be unproductive for a few years, and then suddenly produce more fruit than the limbs can support. Trees that are very reliable and productive may sometimes be unproductive or significantly less productive for a season. It is nearly impossible to determine which environmental factors inhibited bloom and fruit development.

Mature trees can be more than forty feet tall, with awkward branch structure. The lush dark green leaves are about four to eight inches long. The tiny yellowish green flowers barely get noticed until they deteriorate and fall to the ground like corn meal. The dark green and pear shaped fruit is quite heavy. It develops on the tree, but then ripens after it falls or gets picked and brought inside.

Warm Weather Confuses Dormant Plants

60217thumbClimate is what makes gardening so excellent here. It is just warm enough in summer for plants that like a bit of heat, but not too unbearably hot for too long. It is just cool enough in winter for plants that like a chill, but not cold enough for hard frost or heavy snow. The climate is also comfortable for us while out in the garden! Yet, even local climate is neither perfect nor predictable.

El Nino is still out there, and likely to deliver an abundance of rain. The rain last month was great while it lasted. This presently dry and warm weather in between has been excellent, but is likely to cause serious consequences. Some deciduous plants that are normally bare through winter are being deprived of adequate dormancy. Some are blooming prematurely, and may foliate soon.

When the rain resumes, it will ruin some of the premature bloom. This is generally harmless for most fruitless flowering trees like the various acacias, flowering plums and saucer magnolias, but compromises their most alluring feature. It can be more dangerous to flowering pears (including evergreen pear) and flowering crabapples, because wet blossoms can be infected with fire blight.

The more serious problem is that rain ruins blossoms and juvenile fruit of various deciduous fruit trees. Stone fruits such as almonds, apricots, cherries, plums, prunes, peaches and nectarines bloom first, and do so with delicate blossoms. If the blossoms do not get knocked off by rain, the juvenile fruit will rot if it stays damp too long. Many fruit trees are likely to lose all fruit this year.

Apple and pear trees should be safer because they bloom later, and bloom with more substantial flowers. (However, like their fruitless relatives, their wet blossoms are very susceptible to fire blight.) Persimmons and pomegranates bloom even later, and with even tougher flowers, so should be safe. Figs are in a league of their own, and should be fine if summer is warm.

Fortunately, destruction of bloom and fruit, although disappointing to us, is harmless to the affected trees.