Blenheims
Saturday June 25th 2022, 9:45 pm
Filed under: Food,Friends,Garden,Life

My friend Jennifer who got a Blenheim apricot tree as her chosen house-warming present not too many years ago invited me to come on by to help pick some of those apricots today.

There’s been this pandemic.

I would not have recognized the tree, it was so big and so loaded with fruit. Wow! I almost didn’t recognize her kids. They change so fast.

She worked the picker while I reached up to get ones that were too high for her kids so that they could have the lower ones to be proud of helping out with. The tree intermittently tossed a few good ones down to the littlest and the kids added to my basket again and again. There was love and happy Brownian motion and scampering and me dropping an apricot under the car oops and her little daughter scrambling to retrieve it for me and a good time was had by all.

I remembered what her husband had said years ago: how, when they were engaged, she’d gotten a diagnosis that could mean their time together might be very very short. It might mean that he’d never get to be a dad like he so much wanted. And yet, what he most wanted with his life was to be married to her.

They stood by each other through the worst from the first. A recovery and years and four kids later, they are living happily ever after and sharing the depth and strength of that love. Simply being there today felt like such a privilege.

I happened to be walking towards my front door from my car with that basket just as the new mailman pulled up, the second time I’ve actually gotten to see his face (the first time being yesterday while you were here, Anne.) I held it out and offered, saying my friend and I had just picked them off her tree. He took as many as his hand could hold, so clearly he was a fan, so I offered him more and shifting the first to his other hand he did, he took two more.

With just the happiest smile on his face. It surprised me but it made my day, too.

Jennifer got us off on the right start with the new guy.



Here, have some chocolate, feel better
Saturday June 18th 2022, 9:08 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Garden

Dandelion Chocolate has a superb pastry chef on staff, and they’ve started including an allergy-friendly vegan lemon poppyseed option.

So tomorrow being Father’s Day, Michelle took us into San Francisco for pastries and hot chocolate to celebrate early. We even found a parking space! We started the day off right.

Watering the fruit trees this evening, looking at the last of the sour cherries at the top and the first of the peaches coming on, the hose got caught on a rock about a foot across and it took some effort to get it off but it flipped and rolled a bit and out of the way and that was that.

Of course that means the next thing that happened was that I tripped over it because it was not where my subconscious expected it to be. You would think… This time my wrists caught me an inch or two above the ground and saved my face and teeth. No emergency dentist this time.

Progress.

I have a new determination to hire someone to install a better watering system, no matter how much I enjoy my weekly evenings of taking care of my trees.



Morello tart cherry color?
Monday June 13th 2022, 10:42 pm
Filed under: Food,Friends,Garden,Knitting a Gift

English Morello tart cherries for a pie, second round of ripening.

Did I get them pitted yet? I did not. But I did knit a good start of a cashmere cowl and two and a half rows on the coral reef, which goes so slowly that I have committed myself to a row a day. Minimum. Even if that row takes an hour. That way I don’t get discouraged and I do get to see progress.

The colors themselves say hey come play with me! That brilliant Matisse blue is toned down somewhat by what’s within it and they’re brightened by the Matisse.

Meantime, I have suddenly and in great delight been requested to make a baby blanket for the best-friend-of. So now I know what my plain-knitting respite project from the craziness of the colorwork is going to be after I finish that cowl; I just have to pick which yarn it’s going to be.

How do you ask someone what various colors might mean to them culturally when you want it to be a surprise?

To be continued.



Checking the apricots after it hit 96F
Friday June 10th 2022, 9:39 pm
Filed under: Garden

The two survivors of this year’s apricot plantings. The really nice one promised to Eric and Aubrie, front and center here with the new reddish leaves coming in at the top.

And then there’s this one. It is actually still alive, marginally, but all it’s done since its first five leaves came out is to lose two of them. We could call it an inch tall if it stood on its tippy toes. It was going to go to some friends, back when it was sprouting and showing promise, but… Good thing I decided to make it prove it was worthy of them first.

Basically, this is going to be my year for saving Anya kernels rather than giving seedlings other than the one.

Two people that I know of got two baby trees each from kernels I mailed them last fall and theirs are actually growing. Good. They got the right seeds, then.



Don’t land in this tree yet
Wednesday June 01st 2022, 9:08 pm
Filed under: Friends,Garden

Last year’s Anya seedling that only got six inches high all year has been spending this season catching up, so I transplanted it into a much bigger pot yesterday to give its roots room to stretch. I was pleased at how completely it had filled out its 14.5″ one, with everything growing thick and straight down (that was a lot of roots! What a change since April!) and nothing twirling around the bottom yet. But just about to. Good timing.

If I knew for sure that one of these was going to have the apricots I’m hoping for I’d just plunk it in the ground and be done with it. But we’re still at the experimenting stage.

Over here to the left of those is the one planted this year (in another 14.5″ pot) that I haven’t given away yet: it definitely wants to be another tall one. It’s supposed to be for the friends who are moving (the ones with covid right now), but realism might require I simply save and mail them kernels after next month. I sent them the photo and said either way works fine by me. (While thinking, if it’s going to stick around here for awhile it needs a big pot, too.)

The tall one from last year? I let it get too dry a few weeks ago because I know they prefer dry over soggy, but I overdid it. Its leaves wilted a bit, it recovered quickly and survived just fine–but I seem to have killed off the growth tips because there have been no reddish new leaves popping out since, whereas there have been on the others. So its year-sibling might catch up to it after all.

Well, that’s one way to dwarf them.

I’m understanding better why apricots are usually grafted onto peach rootstocks: the resiliency. I might have to learn a new skill.

Let me add a video here of the peregrine eyases, a male and a female this year. Today was the first time the mom dropped the prey and took off from the mad scramble and let them feed themselves. There was a UCSC student on camera time and he added captions for fun on the food fight.



Nestmate
Saturday May 21st 2022, 9:44 pm
Filed under: Garden,Wildlife

Seed stitch, 251 per row for the border, and it is slow going but it’s going.

Meantime, part of me has been thinking I really should reapply the grape Koolaid to protect my cherries.

And yet. Let the baby mockingbirds finish learning how to fly.

This morning I saw one that was regressed two days from what I’d seen before: when the parent flew off it hunched down to try to pull off this wing/leg/leap thing; after all, it had managed to land on the fence, but again and again an almost, then a nothing doing. Hunch/unhunch hunch/unhunch. I stopped counting after ten of those. The six inch jump where the top of the fence banistered upwards was way more than it could see over or dare try to get up to.

Then a parent flew in to feed it, and as soon as it flew off the other came right in and did, too, none of this you’re a big kid now–they babied this one. And it seemed to have more down left.

Not the same fledgling. I was sure of it.

The question was settled for good this afternoon when I saw all four of them: the parents feeding the baby on the upper fence and the one I’d become familiar with standing in its usual spot on the slightly lower portion, watching and clearly hoping to get in on this, and a parent did fly over from the one chick to the other.

And then dove into my cherries. Even if they eat mostly insects in the spring while new bodies are developing and fruit in the fall, hey, a little fast food for the kids, right?

I got a couple of clusters into one of those Costco egg carton-ish mango containers for now because I want to get at least some of them turning darkest red for us. When I no longer have babies begging I’ll work harder at discouraging the birds–besides, those parents are doing a great job keeping the squirrels at bay and squirrels don’t eat a meal, they strip a tree. So incentive to keep the mockers hanging around is not a bad thing.

Bugs on the fruit are the best bird baby formula, though. Help yourself.



Room service
Thursday May 19th 2022, 9:39 pm
Filed under: Garden,Wildlife

That one looked a little different and caught my eye so I stopped what I was doing to watch a moment.

Nope, it wasn’t injured–it was just being a toddler. I don’t think it had ever walked on a flat surface before.

Mockingbirds do this thing where they bend down in front a bit and lift their wings up high and then out wide behind in a two-step dance, very formal and ritualistic, and the thinking is that they do it to flush bugs out so they can quickly skewer them.

Or they’re trying to mimic a DeLorean, but never mind.

So this little one had made it up to the fence–meaning it had flown up, not just fluttered down, this is good–and it was waiting for its parents to bring it breakfast.

One flew in, checked that it was okay as the baby started begging, or maybe just told it, hi, I know, I’m working on it, no I don’t have any yet, and flew off.

Hey!

So it started trying to hunt like its parents up there on that bugless fence but it looked more like uncertain jumping jacks while trying not to fall over on its face. Raise those wings more, kiddo, don’t fluff up your chest. Lift. Out. Lift. Out. Like that. Only bend this much.

It didn’t trip over its own feet walking in the direction Momma had taken off in but it looked like it came close a few times.

Suddenly she appeared again diving into the mango tree, grabbed an ant or maybe a nice big earwig (I saw them on top of the frost covers when I had to use them last week) and brought the kid a bite after all. Yay! She waited while he ate it, then flew to the neighbor’s tree across their fence.

A few more wobbly steps and wing gestures that really didn’t do it and then suddenly–our little one did it! It flew! It overshot and had to grab at the last just before it fell off the fence, but it made it there below her tree.

Just then Poppa showed up with an impressive whole beakful of bugs for the kid and stood there a moment as if stumped: Right here! The kid was just right here, I know it! Where did he go!

Eh. He looked around, gave up, and ate most of it himself.

This afternoon the sun was shining brightly off the new feathers of–that had to be our kid again. In the exact same spot between the mandarin and the mango. Waiting to be fed again, calling for food, finding and eating the one Dad had dropped.

I checked my Sibley’s: yup, the young ones have light brown speckles on their upper chests. So that explains that.

I wanted to see if a parent would come this time, too.  I know they do keep a close eye on their fledglings.

A minute or two and then our baby flew to exactly the spot its momma had this morning in that tree. Still overshot the landing a bit but the flying was definitely steadier and definitely better at going upwards. The parents flitted back and forth, all was well, and I returned to what I was doing.

My first few mango bud clusters this year and even the new stems supporting them were chomped to a total loss.

And then our mockingbirds noticed the buffet. The flowers that came later have been gorgeously bug-free.

I hope the mockingbirds nest here next year, too.



Be fruitful
Wednesday May 18th 2022, 9:44 pm
Filed under: Garden

My Parfianka pomegranate, planted January 2016. The leaves aren’t east coast green but the gaudy reddish orange is fun. (My camera obscures the blossoms a fair bit, sorry.)

The leaves on my fig tree are noticeably smaller than normal, and I counted a dozen little nubs of future figs tonight whereas by now there should be a lot more.

The flowers on my apples, sweet cherry, plum, and peaches were small and surprisingly sparse, but the sour cherry carried on like normal.

The New York Times marveled recently that after all this practice at conserving water, all those warnings that there is no leeway in those reservoirs, Californians used more this past January than the year before, not less.

And my reaction was, DUH. Given climate change, we were trying to keep our much-needed trees alive while there was zero rain in most of the rainy season; we were hoping that past patterns for a last-minute March storm surge would hold. They didn’t. I only watered mine once a month during the winter, three hose minutes equaling 27 gallons per tree, and they’re letting me know it wasn’t enough. Normally I don’t have to at all.

Even this close to the Bay the leaves on my tall trees are going, Where’s my groundwater?

If you live where water is not a problem and you have the sun and any kind of space to garden, this might be a good year to plant one.

There’s a patch of public land by a ramp to an overpass leading over the commuter train tracks not far from here that would be great for guerrilla gardening, if rain could somehow be a sure thing again. Someone once planted daffodils in part of it, which was so charming, but they’re gone now. Someday I want to sneak a pomegranate in the biggest area because they bloom so much for so long for so many to drive past, and then they top it off with fruit that only the most determined critters bother. Or a lemon tree–no raids by mammals or birds on those. Or something, the good rain willing. Something that doesn’t need much babysitting.

Not this year. But I’m not giving up hope. I’ll leave the nursery tag on a limb so the city will see what it is, chuckle, go okay, and leave it there.



And more since April
Friday May 13th 2022, 9:57 pm
Filed under: Garden,Life

I was looking at some old pictures: this is my oldest Anya seedling, pictured a year ago when it was finally really starting to grow its second year, and three weeks ago.

Suddenly I got why the young termite guy last week, on stepping out the sliding door, stopped right there a moment, transfixed at the changes since last July. On everything. He was delighted–and a little wistful.

I found myself so much wishing I could give him a yard big enough to grow his own fruit trees, because I knew in that moment he’d take great care of them and if he didn’t know how he’d go learn. In a heartbeat.

His moment of wonder stayed with me and finally I had to go flip through the pictures to see for myself what he’d been able to that I should have. To remember to appreciate it more.

When you see it every day it’s easy to not quite notice what the very intermittent viewer can.



Bless the beasts and the children
Sunday May 08th 2022, 10:01 pm
Filed under: Garden,Wildlife

It’s going to be cold tonight. The mango tree is in full flower, and those flowers die below 40F and somehow the Christmas light strings had gone out. Not wanting to risk the entire year’s crop, I pulled one of the big frost covers out there.

Then another just to be sure. It’s always easier to get the second one over because it’s sliding over fabric rather than all the dips and bumps and little sticky catches of the blossoms that are individually so tiny and that you so much don’t want to break.

That’s when I noticed it. The mockingbird on the telephone wire watching me from above.

The mockers hadn’t even allowed the cottontail to get near that tree today–turns out if you chase aggressively enough a rabbit will run fast enough to be quite satisfying to the one with the beak. And stay away! I mean it!

The second mockingbird was nowhere to be seen.  I stayed and watched awhile, but no, there was just the one, and as far as I could tell it was silent.

There had to be. There were babies under that frost cover. I should have remembered sooner that I’d been thinking that’s where their family must be, I need to bring someone out there who can actually hear them, oh goodness. I lifted a corner, wondering if the tree would be warm enough, wondering if the silent parent above would find its way back in there and be able to maneuver to wherever under there it needed to go if I left it like that, but I was pretty sure the answer was no.

I went over to the house, almost too dark now to see, because maybe the power to that line had somehow tripped? It was either that or the rabbit had bitten through the cord.

There’s the red button. I pushed it and hoped and went to check.

The Christmas lights were back on. Oh good.

Hopefully a parent was already brooding the nest for the night. The fact that both were often in the air this past week going after the squirrels suggests that there were babies, not eggs, and that they were far enough along to be able to maintain their own body heat to some extent. Now I’d added mine to the mix: the warmth that had been there when the parents had chosen the spot.

I said a prayer to the G_d who knows every sparrow, the one who taught mockingbirds how to sing new songs as well as my own loving mother taught me hers, and wishing them all a happy Mother’s Day night, hoped hard.



Bulldog birds
Friday May 06th 2022, 9:11 pm
Filed under: Garden,Wildlife

There’s a pair of mockingbirds whose nest is either somewhere down in the dense tangle of my mango tree or else close to it.

They know what squirrels do to eggs and baby birds and they are not having it–they take turns divebombing them, this one from this direction and then when it turns tail, that one from that, so as always to be attacking from behind and in tandem any time one comes towards my yard in that corner of the fence line.

I watched one squirrel today try to cautiously sneak in on the upper telephone wire and then drop down at the last to the lower one on the approach.

Here they come! He was out of there, away from my yard, my cherries, my peaches, and for that matter the garden next door. Those beaks and potential fur-grabbings were not worth it.

It’ll be awhile before my August Prides get ripe but the earliest ones, now up to ping pong ball size, have begun to take on some quite premature pink. This is usually when they start getting raided.

Swoop! Swoop!

Go mockingbirds go!

Wikipedia says that they live up to 8 years in the wild but 20 in captivity (compared to the single year of your average squirrel out there.) And that they remember where their nests were the most successful and return to that spot the next time.

The squirrels don’t like the smell of the mango, probably for the latex in the sap, and even when it has ripening fruit they avoid coming too close to it. The mockingbirds may well have figured that out.

This could be a trend. I like it.

All I need now is to teach them barking bulldog sounds. They’ve earned that addition to their courting repertoire.



The pits
Thursday May 05th 2022, 10:25 pm
Filed under: Food,Garden,Knit,Wildlife

Newborns! (Falcon video.)

Meantime, the sour cherries on the bottom of my tree are about halfway to ripeness while the top of the tree has finally come into full bloom–and the result is, I’ve really been wanting sour cherry pie again.

There was one last bag of them in the freezer.

From the last of the season, when I was so tired of pitting all. those. cherries. that I didn’t. I simply picked them, filled the largest ziplock as full as it would go and that was it for the year, knowing full well I’d wish later that I’d pitted them but also knowing that that was way better than tossing them after waiting too long to get around to it.

Today was the day. I was motivated. I found them. I covered four dinner plates with them to let them thaw fast.

For the record: pitting them from fresh is actually, probably, I think, easier.

But there is a 10″ pie in the oven from those hundreds and hundreds of small tart cherries and it smells divine.

And then, fingers dyed a bit pink, I realized what I’d done.

J’s white afghan, having needed the mill oils scoured out of its yarn so it can be its best, softest, half-cashmere self, is soapily soaking in the tub.

Daring those fingertips to come anywhere near it.



Dr. Y the art historian
Monday May 02nd 2022, 10:20 pm
Filed under: Friends,Garden,Life

Today was one of the great honors of a lifetime: we got invited to attend a friend’s doctoral thesis defense today. Zoom was an option.

And so I did.

I kept my camera on during the introductory remarks and then, fearing I might in any way be a distraction, turned it off and just watched, needles and hat project in hand. I and so many others had been praying so hard while he’d been so worried and had worked so hard to be ready.

But now it was happening. Once he was actually up there facing the faculty for it, he knew his stuff, he knew what he was going to say, he knew he could answer their questions, and he just nailed it again and again and again with the confidence he had put the effort into earning.

Congratulations, Eric! filled up the chat sidebar at the end as I turned my camera back on long enough for him to see the huge smile on my face.

He did it!

I will forever wish he’d gotten a chance to meet my dad–they so much would have hit it off.

Wherever he and Aubrie and their two young sons go next, if there’s room in the car, a little Anya apricot tree will start to set down roots along with them.

And if when they get all done packing the space just isn’t reasonably there, I’ll send them some kernels from this year’s crop. They want one as a memory of California, I want to send a bit of my heart into their future, and we can make this happen.



I love spring
Saturday April 30th 2022, 9:46 pm
Filed under: Garden,Wildlife

Try to say ‘Pretty pre-pomegranate’ six times fast.

Next to it, the English Morello started blooming a month ago at the bottom and has been slowly working its way towards the sun: the top had stayed so bare that a friend had asked me if it were dead, but a few days ago it burst into blossom.

While the early sour cherries below are already well on their way. Spacing out not just the picking but the pie-making. Nice.

Every time a squirrel goes near the sweet cherry tree, which is much more to its taste, one of a pair of mockingbirds dive-bombs it and it high-tails it, literally, down the fence line. Mrs. M over there might get mad at it for eating her roses but she doesn’t move at the speed of wings.

I’m not sure, but I think the mockers’ nest is tucked somewhere down in the dense tangle of the mango tree. I’m trying not to disturb it.



An early start
Saturday April 23rd 2022, 8:53 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Friends,Garden,Life

When Richard and I had been married about a year, I discovered a farmer whose wife had a few apricot trees that were for her personal pin money and she was offering 27 lb wooden crates (with a strong request that you return the crate) for $5.

I brought that crate home in great anticipation and glee at our adulting–all that fruit from pick-your-own farms in my childhood that my Mom had put up every year, and now we got to do it–and my husband and I spent a Saturday in grad school jamming and bottling and creating rows of all those gorgeous jars of summer sunshine.

I lined them up, tired and proud and admiring what we’d accomplished, when my sweet new husband turned to me with a smile and a half-apologetic half-bemused confession: “You know what? I really don’t like apricots.”

He’d waited till we were done. He hadn’t wanted to wreck my enthusiasm. We gave most of it to his older sister when we moved away and she was quite happy to have them.

I remembered that day when I read last week someone saying she’d picked a hundred pounds of apricots off her four year old tree. At least mine were growing from seeds, not nursery stock, so I figured we wouldn’t have to deal with anything like that for awhile yet. Besides, all you have to do is ask friends to come over and help themselves and a good time will be had by all.

He has actually tried the Anyas from Andy’s and though not as bowled over as I might have hoped, he conceded that for an apricot they were good.

I have six seedlings left, with two spoken for.

I figured we have several years before I even get to taste from the two I intend to keep long enough to find out which one has the fruit most like its known and loved parent.

This evening, I saw, really saw for the first time, and how had I missed this? My third-year has this one branch near the top that hadn’t been sprouting any leaves off it, and it was now quite a bit thicker and browner than all the young ones around it growing straight and red.

What had happened was that we had our first warm day in awhile today and the buds had burst out from it. Thus the nubbly randomness that had caught my eye at long last while the other branches around it had grown past it and obscured it.

Those are flower buds!!! That’s a fruit spur!

I wanted to jump up and down like a little kid.

I don’t get it. Not that I’m complaining! My cherries, peaches, and plum, my other stone fruits: they all bloom first and then leaf out as the petals begin to give way in the spring. That apricot was the first one to leaf out starting over a month ago and there were no signs of flowers then. As a matter of fact, I had thought that in years to come it would be more likely to lose its crop to the weather because it had leafed out three weeks before the second-year seedling.

Granted, it’s still a baby and its timings could be random for now and time will tell.

But an apricot that doesn’t bloom till the end of April or more? If that holds, that would be a highly desirable thing indeed.

Edited to add: I just heard back from the friend I gave a Blenheim to as a housewarming present several years ago. She told me that the lower blossoms do open first in the spring, before the leaves, but that there’s often a few fruit spurs at the top of the tree that open up at the very last like mine is doing.

Well there you go.