Sweetness and light
Tuesday September 15th 2020, 10:43 pm
Filed under: Garden,Knit

So many things to catch up on that I’ve been trying to figure out where to start.

And then I discover it’s not letting me add pictures now.

The next fish just needs that little bit of yellow wool that I never got around to buying, because I don’t, but I will.

Last Wednesday you couldn’t tell where the sun even was, and we’re far better off now, but still, the figs have been refusing to really sweeten in the heavily filtered sunlight; they ripen and split open and I pick them early in the morning but they’re not what they would normally be nor are they going to be.

A squirrel got to one–I opened the bathroom window and scared him into dropping it and running so he was totally busted–and then the half a fig lay there on the ground, untouched, for two days. Finally something sampled the edge. Nope. Left it there.

The day after that it finally disappeared so I guess something got hungry enough but in the meantime no other fig was touched because man, if they all tasted like that one why let those clamshells snap against one’s prying paws.

It amused me.

This morning I picked two that were split badly, curling in pieces from the bottoms up; I figured this was as sweet as they were ever going to be.

Not much. All the color and fully formed, though, so they were, y’know, healthy. After I washed the ashes that had gotten into those clamshells away.

The air quality index is 40 points better now than this morning, meaning it was unhealthy rather than dangerous to water my squash plants this evening.

I’m going to wait till we have brighter sunshine for a few days before I harvest that first one, and then, if need be, I’m going to sweeten the heck out of it and enjoy it because we’ve been waiting for it for so many months. Honey, brown sugar, or maple–it’s all good.



Nailed it
Friday August 28th 2020, 10:43 pm
Filed under: Food,Garden

Nothing like some good sourdough out of the oven. (Another pumpkin cranberry cinnamon loaf.)

The last two days we had a normal, San Francisco Bay-style marine layer that cooled things down and helped the firefighters and cleared the air a great deal–and the critters got at a few of the ripening figs despite my best efforts.

Today, as containment continues, the smoke was back, the air was gray, and the figs got left alone. They are browning up rapidly now, winding up the season.

So I guess my observation that fire air keeps the critters away seems to hold. I have high hopes for ripe ones for breakfast picked at their morning sweetest.

I was going to go to Andy’s to get some late season peaches, too, while they last, but my tire picked up a nail.

Fortunately easily dealt with–I lucked out, the idiot light came on on the freeway after I hit a rough patch with debris and I could have been stranded there but I was able to get it to my mechanic with no problem.

But it was not what I’d planned. You do not drive out of Silicon Valley on a Friday after 2:30 if you don’t have to. Not even during a pandemic.



While hundreds of square miles burn
Tuesday August 25th 2020, 11:02 pm
Filed under: Food,Garden,History,Wildlife

Not a single apple on the ground for days. Nothing pecked.

Not a single fig taken before its time–and up till this point, my success rate at getting to pick and eat a fully ripe one has been a total of exactly one single one. If I leave them that one last day for perfecting, they’re gone.

Remember these past years where I’ve put a fake dead crow out at night (so they don’t see me and don’t think I killed it) to keep the real ones from wanting to come in my yard? I was never sure that really worked, but I didn’t do that this year and this is the first year I can remember where I’ve had flocks of crows fly over my house. Morning or evening: every single time I go outside. It’s like they know I know where the fruit is so they’re checking it out–and it could well be, given that crows evolved scavenging the edges of human civilization and cast offs, so much so that they can read human faces and expressions as well as a dog can.

The trees they liked to be just far enough away in next door are gone now, and maybe that’s part of it, but they didn’t start coming directly overhead and in waves until things started to ripen.

The ability of–something–to tear through and rearrange the bird netting has been impressive, and the breaking of young fig branches in the process, disconcerting.

Not a single crow around since the fires started. It seems they don’t want to be high overhead in all that smoke. One single squirrel briefly came in view, for that matter, and it did not want to run fast nor exert itself but I still told it it had to leave. It did.

Rather than coming fleeing down out of the hills in numbers, at least this far out the wildlife seems simply to have vanished.

Not a single apple.

Not a single fig, not even the ripening one right there clearly in easy reach where the netting doesn’t go that far. Anything could have swiped it. Nothing did.

I’ll take it.



Flash light time
Sunday August 16th 2020, 10:52 pm
Filed under: Food,Garden,Life,Wildlife

A restless night of not much sleep, not registering that there was a big storm going on out there, and I gave up and got up at a time when it just happened to be quiet out there.

I was washing my hands standing under the skylight when a flash of light startled me into glancing towards the light switch, not fathoming, just as the BOOM!!! hit and the power went out.

Found out later that one of the many lightning strikes had hit a few blocks over.

Thunderstorms?! In the Bay Area? In August? Rain? In AUGUST? A hundredth of an inch, as it turned out, but hey, that’s enough to sprout the fall weed seeds.

More and more house-rattling. I had been planning to go pick the one fig that should have been ripe first thing this morning. There was no going out there.

And then it seemed to settle down and all the booms stopped.

I really wanted that fig. I thought maybe I might chance it.

It wasn’t really raining (oh! Well, not enough for me to have heard from inside), just the slightest sprinkle.

For all that the fig, it turned out, had not finished ripening in the night and I left it there to be stolen later by the squirrels (which it was.)

Ten steps back to the door, I was halfway there, when out of the gray-not-blue, another BOOM! skittered me inside so fast! I could just picture the obituary: Lost Grandma because she just couldn’t bear to give up that one single piece of fruit to the rodents, but it was not the fig that got roasted.

They say we may have a repeat tonight of either yesterday’s PG&E shutdown or another weird storm and a third power outage, so dinner was the fastest thing I could cook so we wouldn’t be stuck with half-raw chicken and a fridge we couldn’t open.

Edited to add: I’m guessing that one of the biggest fire tornados ever may have helped create the atmospheric conditions that led to that storm.



The newest of the old and of the new
Thursday July 30th 2020, 11:03 pm
Filed under: Garden

More pomegranate flowers, and I was startled to see the tiniest little watermelon you ever saw. But it’s there.

I have never in my life seen one grow from seed and there’s this keen sense of exploration. The squashes have huge blossoms that last the morning before they start to fold away; the watermelons have tiny ones that seem so disconnected from the size of what’s to come but they hold on for it, knowing what they can do.



Taking up space
Wednesday July 29th 2020, 10:37 pm
Filed under: Garden

Maybe eight years ago a surprise seedling grew behind my lemon tree and by the end of the summer it was a single trunk seven feet straight up, no branches (no pruning) and it actually had a fig on it. That fast.

But it was already pushing against the fence, the neighbors complained, and they were right, it had to go.

I’ve been whacking at the small bit of stump ever since, although this year it seems to have finally given up. It was determined but I was more so–but the fact that I came so close to having a fig tree is what led to my actually buying a fig tree and putting it in the right spot and living happily ever after. (Carefully choosing a slow-growing type that would stay small, because, man, that other one was a lesson and we have solar panels.)

So when another such seedling popped up under my tomato plant and kept going even though it was completely shaded, never seeing direct sunlight, I excused its smallness on the grounds of lack of light and at the end of the summer gave it a pot to grow some roots in for the winter. Why not. I expected it to take off like that other one. If nothing else, I wanted to see how its fruit would compare to my Black Jack’s.

Here we are, and there’s a five and a half year old mango tree growing where that tomato had been, the little seedling got moved into a large pot awhile ago–

–and it’s given me not one single hint of any fig.

It’s got the wood of a fig, the growth patterns of a fig, it unfurls new leaves exactly like a fig and they are the leaves of some figs, it even has a mild case of mosaic virus endemic to but not hurtful to fig leaves.

I plan to sprout a few more Anya apricots in the spring and one of them will go in that pot; had I had three longterm survivors this year I would already have done that. It’s time the pot got put to good use and this thing has had its chances.

But for the moment, it’s green, it puts oxygen in the air and withdraws its tiny bit of carbon and adds a little bit of landscaping color there. I’ll let it be till its leaves fall.

But what I’ve really wanted all along is just to know the answer to my question: what IS this?

 



Guardian roses
Monday July 27th 2020, 10:24 pm
Filed under: Garden

Figs, you can leave in clusters all you want. (Re yesterday’s apples.)

There was this little rosebush when we moved in years ago, and now there are two identical ones, side by side, just doing their thing.

The fig tree and the second rose have kind of grown into each other in that one corner and I was going to prune them apart last year till I discovered that the squirrels and whatever all else out there didn’t touch the figs that had thorns coming up all around them.

Well alright then. That stays.

(Edited to add a link to this video because who doesn’t want to be interrupted by a music-loving deer?)

 



Apple social distancing
Sunday July 26th 2020, 2:33 pm
Filed under: Garden

I learned something new Saturday, watching a too-long video on pruning after standing under my apple tree and pointing the camera upwards at all that fruit.

One of the reasons you thin apples? It’s not just because you want fewer but bigger and better tasting ones; that’s a given.

It’s because if you don’t, they grow in clusters, and at every point where apples touch it allows what you don’t want to weave a web between the two of them, from which you end up with a worm that burrows on in when it’s ready.

Oh.

Huh.

Well, that’s definitely incentive to get that done.



Phoebe minded
Tuesday July 21st 2020, 10:51 pm
Filed under: Garden,Wildlife

It used to be I would see a Black Phoebe maybe once a year, twice if lucky.

This year, with the squabblesome finches peaceably gleaning weed seeds out in the yard rather than at the feeder, there’s a phoebe every day. Every insect on the patio, that member of the flycatcher family is searching for it and it’s going to find it.

A second phoebe showed up today and was quickly shown the neighbor’s yard, and then the first flew back, victorious.

It likes to perch on the tomato cage.

It especially likes spiders, and since I like seeing this bird that was so rare here for so long and that’s not spooked by my being so close by and that has this white heart on its chest with a black bolero jacket above, I haven’t been sweeping the webs out of the awning of late.

It got its snack–but the snack grabbed back.

No worries. The bird landed on the tomato cage and surveyed its territory awhile, and when it left, the clump of spider web, since it was not needed for nest building in July, was left behind.



The resilience of squash
Friday July 17th 2020, 10:12 pm
Filed under: Garden

I noticed the ground was behaving a little better today re my feet and its distance away. Go brain.

So. Zucchini in the third picture and Waltham butternut plants in the first two, all of them repotted late because I couldn’t go buy soil (thank you again for the rescue Ruth and Lyse!) and all I had was hardpack clay, weeds, and snails.

Same dirt, same sun, same fabric pots, same watering, and those two butternuts were started at the same time.

One thing about squash plants: wherever they grow to they’ll set down new roots that will carry on and keep things going till frost after the original roots die off. So, much though I don’t want to encourage the prickly weeds to sprout, after seeing how the one super spreader that’s growing in four directions was doing, I started watering its ends after all, because it badly needed it. I didn’t seriously think I was going to confine that to a pot, right?

I’ve only ever successfully grown one zucchini plant once, so I’m mostly new at this.

Meantime, the apricot responded to today’s lovely summer day by starting branch number five. You have to squint a bit this week, but probably not next.

And I worked on the ocean afghan. I woke up this morning with a picture in my head of bright single dots of stitches along the bottom edge of the jellyfish’s mushroom cap (whatever the technical marine term may be) and was glad I hadn’t already gotten past that point so I could do that. I’ve got a chart now for the dolphin, and it’ll be just one because the eye likes odd numbers; discernible even numbers of objects feels wrong visually to the viewer even if they don’t know why it’s bugging them, and I don’t have room for three with any kind of scale re the other fish.

So one it is. Curving up at nose and tail or curving down is the only question. It will be partway over the top of the water, so I’m thinking down.

Sudden thought, with certainty as it hit: someday, I am going to have to knit an afghan of an apricot tree. I just am. The only question will be whether I can wait till mine comes into bloom so I can knit that picture.

 



Finally turned the Page
Sunday July 12th 2020, 10:43 pm
Filed under: Food,Garden

When I was a kid my dad met a guy who owned a truck. And who had connections to Florida’s citrus groves. Who said that the Page mandarin orange was the best tasting one in existence but nobody ever hears of them outside Florida so you couldn’t get them in Maryland so he would drive down there every winter to bring some back.

Which is how my Dad, working on a fundraiser, found himself commissioning a truckload of those Page oranges to be dropped off in our carport to sell, and the trucker got his, too. People would sign up for so many cases, Dad would place the order, and everybody knew what the delivery day was in case the weather threatened to freeze them–there was no way all those were going inside the house. Come and get’em.

But then one year there was a big freeze in Florida and for reasons of geography or biology I don’t know, but the Pages, which as I remember were mostly growing alongside one river, pretty much all died.

They were not replanted. That variety was particularly hard to grow; why not put in something that was easier, more prolific, and probably a bit hardier so that the farmers wouldn’t have to go through a complete loss again. And Pages are small. The market rules, and families have to be fed.

I read an interview with the owner of a citrus tree grower here a few years back, answering questions about his company and the varieties he sells.

What caught my eye was his saying, And to fill out your collection, I’d get the Page–it’s my favorite.

Why to fill out…why not just get it first?

And so I did.

Where I planted it that summer six years ago turned to be a terrible spot sun-wise in the winter–the fences were just wrong. I was advised to dig it up and put it in a pot to contain the roots to let the top recover, and did so.

The next year I planted a Gold Nugget mandarin, the only variety that doesn’t need heat to get sweet and that can go down to 26F. It went in the ground (avoiding that bad corner) and is nearly to the top of the fence.

The Page, by comparison, grows very little. I don’t think its twice its original height yet. It buds out a bit in the spring and then they all fall off and die, every year. The best I got was a green dot before it let go.

Its rootstock is the one that shot out those fast spiky barbs that I cut off that are now successfully protecting branches of my peaches from birds and critters. That part wants to grow!

There’s a reason those trees are rare.

But for all this time I’ve just kept on watering it, even though I’ve long since given up on getting anything out of it. A little citrus food. Doesn’t care. Stays mottled. Oh well.

I didn’t see it till a few days ago: hidden in those leaves? Wait. Where did that come from? After six years, the first fruit, and that big–how was I completely oblivious that that was there? That’s way bigger than the ones on the Gold Nugget! (Well, to be fair, Pages are for Christmas and the Nuggets are for spring.)

I didn’t think it would or ever could, but it wanted to do what it was meant to do and now hopefully it’s just getting started.

 



Branching out
Friday July 10th 2020, 11:09 pm
Filed under: Garden

Two days ago there was the first sign of what appeared to be a new branch on my apricot seedling. Now there are two, and I could see a definite difference between this morning and this evening. Go little tree go!

I put it in a much bigger pot two weeks ago–I can still turn it around to keep it balanced re the sun, but barely–and was surprised at how big the root system was on such a tiny plant.

Clearly it’s very happy about its new digs.

I’m trying to picture how high off the ground that first branch will be someday when the tree is really planted, and failing. I have no idea. But for now I’m keeping its young leaves out of snails’ reach.

I do know I gave the more vigorous seedling to my friends so that they could have a payoff faster, and because I’d prefer my tree to be naturally dwarfed, which by comparison it seemed to be.

However it turns out. There’s going to be a lot of satisfaction in watching this one come into its own.

John Driver, the guy who traveled Silk Road countries, sometimes in war zones, in search of what an apricot should be, who brought home 1500 Dept of Agriculture-approved kernels and developed the Anya and Yuliya varieties from them? He named them after the women who’d shared their best fruit with the interested American.

It appears he couldn’t make a living selling his apricot trees to commercial orchards, doubled Brix counts or no, and he ripped those out and planted almonds. It’s clear to me that it was simply that nobody knew apricots could be that good and the market didn’t catch up in time. He did preserve some for his family, and I kind of feel like it’s the Bradford  Watermelon all over again. (I have two of those growing this year.) But let’s not wait 170 years for them to be rediscovered.

I’d rather buy a tree from him because he earned it, but that is not an option. Yet. One can hope. I sent him a note that if he wanted to sell to individuals, the rare and great with a great story like his behind them and a high price will always have a market that will seek for the unique and best.

Said the art dealer’s daughter.

But this is what I can do.  So for now I watch my Anya-parent seedling grow and wish it all the best–and saved every kernel from the ones I bought from Andy’s two weeks ago. They’re in the fridge.

I came across someone’s comment that they refrigerated theirs for a month, (me: that’s all?) took them out and sprouted them and grew them under lights through the winter and on into spring, and boy did they get a jump ahead on mine!



Parfianka
Thursday July 09th 2020, 10:47 pm
Filed under: Food,Friends,Garden,Life,Mango tree

I’ve told this before, but for those who haven’t yet read it: My friend Jean planted a pomegranate tree and two years later brought a half a paper grocery bag’s worth of fruit to church to share that was bursting open, breaking itself into pieces that made it easy for lots of people to get a sample (outside). *She* thanked *us*, saying there was way more than she could eat.

I had never tasted anything like it. I wondered if I’d ever tasted an actually ripe pomegranate before, or was it just the variety (she didn’t remember the name.)

A few years later I got to tell her that she was why I’d researched descriptions and taste tests and planted my own, a Parfianka, the favorite of not only a whole bunch of people online but the owner at Yamagami’s Nursery. I never would have done it had I not tasted hers first and found out what I was missing. She’d definitely earned a thank you.

Mine was a cute little $10 end-of-season-clearance what-they-had-left thing in one of those 4x4x10″ sleeves. Jean was 80 when she planted hers and she clearly started with a more established specimen. Makes sense.

Time and sun and water and dirt and the little one got there just the same. It fascinates me how the tree just keeps on randomly throwing out new flowers with the fruit in various stages, keeping the feeding station open for the bees and hummingbirds.

Jean is 94 this year and I think others will be bringing her pomegranates inside to her. I hope she gets to see them fully ripe again.

And one of my mangoes, too: two more months. I would not make her wait for an Alphonso, knowing she misses the Hadens of her childhood in Hawaii but her late husband even more, but I hope to help her discover something new to love and partake of just like she did for me.

I don’t dare risk bringing one to her in this pandemic, but if her daughter okays it I’ll pass one along through her.



The Babcocks
Saturday July 04th 2020, 10:51 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Garden

Our yard’s first squirrel-free, scrub jay-free peaches in two years. Very juicy.

And, frankly, rather flavorless. Being in a clamshell sped up the ripening process, I guess–they about fell into my hand–but not the sugaring.

But we got them and they were ours and there are more peaches to come that are protected by citrus-branch barbs rather than plastic boxes.



A baby tree finds its way home
Tuesday June 23rd 2020, 10:18 pm
Filed under: Friends,Garden,Life,Lupus

In between the insurance company calling, the adjuster calling, Enterprise calling, Enterprise picking me up, Enterprise filling out the paperwork and sending me on my way in a minivan, and the company the insurance picked to fix the Prius calling about the tow truck they’ll send to get my car…

Ruth and Lise were going to Yamagami’s Nursery. Where one must wait in line in the sun to go in: only so many people are allowed in under continued lockdown procedures at this Essential Business, you must wait till someone comes out, etc etc. Which is why I have not been able to go. After buying a bag of potting soil somewhere else years ago that turned out to be, somehow, plain sand with just the smallest bit of dirt mixed in, I am quite loyal to the place where I know I get the best of everything and it is what it says.

Did I want anything?

I made sure they knew I am by no means on their way. Did they still want to?

Absolutely!

Ohmygoodnessyes! Thank you! I had vegetable plants so root bound they were starting to look sick. I’d ordered fifteen and twenty gallon fabric pots so that I could plant them where they’d have lots of root space without having snails disappear them overnight, all I’d needed all this time was some good soil. For two months. And I wanted to help keep my favorite place in business.

My friends–I met Ruth via knitting at Purlescence years ago–are fruit tree enthusiasts and the reason for my Black Jack fig: they’d told me that in our climate that was the best-tasting of their three.

I showed them around the back yard. They exclaimed in recognition as I named variety after variety, most fondly, the fig. We geeked out together over the thought of picked-first-thing-in-the-morning sweetness.

And I sent them home by way of thanks with one of my two Anya apricot seedlings. They were thrilled at the offer. I was thrilled; it absolutely felt meant to be. I had always known I would give one away and had been trying to figure out who it might best be, when suddenly as we were planning all this there was no doubt.

You cannot, as far as I’ve been able to find, buy that variety tree at retail. You can only plant a kernel and hope it’s true to its parent, and here I’d given them a year’s head start on the process.

They were very very pleased.

And now my own Anya is happily planted in the oversized pot that had been waiting for it. It should last it for several years. I was surprised at how big its root structure already was.

(The watermelon and squash plants were so grown into their clay pots that I finally had to shatter them carefully against the concrete to free their grip.)