- From Seedy to Seedless Since seedless mandarins and tangerines, like Cuties, Halos, and…
I have lots to update the blog on, but I won’t put it all in one post. Life has been pretty busy around Hanbury House, but first and foremost, it is plant sale season! For Hanbury House blog readers that are local to SoCal, this weekend and next weekend is the LBCC Horticulture Department Club’s 2015 open house and annual plant sale. Normally it starts mid week just before Easter break, but not this year. This club sale is a great chance to stock up on summer veggies, drought tolerant perennials, and all sorts of great plants at really good prices. I have posted about it before because it is my favorite plant sale, so if you want details of what to expect, click here to see my post about it from last year. However, it is always a little bit different, depending on what the current students’ focus is on. This year they will be featuring Milkweed plants for attracting Monarch adult butterflies and feeding the larvae.
A list of California native milkweeds to look for in your local nursery:
Lots of photos of these native milkweed plants can be found at http://calphotos.berkeley.edu if you type in the genus and species or common name in the search box
My next few posts will probably all be garden or backyard related because over the last six to nine months a lot of changes have taken place in the backyard that I never took the time to update on. A quick summary of what to expect…We ripped out 1/3 of the backyard grass and I expanded some of the flower beds, I planted lots more reblooming irises, we took out the drought tolerant flower bed just outside the backdoor, we got a new natural gas BBQ, we removed the old concrete patio adjacent to the garage and installed paver stones and back door steps, the chicken flock was thinned to just two, and I think I finally learned how to graft (but I have to be really careful reporting that last one.) I have been told by other gardeners photographing grafts that ‘took’ and bragging about them can cause them to fail. I hope that isn’t true because I am really excited about the grafting because once I master it, I will be able stop collecting so many individual trees and have a bunch of “Franken-trees” instead with multiple grafts.
Since seedless mandarins and tangerines, like Cuties, Halos, and Delites have become so readily available in grocery stores during most of the year, my kids have gotten really picky about the occasional seeded mandarin from our own backyard tree. It didn’t help that cuties had very persuasive commercials about five years ago convincing them that seedless was the only way to go.
Although I technically have a seedless variety, Owari Satsuma, due to the surrounding citrus trees both in my backyard and neighbors’ yards, my mandarins often get cross pollinated by the many bees attracted to the flowers and thus end up with some seeds. Based on the bee activity I have seen, I actually think mandarin flowers are the bees’ favorite. Early this past spring, I decided that since it was likely to be a heavy crop year for my mandarin, I might as well experiment with PREVENTING seeds and cross pollination of the flowers. I researched how growers kept their Cutie fruit seedless, and then tried to duplicate it my little backyard. I was surprised to learn Cutie growers actually took beekeepers to court in California’s central valley and asked the state legislature to get involved, too. Wow. Preventing bees to the yard was nearly impossible, as well as totally undesirable for my other fruit trees that need the cross pollination.
Commercial tangerine growers that are unable to keep bees out of their established orchards cover their rows of trees with fine insect netting. Many growers are starting to plant a new variety from University of California called Tango that doesn’t set seeds even if cross pollinated. It eliminates the need or expenses for growers to tent. It is seedless even with pollination. I picked up a teeny tiny one last summer, but it is living in a pot still. With a second mandarin tree, I am hoping to get plenty of tangerines each year, despite alternate bearing. But back to the tenting of my established Mandarin…
A tree net in the size that would fit my tree was nearly $100. Ouch! I considered making a homemade version with tulle from the fabric store, but it would have required a lot of yardage. Instead, I took the easy route and improvised with an extra large mosquito net, the kind designed for bedding and home decor, to cover our 6 ft tall tree. It didn’t quite cover completely and the bees were still getting through to the flowers, therefore, I ended up buying a second one. In the end, it was about the same cost as tulle, but a whole lot quicker.
Once I fully covered the tree, the bees were still really determined to get at those mandarin flowers, almost as if they preferred them over anything else in the yard. There was easy access Bearss lime or Improved Meyer lemon flowers in bloom right next to it, but the net covered Mandarin was all a buzz with frustrated bees for weeks. They were like velocirapors testing the fence for weaknesses, systematically. That first week, every day, multiple times a day, I had to open the netting and release a bee or two that managed to find a gap or weakness in the barrier. The seams between the two nets had to be rolled and clipped with clothes pins tightly. I even had to weight down the entire bottom edge because they would crawl in at the bottom.
Once the mandarin tree was done flowering, after about 6 or 7 weeks, I took the netting off. Shortly after that I was dismayed to see the tree dropping lots and lots of teeny tiny green fruits about the size of a pea. I was afraid I was going to loose the whole crop. Sadly, there was nothing I could do at that point. I just kept an eye on it.
It ended up okay. I guess it was only thinning itself, because as the remaining fruit developed and grew, it looked like there were still plenty. Despite my worries, we ended up having a really heavy crop year.
This was the earliest we have ever started picking mandarins. After ripening all summer and fall, I started picking the first few mandarins in early October. I don’t think the early ripening had anything to due with the netting. A lot of my other plants have been behaving out of season and I think it is weather and drought related. About four or five of those first fruits did have a seed or two. They must have been the result of the sneaky bees that found their way in before I started covering it more securely.
Since then, I have not found anymore seeds. NONE. NADA! It has been awesome! Needless to say, both the kids and I have been happy with the results. We have been sharing with neighbors and friends. They are better than anything from the store. I just wish the season was longer.
With the extended drought, I have barely kept my Bababerry patch alive, and not had any surplus to share, so I was very happy to hear that this excellent berry is back in commercial production. For anyone not familiar with Bababerries or Baba Raspberry, it is a low chill raspberry that was introduced in the late 1970s. The variety is an everbearing-type that produces very large berries of excellent flavor. And according to CRFG it is “probably the most reliable traditional raspberry for areas with very little winter chill that bears a large crop of berries in June and a smaller crop in fall.” But by 2003 – 2004, less and less nurseries were carrying them. For anyone that didn’t already grow them, or know someone who did, they were really hard to come by.
Recently, Dave Wilson Nursery started supplying Bababerry plants to independent nurseries. I have heard from a few friends and aquainences that they are starting to show up in some of the independent nurseries in the Southland. H & H Nursery near me recently got about 3 dozen in, but while I was there today, I noticed they have already sold about 10 of them. They are selling them for $10 each. Other places in SoCal I have heard got some this year include Parkview Nursery on Magnolia Ave in Riverside, Cherry Valley Nursery, and recently reopened Laguna Hills Nursery. Last year Annie’s Annuals in Richmond, CA had them. I am sure there are many other independent nurseries now carrying them, too.
If you have seen them by you, leave a comment. I know lots of folks have been wanting them.
A little over two years ago, my daughter, B, started an after dinner gardening project. She plopped a discarded cut off pineapple crown of leaves into a pot. She treated it like many of her succulent plants: no prep, no rooting hormone, just potting soil and occasionally a bit of leftover water from her school lunch. It still lives in a pot on the front porch, getting about half day sun. Last winter she did remember to cover it a half dozen times when we had pretty cold temps expected to drop below the mid 30’s, but a few times it was left unprotected on chilly nights. It hung on okay.
For the last 27 months, the pineapple has been slowly growing in its same pot. It started flowering in mid August, 2014, right around the two year old mark. It had pretty purple flowers that emerged from an egg sized and shaped bud in the center. The flowers slowly bloomed a row at a time from the bottom of the bud to the top. Here are pics of the progress so far:
The little pineapple plant a few months after planting, taken sometime in October, 2012..
The pineapple about a year after planting, 2013…
Two years after planting, Summer 2014 (maybe around Mid August)…
End of August…
At this point the fruit is still green and growing. It is currently about 6 inches tall, plus another 5 inches of crown above that. Since this is our first homegrown pineapple, we aren’t 100% sure at what point to harvest it. B seems to have done fine with caring for it so far, so she’ll be the one to decide when it’s time to lop it off the mother plant and sample. I am guessing it has at least another month or more before it ripens, but honestly, I really have no clue. Anyone else reading this have luck growing pineapple or have any tips for us?
And this is what the pineapple looks like today…
I’ll update again if and when B picks the fruit.
Most of my flowers and perennials these days are generally low water users, at least once they became established, however the same is not true of all my edible plants. When the state officials announced the need for even deeper cuts to our water use early this year, I decided what my most prized plants were, mainly the fruit trees and camellias, and then I diverted the limited grey water from our front load washer machine to those trees and shrubs. Our samsung washing machine only uses about 13 gallons per load so there really isn’t that much gray water to go around. Any of the plants I felt would be easy to replace later on down the road, if necessary, were generally left to fend for themselves.
I didn’t realize it until I stopped watering the majority of back garden that the Goji Berries should be on every drought tolerant friut list, at least for USDA zone 9 and 10. The Gojis look better than ever this year, as you can see by the above photo. The Gojiberries were the only plants that I could have cared less if they died. No, scratch that, they were the one plant I kind of HOPED would die in the drought and then I could plant something else there I liked much better, like one of my many strawberry verte fig trees. No such luck.
Normally the goji plants are plagued by powdery mildew as the season wears on, and look terrible by the end of summer, similar to what sometimes shows up on pumpkin or melon plants. (One of them many reasons I am not a fan of them.) No mildew this fall. There are thousands of healthy plump Goji berries ready to harvest. If I am not careful and diligent, they will self sow every where. (Reason number two to hate them.) I picked as much as I could last weekend and dried/dehydrated most of them. It did improve the taste a little, but I am still not a fan of Gojiberries, even though they are a “superfood.”
When I think of berries, I think of the flavors of things like blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries. I don’t think Goji should be referred to as a berry since berry or sweet aren’t the first flavors that come to mind when eating them, especially fresh off the plant. And definitely do not pick them under ripe! If they are not fully ripe when harvested, they are bitter and nasty. Ripe, they taste nothing like any of the other berries I grow, more like a veggie. The closest flavored fruit I can think of is a Surinam cherry, but most folks haven’t tasted those either, so that doesn’t really help in describing the flavor. They do taste slightly sweeter after drying, more like a sweet red bell pepper. In my opinion, anyone telling you gojis are sweet and delicious is probably trying to sell you them. On the other hand, the chickens do think they are absolutely wonderful. They gobble the little fruits up whenever I let them into the area where they grow. My blackberries canes adjacent to the Gojiberries died by the end of the summer due to the lack of winter rains and the lack of any supplemental fresh water, so if nothing else, Gojis are a great fruit for drought tolerant gardens. However, as I mentioned in an earlier post, Gojiberry plants are very invasive and thorny (which is my third and main reason I hate them.)
I look forward to this time of year all winter long, the Spring Garden Tour season and annual plant sales sponsored by some of the local non profit horticulture groups.
For many years now, my favorite plant sale has been the Long Beach City College Horticulture Department’s annual spring plant sale and fundraiser. This is their 42nd year and the sale falls on April 16th -18th, 2014, the week before LBCC has their Spring Break. If you are a local gardener and plan to attend, come early and don’t forget to bring a wagon. Its open from 9 to 6. I always manage to buy more than I planned on at this one sale. In past years, I have bought some great plants here I might not have tried or found otherwise like a dwarf variety of ‘lion’s tail’ Leonotis menthifolia, Psidium cattleianum ‘strawberry guava,’ Lobelia laxiflora ‘mexican bush lobelia’, ‘garden mister’ fuchsia, correa ‘dusky bells’ australian fuchsia, and gallaridia. Here is another post I did about it last year that describes what to expect.
There are many other sales and tours I don’t want to miss out on including the following:
I have been wanting to take out our front lawn for more than a decade, but between my kids, the dog, and the other neighborhood kids, my lawn is still actively used and does serve its purpose. However, it is not a beautiful show piece. It only gets enough water to not die and often has brown patches and bare spots. Other houses on my block have participated in the lawn to garden program, and now their kids play on my lawn instead. Have I ever mentioned, on this little culdusac of 19 houses, there are 26 kids!? That is one reason we stay here on our little postage stamp sized urban lot. Once most of these kids have outgrown the need for a big lawn with a shady play area my maple creates, that lawn will be history. I have dreams of expanding my iris, alstromeria, and salvia collections and putting in either pomegranates, loquats, persimmons, figs, and/ or pineapple guavas out there, all of of which are drought tolerant fruit choices.
When the weather is too cold to do much work outside, I get a little over zealous and try propagating all sorts of plants, just to see if I can. Since I got a couple of new heat mats for Christmas, I am in the process of propagating a variety of plants including ‘Parfianka’ Pomegranate, ‘Sweet’ Pomegranate, ‘Strawberry Verte’ Fig, ‘Bababerry’ plants, Thornless Raspberry plants, and tomato seeds. Because I spend so much time doting on the cuttings, my hubby says I am going to turn into Jordy Verrill from Creepshow who ends up covered in Alien Weeds if I am not careful. I hope not. Well, if I find a mysterious meteorite in the backyard, I promise I won’t put water on it!
Although I don’t have room for anymore Pomegranate trees, I had read they are one of the easiest fruits to propagate, so I just had to try. And it’s true! I took a half dozen of cuttings from each of my two trees on January 14th, and I already had to transplant some of the little trees yesterday into 4 inch pots because the roots were growing out of the peat pellets and out onto the heat mat. If I had know it would be this easy and quick to start pomegranates, I would have taken more cuttings. With the continuing drought in California, pomegranates are a good choice for a drought tolerant backyard fruit tree so I shouldn’t have a hard time finding new homes for the little pomegranate trees, once they are bigger and acclimated to the outdoors, especially since they are less common varieties.
Normally in the winter months, the rainy season in SoCal, I have the gray water diverer on the washer machine in the off position so it will empty to the sewer, not the garden. Southern California usually gets plenty of rain to take care of the landscape until late March or April. This year is the earliest we have had to switch back to using grey water, since first using it back in 2007.
We have had next to nothing in the way of winter rainfall this year, and the citrus trees are starting to show signs of needing additional water. The leaves have rolled up a little, like taco shells because they are water stressed. The Improved Meyer lemon and Bearss lime look fine, but the Cara Cara and Mandarin both have some curled up leaves on the sunny side. I have read sweet oranges are less drought tolerant. Odds are, it will reduce the flowering and fruit crop on both this year. If the citrus trees look thirsty, that means the apples and stone fruits are probably needing water too, eventhough they don’t have much in the way of leaves yet to show it. Therefore, it is time to start moving my greywatering hose around from one mulch basin to another. I also put in a request to the city today for a mulch delivery so I can top off with a thicker layer. The chickens will have a field day with it!
I normally try to be conscientious about not wasting too much fresh water on the landscape, but this year the governor has announced that Californians need to use at least 20% less water. That means we will have to use even less than we normally do. I will probably let both the front and back lawns die. Sorry about that chickens; they love the grass! Maybe the fluffier mulched ground will make up for it? Sadly, I also plan to remove some of my less waterwise edibles, like my low chill Sunshine Blue Blueberries. I can always easily replant those if water is plentiful again in the future. I am worried about my raspberries. I have yet to try grey water on them; this year will be first. If they can’t take it, they will also have to go temporarily. I am glad we have our grey water divertor valve for the washer machine so at least my mature fruit trees won’t die.
I have tried a lot of different brands of biodegradable laundry detergent to use with the grey water system, and I am certainly not loyal to just one. This week, I bought one I haven’t tried before from Trader Joes that my hubby suggested we try. Trader Joes used to sell one called Ecos, but I don’t know if this is the same one just with a TJs label. Have any of you used this detergent? And does it clean well? Or do you have a favorite Biodegradable or Bio-compatible detergent?
Yup. On Monday, I was in the back yard doing some pruning, when I heard an angry crow. Looking up to the power in the next door neighbors’ yard, I noticed a huge hawk trying to enjoy its lunch in peace with a crow incessantly harassing it. In addition to bugs, chickens, and plants, I am also a nerd about birds. I ran inside and grabbed my old camera. When I uploaded the photo on the computer to see it larger, I was shocked to discover, it wasn’t any of the regular hawks we often see like Red Tail or the most frequent visitor, Coopers Hawk. It was an actual Osprey. The only time other time I have seen an Osprey in the wild was this past summer outside of Grand Teton National Park on the Snake River in Wyoming. They like to live near rivers and waterways where they can fish so I would not normally expect to see an Osprey around here in Los Angeles County. I told K this morning about my sighting, and she said both she and some other neighbors have seen it over the last few weeks, as well. This fellow on the power pole must have decided since the weather was so pleasant here in Southern California right now and the pond in the park looked like a good fishing hole it might as well stay for a winter vacation. Hopefully Osprey don’t like chicken.
More pictures and details on Osprey can be found at Cornell Lab of Ornithology. They are the folks that use the information every year from the Great Backyard Bird Count on February 14th to February 17th this year. To participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count or find out more about it click here.
I know, I know, I shouldn’t be thinking about buying and adding more bare root fruit trees, since my yard is already crammed full, but it is hard to not collect one of everything, and even more so, after K shared some of her Spice Zee nectaplums last summer. Back in early July, K generously gave me a half dozen Spice Zee fruits, even though she didn’t have much of a crop yet since the tree is only 3 years old. I cut the first few up, and they were gone in seconds. My normally easy going kids, got into a shoving match over who got the few slices of the remaining fruits. I have never seen them act that way over fruit! I have tried a lot of different stone fruits at the local farmers markets over the years, and honestly, the Spice Zee was probably the best tasting stone fruit I ever tried. Usually the best tasting stone fruits need more chill than we have around here in coastal Southern California, but this nectaplum only needs about 300 chill hours, making it a good choice for a low chill fruit tree. The fruit looks like a white nectarine and the taste is sweet and rich. On top of the amazing taste, the tree is really pretty. It has purple red leaves in the Spring, resembling a Flowering Plum a little bit, and turns green as the summer approaches. Spice Zee would make a good tree for guerrilla gardening and planting in a median strip because of its similar looks to flowering plum. It could probably go unnoticed until it was heavy with fruit. After very little consideration, I decided I am going to have pull something out and plant one; it is just a matter of deciding who goes. Hmmmm….Sorry Red Baron.
Note: If you are looking for where to buy a Spice Zee NectaPlum, K’s tree was purchased locally at H & H Nursery in Lakewood, CA.