Here are my recommendations for sources of information on growing fruit and nuts in San Francisco and the Greater Bay Area. Also search this blog for info on citrus HLB disease and on wooly apple aphid, both problems for which you should keep a lookout: 

Golden Gate Gardener: Third Edition, Pam Pairce, Sasquatch Books, 2010. The chapter on fruit is a good primer on selection of fruit-bearing plants for Bay Area gardens, with a discussion of microclimate adaptation and summaries of the care and possible problems involved in growing specific fruits. Suggested varieties included.

ANR University of California Publication 8261 Selecting Fruit, Nut, and Berry Crops for Home Gardens in San Mateo and San Francisco Counties, by K. S. Jones and Laurence R. Costello. http://ucce.ucdavis.edu/files/repositoryfiles/8261-54314.pdf

Grow a Little Fruit Tree, Ann Ralph, Storey Publishing, 2104  This is my favorite book for current and prospective fruit tree owners. She covers choosing, planting, harvesting, pests, but most importantly, pruning. The most important information in the book is how to make the first cut and prune the tree in the early years to create trees that you can harvest without having to use a ladder. The illustrations are attractive and useful. 

California Rare Fruit Growers. This California-wide organization has local chapters that often give workshops or hold scion exchanges. They are on the web at crfg.org, especially useful is the fruit facts Wiki, https://crfg.org/wiki/fruit/, which includes fact sheets for many kinds of fruits, especially subtropical ones. They also now have a YouTube channel, at https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=crfg.

 


Popup Perennial Edibles Sales

If you are looking for a single fruit tree or a entire edible landscape, you may find what you need at one of the periodic plant sales being held on the grounds of the Bay Natives Nursery at  10 Cargo Way in San Francisco. There will be one April 22 and again on May 13. On both days, at 1 p.m., there will be a talk on Edible Backyard Gardens by Mike Boss, Plant Ecologist and Garden Maker.

Available at the edible perennials sales will be trees, shrubs, vines, and non-woody perennials--everything from artichoke plants to unusual citrus. 

While you're there, check out the natives at Bay Natives, as well as their lively flock of chickens. Penned next to the nursery is a small herd of goats, also fun to watch. 

 


Spring Bloom in Fall--It's a Problem

In today's SF Chronicle (January 1, 1917), I wrote about plants that bloomed last fall in San Francisco that ought not to have been blooming until spring, caused by continuing climate change.

While it's true that we typically have our warmest "summer" weather from mid-September to mid-October, this weather has been lasting longer than usual. Last fall, the warm days and mild nights lasted until near the end of November. We celebrated time spent outdoors in nice weather, but some of our garden plants reacted by blooming and leafing out as if it were spring. This is a problem for the plants, which put energy and physical matter into doing this, so that when spring really does come, they have less stored matter and food energy to do it all again. This weakens the plant, leaving it more susceptible to all kinds of setbacks.

Case in point is my apple tree, which has borne bountiful crops of delicious apples for 30 years. But recently it has been trying to bloom in fall. Then, because winters aren't quite cold enough, it blooms later than usual in the spring. And, because of the energy it used up in fall, it blooms more sparsely. Two years ago, it had practically no fruit.

Last year it did better, though not as well as it used to do. The photo below, which I sent to the Chronicle, but they didn't use in the paper, shows my tree last November, with a few last apples and last leaves till hanging on while blooms and new leaves opened all around them. Now, on January 1, all the new leaves have succumbed to cold, wasting all that effort.

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If you are growing other temperate plants in the Bay Area, such as cherries and plums (ornamental or fruiting), magnolias, lilacs, or azaleas, you may be having the same kind of problem. What's to be done to save our plants? Obviously continue to work against climate change, a movement in which California in general is doing well.  But we can also join an effort to record the changes, in which our regional data will provide extremely valuable evidence.

More data about how climate change is affecting plants in our region is especially important so that we are represented in a system that has so much more data from cold-winter regions.

There are two organizations that are seeking citizen science data. One is the National Phenology Network (www.usapn.org/), sponsor of the National Phenology Project. It studies both plant and animal species. Another, Project Budburst (budburst.org), is studying only plant responses. Phenology is the study of what plants and animals do in response to seasonal changes.

Sending records to these databases is easy to do online. Log in, choose a plant, and tell them what it is doing on various dates. Children can do it at home and school classes can do it. Both web sites have curriculum information to help teachers fit the work into classes. It teaches observation, appreciation of plants, climate science, ecology, and how science is done

So as our new, and rather unnerving, year begins, please help observe and record what is going on with nature. Your reports will be powerful.


A Shout Out for Nichols Garden Nursery Seed Company

               When I first arrived in San Francisco, many years ago, living in a rented flat, wanting to plant a few vegetables in a neighbor's yard. I discovered the Nichols Garden Nursery herb and rare seed catalog. They had everything I needed to try out my new climate and microclimate. They are still there, still carry old and new favorites, and now, of course, they are also on the web.  

               Located in Western Oregon, the nursery is experienced with cool summers, especially with cool summer nights. In their catalog I discovered many varieties that were to become staples over the years. They had purple-podded bush beans, which are your best bet to grow regular garden beans in near-coastal microclimates because they germinate well in cold soil. If those worked in a particular location, then I tried 'Roma II', a bush romano bean, the kind with broad, flat pods and a buttery texture. If the garden was too chilly for the purple bush beans, then I knew I had better plant Scarlet Runner beans, because they are, as the Nichols catalog states, "an excellent cool weather variety." If I had great success with the Roma II beans, it was time to try some regular pole beans, like 'Goldmarie', a yellow-podded pole romano or old standby 'Kentucky Wonder Pole'.

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Left to right: Scarlet Runner climbing bean, 'Royalty Purple-Podded Bush Bean, and 'Goldmarie' yellow-podded pole Romano bean.

               Nichols still carries all of these bean varieties, all open pollinated, all heirlooms, and many more. And they still carry 'Early Sunglow' corn, a variety listed at 62 days to maturity. It succeeds in milder San Francisco neighborhoods, taking 90 days due to the cool microclimate, but still allowing two plantings a summer--one in May and another in July. That second planting comes out in mid-October, right before the usuals start of the rainy season. The stalks are short, but bear 2 ears. The ears are smaller than supermarket corn, but worth it for the chance to eat fresh, fresh, corn-on-the-cob.

               They also still carry overwintering cole crops like 'Purple Sprouting' broccoli, the beautiful and the delicious 'January King' cabbage. And many kinds of kale, including two packets of kale mixes that let you see the wonderful diversity of this nutritious leafy green.

               It was also the place I first found 'Stupice' tomatoes, early and tasty in cool summers. They carry 'Early Girl', 'Green Zebra', and 'Oregon Spring', all of which have borne fruit well in my Mission District community garden. And they have kept up with the times, now the sweet golden cherries 'Sungold', and offering late blight resistant 'Jasper' cherry and larger-fruited 'Mountain Magic'.

               There are many other choice varieties in this catalog that I discovered since I first saw it. They have sweet, orange cherry tomato 'Sungold', reliable and early 'Snow Crown' cauliflower, the choice color-mix 'Bright Lights' chard, striped and ribbed heirloom zucchini 'Costata Romanesco', red-splashed and long-bearing 'Flashy Butter Oak' lettuce, and 'Bull's Blood' beets, the red leaves of which seem not to interest leafminers in my garden.

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'Bright Lights' Swiss Chard

               They have also kept up with the issues of the day when it comes to garden seeds. They signed the Safe Seed Pledge, which promises they will not carry seed that is transgenic or genetically engineered. They have also joined the brand new Open Source Seed movement, offering many of the varieties that are pledged never to be patented, keeping seed these open-pollinated varieties available for seedsaving and further selection by gardeners and farmers.

               The first page that attracted me to Nichols was the "New and Unusual Vegetables" page. Here I found the uncommon crop, the surprises, unusual varieties and little-known crops. Many unusual crops are also in the rest of the catalog. They have 5 varieties of hops roots, 4 kinds of potato starts, walking onion bulbs, seed for the exquisitely flavored herb, Shiso, 'Lemon Gem' edible marigold, 3 varieties of Quinoa, miner's lettuce, magenta-leaved orach, and Tromboncino climbing summer squash.

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Walking Onion is a scallion (green onion) that propagates by stem-top bulblets.

I have only ordered seed from Nichols Garden Nursery, but they sell many other products, from essential herb oils, herbal teas, and 2 kinds of sourdough starters to ingredients and equipment for making beer cheese and wine.

               Nichols Garden Nursery is a family-owned business founded in 1950 by Nick and Edith Nichols and run currently by their daughter Rose Marie Nchols McGee. They are located at 1190  Old Salem Road, in Albany, Oregon. At their brick and mortar nursery, they sell herb plants and seasonal seedlings, including many specialty plants they don't sell through the mail. You just missed their annual Plant Day, with the traditional serving of Lavendar/Ginger ice cream, but it is the Saturday after Mother's Day, in case you are planning a trip through Oregon next spring.

               The website of Nichols Garden Nursery is nicholsgardennursery.com. Pay it a visit and discover a treasure for our west coast gardens.


Bay Area Citrus in Great Danger

If you have citrus trees in your garden, or know someone who does, listen up. A pest insect that has wiped out half of the citrus crop in Florida is spreading in California and has reached the Bay Area. Last year, a new quarantine area was created in the San Jose region, because the pest was found in trees there. Now the most recent quarantine area covers the northern peninsula and a swath of the southern part of San Francisco.

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Lemons on a Healthy Lemon Tree in San Francisco

The insect itself will not kill the tree, but it often carries a deadly disease, and if a particular individual insect is carrying that disease, it will infect the tree while it is feeding. And then there is no cure. Other Asian citrus psyllids will pick up the disease from that infected tree, and will spread it.

So far, none of the insects found in our region have been carrying the disease, but it seems like only a matter of time till one does. Scientists are looking for a cure, or a way to breed resistance to the disease into citrus trees, and would like to buy as much time as they can by keeping the problem in as small an area as possible.

What to do? Inspect your trees. Spring is a good time to do it, since it is a time when there is much active growth on citrus. Look carefully at as many of the growing tips, with their small, new leaves, as you can. The insect, which is called the Asian Citrus Psyllid, or ACP, lays very small yellow-orange eggs in new growth. They will be easier to see with a magnifying glass. The eggs hatch into yellow nymphs that average sesame seed-sized. They are also distinctive in having long, white "tubules" with bulbous ends that extend from their bodies. The adults are aphid-like, mottled browns, and stand with their rear in the air, heads down, sucking sap.

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Asian Citrus Psyllid Nymphs

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Asian Citrus Psyllid Adult Feeding on Citrus Leaf

If you find the insect on your tree, and are not in an area already quarantined, you should call the California Food & Agriculture (CDFA) Exotic Pest Hotline at 800-491-1899. If you are within  the quarantine area already, you should try to kill the pest.

To see an interactive map of the quarantined areas and more photos and learn the best ways to control the pest, see the following UC  website: http://ucanr.edu/sites/ACP/Homeowner_Options/

Also, be sure to buy citrus only from responsible sources. (Major citrus tree growers are now growing trees for the market only in covered production areas that the pest can't get into.) Don't accept plants, cuttings, or grafting material from other gardeners.

And if you are in a quarantined area, don't take any leafy branches outside of it. (You can share your fruit outside of the quarantined area if it doesn't have any stems or leaves attached.)

The insect can also infest some plants that are related to edible citrus, like calamondin (xCitrofortunella microcarpa), box orange (Severinia buxifolia), orange jessamine or orange jasmine (Murraya paniculata), and Indian curry leaf (Murraya koenigii). They should also be inspected and are subject to the same quarantine rules.

The disease we are trying to avoid, and that I hope we never see, is Huanglongbing, or HLB. It is also known as yellow shoot or yellow dragon disease. The leaves of infected trees have yellow blotches, usually starting in one section of the tree. The blotches don't look like most nutritional deficiencies in that they cross the leaf veins, and are often arranged asymmetrically on the leaf. Fruit develops unevenly, asymmetrically, ripens poorly, with little juice and a bitter flavor. The disease will kill the tree. If it appears, the only recourse at this time is to remove the infected tree before the disease spreads to other ones.

So let's get out there and look now, before it's too late!

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Yellow-blotched Leaves of a Citrus Tree Infected with HLB Disease.


Finally time for Apple Pie--An illustrated recipe

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Our tree with ripe apples, which is usually in Mid-October.

However, the apples were nearly a month late to ripen this year. I was wondering if we'd ever have them for eating out of hand, chopping into yogurt with walnuts, making Waldorf salad, and making pies. But they are finally sweet enough. I decided to photograph the entire process of turning fresh apples into a pie:

Start by peeling and cutting up 6 medium-sized apples. (Of course if they are from your tree, they may be different sizes, so you may have to do more or maybe fewer.) I have tried not peeling them, but our particular apple has a kind of tough peel, so I am back to peeling. I quarter them, then peel the quarters. I cut into the inward side of each peeled quarter-apple in a broad V, to remove the core. Then I slice the quarters crosswise, or, if they are wide, I may cut each quarter in half before I make the final cuts. To help remember how many apples I have prepared, I set the part of the core with the stem attached aside for each--one stem = 1 apple.

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Here you can see the little row of core sections with stems attached, the bowl for peels and cores, and the bowl of finished, chopped apple.

I used the 1953 Joy of Cooking when I first made apple pie. It's recipe suggests mixing the apples with 1/2 -2/3 cups brown sugar, 1 to 1 1/2 Tablespoons of cornstarch, and (optionally) 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and/or 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg. Joy of Cooking authors, writing at a time when many more people were cooking from their own tree, and more kinds of apples were being sold. They are clear that apples vary. "Only very tart apples need the larger amount of sugar, only very juicy apples require the larger amount of cornstarch." "If the apples lack flavor, sprinkle them with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice."

In my case, I usually add the lower amount of sugar, the cinnamon, extra cornstarch (maybe 2 Tablespoons), and a couple of teaspoons of lemon juice, since my apples are sweet, juicy, and don't have any acid tang to add to their flavor. In any case, add everything you are going to add, toss well, and set apples aside.

I think making pie crust requires a very personal interaction of cook and recipe. I tried several recipes before I found the one that makes good crust for me, and offer you the one I chose, but you may find another is better for you.

My father's mother used lard, baking several pies at a time for her large family. Lard didn't appeal to me, but her crust was quite delicious. I used to use butter. Now I use Smart Balance Buttery Sticks, a vegan, no trans fats margarine, and it works fine. The recipe I use is 1 1/4 cups unbleached white flour, 1 stick of the margarine, and a few tablespoons of icy water (2? 3? something like that).

The first step is to cut up the margarine and put it in a bowl with the flour.

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There's the flour with the cold margarine cut up in it. Next to it is a quarter cup, with some water and an icecube or two. And behind that is 1/2 of the paper from a large brown paper grocery bag, laid out for a surface on which to roll the crust, and the rolling pin, at ready.

Next, I crumble the margarine into the flour, using my thumbs and fingers to rub the two materials together.There's nothing tricky at this point, as long as you do it while the margarine is still relatively cold.

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When the mixture looks like coarse meal, it is time to add the cold water. I pour a little in and begin immediately to try to form a ball of dough. This is the sort of tricky part, because you don't want to actually work the dough. No kneading in this recipe, or the gluten will begin to develop and the crust will be tough. Just push the stuff together, getting it all moist until it will form a ball that isn't sticky but will clean the bowl if you dab it on the unattached pieces.If you run out of water, add a tad more to the cup with the ice and pour from it, a bit at a time.. Then smear some flour on the working surface, and set the ball on it.

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OK, now the fun begins. Roll the crust, gently at first, then more firmly as you begin to develop the round think shape you need. Roll from one direction and then another. Change directions if the shape isn't round enough. Make it pretty thin and rather bigger than your pie pan, which should be standing at ready on the table by now.

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If your dough has the right amount of water in it, it won't stick too much, but be ready to add a little more flour to the surface, or even lift a corner of the dough after you begin to roll it (using a knife to lift it if needs be) and add more flour. Also, if the dough is correct, you can mend it where it tears or cracks just by placing one piece over another and rolling it, or by moistening both sides with a little water and then rolling.But hopefully, you will have no problems with either, or only minimal ones.

When you get a nice large round, fold it in half, lift it carefully, and place it in one half of the pie pan. This one is a Corningware pan. It looks small, because the sides are vertical instead of at an angle like most pie pans, but it holds the same amount of stuff. I know because I filled it and a regular pan with water, and they held the same amount.

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Now carefully lift the folded over half and ease it into the pan. You have to kind of push a little from near the edge inward to get the crust to fall into the pan without tearing. That is, don't try to stretch it, as that won't work. Next you will make the crimped edges that make the pie pretty. You fold the crust under about 1/2 to 3/4 inch above the edge of the pan, and use your fingers and thumbs to make the fluting pattern. Any extra crust, extending below the crimps, on the outside of the pan, cut off with a knife. At any low places, where there isn't enough dough to make the crimp, use water to glue on more rolled dough from the pieces you cut off elseshere, and use that to make the fluted edge. (The crimp, or flute, is made to the measure of your fingers, a very individual form, unlike that of a machine crimped crust.)

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Here I'm making the fluted edge. You can see that there will be some extra crust to cut off in this part of the edge.

I like to cover my pie with a Danish apple pie topping. I put any extra bits of trimmed off crust into a bowl and add a little brown sugar (1/3 cup?) some margarine cut into bits (3 Tablespoons), a little flour (2-3 tablespoons?) and maybe 3/4 teaspoon of cinnamon. This recipe isn't exact, because it depends on how much crust dough was left over to use and how much topping you want on the pie. I crumble the ingredients all together with my thumbs and fingers.

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I put the prepared apples into the crust and then crumble the topping evenly over the apples.

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In baking the pie, I follow the recipe in my old edition of Joy of Cooking. First bake the pie at 450 degrees F for 10 minutes, or a little bit longer, to let the crust brown a little bit. (If you are going to let it go for longer than 10 minutes, keep a close watch on it.) Then turn the oven to 350 and bake until done, from 3/4 to 1 hour total. To tell if it is done, you can insert a knife in an apple to see if there is any resistance .

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Ta dah! The finished pie. Hope yours turns out to be delicioius! Happy Thanksgiving!


Another Year in the Life of An Apple Tree

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Our apples at their best.

In the ongoing saga of our apple tree, a tree of unknown variety but good fruit and usually good production, another harvest is past. This year we finally got rid of the woolly apple aphids, after two years of spraying the insects with rubbing alcohol (right out of the bottle) weekly and 2 commercial canola oil sprays each winter on the dormant branches. Because the insects spend part of their time in the soil, we also used the canola oil pesticide as a soil drench twice each winter, watering before and after we sprinkled it on the soil surface (an off-label use the idea for which  I got from reading research reports about the pest in the East ).

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Woolly apple aphids make huge galls where they suck sap from the branches, as they have done here on this pruning cut (not on our tree, thank goodness!). They are reddish aphids, but are covered with a white waxy fluff.

 We also think it helped that we discovered the trunk had been buried a foot or so deep yea all these years, since before we bought the house, and unburied it. A buried lower trunk is really bad news for any tree.

But because we were paying so much attention to the woolly apple aphids, we forgot to spray sulfur to prevent scab, the disease that makes surface blemishes on the apples. We were also lulled by the dry early spring into thinking that scab wouldn’t be a problem this year. The early-setting fruit did fine—no scab. Then the spring turned wet, and the later-setting fruit was attacked by scab. (Our tree is borderline for getting enough winter chill, so sometimes it blooms over a long period.) Some of the later forming fruit was so affected that it was stunted and malformed.

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Some of our apples with scab disease. Note damage to leaves from the disease as well.

However, overall the tree became so vigorous (when liberated from the extra foot of soil and freed of the stem and root sucking of the woolly apple aphids) that we wanted to be sure to give it a summer pruning to curb its excess growth. But the summer was so cold and foggy that the tree seemed always to be wet. So we put it off, hoping for a dry day. That day came, Lisa pruned the tree, and boom, we had a heat spell. So some of the apples developed sunburn on their southeast sides—big round black sunken blotches.

 Then came October 15th, the usual ripening date, but most of the fruit was clearly not ripe. it was still green under the red streaks, very hard, and had its flat, starchy, unripe flavor. Now, in mid-November, it is finally getting ripe. Many of the fruits do have some scab, and a few (not as many as it once seemed) have the sunburn, which will prevent them from keeping well. But overall, there is more than we can eat, as usual, so it’s off to the Free Farm Stand (after our friends and neighbors have been given as many as they can use). And off to bake pies. I photographed the making of an apple pie and plan to put the photos, with recipe, on this blog in a day or two.