Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima)

The tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima), one of the most adaptable and notoriously “invasive” species in the world, earned its nickname “ghetto palm” for its propensity to grow in disturbed and neglected areas. Ailanthus altissima doesn’t seem to care much about climate and grows just about everywhere–hot, cold, humid, dry–with the exception of Homegrown Evolution’s temporary residence in the Swedish Arctic. Odds are you’ve got one of these supertrees busting up through some nearby broken asphalt.

One of my hosts, Swedish artist Ingo Vetter, is a member of a unique artists collective, the Detroit Tree of Heaven Woodshop, that has experimented with using the wood of this abundant tree. While not easy to work with (it tends to warp quickly), they’ve managed to produce some remarkable objects:

The Sami Way

What’s more impressive? That humans figured out how to live in the arctic or that we figured out how to collateralize debt obligations? As we deal with the consequences of the latter it’s nice to reflect on those thousands of years spent herding reindeer. It’s also comforting to know that there’s still some folks left who know how to take care of reindeer even if they now use snowmobiles.

Homegrown Evolution had the privilege of meeting Nils Anders Kuhmunen today, along with a bunch of art students, in an arctic village in northern Sweden. Kuhmunen is a Sami, an indigenous people populating the northernmost parts of Scandinavia and part of Russia. The Sami tended reindeer for thousands of years. The pictures of our visit speak for themselves (though you won’t be able to taste the delicious reindeer meat Kuhmunen served).

A wooden form of the traditional circular Sami hut.

Kuhmunen speaking eloquently about what can only be called arctic permaculture, life in touch with the cycles of life and the importance of context specific design.

And speaking of context, the smoke of the fire rising up through a hole in the roof. The dirt floor is insulated with a layer of burnt twigs, followed by moose skins and a top layer of reindeer fur. It works. It was bitter cold outside and toasty in the hut.

Kuhmunen and grandchild feeding the reindeer some lichen.

Not only does Nils Anders Kuhmunen herd reindeer, he also has a website.

Loquat or Noquat?

We get questions. As generalists and writers, not experts, we do our best to answer them. We’ll throw this one out to the readers. Charles Chiu writes to ask if the tree above is a loquat. My vote is no. It doesn’t quite look like the loquat tree, from our neighborhood, pictured below.

Opinions? If not a loquat what is this tree?

Our Footprint

We’re not the types to obsess about carbon footprints, preferring a separate set of fun, pleasure and cheapness metrics with which to base our lives on. That being said, Mr. Homegrown Evolution punched in our stats for a contest over at Low Impact Living and ended up winning the contest. Read the article about us here.

There’s some irony about this, in that Mr. Homegrown Evolution is, as you read this, busting the household carbon footprint on an unexpected CLUI related business trip to a remote Swedish mining town in the arctic.

Arctic journeys aside, the way we won the Low Impact contest is simple. We live in a small house and don’t drive much. That’s just about it. We can’t afford solar panels, and everything else we’ve done, such as the washing machine greywater system, is DIY and un-permitted. We’re sure that many people in our 1920s era neighborhood would have also won this contest. Folks in apartments would have done even better. The average African would do a thousand times better.

But anyways, many thanks to the nice folks at Low Impact Living and we’ll be using that hotel stay on our next book tour of San Francisco (travel via Amtrak and bicycle, for those keeping score).

Karp’s Sweet Quince

Our good friends Nance Klehm and neighborhood fruit guru Lora Hall both had the same suggestion for our small, steeply banked and awkward front yard: plant lots of fruit trees and keep them pruned. Thus began our mini-orchard, delayed for many years by messy foundation work. One of the newest additions to the mini orchard is a bare root tree we ordered from the Raintree Nursery, Karp’s Sweet quince. As you can see from the photo above it’s just started to leaf out.

Quince (Cydonia oblonga), a tree native to the Mediterranean and the Middle East, has rich, symbolic meanings to cultures in these parts of the world. Biblical and classical references translated in English as “apples”, in most cases, most likely refer to quince (it was probably a quince and not an apple or Cheeto that Adam tempted Eve Eve tempted Adam with).

Most quince must be cooked to render it edible with way too many recipes to mention in a short blog post, everything from jams to Spanish tapas dishes. Having to cook the fruit and the tree’s susceptibility to fire blight disease means that it has fallen out of favor in the US. There are a few varieties that can be eaten raw including Karp’s quince, which the USDA’s Germplasm Resources Information Network describes:

“Grown in the Majes Valley in the province of Arequipa in southern Peru. C. T. Kennedy of the California Rare Fruit Growers received this from David Karp of Venice, California, who says it is called ‘Apple Quince’ in Peru. It is juicy and non-astringent and can be eaten fresh. Karp obtained scions from Edgar Valdivia who grows this quince in Simi Valley California, and whose relatives had brought the cultivar from Peru. The Valle de Majes is a fertile valley between 200 and 800 meter above sea level with a warm climate year round.”

Quince trees can be grown in many different climates, but the “edible when raw” varieties tend to do better in warm places such as here in Los Angeles. What little information I could dig up on the internet about Karp’s quince (also known as Valdivia quince) concerned some controversy about just how edible the fruit is when raw. Mr. Karp, if you’re out there please get in touch with me, I’d love to hear more about the story of this variety! And readers, if you’re quince aficionados, please leave some comments.