Dave Wilson’s Top 21 Fruit Trees for the Southwest US

A Necta-plum from our tree harvested in July 2010.

Do you live in a warm climate and have less than 500 chill hours? “Rock star orchardist” Tom Spellman, with the Dave Wilson Nursery, has some suggestions for low chill fruit tree varieties based on productivity and performance. His recommendations:

  • Dorsett golden apple
  • Fuji apple
  • Pink Lady apple
  • Cot-N-Candy Aprium
  • Flavor Delight Aprium
  • Minnie Royal cherry
  • Royal Lee cherry
  • Arctic Star nectarine
  • Double Delight nectarine
  • Snow Queen nectarine
  • Spice Zee Necta-Plum
  • August Pride peach
  • Donut peach
  • Eva’s Pride peach
  • Red Baron peach
  • Burgundy plum
  • Emerald Drop pluot
  • Flavor Grenade pluot
  • Flavor King pluot
  • Splash pluot

Of the trees on this list, we’ve got the Spice Zee Necta-Plum, a beautiful tree with pink blossoms and  red leaves in the spring that produces a super sweet fruit. It’s still too young to evaluate it’s performance but I’m happy to have it in our garden. We also have a Fuji apple that’s a few years old which is growing but has yet to produce fruit. Last year we also planted a Flavor Delight aprium (in a less than ideal location), and it’s also too early to evaluate its performance.

We sourced almost all of our trees by mail through the Bay Laurel Nursery, which carries Dave Wilson’s trees (Dave Wilson is wholesale only). Get your orders in now as Bay Laurel sells out of many varieties by the time they ship in February.

You can read the complete list of Tom Spellman’s low chill fruit suggestions with his  comments here.

If you have mature versions of any of these trees please leave a comment and let us know where you live and how your trees are doing.

Thanks to Ari Kletzky for suggesting this list.

Gingerbread Geodesic Dome

Scout Regalia Reel 02: Gingerbread Geodesic Dome from Scout Regalia on Vimeo.

Now you can bake your own version of Drop City without getting “baked” yourself! Some local designers, Scout Regalia, have cooked up a gingerbread geodesic dome and offer a kit for making one.

Now when it comes to geodesic domes as shelter I’m with former dome builder Lloyd Kahn who concluded that “Domes weren’t practical, economical or aesthetically tolerable.”

But when it comes to gingerbread domes, I’m all for it!

Via the Eastsider.

Three Power Tools Every Urban Homesteader Should Own

On nearly all the work I’ve done on our house, everything from chicken coops to wood floors I’ve used just three power tools:

  • corded drill
  • circular saw
  • sabre sawjig saw

While I also own a router, a miter saw, a sander and a few other miscellaneous power tools, the three tools above I consider essential. Even if you don’t own a house, but would like to build some furniture or help a friend or relative with a repair project, this great triumvirate of tools will get you through 99% of all jobs. For that 1% of problems that require an exotic tool, you can rent one.

I prefer corded tools as I hate it when a battery dies in the middle of a day’s work and corded tools have more power. That being said, there are a few times when I wish I had a battery powered drill. I’d also recommend spending a little extra to get high quality models of these three tools. They’ve all lasted 10+ years of heavy use.

I’ve got a non-powered backup for each of these tools, with the exception of the drill. Sometime before that that zombie Apocalypse/Mayan 2012 meltdown thing happens, I’d love to learn how to use hand tools. But in the meantime, I’ll stick with electricity.

Michael Reynold’s Beer Can Houses

Construction of One of Three Experimental Houses Built from Empty Beer and Soft Drink Cans.

The National Archive just put thousands of 1970s era images from the Environmental Protection Agency online. One of the photographers working for the EPA, David Hiser, captured New Mexico architect Michael Reynolds building houses out of adobe and aluminum cans. See a selection of these photos after the jump . . .

Detail of a Wall in an Experimental Home Built of Aluminum Beer and Soft Drink Cans near Taos, New Mexico.

Caption: “Detail of a wall in an experimental home built of aluminum beer and soft drink cans near Taos, New Mexico. for this wall the cans were laid horizontally in two thicknesses which are separated by a vertical sheet of foam insulation. The exterior will be a combination of glass, exposed can ends and unpainted concrete. Unskilled labor and the cheapness of materials will allow the structure to be built as much as 20% less than conventional housing.”

Exterior of an Experimental All Aluminum Beer and Soft Drink Can House Under Construction near Taos, New Mexico.

Caption: “Exterior of an experimental all aluminum beer and soft drink can house under construction near Taos, New Mexico. This shot was taken two months after the foundation was laid. the wood forms on the top will be used to pour concrete beams.”

Interior View of the All Aluminum Beer and Soft Drink Can Experimental House near Taos, New Mexico.

Interior view of the all aluminum beer and soft drink can experimental house near Taos, New Mexico. the owners report the house seems to work well so far and gives the feeling of being very solid. the south facing windows capture heat from the sun, a good feature because the winters of the southwest are severe.”

Bottle Window in the Entranceway to an Experimental Home Built with Empty Steel Beer and Soft Drink Cans near Taos, New Mexico.

Caption: “Bottle window in the entranceway to an experimental home
built with empty steel beer and soft drink cans near Taos, New Mexico. the ends
of the cans used in a non-load bearing wall are seen around the window.”

Another Experimental House Made of Empty Steel Beer and Soft Drink Can Construction near Taos, New Mexico.

Caption: “Another experimental house made of empty steel beer and soft drink can construction near Taos, New Mexico. This house will be plastered with adobe like the other homes in the area, but will have cost up to 20% less, according to architect Michael Reynolds”

A View of the Experimental House Made of Empty Steel Beer and Soft Drink Cans after Completion with Adobe Exterior.

The same house, above, with an exterior coat of adobe.

Lawyer Steve Natelson, Who Lives near Taos, New Mexico Relaxes on the Bed of His Experimental Home Built of Empty Steel Beer and Soft Drink Cans.

Caption: “Lawyer Steve Natelson, who lives near Taos, New Mexico, relaxes on the bed of his experimental home built of empty steel beer and soft drink cans. On the wall is a mural of cans left exposed. It was the first such house built by the architect Michael Reynolds who believes this type of housing can be built for as much as 20% less than the conventional method. The Federal Housing Administration has shown interest in issuing loans on this type of housing. The cost is $25,000 to $30,000 for a two-bedroom home.”

See more of David Hiser’s photos of New Mexico here.

For more about this EPA photo collection read an article in the Atlantic, “Documerica Images of America in Crisis in the 1970s“.

Earthquake Proofing the Pantry

So I finally got around to earthquake proofing the pantry. All it took was a bunch of four foot bungee cords which seemed to have just about the right amount of stretch to span our seven foot shelves. You could probably use the same four foot bungee cords to span an even longer shelf. I used eye hooks to anchor the ends of the cords.

Looking at the picture, the height of the cords on some of the shelves might not be optimal (looks like some of the jars could slip under in a good shaking). But, all in all, I’m pleased with the results.

Testing the Lead Testers

Varian ICP-MS from Wikipedia

Dear readers,

Excuses for a technical post here, but we need your scientific expertise. If you have experience in soil laboratory testing techniques, or know someone who does, please send us an email at [email protected] or leave a comment. We’re attempting to reconcile slightly different lead results from three different labs and I’d like to be able to write about soil testing methods. Two of the labs we sent samples off to (UMass and Timberleaf Soil Testing) use inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP) to test for lead. Wallace labs uses an extractant, AB-DTPA (ammonium bicarbonate Diethylene Triamine Pentaacetic acid).

Here’s how Wallace described their lead testing techinique,

We use AB-DTPA (ammonium bicarbonate Diethylene Triamine Pentaacetic acid).

It is a gentle extractant and it mimics roots in extracting minerals from the soil. Most often environmental tests are made with boiling acids which are more aggressive than roots. The AB-DTPA method is a standard testing method of the Soil Science Society of America. It is called the universal extractant. It measures the bioavailable or plant available minerals which is expected to be adsorbed by plants. Most of the background heavy metals are occluded and are unavailable to plants. Our testing does not see the occluded metals.

Total lead is approximately 10 times higher than our AB-DTPA measured lead. We recommend that AB-DTPA lead be less than 30 parts per million for home production of edible produce.

UMass says,

We use a modified Morgan solution (dilute glacial acetic acid and ammonium hydroxide) to measure extractable lead (using ICP).  Total Estimated Lead is calculated using a correlation established during a study performed here at UMass that compared total digestion levels to extractable levels using 300-400 soils.

I divided one soil sample into three parts and sent a portion to three labs. While all three labs indicated the presence of above natural levels of lead, there were enough differences between the tests to warrant a closer look at the techniques. Your assistance would be greatly appreciated and we’ll share what we find out.

Food Preservation Resources

Due to a popular post on making prickly pear jelly, we get a lot of emails asking for advice on canning. So I thought I’d list three favorite food preservation resources.

I like to go to respected sources when canning for reasons of both safety and reliability. While botulism is fairly rare, it’s a highly unpleasant way to pass this vale of tears. But beyond the safety issue, if I’m going to go through the work of canning, I want to know that the recipe is going to work. There are few things more frustrating than a big batch of jam or jelly that doesn’t set. Yes, you can call it “syrup” but it’s still a big blow to the ego. 

My three favorite resources are the National Center for Home Food Preservation which has recipes for all kinds of food from fruit to meat, the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving and Ball’s website. All of the recipes in these two websites and book follow USDA guidelines.

The reason I came up with a prickly pear recipe is that I couldn’t find any other ones that worked. But if I were canning something like, say, peaches I’d go with one of the above authorities. If you have a favorite food preservation resource leave a comment.

Gifts for the Holidays Food Crafting Workshop

One way to avoid the consumerism of the holiday season is to make your own gifts. And if you live in our hometown you can learn how to make edible gifts while supporting the recently revived Los Angeles Master Food Preserver program. From their announcement:

Join the Master Food Preservers of Los Angeles County and Homegirl Cafe for a special workshop and fundraiser on Sunday December 4th from 1 to 4 pm.

Master Food Preservers Ernest Miller, Felicia Friesema, Joseph Shuldiner, Amy Goldman, Roshni Divate and Craig Ruggless.

Learn how to make truly unique and special home crafted food gifts for the holiday season! Topic include food ornaments, elegant liqueurs, gourmet mustards, seasonal spiced jams and candied fruits.

Guests will take home samples and recipes, knowledge and a healthy dose of holiday cheer.

Proceeds benefit the Master Food Preserver program, a volunteer community education group of the University of California Cooperative Extension.

The cost is $45 and you can get your reservation here.

The workshop will take place at the Homegirl Cafe which is located at: 130 West Bruno Street, Los Angeles 90012. 

Two Vegetable Gardening Commandments

Two of our vegetable beds looking kinda shabby.

I spent the Thanksgiving weekend up on the vegetable gardening equivalent of Mount Sinai receiving a set of revelations. Someday I’ll have Mrs. Homegrown transcribe the complete stone tablets (urbanite rather than stone, technically) I received in their entirety. In the meantime, I’ll share two of the commandments:

1. Thou shalt not have more vegetable beds than thou canst maintain in a worthy condition.

We’ve already reduced the amount of vegetable space in our garden and replaced it with native perennials. I’m considering cutting more vegetable space. Having a lot of poorly maintained vegetable beds sends out a big invitation to the sorts of insect visitors we don’t want in our gardens. Better to have one well maintained and productive vegetable bed than ten poorly maintained beds. And right now I’ve got a few less than optimal beds.

Light row cover stretched over hoops protects the bed from cabbage moths

2. Thou shalt secure thy vegetable beds with bird netting or row cover material even if thou thinkest “I’ll get lucky this time.”

I do this every year even though I know that if I leave a newly planted bed unprotected it will be visited by a clumsy skunk or a cat looking for a place to poop. I hate bird netting–it inevitably gets tangled and is a pain to work with–but the fact is that if I don’t use it I don’t get any vegetables. And, if I plant any brassicas at this time of the year without first covering them with row cover material, they will get munched to the ground by cabbage leaf caterpillars.  I’ve found that once the plants gets established I can pull off the row cover or bird netting and enjoy a season of un-munched veggies.

Kelly Speaketh on this Issue:

Erik seems to need to get this off his chest–he gets dramatic when garden disasters occur, and we’ve been hard hit by the skunk and cutworm brigades this week– but I’d say he’s being way too hard on himself.

First and foremost, we learned about the possibly high levels of lead in our soil, just when we were at the critical transition stage between the summer and winter garden.The whole yard became off-limits at that point. We just let things go until we knew what we were going to do–and we’re still figuring that out. So yup, the two beds in the top pic look like crap, because they are completely untended beds–beds that have been waiting around for us to figure things out. They don’t look that way because we have too many beds.

We’ve had fallow beds, and cover cropped beds, beds gone a little wild, and beds full of things going to seed, but I’ve never thought our beds poorly maintained–except in the last two months. So I think Erik just needs a glass of scotch or something tonight.
Just to be factual, we have four vegetable beds. We used to have more ground space where we could plant food, which helped with rotation, but we’ll be doing all our veg growing in our four raised beds from now on out, and dedicating the ground space to natives and other perennials. We had planned to do this prior to the lead thing, coincidentally–to save labor. We figure four beds is plenty for the two of us.

As to the lead thing (that’s what I call it–“the lead thing”), we are still getting conflicting tests from different services. One testing service even insists we don’t have a problem at all! Until we sort this out, we’ve decided to “Keep Calm and Carry On” and plant in raised beds.

As to Commandment #2: I agree entirely! The beds must be protected. Otherwise husbands have breakdowns.