Bare Root Fruit Tree Season is Here!

Yet another Internet “un-boxing.” This time fruit trees.

Our bare root fruit tree order just arrived from Bay Laurel Nursery. We ordered:

  • Tropic Snow Peach on Nemaguard rootstock
  • Panamint Nectarine on Citation rootstock
  • CoffeeCake (Nishimura Wase) Persimmon
  • Saijo Persimmon (pollinator for CoffeeCake)
  • Flavor Finale Pluot on Myrobalan 29C rootstock
  • Santa Rosa Plum on Citation rootstock (pollinator for the Flavor Finale Pluot)
  • Flavor Delight Aprium on Citation rootstock

The plan is to follow the Dave Wilson nursery’s backyard orchard culture guidelines which we blogged about in detail here. In short, you plant trees close together and prune the hell out of them to keep them small and manageable. We also used Dave Wilson’s handy fruit and nut harvest date chart to, as much as possible, assure that we have some kind of fruit ready to eat during most of the year. All of the varieties we chose have low chill hour requirements since we live in USDA zone 10.

Poo Salon and Urban Forage Classes with Nancy Klehm

Our good friend Nancy Klehm is coming to town for a visit. We’ve invited her to be a guest lecturer at our “Academy of Home Economics” and she’s agreed to teach a couple of classes. If you live in the LA area, this is a chance not to be missed.

First, who is Nancy?

Nancy Klehm is a radical ecologist, designer, urban forager, grower and teacher. Her solo and collaborative work focuses on creating participatory social ecologies in response to a direct experience of a place. She grows and forages much of her own food in a densely urban area. She actively composts food, landscape and human waste. She only uses a flush toilet when no other option is available. She designed and managed a large scale, closed-loop vermicompost project at a downtown homeless shelter where cafeteria food waste becomes 4 tons of worm castings a year which in turn is used as the soil that grows food to return to the cafeteria. 

More information on Nancy can be found at her website, here: http://www.spontaneousvegetation.net/

Class #1:

Poo Salon
Friday, February 18th, 2011
7-9pm, Echo Park, $15

Have you heard about the concept of humanure composting? It’s the practice of composting human waste. It’s practical, easy, green as can be, and totally off the grid. Better still, all the cool people are doing it. Whether you’re interested in a viable emergency toilet, dream of living off the grid or are considering a revolutionary urban lifestyle, you’ll want to know these techniques. Nancy, a world class humanure expert, describes this class as part philosophical discussion, part problem solving session, part introduction to the technology of composting.
• Foraged snacks provided. BYOB to share.

SOLD OUT. But you can put yourself on a waiting list for a possible second session by sending an email with “Poo Salon waiting list” in the subject line to: [email protected]

Class #2

Urbanforage with Nancy Klehm (aka Weedeater)
Sunday, February 27th
2-4:30 pm, Echo Park, $25

Learn about the plants that share this city with us!

Urbanforage is an informally guided walk through the spontaneous and cultivated vegetation of the urbanscape. Along the walk, we learn to identify plants, hear their botanical histories and stories of their use by cultural use by animals and humans and share antidotes of specific experiences with these plants.

This walk will start with sharing an herbal beverage and end with a simple herbal food shared over discussion of the experiences and questions generated by the walk.

SOLD OUT. But you can put yourself on a waiting list for a possible second session by sending an email with “forage waiting list” in the subject line to: [email protected]

The Great Cellphone Debate

The one that worked–with bail bond ad!

Kelly and I share a cellphone, and I’m always trying to think of ways to ditch it, if just to have one less bill every month. I often deliberately leave it at home when out of the house. I hate being interrupted by it and I dislike the social awkwardness of public phone conversations. Not that many people call our cellphone anyways as we don’t give out the phone number much. When I need to text someone (them young folks!) I use my laptop and Google Voice.

Yesterday, on a bike errand sans cellphone, I found myself in a situation where I needed to call home to get some information. Five payphones later, I finally found one that worked. Payphones have been in decline for years, of course, with the advent of cellphone service. Kind of a shame since I wonder if cellphone networks will work in an emergency. And what about people too poor to afford a cellphone?

Now, I don’t want this to turn into a anti-technology rant. I recognize that many people have to carry cellphones because of job and/or family obligations. And they certainly are convenient when it comes to things like finding someone at an airport, not to mention all the features of those smart phones (our phone ain’t “smart,” so others must think of me as crazy when I’m surprised at what you can do with one of those iPhone thingies).

But I wonder if we need a time out to consider the unintended consequences of cellphones. Are cellphones creating a generation of less independent children, always tethered to parents and civilization? Is all that RF radiation good for us? Then there’s the Miss Manners questions: all that texting at the dinner table, at parties, at school, in houses of worship.

At the same time I’m intrigued with developing some of the how-to content of this blog into a phone-friendly format. It’s not like cellphones are going to go away. Maybe it’s better to work with the technology.

Leave some comments! How do you all negotiate cellphone usage with a non-consumerist lifestyle? What positive things come from cellphones? If you’re cellphone free, why and how do you manage?

The Kingdom of Bolinas

In Ernest Callenbach’s 1975 novel Ecotopia, Northern California, Oregon and Washington break away from the union to form their own highly groovy utopia. What Callenbach predicted may never have happened on such a big scale, but the small town of Bolinas, CA sure feels like it broke off from the rest of the country. Callenbach, in fact, featured Bolinas in the prequel to Ecotopia, Ecotopia Emerging.

Bolinas residents, famously, remove the turnoff signs on the highway on a regular basis, giving the town an independent vibe. One of the first things you see on approaching Bolinas is a series of picturesque organic farms, including Gospel Flat Farm which runs an honor stand along the road. When we visited they had some nice looking beets:

And a quirky mobile facility:

Bolinas also has a free store:

With its own unique signage:

And a multi-denominational alter thingy on the main drag:

With yet more creative signage:

The list of former residents reads like a who’s who of American art and poetry. It’s easy to see why. Bolinas has natural beauty, a good set of small businesses and all that fresh produce. It’s also the home of my favorite bloggers, publisher and author Lloyd Kahn

Kind of hard to find myself back in Los Angeles, the most un-Bolinas of cities!

Why My Poultry Waterer Kept Breaking

This is not a handle! How not to carry a poultry waterer.

After breaking two poultry waterers I finally figured out what I was doing wrong. Thanks to instructions that came with my third waterer I learned not to carry it by the outer handle. After filling the waterer you carry it with the inner handle as seen below:

The inner handle.

Using the outer handle with the waterer full puts stress on the metal and ultimately breaks the vacuum.

Our backyard “egganomics” took a hit–gotta account for those three waterers now!

Garden Bench Ideas

I’ve been contemplating building a garden bench for our backyard so whenever I see a nice one I take a picture. The first example (above) resides in a nursery in Bolinas, California. Looks like one end is the ubiquitous cinder block and the other a pre-cast concrete pier. Add some driftwood (there’s a lot of it in Bolinas) and you’ve got a bench.

This arts n’ craftsy bench is in the San Francisco Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park. If I want to recreate this I’d have to pull out the router to do the fancy lettering. Would be kind of funny to offer naming rights to objects in our backyard, though.

Also in the Arboretum, this massive stone bench. Kinda hard to get those heavy stones up the steps to our house. It’s beautiful, but if I recreated it poorly I’d have an object that recalls the tiny Stonehenge gag in This is Spinal Tap. The amusing back story to many of the stones in the San Francisco Arboretum is that they came from a Medieval Spanish monastery that William Randolph Hearst bought and had disassembled, crated and shipped to California at great expense. A couple of fires destroyed the crates and markings and years of acrimonious debate on where to put Hearst’s monastery ended with many of the stones getting distributed around the park as benches and walls. Most went to the construction of a new abbey near Sacramento.

Really nice stonework here–a bench midway up a staircase on the Lands End trail overlooking the entrance to the bay. It’s the most beautiful place on the planet with a nice bench to enjoy the view. 

A bench at the Preston Winery, home of that olive oil I blogged about yesterday.

I don’t ‘think a short bench like any of these would work in our backyard. At home I’m either running around or completely horizontal. Perhaps some kind of lounge chair might work better or a really long bench with some cushions.Will have to consult with the boss . . .

The Making of a Great Olive Oil

Kelly admires the olives

Thanks to our good friend Dale Benson, Kelly and I got to see how a really high quality olive oil is made. Dale knows Matt Norelli, the wine and olive oil maker at Preston Vineyards of Dry Creek, an organic family farm near Healdsburg in Northern California. Matt was nice enough to let us watch the complicated olive oil machinery in action.

First the freshly picked olives go into a big hopper (above). They are then crushed and churned (below).

After the churning process (called malaxation) the pulpy olive mass goes into a high speed centrifuge:

Matt (left) Dale (right) with the centrifuge

At the end of all this machinery the oil pours out of a spigot and into a steel drum:

We all had the great privilege of tasting the freshly squeezed oil. I won’t soon forget that heavenly flavor. Matt told us that it takes around a ton of olives to make 25 to 30 gallons of oil. The olives come from a thousand trees that are tucked around the vineyards.

If you’re ever in Northern California the Preston Vineyard is well worth a visit. We got to taste a Barbera wine that they make–quite amazing. They also bake a delicious sourdough bread, keep a flock of laying hens and sell cured olives. And the scenery? Let’s just say it was difficult to come back to gritty Los Angeles.

Preston Vineyards website with visiting hours and map.

Lou Preston’s olive curing recipe (scroll down towards the bottom of the page).

New Year’s Resolutions

It’s a week for formulating New Years resolutions and I have two that stem from reading Ferran Adrià’s A Day at elBulli. Adrià is one of the main proponents of “molecular gastronomy” (though he rejects the term) a style of cooking that involves not just unusual ingredients, but the creation of entirely new forms of cooking. Think dry ice, freeze drying and culinary thoughtstylings such as “Spherification.” But back to my two resolutions which are:

1. Read, listen to and experience more divergent opinions. I checked out A Day at El Bulli from the library expecting to hate it. I’m all about quality ingredients (preferably homegrown) prepared in simple, traditional ways and will never attempt any of the ridiculous recipes included in this big picture book. That being said, I came away from thumbing through the book with an admiration for Adrià’s creativity even if I agree with Mrs. Homegrown description of the entrees looking like “dog vomit.”* It’s all too easy in the age of Google to succumb to “confirmation bias,” the errors that come with finding only what you’re looking for. While I wouldn’t buy a copy of A day at El Bulli, I’m glad a librarian chose it for the library and I’m happy I took the time to consider Adrià’s point of view even if I disagree.

2. Speaking of Adrià’s creativity–he spends half the year developing new methods in Barcelona and the other half the year working at the remote El Bulli. Making the time for creative thinking is essential, I believe. Even after co-writing two how-to books I find myself spending too much time answering emails and not enough time growing, tinkering and building things. Adrià has it right: if you don’t make that time for creativity it will fill up with unproductive duties. Of course Adrià has someone else to sort through the 2 million (no exaggeration) annual reservation requests.

* A clarifying note frome Mrs. Homegrown: I used the term dog vomit specifically in relation to their signature dishes based on flavor-infused foam. Many of their dishes are strikingly beautiful, art without doubt. But speaking as a dog owner, if you present me with a plate of chunks of food swimming in yellow foam, my mind is going one place and one place only. And when the foam is white instead of yellow, I’m thinking about spittle bugs, or pond life, or stinky beach foam. But you know…whatever turns your crank.

And speaking of those 2 million reservations, Mrs. Homegrown and I are taking a few days off to catch up with things–we’ll be back soon.

More Medlar Mania

We blogged about the medlar, a rare fruit that tastes kinda like perfumed apple butter, last week. We left out a few bits of medlar trivia and linkages.

First off that Caravaggio painting above, “Boy with a Basket of Fruit.” Please note the medlars:

In other breaking medlar news:

The fine folks at Winnetka Farms, responsible for this outbreak of medlar mania, have in-depth medlar factoids on their blog.

Graham Keegan, who went on the medlar harvest, shot some glamorous photos of us and, of course, the medlars:

Want to buy a medlar tree? Check out the selection at Raintree Nursery–enter “medlar” in the search thingy.

Anduhrew has a post on his blog about medlars, including Shakespeare’s shout-out to medlars in Romeo and Juliet.

And, lastly, CRFG Operative left a comment on our blog about growing medlars in San Diego with a warming about fire blight:

I was able to grow medlars down here in San Diego county with no problems. They were grafted on a pear tree and eventually fire blight killed the limbs they were on so I lost them. We are in a colder spot but still are only about 15 – 20 miles inland from the coast. If you have an existing pear tree you may want to graft medlar onto that so you don’t have to plant a whole tree to see if they will do well in your area. Make sure you sterilize pruning tools and grafting knives between cuts and do not share infected scion wood. This will help to control fire blight. If it does develop cut it out a couple of inches down into non-infected wood before it takes further hold.