Real Estate Bubble Bananas

There’s a house in our neighborhood that’s been for sale for over a year. Two months ago the for sale signs disappeared, junk mail littered the front porch and the mow and blow guys stopped showing up, leaving the lawn to go wild. A busted sprinkler head creates a nightly fountain as the houses’ infrastructure lapses into a timer operated zombification. We knew the nice young family that used to live here and I hope that they were able to sell somehow, but it doesn’t look good.

I started picking up the junk mail to make the place looked lived in. I also remembered that the backyard had both figs and bananas, and ventured beyond the gate to see how the fruit was developing (fyi, picking up fallen fruit is important to keep down the rat population). The figs aren’t quite ready but the bananas, the ones the squirrels didn’t get, were the tastiest damn bananas I’ve ever eaten. It turns out that our national real estate bubble has a fruit filled silver lining. I imagine that all across America there are abandoned fruit trees yielding their bounty for a new generation of gleaners. Thank you Angelo Mozilo for creating a literal banana republic!

Bananas are not my favorite plant for Southern California as they take a lot of water and get somewhat rangy looking when the wind rips up their leaves. But they are one of the most greywater tolerant plants and a good choice for paring with the outflow of a shower or laundry machine.

Fruit score: 10 to the squirrels 2 to the people

I’m sorry to say that I don’t know what variety this banana tree is, but June is a good month to plant bananas here in Southern California. Figuring out when to harvest bananas is tricky. Some yellow and mature on the plant (like my subprime banana) and others stay green and only mature after you pick them. Gardening expert Pat Welsh in her book Southern California Organic Gardening recommends picking one banana to see if it’s ready. For the pick-while-green, varieties (the majority of bananas) Welsh says,

“Pick their fruit when they’ve lost their sharp edges and indented sides; wait until they lose their angularity. When the fruit is still green but has become rounded, filled out, and fat looking, it’s ready to pick.”

Cut off the whole stalk of bananas and let them turn yellow in a cool shady place.

The past few days the Financial Times has started showing up on the driveway of this house so perhaps our neighbors were able to sell the place and the banana republic days are over. Looks like we’ll have to camp out with the in-laws in Phoenix for the subprime citrus harvest this winter . . .

Hops in Southern California

From hop rhizome to young vine

Several people have asked a question we were curious about: what varieties of hops are best to grow in warm climates such as Southern California? We asked around and the consensus seems to be Cascade and Nugget among others. Greg Beron, one of the co-owners of Culver City Homebrewing Supply Co., has a couple of different hops rhizomes for sale that he says grow well here in Los Angeles. The shop’s parking lot, in fact, has many small plastic barrels planted with hops vines growing up string attached to the east side of the building.

Homegrown Evolution’s own hop farming experiment ended in the spring of last year after we accidentally plopped some home built scaffolding on top of the tiny vine while undertaking the heinous task of scraping and painting the front of the house. Planting it in terrible soil doomed it to failure anyways. We’re experimenting with growing both Cascade and Nugget hops in a big self irrigating planter with the hope that we can transfer them to the ground next year or the year after. In the meantime we’ll improve our soil with another application of “craptonite“.

Some hops growing links:

Hop Gardening

A list of Hop varieties for all climates

How to build a PVC hops trellis

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?

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.

Sky full of Paw Paws

Mrs. Homegrown Evolution is deeply concerned about Mr. Homegrown Evolution’s midlife obsession with rare fruit trees. The California Rare Fruit Grower’s Fruit Gardner Magazine is the new Hustler around here. And now our fruit tree internet video porn needs have been satisfied. This week, the always superb Sky Full of Bacon video podcast from Chicago’s Michael Gebert serves up a tour of Oriana Kruszewski’s orchard which contains Asian pears, paw paws and black walnuts trees. Kruszewski’s knowledge, enthusiasm and perseverance is inspiring.


Sky Full of Bacon 08: Pear Shaped World from Michael Gebert on Vimeo.

A Purple Dragon Carrot


It’s purple, it’s fairly tasty and it came from Seeds of Change. [Please note, Homegrown Evolution Reader Jeremy comments: "Seeds of Change, those super-friendly people who are owned by the Mars Corporation, who tried to shut down the HDRA's Heritage Seed Library, and who registered am ancient Hopi "mandala" as their trade-mark? Enjoy." Thanks Jeremy, we'll be doing some research on this one.] According to the seed package it was bred by someone named John Navazio who I can find no information about on the internets. John clearly has more important things to do than updating a Facebook page.

My dragon carrots grew without a hitch in our “guerrilla” parkway garden. As you can see from the photo, the carrot has a deep purple color reminiscent of the domesticated carrot’s wild ancestors, which were probably tamed in what is now Afghanistan. Wikipedia identifies the purple hue of these carrots as anthocyanin a possible source of antioxidants and a common pigment in many red-hued fruits and vegetables.

Also note all that foliage. It’s edible. I tossed the carrot tops in with some couscous, olive oil and balsamic vinegar for a tasty dinner. The carrots themselves were served as a side dish mixed with a dressing made out of olive oil, lemon juice and salt.

Jujube and Goji Fever

Jujube Photo from the Papaya Tree Nursery

Tucked into a residential neighborhood in a corner of Los Angeles’ vast San Fernando valley, the Papaya Tee Nursery, sells a dazzling array of exotic fruit trees, countless species and varieties you’ve never heard of. Papaya Tree’s proprietor Alex Silber, with his encyclopedic knowledge and stream of consciousness delivery, comes across at first as, well, unusual, until you realize that it’s not Alex that’s off kilter but the rest of the world. Who’s more sensible: someone who has a backyard full of the best fruit you’ve ever tasted, or the rest of us who know nothing other than flavorless, supermarket produce? There’s a whole world of flavor that our backyards could produce and Alex just might be Southern California’s exotic Johnny Appleseed.

Homegrown Evolution took a trip to Papaya Tree two weeks ago with bench pressing spotter, activist and blogger Creek Freak (whose book Down by the Los Angeles Riveris on my must read list). Creek Freak detailed his experience here on the Eco-village garden blog, and came back from Papaya Tree with an unique variety of jujube (Zyzyphus jujuba) which Alex Silber calls the Chang Jujube. Alex’s father got the original Chang tree as a gift from a friend in Asia. For those of you who have never had a jujube, it has a flavor somewhat like a date, (hence the popular name “Chinese date”). Most of the jujubes I’ve sampled at farmers market taste, charitably, like slightly sweet Styrofoam packing materials. Alex was nice enough to send us home with a bag full of dried Chang jujubes which convinced even the skeptical Mrs. Homegrown Evolution that this variety of jujube tree is well worth growing. The Chang jujube, unlike most varieties, is self pollinating and therefore does not require a partner. The Chang also has a distinctive, narrow and upright growing pattern, making it an ideal tree for small spaces. Jujube trees are an amazingly adaptable, deciduous tree, tolerating cold but preferring hot summers to produce good fruit which can be eaten fresh or dried. Once dried, the fruit stores for many months.

Goji berries (Lycium barbarum)

While Creek Freak came back with his jujube, Mr. Homegrown Evolution snagged three small goji berry bushes (Lycium barbarum). Goji berries created a frenzy in new age circles a few years back, with some extraordinary health claims, and currently fetch $14 for a pound of dried berries at Whole Foods. What attracted us to the plant is its alleged tolerance to living in proximity to black walnut trees, notorious for producing their own herbicides. We ended up planting them elsewhere in the yard, since our black walnut area is a bit too shady, and we’ll report back on how they do. Supposedly the leaves are edible as well, for those of you keeping score on the alternate uses of fruits and vegetables.

Note that the Papaya tree nursery is by appointment only and can be reached at (818) 363-3680. No mail order except for miracle fruit berries (see those strange berries and some video of the Papaya tree nursery here).

Brewing Demo

Hogarth’s formula: beer=good, gin=bad

Homegrown Evolution will be conducting an informal beer brewing demo as part of an art opening in Eagle Rock this weekend. Curated by Nate Garcia, Needle in a Haystack brings together an eclectic group of artists exploring community and public space, including our comrade Ari Kletzky of Islands of L.A., with whom we’ll be interacting during the course of the show.

At the opening, on Saturday January 24th we’ll be demonstrating how to make a batch of beer with malt extract, a process that anyone can do in their own kitchen. The beer will ferment in the gallery and be served on February 28th at the closing party. We’ll be setting up around 6 p.m. and we should be finished brewing by 9 p.m. or so. The event is at the Center for the Arts, Eagle Rock which is located at 2225 Colorado Boulevard.

Stay tuned for more fermentation workshops in the near future.

Home Baked Bread in Five Minutes

If you’ve bought our book, followed this blog, or gone to one our workshops you’ll know that we tout a wild yeast bread recipe adapted from Nancy Silverton’s La Brea Bakery method. We contend that our delicious recipe can be worked into all but the most crazed work schedule. But our recipe does rely on equipment and tools, specifically a heavy duty mixer and a wooden bread form. This month’s issue of Mother Earth News has a bread making solution for those of you unwilling to make the investment in the mixer or unable to fit the long rise times of wild yeast bread into your work schedule.

The article, “Five Minutes a Day for Fresh-Baked Bread” by Zöe François and Jeff Hertzberg, explains their simple recipe. Combining just flour, water, salt and yeast, with no kneading, you make up a very wet dough, let it rise for two hours and then either bake it or stick it in the refrigerator. The dough keeps in the fridge for up to two weeks, taking on a sourdough flavor as it ages. When you want a loaf of bread you tear off a softball sized chunk, let it rise for 45 minutes and stick it in the oven. A pan of water in the stove creates steam and gives the bread a nice, hard crust.

We tried the basic white bread recipe in the Mother Earth article and can report that it works quite well. Hertzberg and François have penned a bread cookbook, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, that takes this basic recipe and uses it as the base for variations such as pizza dough, sticky rolls, and whole-wheat bread. While not having as rich a flavor as our wild yeast recipe, Hertzberg and François’ method is an excellent solution for busy households. We look forward to seeing the book.

For more on the five minute a day bread method see:

Hertzberg and François’ website, which has additional recipes and variations.

A youtube demonstration by the authors: