087 Foraging Controversy with Lisa Novick


Goldfinches on Hooker’s Evening Primrose. Photo: Lisa Novick.

On the podcast this week we talk to Lisa Novick Director of Outreach and K-12 Education of the Theodore Payne Foundation for Wild Flowers & Native Plants. We contacted her after seeing her blog in the Huffington Post, Forage in the Garden, Not in What’s Left of the Wild. In that post Lisa expresses her concern about foraging and suggests that people grow native plants in their yards and in public spaces. While our conversation is California-centric, I think, the principles we discuss apply to other regions. During the podcast Lisa mentions:

Hooker's Evening Primrose in bloom. Photo: Lisa Novick.

Hooker’s Evening Primrose in bloom. Photo: Lisa Novick.

If you’d like to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.


The Fine Art of Determining Peach Ripeness


How do you know when your peaces are ready to pick? For home growers it’s all about color. According to the University of Georgia,

Ground color is the best field indicator of peach maturity. . . The ground color of a peach approaching maturity is light green. A break in color toward yellow is the first definite indication of maturity. Brightening of the red over-color of the skin is another, though less reliable, index of maturity. Red color is typically dull prior to the green to yellow break. When the underlying ground color breaks to yellow, the red brightens and can easily be selected. Color judgments are reliable with many older varieties, but new highly colored varieties with higher percentages of red over-color have diminished the usefulness of color in maturity determination.

Farmers have access to a few tools that can make ripeness determination easier such as this expensive gadget that measures firmness or a brix meter for determining sugar content. These tools could only be justified if you were planning on growing, shipping and selling fruit. More useful for us backyard growers is this gallery of peach fruit color stages.

I’ve been picking them a little on the green side and letting them ripen inside in order to stay ahead of the squirrel menace. This year we’ve eaten a lot more peaches than the squirrels have.

Science, Blogging and Peaches


Allow me the privilege of taking myself to task. Last week I proudly proclaimed that I had solved the squirrel problem once and for all by covering our peach tree in bird netting. A week later I’m not so sure of my pronouncement.

The simple problem is that there’s no scientific control in my little backyard study. On Friday, Kelly and I took the netting off the tree and picked most of the peaches. Guess what? The peaches we left on the tree are still there. At least for now, the neighborhood squirrels are eating something else.

Now let me dream for a moment. Imagine if Elon Musk would stop his silly attempt to put people on Mars and would, instead, fund research into more down to earth subject matter: how best to grow tomatoes in a backyard? Does tap water kill sourdough culture? Does hugelkultur work? These are, of course, the sorts of subjects our underfunded Extension Services could look at if they had more resources. Right now they have to concentrate on commercial agriculture with backyard horticulture taking a distant second.

Until Musk has that low-tech road to Damascus experience, we may have to crowd-source some answers ourselves. While still anecdotal, I really appreciate your comments on my posts. It may not be scientific but it’s a start. And, of course, it’s always good to remember that great Socratic lesson: that we don’t know and may never know the answer to a question especially when it involves something as complex as life. In short, we may never outsmart the squirrel.

But I think we could do a better job leveraging our experiences using the power of the internet. While I don’t have the educational background or temperament for this, let me put this idea out there: how about putting together crowd-sourced experiments and observation into backyard food production? It seems like some great apps could be developed to do this.

What do you think? What are the first questions you’d like answered?

Tree Bondage

Ladies and gentleman, this is how you do a class announcement. Robert Kourik, our guest on episode 69 of our podcast, sent me an email that had me laughing and wishing that I lived in Northern California so that I could attend his upcoming talk:

Tree Bondage: and solutions 

I’ll show dozens of misshaped, abused and tortured trees, from mangled roots, to poorly-tended trunks and grossly manipulated canopies. I will show photographs of trees in bondage and discuss healthy alternatives. (Or, whether or not it should be reduced to firewood!) Be prepared to be shocked as well as educated.

You will:

  • See how trees can be mismanaged
  • Learn how to “repair” damaged trees
  • Learn how to avoid the hurtful aspects of the damaged trees shown
  • See examples of the correct way to plant, irrigate, compost, fertilize, mulch and prune trees

Where: The Seed Bank, 199 Petaluma Blvd N, Petaluma, CA 94952

When: Thursday June 2nd, 6:30PM

Phone: (707) 773-1336

Robert Kourik, Metamorphic Press
PO Box 412, Occidental, CA 95465

Author & Publisher
“Understanding Roots” http://www.robertkourik.com/books/understanding-roots.html
“Drip Irrigation for Every Landscape and All Climates”
“No-Dig Gardening, for a Healthier Soil & a Sustainable Garden”

How to Squirrel Proof Your Fruit Trees

IMG_7297We’ve been guilty in the past of claiming that growing fruit is labor-free. That’s a lazy blogger’s lie. The truth is that you have to stay on top of pruning, irrigation, fruit thinning, fertilizing and pest prevention if you want to harvest any fruit. After not getting a single peach off our small tree last year due to squirrels, I vowed to do things differently this year.

I considered a number of squirrel prevention techniques:

  • Metal collars on trunks. This doesn’t work, especially in urban areas. Squirrels are superb acrobats and can simply jump from a roof, fence or adjacent tree on to your fruit tree.
  • Trapping, killing, hunting. I don’t have the heart to do this and it’s illegal in urban areas but it is what professional orchardists do.
  • Electronic or visual frightening devices. According to UC Davis, these don’t work. Squirrels aren’t dumb.
  • Dogs. Maybe, but it depends on the dog. Our late doberman was more interested in alerting us to the mail carrier’s rounds. He was more interested but, ultimately, unsuccessful in his 13 year battle against skunks.

Exclusion with plastic bird netting is the most promising technique for urban areas. In order to do this you need to keep the tree pruned to a manageable size. I purchased a 14-foot by 14-foot piece of bird netting and Kelly and I put it on the tree (it’s a two-person job as bird netting is a pain to work with). We secured it with clothes pins. You must be absolutely certain to leave no gaps in the net. If you leave a gap you could trap birds and the squirrels will also work their way in. The next step is to keep a close eye on the fruit and harvest it as soon as you can, perhaps a little sooner than is ideal.

Unfortunately, squirrels can easily chew through bird netting so this method is far from foolproof. According to UC Davis, exclusionary methods will only work if the squirrels have other things to eat. Another argument for biodiversity in our landscapes, I suppose.

If you know of any foolproof squirrel prevention techniques please leave a comment!