Why You Should Grow Pomegranates if You Can

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If I could only have one tree I think it might be a pomegranate. Why?

  • Pomegranate trees have beautiful, bright red flowers in the spring and handsome yellow leaves in the fall.
  • They grow fast.
  • They have few pests.
  • They are drought tolerant.
  • They produce delicious fruit.
  • Require low chill hours.
  • They live long–200 years or more.

The big downside for, probably, most of the readers of this blog is that pomegranates are frost sensitive. And the fruit will split if it rains in the fall. But if you live in a warm, dry climate you need to get one!

The variety we have is Wonderful, not all that exciting as this is the variety at the supermarket. If I had to plant one again I’d probably choose a more exotic pomegranate. That said, Wonderful is still wonderful–big, juicy and delicious.

The time to order your bare root fruit trees is now! Our favorite source, Bay Laurel has a nice selection of pomegranates. Just order now for winter delivery, as they sell out. Pomegranates can also be propagated easily from cuttings and, along with figs and olives, are just about the only fruit trees that aren’t grafted.

Do you have a pomegranate tree? What variety do you have?

Compost Piles on Fire!

Image: Wikimedia.

Image: Wikimedia.

Call it a weird, unintended consequence of our ongoing drug war, but apparently indoor compost piles are igniting house fires all across the U.S. Pot growers stack up their leftover biomass and, soon after, the whole house goes up in a puff of smoke, so to speak.

It got me wondering about two things. What’s the biology of a compost pile fire? And do non-pot growing folks in cold climates commonly have indoor compost piles?

First the biology. BioCycle has a whole article on fire prevention in municipal composting facilities that covers this common problem.

So what situation(s) can lead to a fire? Here’s what can happen with a low moisture, large pile with little air exchange, combined with water getting into the pile in a place where there is enough air to support biological activity and chemical oxidation, but not enough to cool the pile.

An old, dry compost pile, or a pile of overs screened out of the finished product, is a case in point. Water seeping into the dry compost can restart microbial activity and initiate reheating. A “macropore” or crack from the hot spot to the surface often develops into a vent, or chimney. Air movement up through this vent draws more oxygen into the hot spot where heat is being generated, rapidly escalating the transition from a biological fire to smoke and glowing embers. Appearance of this hot, humid air at the surface can be an important indicator that heating is taking place inside the pile.

Compost pile fires are unlikely for most home scale gardeners. One preventative technique recommended in the Biocycle article is to keep piles smaller than 12 feet high. Not a problem for most backyard gardeners.

Now a question for our readers around the world: who, other than pot growers, have indoor compost piles?

019 Garden Nerd Christy Wilhelmi

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On the podcast this week we review different approaches to backyard vegetable gardening with “Gardenerd” Christy Wilhelmi of Gardenerd.com. Christy is also the author of Gardening for Geeks and has a podcast, The Gardenerds Tip of the Week. During the show we discuss:

  • Biodynamics
  • Biointensive/French Intensive
  • Alan Chadwick’s Garden at UC Santa Cruz
  • John Jeavons
  • Double digging vs. no-till
  • A documentary about Ruth Stout
  • Breaking up soil with permaculture method
  • The power of mulch
  • Square foot gardening
  • Peat moss vs. coir
  • Growing carbon and compost crops
  • Heavy metals
  • Phytoremediation with milk thistle and chicory
  • What to fill a raised bed with
  • How to deal with shade
  • Integrating livestock: chickens and bees
  • What to do with Peruvian pepper trees (Schinus molle)
  • Attracting pollinators

You can also connect with Christy on Facebook and Twitter.

If you want 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. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

An Ancient Quince Recipe

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The Karp’s Sweet quince in our front yard, despite struggling in terrible soil, has finally started producing. This year we got about three pounds. Some of the fruit gets sunburned (note to self–put up some shade cloth next year!). But I’ve been able to cut out the browned part.

Each year the question comes up as to what to do with the fruit. You can eat Karp’s Sweet quince raw, but the texture is still quince-like, which is to say somewhat gritty and course. And each year I promise I’ll pick up a copy of Barbara Ghazarian’s comprehensive book Simply Quince, but somehow I never get around to it.

Last year I tried to make quince jelly, but overshot the jell point and ended up with jars of delicious tasting, but disagreeably hard quince gum. And Kelly just threw out my burned membrillo from last year.

This year Kevin West, author of Saving the Season came to the rescue with an ancient (the first known reference to a sweet preserve) and simple recipe by Pliny. The full recipe is on West’s website,  but to summarize you simply cook quince in equal parts honey and water until it turns red. The addition of a small amount of cracked pepper cuts the sweetness ever so slightly. You can then process the jars in a hot water bath. The end result is quince slices preserved in honey. It turned out great and, without having to worry about the jell point, reduced the anxiety level associated with preserving my entire harvest at once.

Do you have a quince tree? What do you do with the fruit?

What Vegetables Are You Growing This Winter?

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Showing remarkable restraint, I came home from the Heirloom Expo with only three packages of seeds. I’ve decided to keep it simple this winter (our best growing season for veggies in Los Angeles) and only grow varieties that:

  • Do well with minimal intervention.
  • Can’t be found in the market.
  • Taste better fresh out of the garden (greens and salad mixes).
  • I like to eat (sorry turnips).

And I’m sticking with my favorite seed company: Franchi.

The winners are:

Cavolo Broccolo Spigariello, what I keep predicting will be the new kale, though that trend has yet to happen. It’s a weedy looking primitive broccoli. You eat the leaves and the small flower clusters. I think it’s my favorite green.

Rucola Selvatica a Foglia d’ulivo (“olive leaf” wild arugula). From what little I can gather from English language sources, this arugula has a broader olive shaped leaf and a flavor that is stronger than cultivated arugula, but milder than other wild arugulas. This will be the first time I’ve tried this variety. And this year I plan on sowing successively so that I’ll have a longer harvest period. In my opinion, you can never have enough arugula.

Tuscany salad mix. You can also never have enough lettuces. I’ve always had good luck with Franchi’s salad mixes. They are beautiful and much stronger tasting than the stuff at the supermarket. And store bought lettuce wilts instantly.

What are you growing this winter? If you’re in a cold climate, do you grow year round?

Note: if you’re in the US, Franchi has several distributors. I got my seeds from the Heirloom Seed Store, run by a very nice family that has a farm in Half Moon Bay in Northern California. The seeds I bought are not listed on their website, so you may need to call them. They can also be found on the website of another Franchi distributor, Seeds From Italy.

017 Heirloom Expo Recap

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On the seventeenth episode of the Root Simple Podcast Kelly and Erik discuss Erik’s recent trip to the National Heirloom Exposition in Santa Rosa, California. Some of the things and people we mention during the podcast:

If you want 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. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

Frida Paints Luther

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Sometimes an artist’s works are reproduced so much that familiarity obscures meaning. Da Vinchi and Andy Warhol have fallen victim to this. I’ve seen Frida Kahlo’s portrait in Mexican restaurants so often I’ve come to associate her work with combo platters and Margueritas.

A slide in John Valenzuela’s Heirloom Expo lecture of Kahlo’s portrait of horticulturalist Luther Burbank reminded me of how great an artist Kahlo was. That Kahlo painted Burbank also says something about people’s priorities in the 1930s.

Kahlo liked to blur the boundaries between human consciousness, the vegetable and the animal. In her portrait of Burbank she touches on themes of life, death and transformation. You could write a book about what’s going on in this painting.

Burbank’s work lives on inour backyards and orchards in the form of the fruit varieties he developed. I’ll view his Santa Rosa plum in our front yard differently after encountering Kahlo’s virtuosic painting.

A Report from the 2014 Heirloom Expo in Santa Rosa

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If you like this blog you’d like the annual Heirloom Expo, which takes place in Santa Rosa in Northern California in September. I just got back from attending this year’s event and had a great time, as usual. I’ve attended every year since its inception in 2010.

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The Expo features mind boggling displays of what can only be called vegetable porn. Hint: if you hang around after the conclusion on Thursday evening you can score the display items. For two years in a row we’ve gone home with a rental car stuffed with heirloom watermelon and squash.

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But the real draw for me are the seminars and panel discussions. Above, some of the leading figures in the Northern California permaculture scene: Toby Hemenway, Penny Livingston, Erik Ohlsen, Grover Stock and John Valenzuela.

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There’s also a huge vendor hall. I have to keep a tight grip on my wallet.

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Santa Rosa was the home of horticulturalist Luther Burbank and the local chapter of the California Rare Fruit Growers is particularly fervent and knowledgeable. I used the opportunity to chat up a CRFG operative and get all my quince and pineapple guava questions answered.

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You’ll be hearing a number of Expo speakers on our podcast and I’ll do some blog posts inspired by what I learned. If you didn’t make it this year, I hope to meet some of you at next year’s event. I always stay at the nearby Spring Lake campground. Perhaps we can all camp together next year.

016 The Urban Bestiary with Lyanda Lynn Haupt

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On the sixteenth episode of the Root Simple Podcast we interview naturalist Lyanda Lynn Haupt, author of The Urban Bestiary, Crow Planet, Pilgrim on the Great Bird Continent and Rare Encounters with Ordinary Birds.

During the podcast Lyanda covers:

  • The effect of the drought on urban wildlife
  • Invasive species
  • How to get along with wildlife such as skunks, possums, raccoons and coytes
  • The problem with relocating animals (except rats!)
  • Moles and gophers
  • Seeing raccoons during the day
  • Root Simple’s CritterCam
  • Possums!
  • Preventative measures
  • How to encourage wild animals and increase diversity by planting native plants and trees

Lyanda also answers listener questions about hawks, coyotes, and feral cats.

Lyanda blogs at The Tangled Nest.

If you want 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. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

How many ladybugs can you find? The Lost Ladybug Project

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image courtesy of wikimedia commons

We linked to this project in our last link roundup, but I though it deserved its own post. The Lost Ladybug Project is a citizen science initiative out of Cornell University asking people all over North America to identify and report ladybugs they see in their area, so that these sightings can be mapped and collected in a database. Apparently some sketchy things are going on with our ladybug populations (as if the whole bee thing isn’t traumatic enough) and they’re trying to get a handle on it. From their website:

Across North America ladybug species composition is changing.  Over the past twenty years native ladybugs that were once very common have become extremely rare.  During this same time ladybugs from other parts of the world have greatly increased both their numbers and range. This is happening very quickly and we don’t know how, or why, or what impact it will have on ladybug diversity or the role that ladybugs play in keeping plant-feeding insect populations low.  We’re asking you to join us in finding out where all the ladybugs have gone so we can try to prevent more native species from becoming so rare.

arggh…

But still….ladybugs!!!  Check out their website. It looks like a fun thing to do, for both kids or grownups. Part of the fun is learning to tell the difference between the different types of ladybugs. There’s lots of educational resources for homeschoolers and teachers. And yes, there’s even an ap for it.

It might be a little late in the year for the best counting, but I’m going to go out in the garden and see what I can find.