Olive Questions

Lacking an Italian or Greek grandmother, I’ve got to crowdsource my olive curing questions. So, my dear Root Simple readers: have you cured olives? What method did you use and how did they turn out?

The Frantoio olive tree that I planted in the parkway a few years ago produced a bumper crop of olives this year. Last year every single olive hosted olive fruit fly maggots. This summer, to reduce the olive fruit fly population I put some torula yeast lures in a McPhail trap in the tree and removed any fruit that had any signs of infestation. I change out the yeast tabs every month. The strategy seems to have greatly reduced the infestation. I lost probably around a third of the olives but had more than enough un-maggoty olives to fill three half-gallon jars. Today I plan on sweeping up any olives on the ground and removing any remaining olives from the tree to, as much as possible, further knock the olive fruit fly population.

Contents of the McPhail trap.

I chose a brine method to cure the olives and followed the recipe in the informative UC Davis publication, Olives: Safe Methods for Home Pickling. With any luck I should have olives in three to six months. The Hunter Angler Gardener Cook blog suggests changing out the brine periodically, which leads to more questions for readers: do you change out your brine? How did you season the brine?

While my attempt at growing annual vegetables was a disaster this year, let me say how thankful Kelly and I are to have planted fruit trees ten years ago. The most successful: pomegranates, figs and olives.

If you’d like to try curing olives, but don’t have any trees of your own, you can always forage them. In the past month I’ve spotted fruiting olive trees in Hollywood on a side street adjacent to the Kaiser complex, in a parking lot on Sunset Boulevard, at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and on the streets of Phoenix, Arizona. Just don’t use the scarred fruit as that’s the sign of maggots.

The Glorious USDA Pomological Watercolor Collection

Chestnut. Ellen Isham Schutt, 1913.

Over the past few months I’ve been reviving my long lost drawing hobby, partly as a way to fend of the temptations of phone addiction but also as a way of training myself to take the time to really see what’s around me. Anyone who has tried to draw knows that what it teaches is to observe the world without the preconceptions imposed by language. Before the advent of inexpensive photography, drawing had a central role not only in everyday life but also in science. The United States Department of Agriculture’s online collection of watercolor illustrations of fruits and nuts demonstrates how scientific illustration can be both useful and beautiful.

The collection spans the years 1886 to 1942. The majority of the paintings were created between 1894 and 1916. The plant specimens represented by these artworks originated in 29 countries and 51 states and territories in the U.S. There are 7,497 watercolor paintings, 87 line drawings, and 79 wax models created by approximately 21 artists. Lithographs of the watercolor paintings were created to illustrate USDA bulletins, yearbooks, and other publications distributed to growers and gardeners across America.

Rimmer Apple. Deborah Griscom Passmore 1901.

The collection showcases the diversity of fruit and nut varieties before industrial agriculture took it all away and replaced it with easily shipped but tasteless produce.

Pomegranate. Mary Daisy Arnold, 1932.

The human eye can see and perceive things that a camera can’t and the artists who made these exquisite watercolors must have had an encyclopedic knowledge of the fruits and nuts they portrayed. The collection has 3,807 images of apples alone.

Should you have some blank walls in need of art let me point out that all of the images are available in high resolution.

Go Plant a Million Trees

Kelly and I interviewed Akiva Silver, of Twisted Tree Farm, for the next episode of the sporadic Root Simple Podcast. Silver is the author of Trees of Power: Ten Essential Aboreal Allies (Amazon, library). The book celebrates the power of trees to feed us and solve a lot of the world’s problems including climate change and soil erosion. In the book Silver makes the provocative suggestion that we might all be better off with a greater emphasis on tree crops instead of clearing land for monotonous fields of wheat, corn and soybeans. He has an interventionist, Johnny Appleseed like passion at odds with the hands-off, leave-no-trace branch of environmentalism. Silver says, “Instead of trying to have as little impact as possible, I want to have a huge impact. I want to leave behind millions of trees, a bunch of ponds, enriched soil and wild stories.”

In our own small urban yard, we’re beginning to see the fruits, literally, of our own small-scale arboreal efforts that we began over ten years ago. This month we had a abundant crop of Mission figs, avocados, olives and pomegranates. And that pathetic vegetable garden I blogged about? My heretical thinking is to give up annual vegetables entirely and use the space to plant two small citrus trees. If I want vegetables I’ll put in artichokes which grow well here and return every year without any effort. We’ll outsource the misery of growing annual vegetables to the vendors of the farmer’s market.

Watch for our interview with Silver next Wednesday. In the meantime read his book and then go plant some trees.

There is Something Beyond the Straw Bale

Fig tree off the front porch.

As usual, when I blog about our small vegetable garden as I did on Wednesday, I neglect to put that small part of the food growing efforts at the Root Simple compound in context. To correct this unfortunate tendency, I’m thinking of hanging a framed portrait of Jacques Derrida, the patron saint of 90s nerd boys like me, over my computer to remind me that nothing exists outside of a greater context. What applies to literature also applies to vegetable gardening. You can’t grow vegetables without also considering their relationship to other plants, creatures and human beings.

Bale, pomegranate tree and mess I need to clean up. Please note the raccoon poop zone on the slightly subterranean garage roof.

Our vegetable garden right now is just one straw bale in the process of conditioning and our philosophy has always been that vegetable gardens need to be surrounded by a native “hedge row” that supports beneficial wildlife. We’re also fans of hardy and climate appropriate perennial fruits and vegetables–beyond that solitary straw bale we have a lot of edible perennial plants and a bunch of work to do to straighten out the yard after years of other priorities.

Site of future seasonal rain garden.

Towards that end, our landscaper, Laramee Haynes and crew are coming next week to clean things up, install a kind of seasonal rain garden fed by a downspout, fix the paths in the backyard, and install some sprinklers and a few path lights. In short, to do all the things we couldn’t do when I was taking care of my mom and when Kelly was recovering from open heart surgery. The end goal is to have a yard consisting mostly of native plants, alongside our mature fruit trees and a tiny vegetable garden that will consist of either a small raised bed or a straw bale or an alternation of both bed and bale.

The fruit trees, for those keeping score, consist of a fig, pomegranate, avocado and olive as well as a few stone fruit trees that we will likely remove since the squirrels get every single fruit. In the perennial vegetable catagory, there’s also a few artichokes that pop up here and there, prickly pear cactus and an indestructible stand of New Zealand spinach. When Laramee is done we’ll install a bust of Derrida made out of pre-chewed termite infested wood that will slowly be colonized and deconstructed by Los Angeles’ endangered carpenter bees.

Lastly, please enjoy this completely gratuitous kitten photo that has nothing to do with this blog post, vegetable gardening or Derrida unless all internet cat photos do, in fact, have everything to do with Derrida. Let’s skip that speculation for now and note that this kitten, currently being fostered by our neighbor Lora, is up for adoption and looking for a home in which to snuggle next to you while you read impenetrable tomes in your reading socks. Email us if you want to bring this grey cutie home.

2018: The Year Squirrels Discovered our Pomegranate Tree

One could complain that this blog allots way too much space to two topics: tidying up and complaints about squirrels. At the risk of repetition, let’s discuss the squirrel issue this morning beginning with a year end review of our fruit harvest totals:

Fuji apples: 0
Winter banana apples: 0
Fuyu persimmons: 0
Hachiya persimmons: 0
Peaches: 0
Pomegranates: 6
Figs: 20?
Avocados: 20? but with a few bite marks

So not a total loss in the pom department but a long ways from my days of thinking that the hard skin of pomegranates are squirrel proof.

This is the point in my squirrel complaint blog post where I lazily link to UC Davis’ squirrel management notions. It’s also the paragraph in which I claim to have discovered a miracle squirrel cure in the form of a lame old man joke. Now you’ve got a bad case of earworm. Go ahead and suggest dogs and rifles in the comments and you’ll see us soon on a PETA billboard.