Olive Harvest 2021

One of the principle reasons to keep blogging long after social media and Google’s search algorithms deemed the end of blogs is that Root Simple functions as a garden diary. Towards that end let me note my second Frantoio olive harvest on Tuesday September 7, 2021. I harvested just shy of 3 pounds of olives from our parkway olive tree. I’m guessing I lost at least 9 pounds to olive fruit fly damage. I moved up the harvest this year to prevent losing all the olives to the damned fly. We’ll see if harvesting this soon changes the quality of the final product but I read that commercial growers harvest at this early stage.

Following UC Davis’ recipe for Sicilian cured olives I mixed up a brine consisting of:

8 cups water
3/4 cup pickling salt
1 cup vinegar

This was more than enough brine to cover my 3 pounds of olives, which filled one 64 oz mason jar and a half filed 32 oz mason jar. As of today, small bubbles have formed. Two years ago when I brined olives I replaced the brine about every month as the brine got dark. It took 7 months in the brine to get edible (and delicious) olives.

To cut down on olive fruit fly damage, I use a McPhail-type trap baited with Torula yeast tablets to reduce the fruit fly population. I use two tablets and replace them once a month. I definitely capture quite a few olive fruit flies and I think the trap gets me more usable olives but, lacking a control, I can’t be sure.

UC Davis recommends the traps combined with a late season application of kaolin clay when the fruit flies begin to lay eggs in the fruit. They also recommend replacing the bait every two weeks from April to November. This all takes careful observation–I only see the flies in the trap and the damage to the fruit is a bunch of very tiny holes that are hard to see at first. As the larvae develop the damage becomes obvious.

Harvesting and processing olives is one of the more labor intensive gardening tasks around our compound but how cool is it to have a chore the people have been doing for at least 6,000 years?

San Pedro Cactus Blooms

Happy Labor Day from our San Pedro cactus (Echinopsis pachanoi). A friend gave us a large piece that we planted sometime before the pandemic. This morning it decided to put out at least 12 flowers all at once.

When I woke up at 6:30 a.m. a cloud of bees was working the nectar and pollen. Around 9 a.m. some figeater beetles (Cotinis mutabilis) showed up. Figeater beetles like cactus fruit so I’m guessing they were attracted to the smell.

The green parts of the plant contain mescaline which is used in Andean traditional medicine. It also makes an edible and (non-psychedelic) fruit. The plant is easily confused with the more common Peruvian torch cactus (Echinopsis peruviana).

Rain Garden Update

Root simple reader Julia requested an update on the rain garden our landscaper Laramee Haynes designed and installed in 2019. Laramee’s rain garden idea solved two problems by taking care of a confusing, unused area of the yard and sending valuable rainwater to our landscape.

We consider the rain garden both a success and a work in progress. As Kelly put it, “I’m still trying to figure out what plants work best.”  She adds, “The issue with our rain garden is the soil around the edges is different than the soil at the bottom. And also the light conditions are such that one side is in shade and one in sun.”

The soil at the top is loose and the soil at the bottom is a heavy clay. Kelly planted Douglas Irises (Iris douglasiana) and sedges in the bottom. Around the edges she started with Coyote Mint (Monardella villosa) but it struggled and faced nightly digging from the many skunks that drop by while we’re asleep. Bees Bliss Sage (Salvia x ‘Bee’s Bliss’) was another casualty.

Kelly says, “I also planted Common Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) but I’d didn’t work even though it’s supposed to be hardy. I’m also trying Seaside Fleabane (Erigeron glaucus). I thought it would like the sandy conditions around the edges but it’s been slow to establish and is just holding on.”

Mimulus ‘Jelly Bean Dark Pink’

What has done well? Kelly says, “I’ve placed my hopes in creeping sages such as Salvia sonomensis Mrs. Beard which is doing pretty well. Mimulus ‘Jelly Bean Dark Pink’ looks good sometimes but not all year round and needs to be intermixed with other plants.”

Deergrass (Muhlenbergia rigens)

Kelly says we’ll be heading back to the nursery soon for more Deergrass (Muhlenbergia rigens), “It’s been under attack from the skunks but I’d like to put more in. It tolerates shade so I’d thinking of adding three more.”

To prevent the skunks from ripping up the bottom of the pit Kelly put down some pomegranate branches. Pomegranate trees have wicked thorns and that seems to have inhibited those pesky skunks. You can see extensive skunk damage in the top photo in this blog around the top of the pit. Maybe we need one of those motion sensitive hose gadgets?

A rain garden in a climate that gets year round precipitation would be very different than our dry, Mediterranean region where rain falls only during a short period in the first few months of the year. Kelly has thought about treating the rain garden as a kind of rock garden and planting succulents amongst the river rock but has decided to try to let the plants along the top, such as the sages, cascade over the sides.

Volunteer New Zealand Spinach (Tetragonia tetragonoides)

She says, “Landscaping the pit is like 3D chess–it’s hard enough to plant a flower bed but this is harder because you have in the same space different growing conditions and you have to make use of this unusual space in a clever way. Is it densely or lightly planted? Is it like a rock garden or do you have plants that cascade down the sides? How do you balance all this and not look crazy? I’m worried ours is looking crazy.”

I’ll add that at the very least the avocado tree appreciates the water and we’re not contributing to pollution by sending our rainwater to the gutter where it just washes oil and brake dust out the ocean. And I like the little bridge I built over the pit. The path leads to Kelly’s shed and something about crossing the little bridge adds some interest to a stroll in the backyard.

Here’s our original post on the rain garden.

I haven’t mentioned this in awhile but it’s worth repeating. The reason I include the scientific names of plants is not to show off but because this blog has international readers and the common names for plants can lead to confusion and, worse, cases of poisoning.

Bread and Roses

On the entrance arbor at the bottom of the steps that lead to our house I thought it would be nice to plant some climbing roses to add to the general fuddy-duddyness that is our 1920s bungalow. Our two climbing roses have survived neglect for many years now and put on a nice show for most of the year.

While I’m sure there are many more worthy and interesting heirloom climbing roses one can hunt down we went with two boring varieties. One is an Iceberg climbing rose that Kelly calls the “gas station rose” for its ubiquity. The other is a lot more interesting, a Don Juan climbing rose.

The Don Juan has a strong scent, a rare quality in a climbing rose. Plus the people like our Don Juan. This week I’ve seen folks Instagraming it and de-masking to smell the blossoms (hope we’re not a horticultural super-spreader event here). While our Don Juan is conventionally attractive in a red rose sorta way, the scent is the winning trait. I’d describe it as what you might imagine a perfect rose to smell like in a pleasant dream.

The Don Juan rose was introduced in 1958 by Italian rose breeder Michele Malandrone. It requires 6 to 8 hours of sunlight and grows to the manageable size of 10 to 12 feet. We’ve been more diligent in pruning in the past year to keep it tidy on the arbor.

The main problem with roses, in my opinion, is that at some times of the year the leaves are just frankly, uninteresting. As I noted I’m no rose expert, so I’d appreciate your opinions about ways to make our roses more healthy and vigorous. The soil they are planted in leaves a lot to be desired and I’m very confused about watering needs. I’m also open to suggestions from readers about interesting rose varieties either climbing or bush.

Whale of a Meme

Responding to my post on finding a mysterious plaster footprint cast in our garden, Root Simple reader Peter sent a hilarious link to what I’ve since learned is an early viral internet meme, the so-called “Smithsonian Barbie” letter.

Paleoanthropology Division
Smithsonian Institute
207 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20078

Dear Sir:

Thank you for your latest submission to the Institute, labeled “211-D, layer seven, next to the clothesline post. Hominid skull.” We have given this specimen a careful and detailed examination, and regret to inform you that we disagree with your theory that it represents “conclusive proof of the presence of Early Man in Charleston County two million years ago.” Rather, it appears that what you have found is the head of a Barbie doll, of the variety one of our staff, who has small children, believes to be the “Malibu Barbie”. It is evident that you have given a great deal of thought to the analysis of this specimen, and you may be quite certain that those of us who are familiar with your prior work in the field were loathe to come to contradiction with your findings. However, we do feel that there are a number of physical attributes of the specimen which might have tipped you off to it’s modern origin:

  • 1. The material is molded plastic. Ancient hominid remains are typically fossilized bone.
  • 2. The cranial capacity of the specimen is approximately 9 cubic centimeters, well below the threshold of even the earliest identified proto-hominids.
  • 3. The dentition pattern evident on the “skull” is more consistent with the common domesticated dog than it is with the “ravenous man-eating Pliocene clams” you speculate roamed the wetlands during that time. This latter finding is certainly one of the most intriguing hypotheses you have submitted in your history with this institution, but the evidence seems to weigh rather heavily against it. Without going into too much detail, let us say that:
      • A. The specimen looks like the head of a Barbie doll that a dog has chewed on.
      • B. Clams don’t have teeth.

    It is with feelings tinged with melancholy that we must deny your request to have the specimen carbon dated. This is partially due to the heavy load our lab must bear in it’s normal operation, and partly due to carbon dating’s notorious inaccuracy in fossils of recent geologic record. To the best of our knowledge, no Barbie dolls were produced prior to 1956 AD, and carbon dating is likely to produce wildly inaccurate results. Sadly, we must also deny your request that we approach the National Science Foundation’s Phylogeny Department with the concept of assigning your specimen the scientific name “Australopithecus spiff-arino.” Speaking personally, I, for one, fought tenaciously for the acceptance of your proposed taxonomy, but was ultimately voted down because the species name you selected was hyphenated, and didn’t really sound like it might be Latin.

    However, we gladly accept your generous donation of this fascinating specimen to the museum. While it is undoubtedly not a hominid fossil, it is, nonetheless, yet another riveting example of the great body of work you seem to accumulate here so effortlessly. You should know that our Director has reserved a special shelf in his own office for the display of the specimens you have previously submitted to the Institution, and the entire staff speculates daily on what you will happen upon next in your digs at the site you have discovered in your back yard. We eagerly anticipate your trip to our nation’s capital that you proposed in your last letter, and several of us are pressing the Director to pay for it. We are particularly interested in hearing you expand on your theories surrounding the “trans-positating fillifitation of ferrous ions in a structural matrix” that makes the excellent juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex femur you recently discovered take on the deceptive appearance of a rusty 9-mm Sears Craftsman automotive crescent wrench.

    Yours in Science,

    Harvey Rowe
    Curator, Antiquities

I did a little Googling and kept finding this letter on old web 1.0 pages only to discover via the always party pooping Snopes that this bit of genius is a creative writing effort from 1994. The real Harvey Rowe does not work for the Smithsonian but was, in fact, a bored medical student at the Medical University of South Carolina. Rowe was interviewed in 1998 about how his fake letter went viral. He described himself in that interview as a, “42 year old Emergency Room physician turned computer nerd. I’m widowed with two boys, aged 8 and 10. I apparently have the power to cloud minds.”

As the old saying goes, “if it be not true at least it is well invented.” If there’s one thing I despise it’s debunker/skeptic types who run around ruining a perfectly good story. If anything we need a few more good tall tales to counter the bad ones.

There’s a story about Mark Twain showing up at a news event and being disappointing to find other journalists since that meant he couldn’t make up a more interesting story. I obviously missed an opportunity in my plaster foot post to be the next Harvey Rowe. At least you can review my new non-profit on Yelp.

Speaking of old internet memes it’s the 50th anniversary of the exploding whale video which the folks at KATU have thoughtfully remastered for us, though I’m a bit nostalgic for the original glitched VHS original. One Jungian synchronicity uncovered by researchers at the Center for Land Use Interpretation is that the car destroyed by falling whale blubber had been purchased that very day at a car dealership that advertised a, “whale of a deal.”

I’ll leave you all with a Twitter post from today that deserves to go viral: