Saturday Linkages: Corona Borealis

‘Focus on right now’: how to mentally prepare for more Covid-19 uncertainty

I Just Flew. It Was Worse Than I Thought It Would Be.

Georgia’s Experiment in Human Sacrifice

Musso & Frank Martini lesson

Fruit Trenches: Cultivating Subtropical Plants in Freezing Temperatures

Meet the Coronavirus Profiteers

Mike Davis: Reopening the Economy Will Send Us to Hell

Travel From New York City Seeded Wave of U.S. Outbreaks

Bianca about a very, very wide dress

I Cut My Hair With a Vacuum Cleaner

Introducing Coverage Critic: Time to Kill the $80 Mobile Phone Bill Forever

This caused me physical harm

The Perfect Crisis Vegetable: Prickly Pear Cactus

Unsurprisingly, during this crisis, the Root Simple inbox and phone line has come alive again with questions about growing vegetables. My response is always the same. Grow the stuff that’s easy to grow in your climate. To that I’d add that you should consider edible perennials.

In our climate the king of edible perennials is the prickly pear cactus (Opuntia ficus-indica, but note that there are many other edible Opuntia varieties). The young pads (nopales in Spanish) are coming into season right now. The fruit, called tunas, are ready in the fall.

With prickly pear cactus you get a vegetable and a fruit in one easy to grow package. It’s so easy to grow that your problem will be keeping it from taking over your entire garden and your neighbor’s garden. Plant things like broccoli and carrots and, depending on your soil and experience level as a gardener, you’re in for a lot more work and, likely, disappointment. Trust me, I’ve killed a lot of vegetables in the past twenty years. I’ve never once killed a prickly pear cactus.

Luther Burbank’s allegedly spineless prickly pear.

We have one specimen that came with the house and another that I picked up a few years ago: Luther Burbank’s spineless variety that, well, isn’t actually spineless.

My favorite method for preparing and eating the pads is to scrape them with a knife to remove the spines (you don’t need to peel the skin off). I then chop and boil the pads for five minutes to reduce the sliminess. Then I fry the pads in a pan with onions. You can also just chop the pads and eat them raw in a salsa with tomatoes, onions and hot peppers.

Some other resources from our blog for what to do with prickly pear fruit:

A prickly pear fruit cocktail

Juicing prickly pear fruit

Prickly pear jam recipe

If you’re not in our warm and dry-ish region a good resource for other edible perennials is Eric Toensmeier’s book Edible Perennial Vegetable Gardening.

Can’t grow prickly pear? Tell us your favorite easy to grow edible perennial in the comments!

Olive Curing Update

Last October I started curing the olives from the Frantoio tree we planted in the parkway. The olives are finally ready to eat just in time for the pandemic. I used UC Davis’ handy publication, Olives: Safe Methods for Home Pickling as my guide and chose a Sicilian style brine method that yields a slightly bitter result. Basically, you make a brine solution with pickling salt (one pound salt per gallon of water) and vinegar (5% acetic acid–1 1/2 cups per gallon). To this I added some garlic and hot pepper flakes. I went light on the seasoning which, I think, was a good idea. Following the suggestion on the Hunter Angler Gardener Cook blog I changed out the brine when the water darkened—about once a month.

What the olives looked like at the beginning of the curing process.

The verdict: harvesting and curing olives is a lot of work but well worth the effort. It took six months of curing to leach out the bitter phenolic compounds in the fruit.

Some things I learned in the process:

  • Here in Southern California, where we have a plague of olive fruit flies, you need to set a McPhail trap baited with torula yeast lures and change out the bait once a month. I set a reminder on my calendar to do this.
  • When you harvest you need to separate the maggot infested fruit from the good fruit. This is easy to do if a bit of a chore. The signs of maggots are obvious–a scar on the surface of the fruit.
  • You can harvest both green and the more mature black olives from the same tree and cure them both together. Olives are ready to pick when the juice is cloudy in late September. I have to error on the side of picking early to stay ahead of the maggots.
  • I planted the tree in 2012 and I’d guess that 2018 was probably the first year that I would have had enough olives to make it worth curing. The tree really exploded, in terms of growth, after about three years in the ground and I’d guess it’s around fifteen feet tall and ten feet wide as of 2020. If I had to choose a tree again I might go with one that produces larger fruit. That said, I’m still happy with the results of this multi-year experiment.

I should also note that the tree itself is beautiful, especially when the silvery underside of the leaves shimmer in a light breeze. Olive trees have deep symbolic associations in ancient Mediterranean cultures and the tree has an average lifespan of 500 years. There are a few trees, over 2,000 years old, that still produce fruit.

If you live in the U.S. but not in a climate that supports olives, consider buying domestic olive oil and cured olives. Especially with olive oil, a lot of the imported stuff is adulterated garbage.

Saturday Linkages: Wall of Cats

Albrecht Dürer’s Little Owl (Kleine Eule) from 1508.

In the Wake of Systemic Collapse, Only We Can Save Ourselves

Should you be buying that online right now?

‘Heads we win, tails you lose’: how America’s rich have turned pandemic into profit

California Lessons from the 1918 Pandemic

And the award for best pandemic mask goes to . . .

The Man Who Built a 40-Foot Spite Fence Around His Neighbor’s Home

The Committee to Save the Rich

The A to Z of African dance

Your new exercise routine

A virtual Aubrey Beardsley show

Now that we’ve ditched our Amazon associate program please support our new sponsor

Happy May Day! Boycott Amazon, Whole Foods Target and Instacart

On May 1, 1886 a coalition of American labor groups organized a general strike in support of an eight hour work day. Today, 134 years later, we can honor the memory of those who gave their lives for better working conditions by supporting Amazon, Whole Foods, Target and Instacart workers and not crossing their picket line.

Workers at these dystopian corporations are walking out during their lunch break to ask for protective equipment, hazard pay, paid sick leave, cleaning supplies and contact tracing. Chris Smalls, a former Amazon worker fired from his job for complaining about conditions tweeted, “It’s time to join up! Protect all workers at all cost we are not expandable or replaceable enough is enough TAKE THE POWER BACK!”