Archive for December, 2010

There goes the neighborhood
December 31, 2010

We’ve lived here almost 10 years, and I’ve considered my neighborhood a squirrel-free zone.  That is, until this fellow moved in and let his presence be known by barking at me and scolding me with his mouth full of acorn, very rude if you ask me.  He was really ticked off by my presence, and I so his.  I thought my mighty hunter cat would get after him since it seems to really enjoy beating up on the mice, but the cat just watched it hop along the fence.  Looks like I’m going to have to leave rodent control up to our other new resident who doesn’t have a bottomless bowl of Friskies to fill his tummy…

Brrrr
December 30, 2010

No, it’s not a mummy; it’s our avocado tree.  Actually it’s the third avocado tree we’ve planted in this same spot.  The first one froze to the ground in the devastating 2005 freeze that wiped out 1/3 of the avocado groves around Fallbrook, and the 2nd one got mowed down by a stolen truck crashing through our yard.  Arctic air has followed behind this last storm and will bring unusually cold temperatures through this weekend, and so we’re taking no chances on this tree, as we really hope to get some avocados some day.  The day looks nice and sunny but it never got out of the 40’s, which is bitter cold to us wussy Californians.  My apples laugh at weather like this but the banana tree across the street is much more nervous.

Zambia Update
December 28, 2010

We received this update photo of some of our apple benchgrafts that were planted at a commercial farm in Zambia late last spring.  They are doing wonderfully and are ready to have their leaves stripped, which will trigger new growth and hopefully blossoming.  This is excellent growth for the first year and they obviously like it here, and seem to receive adequate water.  Yes, that’s a banana tree in the foreground.  We’ll be shipping more to Zambia this spring.

Perfect Storm
December 21, 2010

In this graphic Riverside is just lower left to the center blue spot.  We’ve been getting hosed with tropical moisture for days now from a front that is stalled off the coast, giving us more rain in a week than we usually get in a year.  If this wasn’t scary enough, a monstorous cold front is barreling down the coast and is due to slam into this warm front tonight, bringing about an almost unheard-of thunderstorm event to Southern California with lightning, high winds, and oh goody, torrential rain.  All three highways into the mountains are closed with rockslides and flooding, with the potential for washouts that can take weeks to fix.  The only way down right now is out the back side to the desert, a long, narrow route for frantic commuters. 

One bright side is that the ski resorts are finally getting some snow (that’s the blue spot in the middle of the photo).  Our 10,000′ peaks should have 10-15 feet of snow by the time the storm clears out Thursday.

Kishu Mandarin
December 20, 2010

As punishment for my tormenting Midwesterners with our 90 degree weather last weekend, we are in our second day of getting absolutely hosed with the most torrential downpour Southern California has seen in years.  It is a warm rain with high snow levels, and so our mountains are getting particularly hammered, and all highways are expected to receive heavy damage.  We don’t “do” rain well here in the arid desert, and it really makes a mess.

So to distract from this misery, I present these little orbs of sunshine called Kishu Mandarin.  It was introduced from Japan around 1983, but hasn’t really done much commercially.  The peel practically leaps off, and it is seedless, two very important qualities.  But its small size and unremarkably sweet flavor are enough to drag it down; indeed, the only other attribute is it’s “cute”.   They ripen in December through January, but are sweet enough to eat in November.  I grafted this branch onto our Navel Orange tree two years ago, and it is certainly productive.  They will make stocking stuffers this year.

Cocktail Grapefruit 2010
December 19, 2010

We interrupt this apple harvest to bring you the beginning of our orange and citrus harvest, and we’ll start today off with the Cocktail Grapefruit.  It’s actually a Pumello hybrid, but I guess the word Pumello isn’t as marketable as grapefruit.  The tree is vigorous and as you can see insanely productive.  But instead of large, sour, thick-rined grapefruits, these are deliciously sweet without any added sugar needed.  And I don’t mean just sweet, I mean really, really sweet.  Last year they were blandly sweet, but this year, yowza- they have a ton of acid to balance that sweetness, so much that my tongue and lips are still tingly-burnt from all the acid 10 minutes after eating one. 

I like it better than our best orange juice, which is saying something as here in Riverside we grow the best juice oranges in the world (eat your heart out, Florida).  Juicing is the highest use for this fruit, as there’s not much flesh inside; they’re almost all juice and it’s like wringing out a sponge when you squeeze them.  They have lots of seeds but they’re really big and easy to pick out.

December Fuji
December 18, 2010

At my office last week we received a gift basket from Harry & David that had the most beautiful Fuji apples you’ve ever seen; big, red, shiny, and perfect.  Unfortunately, the beauty was only skin deep, as they had a diesel aroma to them from being in controlled atmosphere storage, and they tasted blandly acid with a chemical aftertaste.  I spit the bite out, as I couldn’t even stand to swallow.

But all is not lost; now that the leaves are starting to fall, I’m able to check our two Fuji (we pronounce it “Foo-hee” as a nod to my in-law’s Mexican heritage) trees for apples we missed during the regular season.  We started picking Fujis in late September, and are still picking them as they hang on the tree forever.  These are the best ones of the season; crisp, juicy, sweet, aromatic.  I like my apples with a little more bite, but these are always a hit at my office and kids can’t get enough of them. 

They are self-fertile and quite reliable here; they take about five years to really start bearing, but once they do they give a boatload every year.  I drive down the street in our neighborhood and see them hanging on neglected trees in back yards and one front yard, where they finally drop on the lawn where my neighbor runs over them with the lawnmower.  This drives me crazy, as I can’t figure out if he doesn’t like them or just can’t pick and give them away fast enough.  I’d stop to offer to pick them, but we have all we can do for the moment slicing up persimmons to dehydrate and cutting roses for table centerpieces (yes, roses bloom wonderfully in December here).

Tom Spellman from Dave Wilson Nursery is stopping by this week to see what there is to eat; it will be fun to show him around and “forage” in my yard.

Fall 2010
December 12, 2010

It’s still officially fall for a couple more weeks, and so a few of our trees are on time with starting to drop their leaves.  However others are tooling merrily along, still ripening apples and not even thinking of dropping their leaves yet.  The changing leaves and apple harvest gives us a taste of fall, sorely needed since today was 85 degrees and Monday is supposed to hit 90, even out at the normally-cool beaches.  I winced when I saw the news of the poor folks in the upper midwest in the bitter cold and snow.  This may be our last fling for a while, as by the end of next week we’re due for some rain and snow for the mountains, with storms stacked up that will hit us in waves (always good news for arid Southern California).

Our summers are miserably hot and smoggy, and make you wonder why we live out here.  Its days like today that remind you why.

GoldRush 2010
December 2, 2010

Last year I described GoldRush as similar to a good Fuji.  Zowie, not this year; the acid content has been ramped way up for some reason, but still is really good.  I’ve heard they mellow a bit in storage, which the one I tasted this afternoon could have used.  I don’t know why this is, as we’ve had a roller coaster fall alternating really hot weather with cool rainy weather.  The leaves on some of the trees are starting to turn, signaling fall (OK, winter) but the GoldRush are still hanging on.  I’m going to leave another apple on the tree til Christmas to see if that makes much difference; but the one I just ate is acting more like the famous “sweet-tart” GoldRush I’ve heard so much about back East.