jujube tree leafing out, sapote in the background

One of the simple pleasures of Spring is seeing the fruit trees go from barren to leafy. Here’re two pretty uninspired photos of early leafing out. Both photos were taken Sunday March 13th 2011. I like to date stuff on this blog, because, in future years, it can help me look up what was happening when in the past. Above is the jujube tree planted in January 2009. I think the tree got a little stressed the first year… it’s never thrived, never fruited, but it’s certainly alive. I am hoping it gets its bearing and gets going soon. I noticed its tiny leafing out about a month ago… and this past week, it’s taking off nicely.

Below is the persimmon tree along the alley – which was transplanted 3-4 years ago. It fruits a lot… but it’s along a heavy pedestrian traffic alley… which means most of the fruit gets picked before I get a chance. The new leaves really shoot out – a bright light-yellow-green surprise! Both of these trees leaf a bit later than other fruit trees (for examples: peach, apricot, etc.) with the persimmon later than the jujube.

bright yellow-green persimmon leaves that it seems like weren't there a week ago

Here are some garden photos I took last week of some of the promising new developments to come along in March. Spring things are happening in the garden! Arranged in alphabetical order… apologies for my blurry cell phone pictures.

The distinctive maroon bloom of Amaranth

The Distinctive Maroon Bloom of Amaranth

Amaranth is one of plants that you grow once and it generates enough seeds to keep popping up in various places in your garden each year. This one is about 2-3 feet tall, but it can get taller than I am (6’3″) sometimes. I’ve never harvested the actual tiny grain (anyone out there have simple instructions for this?) but I do use the young leaves in salads. I’ve also heard (from Ysanne Spevack of Organic Foodee, whom I met through Erik Knutzen of Homegrown Evolution) that the flower itself is edible, too – just cut it up and put it in salads.

Baby Artichoke Begins to Emerge

First Baby Artichoke Begins to Emerge

I grow a lot of artichoke – one of those great perennials that just keeps giving. The first of the chokes are starting to develop… though it will still be another month or so before the early ones will be ripe enough to eat. The one in the photo is in the middle of the my biggest, seemingly nearly monster-sized plant. The fruit pictured though is only maybe 2-inches in diameter.

Bright Blue Borage Flowers

Bright Blue Borage Flowers

Borage is one of those old-fashioned companion plants that you’re supposed to grow somewhere in your garden (also in this group are rue and yarrow… and some others that I will remember as soon as I hit “publish”.) Like amaranth, borage comes back year after year, a bit more than I really want it to. Mine grows out of interstices in in urbanite bed-wall. It has little blue flowers that face downward. They’re edible, tasting like a mild drop of honey. I put them in salads to add a little color.

Yellow Calendula Flowers Starting to Bloom

Yellow Calendula Flowers Starting to Bloom

Calendula is just starting to bloom. Another simple-to-grow plant that keeps coming back year after year (do you detect a theme here?) It has some medicinal uses, though I just grow it for the bright yellow flowers.

New Jujube Growth

New Jujube Growth

In mid-January, we planted a jujube tree. At the time it was completely dormant, bare and a little spindly-lookin’. I just had to trust that it would happily re-emerge from its slumber. I was a tiny bit worried about it for a month and a half, while I built a fancy-looking, perhaps overly-eleborate and formal rainwater harvesting ring to direct water toward its roots… thinking that it would sad if my high expectations for the tree might be unmet. Now, as you can see from the photo, it’s leafing out nicely.

Peach Blossoms

Peach Blossoms

The peach tree that I was pruning in December is flowering and leafing out. The bees love it. Below it is California poppy and yarrow. A few times I’ve had to trim back broken branches as it gets abused by passers-by.

Yarrow A-blooming

Yarrow A-blooming

And how could it be an area that Joe stewards unless there was plenty of yarrow? The very earliest of the yarrow flowers are already in bloom, with plenty more about to burst open.

Ripe Jujube Fruit - Photo from Papaya Tree Nursery

Ripe Jujube Fruit - Photo from Papaya Tree Nursery

There’s a spot at the top of the trincheras garden (in the front yard of the Bimini Terrace building where I live) where a tangerine tree was planted. The tangerine struggled there and never really did well and never yielded fruit. I had hoped that, as part of the trincheras project, I could build a sort of berm around the tree in order to help capture and infiltrate rainwater… but… alas… before I got there the tree pretty much died.

I say pretty much died, because the entire top of the tree did die, but there was one sucker alive that was coming out of the rootstock. Like most nursery-bought fruit trees, the tangerine tree was grafted. The top is a clone of a good fruiting tangerine tree; the bottom is a tree that grows more rigorous roots… so it’s not really worth saving if just the rootstock is growing, because it’s very unlikely that that will provide good fruit.

All this to say that there’s a spot at the top of the trincheras where I’ve been thinking a new tree needed to be planted. Fall/winter is the best time of year for planting trees (and other perennials), so I had been thinking about wanting to get a tree into the ground there.

Enter, stage left, Erik Knutzen. Erik is the co-author of the Homegrown Evolution blog. I also highly recommend the book he co-authored The Urban Homestead. Erik and I work out together at the downtown YMCA. He mentioned that he was hoping to visit a couple of unusual nurseries in the valley and I requested to tag along. We planned to visit the Theodore Payne Foundation Nursery (in Sunland) and the Papaya Tree Nursery (in Granada Hills.) I needed to pick up some native plants at Theodore Payne for a landscaping project that I am doing for a friend’s mother – but I will leave that story for another blog entry.

Homegrown Evolution in the Papaya Greenhouse

Homegrown Evolution in the Papaya Greenhouse

On to the Papaya Tree Nursery. Papaya is located in the middle of an unassuming suburban neighborhood in the northwest end of the San Fernando Valley – about as far from LA Eco-Village as you can get and still be in the same city. It seemed like we might have the wrong address, but we pulled up and the proprietor Alex Silber was unloading bundles of bare-root trees being delivered by a big truck. Turns out the place is open by appointment only… but Silber was nice enough to accommodate us. He needed to finish unloading and watering the trees being unloaded, so he invited us to go back and explore. The home has a very large backyard, which is highly organized and packed to the gills with all kinds of wonderful trees – pomegranate, tangerine, cherimoya, jakfruit, coffee, caperbush, sapote, Persian mulberry, and much much more. It’s actually pretty incredible that we can grow all these exotic fruit trees in Southern California. On the left is a shot of Erik in the walk-in greenhouse that covers a small portion of the yard.

Erik was looking for quince (which they actually don’t carry) and gojiberry (which they do carry.) Erik has black walnut trees in his backyard. These walnut trees’ roots secrete a substance that inhibits many plants from growing nearby. Quince and gojiberry are two plants that aren’t inhibited growing by walnutes.

I asked Alex about jujube. He responded asking me if I had read about his special jujube trees – a variety called Chang. I’d heard that one needed to plant two jujube trees for them to fruit well. His variety didn’t need two trees. It fruited heavily. It’s drought tolerant. It grows in a “columnar” shape which makes it pretty manageable to garden under, with mainly vertical growth it shouldn’t get too huge and shade too much of the garden. It’s a variety that was given to his father by a old Chinese man. If you’ve never had a jujube (pronounced “jew-jew-bee,”) it’s a bit hard to describe – but it’s more-or-less like a sort of nutty apple flavor. The fruit can be eaten fresh and crisp, though it’s also very common dried. In Asia, I am told, dried jujubes are used for soups, teas, and medicines.

I also asked about citrus, and managed to hear stories about sapote and mulberry (all of which Papaya Nursery has incredibly special versions of) before ultimately deciding to purchase a jujube tree. We picked out a tree that had a relatively thick trunk, and was a little taller than I am. With no small effort, we loaded it into Erik’s car and brought it back to eco-village.

Semi-Circle Ring of Urbanite around the Jujube

Semi-Circle Ring of Urbanite around the Jujube

Last Saturday, Federico and I planned out where it would go. We put a placeholder stick in the ground, tied a string to it and traced a circle. It’s a fairly large space (about 5 feet in diameter.) We lined it with a level semi-circle of urbanite, allowing an opening at the upstream end for rainwater to enter and soak into the root area. Federico, eco-village’s mushroom aficionado, suggested that we use old phone books that would serve a double purpose – acting like a sponge to soak up water and serving as a matrix to grow oyster mushrooms. You can see some phone-books buried spine down in the lower left of this image. We’re actually going to rework the phone-book scheme, though, because it turns out that we need to inoculate the mushrooms into the phone-books before we bury them, then we need to cover them with mulch. We’ll have to report more on how that goes in a later installment.

Somer and Hunter watering the newly planted Jujube tree

Somer and Hunter watering the newly planted Jujube tree

On Sunday, eco-villagers Hunter, Jimmy, Somer, and I dug out the circle and a much deeper portion in the middle and planted the tree. I have to say that nearly every time I’ve planted a tree, it has been after digging and digging and deciding that it’s about deep enough… then later I regret that I didn’t dig just a few inches deeper, so the tree would be ever so slightly below grade, so it would actually collect rainwater, instead of shedding it. This passive rainwater harvesting strategy is a trick that I learned from hearing presentations and reading books by Brad Lancaster. Once we got it plenty deep, we planted the tree, which, once out of the pot and into the ground, was just shorter than I am.

There are still some edge treatments that I plan to do around the circular root area, and we’ll add the phone books, mushrooms, and plenty of mulch… but I was really happy to get the tree into the ground… and look forward it fruiting, hopefully starting this summer.

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