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.

Not only are there a couple ways to spell guyaba (“guyaba” and “guayaba” are both prevalent out there in the world wide web, with apparently no real distinguishing characteristics,) but today I learned a new way of eating guyaba.

This morning was the first real hard rain of the year.  Though the storm didn’t last long, there was a good intense downpour around 10am.  After the sun popped back out, while the light was vibrant and the landscape still wet, I went out to harvest some lettuce for a salad I was making for a lunch meeting that Dore, Irma and I were having with our environmentalist city public works commissioner Paula Daniels.

Green Guyaba (from Parque Nacional Galapagos website)

Green Guyaba (from Parque Nacional Galapagos website)

As I was clipping lettuce leaves, a car pulled up.  “Hello” shouted a woman’s voice.  I wasn’t sure that she was talking to me, but I looked up and she asked me if I was the owner of this tree, pointing at the guayaba.  The woman stepped out of the car.  The car was still running with her apparent husband impatiently looking on from the driver’s seat. She was a woman of color (a Bengladeshi, I later learned), dressed in handsome turquoise blue and wearing a small nose-piercing.   She asked if she could buy some fruit.  I told her that it was ok for her to take a couple.  I grabbed a couple that were ripe – nearly all yellow.  She said, no, she wanted green ones.  Not solid dark green, but kind of middle green with just a hint of yellow.  She picked a couple which seemed to me would be way too firm to eat.  She handed me one and said “take a bite.”  I did and it tasted great.  It’s about the consistency of a firm apple.  Nearly all the flavor seems to be in the skin.  The flavor is a bit like a sweet lime taste… but that’s just an association – the fruit has its very own taste.  She asked for my phone number so she could call me to get more fruit in the future; she said she had come by before and hadn’t wanted to take any fruit without asking.  I gave her my name and number on a card.  She got back in the car and was off.  I finished off the green guyaba and harvested lettuce, radish, carrot and basil for the salad.

After lunch, I saw three very young Latino kids in my garden under the tree.  I asked them in Spanish to be careful about stepping on my plants.  They seemed sort of nervous.  Then I realized that I hadn’t noticed that their mother was climbing up in the guyaba tree.  It’s not that big a tree, maybe 15-20 feet tall.  She came down.  In Spanish, I told her that I’d already picked the yellow fruit this morning and that she was breaking the tree.  She said that her kids really wanted the fruit.  Ironically she is a street vendor that sells junk food to families and kids coming out of the White House Place Primary Center school across the street.  She pointed out to me a good-sized mostly-yellow fruit up in the tree.

I was able to stand on one of the broken concrete walls of the planting beds and reach up into the tree and bend a branch slightly down to pick the fruit.  I handed it to the woman.  I would’ve let it ripen for another day, but she immediately broke it up into three pieces and gave them to her children.  They happily ate it.  Then she walked off to peddle her highly-processed food-like substances (mostly clear bags of these crunchy wagon-wheel shaped savory things – a little like chicharones – can anyone tell me what they’re actually called?) to the families waiting for school to get out.  At the same time I had grabbed the yellow fruit for her, I’d spotted a good-sized yellow-green fruit and harvested it for myself.  I walked back up to my apartment, gobbling down the tasty green fruit.

Another tale of the guyaba: A couple weeks ago, just after my last guyaba blog entry, I was gardening and a young woman asked if she could pick leaves from the guyaba.  She explained that she was pregnant and stated that she had allergies, pointing to her legs.  She couldn’t take allergy medicine due to her pregnancy (which wasn’t visually apparent), so she needed these leaves, apparently to rub on her skin.  Her English was fine, but just a little bit broken, and when she described her allergy and need for the leaves, my neighbor Aurisha and I must have given her skeptical looks – neither of us having known that the tree has any medicinal purposes.  The woman responded “I’m filipina” as if that was the justification that explained everything.  We welcomed her to take what she needed.  I helped her to harvest leaves, directing her to take ones from branches that are encroaching over the ramp path down to the sidewalk (that get in my way when I bike down the ramp.)  She was really grateful.

All in a couple days in the life of the Los Angeles Eco-Village guyaba tree.

Eco-Village Neighbors – Please collect and eat the guyaba and feijoa which are both producing lots of fruit right now. Both trees are at the Bimini Terrace.

Guyaba, also called yellow guava (tree in back)

Guyaba, also called yellow guava (tree in back)

The guyaba is in front, at the very northeast corner – near the sidewalk (in the middle of where I garden.) Guyaba should be picked from the tree when the fruit is nearly all yellow (can still be greenish in parts – but not too green – solidly green ones won’t ripen off the tree.) Sometimes you can find it on the ground, but it’s often bruised and bug-eaten by then. The guyabas are ripe when they turn fully yellow – it’s generally a day or so after picking. The skin and flesh are all edible and very tender, but the seeds are like rocks. It’s sweet, but not too sweet – really good. They spoil pretty quickly, though, so don’t let them sit around. A lot of passersby like to pick these – if you see folks picking them, I’d suggest approaching them and asking them not to. People picking have been breaking branches on the tree and tromping through the garden. It’s actually kind of a nuisance – there are areas of the garden that I just can’t plant in from now until the guyaba season ends in early December.

Feijoa, also called pineapple guava

Feijoa, also called pineapple guava

The feijoa tree is in the back, right behind Somer and Aurisha’s unit. For harvesting these, I generally pick fallen fruit off the ground. There’s a lot out there on the ground right now. I just picked up a dozen and there’s more to be collected (and if you don’t, the bugs will!) If you don’t see any on the ground, shake the tree very gently. Fallen feijoa take a few days to ripen. They’re edible when they fall off the tree, but, in 2-5 days, the skin changes color subtly – turning from a more blue-green to a more yellow-green. As they ripen, they become less tart, and a little more sweet, tender and juicy. I trim off the flower petals on the end, then eat them skin and all.  There are seeds in there, but you won’t notice them. I cut up a couple and put them in my cereal in the morning. Some folks like to remove all the skin them (takes more work, and, my hunch is, makes them slightly less nutritious,) which makes them a bit sweeter, as the skin is a little tart. Their yielding season is nearly over; it starts here around August and goes though October.

The guyabas are especially big and good this year – just ask Homegrown Evolution.

Ay! One more note – and I don’t have a photo, nor do I know good instructions for harvesting and eating these. but the sapote (also called custard apple) are also in season. The tree is also at the Bimini Terrace – above the lizard bench.