Agroecology


IMG_6810_ed_lJune begins my summer harvesting season, with berries and stone fruit in abundance. This was my harvest one day about a week ago–mostly blackberries, some raspberries and a few apriums. The blackberries and raspberries are slowing down now, but the apriums and apricots are in full harvest. I started harvesting my blueberries about a week ago and they are just starting to produce in quantity. In about a week my plums will be coming in. My figs, grapes and apples are other perennials well on their way, too.

My annual crops are already starting to come in. I picked a cucumber a few days ago, and I’ve got two kinds of summer squash that I’ll start to pick in a few days. This is the best part of the year, with all these fresh fruits and vegetables to eat, preserve and share. Life is good as an urban farmer.

IMG_6815_ed_lA number of years ago, I finished planting out my backyard mini-farm, with raspberries, grapes, blueberries and a pomegranate. I’ve harvested the berries for a couple years, last year was my first small crop of grapes (this year looks to be stupendous) and I’ve been waiting patiently for my pomegranate to produce. A week ago, I noticed these little red “things” on my pomegranate, evidence that this year I’ll get my first pomegranates. Hurray!

I say “things” because I’m not yet familiar with the persimmon’s flowering and fruiting habits. I don’t know if this is a flower bud that has yet to open or, if I missed the flowers and this is already fruit on the way. Does anyone know?

In any case, flower or fruit, I look forward to watching it do its thing and to eating pomegranate seeds later this year.

I still have one tree–a pineapple guava–that has yet to produce fruit. It has flowered in past years, one of the most beautiful flowers I’ve ever seen, but has produced no fruit yet. So, I continue to be patient…

IMG_6709_ed_lA fruit tree covered with blossoms will eventually produce many small fruit. One of the secrets of getting larger fruit is to thin those fruit aggressively, removing 50-90% of small fruit. This allows the tree to concentrate it’s water and sugars into the remaining fruit, making them larger and more flavorful.

So, what’s the problem? For most backyard orchardists, thinning fruit is a difficult, even painful process. Taking off most of the fruit feels like killing your young. Every one of those fruits has the potential to grow into a tasty morsel. But, just as putting 30 children in a single classroom is not the best way to educate children, leaving all those small fruits on a tree is not the best way to grow tasty and healthy fruit. IMG_6824_ed_lHaving a small number of students in a classroom allows the precious time of a skilled teacher to be focused on a smaller number of children. And thinning fruit on your trees allows the tree to focus its resources on the remaining fruit. So, you must thin the fruit.

A quick how-to: Thin fruit so the remaining fruit are about six inches apart. Go ahead, just do it.  It’s painful, but you’ll be glad you did.

IMG_6830_ed_lPhotos:

  1. The first photo shows the fruit thinned six weeks ago from my apricot and two plums that are planted next to each other.
  2. The second picture shows some of this year’s harvest, picked yesterday,  of apricots (left) and apriums (right). There are several small fruits among the apricots, suggesting that I didn’t thin aggressively enough on that tree. Next year I’ll have to thin more fruit. The apriums are all large and beautiful, letting me know I did a good job of thinning that tree.
  3. The third photo shows some of my nicely spaced (i.e., thinned) crop of plums that are coming along, which I’ll begin to harvest in about one week. Yumm!

I’ve been vermicomposting for 10-12 years, feeding all my vegetable and fruit trimmings to my worms. I just throw the vermicompost into my regular compost bins and don’t do anything special with it. But, this article from the NY Times has me thinking I should do with worms. From now on, as my compost piles cool down from their initial high-temperature level, I’ll be throwing in a handful of worms to raise the quality of the compost.

I only have one small nit to pick about the article. The author mentions Charles Darwin’s interest in worms, but he makes a big error here. Darwin was writing about earthworms, whereas the article is about red worms, often called red wrigglers. There’s a big difference. Earthworms are good for soil. But vermicomposting is done with worms that don’t live in the soil. They live in the leaf litter on top of the soil. So, if you’re going to do this, make sure you use the right kind of worms!

Dinner made from all homegrown ingredients.A couple years ago, I cooked a meal for the guys in my men’s group that I called a Michael Pollan-type meal. By that, I meant that the ingredients were primarily home-grown, following one of the meals in his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma. From my previous posting about that meal, I count eight different foods I prepared that were from my garden. This week, I repeated that exercise, again cooking for the guys in my men’s group. This time the menu was not only quite different, but included many more dishes and ingredients from my garden. Following is the menu. Homegrown-fruit dessert bowl, with apples, blueberries, apriums and pepino dulce.All ingredients except beverages, vodka & sugar (in the liqueur), oils and vinegar were homegrown, for a total of 16 homegrown ingredients, not counting multiple varieties of the same ingredient. It was both a tasty and colorful meal!

(The first photo shows the meal, except for the fruit dessert. The second photo shows the dessert in the serving bowl, before adding the blackberry liqueur. Click on the photos to see a larger image.)

Menu

Salad–Tomatoes (two varieties), cucumbers (two varieties) and purslane, dressed with vinegar and oil.

Entreé–dry beans, cooked, then sauteed with garlic and leeks.

Vegetable side dish 1–string beans.

Vegetable side dish 2–summer squash (three varieties).

Vegetable side dish 3–mixed greens (brocollini and beet greens)

Vegetable side dish 4–beets (boiled, chilled, then dressed with olive oil and vinegar).

Dessert–mixed fruit (apples, blueberries, apriums (pulled from the freezer) and pepino dulce) topped with homemade blackberry liqueur.

We all have our habits. One of mine is the kinds of things I eat. Depending upon the crop, I eat roots, stems, leaves and fruits. For some reason, (more…)

I had the good fortune of learning years ago (Boy Scouts, cooking merit badge) that the common weed purslane (Portulaca oleracea) is edible. Outside the United States, (more…)

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