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…

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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!

IMG_6670_ed_lMy two citrus trees, a Mandarin orange and a Meyer lemon, could not stay forever in the half-wine-barrel pots. This year it became clear that it was time to replant them. The orange, in particular, was looking very weak. So, yesterday, (more…)

Maybe there is hope for the honeybee. Despite all the benefits it provides modern agriculture, it has been devasted by Colony Collapse Disorder. While multiple possible causes have been implicated, and it is likely due to a combination of them, the standout problem was identified several years ago. It is (more…)

Every year at least one local jurisdiction decides that growing tomatoes in your front yard violates someone’s sensibilities.  The year has just started and we already have a new contender in the My Lawn is Prettier than Your Tomatoes nonsense. Mark Bittman of the New York Times has a column discussing some of the bigger issues, highlighting a town in Florida that is harassing gardeners for growing food in their front yard. I’m so glad I live in Oakland where so many people have taken out lawns and replaced them with drought tolerant and food producing plants.

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!

IMG_20121205_164919It’s a common belief that using rainwater for irrigation in a Mediterranean climate is not practical, because most rains come in the winter and most usage comes in the dry summer. The argument is essentially that you can’t store enough water to irrigate for an entire summer. While this weather pattern is a problem, it doesn’t mean you can’t–or shouldn’t–use rainwater to irrigate. (more…)