homegrown nectarines

These are our first homegrown white nectarines. They’re a variety called Arctic Star. We have a tiny sampling of plums, peaches, and nectarines coming in. This batch was mildly sweet, but the first fruits aren’t usually expected to have that wow factor. We’re hoping that as the tree continues to mature, our enjoyment will elevate, as it produces the low acid, super sweet flavors that are to be expected with this variety .

Some of our plums on the other hand… oh they taste like candy. I’ll be sure to share those with you too (if I’m able to contain myself and snap a picture before I eat them).

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citrus tasting

Hello again, it’s Ben here to share about the citrus tasting we went to back in December (Ruby’s been asking me to write about it, but I’m not as fast as her in this blogging thing).

I fell in love with fruit trees a few years ago. While the trees we have are at a season of infancy (the majority aren’t bearing any fruit), my favorite type, at this point, is citrus. Why citrus? The range of flavors might be enough of a reason (sweet, subacid blends), and the invigorating smell of the oils being released during peeling helps support that decision. But what pushes me over the edge has to do with the season they’re usually ripe…the winter. In the gloom and cold of winter, outdoor vegetation lacks life, hibernating until the warmer months. Then citrus trees come in at winter’s peak, adorned with their evergreen bed of leaves that provide the vigorous backdrop for their decorative, spherical symbols of life in warm colors that are only matched by the spectrum provided by sunrises and sunsets. My reasoning extends beyond the taste of citrus…it’s about the whole experience.

Speaking of experience, I’ve been wanting to attend the annual citrus taste test through the UC Lindcove Research and Extension Center in central CA for some time, but it’s always in December, which is typically a busy month for most (Christmas, cold season, etc.). Add all the birthdays in our family and all the time is used up. At the last minute, I’m thankful we were able to make the trip up this year!

We were able to taste HUNDREDS of varieties of citrus that Saturday morning; our mouths were drunk on the zesty flavor of citrus! As you can imagine, it was a memorable way to celebrate my birthday!

-Ben

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our citrus garden

We were finally able to plant our first citrus trees in May of 2014. Most of them came from 5 gallon containers, so this past winter was our first time getting to try their fruit! The experience was a little anti-climactic though, as many varieties served exclusively as eye-candy, as opposed to fruit-candy. It’s my understanding that ho-hum fruit can be characteristic of trees bearing their first crops. Thankfully, some did provide the desirable eye-/fruit-candy hybrid: tango mandarins, wekiwa tangelolos, cocktail grapefruit, and meiwa kumquats all exceeded our high expectations!

In total, we have 19 different varieties of citrus. However, a few are doubled up (and, yes, some even tripled), so that brings our citrus tree total to 27.

Most of the trees are in the ground (in raised beds because of our poorly draining soil), but a few are in clay and zinc containers. The in-ground citrus are being trellised in three different ways. The first way, an arbor (or arch), is seen in the photos. The second way we’re growing the in-ground citrus is referred to as an espalier (not seen because there’s nothing really to see now); it will be shaped into something that resembles a traditional fence, known as a horizontal cordon. The third way is a screen that will serve as a natural privacy fence.

-Ben

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our front courtyard


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Ben’s in charge of all things yard/garden related, but I get this tiny front porch-courtyard to tend to. We don’t hang out here much due in part to our neighbor’s over-watered yard; his two-a-day waterings lead to more of a swamp than a lawn. The health of the two trees we have on that side has been negatively affected due to the excessive water. And while we don’t care much for the trees, Ben has still tried to mention something to him (they are very nice neighbors). However, the message wasn’t received because it’s still quite swampy.

Besides the downside of over-watering with a drought going on in California, it has also led to a lot of mosquitoes from the sitting water (note the mosquito net curtain we use on the door to try to keep mosquitoes and flies out of the house). Hence, we don’t hang out in the front porch because the mosquitoes really love our California blood (when the girls and I go to Texas in the summer, oh how attracted they are to us!).

Every Saturday morning, I get up at 5am to go out to the courtyard water my plants before the bugs wake up (and for some reason I love waking up at 5am on Saturdays). Then, I never go back to this area until the following Saturday. Ironically, this courtyard is one of the reasons we bought the house (and I loved the big windows behind it), but it’s not such a pleasant place to hang out.

We’ve tried a variety of methods to keep the mosquitoes away, but none of them have helped too much (anyone have any tips?), so decided to give Ortho Bug B Gon a try. It says that it starts killing mosquitoes in minutes and is backed by a money-back guarantee, therefore what did we have to lose? Ben’s the fly killer in our house, thus I let him be the one to deliver the mosquito massacre.

Side story, Ben loves killing flies. He can even catch them in mid-air! We live near a lot of dairy farms, so we have lots of flies too. When Ben goes in fly killing mode, I call him the “fly killer,” and I sing (sung to Dave Matthew’s Band “Grave Digger”), “He’s the fly killer, he’ll dig your grave, he’ll make it shallow, so you can feel the rain.” Ben’s mom would tell us stories of when he was about 5 years old, he would disappear into the garage and then go back into the house to the backyard. He would do that back and forth, and it was obvious he was hiding something in his hands. Ben’s mom finally asked him to stop, open up his hands, and then a lot of flies flew out! Yuck! Told you, he’s got some talent catching flies.

I’m feeling more optimistic that the mosquitoes will B GON, so I picked up more plants to spruce up the area. Ben simply sprayed it it on the walls around the porch and he was done in about 10 minutes. It was a quick process. I’m hoping the bugs stay away and it’ll be such a pretty spot that we will want to sit out here and enjoy the space. I re-potted some plants, added new ones, cleaned up the area, and put some pillows on a couple chairs. Ben even created a trellis for my pink jasmine to grow on (will share that DIY soon), so I have plans to be intentional to sit in our courtyard, with a glass of wine in hand, and watch the kids play in the front yard.

 

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tomato time

This is one of our favorite things to plant and we look forward to tomato season every year. Caprese and salsa with things straight from our garden is the absolute best. We’ve learned a lot through the years of what worked best, which varieties took the California sun better, how to get rid of bugs that attack our tomatoes, and what we devoured the most. Frankly, we ate them all; we hardly discriminate when it comes to fresh homegrown tomatoes. Homegrown are always better than the grocery store ones.

The first year we planted tomatoes, we planted 29 different varieties. We went really simple this year and planted only six. Last year was our best tomato season ever as a result of lessons learned, and we are hoping this year is equally as good or better. They all look like little babies now, but I can’t wait for these babies to grow up. All of our tummies are ready to eat them all up!

The varieties we went with for this year are Dagma’s Perfection, Indigo Blue Berries, 1884, Sun Gold, Sunrise Bumblebee, and Green Zebra. Heat tolerant and while only six tomato plants, there’s still a good share of size, shape and color variety.

Are you planting tomatoes this year?

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fallen fruit in claremont

If you’re in SoCal, you will want to check out the Fallen Fruit maps to see if there is an area near you where you can go and pick some free fruit! It maps out all the fruit trees in public areas of certain communities, and you go can and pick them. We spent a Saturday afternoon driving around Claremont looking for fruit trees. It’s currently citrus season, so we mostly pick up lemons, limes, and some oranges. We saw avocado and loquat trees, but those weren’t ready for picking yet.

Ben was so excited about this and we felt like we were on a treasure hunt looking for fruit trees. I forgot to take a picture of our loot, but we came out a with a decent basketful of citrus. We can’t wait to go back when it’s avocado and loquat season. There were even some figs on the map, but we couldn’t find those trees. If anyone try out one of the maps in another area, would love to know what it is you end up harvesting!

 

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