Sow: incarcerated fig

The Mortroski Midcentury Urban Farm isn’t just for veggies (or dogs). We’ve got three fruit trees too: a plum tree and a peach tree that came with the house and a very young fig tree I planted a couple of years ago.

Little fig tree is coming into its own this spring and when one of our Canadian visitors pointed out that she saw tiny little figs sprouting, I knew something had to be done STAT!

You see, we have roving bands of marauding grackles even though the 4Gs do their best to chase them from the yard. Those naughty birds spend a lot of time picking our neighbors’ three fig trees clean of any figs, so we needed to take action, quickly, before they realized that our little tree was chock full of yummy figgy goodies. And yes, they eat the baby figs green. Bastards.

Taking action was easy enough. Bruce went to the local big box home improvement/garden center store during his lunch break to pick up just two things to build the tiny tree’s prison: bamboo stakes and bird net. Now before you go all PETA on me about the bird net, it’s not for catching birds, it’s for covering plants so the birds won’t get in there. I have used it with great success for several years on my sad tomato experiments with no winged casualties (there was a deceased bird near the urban farm last year, but I suspect feline foul play, not bird net) and once it’s in place, the birds (and squirrels) stay away, mostly because the plants look different.

Here are a few figgy photos so you can see what I mean:

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figs galore! shot through the bird net.

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bird net close up — see the yummy tiny fig?

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the fig facility: yes, those are binder clips!

The stakes are around 4 feet high so the fig tree is still more petite than me. But unlike me, it still has the chance to get taller.

The bricks are an inelegant temporary solution. It was very windy during the install on Monday night so I thought it might not be prudent to cut the bird net then. I’m going to adjust the bird net when both Bruce and I are at home this weekend (he was in Boston during the install and I’m in California until Saturday) and then pin it down using landscaping pins for a better look.

As for the office supplies in use, I find that binder clips are very helpful on the urban farm. I use them during the cold months to secure the frost cloth to tomato cages, the lips of the stock tanks, the bars of the trellises, and even attach the ends of the frost cloth to itself. That’s why when I noticed that theses stakes were so thin that the bird net’s holes could slip down and touch the fig tree, I grabbed a few. I may concoct another solution that looks a little better, but for now, they’ll stay.

So now that the fig tree is all locked up, hopefully I’ll be able to report back in a few months with a nice big fig harvest. I’d settle for a few to eat with prosciutto and cheese or on top of a yummy salad, but my dream is to be able to make fig jam and give it as gifts. It just may be another few years. Sigh. A girl can dream.

If nothing else, fruit trees teach us patience, something we all can use in our fast paced world.

Today’s gratuitous dog photo:

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Gidget likes to bark at the photographer. It’s almost as good as saying “cheese”.

And a special treat for today, a gratuitous business travel shot from my current home away from home (and former stomping grounds):

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San Francisco Bay Bridge

It really was as picture postcard perfect as it looks. But don’t feel too jealous: I’m about to spend my entire day today (8:30 am – 7 pm PT)  in a dark room! But still I took a quick walk at 6:00 am in the early morning fog to pick up a Peet’s Coffee at the Ferry Building. I won’t lie, trips like these make me miss the Bay Area…

 

Sow: dream trees

When I moved from Savannah, Georgia to Southern California when I was in 7th grade, the fields of oranges everywhere captured my imagination. To see oranges growing in neat rows of trees and to smell the orange blossoms was just heavenly to me. Those orange groves at the Irvine Ranch are now covered with homes, not orange blossoms, and Orange County has pretty much completely lost its namesake.

Southern California was amazing to a 12 year old who really liked plants—especially ones that provided things you could eat. The farmers markets and even the grocery store were chock full of produce I had never seen before. You have to remember that having the produce selection we now have in the grocery stores is a relatively new development. Before we moved to Southern California, much of the vegetables and even some of the fruit our family ate was either frozen or canned.

Half way through 8th grade, we moved north to the San Francisco Bay Area. While, of course, I was sad to leave my friends and school, my new (to us) house had many things we didn’t have in Irvine’s densely packed tract neighborhoods. A backyard pool, perfect for a girl who loved swimming and swam competitively. But even more exciting were the trees. This house had three special trees: a lemon tree, a grapefruit tree, and best of all, an avocado tree.

All three trees were prolific producers. And yes, it is actually possible to get sick of avocados when they are constantly part of meals from breakfast (avocado omelets—delicious with monterey jack and topped with a bit of salsa), lunch (in every kind of sandwich as a mayo replacement), dinner (on salads, as salad, topped with seafood salads, mexican-inspired dishes, etc.). The avocados were small by our grocery store standards, about the size of an egg. But they were delicious.

The lemon tree came in handy nearly year ’round. The blossoms made the back patio smell divine. If we needed a lemon, lemon juice, lemon zest, lemon as a garnish, anything you could think of using lemons for, there was always plenty for the picking so it seemed to me. They were thick skinned and yielded only a bit of sharp acidic juice with a hint of orange. I now wonder if they were the prized Meyer lemons.

My father and I loved the grapefruit tree too. It produced orange-sized grapefruits. For weekend breakfasts, I would squeeze the juice by hand and make a pitcher of the fresh juice for the family. I suspect perhaps my father made after-work or weekend cocktails for himself and my mother by adding a bit of vodka because one day an electric juicer showed up and we began having pitchers of the juice at the ready.

I don’t know who planted those three trees. It may have been our eye doctor—his family lived in the house before we did. Or maybe the family before that. The trees were old. The lemon was trimmed into a bush, but the others were large (at least to a 13 year old) trees.

After experiencing life with those wonderful trees, I’ve always wanted some of my own. The Mortroski Midcentury Urban Farm currently has a peach tree, a plum tree and a baby fig tree that we planted last fall. The previous home owners neglected the peach and plum, but my dad, the son of farmers, showed me how to prune them to ensure that it not only produced fruit but also didn’t injure itself when the branches became too heavy. It rewarded us with plenty of fruit for the birds (very top of the tree), squirrels (ground and anywhere they could climb), and us (I grabbed a ladder and picked several weekends in a row). And I made delicious jam. Friends and family have already put in requests for more.

The final batch of 2012 jam, made in September with fruit I prepped and froze

The final batch of 2012 jam, made in September with fruit I prepped and froze

I’m not sure that the figs will make it to be turned into preserves. We love figs right from the tree. Maybe in a salad with a bit of cheese. With proscuito. I want to have so many figs that I am sick of them, then I will make fig jam. Last year our baby tree gave us 3 and the birds/squirrels/wind maybe another 3. But the nursery said I’d be surprised how fast it will grow. You see, this fig tree is a Texas native.

In the previous house, I attempted to grow a potted lime tree with cute little baby limes that the garden center told me would be perfect for slicing in half and shoving into the neck of a Mexican beer. I killed it, mostly because I had no clue how to take care of it. I’m guessing that it fried in the blazing Texas sun.

You see, citrus trees (and avocados too), do not really grow in north Texas. Despite our exceptionally hot weather from say March to the end of the October, our winters are unpredictable at best. We get snow (like Christmas Day 2012) that sometimes lingers. We get frost for several days in a row then it’s 80°F. Patio lemons and limes must be brought inside for the winter It’s definitely not California here. Down south, closer to Mexico, is where you must go if you want citrus to grow. Like those beautiful Texas Ruby grapefruit (had one for breakfast today—amazing).

So for now, picking lemons, limes, grapefruit and avocados from my own trees are only a dream. But peaches, plums and figs are a delicious, though completely different, substitute.