Category Archives: Fruit

Calling Card

Damage assessment at the farm after our initial spring and summer plantings: Three fig trees and three blackberry plants succumbed to drought/heat stress, and one peach tree got chewed up pretty bad when the neighbor’s cattle broke through the fence the first time. It could’ve been worse, and I’d over-planted to begin with, in case Nature decided to take a share of my crops, as she is wont to do.

With the heat and the supplemental watering season behind us, I breathed a sigh of relief and relaxed a little. A little too much.

Relax too much and you forget about rutting season. I remembered about rutting season Saturday, after it was too late and some buck used the trunk of the other peach tree – the one the cows had left alone – as a sharpening stone for his antlers. He cleanly scraped off a 2-foot-high section of bark that went about three-quarters of the way around the young sapling. They say a young fruit tree can recover from damage to 50% of the trunk’s circumference, but I have my doubts about this one.

Male deer like to find tree trunks small enough that they still have some “give” in them. The deer rub and push against these saplings with their antlers, in part to remove the velvet covering the antlers in early fall, and also in order to serve notice to any does in the area that there’s a big buck roaming around with his pants on fire.

The peach tree in question was planted about 20 feet away from our back door and, for some reason, I thought the deer would be too skittish to hang that close to the house. My bad. Now, after the fact, I have the trunk surrounded by tall tomato cages for protection. Now that there’s not much left to protect.

Also posted in Critters, Farm

The Un-Orange

We found out belatedly, but it’s satsuma harvest time already.

Satsuma Harvest BeginsSatsumas are like giant tangerines, with loose, easy-peeling skin and juicy, nearly seedless sectioned flesh. They are credited with having originated in Japan, and are grown widely in this part of Texas because they can handle our coldest winters (maybe 18 degrees F.) without cover.

The trees can take four or five years before bearing fruit. Last year was our tree’s fourth, and it finally produced a small crop, about 20. We waited until they turned a lovely bright orange – late December, early January – then picked them to discover the sections were sometimes a little dry, and not very sweet or flavorful. It was an overall disappointment.

Since then, a little research (better late than never) indicated that Satsumas in our climate should be ready just before Thanksgiving, and are tasty when they still have a little green color on their rinds. Well, ours are coming ripe right now by the dozen and, unlike last year’s, they are juicy, sweet and flavorful. They’re also more yellow than orange, with a few green spots.

Live and learn.

Also posted in Garden

Everybody Needs To Change Sometimes

Cooler and damper weather finally has prevailed here in the Texas subtropics, allowing me to slow down a little on the twice-weekly watering trips I’ve been making out to the Polka Farm since before our fire. Over the past few years it has felt as if the seasons are compressing; it’s winter, it’s almost spring no wait it’s summer, summer, summer, summer not fall yet, now fall wait winter again.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve planted three crepe myrtle, and three Japanese persimmon trees to add to the farm fruit collection. We have a wonderful Hachiya persimmon here on our home grounds, and I wanted to make sure that, some day when we’re old and finally decide to move to the farm, there will be more Hachiyas waiting. They’re just beginning to ripen now, and I’m fighting the birds and squirrels for the fist-sized orange globes.

There are two kinds of Japanese persimmons: astringent and non-astringent. Hachiyas are the former, and if you bite into one before it has become very soft, your mouth will pucker. But once ripe, the fruits make a great dessert just the way they are – turn them over, cut an X through the thin skin with a sharp knife, and spoon out the delicious custard. Or you can freeze them whole, then thaw them about half way for a natural sherbet-like treat.

So I planted another little Hachiya at the farm, and another astringent variety called Giombo that’s supposedly later-ripening. To extend the season further, I also bought a dwarf non-astringent early ripening type called Izu. They are like Fujus, the best-known of the non-astringents, in that you can eat them while their flesh still is crisp – as long as they’ve changed color from green to orange-red.

Back at home, I’m still waiting on a fence contractor to show up and repair the burnt wood from the fire. I’m no longer nagging insurers, as they’ve paid out most of what they owed, however, the cement slab behind our house remains bare because the city of Richmond hasn’t yet looked at our building plans.

But the plants have come back, showing their resilience. Shell ginger and our South African pink trumpet vine burned to the ground along with everything else, but their roots are incredible, and they’re already back and growing strong. Likewise the Raja Puri bananas, whose leaves were burnt and brown. Today they are lush and green again. Ditto for the big in-ground plumerias and a 10-foot red banana plant.

It’s still touch and go for a medium-sized pecan tree that grows up through the cement at the end of where the carport used to be. Its trunk was burned on the side facing the fire, up several major branches 20 feet or so. I’ve been giving it extra water and good vibes, and it’s been sending out green shoots along some of the most badly burned places. But bark has begun lifting off of a section at the base of the trunk, maybe a foot wide and twice as long. My guess is it’s probably going to survive.

The key is to keep moving, and apply liberal applications of quiet persistence.

Also posted in Farm, Garden Planning, Self-reliance

Fig Dreams

With the exception of a 4-acre hayfield and a large pond that is usually dry, most of the Polka Farm is covered with trees. I’ve spent the past few weeks planting fruit trees and bushes in the few clearings that get much sun: seven figs, two peach trees and 10 blackberries so far. Also eight loquat trees, strategically located to increase privacy in a couple of areas, because with their large, dark evergreen leaves, loquats are as valuable for screening as for their fresh fruit. I’ve already begun clearing underbrush and undesirable trees in certain areas so that I can plant Japanese persimmons and probably some citrus and/or apples.

In four or five years, it’s quite possible we’ll be harvesting more fruit than we can eat fresh, freeze or otherwise preserve, but there are worse problems to have. While waiting for that fresh fruit to arrive, I’ve been studying how growers in other areas package, distribute and market the likes of figs, which are definitely a secondary crop in the U.S. despite wild popularity in other parts of the world, such as the Mideast.

I’d never had fresh figs before until we moved to the One Acre Ranch 10 years ago and became the new owners of a giant old Brown Turkey fig tree. Since then we have added an unnamed, very large light-green variety (a cutting from a tree that a California nursery owner discovered growing in his neighborhood) and a Petite Negri – a semi-dwarf tree that produces sweet dark purple fruit with red centers.

I like our Petite Negri so much that I bought and planted another at the farm. I also dug up three sucker trees from the unnamed California type and planted them around the north side of the pond. Then I bought and planted two Violette de Bordeaux and one called Green Ischia. The former is another dark type, with a deep-red interior, and (at least in various nursery marketing material) is sometimes referred to as the world’s best-tasting variety. Had to try that. The Green Ischia also has a deep red interior on a light-green fruit, also is said to be very sweet and sometimes dries naturally on the tree – although with the humidity we get in Southeast Texas, I’ll believe that when I see it.

The fig trees I’ve grown so far have been remarkably trouble-free and require very little labor on my part – mostly just the labor involved in picking the fruit. That fruit contains significant amounts of potassium, manganese, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, copper and vitamins K, B6, A and C. It’s really good for you, in other words. Plus they taste wonderful fresh from the tree.

The trick is that ripe figs are very soft, and only last about three days in the fridge after picking. Thus it is that what few fresh figs *are* offered in grocery stores are invariably picked well before they ripen, and are hard and nearly tasteless.

A Palestinian man probably in his mid-60s, who occasionally delivers pizzas, turned around at my front door after delivering our dinner one July evening, spied our nameless California tree loaded with fruit and almost had a seizure. I asked him if he would please pick some of them, as we’d crammed our kitchen (and neighbors) full of figs and had room for no more. The pizza guy took the thermal pouch used to keep three or four pizzas warm, and filled it to the brim with soft, ripe figs. He told me later he took them home to his family and everyone just ate them raw.

So I’ve been thinking about how one might bring tree-ripened fresh figs to American consumers, many of whom don’t even know that they’ve been so deprived of this treat for so long. In Turkey, possibly home to the original ancient fig, people love the fruit and are able to buy it fresh and ripe thanks to a great effort to create packaging that protects the soft fruit during trips in farm trucks. Here in the U.S., it looks like the best I can do is buy a few hundred egg cartons made for jumbo-sized eggs.

I admit it’s a funny thing to think about – trying to solve a problem I don’t currently and may never have. Still, why wait until the last minute to worry?

Also posted in Farm, Food Preservation