Sunday, July 10, 2016

Crop Report - Perennials

The fig trees we planted two years ago are starting to produce more than the birds can eat.

Last year, they produced what I thought was a good sized crop, but the ants and the birds ate almost all of them, leaving us with a meager handful of figs for the whole year.  This year, I denied the ants their share.  I wrapped the trunks of the trees and then brushed the wraps with a sticky tangle trap goo to keep the ants from marching up and helping themselves.  I also had bird nets at the ready, but I decided to wait and see how many figs they would eat.

Flashback: in late May or early June, we started hearing mockingbirds.  I've seen them in their favorite perches around the neighborhood, including several high points in our olive trees.  We hear their songs sporadically throughout the day, but they really seem to get going in the evening, and sing until morning.  Anyway, when I round the corner and catch birds in the act of snatching figs, it's usually mockingbirds.  So they're giving us their songs, and taking some figs.  Over the past month, we have harvested a couple handfuls of figs (6 - 12) for us humanfolk every five days or so.  I think that's a pretty good trade.  Yes, ants, I'm unfairly biased in favor of species that sing to me and make me wonder what it would feel like to fly.

If I were canning figs, though, I think I would net the trees.  Here's why: when we share figs with the birds, we get small harvests - no more than a dozen figs at a time.  The birds seem able and willing to eat about 90% of any given fig, but if an untouched fig is just as accessible on the tree as one that's, say, 50% eaten, they seem to prefer starting in on the new one.  So when I wait longer between harvests, I seem to get no more figs for myself, but I see more half-eaten figs on the tree.  So what I've been doing as I harvest the untouched figs is picking off the almost completely eaten, dried out figs to throw into the compost, but leaving the ones that are easy for birds to reach and barely pecked at, with the idea that they will finish those off, and let ripen the ones that are harder for them to reach.

One of the pomegranate trees we planted two years ago is maturing, too.  Last year, we picked maybe five pomegranates.  This year, it looks like we'll have about a dozen.

We'll have a lot more olives this year than last.  The olive trees were already here when I moved in 2013, and we've had a modest olive crop every fall.  Starting this past spring, I've been deep watering the olive trees to see if I can get them to hold more of their fruit until harvest, and I've been keeping a closer eye on them to see if they're dropping any.  I would say they dropped 1% - 3%, which I hope will leave us with a couple gallons of olives for this year.  If you're interested in seeing how we cure olives, look for our olive harvest(s) in late summer and early fall.

The native mesquite we planted two years ago is also starting to produce.  We recently harvested our first batch of pods, and experimented with several ways of making flour.

The winning method we settled on was to grind them briefly in our Vitamix blender and then sift out the chaff.  We also tried using a flour mill, but our Nutrimill isn't designed to separate the mesquite chaff, so we ended up with fine-ground flour plus coarse-ground chaff, which was poor quality and hard to separate.  The flour that came out of the Vitamix seemed just as fine, but the chaff was much larger, which made it easier to separate.

What I like about perennials is the input-to-yield ratio.  Plant once, harvest many times.

What could be better?

Well, to un-rhetoricalize that question, volunteers could be better.  How about plant nonce, harvest many times?  (OK, "nonce" isn't a word, but neither is "un-rhetoricalize.")  Some plants at Sage Garden pop up on their own, with no planting effort, and then we decide to tend them, or just politely ignore them and let them thrive.  Most of these are native "weeds" like purslane, which proliferate for a season, give us a few salads, and then subside.

Or a leftover seed from last year will decide to germinate, like this honeydew melon, which started growing beside our newly planted peach tree.

Mesquite trees will often pop up in less-than-optimal locations, but the one in the foreground of the picture to the right happens to be in just the right place for a shady, 15 ft tree in the middle of our future food forest.  And the fact that it fixes nitrogen in the soil is a bonus.  With some pruning and training this winter, it will be a real asset to this area.

But I can't leave the topic of volunteers without mentioning the tomato plant that mysteriously appeared in our Chunky Monkey patch (where we're growing bananas and peanuts).  I'm still baffled how this one showed up in this brand new plot, before I had planted a single tomato plant anywhere at Sage Garden.  Look for the pear-shaped yellow-orange tomatoes in the picture.

If you don't mind me getting metaphysical for a sec, I think there's a spiritual lesson in volunteer plants.  Anyone who relates to his garden as a thing to control will kill all the volunteers, because they are always unplanned.  And his garden will grow only "through painful toil" and "by the sweat of his brow will he eat his food" (Genesis 3).  Only someone who is willing to flex his plans (like what I call "this-or-better planning") and surrender to what his garden is doing on its own can reap the benefit of voluteer plants.

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