The Giant Orange Harvest

Last weekend, I volunteered for Village Harvest again. This time we harvested oranges from a massive orchard in downtown San Jose. It’s a commercial orchard that, I believe, has been owned by the same family for forever. It’s a vestige of the orchards that populated this area before the tech boom.

I was told that we’re harvesting from this orchard because they are not able to sell their oranges “because of a virus.” Apparently, there is an orange tree “virus” that has infected many of the trees in Florida, and has now been identified Southern California. In order to contain the virus, this orchard cannot sell its oranges where they normally would….or something like that. I’m not too clear on the story, and I didn’t ask questions.

(Side note: There were fig trees interspersed with the orange trees.

They were the largest fig trees I have ever seen. Quite beautiful.)

Suffice it to say, there were a lot of oranges to be picked.

We didn’t use ladders or pickers for this harvest; we just picked the fruit we could reach with out hands from the ground. There was plenty of it! Also, these oranges were so ripe, they came off the tree very easily. This harvest was the exact definition of low-hanging fruit.

We collected 18,000 lbs of oranges, and we only covered a fraction of the orchard.

We, of course, got to take home “seconds.” I filled three big bags with oranges.

I turned some of them into marmalade.

I followed roughly the same recipe as last time, but I didn’t bother to measure things out. I think my last batch of marmalade was better. I still have tons of oranges left, so I can always try again. Does anyone have any other orange recipes??

I also looked into this “virus” that’s been infecting orange trees…. stay tuned for more on that later….

Foliage Friday: Olive Trees

Olive trees are a pretty frequent sighting around here. I think their silver leaves look really nice in a landscape, but I’ve largely ignored them since I didn’t think they would grow in any climates below zone 9, and you can’t eat the fruit (olives) without processing them first, which seems like a lot of work.

Well…you better believe that Oregonians are trying to change that.

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Foraged Foods: Wisteria Kombucha?

I told you about the wisteria pancakes last week, and that I was going to try making either a concentrated wisteria syrup or wisteria vinegar…

Well, the wisteria vinegar idea inspired me to try wisteria kombucha. If you let kombucha ferment too long, it turns pretty vinegar-y, so I thought it would combine with wisteria similarly.

I mixed one panicle of wisteria petals into about 8 oz. of kombucha and let the bottle sit on the counter.

I tried it after two days, and I can only describe the taste as “uniquely wisteria.” It had kind of a tart/sweet artificial raspberry flavor – nothing like eating the petals plain or in pancakes. Very interesting. I don’t know if I liked it enough to keep making it, but it was fun to try. If I decide to go into the kombucha business, unique flavors like this will be in my repertoire.

Update on the Portland Seedlings

Since the last time I updated you on the Portland seedlings, one month ago, the seedlings outgrew their newspaper pots and are now living in larger plastic pots.

Mustard-Spinach (Tendergreen)
Cabbage (Red Acre)
Onions (self-collected, I believe) and mustard greens (Southern Giant Curled)
More mustard greens (Red Giant)

I started these seeds on February 8th, and these photos were taken on March 31st. That’s 7 weeks and 2 days-worth of growth. I’d say that’s not too bad. Sure, maybe they could be bigger and better, but they could be much much worse (see my pathetic seedlings). I’d call the first edition of Portland seed-sowing a success!

I Have Aphids!

I came out to harvest some mustard greens for dinner the other night and found this:

Yuck yuck yuck!

A quick google search told me that these are gray aphids, which have a predilection for brassicas. (As a side note, I’m wondering if this is what was causing the damage to the lime tree last year.)

I am both disgusted and proud – it feels like a rite of passage. I have grown brassicas that are appealing enough for aphids to patronize!

I pulled off as many of the affected leaves as I could, and then I found a bottle of Safer EndALL Insect Killer in the garage.

It said it was for organic gardening, and would work against aphids, so I decided to give it a try. The active ingredients in EndALL are:

Potassium Salts of Fatty Acids ….. 1.000%
Extract of Neem Oil ….. 0.900%
Pyrethrins ….. 0.012%

I’ve heard of neem oil, but I wasn’t too sure about the other two ingredients, so I looked them up on NPIC’s website (National Pesticide Information Center).

Potassium salts of fatty acids are also known as “insecticidal soap.” It’s essentially just soap.

The Chemistry of Soap – Wild Earth Apothecary
This is an example of a sodium salt, which is a hard soap. Change the Na to K, and you get a potassium salt, which is a soft soap.
Image source: Wild Earth Apothecary

According to NPIC, when the soap is in direct contact with the pest, it disrupts the cell membranes and cause the pest to desiccate and die (although some websites say the exact mechanism is not totally understood). The insecticidal properties of the soap are determined by the length of the fatty acid, the concentration of soap in the product you’re using, and the other active or inactive ingredients in the product. Potassium salts are most active against soft-bodied insects, such as aphids, and are non-toxic to humans, birds, mammals, and other vertebrates. However, they are toxic to fish and aquatic invertebrates.

Neem oil is derived from the seed of the neem tree. There are a few components to neem oil, and so it has a few different mechanisms of action as an insecticide. It acts as a repellent, interferes with the insects’ reproductive systems, and makes it difficult for insects to eat.

Neem Tree
Image from: The Tree Center

Similar to insecticidal soap, it is basically harmless to humans and most animals, but is toxic to fish and aquatic invertebrates. Also, it is unlikely to hurt bees or pollinators because the insect has to ingest the neem oil in order for it to work.

Lastly, EndALL contains pyrethrins, which are derived from chrysanthemum flowers. They act on the nervous system of insects and cause paralysis and then death. Pyrethrins are relatively safe for humans, mammals, and birds. (Pyrethrins are often used in lice shampoo.) However, they are toxic to fish and also to bees.

After all that research, I feel generally comfortable using a product like EndALL (there are probably things in my bathroom that have scarier MSDS’s than this product), but it would be probably be better if I used a more targeted product or no product at all. I’m guessing an insecticidal soap alone would probably have done the trick, without the pyrethrin and neem oil, but I don’t know. I’ve heard some people claim that you should just leave the aphids because they will attract natural aphid predators (like ladybugs and certain birds), but…I’m not so sure about that…there were a lot of aphids on the mustard greens.

Once I get to Portland, I’ll invest in some row cover. That seems to have done the trick for Jami at An Oregon Cottage with her brassicas without any need for any kind of insecticide.

Foliage Friday: Sea Lavender

I see this plant quite frequently in Palo Alto on hellstrips between the sidewalk and the road. The thick, wavy leaves are so pretty, and then they send up small, tightly clustered purple flowers.

This plant is Limonium perezii, also known as Statice or Sea Lavender. In my opinion, the name Sea Lavender is perfect for these plants. The leaves are reminiscent of seaweed floating in the ocean.

Limonium species are mostly native to the Mediterranean area, central Asia, and, in particular, the Canary Islands, although there are a few species that are native to North America. Limonium perezii is hardy in zones 9-11 (and maybe zone 8, too, depending on the source), but it is mostly grown as an annual. The name Sea Lavender comes about because it has a high salt tolerance and likes to lives close to the ocean. At the same time, it is very drought tolerant.

The plant is evergreen, and blooms for a large portion of the year. Apparently, the “flower” (the purple part that you see) is actually the calyx, not true petals.

Sepal - Wikipedia
Image source: wikipedia

According to the internet, the calyx of Sea Lavender holds its color for a while, so Sea Lavender is particularly good for using as a dried flower.

Johnny’s Seeds sells Limonium sinuatum seeds:

Image source: Johnny’s seed
Image source: Johnny’s seed

These photos make me want to grow Sea Lavender just so I can dry the flowers to save for late winter/early spring when everything is blah outside and you can’t wait for spring to come.

Foraged Foods: Wisteria

I’ve found the first food on my foraging bucket list: wisteria.

It’s not hard to find. I know what it looks like, and it’s in bloom all over Palo Alto. I picked a couple of pannicles from a vine hanging off a local school’s metal fence.

I returned Forage, Harvest, Feast from the library, so I couldn’t reproduce one of Marie Villjeon’s reicpes, but I remember that she said to use only the flowers, as the rest of the plant (seeds and stems) is toxic.

I also vaguely remembered that there was a recipe for wisteria pancakes in the book, so I decided to put the petals in a pancake. I mixed a packed handful of petals into the batter and added some more petals on top for decoration.

Villjeon described wisteria as tasting “uniquely like wisteria.” A google search turned up Tyrant Farms’s post on eating wisteria, and they describe it as “slightly sweet lettuce, with hints of bitter grape and peas.”

Ummm…I don’t really know if I tasted anything at all to be honest. I could smell the fresh wisteria, but once it was cooked into pancake batter, I couldn’t taste very much of a difference from regular pancakes. I even tried a plain raw wisteria petal and it tasted like….mild lettuce, I guess….which is to say, maybe a little bitter….I guess? I am not a very good epicure.

The flowers were very pretty, though, and they turned boring old pancakes into a special celebration of spring! If nothing else, wisteria petals can be used as an edible decoration on cakes or in salads.

I’m going to get Forage, Harvest, Feast out of the library again. There are recipes for wisteria vinegar and concentrated wisteria syrup that I might try…if I do, I’ll be sure to report back.

A Visit To Carmel Valley and Earthbound Farms

Last weekend, Nate visited and we took a trip down to Carmel and Monterey. We stopped in Carmel Valley to see Earthbound Organics Farmstand.

The Farmstand itself was overpriced and underwhelming, but there is a small garden onsite that I got to peak around.

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