Starting Mariposa Plum Seeds

I saved some of the seeds from the Mariposa plums I picked a couple of weekends ago to see if I could grow some Mariposa(ish) plum trees.

There is some conflicting information online (shocking) regarding Mariposa plum pollination, but it sounds like Mariposa plums either needs to be cross-pollinated by another Japanese plum tree (e.g. ‘Santa Rosa’) or is “partially self-fertile,” meaning that cross-pollination increases the yield, but isn’t strictly necessary. I don’t recall seeing any other types of plums in the area, so it’s possible that this Mariposa plum tree was self-pollinated, and thus, the seeds will produce fruit that are tree Mariposa, right?

Anyway, I’m starting some seeds and I’ll let you know in five years or so what kind of plums they produce (if any).

I found a youtube video online, and followed their instructions.

First, remove the seed from the pit:

I used a nutcracker to get them open. It took a good deal of force, but not a single seed was damaged in the process.
They’re like mini almonds

I put them in water to see if they would sink. Supposedly, if they sink they are viable, and if they float, they are not. I’m going to go ahead with all four, marking the one that floated, to test whether or not this is true.

You can see that three of the seeds sank, and one is floating

Fold seeds in a wet paper towel and place in a plastic bag:

The seed that floated is circled so we can see if it germinates

Now, I wait for roots, and then plant in soil!

I started these seeds on July 19th. Any guesses how long these will take to germinate (or whether they will germinate)?

The Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden

About 10 minutes from my house is a public garden called the Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden. It’s free and open to the public even now during COVID (so long as you wear a mask and observe physical distancing).

It’s a very neatly arranged garden, part flower garden, and part vegetable garden.

Here are some photos of the flower part of the garden in mid-July:

Neat rows of flowers
Amazing zinnia bed!
Some dahlias…perhaps a little early for peak season.
Very pretty, though.

Here’s the vegetable part of the garden:

Again, it’s very neatly laid out. There are tomatoes, peppers, and squash growing here.
Tomatoes on the right, squash on the left.

Behind the vegetable garden were some rows of fruit trees – lots of apples and some citrus trees.

These apple trees have been neatly pruned along a fence, and all of the fruit is within reach for harvesting.

It’s a really beautiful garden, neatly laid out with wide walking paths, and the perfect mix of flowers and edibles. In years past there has been a volunteer program, but that, unfortunately, seems to be on hiatus for COVID. Oh, well. I’m happy this garden is so close by and open to the public. I’m sure I’ll be making many trips to this garden to see how it evolves over the year.

What’s the Difference between Zone 8b and Zone 9b?

As I’ve said before, the scenery in California is very different from that of Seattle. I moved from zone 8b to zone 9b. Doesn’t seem like it should be that big of a difference, right?

The current USDA hardiness zones were determined by the annual lowest winter temperature, averaged over the past 30 years. (Actually, the current USDA zones are based on the average from 1976-2005.) Zone 8b has an average minimum temp of 10-15 deg F, whereas zone 9b has an average minimum temp of 25-30 deg F. Those are both below freezing, but 9b is just barely below freezing.

First and last frost dates mirror USDA hardiness zones pretty closely. The average first frost date for my area (according to the Farmer’s Almanac) is Nov 29th, and the last frost date is Feb 22nd. Palo Alto has an essentially year-round growing season. In Seattle, our first frost was Nov 16th, and our first frost was Mar 17th. That’s only a few weeks of difference.

These changes are minor, but they do have a significant impact on the plants that can survive the winter. Here in zone 9b, citrus trees and certain other tropical fruits are grown outdoors, whereas in Seattle, they would need to be taken indoors in the winter, or otherwise protected.

The Meyer lemon

Interestingly, though, some fruit trees actually need colder weather in order to produce fruit. Some apples and pears need a freeze in order to set fruit. Here, in California, we have “low chill” varieties, which don’t need to be cold in the winter in order to set fruit. “Chill hours” are the the cumulative number hours during the winter when the temperature is below 40 degrees, but above 32. Low chill varieties need fewer chill hours than normal trees, often under 500 hours (less than 20 days below 40 degrees).

Temperature aside, I think the main reason zone 9b looks so different from zone 8b is rainfall. The data below is from (I can’t vouch for it’s accuracy; the average July high seems a little suspect).

In the above chart, “Rainfall” is the total number of inches of annual rain fall and “Precipitation” is the number of days with measurable rainfall. Seattle gets 50% more rain than SF, and has over twice as many rainy days. All that rain means lush green plants, something I sorely miss in the dry dusty desert of the Bay Area.

Mariposa Plum Harvest

Last Saturday, I volunteered with an organization called Village Harvest, which is an organization based out of the Bay Area that harvests fruit from fruit trees in the area and donates the fruit to food banks. Some of the fruit trees are on public property, and some of the fruit trees are on private property (the people who own the land donate the fruit to Village Harvest by allowing Village Harvest volunteers to pick the fruit).

They harvest all kinds of fruit throughout the season. The apricot season just ended here, and last Saturday was the first of the plum harvests. We picked Mariposa plums from a couple of clusters of plum trees (about 15 trees in total) on land near a law firm in Palo Alto (the land may or may not have been owned by the law firm – I wasn’t clear).

Mariposa plums are a kind of Japanese plum. It has small- to medium-sized fruit that are red with green spots on the outside and has red flesh inside. The volunteer coordinator, at the beginning of the harvest, told us that these plums “weren’t all that good raw” and were better cooked into baked goods or into spiced plum jam.

There were 12 of us volunteering that day, and we harvested over 400 lbs of plums!

The volunteers got to take home “seconds.” These are plums that we picked up off the ground, or fell on the ground as we were harvesting, or had a soft spot or blemish. Village Harvest can’t donate any fruit that has fallen on the ground because they can’t be sure that the fruit will be washed before it is eaten and they don’t want to be held liable for getting people sick from eating dirty fruit.


More plums for me!

I took home a good sized bag of plums.

I cooked them up in a clafoutis, since we had been told that they weren’t very good raw.

I forgot to get a photo before we cut into the clafoutis.

Turns out, they were delicious raw, and this clafoutis kinda stank. It rose nicely, but it tasted bland and the texture just wasn’t right. I’m eating the rest raw.

Seed Update: Palo Alto Veggies and Herbs #2

The zucchini and winter squash that I planted a few weeks ago are growing really well! The seeds were planted on July 3rd. Given that the seed packet said days to germination would be 10-14 days, I’m pretty pleased with growth these plants have put on since being planted 17 days ago. Th photos for my last update were taken July 10th, so these photos represent just over a week of growth. Isn’t photosynthesis amazing!

There are four zucchini squash coming up now.

July 10
July 19

The Armenian cucumbers that were planted in this next pot didn’t do anything, but I kind of didn’t expect much of them. The winter squash (volunteer, kuri-like squash) doesn’t seem to mind having the pot all to himself.

July 10
July 19

The cilantro, parsley, and marigolds are much slower to come up. The parsley hasn’t come up at all as far as I can tell. I think I might try to resow them.

This next photo is of the cilantro. It’s hard to tell, because of the weeds, but there are small clusters of cilantro plants sprouting up here.

And here are the marigolds intermixed with weeds.

Lastly, the geranium is hanging in there….doesn’t look great, but he’s not dead yet!

San Jose Heritage Rose Garden

Last Saturday, I volunteered at the San Jose Heritage Rose Garden. The SJHRG is a 4 acre garden near the San Jose airport created in the 1980s. The land was cleared for airport safety, and a proposal was made to create a garden with the empty space. There are over 4,000 roses planted here. The mission of the SJHRG is to preserve rose species. They collect roses from all over the world and maintain them here. There are four criteria they use when deciding which roses to include in their collection:

  1. Roses that are obviously rare or endangered now.
  2. Roses so great that they must be shown to the public
  3. Roses they feel will be rare in the future.
  4. Roses that are important to the history of rose hybridizing.

It is entirely volunteer maintained — all of the weeding, pruning, and collecting of roses is done by volunteers. Even the people who organize volunteer groups like the one I joined last Saturday are volunteers.

Rose season is nearly over here in the bay area, so most of these roses were past their prime.

Our task last Saturday was weeding. Below is the area where I was working. See all that dead straw-like material? All weeds.

Here’s how it looked after. Meh. Not very impressive. This little bit too me a little over two hours. It was dry and dusty.

The volunteers also host pruning classes in the winter, so people in the community can learn how to take care of their roses. Although I’m glad I got to see the rose garden, I probably won’t go back to volunteer again. San Jose is a bit of a drive for me, and I don’t like rose that much to make it worth the trip.

Geranium Cuttings

Before I left Seattle, I got some geranium cuttings from Nate, so I could take a tiny piece of Seattle down to California. Plus, I like geraniums.

The geraniums started to flag a little on the drive down, and I thought they wouldn’t make it, but the biggest one pulled through and grew some roots!

I put it in some potting soil on the back deck. There’s another potted geranium on the deck, so I felt pretty confident that the conditions were will be right for a geranium.

Unfortunately, after a day or two, it looked a little worse for wear….

Not sure what happened here. Too much sun too soon? I’m still hoping the small leaves in the center will pull through and the roots will get established.

Propagating Jade Plants

I don’t particularly care for cacti and most succulents, but now that I live in California, I have to start embracing them. Jade plant is a nice starter succulent to add to my collection (Note that my “collection” of succulents currently amounts to a single snake plant).

Jade Plant. Aka Crassula ovata. Aka Money Plant.

Image from

They supposedly propagate pretty easily by cutting — either a short bit of stem or simply a leaf.

I went the leaf route. I came across a decently-sized jade plant near the sidewalk by a business, and might have covertly pulled off three leaves.

I read online that one could propogate the leaves by letting them dry for 2-3 days to let the ends callous over and then setting them on top of moist soil, like so:

The leaf should send roots down into the soil and form a new plant. This seems a bit like voodoo to me, but it’s worth a shot.

Seed Update: Palo Alto Veggies and Herbs #1

Remember the seeds I planted a week ago? I already have germination!

Here’s the zucchini pot:

Look at that zucchini!

I planted one seed in the middle and five or so around the outside.

Here’s the winter squash:

This pot has one winter squash seed in the middle, and some Armenian cucumber seeds around the edge.

Again, I’m not sure what variety it is – I saved the seed from a volunteer squash that kind of resembled a kuri. So, I guess it will be part kuri, but whatever else crossed with it (assuming we get fruit).

I’m very happy with this! Huge success! (At least, so far….)

I found a pdf from SF Bay Gardening that tells me when to plant seeds in this area. According the pdf, July is the last month to start summer squash (zucchini), and winter squash should have been planted between April and June. Oh, well. It’s close enough to June. I think they’ll be fine.

The Neighborhood Gardens of Palo Alto

In contrast to the lush, terraced gardens of Seattle, Palo Alto is flat and dry. Although citrus trees are a frequent sight, I don’t think I’ve seen a single vegetable garden since I’ve been here. Perhaps vegetable gardens are tucked in backyards out of view from the street, but somehow, I doubt it.

Here are some of the gardens I see on my walks around the neighborhood these days:

Lots of this style of planting: spread out shrubs/cacti with dirt, mulch or rocks in between.
…and palm trees….
…and so much agapanthus! (agapanthi?)
This house is a bright spot on my walk. The bougainvillea is taking over!

And last but not least…

A truck full of dahlias!

This isn’t my style of garden, but I guess that’s zone 9B for ya!