Sierra Vista Fruit Exchange


What's the plural of "conundrum"?

10/27/2008 -
Conundrums? Conundra? Things that make you go "hmmm"?

Whatever you call a group (a gaggle? a murder? a flock?) of unexplained garden phenomena, it sounds like many of us around Lafayette have had similar ones.

If it was so bloody hot all summer, why weren't there any good tomatoes?

Why did the green beans not start producing until practically October?

Why did my vigorous, beautiful persian melon vine grow 25 huge melons and not ripen a single one of them?

Who ever heard of a zucchini that under-produced? I got literally no summer squash this year.

Has anyone discovered a landscape plant that turkeys won't eat?

Seriously, it has been a season of late-bloomers, photosynthetic slackers, underachievers, and disappointing ROI. The Satsuma plums i wait for literally all year were sparse and mealy. The fig tree never set fruit (until about 5 days ago! go figure) -- neither did the passion fruit vines. Birds got every one of my grapes a week before i would have picked them. Deer molested my hachiya persimmon to a state of quasi-dormancy. The 13 "cute" "baby" turkeys that have been roaming the neighborhood since spring are no longer babies, no longer cute, and they have become hell-bent on pulling everything in my front yard up by the roots. I phoned Orchard Nursery and asked them what I could do to discourage the turkeys. Advice: "Get a paint ball gun. Oh, and freeze the paint balls first."


It's not all disaster, of course -- I've gotten a small but gorgeous crop of pomegranates (not enough to share, but next year I wouldn't be surprised!), and the herb garden has been terrific... nothing beats being able to walk outside and snip epazote leaves for quesadillas, thyme and parsley for compound butter, shiso and thai basil for asian dishes. In fact, I officially recommend Thai basil as a plant that everyone should have in their herb garden. My single plant has produced so much foliage that i took a HUGE bouquet of branches down to Metro and donated them to the chef (everyone in the restaurant was squealing about how fabulous it smelled). It has grown 5 feet tall, with thick woody stems and a continuous profusion of new leaves. It's delicious, intensely aromatic, pretty, pest-proof (as far as i can tell) and at almost-November it shows no signs of slowing down, long after the genovese basil has bolted and died.

So, we're trying to regroup. carrots, beets, parsnips, broccoli, brussels sprouts, greens, and potatoes have gone into the ground and we're hopeful the winter crops will perform better than the summer ones. we're trimming, pruning, weeding, and getting ready for our not really so dormant dormant season.

Now -- I cannot help noticing that it is nut season around here. Any of you who have walnuts or chestnuts in your yards that you do not intend to use -- please consider me available to process them! I've been noticing a lot of nut trees along Happy Valley Road that appear only to be fodder for ravens. If you are similarly beset with squirrels and can't stomach the thought of cracking another walnut... give a shout and a friendly neighbor will take them off your hands (harvesting and all, if you want -- I don't mind!). I can even return some of them to you in a preferred format, such as homemade brownies or chestnut soup. Just say the word.

We've been amazingly terrible at developing our food sharing concept in the last few months, but while chronically overwhelmed I have not given up on the idea. Keep in touch and let's plan another morning get together before the holiday season takes us over. And for now, if you have something to share or are looking for a neighbor who does, reply to this list!

Happy Halloween


How does your garden grow?

05/18/2008 -
Well, folks, the baby got hand, foot and mouth disease, the company I freelance for wanted more hours out of me, deadlines have loomed, our five year old suddenly needs to be chauffeured to a hell of a lot of places... and long story short, I've spent much more time thinking about this food thing than doing anything about it.

However, the garden stops for no man. Or woman. Or sick baby or overscheduled preschooler.

Today the mercury hit triple digits (106, according to my car thermometer!). By 10:00 it was unthinkable to do anything outside, and the only place worse than outside was inside (how many of you live in 1950s Jack Marchant ranchers? Those exposed beam pine ceilings are so charming, but once the temperature climbs over 85, our house becomes a convection oven).

Around 5 pm, I took the girls out to play with the hose so I could deadhead the African daisies and lay a little extra H2O on my drooping oakleaf hydrangeas. The air was beginning to mellow. The light was getting that soft, juicy, summer evening thing. Ginger toddled to the strawberry patch and started helping herself, unerringly picking the ripest berries and leaving any that slugs had nibbled. I noticed a purple blossom on one of my potato plants, and even though it seemed early in the season, I stuck a trowel in at the roots and hit paydirt. Russian banana fingerlings - perfectly formed, thin-skinned, golden, waxy-fleshed, knobby - beautiful. Had it not still been in the 90s I would have cooked them on the spot. As it is, they'll make a delicious meal this weekend, but meanwhile, it's pizza night, thank you very much, yes I would like another glass of viognier, how very perceptive of you.

What's working in your garden this late spring? My endive bolted prematurely: the onset of sexual maturity creates hormonal changes that cause it to become exceptionally unpleasant and bitter - a trait it seems to share with some humans, I might note. I've had mixed success with radishes (a round purple variety is doing decently. My white icicles are tiny, tough and unpleasantly hot, and not one of my French breakfast red and white striped ones even germinated.). I've yet to see a carrot that was visible to the naked eye (I thought they'd be nearly done by now) and the beets have been a little disappointing too, leaving the spuds as my only wildly successful root crop for the spring.

The good stuff? Strawberries. Quinalts, Sequoias, fraises de bois, and an albino variety with a flavor like tropical guavas, all doing brilliantly. Arugula - anyone need any arugula? Mine's going to flower and I can't eat it fast enough. But it's been delicious, not too spicy, good texture. We've had a decent crop of sugar snap peas, probably coming to an end soon if this weather keeps up, and I've discovered a newfound affection for Swiss chard. Ours has been stunningly beautiful, totally bug resistant, and so tender and mild-flavored that I've been loving it raw in salads. Then there are the garden crops that surpass "yummy" and just leave you awe-struck. Ours this year has been an artichoke plant, which has exploded to six feet high and wide, and has yielded a couple dozen perfect, absolutely delicious buds. I'd never grown one before, and now I'm just wondering where else I can start putting them in. They are such handsome plants, so vigorous and so sculptural that I wonder why more people don't landscape with them. I thought mine was finally on its way out, and today I noticed a brand new plant forming from its rootball. It's awesome. Meanwhile, pole beans, sunflowers, pumpkins, melons, and even a few passionfruits appear to be on the way. Can't wait.

Our earliest-fruiting tomatoes have set. The one-year-old pomegranate I put in is falling over from the weight of its new growth and incipient fruits. We have a bumper crop of Japanese plums, and I've had to force myself to accept the necessity of thinning the fruit for the common good - so hard, when the trees are young and you can imagine eating every single fruit they produce!

No figs so far, no cherries, no pears, no peaches - my trees are still babies. Hopefully next year. Is anyone out there growing apricots? I'll trade you for something. (arugula?? Please??)

Hey, that got long. But that's May for you.

Ring in on what you've got growing this summer. The hope is to gather in as many neighbors as possible for a few fun swap meet mornings down on the patio at Metro - sort of an under-the-radar farmers' market. Fruit, nuts, veggies, cut flowers, herbs - all fair game. I say we start the first weekend of June.

Also, if you have neighbors who might like to get in on this and aren't on the email list, chat with them. I'm thinking for instance of seniors who might have nice old trees and have a tough time harvesting, but might like to get more use out of their produce. We can help them. Eventually we can expand this whole thing past our corridor and to other parts of town, too, so if you have pals around here (Happy Valley, Glen Road, etc) who are about to get hailed on by excess walnuts or plums, rope them in!

Here's what I will likely have available to share / trade around the first of June:

  • Herbs: mint (several types), oregano, basil, fennel, pineapple sage, thymes, rosemary, kaffir lime leaf (thai food, anyone?).
  • Fruit: still have meyer lemons, some strawberries, possibly blueberries. Other tree fruits not until later in the summer.
  • Veggies: baby squash (zucchini and eightball), fingerling potatoes, possibly some early tomatoes.

How about you?