Soon it will all be chips, but not the kind for guacamole.
For background on how we got to this point, see this year’s Sukkot planting.
I am often asked what I will do with the land.
If I had the resources, maybe wine grapes, or olive trees. Both were once common in these parts, before cheap water and protected markets led to the “green gold” boom (and the fruit of the vine is making a notable comeback, even very nearby). Both crops are much more adaptable to this climate, for sure. But I do not have the resources. So, for now, think of it as a (very) late start to shmitah.
Or maybe I should plant pinyon pine trees. Pine nuts are twenty dollars a pound at a local market.
In 1927, H.B. Frost developed the Pixie mandarin orange, one of the 40 varieties of fruit to originate at the UC Riverside Citrus Research Center.
In the 1930s, UC Berkeley food scientist William Cruess invented the canned fruit cocktail.
In 1948, now-legendary UC Davis viticulturalist Harold P. Olmo created the perlette green table grape, one of 30 varieties he developed.
‘Pixie’, pictured above, is one of the very best mandarins, and has a proud place in Ladera Frutal’s Tangerine Reality, previously depicted on 13 November, 2005. At the older planting, I noted that I had tried my first ‘Page’ mandarin that day. I only had my first of 2008 today. I wonder what took me so long? The one I had in November three years ago was, I reported, “still a bit tart.” But the one I had today was only slightly short of peak flavor.
‘Pixie’ ripens a bit later in the season, but this year’s are starting to show some nice color. As the photo above shows, the ‘Page’ and ‘Pixie’ each have a lot of fruit that is still green, along with the few that are ripe or ripening. This sort of staggered ripening is unusual for these varieties, in my experience.
I suppose a ripe Pixie would be good even in a canned fruit cocktail, but I prefer them eaten or juiced straight off the tree.
From left to right, here are a Moro, Sanguinelli, and Tarocco blood orange, all harvested at Ladera Frutal within the past week.
Obviously, these samples vary quite a bit in both external and internal color, with the Tarocco bloodiest on both sides of the peel.
In favor, they really are quite distinct. This was the first time I had ever tasted two or more different varieties in sequence, as it is our first year of any significant (and overlapping) crops on these trees.
I would rate the Moro as the best flavor, followed by the Tarocco. It is actually not an easy call. The Moro has more of the berry flavor notes that lead some sellers to market these as “raspberry oranges.” The Tarocco is milder, but very balanced and after a few tastes, I started to get some unusual complexity, kind of like a fine red wine. (I have also seen blood oranges sold as “burgundy oranges,” although those I have seen sold that way were always Moros.) The Sanguinelli was the most tart of the three by far, but not overly so. It just has less interesting flavor. However, fruit remaining on the tree may simply benefit from more time, and the tree itself is the smallest and least mature of the three.
The Moro is also the most immediately recognizable as an orange by flavor, despite clear differences when compared to a navel or Valencia. The others taste a bit more like a different class of citrus fruit, with the Tarocco even having a “chewy” texture that could almost make you think it had some grapefruit or pummelo in its bloodlines (though, to my knowledge, it does not).
This Tarocco is not the most common strain sold under that name, but a recent selection that I obtained through a CFRG arrangement with the UCR Citrus Variety Collection. It certainly deserves to be widely released and better known.
The ‘Ice Cream’ (a.k.a. ‘Java Blue’) banana clump is very much back in business, after having been devastated by the freeze almost 11 months ago.
Look closely and you can see at least four sets of fruit and their blossoms. Each of these fruit-bearing stalks bloomed after the freeze, and while some of the bigger stalks lived through the freeze, there was no green foliage on this clump for a while after that setback.
A good long and warm summer sure has made a difference. And this is one of the very best bananas. If only we can avoid another cold spell, we are going to have a lot of fruit in the next month or two.
The photo below shows what this clump looked like on 16 January, the day after the first of five nights of freezing temperatures. (It looked a lot worse a week later.) The ‘Ice Cream’ is the clump to the left. On the right is the ‘Goldfinger,’ off which I just harvested the first post-freeze fruit Monday.
Just in from of the ‘Ice Cream’ clump in this photo is the ‘Bombay’ mango, which looks sort of OK here, but did not make it. Looking back at the first photo above, that empty circle of chicken wire in the shadows to the right of the banana clump is where the mango used to stand. Only a shoot off the rootstock (the aptly named ‘Turpentine’) now grows where the tree formerly stood. On the other hand, compare the avocado trees in the two photos. Now you would hardly know they ever had been harmed.
I had given up on this lychee tree long ago. I was just too lazy to remove it after its apparent death from the freeze of mid-January. Miraculously, six months later, the roots began to send up sprouts again!
Fortunately, this lychee was propagated as an air layer, meaning that it is growing on its own roots. If it were grafted, the new sprouts would be from a rootstock of some variety that was undesirable for its fruit and the desirable fruiting variety grafted to the rootstock would be a goner.
There is also a mango tree on the finca that was killed to the ground, but began to re-sprout earlier in July. However, it is a grafted tree, so the variety that is now sprouting is the all too aptly named ‘Turpentine.’ I might be able to graft a good variety on to it next year, however.
As for the lychee, the killed parts represented years of growth. So we still have a very big setback from the freeze. But the will to live is stronger than the freeze.
At one time, avocados from high up the steep fruited slope of Mt. Ararat were brought down to trucks via this rail car, which ran on a single track.
In our shed there is an old motor, and around the grove there are several old bins that would have been placed on this car.
The second photo shows the line from farther up, above LF HQ, the house, and the valley so low (note the banana grove, before the freeze, just above HQ). Alas, the line is not functional. I have always fancied the idea of making it work and planting the highest part of the slope and using this line to get me and materials up the hill. However, it would be costly–and probably not very safe.
I have had a few people come by the finca who have been associated with the avocado business for many years and they usually say they have heard of these devices being used in the area, but are not aware of any other tracks still in place, let alone working systems.
Of course, in some other parts of the world, one can find working systems similar to this–for instance in some Italian vineyards.
This is the view now looking west from Ladera Frutal HQ.
An avocado grove has been stumped and the trunks whitewashed. This is now a common sight in these parts, as trees that had their tops severely killed back in the freeze in January are being prepared for re-grafting on to the still-alive tissues of the trunks.* The whitewashing protects the trunks from sunburn; like many broadleafed evergreens, avocados have thin bark. Deciduous trees tend to have tough bark, because they spend a significant part of their lives without foliar canopy. Obviously, for an evergreen, a lack of canopy is an anomaly.
In the photo, at elevations just below the whitewashed trunks, one can see citrus trees (grapefruit, mostly) which have no damage from the freeze. (The entire canyon is now scented with their blooms!) And on the distant hilltops, the dark green represents avocado trees flourishing where they were planted high above the freeze line.
The following view is to the southeast, also from LF HQ, looking across the canyon. It shows quite starkly how freeze damage is a threshold phenomenon. There is no gradation in the visible damage as one goes up the slope. Rather, there is a line–the precise elevation of which differs with the contours of the hills and their sun exposure and air drainage. Below the line, devastation. Above it, healthy trees.
The damaged parts of this grove likewise have now been stumped and whitewashed.
* Or, probably, simply letting them re-sprout, given that they probably have live tissues above the original Hass graft.
Having been hit hard by the freeze in mid-January, the cherimoya trees are now budding again. This one shown here is the ‘Helmuts,’ probably the second hardest hit of our orchard’s block of cherimoyas.
The tops of the branches are killed back (i.e. the extremities suffered most from the cold), but the remainder of most branches is alive and now sprouting the growth of spring. Note the brown leaves clinging to some parts of the branches. Dead leaves cling to dead wood. Living tissue pushes its dead foliage off, and so now I realize that the massive leaf fall shortly after the freeze was a good sign. At the time, it sure did not seem that way!
Normally in this region, cherimoyas defoliate for a very brief period in April, thus making the cherimoya, at least in our climate, a rare case of a deciduous subtropical, albeit one that drops leaves only after the real deciduous trees have leafed out following their months of winter dormancy. These trees have now been mostly without leaves for over two months, and I had feared that they would be far off their normal cycle if they re-leafed too soon after the freeze. But now they are only a bit early, and I suspect they will get back to normal fairly soon, despite the shock. In fact, they might even bloom especially well this year, there being nothing like instilling the fear of death in a fruit tree to get it “thinking” about reproducing! Whether they can hold and ripen fruit their first year after such a big setback to their internal energy levels is another matter.
This avocado grove is on the north-facing slope of Moosa Canyon in Bonsall.*
The mature trees on the ridge are really badly damaged. This hillside is right where two canyons converge, so it certainly would have been hit by a lot of cold air during the freeze in mid-January.
Below the mature trees some saplings had just been planted last summer. In the larger versions of this photo, the white stakes that supported these little trees remain visible. The saplings were probably killed.
This grower took quite a gamble in planting Hass avocados so close to the canyon floor. That’s Moosa Canyon Road visible at the bottom left of the photo (I am standing across the main road from where this grower’s access road heads up the hill.) Here the road is barely above the creek, so this is about as low as the canyon gets. I’d guess the temperature dipped close to 20 at creek level, and was probably below freezing even up where the mature trees are for close to eight hours one night and five or more the next. A gamble lost.
* We are on the south-facing slope, and this grove is visible from here, a bit to the east.
When the California Avocado Commission objected to federal government plans to expand the amount of Mexican avocados imported into the USA and the range of destinations to which they could be shipped–a policy just implemented last month–critics claimed that the domestic avocado growers were concerned only about market competition. The Commission, which we growers fund by a tax on all Hass avocados that we sell,* always claimed that its (our) opposition was based on legitimate concerns over pests found in Mexico and other countries that we do not (currently) have here in California. Of course, producers who will be subject to import competition always make such “objective” claims, so those who are not the producers always have good reason to be skeptical that opposition to expansion of imports is just protectionism based in economic self-interest.
Well, it turns out growers’ fears are real. While the incidence of armored scale in a recent shipment inspected by the California Department of Food and Agriculture was less than initially reported, the pest is indeed arriving on shipments from the south. The CDFA and the federal officials are currently disputing whether armored scale is a sufficiently serious pest to lead to a ban on shipments. So, this policy issue has a federalist dimension to it, with the state agency being more supportive of producers who are concentrated in its state and the federal agency being more attuned to broader trade interests (exactly as we would expect).
The Mexican government in the past has threatened retaliation against imports of US-grown agricultural products if the liberalization of avocado imports is curtailed. So this policy issue certainly has an international-relations, two-level-games dimension.**
There is little doubt that the armored scale could be a serious pest if it ever were to be released somehow from a shipment of fruit and find its way into a grove in California. Because scale do not move much, the threat is not as great as with other pests like the fruit fly. But the threat is significant. For one thing, there is currently no US-approved pesticide that would combat this type of scale for conventional growers, let alone for those of us who are organic. Most of our current scale problem (from other species) is kept in check by biological controls (natural predators, such as wasps, that are released in groves). But there is currently no known predator for the armored scale. It is likely that such a predator exists in Mexico or elsewhere, but is currently being killed by broad-spectrum pesticides being sprayed in Mexican groves. (Broad-spectrum pesticides kill good bugs as well as bad; the bad bugs often are better at developing resistance and thus surviving chemical warfare than are the good bugs.)
Please buy California and organic avocados if you can!
* Especially for my students: An excellent case of what I mean by “coercion” of collective action. In order to sell our products legally, we individual growers must pay this tax to support the Avocado Commission’s collective goods of research, marketing, and, yes, lobbying, on behalf of our interests.
** By targeting other US products for import restrictions, the Mexican government could engage domestic actors on this side of the border who otherwise would not care about avocados in opposing limits on avocado imports.
This was how the ‘Thomson’ mango looked last May, as it was setting its first crop, and a heavy one at that. And were these mangoes ever delicious!
It will not look like this again. Ever. I can now confirm that this tree was killed by the freeze five weeks ago. Also killed was the lucuma that I had planted next to it last August, when the Thomson was laden with nearly ripe fruit. (I have not checked the other two mango trees, which grow on a more-distant ridge.) Here is what the Thomson and the lucuma look like now:
As can be seen to the right of the above photo, the mandarins are fine, and they are loaded with fruit. In fact, all the citrus seems fine, other than a few very young trees. The foliar damage is not trivial on some of the trees in the grapefruit grove down the slope, but the fruit appears to be of fine quality.
The two sapodilla trees (one of which was depicted just over a year ago, the day it blew over and had to be re-staked) are dead. The more distant tree in this photo has a distinct rust color at the base of the trunk–the color of death.
These trees, which produce a luscious fruit I have heard described as “pears with brown sugar,” had just set blossoms and, for the first time, were developing some fruit (from a previous bloom) that might have ripened this summer.
In the photo above, some of the freeze-dried blossoms can be seen. And in the branch in front, you can see where I scored the bark to see if it was green underneath. Nope. All brown, and so is the trunk.
A ‘Nabal’ avocado that was just finally looking healthy and mature enough that it might have borne this year is not dead (believe it or not!), but it is severely damaged.
(On the plus side, a ‘Stewart’ avocado just a short distance from the ‘Nabal’ is more or less unscathed.)
The cherimoyas probably all survived, but they look worse and worse with each passing week. They will take some time to recover. This year they had their first significant crops. Fortunately, about half the fruit had been harvested before the freeze. The remainder, some still hanging on these almost-bear trees, is now inedible.
I am taking a wait-and-see attitude about replanting mangoes, sapodillas, and other subtropicals that we have lost this winter. These trees are not cheap, even from 5-gallon pots, and when planted out that young, it takes three or more years before they reach bearing age–which these had finally done.
The mature, fruiting-age stalks of this ‘Goldfinger’ banana were damaged (perhaps killed) by the freeze. However, two ‘pups’ growing from the inside of the clump appear to have been spared, thanks to the protective tent created by the grown-ups.
Two weeks after the freeze, it looks very doubtful that the Mamey sapote has survived.
It is hard to exaggerate how upsetting it would be to lose this tree. As depicted here previously, I grew this tree (and other tender subtropicals) in pots outside the Ladera Frutal office for a few years, in order to allow its roots to develop before planting, and so that the tree could be put into the garage when unusually cold weather was expected. Then in late summer, I planted the tree on higher ground, above the level at which frost and freezing temperatures normally occur. But the weather two weeks ago was anything but normal, and the tree’s survival is very much in doubt. We can go fifteen to twenty years without having a major episode of freezing weather. If only I had waited till this spring to plant…
Visible behind the mamey (and to the right of the stake) is the green sapote, which looks even less likely to have survived.
The canistel may have made it, albeit with significant damage.
The wild flower growing in front of the subptropicals, and heralding the arrival of spring-like weather, is obviously adapted to cold weather. (Oh, look at the canistel’s sprinkler! I didn’t notice that when I was up there. I’ll have to go fix that.)
Continuing the photo tour of the damage to Ladera Frutal resulting from the freeze of 2007. It has now been two weeks since the first of five nights of freezing temperatures. Over this time, damage that was not at first apparent has become quite evident.
Entering the avocado grove from its lowest part, the appearance is really grim. These trees may have survived, but they will be severely set back and may not fruit again for a few years.
However, enter the grove and things start to look a lot better.
These trees, just a few short steps from the ones in the first photo, are mostly OK. Only the very tops are “burnt” from the freeze. Obviously, the warmth of the trees themselves helped the trees protect one another. These trees will be OK by next year.
Still farther into the grove, and things look almost normal.
Up at the very top of our grove, you can look out over the entire grove. Only light damage is visible from here. Naturally, given the way cold air sinks, the upper part of the slope sustained less damage.
Almost all the avocado groves that I have passed by in recent days in the area have considerable damage. However, it is clearly worse on the canyon wall opposite ours–their north slope meant more hours of cold–and in some low-lying areas (like the neighbor’s) that are marginal for Hass avocados even in a normal year. This, of course, has been no normal year.
In a comment earlier in the week, Doug Young noted that at his location in El Cajon (roughly 25 miles southeast of here) there were no freeze/frost problems. He mentions the location is about 1100 feet above sea level. That is much higher than here, where the Ladera Frutal office is about 525 feet elevation, as are the bananas that have been so badly ravaged by our freezing conditions. (Day by day, they continue to look worse than in the photo I posted on 14 January).
Doug notes how he can “feel the cold air draining downhill on a calm night.” I know what he means. That is usually the case here, too. On many a clear, windless winter evening, as I walk down the hill from the office to the house (elevation 450 or so), I can feel the air getting significantly colder as I descend. But not so on the recent evenings when the cold air mass settling overhead.
Compare 6 January, a more typical dry clear winter night, to 14 January, the coldest night of the recent snap. On 6 January, the low temperature down at the lower level (below the house, at maybe 350 feet) was 30 degrees, while up here at the office it got to only 36. Six degrees difference over an elevation change of 175 feet. Yet on 14 January, when the temperature reached 24 at the lower level, it was 27 at the office level. The cold air just was not draining. Instead, it was parked firmly overhead and the differences from elevation to elevation just were not very significant.
The steep slope here normally makes for a near-perfect mix of micro-climates–above-freezing at the top but very chilly down below. But it looks a lot less perfect than it did as of 12 January. This week, it would have been good to have been at 1000 feet (as the highest nearby ridgelines are). As an aside, I wonder how high, under local conditions, one can be and still get the advantage of cold-air drainage. At some point, the “thin air” effect of higher elevation has to take over, and one would be too high for cold-sensitive crops. One can see this effect on some of the hills east and south of here in Valley Center and San Marcos: Avocado groves begin part way up the slope and stop before the top, taking advantage of the parts of the slope that are out of usual freeze range. Of course, there was nothing “usual” about the weather this past week–and the impact on the local ag industry will be devastating.
Every day, more damage appears as the plants’ diminished ability to take in moisture leads to more and more collapse of tender young tissues and browning/yellowing and curling of foliage, even on some trees that appeared unaffected as of two days ago (such as the sapodillas, lychee, and some of the citrus).
On the upside, the cold snap has left the chill-hour estimate down below at 370+ hours, or about 100 hours ahead of where it was at this point a year ago.
If by my laws you walk, and my commands you keep, and observe them,
then I will give-forth your rains in their set-time,
so that the earth gives-forth its yield
and the trees of the field give-forth their fruit.
--Vayikra 26: 3-4