Why Fruit Tree Seeds Don’t Grow New Fruit Trees…Usually

Oranges

photo by Holly Guenther

After eating a delicious piece of fruit, have you ever planted the seed? Did the seed you planted make the same fruit? The answer to the second question is most likely, “No.” What probably happened to your seed is that it grew a tree that a) never made fruit or b) took over 10 years to bear fruit that was inedible. So, why did this happen?

The reason that seed did not reproduce itself is because it came from a cloned tree. It might surprise you to know that humans have cloned fruit trees for thousands of years! Cloning got started when someone discovered they could take the wood from a delicious fruit tree (the scion) and graft or bud it onto the wood of a mature tree (the rootstock).

So why don’t most fruit tree seeds yield edible fruit? It has to do with genetics. Fruit is the result of sexual reproduction (with a little help from the bees). In sexual reproduction, the male and female genetic materials combine to make something new. In this way, each fruit is genetically diverse, just like you and I are different from our parents. Sexual reproduction is Mother Nature’s way of ensuring survival of a species-if all of us were exactly alike, one bad germ could come along and wipe us all out.

Part of our modern-day confusion regarding cloning and reproduction can be blamed on the story of Johnny Appleseed. As kids we read that this adventurous and kindly man shared his favorite apple seeds (which grew into trees with edible apples) with his new friends during his travels. In reality, Johnny’s apple seeds grew into trees with apples that were mostly inedible as fresh fruit, but absolutely fantastic for making hard apple cider! (You can read more about Johnny Appleseed in The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan).

Photo by Holly Guenther

Photo by Holly Guenther

Eventually, cloning became part of a business for plant breeders, who crossed the genetic material of known varieties to create new ones. Then, once a new variety was made they budded or grafted it onto mature trees.  This is how the honeycrisp™ apple was created in 1960 by the University of Minnesota’s apple breeding program. It wasn’t until 1991 that the first honeycrisp ™ apples made it into market, however.

So, what can be cloned? You can’t just graft or bud any old plants together. The plants need to be closely related. For example, apples and pears can be grafted onto each other, peaches and nectarines can be grafted together, and citrus trees of any type can be grafted or budded together (i.e. lemon, orange, grapefruit, lime, etc.). If you only have space in your yard for one tree, you can 20 different varieties of the same kind of fruit onto that same tree, and each fruit type will ripen according to its normal ripening time.

The one thing to remember about grafting and budding is that it takes time, practice and repetition to get it right. Don’t give up if it doesn’t work right away. A lot of the grafting done in fields for grapes and other trees is done by farm workers who are amazingly fast and adept at this process. If you know someone who does this, ask them to help you learn how to do it. You can also watch my Citrus Budding video to see how budding is done. This spring I hope to have another video about budding and possibly grafting.

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Bugs & Beer: Entomophagy Part II

Anne and Chef David George Gordan

Anne with Chef David Gordan

I was very happy to have my friends Javier and Jill-Marie in attendance with me at the Bugs and Beer event. Javier was an experienced bug eater (he’d tried them in Cambodia), and although Jill-Marie had no intention of eating bugs, she would drink the beer I couldn’t finish and be there for moral support.

The event was set in a small theater and would feature eight pairings of bugs and beer. Someone in the audience inquired why certain bugs were paired with certain beers, and the beer speaker joked that he really didn’t know since this was his first time doing such a thing and he had done his best trying to figure out which flavors would go best together.

photo 2

The first pairing was a small cup of meal worms decorated with flower petals and a Ruhstaller Gilt Edge Lager beer. I took a sip of the beer and stared at the pretty petals and tiny dehydrated worms, also called “larvets.” The fluorescent lighting of the room grew hazy and the background noise drifted away. This was the moment of reckoning. I popped a meal worm in my mouth. It was dry and lacked flavor. I tried another one with the same result. They reminded me of dehydrated veggie chips. Luckily the beer helped re-hydrate my throat.

Anne w forkThe next course was a sago worm, which is not a worm but rather the larval stage (called a grub) of the red palm weevil. I was looking forward to trying something a bit meatier than the larvets, and was disappointed to see the grub was dehydrated too! It came with a wasabi dipping sauce that was good and was paired with a Lagunitas Pils beer that helped wash away the chalky texture. Strike two!

The third pairing featured a plate full of European house crickets with a delicious Hefeweizen beer from Sudwerk. I speared a cricket with the tiny fork provided, put it in my mouth and started taking selfies. Then Javier and I took selfies together and took turns photographing each other with our crickets. We noticed everyone in the room was doing the same thing. As I tentatively tasted the cricket, I was pleasantly surprised to find the texture to be chewy yet crunchy. The crickets had been prepared in hot sauce that gave them a bit of a kick and a really good flavor. Things were looking up.

When the fourth pairing came out, a hush photo 5fell over the room. The waiters held platefuls of Cambodian crickets, an insect the size of a small mouse. I don’t recall the beer because I was staring at the cricket. Perhaps because I’m an insect mortician (I know how to make the bugs in my collection look good) I started playing with my food by waving at Javier and talking to him with my cricket. He didn’t laugh at my jokes and then I noticed his face was quite red. Apparently he decided to pop the entire cricket in his mouth, chew forcefully and swallow. “I think there’s a leg stuck in my throat,” he whispered.  I felt bad for him.

Cricket kebobs

Cricket kebob

The fifth pairing were grasshopper kebobs and bell peppers served with a Rubicon Angus Scottish Ale. The grasshoppers were my absolute favorite, they were flavored with teriyaki and very tender. Javier and I were fighting over who got to eat Jill-Marie’s grasshoppers when I noticed my ale glass was empty. Jill-Marie had a big smile on her face.

For the sixth pairing, a spinach salad with queen weaver ants was served. The ants were dehydrated and the salad was rather bland. I didn’t really feel like I could taste the ants at all, which I have heard have a tangy flavor. The salad was served with a Sierra Nevada Boomerang IPA. IPA stands for India Pale Ale, aka. BITTER BEER, which some people really like.

weaver ant salad

Queen weaver ants

The seventh pairing was a dessert. The chef had made gingersnap cookies with cricket flour. Apparently there are several companies in the U.S. that make and sell items made with cricket flour. The gingersnaps were amazingly yummy and paired with a Heretic Chocolate Hazelnut Porter, and the two went really well together.

The final pairing were crickets dipped in chocolate. The crickets were saturated with oil and salt and did NOT go well with the chocolate. I can’t recall the beer either, but suffice it to say I ate Jill-Marie’s cookie and pretended that was the last course.

gingersnap

Gingersnap

As we left the event, each of us commented on how much fun we had and that we would definitely do it again. Javier noted that he would take smaller bites of the Cambodian cricket. He still felt like there were bug parts stuck in his throat and didn’t feel better until after two shots of vodka and a mojito.

Javier and I aren’t sure if we will eat bugs on our own. Jill-Marie bought me a copy of the Eat a Bug Cookbook which Chef David Gordon signed. If I do decide to venture into entomophagy again, I’ll make sure to post photos of my culinary adventures.

Please note: The Bug Chef does not advise eating insects that haven’t been raised specifically for eating, and he also advises against eating insects raw.

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Bugs & Beer: Entomophagy Part I

I was more than a little scared to eat this cricket.

I was more than a little scared to eat this cricket.

Most people I tell about my bug-eating experience react with disgust. However, believe it or not, entomophagy, (the human consumption of insects* and arachnids) is practiced by over 80% of the world. EIGHTY PERCENT!

Why Bugs and Beer?
The advertisement for this event intrigued me. I’d collected bugs for over two decades and taught classes that mentioned entomophagy, yet I hadn’t tried it. For some reason I decided I should do so and immediately convinced two friends to come with me.

Nightmares
After I signed up for the class, I couldn’t stop talking about it. I had to tell everyone. I called friends to tell them, I told my family. My preoccupation with the upcoming event bordered on obsessive. I wondered, “would I be able to eat a bug? What if I couldn’t do it? What if I choked on the bug? What if a bug leg got stuck in my throat?” and dozens of other random thoughts.  I tried to think of ways to desensitize and prepare myself but nothing seemed to help. Also, I’m not much of a beer drinker, in fact it usually makes me sick, so I knew I couldn’t rely on alcohol to get me through my self-inflicted event.

Nightmare#1
My first nightmare was set in a darkly lit upscale restaurant that had a long oak table surrounded by stools and lots of well-dressed people. I couldn’t see their faces, but I heard them talking over loud music. Everyone was excited and holding chopsticks and forks in anticipation. The chef came out of the kitchen with a flourish and said “Voila!” and showed a plate with what appeared to be purple sea urchins that had been turned inside out and stuffed with something brown and fluorescent pink. Everyone clapped and I began to sweat profusely. I watched as the plate slowly made its way down the table…and then I woke up!

Nightmare #2
A few days later I had a second nightmare that was less scary. I had cooked artichokes for myself and a friend, and as I started to eat I found some live ants on mine. As I went to flick them off, my friend said, “Hey, shouldn’t you eat that? I mean, shouldn’t you practice?” I felt pressured and lifted an artichoke leaf up to my mouth, and stared into the eyes of a wriggling ant…and once again, I woke up.

Snail. These are next on my list of things to try.

Snail. These are next on my list of things to try.

Advice
I told one good friend about my upcoming experience and he said, “Anne, I’ve studied and collected bugs for over 45 years, but it would take a lot of beer to get me to eat one.  I did eat an escargot once (not an insect, but close enough), but only after about half a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon.”

Another friend, (on Facebook), Confessions of a Bug Addict told me not to worry, and that once I tried bugs and realized they were delicious, it would make complete sense to eat them. I repeated this to myself several times day.

A few days before the workshop, I saw a video of Chef David George Gordon on Conan O’Brien. His antics made me laugh, and I started looking forward to meeting him and trying some of his cuisine. Although I did balk at the idea of eating a cockroach, even though Conan ate one.

Read Part II HERE

*insects are six-legged creatures and also include the category of “bugs” which are a type of insect. Arachnids are spiders which have eight legs.

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Landscape Care During Drought

photo by Anne

photo by Anne

If you live in an area newly effected by drought, you may have some questions about the water situation such as:

  • What IS a drought?
  • How should I irrigate/water during drought?
  • Do I need to pull out my lawn? I’ve heard it’s “bad.”
  • Should I turn off my water and let my plants die?
  • What about the trees in my landscape? What should I do for them?

A drought is defined as an extended period of time without water. Water below ground is usually at all-time lows. A drought can last for several months to several years.

Many plants can survive a drought surprisingly well. Think of old roses planted in cemeteries hundreds of years ago that are still alive. They aren’t thriving…but they aren’t dead either.

Since we’ve had so little rainfall and hardly any snow pack, some counties are asking residents to limit watering days or asking them not to water at all. Other county residents haven’t been asked to do anything at all yet, but they may be in the future. Strict fines may also be enacted for those who break the watering rules.

photo HHow Should I Water?
The best way to water during a drought (or any other time) is “deeply.” Deep watering is when you use a hose, soaker hose or drip irrigation system to thoroughly water the root zone of your plants.

The key to deep watering is to water slowly. Watering slowly allows water to penetrate the soil and eliminates the chance that water will run off into the storm gutter. It also ensures water goes deeper than just the top few inches of soil.

But how do you know if you are really deep watering? The answer is: you’ve got to dig/check to find out. Use a shovel or a screwdriver to see what’s going on underneath the surface of the soil. Don’t assume you are watering effectively until you investigate. More about this later.

Should I Pull Out my Lawn?
Before you do anything drastic like pull out your lawn, you may want to do an “audit” of your landscape. Ask yourself:

  • When do my sprinklers come on?
  • How long do they run?
  • Am I watering plants or pavement?
  • Could I water less and still have a nice lawn?
  • Is there a geyser in my yard when I’m not home?

If you don’t change how you water, it’s possible you may replant your yard with natives and/or Mediterranean plants and still use the same amount of water. Remember, installing a new landscape may take more water than maintaining an established one. Find out how much water you use now and see what you can do to use less. Watering three times per week? Try two and see what happens. Watering the pavement? Try breaking up your watering into shorter shifts, i.e. twice per day for the same total amount of watering time. Also, you may need to rotate your sprinkler heads and point them in the right direction.

photo by Anne

photo by Anne

Should I Let Everything Die?
When people moved to the west coast from the east coast, they brought a lot of their plants with them. Some do well here, but others need a lot of extra care, extra water and extra fertilizer. If you cut back on your watering and some plants don’t make it, they may have been east coast stragglers. Replace them with plants that require less water. Just remember, they’ll need regular water in the beginning to get established. Also, remember that not all native plants are low-water users. Some live in riparian (river) areas and need regular water.

What about the Trees in my Landscape?
You may have heard the saying, The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now. The saying is really true. Trees take time to establish and since you can’t go back in time, preserve the trees you have now. Trees add value to your property and community. They are aesthetically pleasing and provide shade, protection from wind and can even lower your home energy costs. As Joyce Kilmer said, I think that I shall never see, a poem lovely as a tree.

If you live in a county where you are asked not to water, chances are the powers that be haven’t taken into account the value of an established tree. I suggest attending a county meeting and asking them to reconsider and allow residents to preserve their established shade trees.

photo by Anne

photo by Anne

When watering plants and especially trees, you’ll want to use a principle called “deep watering.” All trees (even those planted in lawn) need deep watering at least once per month during the dry season.

To deep water, use a hose or soaker hose placed away from the base of the tree in its “drip line.” The drip line is an imaginary area underneath a tree where its canopy casts a shadow. Picture a tree on a sunny day and the area of shade beneath it-observe your tree and find this area of shade. Then encircle the tree with a soaker hose or use a regular hose and move it around the drip line. When you water, allow the water to slowly percolate for several hours.

If you use a soaker hose, the packaging should indicate how long it takes the hose to emit 1″ of water. You may need several soaker hoses for a large tree. If you use a regular hose, you’ll need to set a timer and move it every 30 minutes or so.

After watering for several hours, take a screwdriver and push it into the ground. You should be able to easily push it into the ground to a depth of 6-8 inches in the places where you’ve watered. If you can’t, you need to add more water

 

 

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