Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Plant a Beautiful, Edible Fall Stunner: Persimmon Trees

California's Central Valley is ablaze with the other orange fruit tree currently: the brightly colored persimmon. And it's not just the fruit.


Persimmon tree leaves can turn a brilliant hue of red before the first big wind and rain storm of late November washes them off their branches. 

What's left behind is the unpicked fruit, dangling like holiday ornaments during December. That's a feast for our eyes...as well as a banquet for hungry birds.






Persimmons have adapted well to our California climate: warm, dry summers and mild winters. At least 500 different Japanese persimmon (Diospyros kaki) varieties were brought to California during a major planting spree from 1870 to 1920. In 1877 alone, more than 5,000 plants in 19 varieties were imported from Japan. As a result, 99% of the commercial persimmon crop is grown here in California.

Persimmons are quite nutritious, as well, loaded with Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Fiber, and antioxidants such as Beta-Carotene and Lycopene. 


If you live in the Central Valley, Southern California, Bay Area or low foothills ... you can grow that! Bare root persimmon trees will be available at local nurseries during late December, January and February. 

360-degree mini-sprinkler from Dripworks



Give them full sun and a regular irrigation in the dry months for best production. Persimmon trees can tolerate partial shade.






Persimmons are usually classified as either astringent or non-astringent. For fresh eating straight from the tree, choose a non-astringent, self-pollinating variety such as Fuyu, Giant Fuyu, Yemon or Izu. Astrigent varieties, which need to soften thoroughly before they sweeten, include Hachiya, Chocolate or Tamopan. Those varieties are self-fruitful, as well.
A partial harvest from one, 7-foot tall Yemon persimmon tree


Persimmon growing advice from the California Rare Fruit Growers (CRFG):

Location: Full sun with some air movement is recommended for persimmon trees in inland areas, although they will tolerate some partial shade. Persimmons grown in cooler areas should have full sun with protection from cooling breezes. As an attractive ornamental the tree fits well in the landscape. It does not compete well with eucalyptus.

Soil: Persimmons can withstand a wide rage of conditions as long as the soil is not overly salty, but does best in deep, well drained loam. A pH range of 6.5 to 7.5 is preferred. The tree has a strong tap root which may mean digging a deeper hole than usual when planting (when on D. kaki stock).

Irrigation: Persimmon trees will withstand short periods of drought, but the fruit will be larger and of higher quality with regular watering. Extreme drought will cause the leaves and fruit to drop prematurely. Any fruit left on the tree will probably sunburn. Some 36 to 48 inches of water are needed annually, applied gradually in spring and tapering off in the fall. Hot inland areas may require 2 or 3 applications weekly, while coastal areas may need watering only once every 6 weeks, depending on the soil. If a drip system is is used, the emitters should be moved away from the trunk as the tree matures.

Fertilization:
Most trees do well with a minimum of fertilizing. Excess nitrogen can cause fruit drop. If mature leaves are not deep green and shoot growth is less than a foot per year, apply a balanced fertilizer such as a 10-10-10 at a rate of 1 pound per inch of trunk diameter at ground level. Spread the fertilizer evenly under the canopy in late winter or early spring.

Pruning: Prune persimmon trees to develop a strong framework of main branches while the tree is young. Otherwise the fruit, which is borne at the tips of the branches, may be too heavy and cause breakage. A regular program of removal of some new growth and heading others each year will improve structure and reduce alternate bearing. An open vase system is probably best. Even though the trees grow well on their own, persimmons can be pruned heavily as a hedge, as a screen, or to control size. They even make a nice espalier. Cut young trees back to 1/2 high (or about 3 feet) at the time of planting.

Pests and Diseases: Persimmons are relatively problem-free, although mealybug and scale in association with ants can sometimes cause problems. Ant control will usually take care of these pests. Other occasional pests include white flies, thrips which can cause skin blemishes and a mite that is blamed for the "brown lace collar" near the calyx. Waterlogging can also cause root rot. Vertebrate pests such as squirrels, deer, coyotes, rats, opossums and birds are fond of the fruit and gophers will attack the roots. Other problems include blossom and young fruit shedding, especially on young trees. This is not usually a serious problem, but if the drop is excessive, it may be useful to try girdling a few branches. Over watering or over fertilization may also be responsible. Large quantities of small fruit on an otherwise healthy tree can be remedied by removing all but one or two fruit per twig in May or June.

Harvest: Harvest astringent varieties when they are hard but fully colored. They will soften on the tree and improve in quality, but you will probably lose many fruit to the birds. Astringent persimmons will ripen off the tree if stored at room temperature. Nonastringent persimmons are ready to harvest when they are fully colored, but for best flavor, allow them to soften slightly after harvest. Both kinds of persimmons should be cut from the tree with hand-held pruning shears, leaving the calyx intact Unless the fruit is to be used for drying whole, the stems should be cut as close to the fruit as possible. Even though the fruit is relatively hard when harvested, it will bruise easily, so handle with care.

Storage: Mature, hard astringent persimmons can be stored in the refrigerator for at least a month. They can also be frozen for 6 to 8 months. Nonastringent persimmons can be stored for a short period at room temperature. They will soften if kept with other fruit in the refrigerator. Persimmons also make an excellent dried fruit. They can either be peeled and dried whole or cut into slices (peeled or unpeeled) and dried that way. When firm astringent persimmons are peeled and dried whole they lose all their astringency and develop a sweet, datelike consistency. 



Yemon Persimmon


And we are in total agreement with the CRFG: persimmons make an excellent dried fruit, a great sweet snack or for use in cookies or breads!






According to our favorite book on dehydration techniques, "How to Dry Foods" by Deanna DeLong:

• Wash and remove the stem cap. Cut fruit in half and then into 3/8-1/2" slices.
• Place on a dehydrator sheet in single layers.
• Dry at 140 degrees for 1-2 hours, then reduce heat to 135 degrees for an additional 7 hours (approximate).
• When done, they should be tender and pliable, but not sticky.

At that point, you can either vacuum seal them in plastic bags for long term preservation, or store the dried persimmons in a canning jar for quick use.

Backyard gardeners who do a lot of drying are passionate about their choice of dehydrators. Some prefer the rectangular Excalibur dehydrator ; others (including our household) enjoy the circular Nesco American Harvest Dehydrator . Our largest complaint about the Excalibur: the fan blows from the back to the front, which can rearrange any lightweight herb leaves that you might be trying to dry. The Nesco American Harvest dehydrator's fan moves warm air from the bottom up, offering less disturbance to the drying crops. Still, the Excalibur is a good choice for most fruit and vegetable drying.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Knock, Knock. Who's There? ANTS!

When it gets hot, the ants start marching indoors. When it rains, in come the ants. Too cold? The ants know where its nice and cozy: your kitchen, bathroom and pet food bowls. Outdoors, the pet food bowls and garbage cans are also ant attractants. Argentine ants, those busy little black ants, are in march formation year round.

In years past, we would reach for the spray can and douse those little scavengers. But not anymore.
 Many of those spray pesticides are only effective with direct contact on the ants. And the stronger sprays, with residual action to thwart the next wave of ants, is potentially harmful to you, your kids, your pets.

So, here is what we are doing now: following the recommendations of the UC Davis Integrated Pest Management Project for Ant Control.
That includes:
• Determine what the ants are attracted to and remove the food source
• Vacuum trails, wipe them with soapy water, or spray with window cleaner
• Locate entry points and caulk openings or plug with petroleum jelly
• Put out bait stations with liquid ant bait or apply gel bait at entry points
• Baits take time to work so continue to clean up trails
• Indoor sprays are not usually necessary.
• Avoid products packaged as granules that contain the active ingredients cyfluthrin or permethrin. Although these products may be mistaken for baits, they are actually contact insecticides that rapidly kill foragers and do not control the colony.

Before wiping up (or wiping out) the little critters, follow their trail. Note their entry point into the house. Seal it up. We have found ants entering the house in a variety of small avenues: beneath moulding, cracks in the window frame, behind electrical outlet plates...and one of the ants' favorite entries: that large holes beneath the sink where the pipes enter the house.

According to the UC IPM page on ant control, "If ants can be thoroughly washed away and excluded from an area, an insecticide is probably not necessary. Vacuuming up ant trails or sponging or mopping them with soapy water may be as effective as an insecticide spray in temporarily removing foraging ants in a building because it removes the ant’s scent trail, especially if thorough cleaning is done at the entry points. Some soap products such as window cleaners can kill ants on contact but leave no residual toxicity. Certain plant-based oils are also applied for this purpose, but their odor can be offensive."

Oh, and another lesson we learned the hard way: if you put those ant baits indoors, you will attract more ants inside. Look for ants crawling along the outside of the house, and place the baits there, being sure to follow all label directions.

What about those ant sprays that are intended to be used as a perimeter spray along the outside of the house? Stick with the bait traps, says the UC IPM page: "Spraying around the foundation will not provide long-term control because it kills only foraging ants without killing the colony. Perimeter treatments may appear to knock down the population, but ants will quickly build back up and invade again. To try to achieve long-term control, some pest control companies offer monthly perimeter spray programs. Perimeter treatments pose more risk of environmental upset than baits in bait stations and are less effective than a bait-based IPM program."

Ant baits are not ant traps, even though some ants may be stuck there. The whole point of ant baits: they get the stuff on them, take it back to their nest, where they share it with others...and then croak. Be patient. It may take a week or so for the baits to work on the ant nest.



More info about ant baits from the UC IPM project: "Baits are insecticides mixed with materials that attract worker ants looking for food. They are a key tool for managing ants and the only type of insecticide recommended in most situations.  Ants are attracted to the bait and recruit other workers to it. Workers carry small portions of the bait back to the nest where it is transferred mouth-to-mouth to other workers, larvae, and queens and other reproductive forms to kill the entire colony. Bait products must be slow-acting so that the foraging ants have time to make their way back to the nest and feed other members of the colony before they are killed. When properly used, baits are more effective and safer than sprays." 

• Sweet sugar baits such as boric acid (use low concentrations with less than 1% of the active ingredient) are highly attractive to Argentine ants throughout the year. 

 
• Protein baits are attractive to ants in spring when colonies are producing new offspring. (Baits like fipronil or hydramethylnon are effective.) 
• Place baits outdoors; avoid indoor baiting as that may attract more ants into the home.
 

• When using liquid ant baits outdoors, there are reusable ant bait stations available that hold the liquid, such as the Ants No More Ant Bait Station.

 

• Place baits near nests, trails, or along foundations, preferably in the shade. 
• Baits should be placed in protected areas away from children and pets.
 
• Offer small portions of each bait to see which one is preferred before employing an extensive baiting program.
 
• Follow up regularly to make sure bait is working and place fresh bait as necessary.
 
How baits work:
• Worker ants are attracted to the bait and take it back to the nest where the entire colony, including queens, may be killed.
 
• Bait must be slow-acting so workers won't be killed before they get back to the nest.
 
• Results may not be evident for several weeks.
 
• Bait stations or ant stakes are easiest to use and safest for the environment.
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0016J1MZG/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B0016J1MZG&linkCode=as2&tag=getgrowingwit-20&linkId=REQOA2DBYJUF6FIN

Ant baits contain various active ingredients and attractants. We have tried a variety of different ones, to appease the finickiest of ant diners. Besides the Gourmet liquid ant bait, another one of my favorites is powdered boric acid in a squeeze bottle, another less toxic alternative.

For those that prefer a homemade concoction for ant control, Horticulture consultant Debbie Flower of Sacramento recommends this formula:

1 part boric acid (I use 1 teaspoon) - available at most garden centers
9 or 10 parts sugar (so 9 or 10 teaspoons sugar)
Add enough water to make a slurry.
Put slurry in a small container, tuna can size.
Add 2 or 3 cotton balls and rotate them until they are completely covered in the slurry.
Put a lid on the container.  Lid must have holes big enough for ants to crawl through.  (Lid is not absolutely necessary but it keeps water and dirt out)
Bury in soil so lid is at soil level.
Leave it alone.  You won't see dead ants.  They visit, take the bait back to the colony, and kill the entire colony.