It's almost August, it's hot and my garden is in overdrive. Must be the extra heat or humidity this year but everything seems to be fruiting and ripening early. Figs, grapes, kiwis, peppers and the nuts - macadamia nuts.
I planted the tree about 10 years ago. It is the most expensive plant I have ever bought. I saw it at H&H Nursery on Lakewood Blvd. - out back looking abandoned and bursting out of it's wooden pot. It was already about 6' tall and very handsome. But $400, at that time, was about 10 times more than I ever paid for any plant. I tried to haggle but ended up going home empty handed.
The Macadamia integrifolia had already drilled a hole in my head.
For about a month it kept tempting and torturing me with the promise of exotic blooms and tropical delights. I read up about the species - it was easy to grow, with few pests and, with careful pruning, would not grow too big. I could not resist it's call.
I went hack to H&H, got the price down to $250 and drove home with my new prize. Planting was easy - dig big hole, put some sand and hummus on the bottom, place root ball in hole, cover and water.
As expected the first year was a little tenuous and sometimes I worried if somehow, if the worst came to pass, I could do something with the wood to make it worth $250 to recoup my investment.
By the time next Spring came along my Macadamia integrifolia was vigorous, happy and growing. I didn't get any flowers that first full year. Second year we had good growth and a sprinkling of flowers and a few mature nuts. You need a sledge hammer - but there is something special for this old Pole, who remembers waiting in line for "exotic" bananas, to be able to enjoy a macadamia nut straight from his own tree.
The tree grew, each year the flowers were more and more spectacular and the nuts more and more bountiful. I love the blooms, they look like fluffy lemur tails dangling from the tree. I love how sweetly they smell. The tree it's self has a reserved but distinguished look. I like the taste of fresh nuts and even the ordeal of cracking them gives me pleasure. All was good for about 5 years.
Than the squirrels came.
At first it was the dogs getting all agitated and running back and forth under the wires and barking. Than I noticed shells, nibbled at, under the tree. I was surprised that they could get through a shell so tough that I had to use a hammer to crack it. I only harvested a few nuts that year and it's been downhill ever since.
Knowing a good thing when they find it the squirrels took up residence in my neighbors pepper tree. They figured out that if they go after the nuts early while the shells haven't matured the picking is much easier. It's only the end of July and the squirrels ate all my nuts.
I could make an effort to protect my nuts - put a net on the tree, maybe a motion sensitive sprinkler or just shoot the damned rodents. Fortunately for them there is something endearing about their industrious nature. For now I will leave them alone and be content with the spectacular flower display that feeds an army of bees each spring.
I have 2 fig trees on the Southern side of my house. One I planted, a Genoa (White Genoa) fig from H&H Nursery. The other is a volunteer. I was hoping it would be a Kadota (Dottato, Florentine, White Kadota) but I think I got a feral form of Desert King (Charlie, King).
The Genoa is a very generous producer every year. The tree itself has settled in to a size that reaches just over my roof where it is easy to pick. Yes I do have to fight the metallic green fig beetles (Cotinus texana) for the ripe figs. I love the way they fly around like drunken helicopters. Marcello, my father in-law, loves the fresh figs - they remind him of Italy.
As much as I hate to say it the volunteer feral tree will have to go. The figs are inedible, even the beetles will not touch them, and the tree is showing signs of being a supper aggressive grower - a tendency that makes some trees in the Ficus genus dangerous for small suburban lots.
On the North side of the house I have a wonderful Muscat grape growing. It covers half the length of the walkway and makes it the coolest part of my lot this time of the year. I can feel the cool breeze right now as it brings in the sweet, winey smell of the ripening grapes. I had a contractor cut out a rectangle in the slab by the lot wall about 5 years ago. It's one of my favorite and least troublesome plants. I have been making Nalewkas and wine from my annual harvest for several years now.
On the other side of the house, by the bamboo, I planted another grape. It was a impulse purchase at Home Depot or Lowes - some kind of promotion or sale. It's a seedless Reliance or something similar. As you can guess I am not very happy with it. It's vigorous, mildly productive but it does not seem to hold up to the summer heat and the grapes are small and hard to eat because they come of with the stem. Last year, because they ripened at the same time, I made some wine with them and the Muscat - it was only OK. This year the Muscat has still a month to go but the Reliance is starting to dry on the wine. I will try to make some jam or jelly but if that doesn't work out this vine will be firewood by next year.
The second half of the walkway on the Northern side of the house, right after the Muscat, is covered by a luscious Kiwi vine. I love the large leaves and how vigorous the new growth can be. It wiggles, twirls and winds it's way toward the sun as if it was trying to pull of a Daedalus. I get a fair harvest every year and the shade is worth the minimum of care the plant seems to need. You do need 2 plants - the productive female and the "drone" male for fertilization. I think my harvest is not spectacular because I have neglected the male that now has to grow through the buganvilia to reach the sun. Gona' have to fix that some day.
Two years ago I bought a smorgasbord of hot peppers at a sale at H&H. Serranos, jalapenos, jewel, cayenne etc. I planted them in pots and put them out in the sun. I had a wonderful harvest until I forgot to water a few times. The serranos survived and although peppers are usually considered annuals it appears that they can produce year after year when properly treated.
This brings me to the my lantern habanero (Capsicum chinense). Another one of these impulse buys about 3 years ago. I have never seen such a vigorous pepper. It produces an obscene amount of very hot, little, yellow, bonnet shaped peppers every year and it has grown into a sizable bush. Guess I will have to make some hot sauce this year.