growing an ecosystem of abundance

Report on a full weekend of fruit tastings and more.

Last week I participated in various Bay Area events, so here is my report:

On the heels of the Northern California Permaculture Convergence, held at the MA Center out in Crow Canyon Rd. off Castro Valley,  Geoff Lawton led four days of advanced workshops. I missed the first few days of watershed design, earthworks, and reforestation, but decided I could not miss Lawton talking about food forests at one of my favorite broadscale permaculture oriented orchards in the Bay Area. Michael Flynn, of Common Vision Fruit Tree Tour fame, has led this project with support of the MA Center’s “Green Friends’. Over the four yeas since the project began, Michael has invited me to collaborate with him on the project, and has repeatedly brought the best of the best to share their expertise in consulting on the project in conjunction with many educational workshops: Dr. Eileen Ingham on the ‘soil food web’, Michael Phillips on the ‘holistic orchard’, Darren Doherty on water retaining earthworks of the ‘Keyline System. and Geoff Lawton. Assuming the leadership of the Permaculture instiute of Australia from Bill Mollison, Lawton has  put  the Permaculture Research Institute International on the map with a huge web presence, and nurmerous videos, some describing establishing a food forest, and examples of an 800 year old food forest in Vietnam, and aother 3000 years old in Morocco.

The recent hot weather had been moderated by a few days of misty precipitation, so the hillsides were still brown with just the beginnings of a return to the green season. About fifty people participated in the Food Forest day I attended. With the invitation from Jay Ma of Living Mandala, and Michael Flynn, I joined Geoff to give the discussions a local experience perspective. Geoff began with his food forest examples from around the world, and introduced the concept of ‘analog climates’, which looks to similar climates from around the world for successful and productive plant species, management strategies, vernacular architechture, and other human cultural adaptations. For us that would be latitude 38 degrees N or S, along the west coasts of the oceans: Portugal, Chile, South Africa and Australia all have parallels to us here in the SF Bay Area.

Establishment strategies were discussed, with stacking, overplanting, and quick ground cover establishment (all creating shaded ground) being themes that are so important in the subtropical, summer rain climate Lawton comes from in Australia. In contrast, Lawton later noted that our dry summers hold back the competitive growth found in wet warm climes. After lunch we made it up to the orchard site, making observations of the multilayered fruit orchard of mostly apples with some other species such as persimmons, plums and pears. To increase diversity and sustainability, the fruit trees are interplanted with native nitrogen fixing shrubs (Ceanothis spp.) and comfrey which were being cut for building soil with mulch, along with mediterranean herbs for beneficial habitat like lavender and various sage species. We  brainstormed for additional ground cover species, as the bind weed was beginning to establish itself.

Lastly, we visited the site of a new spring fed pond being excavated by our favorite equipment operator, the skilled and super nice guy Rusty Davis. This additional water will allow for future expansion of the orchard to achieve the goal of planting 1,000 fruit trees, which was requested by the spiritual leader of the MA Center.

Tastings galore! First I sampled some drylands fruit

The weekend continued with various tastings in the Bay Area, too many to attend, forcing me to choose. First I ventured out to suburban Walnut Creek, to the Ruth Bancroft Gardens, a fantastic collection of drought hardy trees, agaves, aloes, cactus and other succulents. As we toured the spectacular gardens with expert docents, we tasted half a dozen varieties of tunas, the fruits of prickly pear catus (Opuntia spp), two species of jelly palm (Butia spp), dragon fruit, feijoa or pinapple guava (quality of fruit approved by Ken Litchfield who was also there), pomegranate (Puncia sp), and strawberry tree (Arbutus sp). Ruth Bancroft is now 102, and still lives in her home on the property.



Apples near Santa Cruz-

I then drove out to Santa Cruz to help out with the apple tasting the Monterey Chapter CRFG was offering at the Wilder Ranch State Park Harvest Festival. Amid pumpkin patches, the sound of the blacksmith’s hammer, horse drawn cultivation, old time farm machines, and costumed participants, the CRFG had over sixty varieties to sample all grown locally in the Santa Cruz area. As with any tasting you may attend, you are tasting some fruit that is past it’s prime, others that are not ready yet, and hopefully many that are right on! This can vary from year to year, depending on the weather, and give different taste test winners on the same date. So last year’s winner ‘Fukunishiki’, may have still rated in the top ten, but this year’s top picks were some of the typically more tart varieties like ‘Tydeman’s Late Orange’, and the Etter bred pink fleshed ‘Pink Parfait’ and  ‘Grenadine’ that seemed to be the favorites, perhaps benefitting from the late Sept heat wave. Other top rated apples were: Brushy Mountain Limbertwig, Allen’s Everlasting, Karmijn de Sonnaville, Katherine, all strongly flavored apples.

Each of the 200+ tasting participants were given four sparkly star stickers to award to their favorite varieties listed on a large poster board- so the results we immediately available for all to see.

Bioneers seed swap-

After sharing good food and company, and cleaning up with the Monterey chapter folks, I made my way back to Bioneers that was also that weekend. In addition to dozens of inspirational speakers, that evening there was a seed swap sponsored by various Bay Area seed heads.

More apples in the shadow of Luther Burbank-

Sunday the Redwood Empire Chapter CRFG had their apple and pear tasting at the Burbank Goldridge Experimental Farm in Sepastopol, one of my favorite gardens to visit. Fifty apples and half a dozen pears were blind taste tested, only identified by a number. The results were sent out a couple of days later with the top five rankings given to Braeburn, Wickson, Liberty, Arlet, and Newton Pippin. Interestingly, longtime favorites ranked at the very bottom this time: Fuji, Mutsu, Elstar, and Tydeman’s Late Orange (yes, the one that was on top in Santa Cruz!)

Preparing for our next Scion Exchange-

Later on Sunday, I met with our Golden Gate CRFG Scion Exchange planning group, working out the details of our biggest event of the year, the Jan 19, 2013 fruit tree propagation extravaganza will be held at the Ed Roberts Campus adjacent to the Ashby BART station.

That weekend, I totally missed the Grape tasting with Richard Jeske in Mendicino, plant sales at various nurseries, Fort Ross Harvest Festival celebrating their 200th anniversary, the Food Crops of the Americas exhibit at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden, the Alameda Master Gardeners Fall Seminar, and several other events.

Northern California Food Forests featured in future Lawton video-

Monday I tagged along as Geoff Lawton visited Oakland’s Merritt College Permaculture Food Forest Hillside, to be featured in a video on Food Forests in various climates. Christopher Shein will be featured in the video, as he initiated full Permaculture Design Certificate Course courses at the community college, and is one of the coordinators of the Food Forest (along with Anders Vistrand and Ken Litchfield, among others). Later in the day they visited the Petaluma Seed Bank to load up on heirloom vegetable seeds to bring back to Geoff and his wife Nadia’s projects in Jordan, where she is from (see ‘Greening the Desert’).

Oh well, I had enough fun that weekend, expanding my tasting experiences, while continuing friendships and establishing new connections in the fruitful world we love to live in.


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