Back in the ice cream business!

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.

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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.

Lychee lives!

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.

Cherimoyas, the spring after

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.

Helmuts re-growth 2.JPG

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.

Deaths in the orchard

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:

Thomson & Lucuma post-freeze.JPG

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.

Sapodillas post-freeze.JPG

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.

Sapodilla post-freze.JPG

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.

Nabal avo.JPG

(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.

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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.

Mamey dearest

Mamey after freeze.jpg

Originally uploaded by laderafrutal.

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.

Canistel after freeze.JPG

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.)

Cold air drainage & freeze/chill update

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.

Blackened bananas

This is how the bananas look this morning, after two nights of freezing temperatures.

Click the image to open a larger photo in a new window.

Compare how they looked just over three weeks ago.

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These mornings were the first in the four and a half years of my record-keeping that it froze this far up the slope. This morning the low up here was 27 (compare 23 downslope at the corralito). Even up higher where the subtropicals are, it reached 28, so the young trees up there (shown in the subtropicals domain planting immediately before this one) may not have survived.

Higher ground

No, not higher ground to protect from flooding, even if Ladera Frutal is on the slope of Mt. Ararat (more on that later). These subtropical fruit trees, last pictured here in their pots in front of F&V HQ, have now been planted high up on the slope, above the highest level at which frost and freezing temperatures are expected.


With Ladera Frutal worker Martin standing by, this photo shows three subtropical trees high above our Hass avocado grove: A green sapote (left, foreground), a mamey sapote (to Martin’s left), and canistel (behind Martin, but barely visible against the avocado trees down the slope).

The photo above (especially its larger version, which you can get to by clicking the image) gives a good idea of just how high this spot is. In the canyon below (looking south), you can see a neighbor’s vineyard and the main road at the base of the hills of the opposite canyon wall. Below the trees are shown from a different angle, which gives an idea of how close this location is to the crest of the hill.

canistel and mamey.JPG

At one time, I intended to plant these trees all the way up and just over the crest of our one northeast-facing slope. But poaching off the existing irrigation system won out over installing a new one, and the elevation difference is minimal. This location might even be better. The two photos together give an impression of just how protected the location is. Just barely exposed to the normal sea breeze, and probably our most protected spot against the occasional dry northeast (Santa Ana) winds. The avocado trees, as well as the rocks (which act almost like radiators) and slope configuration (cold air flows like water and a south face gets more sunlight), should make this a great spot. Now, we await the growth and the fruit!

Pruning the Pitanga and Jaboticaba

I had let the growth of the Pitanga (previously photographed and discussed here) and the Jaboticaba get out of hand. So, it was time for a little pruning.


(As is usually the case at F&V, you may click on these photos to see larger versions, and also to get to the Ladera Frutal photostream.)

The puny stem in the center (above) is a different grafted variety than the rest of the tree. It had been allowed to be outgrown by the more vigorous main variety and numerous root suckers, but it has survived. The material that I pruned off lies beaneath the tree, as a mulch.


Pruning off the low branches and twigs allows the interesting bark and branching habit of the Jaboticaba to be exposed. Being able to see the trunks is a real plus with a Jaboticaba, given its unusual fruiting pattern.

Both of these trees are among the several that we dug up from old pre-finca in Carlsbad and moved here just over four years ago. The pitanga had fruited a bit in its former home, but the Jaboticaba had done next to nothing. Both are much happier with the greater sun and warmth here, and the Jaboticaba had a something that could be called a crop for the first time in June/July–though nothing like the one in the offsite photo linked above. The blog of that link–Leaves of Grass, from Brazil–also has photos of beautiful large pitanga trees. Both of the Ladera Frutal trees depicted here are only around five feet tall, and I have never seen specimens of either species get much more than fifteen feet in this region. Both species are native to South America.

(It’s not fruit, but don’t miss the photos of the Tabebuia, also at Leaves of Grass.)

If you like pitanga photos, see the full set (which periodically will be expanded).

Leaning tower of Manwah

Dwarf Manwah 04June06.JPG

Originally uploaded by laderafrutal.

This ‘Dwarf Manwah’ banana stalk turned horizontal from the weight of the ripening fruit shortly before we left for Montreal. I cut it and we froze the fruit for future use (e.g. in smoothies). Excellent banana.

And this and the other bananas and assorted subtropicals must be thrilled with this week’s weather. Highly atypical for this time of year (or really, any), it has been cloudy and humid with high temperatures the last three days from 35 to 38 (a.k.a. 96 to 101) and even some showers and thunderstorms. Too bad we don’t have this kind of subtropical flow more often.

Subtropical delights: Sapotes

We had our first ripe yellow sapote yesterday.

The fruit was a tad astringent, but good nonetheless. Yellow sapotes, also called canistel or eggfruit, are not juicy. Their best use is to thicken and flavor smoothies, but it is hard to make a smoothy with one little fruit (I forget to photograph the fruit before eating it, but see the above link!). So I mashed it in a bowl with a little milk and nutmeg for a tasty treat. Look very closely at the photo (or its larger version that you can see by clicking on it) and you can see that the tree is loaded with flower buds!

The tree is currently in a large pot in front of F&V HQ. On the right of the photo is another sapote, the Mamey (a favorite of mine from past fruit exploration in southern Florida and South America). It’s the tree with the arching candelabra style branches. To the left is the green sapote.

Growing subtropicals in pots till they develop a good root system is recommended, given the marginality of our climate. That way, when they reach ground, they are somewhat more mature than the 5-gallon size at which they were purchased. The pots also allow one to undertake the back-breaking but plant-saving practice of bringing them into the garage when frost is expected.

Soon, these trees will be planted–up high in Ladera Frutal’s subtropical block, where frost is unlikely and on the eastern slope to minimize exposure to ocean wind. (Can’t do much about those drying Santa Anas, other than water intensively when they are blowing, but luckily the terrain here does not favor the extreme Santa Anas of other nearby locations.)

The fruits are not all that is (sub)tropical these days. We are currently having a very rare (especially for June) ‘Monsoonal’ flow, for humid weather, variable high clouds, and even a nearby thunderstorm yesterday morning. Today the temperature was 33 (Celsius, obviously) before noon. Very odd, but a welcome respite from the usual June gloom.

The Latin names for these fruits are:

    Yellow sapote–Pouteria campechiana
    Green sapote–Pouteria virdis
    Mamey sapote–Pouteria sapota

(There are lots of sweet tropical fruits from the Americas called ‘sapote’ and many of them are unrelated; these three happen to be from the same genus)

The blooms of March, part 2: Tropical mangoes

Apricots and other stone fruits are not the only things blooming now at Ladera Frutal. Below is our Lemon Merengue mango variety. You can see several flower sprays, especially on the left side (albeit blending in with the frost-burned leaves of the banana behind).


Unfortunately, the photo also shows some of the perils of growing mangoes here: Powdery midew (or other fungus). Mangoes do not like damp cold conditions. (They come from India and other parts of south Asia, so they love humidity, but along with much more heat than they get here.) Continue reading

Lychee tree growth flush

These trees don’t grow very fast, so it is pretty exciting when it puts on a growth flush. This is actually its third flush of the year. Each one puts on a few inches, at best. Man, how long till it fruits?

Lychee backlit

In this photo, the tree’s new growth is backlit by the late-afternoon sun on a somewhat foggy day last week.

Compare to my last photo of this tree. Note how much it’s grown in a month!