Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Exploring Our Watershed: A Sense of Place

Guadalupe Reservoir

This past Saturday, the second class in the series Exploring Our Watershed: A Sense of Place brought participants to Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve and the headwaters of the Guadalupe River. From the trailhead just off Hicks Road in South San Jose, we followed the Woods Trail for over 1.5 miles into the wilderness, making note of flora and fauna along the way and with the old Almaden Air Force Station atop Mt. Umunhum never too far in the distance. We kept cool despite the heat thanks to the forest canopy that naturally shades the trail. Viewing the Guadalupe from within the city, it can be difficult to imagine the river in its natural setting, but all it takes is a short trip to the foothills to catch a glimpse of its humble beginnings and experience the delight of being at the source of this essential body of water for the Santa Clara Valley. For more information on this area, visit the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District’s website. Our series continues this Saturday with a trip to Almaden Lake and Guadalupe Oak Grove Park as we learn more about the watershed we call home!

Thanks to Terry, teaching assistant at GRPC, for sharing her photos from the day!

Native coffee berry (rhamnus californica) is named for its berries' seeds, which resemble coffee beans.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

September Orchard Update

As August closes, orchard fans celebrate the nearly 300 lbs of plums, pluots and apples donated to Loaves and Fishes this summer. Now, with the last of the stone fruits picked and passed on, we turn our hungry gaze to the apple and Asian pear trees. These pome fruit specimens are heavy with fruit, promising another bountiful harvest.

But what is a pome fruit, you may ask?

Apples, pears, pomegranates and quinces are all great answers, as they all have multiple seeds instead of the one "stone" found in stone fruits. What unites these tasty yet distinct species is the way their flowers transform into fruit. Each of these fruit trees produces flowers containing multiple stigmas, just one part of the female flower organ that receives pollen from the stamens, or the male organ. Take a look at the apple blossom diagram below to see these structures in detail. After pollination, each of these stigmas delivers pollen grains to the flower's ovary, where seeds develop. One stigma corresponds to one seed in the fully formed fruit. Apples blossoms, for example, have five stigmas, so mature apples contain five seeds. FYI, the tasty apple flesh we snack on grows from the sepals and receptacle tissues just below the ovary.

A cross-section of an apple blossom. See the five stigmas?

By contrast, stone fruits like apricots, cherries, plums, peaches and nectarines develop from flowers that have only one stigma. This solitary stigma corresponds to the one "stone" contained in each of these delightful summer fruits. Compared to flowers on pome fruit species, stone fruit flowers are all about the ovary: this is where both the seed AND the fruit come from.

Fun facts to know and tell! Now you can impress your friends with your botany know-how.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Oui, French plums!

by Kate Schaffner
Volunteers sort harvested French plums. This could be you!

I am delighted to break the recent silence in my orchard updates with an invitation to harvest French plums this Saturday, August 20th! After many weeks spent ripening to perfection, these sweet treats are ready  for donation to Loaves and Fishes Family Kitchen. Harvesting will commence when the north gate opens at 8AM and last for two to three hours, depending on the size of our crew and the spring in our step. The French plums are our largest crop of the year, so all hands will be useful.

If you are interested, please RSVP to kate @ grpg.org. As always, orchard volunteers should wear closed-toe shoes, apply sunscreen, don a hat and bring a water bottle. Be prepared to take home a handful or two of fruit for yourself. Directions to the Historic Orchard can be found here.

Hope your summer has been as bountiful as ours!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

July Orchard Update - Summer Harvest

by Kate Schaffner

Ripening plums in late June
 On Monday, June 27th, the Guadalupe Conservancy donated fruit grown in the Historic Orchard to local family kitchen Loaves and Fishes for the first time in three years. The very same day, this small batch of plums harvested from the Family Orchard went to the Eastside Neighborhood Center, where it was served as part of a fruit salad for the day's lunch. With this donation, the Historic Orchard's purpose to provide food to those in need comes to fruition (har har).

Plums donated to Loaves and Fishes
This is a huge accomplishment for the Historic Orchard team: pruning consultant Sean McGrail, soil specialist Brian Debasitis, veteran volunteer Emily Williams, and the tens of volunteers who have helped care for the orchard in seasons past and present. Through the many challenges of running an orchard in a public park, this team has helped return our trees to their former fruitfulness. Special thanks to the international volunteer group from Intel who helped harvest the plums that made up this auspicious donation. Well done, orchard hands!

Of course, this year's fruit haul doesn't end there! Our apricots and late plums are ripening away, and the prunes, pears and apples will keep us busy in the late summer and fall. We hope to donate them all, or at least whatever is left after the ground squirrels have their fill.

This is where our volunteers come in. Community Workdays will continue on every fourth Saturday from 10 AM to 1 PM, and we will spend these days summer pruning our trees, managing pests, sheet-mulching and harvesting. Our most recent workday featured a group of enthusiastic high school students from the Stanford Medical Youth Science Program (SMYSP), a five-week summer enrichment program for low-income students interested in pursuing careers in health sciences.  These students graciously sheet mulched the orchard's southwest corner and removed litter from our mulch. Though the orchard was quite a departure from the laboratory bench or the doctor's office, this workday really seemed to hit home with this group of future health professionals. Both SMYSP students and adult supervisors insisted that morning that environmental disparities can create health disparities, so supporting community health should include efforts to restore public spaces like the Historic Orchard and the Guadalupe River Park.

With that noble sentiment, I extend an invitation to all readers interested in the orchard to stop by a Community Workday or contact me directly to learn more about this program and get your hands dirty. Whether your passions lie in community health, fruit tree care, local history, public service, or snacking on delicious fruit, your efforts are welcome and necessary.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Water Wizard Festival

On Wednesday, May 25th nearly 300 third grade students descended on the Guadalupe River Park & Gardens for the 9th Annual Water Wizard Festival! Students arrived at the park on a chilly Wednesday morning to learn all about the Guadalupe Watershed and the science of water before enjoying entertainment by performing arts group ZunZun at lunch. We greatly appreciate the support of the Michael Lee Environmental Foundation for underwriting the costs of the event and Watershed Watch for funding ZunZun. Thanks too to the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society, Santa Clara County Open Space Authority, City of San Jose and South Bay Water Recycling, A Schmahl Science Workshop, Santa Clara Valley Water District, Our City Forest, Don Edwards SF Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Happy Hollow Park & Zoo and the San Jose Rangers, and Children’s Discovery Museum for teaching fun, educational, hands-on science activities at our event.

Interested in participating in the 10th Annual Water Wizard Festival in May 2012? Contact Guadalupe River Park Conservancy’s Education Program at education@grpg.org.

June Orchard Update

Temperatures are slowly starting to warm in San Jose, and the stone fruit trees in the Historic Orchard are dripping with summer fruit! Even the beginnings of our fall pome fruits - the apples, pears, Asian pears - have started to appear among the foliage. The Orchard Management Team is delighted with this fruitfulness, especially since the orchard's fruit production last year was so modest. What a wonderful way to start off the harvest season!

Summer fruit set

Though our cherry harvest has been smaller than expected due to disease pressures in the cherry trees and the exploits of hungry squirrels, this year's fruit set in the other stone fruit sections - including the apricots, prunes, and plums - is quite extensive. This is great news for us, not only because an orchard full of ripening fruit is beautiful, but because it promises a good harvest for the San Jose food banks the orchard serves.

Community Workdays in full swing

Pluot tree trained and refenced by workday volunteers
Starting this past May, the Guadalupe Conservancy opened up the Historic Orchard to regular Community Workdays. These drop-in volunteer events are open to all local residents who have a desire to learn about fruit tree care, help grow food for San Jose food banks, and grow community through shared experience. Our "spring cleaning day" on May 7 and first official workday on May 28 brought students, gardeners and local professionals to the orchard, and their efforts have been tremendously helpful in keeping our trees in good health. Whether these volunteers thinned fruit, sheet mulched, or trained our young trees, the fruits of their labor is visible and appreciated. I extend my warmest thanks to them for kicking off our new orchard volunteer program so well and I look forward to meeting more workday volunteers in the future.

Community Workdays take place every fourth Saturday from 10AM to 1PM.

Chemical-free weed management

Workday volunteers sheet mulching near the north gate
As I mentioned above, volunteers have started our mission to sheet mulch sections of the orchard that are covered with non-native grasses. For those who have never sheet mulched, this is a weed reduction technique in which a chemical-wary gardener places a layer of moistened cardboard over the trouble weeds and then covers the cardboard with either mulch or compost. The cardboard and mulch block sunlight, a key ingredient for growing any plant, and this suppresses weed growth without the use of pesticides. Thankfully, these two layers still allow air and moisture to reach the soil beneath them, so the important soil microorganisms under the sheet mulch do not suffer. If anything, the soil quality under sheet mulch can improve as the cardboard breaks down and adds more carbon to the soil. We plan to sheet mulch throughout the summer as a low-cost and chemical-free method of controlling the grasses that have made their home in the cherry and apricot sections.

Stay tuned!

Over the next few months, I will post more information about upcoming volunteer and harvest opportunities. Remember that all volunteers who help harvest fruit get to take a few tasty specimens home, too! Happy summer!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

May Historic Orchard Update

by Kate Schaffner

A peek into the branches of one of our fruiting trees. Can you spot the first cherries?

Spring is for volunteers, dear readers! Thanks to the pollinating efforts of our busy bee population, the Historic Orchard is now brimming with young, ripening fruit. Despite the heightened risk of Spotted Wing Drosophila flies infesting local stone fruit this year, our staff enjoyed fresh-picked cherries last Friday. These were not only the first fruit of the season, but the first cherries grown successfully in the orchard since 2008. With the help of great volunteers, we hope to harvest our fruit before the ground squirrels get the better of us.

Speaking of volunteers, there really is no better time to visit the orchard than at the brink of harvest time, so please join us for our new community workdays! These volunteer days are open to all fruit enthusiasts, be they budding or fully ripened (har har).

Spring Cleaning Day
Saturday, May 7th
10 AM to 1 PM
Fruit thinning, weeding and mulching. Cherries to taste!

Monthly Community Workdays
Every 4th Saturday, starting May 28th
10 AM to 1 PM
Harvesting, sheet mulching, planting projects, and more!

For more information, contact me at (408) 298-7657 or kate@grpg.org

In addition to the joys of supporting community gardens and community food, volunteers get to enjoy the fruits of their labor. If you need more convincing, check out these gorgeous photos from the start of the season. Hope to see you all in the orchard soon!
Almonds growing on the branch
Apple blossoms

California poppies attract native pollinators
First blossoms on an Asian pear tree