Tag Archives: apricots

the $128 dollar apricot

Many of you are familiar with William Alexander’s book, The $64 tomato. In its pages he installs thousands of square feet of new garden space and then does the unthinkable–adding up how much it all cost him, down to how much it cost him for that Brandywine tomato he was holding in his hand. (Sixty-four dollars per tomato, as you might guess from the book’s title.)

Pricey, for sure, but in the end he comes to a conclusion about gardening: “It’s not about what it actually costs to eat this piece of fruit. It’s really about lifestyle.”

One of my little lifestyle indulges is apricots. I love apricots. John loves apricots. But the apricot-shaped objects you get in the stores around here have nothing to do with what the fruit should taste like.

It seemed like a no-brainer: We could plant a tree of our own. We could pick the fruit when it was ripe, not when it was deemed at the proper stage for picking and transport by some industrial fruit-growing outfit hundreds of miles away.

The real no-brain part of this adventure kicked in after we actually put the tree in the ground. Coastal San Diego has winters that tend to be too mild for apricots to set fruit, even if you select the low-chill varieties. The tree always blooms, usually just a few cluster of flowers on random stems distributed around the tree. I see bees visiting the flowers. I’ve even tried my hand at pollinating them myself. But those flowers don’t usually turn into fruit. If we’d really been thinking we wouldn’t have bothered trying to grow one in the first place.

Last year was the best in the over fifteen years the tree has been in the ground, when the tree set almost twenty fruits. Out of those we probably got something like eight or nine before the critters got to them.

This year we’re down to one fruit, and it still hasn’t gotten to the point where we can pick it. It’s down to the final few days, and it’ll be a race against the critters.


Why do we pursue this perverse lifestyle, chasing the occasional apricot? In the years when we get fruit it’s always a revelation: The scent that prepares you for the first bite of fruit. The delicate balance of tartness and sweetness. The absolutely perfect sensation of all the things a good apricot should be.

But as I think about things like sustainability and what’s the best use of soil in a garden where cosmological space seems to be contracting, this indulgence is getting harder to justify. A new plum tree twenty feet away has already borne two fruits, and a fig nearby is suddenly covered with tiny figs. There are better choices out there than trying to make an apricot thrive where it wasn’t designed to grow.

Loquat fruitAt the top of the list for an apricot replacement next fall is the loquat. Delicious fruits. Low water needs. Ornamental evergreen tree, with a manageable final size. And the tree actually bears well in this climate.

(Image: Oldie, from the Wikimedia Commons, made available under GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2)

once an orchard

I wanted to find the quince tree again.

It probably had been close to ten years since I last hiked my nearby Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve. Still I clearly remembered coming upon an ancient but still fruiting quince in one of the tributary canyon bottoms. Unwatered for decades and tended only by the wildlife, it had seemed like a miracle of survival in San Diego’s desert climate.

Survivor quinceLast Saturday I scootered up to the preserve and started a slow stroll through the native willows and sycamores and oaks that line the dry creek in López Canyon. I only vaguely remembered the location, but less than half a mile in, right by the side of the trail, there it was, still very much alive, green and loaded with fruit.

Fruit on old quince tree

Nearby, in the shade of an old sycamore and crowded with some robust shrubs–including poison oak–I found a second tree with fruit on its branches.

Quince and poison oak

And then I started looking around in earnest. Off to the left stood a different kind of tree, either a different quince or maybe even a pear. It had a thick, creased trunk and the plant was clearly old. But the tree still drooped a little from the weight of the fruit.

Quince or pear treeQuince or pear fruit

Old apricot in Lopez CanyonNot far ahead stood another specimen. Though without fruit it was clearly another fruiting tree, probably an apricot, judging by its leaves, a month after the last of its offerings would have been ripe.

So that made for four trees that I could find without crawling through more poison oak or further through the snakey grass. I’m certain all the trees were many decades old, but exactly how old I couldn’t say for sure.

Local history places an orchard operator in this canyon as late as 1921, so some of the trees may date to then, though this area has been ranched and cultivated at least as early as the early 1800s, when this area was contained in the first of the Mexican land grants in Alta California, to as recently as 1962, when the land was acquired by the County.

Ruiz-Alvarado adobe, San DiegoNearby, under a protective shelter at the confluence of López Canyon and Los Peñasquitos Canyon, stand the remains of the Ruiz-Alvarado Adobe, one of the oldest structures in San Diego County.

Anything older than a hundred years around these parts is considered a relic. If you were to believe the most wishful of the sources the adobe would date all the way back to 1815, though more reliable sources place its construction at 1857. This small adobe, along with a later, grander one to the east, became part of a thriving concern dedicated to ranching.

Ruiz-Alvarado adobe, San DiegoMaybe it’s wishful and over-romanticizing on my own part–or maybe not–to imagine that the settlers who lived in this adobe planted the fruit trees in López Canyon. But the trees are as much of the human history of this area as are the few remaining adobe walls. Here we need all the history that we’ve got.