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Being the bee

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

It's the middle of August now, and I can tell that the season is starting to change.  After several very foggy weeks with temperatures in the high 50s and low 60s, the fog is starting to lift and we are now getting warmer weather.  The mornings are still marked by light fog, but most of the days have been sunny and warmer, with temperatures back in the high 70s.  Our Bay Area "summer" is finally here, and I'm looking forward to more warm days through September and October.

The plants in our yard are also undergoing some changes, and the warm season crops are beginning to ripen.  Our ground cherry (Cape gooseberry) bushes now have their first ripe fruits, and we have been picking and enjoying a few handfuls of the tasty orange, sweet-sour berries since the first week of August.  Ground cherries are related to tomatillos, and have the same papery, lantern-shaped husks, making them attractive on the plant as well as on the plate.  The taste is unusual, and our garden visitors seem to either love them or hate them.  I love them, and my four year old daughter is crazy about them, too.

The first scarlet runner beans also ripened this week, and many more tiny beans are now dangling from the bean teepee, promising a continued crop over the next few months.  Our cherry tomato plants are also producing well now (finally!), after a slow month or two in the fog.  The raspberry bushes have a second flush of berries that is rewarding us with some tasty nibbles in the garden and small handfuls to bring to the kitchen. 

The biggest change that the heat has brought to our garden has been in our purple passion vine.  The vine has been growing all summer, and covers an astounding portion of the fence that runs down the edge of our property line.  The vine now stretches at least 20 feet from the place it is planted, and there is no sign that it is slowing down!  It seems to love the heat, and did not begin to flower until the last week of July.  Since then, it has been flowering profusely and there are many green orbs hanging from the vine now!   

Growing the passion vine itself seems to be pretty easy in our climate, but getting it to fruit takes a little bit of extra work.  Passion flowers are naturally pollinated by bees (mostly carpenter bees)--but the bees are not as efficient as I would like them to be!  SO, I have been hand-pollinating the flowers ("being the bee") to increase the yield, and it seems to be VERY successful.  Last year, when the vine was newly planted, I hand-pollinated the flowers and we harvested about 20 fruits over the entire season.  This year, there are already about 30 fruits hanging on the vine and it has only been flowering for 3 weeks!  If the warm weather holds, the vine should continue to flower for another 6 weeks or so, making it likely that we will have a very large harvest.  (Hurray!) 

Passion fruit generally needs to ripen on the vine and turn from a smooth, shiny, giant green "egg" to a deep purple, wrinkled "prune."  When the fruit falls off the vine and onto the ground, they are ready to eat.  Last year, the first passion fruits were ready to eat the first week of November.  After that, we waited and waited and the remaining fruit still on the vine refused to ripen in the increasingly cold, rainy weather.  I experimented with picking a few at a semi-ripe stage and bringing them into the warmer house... and what do you know, they ripened on the kitchen counter in about a week or two!  With this discovery, we picked a few fruits each week and extended the harvest through the middle of January.  I hope our crop lasts that long this year, as well.  It's delicious!  

For more information about growing passion vines in California, visit the website of the California Rare Fruit Growers:  http://www.crfg.org/pubs/ff/passionfruit.html

Another website called Backyard Nature also has terrific labeled photographs of passion flowers:   http://www.backyardnature.net/fl_passn.htm


All opinions expressed are my own.
Copyright 2007 Sharon Danks