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Yes, they are slow growers. But their native habitat is pretty harsh: windy, hot and low rainfall. So being a slow grower in that environment isn’t really surprising.
The trunk gets thicker very slowly. In that respect, you might think of it as being a little more like a cactus than a tree. A 1-year-old plant has a trunk that’s about 1/8 inch in diameter. A 3-year-old plant’s trunk is still only about 3/8 inch in diameter. I would guess that, being adapted to harsh, low-water climates, capers probably spend more of their early growth on their root systems, to ensure their longterm survival.
As the trunk gradually increases in diameter over the years, the plant will also grow more “whips” from the trunk. And over the years these whips will get (very slowly, from year to year) longer. My oldest caper plant is about 25 years old now, and it grows out to about 8 feet in diameter each year.
Capers are deciduous, so expect them to lose their leaves every winter. And don’t be surprised if some of last year’s “whips” (branches) die. Just cut the dead ones back to the trunk before the new growth gets too far along in the spring. New whips will sprout as needed.
I hope this helps you understand your plant a little better. From a gardener’s point of view, it’s a patience game. Long-lived perennials may grow more slowly. Like the tortoise and the hare, their clocks seem to go slower, but they last a long time. They’re tough. You might think of them as being “built to struggle along, slowly but surely”.
So be sure to not over-water it. Once a caper plant is established in the ground, if it gets 10 inches of rain a year, it’ll be just fine. If you have fast-draining soil, it will grow more if you give it more than that. But I wouldn’t let it sit in water — especially in cold weather. And if you choose to fertilize it at all, I would caution you against over-doing it. The plant may even look better at first: more lush growth, and gorgeous leaves that are soft as kid skin gloves. But that’s exactly what the pests like, too: lush, juicy greens to eat like salad.
Today I got better at using my salt-cured capers. I cut one caper berry into slices 1/8-inch thick and plopped them in a little container of water, swishing it around a little. Then while they sat in the water I make my salad. By the time the rest of the salad was ready (about 5 minutes), the caper’s saltiness had been tamed down enough to add to the salad. They were still saltier than I’d eat if I was going to pop one in my mouth. But that’s not what I’m doing — I’m adding them as a flavor boost to my salad, and it worked!
I mentioned in my presentation that in Pantelleria (which is reputed to have some of the world’s best capers), they cure capers with sea salt only (using a specific sea salt from Sicily). In Pantelleria they don’t add water or vinegar (which some other curing methods call for). Here’s the salt-only curing method that I’m trying out right now. You need a kitchen scale to weigh the ingredients with. (Sorry, but I didn’t think to take note of the equivalents in volume; maybe next time.)
- Weigh the caper buds/berries, and place them in a glass bowl that you can leave them in for 3 weeks.
- Calculate 40 percent of the capers’ weight. This is the amount of sea salt you want to add to the capers now.
- Add the salt to the capers in the bowl, and stir them.
- Cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap (loosely!) or with a paper towel, and set aside in a place where they’ll be out of the way, but you’ll see them every day. These things are going to make a stink for several days, so keep that in mind!
- Once every day or two stir the capers to re-distribute the salt. The first few days you’ll notice liquid gathering. The salt is drawing that liquid out of the capers. And yes, they’ll stink (That’s good! They’re getting rid of stuff you *don’t* want to eat!)
- After 10 days, whatever liquid you noticed in the bowl will be gone or almost gone.
- However much sea salt you added before, now you’re going to add half as much (20 percent of the weight of the capers). Don’t remove anything from the bowl; just add another 20 percent salt, and stir.
- Keep stirring every 1 to 2 days for another 10 days, until you’ve stirred the sea salt/caper mixture for a total of 20 days.
- That’s it! Your capers are ready to use and to store in a jar with a tight-fitting lid.
You can store these capers for I-don’t-know-how-long. At least a year by what I’ve read. They’re salt-cured (which is pretty similar to being dried), but they’ve also gone through lacto-fermentation, which is another food preservation method. Unless you don’t like capers at all, you’ll eat them or give them away as gifts before there’s any threat of spoilage.
You’ll need to soak these capers before using them (unlike the ones you buy in the store). But if you soak/rinse them long enough (maybe even overnight!) or if you add them to a dish *instead* of the salt that the dish calls for, you’ll notice distinctly earthy, floral flavors that aren’t like any other ingredient I’ve come across. Capers that are cured in salt *only* don’t have a vinegar-y bite that distracts from the flavor of the capers themselves. I’ve preserved them in a salty vinegar solution before, but I prefer this way because they taste better (to me). The only drawback is the time it takes to soak the extra salt back out of them.
I’m still experimenting with this. I put 3 salt-cured caper berries in water to soak, and I ate one after 45 minutes (way too salty!), then about 3 hours (still salty!), and the last one the next day (not salty). Do your own experients, and see what you think! Then let us know here in the WLA CRFG forum!
My Monthan bananas have just now started ripening (about 80 bananas on this bunch).
I also have 2 varieties of fig in large pots. They have just now come to the end of their production here in 90503 (Torrance). They were ripening in September.
- A “Celeste” I got from Charles Portney many years ago (which doesn’t resemble any “Celeste” descriptions I get from fig info on the Internet. When this one’s ripe, the insides are like strawberry jam).
- Yellow Longneck, which I got from Steve Berger in Huntington Beach in 2018. Steve really champions the Yellow Longneck & gives away a lot of plants he starts from cuttings. This is my first crop, so they may get better, but for my taste, it’s a little too insipid. We’ll see after the tree matures what it’s like.
That was how they produced in pots. But my “Portney Celeste” grown in the ground next to a south-facing wall is just now maturing (first ripe fig was today, and could’ve used another day on the tree if animals didn’t get it) (October 9, 2019). You know it’s ripe when the skin cracks, but it’s even better if you can wait until the skin shrivels a little; the flavor develops more and concentrates.
That’s the one they grow in Spain with no hand pollination. To find out more, come to the October 12, 2019 meeting. Details here: Dr. Ben Faber’s Cherimoya presentation
In my opinion, despite the wonderful and generous effort of the volunteers, this year’s cherimoya tasting ended up being “a dud.” There were 9 varieties of cherimoya on the tasting tables: Booth, Concha Lisa, Knight, Lucida, Orton, Oxhart, Pierce, Santa Rosa, and 36-10. I had one taste of each before trying a few of them again for a second round. I was luckier than a number of people, who lined up to buy a bag of cherimoyas before making it to the tasting. I’m pretty sure that some of them missed the tasting entirely, because there wasn’t the usual good supply of samples; they were gone by 10:30 — much earlier than in the past.
Almost all the samples I got weren’t really ripe. My overall opinion was that Booth was the best this year, but that was really only because I had one sample of it that was truly ripe. It had a pleasantly smooth texture, good sweetness, and a bit of lemon-y flavor. Pierce and Orton, which have been consistently at the top of my list in the past, were still green enough that they were relatively tough and tasteless.
For those who bought cherimoyas, the bags I saw were not too full, and the cherimoyas looked pretty small. I overheard someone say pretty much the same thing, but they waited in line and bought it anyway, to support the UCANR program.
Again, this wasn’t the fault of the staff, I’m sure. The rains appear to have messed up more than just the timing of the event. I’m thankful to have benefited from these events over the years. This year I learned more about just how much difference rain and ripeness can make in the quality of the fruit.
A huge thank-you to Margaret and Ronni for your super-abundant generosity! Getting technical stuff set up can involve a multitude of tiny headaches and a lot of head-scratching. So thank you two for breaking us through that barrier on a rainy day so we can still communicate with others in the club.
I can’t do much today for the garden but collect rain water. I have all my buckets, tubs or what-not catching the runoff where I don’t have rain gutters. It would be really nice to have an underground cistern, so I could collect more and use it longer. The above-ground rain barrels I’ve seen are just too ugly. At least I can put the buckets away between storms, and I have no worries about creating a mosquito breeding-ground.
- This reply was modified 2 years, 4 months ago by Caramatti.