Links to stuff we heard about from Tom Spellman

What a great meeting that was on Saturday!  I am a little snowed under right now trying to get our Scion Exchange app working, but since I’m getting questions, I did want to put up links to the updated R. Sanford Martin  “How to Prune Fruit Trees” that Tom worked on.

Despite Tom’s assurances we could find it anywhere, it seems you have to order it directly from the Walter Anderson Nursery down in San Diego here.    I ordered my copy Saturday and it’s already shipped!

Also, for those of you who couldn’t write fast enough as  Tom rattled off his successes in the Irvine Ranch high-chill apple experiment, you can see a Youtube of the 6th year harvest here.

I write pretty fast but then cannot read my own handwriting, so these are my best guesses of his favorites from the trial:  Mutsu, Dixie Red Delight, King David, Lady Williams,  Red Fuji, and Sundowner. If I got any of that wrong or forgot something, please let me know!

Note Tom was recommending low-N, high P, high K fertilizers for these apples once they reached bearing size.  It does not mean you want low N for everything in your orchard.   Someone mentioned in the Chat a GrowMore product that s/he felt would suit but I didn’t manage to copy the person’s name.  GrowMore mostly sells to commercial growers so it would be interesting to know where their products are available to us layfolks.  Since I am entirely organic and also mostly avoid  animal-byproducts I find Peaceful Valley Farm Supply a reliable source for organic fertilizers and they even have a chart on their site showing the relative NPKs for their products..

January 9th @ 10 a.m. : Tom Spellman on pruning deciduous fruit trees!

What a way to start off the year with a bang!  The irrepressible, irreplaceable and enormously  experienced Tom Spellman of Dave Wilson Nursery will be answering your questions about how to handle this winter’s pruning chores.  First, we will be showing a couple of his videos so you can see exactly how he handles both the pruning of young trees and those of more advanced years (like yours truly).  Then he will be taking the mic to help you resolve your specific issues.

If you have a  particularly unusual problem, take a photo of it and put it on your computer or phone so you can “share” it with us at the appropriate time.

All members will be receiving Zoom links in your newsletter ASAP

Capers! Zoom meeting Saturday, October 10th @ 10 am

The capers you buy in little jars at the grocery store began as flower buds on a caper shrub (capparis spinosa).  If you have a dry, sunny spot – even one that you neglect – a caper would grow there.  Mature caper shrubs are attractive plants that love sun, don’t require much care or water, have very few problems, and put on an abundant show of beautiful flowers all summer long.  If you’re willing to do a little post-harvest processing, they also produce buds and berries that can add a burst of Mediterranean flavor to your salads and cooking.  Cured capers keep for a year!  (Or until your next harvest).

Join us via Zoom for a presentation by Alan Caramatti on his 34 years of experience growing capers.  This will be a live presentation only; it will not be recorded.   Chapter members should have received login information with their newsletter.

If you are not a member but would like to hear Alan’s talk, contact us for access.


Photo by Stefan Johnson on Unsplash

The Great Rhubarb Experiment is On!

As a transplanted New Englander, I have always mourned the fact that rhubarb — one of my favorite fruits (well, actually a vegetable but who’s counting?) — cannot be grown as a perennial here in sunny SoCal.  We just don’t get the required chill .  Nonetheless, I knew that over a hundred years ago, Luther  Burbank  — with his typical patience and rigor — developed several varieties that did exactly that.   You can read his research here.  And you can see a breathless description from the Los Angeles Herald of 1904 right here.

Moreover, per an article by David Karp in the March 15, 2013 LA Times: “Farmers harvested rhubarb in winter and spring in coastal Southern California on close to 1,000 acres in the early 1920s…. California’s rhubarb plantings reached 1,323 acres in the 1930 census.”

Well, I thought, I needed to get my hands on some of those Burbank rhubarbs!  Alas, I soon discovered, I couldn’t.  They were gone.

Per Dale Marshall, retired USDA ARS rhubarb researcher: “In response to mixed opinions on the subject of what kind of rhubarb can be grown in Southern California – yes, it grew well until about 1990.

This rhubarb resulted from Luther Burbank’s selections from New Zealand starting in about 1893. He created ‘Crimson Winter’ and later, ‘Burbank Giant’ and ‘New Giant Crimson Winter’.

These great cultivars were grown until about the 1980’s by the Cleugh family. Another man bought the brand name and roots but was bought out in 1992 and the fields became industrial properties with virtually all the roots being destroyed. Such a shame!”

Arggh!  But we Rare Fruit Growers are not easily daunted.  The New Zealand reference was a Very Big Clue.  I began hunting for the Kiwi  Topps’ Winter Rhubarb  — said to be the variety that launched Burbank’s research — but that also seems to have vanished from the earth.

Further Googling, however, took me to the site of French Harvest and the Clayton family in Melbourne, Australia which has been in the rhubarb business for a very long time .   They sell several varieties they’ve developed that they  promised would grow year-round in a Mediterranean climate.  Well,  hey, that’s us!  The game was on.

I quickly  obtained a collection of seeds to trial:  Tina’s NobleSuccess and Ruby Red (a compact variety good for containers);  and managed to persuade several of our more dedicated chapter propagators to try them out in their very different microclimates.   We are also trialing Glaskin’s Perpetual, first grown in Brighton, England in the 1920s since the British began their experiments with Australian rhubarb about the same time as Burbank  and for the price of a $3 packet of seeds, it seemed worth taking a chance.

I still, however, have some seeds, especially of the compact Ruby Red variety and if any of you who prefer to garden in containers would like to take a stab I would be glad to make them available (Chapter members only, please).

I  may also have some Success seedlings since more of those plants came up than I have room for but at the moment, they have just emerged and I have to keep my fingers crossed I won’t kill them off before they’re big enough to transplant.  Stay tuned!!



September 12th – 10 am: Fabulous Zoom field trip to Point Dume Orchard

Exactly two years ago, our chapter made a memorable visit to a member’s huge orchard out at Point Dume.  Attendance was strictly limited and many of you were disappointed not to be able to see the wondrous array of exotic trees and wildlife that Arnie has been patiently tending for years (and brought safely through  the Woolsey Fire that totally surrounded it two months after our visit. )

This year, however, thanks to COVID19, you can see the orchard in all its glory… virtually.

Check your member’s newsletter for the Zoom links.  We are still working on getting an unlimited Zoom license but for the time being our Zoom meetings are restricted to members.  Because we have so many new members since our Plant Sale, our spreadsheet may be a little out of date.  If you don’t receive your newsletter within a few days, please let us know.

RIP Plant Sale

The West LA Chapter plant sale is now over.  It was a success beyond our wildest dreams.  Many thanks to our propagators as well as to our buyers who picked up from all over the state.  We are already growing new plants for next year.

In the meantime, why not join the chapter for early notification of all sales? Plus you will get to participate in our wonderful and informative Zoom lectures and field trips.  Click on Membership up in the Main Menu.  We hope to see you soon.

Garden Tour & Lecture in One! August 8th at 10 a.m.

via Zoom – You will receive an email reminder      

  (and a duplicate Zoom invitation) to join    

   the meeting on August 7.                           


Speaker: Michael Wittman

Attention CRFGers!  You have some fun “homework” to do before August 8th.  Please see the details below.

Want to learn more about permaculture?  Permaculture improves your garden’s soil and reduces greenhouse gas emissions at the same time.  Our presenter on August 8th will be Michael Wittman, CEO of Blue Sky Biochar (  You might call him the “Char-man of the Board.”  Michael is a passionate and knowledgeable speaker.  He has extensive knowledge of and experience with permaculture, using biochar and bamboo vinegar.  Don’t know what these are?  Check out the videos below before our Zoom session on August 8th.

Our meeting will include:

  • a live tour of Michael’s amazing food farm (which he also uses as a permaculture laboratory),
  • a presentation on what Michael did to get the food farm to its current state,
  • Q & A time, and
  • Michael will give us a special discount code that we can use on the Blue Sky Biochar web site.

Please watch these short videos before our meeting, so we can learn more together, and go into more depth in the Zoom meeting.  If your time is limited, please watch at least the first two videos.  You’ll be glad you did!

  1. Biochar 101: Living Soil at (15 minutes)
  2. Food Forest: Small Beginnings at — 7 minutes
  3. We’ll tour the same garden at the beginning of our Zoom meeting, so you can compare the “Before and after.”
  4. Biochar 101: Bamboo Vinegar at (15 minutes)

Our first virtual field trip July11 @ 10 am

After two highly successful Zoom meetings — with Dr. Matt Daughtery on Invasive Insects and Jorge Ochoa on Botanical Blunders –, the chapter is going to attempt a video tour of a member’s garden.  If you are a chapter member, you should have received a newsletter with the Zoom links.  If not, please let us know.

Our host moved into his house in Cheviot Hills in early 2011. After removing several overgrown trees on the property, he started his collection with a few citrus and stone fruit trees. Growing fruit trees for the first time, he found that there was a lot to learn and over time it became a serious part of his life.   For nine years now, he has been adding trees and learning more about the best practices for fruit tree gardening.  Many of his trees are grafted or started from rooted cuttings. The garden is watered with drip irrigation.

Our host is a member of both the West LA and the LA chapters.  Holding degrees in economics, business, finance, and IT, he began gardening as an amateur, like most of us.  Another of his hobbies is as a volunteer scuba instructor for LA County Department of Parks and Recreation.

ZOOM MEETING with Jorge Ochoa: Saturday June 13, 2020 @ 10 am

 Topic: Botanical Blunders

Plants have a reputation for being misrepresented in advertisement, movies, and media.  Come and learn the truth behind the many errors that people make about plants, fruits, and veggies!

Jorge has academic credentials from both Cal Poly Pomona and Long Beach City College.  He is currently the Horticulture Department Chair of Long Beach City College and a frequent guest lecturer throughout Southern California. Jorge is that rare instructor – one with the uncanny ability to make any subject interesting and easily understood.

Jorge last spoke to us about passionfruit, one of his favorite topics.  Many of you probably have a vine from his cuttings.

If you are a chapter member, you will receive an email reminder  about  the meeting on June 12.        In that reminder, you will receive a duplicate of the Zoom invitation that went out with your newsletter.

If you are not yet a member but are interested in attending, please let us know and we will give you the login info.