|Two of the things being harvested in California this time of year are avocados and oranges. We hope you enjoy the treats we sent you to taste. We toured an avocado packing plant and learned many interesting things about growing, harvesting and packing them. The picture you see of the white stump is the grower getting ready to graft a different variety of avocado on to a tree. They paint the stump white to keep it from getting "sun burned" while there are no branches and leaves to protect it. There are 21 varieties of avocados but the most popular by far is the Hass which accounts for about 95% of the total crop. They are also called Alligator Pears because of their shape and green skin. A tree can be 100 years old and still produce. The average size grove is 10 acres and each tree produces about 60 pounds or 150 avocados each year. California produces 90% of the nation's avocado crop with San Diego County being the Avocado Capital of the U.S., producing 60% of all avocados grown in California. The green Hass which we sent you has 21% fat content and is harvested in the winter. If they are left on the tree until summer, they grow bigger, have an almost 50% fat content and become black. THey are picked by hand with scissors to keep the stem attached which makes the avocado keep for longer. A good picker can pick up to 4000 avocados a day but they can not be picked in the rain. Once they are picked they are put in large plastic tubs and are trucked to the packing plant where they must sit in a cooler for 24 hours to make sure they are dry. THey then get dumped into a bin and up on a conveyor belt where 2 workers grade and sort them. All Grade 1 avocados are shipped to grocery stores and Grades 2 and 3 are sold to restaurants. THey are then sized which determines how many get packed in a crate to be sold. THe ones we sent you are 40's which lets the workers know there are to be 40 avocados put in a crate. THe crates can be stored for weeks at 40 degrees and won't start to ripen until they are brought out in to warmer temperatures. THe grower only makes about 10 cents per avocado. THe Del Ray Avocado Packing Plant sells many of their avocados to Costco and we saw them putting them in little green mesh bags. The next time you are at Costco be sure to look for those little mesh bags of avocados. THe groves are highly susceptible to disease and bugs so growers won't let anyone in their groves except the pickers. Are avocados a fruit or a vegetable? Naval Oranges are also being picked now. THe picking season starts in late October but they are best if picked in late December and into January after there have been several cold nights which makes the fruit juicier and sweeter. THe best eating orange is called "Washington Naval Oranges." Orange trees still produce fruit when they are 70 to 80 years old and when the trees are mature, they can produce about 100 oranges per tree per year. They are also picked by hand using scissors to snip the stem by pickers wearing gloves as they can not be touched while picking as the oil from your hands creates soft spots in the fruit. Most eating oranges are grown in the state of California while most oranges used for juice are grown in Florida. Grandpa and Uncle Harry picked the oranges from a neighbor's tree for you to taste. We spent a day in Palm Springs...truly an oasis in the desert! It is in the Colorado Desert and is surrounded by mountains. It sits on a huge underground water supply and is so green and beautiful. It is in the mid 70's in the winter but gets over 100 degrees in the summer. It has more than 350 days of sunshine and an average of only 5 inches of rain per year. It is called "Hollywood's Playground" and since the 1920s, Palm Springs has been a playground for Hollywood's celebrities to relax and escape from the hustle and bustle of showbiz. It is home to the International Film Festival every January where over 200 new films from over 60 countries are shown. We also drove through the Mojave Desert which is where Edwards Air Force Base is located and where the space shuttle sometimes lands. It is also home to one of the commercial airplane "bone yards" where they park airplanes that are no longer in service. It has many, many windmill farms and while the desert is hot, it is also windy. Lots of people enjoy riding dune buggies in the desert. We went one evening to the famous Mission Inn in Riverside which is a national historic monument. It began as a 12 room adobe mission built in 1876 and now has over 230 rooms and takes up an entire city block. It has hosted 10 U.S. Presidents as well as many celebrities and dignitaries. Each year it has a Festival of Lights Show at Christmas time which we decided was the most beautiful Christmas light display we have ever seen. We also toured the March Air Field Museum and saw lots of military planes that have been restored but are no longer able to fly. While there we got to see 2 F-16 fighter jets and a C-141 Starlifter transport plane land. The Starlifter can carry up to 200 troops with their gear and is so huge it makes you wonder how it can even get off the ground!