RIP Jim Neitzel - former board & founding member of the California Rare Fruit Growers organization.
Jim came to California Rare Fruit Growers through his neighbor and friend Richard Langdon, a pioneer in lychee and longans in California. Richard would cook up great meals and his friend Paul Thomson would stop by. Meeting the founder of CRFG and sharing meals over the years brought magic to Jim’s horticulture skills.
Gardening was in Jim’s blood from his mother and grandmother’s influence. Jim was born on a farm in Minnesota and shortly thereafter his family sold the farm, livestock and equipment to buy a new 1938 Chevy Sedan and headed West to Huntington Beach.
UCLA offered a sub-tropical horticulture program, so Jim enrolled out of high school. He also joined ROTC and worked his way through college on a ranch in Cherry Valley as a hand with cherry and peach tree’s as well as rare fowl varieties. During Jim’s 2nd year in college, his father passed away and he dropped out of school, where Uncle Sam nabbed him for 2 years in the Army Signal Corp.
After the military, Jim took a few random classes – French, piano and humanities and got his first car, a 1937 Chevy Coupe.
His French instructor noticed Jim’s aptitude and potential for language, encouraging his move to enroll at San Diego State University and complete a Romance Language Degree. With the G.I. Bill, Jim obtained his teaching credential and began a long career with the San Diego City Schools.
During his career as a school teacher Jim shared his skills growing and developing fruit varieties. Buying his current property in 1970 brought the benefit of space for his passion with macadamia nut trees. Going a little bit crazy with outstanding scion wood from Hawaiian groves – he had to try them all. He also came up with a few of his own varieties.
Papershell – a seedling has outstanding potential Big Hawaiian – a hybrid with a big nut Big Australian – a graft that has seedlings that produce like the parent A second nut tree Jim went crazy with were pecans. While interesting during the initial years, they have become a casualty of the water situation. They were left to die when water became a serious issue.
Traveling to Costa Rica, Jim was lucky to see a huge jackfruit tree at the Turrialba Field Station. It was an amazing site to see monster fruits attached all over the trunk and roots. On the same trip there were also many varieties of coffee plants, purple and yellow jaboticaba, pejibaye. A very nutritious peach palm. However, some of his most glorious travels were those set up by Peggy Winters. North Borneo, Kualalumpur, the 4 Hawaiian Islands, Central America, Ecuador, Machupichu, Iquitos and the upper Amazon.
When asking Jim his favorite fruit tree to grow and taste. Jim jumped from Lychee and mangos to Spice Zee Nectaplums (for its red foliage, tasty white flesh and low chill requirements), then the Anna Apple - always one of Jim’s recommendation. But he has a twist – to have the Anna Apple tree easier to manage, it should be an air layer so the rootstock is Anna. Jim air layered one for the Snows and it has performed marvelously for years.
Jim’s message to us all……Mother Nature keeps sabotaging our green thumb inclinations. Water becoming so expensive, weather unpredictable and these years of drought can dampen one’s enthusiasm. The “Jardin Potager” as the French call a garden outside the kitchen door is a must have. Grow your own tomatoes, parsley, green vegetables, beets, and carrots etc. for quick gratification. It is simple to take care of raised beds or containers. Maybe this would be a solution for us. The British cottage or kitchen garden is the similar idea. At the outside edge of the garden, I would put lemongrass bunches and clumps of yacon for its tubers. Beyond that I would squeeze in a mango, a Sherwood jujube, and as many sweetheart lychees as possible.
CRFG is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. In 1968 Paul Thomson started the organization with 54 members, a quarterly newsletter and an annual meeting including a field trip to his house in Vista. But there were no chapters – yet. In the late 1970’s, Paul Jackson, from Mexico, had established a planting south of Ensenada. He put an ad in the paper that he wanted to have a meeting of people interested in growing plants for orphanages. Dick and Alice Snow, Jim and 10 or 12 others met at his house and did not want to break up until a chairperson came forward. Jim was the likely choice. So, the San Diego Chapter was born, Jim became the 1st Chapter President and they started meeting at one another’s houses and having yard tours with lots of goodies to eat. The idea was if they met once a month at each other’s houses, it would be beneficial. They were concerned that Paul Thomson might not like the idea – which changed meetings from annually to monthly. But it was a hit. San Diego was the first chapter, then after that, the North County Chapter formed. It caught hold and more chapters started and met at their convenience. We now have the annual event as the Festival of Fruit.
– Robin Rivet, 6/4/2018