Category Archives: edibles

Bare Root for the Santa Cruz mountains – part deux

There are few things in life that are as optimistic as planting a fruit tree. Knowing your new apple tree might survive for 80 years and a pear tree up to 40 years makes your job as steward take on more importance. So it's a good idea to do some planning on where and how you plant your new addition.

First of all, consider how your soil drains. Many fruit trees are forgiving as long as they're not sitting for days at a time in water logged soil. Moist is fine but if you dig your hole, fill it with water and it doesn't drain in a day or less then consider planting on mounds. Cherries especially need good drainage with apricots being close behind.

Choose fruit trees that ripen at different times. You don't want so much fruit in July that you're begging people to take it or leaving it on their doorstep and running like the zucchini people. Some fruit trees need a pollenizer to bear fruit so keep this in mind and ask  when you buy your tee. These are just a few suggestions. Let your taste buds be your guide.  
 
Take a look around your property for spots where there is  enough sun in the growing season to make  your new plant  or tree happy. Don't worry if you don't have much sun in the winter time,  the plants are dormant then anyway. It's the growing season, from approximately April to September, when your site should get 5-6 hours minimum of sun.

How much space do you need? Trees come in different mature sizes. Room is not so much a factor as you can find dwarf and semi-dwarf varieties if need be. Nut trees are the exception and do require more space. There are fruit trees available also that have already been espaliered to grow flat against a fence or wall. Plus a fruit tree can serve double duty as a focal point or shade tree if it is limbed up enough to walk under.  Semi-Dwarf trees are 2/3 the size of a regular tree (15-20ft typically although you can prune a little in the summer to keep them shorter) .  This is the most popular size as pruning and harvesting are within reach of medium size ladders. There are many dwarf varieties of peaches, nectarines, apples, almonds, cherries also available that range in size from 6 ft. – 12 ft.

Selecting a more mature bareroot tree will give you fruit  sooner than one that has a trunk of only 1/2 inch across.  
Trunk caliper of 5/8 inch is a good size. If you are planting a home orchard it may be more economical to buy smaller sizes but you'll have to be patient for your first harvest. Dreaming about that row of flowering cherries or plums bordering the sides of your driveway?  You'll realize that vision sooner by going with the larger trees.
 
So you've chosen your dream tree, it's wrapped in a plastic bag to transport home without drying the roots, you've dug a hole large enough to accommodate the roots, amended the soil if necessary and pruned off any damaged roots. Now what? Find the graft at the tree's base and make sure when you fill in the hole with soil that the graft is above grade. Make a watering ring around the tree and flood it with water settling in the roots and eliminating air pockets. Don't water again until the soil is dry an inch or two down.  Winter rains may take care of this for you for a long time. Cherries and apricots need excellent drainage and may need to plant them on a mound to ensure this. If you can't plant your new tree, shrub, berry  or rose right away be sure to cover the roots with moist soil.

Only stake your new tree if you live in a windy area. A trunk will attain a larger diameter if it's allowed to move slighly in the wind. Usually it's not necessary to prune a young tree much while it is trying to grow new roots. Trimming a long branch or leader by a third is OK if necessary. You can start limbing up after a couple of years if you wish.

Add both edibles and ornamentals to your garden. You'll be investing in the future.  Blueberries offer more than yummy berries to eat.  They make beautiful hedges with gorgeous fall color.  Include two types for better production like a Berkeley, Bluecrop or Blueray.   Other edibles that are available now are asparagus, artichokes, strawberries, grapes, blackberries, boysenberries and raspberries.  

Plant something new while it's available bare root.  You won't be disappointed.
 

Happy New Year 2012

Another year has passed in the garden and this is what I've learned.

  • Have a plan for how you want to use your garden. This is as important as selecting the right plants for each garden room. Allowing some empty places for new plants, transplants or garden art, makes your garden your own. Add whatever  makes you happy and your heart to soar when you're in your garden.
  • Pay attention to the size that a plant will attain. This will save lots of headaches later.
  • Pruning is free therapy. What better way is there to feel good than to improve the life of a plant?
  • Your garden journal chronicles your life as well as what happens in the garden. Making frequent entries, no matter how short, will make you smile when you read it again at the end of the year. Journal your successes and failures, making notes of plants that performed well and ideas to try next year.
  • Enjoy a beverage of some kind often in your garden. That clean up or transplanting will be there tomorrow.
  • Weed regularly. The 20 minutes you spend every week or so pulling or hoeing will save hours of back bending work later.
  • You, fellow gardeners, are unique. I can't imagine any group of people more diverse and feisty and independent than gardeners. Yet we have such a connection. We love and are fascinated with nature. We find our deepest satisfaction in coaxing plants from the earth, in nurturing their growth. We are enduring pragmatists.
  • Edible gardening offers more than just vegetables and fruit trees that feed the body. They are better than a whole medicine cabinet of pills.
  • Accept a few holes in a plant: Unless it is being devoured, share a little with other creatures.

Happy New Year 2012 from The Mountain Gardener

 

Lindencroft Farm- a CSA part 2

Lindencroft Farm is a great example of a local family doing what they love and making a living, too. You can see it in the new crop of Necores carrots just sprouting and being watched over by the family farm cat that was sitting on the edge of the retaining wall. Linda explained this is one of her favorite carrots because she doesn’t have trouble with it forking and it isn’t bothered by summer heat. Every  crop that is grown on the farm is researched for best flavor and vigor.

Linda Butler  starts all her vegetables from seed, and grows year-round. Some are started directly in the beds while others are started in flats and transplanted later. Cole crops, such as broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage, would get eaten by bugs and birds would eat them as fast as they germinated so these are started in flats.

Walking around, I saw many Italian names as she specializes in Italian peppers. She gets seed from organic seed companies in this country, Italy and France.  Some of her favorite vegetables are Rosa Bianca eggplant as it is almost never bitter. She also likes Red Russian and Lacinato or dinosaur kale.

Tat soy and bok choy are favorites in the CSA boxes. She grows beans of all types– french filet, romano, shelling. Golden beets ( my personal favorite ), all kinds of potatoes- fingerlings, Russian banana, red thumb, German butter, red lasoda and other heirlooms. The beds overflow with life.

I tasted the last of the cherry tomatoes. Rosalita, a red grape type, was good but the white cherry tomato was the best. Herbs grow in several boxes and the farm can’t seem to grow enough asparagus to satisfy the demand.

Insect control is easy,  Linda said. If fungal diseases persist she plants a crop of beans and that seems to solve it. Occasionally aphids or spider mites get the upper had, but rather than spray even with organic soap she finds she has better results by monitoring the plants often and spraying with a hard blast of water or cutting or pulling out infested plants. For fava beans that seem to always attract big black aphids, she harvest the beans and flowers while very young before aphids get a hold.

The farm is entirely powered by 78 solar panels. Recaptured rainwater is stored in a rainwater basin that holds a half a million gallons and is filtered twice before using. They collect this from just 2-3 good winter storms. Water from their own deep well is used in the beginning of the year with the rainwater used in the hot summer months.

I asked Linda if the cool spring this year impacted her plants and she said yes, ‘"Everything is three weeks late."  Our early October rains caused her tomatoes to get fungal diseased so they had to harvest them all, while some of the squash now has powdery mildew and has to be pulled up early. As we were talking she told some workers harvesting squash in another part of the farm to cut out the growing tips so the remaining squash would receive all the energy of the plant to ripen before the weather turns cold. The sunflowers being visited by a flock of chickadees was looking a bit bedraggled, too.

We watched some workers putting up frames for plastic hoop houses that will protect peppers crops from the rains and extend the harvest this year. Even potatoes benefit from this cover as overly wet soil contributes to fungal diseases. Lettuces, chard, kale and other leafy greens would get tattered by the rains if not covered.

Walking and talking, Linda would reach down and pick a sprig of bronze fennel or hyssop for me to enjoy. it’s clear that she is gentle on the earth and a good steward of the land. The entire farm is surrounded by redwood forest and oak meadowland, teaming with wildlife. Her philosophy of farming is to gently coax the best produce by creating as natural an environment as she can. Each year, the farm is healthier, most robust and more beautiful than the last.
 

Healthy Edibles to Grow from Bare Root

Make this the year you take advantage of planting blueberries, grapes, strawberries,  peaches, cherries and apples from bare-root stock. These crops are .

Because of all the rains that fell in December, the growers are late getting into their fields to dig up the 2 million bare-root plants they harvest and deliver to your local nursery. The Santa Cruz Mountains stay cooler for a longer period in the winter, allowing dormant trees, shrubs and vines to be available to the home gardener in bare root form throughout February, too. The early bird gets the worm as far as best selection goes so take a look around your property and decide which yummy fruit and berry you’ll be adding to your garden.

I love blueberries. They are low in calories and so good for you. They contain the highest concentration of antioxidants of all fresh fruit. They have lots of vitamins and help boost your immune system. The list or benefits goes on and on. On top of all that, they make beautiful hedges with stunning fall color.

One variety I’m dying to try is a hybrid from Australia called Brigitta.  This Northern highbush variety is sweet yet slightly tart. The grower says they possess an amazing shelf. They’ve stored this blueberry for over a month in the refrigerator and they were still crisp with a great taste. The berry is medium to large and ripens late in the season. The bush is a fast grower to 4-6 feet with deep green foliage and bronze tinted new growth. It is semi-self fertile but produces more  planted alongside Bluecrop. Try planting them each in their own wine barrel where you can control the soil, watering and sun exposure.

Apples-you know the saying "one a day keeps the doctor away". There are lots of apple varieties to choose from.  Honeycrisp is a large, scarlet over yellow apple with a well-balanced sweet tart flavor. The texture is similar to a crisp watermelon or Asian pear and is very juicy. They ripen in late September.

Another crisp apple to grow is the Braeburn apple. The skin is green overlaid with orange-red while the flesh is firm, crisp and juicy. It is mildly sweet tart with an excellent flavor, is a heavy producer and stores well. It ripens October to early November.

Love biting into a juicy peach in the summertime? Try growing Santa Barbara, considered the best tasting peach for homeowners. Flesh is yellow, freestone and red near the pit. It has a melting texture, delightfully sweet, combined with the delicious peach flavor. Peaches are self-fertile. This variety requires only 300 hour of chill below 45 degrees so is good for warmer winter areas as well as the mountains.

Your favorite fruit are cherries but you don’t have much room for a big tree? Then the Compact Stella cherry is the tree for you. The fruit is firm, sweet and dark red with good flavor and texture. It’s excellent for eating, canning and preserves while being self fertile and a good pollinizer for all sweet cherries.

There are other edibles available now, too, like figs, pomegranate, persimmon, apricot, pears, plums, asparagus, artichokes, strawberries, grapes and blackberries. They all sounds delicious.
 

New Year’s Resolutions for Gardeners

Last year I was brave and published my New Year’s resolutions– at least those that pertain to the garden. It’s now the day of reckoning. Let’s see how I did and which ones I’ll  keep for 2011.   In the garden, as in life, simple changes can make a big difference over a long time. I’m adding a couple new ones that are important, too.

Learn something new every day. Whether it’s something new in the garden or elsewhere, keep learning. I’m starting to learn about local mushrooms. They come up in the most beautiful places. I’m looking forward to the Fungus Fair in January.
Enjoy the simple things. Laugh often. Life is not measured by the breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away.  Everyday is a gift, that’s why we call it the present.


Of the 16 gardener’s resolutions I made last year I can honestly say I achieved half of them.

I did pay more attention to the size that plants grow and believed the tag when it said "spreading habit". But I also found that pruning shears are life savers  when you just have to have that new foliage plant that just came out.

I started making garden journal entries in February instead of January as I resolved. But then I tried to make up for it in March, May, June, October, November and December.  I missed 5 out of 12 months. I get a "C-".

I added more pollen-producing flowering plants to attract beneficial insects which kept the good guys around longer to eat the bad bugs. And I learned what quite a few of the good guys look like.  ( That counts as two resolutions )

I sat in my garden and enjoyed it, not jumping up to rearrange containers. (This one was easy)

I applied to get my little garden certified as a wildlife habitat  with the National Wildlife Federation by making sure I provided food sources, water, cover, places to raise young and used sustainable gardening techniques.

I fertilized my perennials a couple of times this year with organic compost and fertilizer instead of just once and boy were they happy. The trees and larger shrubs really only need a light dose once a year so I was good there.

I wore sunscreen everyday. (My doctor wants a hat, too. Maybe this year I’ll wear one.)

The other half of last year’s resolutions are being recycled as they’re still good ones:

I will not buy a new flower, shrub or tree until I have a plan for it in the garden.

I will sharpen and clean my garden tools so they look spiffy and work better.

I will start a worm bin with my kitchen scraps and a compost pile for leaves and plant debris. (I have so many raccoons it’s like a party out there at night but I’m going to come up with a critter-proof solution.)

I will weed regularly- not waiting until they’re so tall they swallow up my gardening tools when I lay them down.

I will accept a few holes in my plants but tour the garden regularly to identify if a problem is getting out of control and I need to break out an organic pesticide.

I will prune my maples, transplant my overgrown containers and divide my perennials when I’m supposed to.

I will plant more things to eat. Edibles anywhere in the garden feed the body and the soul. (This summer was so cold I didn’t have much luck in my partial shade.)

I will stop rationalizing my plant habit is better than gambling, clothes shopping or smoking.

I will do better to practice what I preach in this column.

Happy New Year in 2011 from The Mountain Gardener