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Saturday, December 8, 2012

Pruning Fruit Trees (This Week's Hand Out)


Fruiting Characteristics of Common Fruit Trees









Type of Tree
Location of Fruiting Buds






Age of bearing


Amount of Pruning
Long Branches Spurs or Short Branches
Laterally Terminally Laterally Terminally
Apple
Minor
Major 8- 10 yrs. Moderate
Apricot Minor
Major
3 years Heavy
Fig Major
Minor
1 yr & new shoots Various
Peach/Nectarine Major
Minor
1-2 yrs Heavy
Pear, Asian Minor Very minor
Major 6-8 yrs Moderate to heavy
Pear, European Minor Minor
Major 8-10 yrs Moderate
Persimmon Major Major Minor Minor New shoots at the tip of 1 yr branches Light (thinning)
Plum, European Minor
Major
6-8 yrs Moderate
Plum, Japanese Minor
Major
6-8 yrs Heavy
Pomegranate Minor
Major
Short new shoots Moderate
Quince Major Minor

New shoots Light (thinning)

Tools For Pruning

      hand held pruners – I prefer Felco
      loppers
      saw
      pole saw
      sharpener
     pruning knife (rarely used)

Pruning and Pruning Cuts

First, prune off any damaged or broken branches. Take them back as far as you can.

Secondly, prune off what we call 'crossing branches.' These are branches that come through the center of the tree, crossing from one side to the opposite, or are branches that are parallel and close enough to be touching other branches. They can abrade the branches they touch when moved by wind and that wound can be an entrance point for insects or other pests. These must come out; take them back as far as you can.

Thirdly, do some pruning to shape the tree. Part of 'shaping' for fruit trees is to limit their height. I know it will somewhat lessen your fruit crop, but any apple tree humming along at full production, will inundate you with way too many apples. A little off the top so you can easily harvest from the tree without fancy footwork or ludicrous convolutions will not be missed – the ease with which it can be picked will gladden your heart. And save your back.

Always use clean pruners – if you have pruned a tree that even might have a disease, or if you have pruned a tree from a different location, clean your pruners with Listerine or some disinfectant. I was taught to use a bleach solution, but unless you are a masochist, I'd suggest avoiding that. It ruins your skin, your clothes and your tools – although it does disinfect. Still, there are kinder ways to do this.

I prefer to use my hand held pruners for most cuts.  The saw is my next favorite tool with loppers being third.  Their cuts are less than clean and a clean cut heals faster for the tree.  The pole cutters and saws are the least favorite of all because of the lack of control you have over the cuts.  I use a chain saw for tree removal – or branch removal on some branches that have got to come out – I rarely prune large branches on trees I care for because I take them out when they are still small enough to be pruned out by my hand-held pruners.  

david 













Always try to cut back to an area that will heal. This isn't always possible, but to the degree you can, cut back to an area called the bark branch ridge. In this graphic, on the left side, the red line shows where the pruner will make it's cut – just below the red pruner handle, you can see a branch cut correctly. The bark branch ridge contains cells that will enable the plant to heal the wound. On the right of the graphic, you can see the three cuts needed to remove a large branch without tearing into the tree causing unnecessary harm.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Weather Or Not!


Our sunshine and balmy weather has deserted us (finally)  this weekend. Because we don't have the possibility of make up days, we must meet today - please dress for foul and cool weather. I have an indoor classroom if we need it to get us through the day, but, no matter what, we will have to face whatever nature throws at us and by all accounts right now, there is 50% chance of rain increasing to 70% chance as evening comes on.  We cannot work with bees if it's raining, so I've got an alternate lecture coming along.

Having said that, we have really good rain-karma, most events that have been rain threatened have had the rain stop right as we started and begin again just after we've finished.  But I want to cover all bases.

Those of you who washed your car this last week, thank you for bringing on the rain...

david

December in the Garden


Baby beets coming along just like they're supposed to do in the Winter – the gardener can snip leaves of some of the plants for salads while leaving those that remain to grow the delicious roots – they'll need more space between them, but in the meantime, the discards will make lovely additions to salads. 

Who has time to garden? The days are so short, it’s hard to get into your garden. And the holiday parties all over the place, who really can find time for the garden?

As December comes rumbling through your life, make sure you have in your flashlight because, Lord knows, I have done more gardening by flashlight (and I know I'm not alone!) than I want my mental health provider to know. At least, the cooler temperatures (we hope), keep plants from growing too fast. On the other hand, nothing makes plants grow like a good rainstorm. Unfortunately, that applies to weeds as well.

The main thing is to keep up with your successive sowings, especially of salad greens, beets and carrots. You might include radishes and other root crops too. You might find yourself picking peas, fava beans, garbanzos, harvesting small heads of cabbage, broccoli, leaves of kale and chard before the month is out and the more you pick, the more you will get so don't be shy. Pick and give it to friends and neighbors (who will become friends) and find ways to keep the harvest.

I try to sow nine inch rows frequently rather than longer rows less frequently, unless I am planning on “putting a crop up,” which means pickling, canning, drying or other method of preserving the food. Pickled beets and pickled beans are easy and one of my favorite ways to keep some of the harvest through the year. I vow I'm going to learn how to pickle carrots like the ones you find in Mexican restaurants, but so far I have no good recipes. Of course, if I grow carrots in the winter and peppers in the summer, how will the two ever get together in a pickled carrot jar? Carrots can keep, but I don't have a place to keep them until the peppers are ready – like most Los Angeles homes and apartments, I do not have a root cellar or even a pantry that would do the word justice. So there's a challenge. I like challenges. I'll report back when I figure it out.

These cooler months, the deciduous fruit trees drop their leaves – 'deciduous' means they drop their leaves – and when they drop their leaves, sap does not run in the upper part of the tree. This means when trees are cut at this time, it injures them less than it does if the sap was running. With the leaves off the tree we can see the branches more clearly so this month and next are the times to best prune fruit trees. This chart gives you the basic concept of the fruiting characteristics of the different trees and that dictates the way you will have to prune them.

Fruiting Characteristics of Common Fruit Trees









Type of Tree
Location of Fruiting Buds






Age of bearing


Amount of Pruning
Long Branches Spurs or Short Branches
Laterally Terminally Laterally Terminally
Apple

Minor

Major 8- 10 yrs. Moderate
Apricot Minor

Major

3 years Heavy
Fig Major

Minor

1 yr & new shoots Various
Peach/Nectarine Major

Minor

1-2 yrs Heavy
Pear, Asian Minor Very minor

Major 6-8 yrs Moderate to heavy
Pear, European Minor Minor

Major 8-10 yrs Moderate
Persimmon Major Major Minor Minor New shoots at the tip of 1 yr branches Light (thinning)
Plum, European Minor

Major

6-8 yrs Moderate
Plum, Japanese Minor

Major

6-8 yrs Heavy
Pomegranate Minor

Major

Short new shoots Moderate
Quince Major Minor



New shoots Light (thinning)

Try to never prune more than a third of your branches off – and that would only be the case if you had failed to do pruning for several years. Over a third is too hard on the tree.

When making cuts, step back to look at the whole tree frequently to get a sense of the shape of the tree and locate where the next cut should be. The thought process behind pruning a tree works with this matrix:

First, prune off any damaged or broken branches. Take them back as far as you can.

Secondly, prune off what we call 'crossing branches.' These are branches that come through the center of the tree, crossing from one side to the opposite, or are branches that are parallel and close enough to be touching other branches. They can abrade the branches they touch when moved by wind and that wound can be an entrance point for insects or other pests. These must come out; take them back as far as you can.

Thirdly, do some pruning to shape the tree. Part of 'shaping' for fruit trees is to limit their height. I know it will somewhat lessen your fruit crop, but any apple tree humming along at full production, will inundate you with way too many apples. A little off the top so you can easily harvest from the tree without fancy footwork or ludicrous convolutions will not be missed – the ease with which it can be picked will gladden your heart. And save your back.

Always use clean pruners – if you have pruned a tree that even might have a disease, or if you have pruned a tree from a different location, clean your pruners with Listerine or some disinfectant. I was taught to use a bleach solution, but unless you are a masochist, I'd suggest avoiding that. It ruins your skin, your clothes and your tools – although it does disinfect. Still, there are kinder ways to do this.

I prefer to use my hand held pruners for most cuts. The saw is my next favorite tool with loppers being third. Their cuts are less than clean and a clean cut heals faster for the tree. The pole cutters and saws are the least favorite of all because of the lack of control you have over the cuts. I use a chain saw for tree removal – or branch removal on some branches that have got to come out – I rarely prune large branches on trees I care for because I take them out when they are still small enough to be pruned out by my hand-held pruners.

Always try to cut back to an area that will heal. This isn't always possible, but to the degree you can, cut back to an area called the bark branch ridge. In this graphic, on the left side, the red line shows where the pruner will make it's cut – just below the red pruner handle, you can see a branch cut correctly. The bark branch ridge contains cells that will enable the plant to heal the wound. On the right of the graphic, you can see the three cuts needed to remove a large branch without tearing into the tree causing unnecessary harm.

In times past, if I was having trouble with perennial pests in my trees, I would spray them after pruning with horticultural oil. This petroleum product kills all insects and their eggs that it comes in contact with and no insect (since the beginning of the 1900's at least) has ever evolved resistance. It's considered organic. DO NOT SPRAY IT IN THE MORNING; only in the evening when there is no chance of harming bees. By the following morning it will be dry and no longer harmful. I've stopped spraying my trees annually – if I had a pest, I would not hesitate to use it. But I don't do any sprays prophylactically any more; there must be evidence of a pest to spray for before I'll spray – this does mean I loose some food every so often or I have to eat misshapen or ugly fruit. It's OK. I've lived.

Another event in the gardeners' calendar of note, for gardeners who have been at it for awhile, seed catalogs of the new year have magically begun to arrive and with them the challenge to not buy several hundred pounds of lettuce or tomato seeds. Everything sounds so inviting! Oh my, a new paisley tomato? How can I resist? Every page screams “Try me!” in full color and we gardeners can be helpless to these Siren calls

I grew up in NE Kansas and all through my childhood, spent winter months in front of the fire with the Burpee catalog. I would read all the descriptions of the vegetables and compare them over and over again. Grandpa, who saved his seed, had no use for 90% of all they sold, so I rarely got to see any of my multitude of lists even purchased let alone grown. The esteemed Burpee seed company went out of business for a while after a bumpy few years. They have returned in name but really in name only; this company is only a shadow of its former self, gone are the days when the Burpee name was attached to varieties they bred themselves. Now they are only offering a rather paltry selection of seed that usually isn't bred for the home gardener and exclusively carry hybrids, mostly products of a Monsanto subsidiary, developed for shipping and commercial ventures. However, what was old is now new again and other catalogs have taken up the slack – check out my list in Appendix K – not only catalogs from companies, but also from seed saving associations, with a huge variety of seeds that were bred for the home gardener.

On thing that works for me in December is to take stock of the year just past. What worked and what didn't work? What variety tweaked your interests last year? What variety of every kind of plant did you like best? What did your friend plant that tasted so divine you can't wait to plant? Do you want to think about not growing any of a vegetable this year? What dates did pests arrive in your garden and how will you avoid that this year – can you plant earlier or later?

Here's my annual recapitulation from this last year at The Learning Garden, starting with the winter garden and then summer's:

Artichoke: I know I'm teasing the rest of the world, but I pay rent in Los Angeles so I figure I'm due my share of teasing. We had a great harvest last year of artichokes – mostly Green Globe Improved. They all produced big beautiful chokes with abandon. We had respectable harvest from Violetto which I love, but it wasn't nearly as productive. I’ll still grow both because I've got plants of both.

Beets: Burpee's Golden and Chioggia - both are dynamite and steady producers year in and year out and both are usually from Pinetree Garden Seeds although I have been known to get seed from Peaceful Valley Farm Supply too. These are two old standby varieties that form the bulk of beet growing – Burpee's Golden is not a prolific producer with a lower than usual rate of germination but it's well worth it. I want to try the Albino Beet from Pinetree.
Broccoli: Nutribud (also from Pinetree) is an OP of respectable performance; earliness is right up there with the hybrids and the size is comparable. As the name suggests, it is reported to have a higher percentage of glutamine. The only other tight headed broccoli that are OP is Waltham (sometime listed as Waltham 98) and DeCicco – while Waltham has been the standard, DeCicco is a smaller, faster and more 'home garden friendly' than Waltham. All the other tight headed broccoli are hybrids. There are loose headed broccoli like Romanesco and Calabrese, but I'm not so fond of them – their flavor is much more pronounced, I'll not say “bitter” outright, but it's close.

Brussels sprouts: Bubbles was the hybrid we grew – someone had given me a couple of plants. They got whitefly and aphids very badly and I couldn't see cleaning each little sprout thoroughly beore eating; although a friend did and sent me back a lovely dish of them (thanks Mary!). Between cabbage and broccoli, I get enough of this family to skip Brussels sprouts. OP Brussels sprouts include Catskills and Long Island Improved.

Cabbage: A good year for cabbage for us. Danish Ball Head, one of my favorite OP heirlooms performed good after we actually got some seedlings started. Winningstadt is a pointy head cabbage that yielded 10 pound heads that were delicious. Both were huge solid heads and we ate and ate and finally learned how to ferment cabbage to be able to eat it the rest of the year. At this moment, there is so much of it that it feels more like a burden than a blessing....

Carrots: How wonderful, if you decide to plant some of the different color carrots, you'll be able to grow open pollinated seeds! Because carrots didn't become uniformly orange until the last 50 years or so (because of marketing needs), the different colored carrots are all OP. In the orange department I found Nantes and Red Cored Chantenay as my big producers. In containers, Parris Market was the one-bite wonder...

Cauliflower: Mark Twain is supposed to have said that 'cauliflower was cabbage that had gone to college' and I can't afford the tuition, so I stick to cabbage. Cabbage is easier to preserve and broccoli will give successive cuttings from one plant. Cauliflower is more work and less results. But, those who must, Early Snowball is the best OP cauliflower available. It naturally folds leaves over the head just like the modern hybrids.

Celeriac: I don't grow celery because it's a hard plant to grow and home grown celery has always tasted bitter to me. Celeriac, on the other hand, was easy to grow and produced well. You can't smear a hunk with cream cheese or peanut butter and have the same delightful appetizer, but it does a marvelous stand up performance in soups. Large Prague was our selection this year and I've yet to have experience with anything else.

Chard: (I'm dispensing with the 'Swiss' part, feel free to join me, after all, it isn't really Swiss.) We had seed from Seed Savers Exchange of Five Color Silverbeet, the Australian term for chard, and seed of Pinetree's Orange Fantasia. Both were incredibly productive – although I've never known chard to be unproductive, so I'm not sure that's saying a lot. Someone gave us a few plants of Fordhook Giant, large leaves with a tremendous white rib down the center; it is the most productive chard going bar none. Still, I like the red chard more and that orange is one helluva show stopper! They all taste great.

Fava beans: Windsor is my favorite and we get pounds of beans from each plant. In fact, I've given up on peas preferring to grow favas, garbanzos and lentils. Peas are too much work for too little food. I heard of an Italian variety of fava called Agua Dulce I would like to try – it sounds good, yes?

Garlic: I still love Spanish Roja and Music - hardnecks are supposed to not like warm climates, but I have great luck with them. Last year, the crows got to my garlic just as they got started; the crows didn't eat the garlic, but pulled them out of the ground. After three or four go rounds with this (crows pull, I replant), the cloves were hopelessly intermixed so which one was the better producer is anyone's guess. I'm starting with fresh seed garlic this year: Music, Spanish Roja, and Red Toch!

Kale: Redbor or Scotch Blue works for me. I had some plants of Dwarf Blue, but felt like that was a very stupid idea – same garden footprint for half the plant. What was I thinking? Lacinato, or Dinosaur Kale gets a lot of press - and the cooks seem to love it the best. From my northern friends I have heard that kale needs a frost to really bring out its flavor – some winter, I bet I get the chance to test that theory.

Leeks: King Richard is my usual dependable producer but last year was a really so-so harvest. I think I ignored it too much. I might try Carantan or Giant Musselburgh.

Lettuce: I'm one of those who can't get through the lettuce section of a seed catalog without ordering four or five more packets! I could supply a large army with lettuce if I were given the land to do it. Marvel of the Four Seasons (Merveille des Quatre Saisons), Brown Winter, Red Winter, Deer Tongue, Buttercrunch, and on and on and on. All delicious and all open-pollinated. Lettuce is one of the easiest plants to save seed from. Oh and a new one this year was a show stopper: Drunken Woman Frizzyhead from Territorial Seeds. It's a keeper for sure – if just the name alone!

Onions: I usually buy plants from a local organic farm supply, but they sold out so I had to learn how to grow them from seed. Worked out fine, except that it takes a very long time. I like to grow Italian Red Torpedo – a delicious onion that is absolutely stellar on the grill. The seed I found was called 'Red Long of Tropea,' and they looked and tasted exactly like Red Torpedo, so that would explain why it's called 'torpedo' when it really doesn't look like any torpedo I've ever seen. Onions, unlike almost every other veggie we grow is 'daylight sensitive.' Most onions offered in the US will not bulb in LA because they are 'long day' plants and we need to grow 'short day' varieties. Folks from the rest of the US are not able to comprehend our experiences and the catalogs rarely indicate short or long day. Onions grown in most of Italy and Texas are more often than not short-day onions.

Potatoes: We gathered leftovers from bachelor friends (they sprout in the pantry and we just planted them) - I don't know the varieties but we had a good harvest. I've yet to meet a potato I don't like. Next year, we are experimenting with different colored potatoes – maybe we'll do red, white and blue for the 4th of July? Could happen around here.

Shallots: I had never grown shallots before, but I found they are easier to grow than onions and more productive. I planted seed from Pinetree and I was so impressed, I'm coming back for more! While my original crack at growing shallots from seed were F1 hybrids, I have since found an open-pollinated variety that I will be trialing this year. I just need to learn how to cook with them.

Spinach: I'm not too keen on spinach, but... Bloomsdale Long-Standing is the national OP favorite, but I vote for America. Bloomsdale is savoyed – has 'crinkly' leaves. America is smoother. Taste the same, but America will be cleaner faster and better than Bloomsdale on any day of the week. I vote, always, for less work.

Turnips: Purple Top White Globe is the only one I've grown and that's all I need.

All in all, this was one of the very best harvests we have ever had. We put up food, donated several tons to the Westside Food Bank and still ate like kings! It was all that compost, I tell you. The rain wasn't any great shakes and there were several devastating hot spells last November, December and again in January. In fact, the winter garden last year got killed outright by a hard couple of weeks of Santa Ana winds that sent the thermometer soaring into triple digits several times and ruined numerous plantings. Oh, and I can't forget the mouse in the greenhouse that ate all the starts in January. Thank God for a long growing season; we simply replanted with a screen over the seedlings.

In the summer, we ride a different horse altogether. It had warm moments, but was not hot summer. June was not as gloomy as usual, which we made up for by having 'June Gloom' in other months so temperatures were moderated without week after week of gloom all at once. I think that made for the productive summer that we had.

Basil: Basil is one of the biggest crops I grow – I put out something like 50-60 plants a year in order to supply the world with my Gardenmaster Select Pesto. The ONLY basil that goes into that pesto is Genovesa Profutissimo, usually nowadays just called Genovese Basil. The perfume, the flavor and the production is unmatched by any other basil in my experience. We harvested pounds of leaves off these plants. We picked the tips, little leaves and flower heads, all summer long and sent the trimmings over to the Food Bank. We harvested bags of leaves for over 60 eight ounce jars of pesto and sold leaves by the armload!


Beans: I grow lots of beans – I like yellow beans (Pencil Pod, an open pollinated variety) for pickling, green beans for fresh eating (Romano or Bountiful, both OP), purple beans for an early jump on the season (Royalty Purple Pod will grow in even cool and wet soils so they can be started in March, my first 'green' bean actually starts out purple!) and I grow drying beans – last year it was Cannelini, the wonderful Italian white kidney bean. All were very productive last year – I had a wonderful harvest of each (in the green beans, we never got around to planting Romano, but Bountiful was bountiful!). The one thing that can ruin our bean yield is an attack of snails and slugs. They will crawl over everything else to munch bean leaves. Do not plant beans near a slug/snail hiding place. Not that we had that problem last year. We had no pests to speak of.


Corn: I don't grow a lot of corn, and had no real plans to put any in when I was given a flat of 'Mexican Wedding Corn.' Mexican Wedding Corn comes from a Mexican tradition, each family having their own favorite strain of corn, when a couple marries, the two families plant their separate strains of corn together in the new couple's field. The newlyweds chose from the resulting seeds the strain they wish to call their own. I got several pounds of corn in many different colors and patterns. I chose one (I'm calling it “Two Mary Corn” after the two volunteers who gave it to me) that I intend to breed on over the next few years. These are flour corns (for corn meal) and not fresh eating corn.


Cucumbers: We had a banner year with cukes this year. My favorite 'Armenian' cucumber produced so many cucumbers we could NOT keep up with them. At least Armenian cucumbers aren't hard and bitter when they get big. One of the most tender cucumbers we can grow, these are favorites for production and good eating. A close second are the Japanese cucumbers, Suhyo. Also sweet and non-bitter even when large, Japanese cucumbers are very spiny with a very dark skin and are well ribbed. They weren't as productive this year compared to times past even though they were treated much better.


Eggplants: With the great year for tomatoes and peppers, the lack of eggplant production was a puzzlement. We only began to see eggplants in September and by then it was too late to get much of a harvest. We grew Pingtung Long, Black Beauty, Turkish Orange and Ichiban and none of them did much. (Turkish Orange would have done better perhaps if we had kept it picked, but it was hidden among other plants preventing us from discovering it until late in the season when loaded with fruit.) As to how they tasted? Ask someone who likes eggplant, for me it's nothing but an ornamental.


Melons: I have never been a big fan of growing melons – they take a lot of space and don't figure high on my list of foods I have got to have. As close as my garden is to the ocean, it takes some real effort (and attention) to get a good crop of melons in. They need heat, like all these vining plants (see squash and cucumbers) and space. However, unlike cucumbers and squash, they stick in my mind as a foo-fo0 food. Having said that, I have grown Ambrosia cantaloupe successfully and I have had whole crops fail. When it's good, it's really good. When it's bad, it's really bad and it's a gamble every time. I think melons are a bigger risk than I want to take.


Okra: I really dislike okra, but we had several plants of 'Burgundy' which always attract a lot of attention. They have a gorgeous flower and the bright red okra pods sticking up in the air are an admirable force of nature. I guess they taste good too – folks came back for more. Clemson Spineless is the gold standard of the regular okras. I hope in the coming year to trial Star of David... Works for me.


Peppers: Last summer was a great pepper season! We had a bunch of different varieties – I hope I can remember them all! First of all, we had Sweet Banana and we got enough of them to pickle 8 quarts plus all we sent away to the food bank and the ones we ate fresh. I dried about 50 JalapeƱos (you get the moisture out and all those peppers end up being about four ounces of dried peppers). We'll grind them down and make JalapeƱo powder out of them. We had Yellow California Wonder, which didn't do quite as well as hoped, but we still ate a lot of them and sent more to the food bank. We had Japanese peppers, Shushito (Wrinkled Man) we grew for a seed crop and even though they went in very late, we still got a decent harvest from them.


Squash: Squash, as always, get mildew and it's hard to get a decent crop of them. We held off, and got them in the ground as soon as it warmed up and grew 'em fast, harvested 'em conscientiously and let 'em succumb to the mildew. There is no such thing as a bad harvest of summer squash and that was true this year. I like to grow 'Lebanese White' (also called 'French White') because I like their flavor – most summer squashes are too watery and flavorless to me. We had several months of good harvests – one of the high school students had a Yellow Crookneck squash that almost took over a 25' square and pumped out enough Yellow Crooknecks to feed several families.


But, of all squashes, I absolutely prefer the Winter Squashes with their hard rinds – they can be tough to grow here. Two years ago, I grew Kabocha squash, a Japanese heirloom that was delicious – this year I did Queensland Blue – both of these are Cucubita moschata, one of the many squash species and for my money, I will always have one C. moschata in my garden every year. They have the moist orange flesh that is sweet and flavorful. Very good eating and each squash weighing in at 12 pounds or more, means a lot of eating per fruit.

Tomatoes: My absolute favorite tomato is San Marzano which I eat fresh and use for sauce (called “processing tomatoes”); a white cherry, an O/P variety called, 'White Cherry' or 'White Beauty' – more of a cream color really, but very good eating. We had scads and scads of Garden Peach and tons of Brandywines, both of which I had never grown before. Brandywine won first prize at the local taste test and Garden Peach came in second (the Peach would have won had more folks tried it, but the skin is a little 'fuzzy,' rather like a peach, and folks just wouldn't try it - but it is a very good yellow tomato). We had a great tomato year while many people who had bought Big Box plants had wilt, no one who started theirs from seed or bought local plants had a problem. Gardening – food production – should be more local than not.

This exercise, looking back over what was successful over your past year, especially while it's still fresh in mind, is one of the most important tools for learning how to become a really good gardener. If you start a garden journal now, you'll begin to write the book that will teach you how to really garden where you are. Of course, next year will have a whole new round of problems, but experience, if you can remember from year to year, builds a person up to seeing the variety of solutions that are available.

After I've reviewed the last year, I'm already considering what the next year will bring – of course, what we've got in the ground is already fait accompli, but that won't stop me from looking at the seed offerings from my favorite seed houses!

By the way, I've really found refuge in celebrating the Winter Solstice in late December. A few friends and I have created a simple ceremony around a fire that we use to celebrate the year just gone by and welcome the year that is yet to be. We have all found that less shopping for Christmas or the other holidays is better for our pocketbooks and stressload and less partying is better for our health. I think the simplicity of the ceremony makes it all the more satisfying.

The celebration of the solstice comes from our agricultural past when these dates marked time closely associated with agricultural calendar and the lifestyle of agrarians. As I get more and more focused on my garden, I feel more drawn to these celebrations and more gratified by them. I give few presents but lots of prayers for an abundant harvest and life – and I wish the same to you and your family. There is always more to learn in a garden. I hope you write your own book one day chock full of your life in your garden.

God bless you and yours... Perhaps we'll meet in a common furrow one day.


Seed Companies I Trust:


BAKER CREEK HEIRLOOM SEEDS; 2278 Baker Creek Road Mansfield, MO 65704; 417.924.8917 What a catalog! Beautiful pictures of the produce – vegetable porn for sure. They do good work and have a great selection of open pollinated seeds. They aint cheap but someone has to pay for that catalog! They have varieties that a lot of catalogs have never heard of! BOUNTIFUL GARDENS; 18001 Shafer Ranch Road; Willits, CA 95490; 707.459.6410 Organic seed; open-pollinated. A part of the work done by John Jeavons, a proud and active member of the population of organic and open-pollinated gardeners. If you see him, he owes me a laser pointer.
FEDCO; PO Box 520, Waterville, ME 04903 207.873.7333 They are rabidly anti-GMO, though they do carry hybrids in addition to open-pollinated seeds. A wonderful and extensive selection. Their catalog reminds me of the Trader Joe's Frequent Flier.

PEACEFUL VALLEY FARM SUPPLY; PO Box 2209; Grass Valley, CA 95945; 916.272.4769 I have purchased many seeds (and other things!) from Peaceful Valley – I love their catalog. They have an excellent selection of cover crop seeds as well as a lot of organic gardening supplies and tools. On line they are groworganic.com, but I find their web site so cumbersome I rather use their paper catalog. Find their catalog numbers for the item you want, then use the online site or call your order in.
NATIVE SEED/SEARCH; 526 N. 4th Ave. Tucson, AZ 85705; 520.622.5561 (Fax 520.622.5591) Specializing in the seeds of seeds of south western United States, concentrating on the ancient seeds of the First Nations People from amaranth to watermelon. A worthy cause for your money and a great source for beans, squash and corn seed.
PINETREE GARDEN SEEDS; PO Box 300, Rt. 100; New Gloucester, ME 04260; 207.926.3400 Probably the best for a home gardener – small packets of very current seed, a very good value. The smaller packets mean a smaller price so a person can order a lot more varieties and experiment. I have been a customer for many years. They do carry F1 hybrids so be careful and read the fine print especially if you intend to save any of your seed. SEED SAVERS EXCHANGE; Rt. 3 Box 239; Decorah, Iowa 52101; 563.382.5990 Membership $40. Free brochure. Almost all organic, but definitely ALL open-pollinated. There are two ways to save seeds: one is to collect them all and keep them in a huge building that protects them from everything up to (and including) nuclear holocaust (some place in Norway comes to mind – Svalbard). The other way is to grow 'em fresh each year and that's what I advocate. That journey starts here.

SOUTHERN EXPOSURE SEED EXCHANGE; P.O. Box 460, Mineral, VA 23117, 540.894.9480 (Fax: 540.894.9481) A commercial venture that is somewhat similar to Seed Savers Exchange, but really isn't an exchange. They do carry seed saving supplies - nice to have if you are going to save seed.

When in doubt, look for the Safe Seed Pledge* in the front of the catalog. While I have nothing necessarily against hybrids, many of their patents are owned by the multi-national industrial agriculture giants. Your purchase of their hybrid seed 'feeds the beast.' I prefer not to do that. I want my money to go towards local food production – gardening is always local.

Start These In Containers
Start These In The Ground
Move to the Ground from Containers
Broccoli
Chard
Beets
Carrots
Cabbage family members from earlier
Chard
Kale
Lettuce
Fava beans
Lettuce
Other green leafy vegetables


Peas


Turnips







Refer to the text for exact dates.
These will be the last carrots you can put out until next fall. Beets can still be sown even up until February, if you need that any beets. Peas, while possible, begin to get 'iffy' now.

Mom's Pickled Beets Updated

Using Golden or Chioggia Beets:

1 gallon small beets (about 7 pounds)
4 cups beet juice (gained from cooking the beets)
5 cups vinegar
2 cups water
2 Tablespoons whole allspice
¾ cup sugar
2 sticks of cinnamon, 2 inches long

Water bath for 10 minutes.

Cook beets with roots and about 2 inches of stem left on in water to cover. When tender, dip beets in cold water and slip off skins. If beets are very small, keep whole; if not, slice thickly or cut into quarters.

Combine the allspice, sugar, cinnamon and vinegar, and bring to a boil. Dry pack beets into hot, scalded pint jars. Cover beets with boiling syrup, leaving ¼” of headspace. Seal and process 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.

Keep up with me (and The Learning Garden!) on the web:


See you next year!
david


*"Agriculture and seeds provide the basis upon which our lives depend. We must protect this foundation as a safe and genetically stable source for future generations. For the benefit of all farmers, gardeners and consumers who want an alternative, we pledge that we do not knowingly buy or sell genetically engineered seeds or plants. The mechanical transfer of genetic material outside of natural reproductive methods and between genera, families or kingdoms poses great biological risks, as well as economic, political and cultural threats. We feel that genetically engineered varieties have been insufficiently tested prior to public release. More research and testing is necessary to further assess the potential risks of genetically engineered seeds. Further, we wish to support agricultural progress that leads to healthier soils, genetically diverse agricultural ecosystems and ultimately healthy people and communities."

Perennials/Bulbs as a part of your food supply/Home orchard/Vines


Note: this lecture is proposed if we have rain and cannot do the class I have planned. We have a classroom and we will be dry (class goes on regardless of the weather). If we have pleasant weather, my plan is for a good deal of other things – we cannot work with bees in the rain and we cannot tour our gardens in the rain.

How will I rotate crops in a small garden?

I don't – I integrate all crops together, Two exceptions: corn (for pollination) and garlic (to dry out at the end of the season) (onions also need a bit of drying out too)

My system requires constant inputs of compost! I tend to not plant directly in the same spot, although my plots need to be constantly planted so I'm not real picky about it.

Some general rules:
  1. Never follow Legumes with tomatoes.
  2. Always follow corn with legumes – or plant legumes in the corn.
  3. Cabbage family plants follow alliums, especially if you have trouble with nematodes

Divide your garden into sections to make crop rotation easier.

You don’t have to be a farmer to use the age-old practice of rotating crop families – in fact, for the home gardener, the process is vitally important to the health and productivity of your garden. From disease prevention to nutrient balancing, the benefits of crop rotation make it worth the extra planning required to put the system in place. Here’s an easy way to plan a four-step crop rotation in a home garden regardless of the size.

Reasons to Rotate Crops

  • Disease Prevention: The main reason to rotate crops is to prevent the spread of plant disease. Disease organisms can build up over time, resulting in eventual crop failure. Rotating crops keeps these organisms in check.
  • Insect Control: Crop rotation also helps reduce insect infestations.
  • Nutrient Balance: Different families of plants require different nutrients. By rotating your crops, you keep the soil from being depleted and can target soil amendments to keep your garden balanced.
  • Nutrient Enhancement: Some plants actually enhance the soil, so rotating them through the garden can produce free organic soil conditioning.

Crop rotation helps prevent diseases, especially for tomatoes.

Principles of Crop Rotation

Simply put, crop rotation involves dividing the garden into sections, and planting a different plant family in each section every year. A systematic rotating schedule ensures that every section eventually receives each plant family. Most crop rotation systems have at least four sections, with four rotating plant groups.

Gardening Tip

You can develop your own rotation system based on the veggies you like to grow – for instance, if you love onions, you might dedicate a whole section of your crop rotation just to onion varieties. Or if you grow just tomatoes, cucumbers, and carrots, you can rotate those three. The main idea is that you keep things moving around.

The Four-Step System

To get started in the home garden, you can use a simple four-step system that requires little more than a basic understanding of what part of the plant you’re planning to eat. Divide your garden into four simple groups:

Group 1: Plants grown for Leaves or Flowers, such as:

  • Salad greens
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Spinach
  • Brussels Sprouts

Group 2: Plants grown for Fruits, such as:

  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Eggplant
  • Squash
  • Corn
  • Cucumber
  • Potatoes

Group 3: Plants grown for Roots, such as:

  • Carrots
  • Turnips
  • Onions
  • Beets

Group 4: Legumes that Feed the Soil, such as:

  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Peanuts
  • Cover crops (such as alfalfa or clover)

Sample Crop Rotation Plan





Tips for Successful Crop Rotation

  • Even small gardens can be rotated—the four areas can simply be sections of planting beds— although with smaller gardens, it’s harder to keep diseases from spreading from one section to another.
  • Potatoes and tomatoes are actually related, and they’re susceptible to the same diseases – that’s why they’re grouped together. If you have problems with early blight, you may need to separate them and not follow one with the other.
  • Since legumes add nitrogen to the soil, they’re followed by nitrogen-loving leafy crops, which reduce the need for fertilizer.
  • Root crops break up the soil, so they’re followed by legumes that like the loose soil texture.
  • Some veggies—such as lettuce, cucumbers, melons, and squash—aren’t as susceptible to diseases and can go pretty much anywhere you have the space, but it’s often easier to plan your garden by including and rotating everything.

You can practice crop rotation in a garden of any size.

Getting More Advanced

There are almost as many crop rotation systems as there are gardeners! If you’ve mastered the basics and would like to get more advanced with your crop rotation, the next step is to group plants according to their botanical family, which gives you more specific groups, and more sections of crop rotation. Here are some of the common plant families in vegetable gardening:
  • Chenopodiaceae: beets, Swiss chard, spinach
  • Compositae: artichoke, endive, lettuce
  • Convolvulaceae: sweet potatoes
  • Cruciferae: broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, turnips, arugula, and rutabaga
  • Cucurbitaceae: cucumbers, squash, pumpkin, melons
  • Gramineae: corn
  • Leguminosae: beans, peas
  • Liliaceae: onions, leeks, shallots
  • Malvaceae: okra
  • Solanaceae: (Nightshades) tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, peppers
  • Umbelliferae: carrots, celery, fennel

Gardening Tip

Try to dedicate at least one section each year to a “green manure” cover crop—such as alfalfa or clover—that you can till into the soil, or mix in plenty of organic matter and allow the soil to rest.

Problems with the common rotation:
  1. We don't have the space for this kind of scheme
  2. Doesn't allow for the seasonality of our climate

Substitute mixing vegetables in a single bed and doing that constantly in order to minimize pest and increase soil fertility. Substitute companion planting and mixing dissimilar plants in a single bed.

Wikipedia has a very thorough lists of companion planting

Perennials in our food supply

Perennials/Bulbs

Artichokes
Asparagus
Chives
Horseradish
Jerusalem artichokes
Onions, walking and others
Rhubarb
    Saffron
Strawberries

Shrubs:

Blueberries (Southern Highbush, low chill) – to about 4 feet, prefer acidic soils and lot’s of water. Other than that, easy to grow
Ribes sp.currants, Gooseberry

Vines/Brambles

Grapes
Berries/Rasp and black, boysenberry,
Hops
Kiwis
Passion fruit

The following herbs are perennial as well:

Anise hyssop
Some basils
Burnet, salad
Ginger
Hyssop
Lavender
Lemongrass
Lemon Verbena
Lovage
Sweet marjoram
Mints
Oregano, Greek (Origanum heracleoticum)
Parsley
Rosemary
Sage
Tarragon, French
Thyme

This is also THE very time to begin to think about fruit trees. I urge you to think about fruit trees for a while before making the dive because they are a big investment, not so much in money, but in time and patience. Once one has planted a fruit tree, some will take several years to come into full production – if you find the fruit unsatisfactory, or you have a variety that doesn't fruit well for you, all that time is wasted.

Gather as much data as you can in order to choose the tree that is right for you. Here are some sources you will find helpful – I suggest you go online and order the printed catalog because you'll want to cross check facts and types with each different nursery before you commit.

Trees of Antiquity, (http://www.treesofantiquity.com/index.php?main_page=index) is the place where we purchased most of our trees here in The Learning Garden. I found them extremely helpful and very knowledgeable. It was they who suggested Dorsett Golden as our apple here and it is truly one of the finds of a lifetime for our area.

Raintree Nursery, (http://www.raintreenursery.com/) invariably is where I place my ongoing orders for my propagation class (that starts in January) because I need rootstocks for the class, but their selection is lovely too and their catalog is worth a read.

My old standby, Peaceful Valley Farm Supply, (http://groworganic.com) is a great supplier of trees and fruit bushes, but their selection isn't nearly as complete and their catalog isn't a detailed as these others. Still, if you are already ordering something from Peaceful and they have the variety you want, you can't go wrong with them.

Dave Wilson Nursery (http://www.davewilson.com/br40/sales_catalog.html) has one of the most extensive websites around on fruit trees. It is really worth a good solid look, chock full of data.

The University of California has gotten in on the act with a website, The California Backyard Orchard (http://www.davewilson.com/br40/sales_catalog.html), that is a wonderful web site for a lot of answers about growing fruit trees in our climate. It also promotes the UC ANR publication, The Home Orchard which I recommend if someone is going to go into this head over heals – like I want to!

After looking through these catalogs, one might have narrowed their purchase down to a few trees. Once you get trees, these following sources are lovely to have in your library:

The Backyard Orchardist: A Complete Guide to Growing Fruit Trees in the Home Garden, Otto, Stella, © 1995 Ottographics This is the oldest book in this list and probably the smallest too, so it isn't as chock full of data as the other two, but then it would be the least expensive as well. Otto covers a lot more, obscure, fruits and so this is a book for the adventurous and those who don't want to spend a lot of money. It is a gem of a book and she does not intimidate the reader.
The Home Orchard, Ingels, C. et al, © 2007, University of California, Agriculture & Natural Resources One of the very best books for learning about the home orchard. Well written, easy to understand, good photos, this one has it all. No shortcuts, I like this book. It is available through the address above (and on sale as of this writing – which means a new edition might be on its way out – because of the sale, it is cheaper from ANR directly than it is from Amazon).
The Organic Apple Grower, Phillips, Michael, © 2005, Chelsea Green Publishing Although written for the New England area of the country, he introduces tools of the trade with a flair and his way of doing things IS organic. Might be one to check out from the library, but you will find plenty of good information and lots of lovely reading about organic apple production. (And his description of finding a flat-head apple borer makes my fulminations over slugs seem very, very tame.)

Some Fruit Varieties That Do Well Here:

Apples -

Dorsett Golden – as mentioned above, is our heavy cropper. It takes about 3 years to really settle in (although it will bear fruit, they are tiny for the first three or so years with full sized fruit beginning to show up in year three). We have Dorsett Golden on half size fruit stock and it's a fair sized critter.
Gala – we have this on a dwarf rootstock – she's about five feet tall at this point and not likely to get much larger. Lovely apples with crisp texture and that is what I prize in an apple.
Fuji – one of my all time favorites, but the one we have in the garden is a 500 chill hour plant and in three years I harvested one small apple. It WAS good, but it wasn't worth all that time. Sadly, ours will have to be replaced. (There are newer Fuji trees that have less chilling requirement and I may buy one of those.

If I had known better, I would have planted more varieties with a wider range of fruiting times to extend the harvest – as it is now, we get a ton of apples in late May/early June and then we are done for the year. Although, a quick look at the literature shows that there are precious few apples to choose from that will fruit here.

Apricot -

Gold Kist – hands down, the best apricot I have ever eaten! A self-pollinated variety, this one tree stands out as the best fruit in our garden. While Royal Blenheim is the touted variety for our climate, I just love Gold Kist and have no desire to look beyond it.

Pear -

Seckle is usually the only one suggested for our area of the European pears. We have one, but it ended up in a neglected area and I've got nothing to report. Although, I don't think a ripe pear can be beat by much for shear hedonistic eating!

Figs -

Violettte de Bordeaux – is our tree that has been a champion for five years. It bore fruit the first year and it has not stopped since. A deep black skinned fruit, the flesh is a gorgeous red and has a smoky richness that is heavenly.
White Genoa – is an Italian variety that took forever to fruit. Once it finally put on a crop by which it could be judged, I began to appreciate its lighter and sweeter amber flesh. A really lovely fig.

Nectarine -

Double Delight – not to be confused with the rose of the same name, this is a yellow fleshed freestone nectarine, heavily bearing and needs a LOT of thinning – we almost lost several branches because it just over set fruit. I know Peaceful Valley calls it 'sensational' but I think that's a little over the top. It's good and with vanilla ice cream it's really good. But not 'sensational.' It is self-fertile.

Peaches -

Red Baron – this is one of our two peaches – this is a yellow freestone and a very good producer of large fruits. The other one is a clingstone and I like its flavor better, but I can't find the record on it and don't know which one it is. The importance of keeping good records, where you can find them is not to be overlooked. (I do have this all written down and saved in a computer file from 2003, but I can only find files back to 2005 right this second.)

Plums -

Santa Rosa – this is one of the thousands of plants that Luther Burbank created (he lived in Santa Rosa and gave us the Burbank potato, the Shasta Daisy among thousands of others), and I find this to be the best and most prolific producer of any tree in our gardens today. It makes a fabulous sorbet, delicious jam and fresh eating cannot be beat. There are several other plums that will do well in our region, but I haven't got past this one.


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