Saturday, January 30, 2010

Seedings and pruning

My collard and tomato seedlings have germinated! Some of you ask how long seeds last, so this week's information is worth reporting. I collected the collard seeds from my own plants in 2005. The sweet-100 tomatoes came from a Fedco package dated 2007. Seeds last a while.

A less successful experiment this winter is parsley. It does grow in the window sill, but its yield is very sparse compared to lettuce, and I won't do this again, although I AM eating the yield now.

I'm relieved to say that the recent batch of carrots I pulled from the garden are MUCH larger than earlier ones. If there is a very high surface-area-to-volume ratio, it takes a long, long time to prepare the carrots for eating. These "new" ones are much less time-consuming and we're eating more carrots -- and lots of alfalfa sprouts.

It's the time of year to prune fruit trees and vines. My apples, pears,
peaches, plums, grapes, and kiwi keep me busy in nice days throughout February. I spray with dormant oil as I go, and this seems fine for the apples and pears. Jerry's wife told him that if he didn't have a better peach yield, she would insist they cut down the tree, and he managed to get a fine yield via a formidable regimen of spraying. I'm not that committed, and my peaches have been nothing to brag about in recent years.

Fred doesn't threaten my peach tree, so I think I'll try to be a BIT more conscientious with dormant oil this year. John, who sold me the tree, was sure we wouldn't get decent harvests without lots of spraying, but for several years we did. I wonder what happened since. I guess someone moved in and I haven't been able to get them out.

The written rules for pruning fruit trees are (1) remove any branch that grows upward because it won't yield and (2) remove branches that cross and interfere with other branches. I'm sure that professional tree growers have lots more knowledge than that, but I seem to be able to stumble along and get decent pear and apple yields with only these guidelines.

Grapevines can be cut all the way back to the sturdy pieces that sit on your supports. Kiwi fruit grows on first-year vines, so the challenge is to figure what bore last year and cut it off without removing next year's prospects. Apparently I did it right last year. I had an enormous kiwi yield this fall. Does that mean I can repeat that feat? We shall see.


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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Winter experiments

I'm having several new ventures this winter. Most rewarding thus far has been the lettuce I'm raising in my kitchen greenhouse window. It tastes wonderful! I started a second crop a couple of weeks ago, and the window has an overabundance of lettuce, some tasty now and some with promise for the future.

The lettuce has germinated so well in my homemade potting soil, that I was contemplating using it in preference to the expensive potting soil, with which I have enriched Burpees in previous years. Then someone gave me a "salsa kit" with its own potting soil, which I just used to start collards and sweet-100 tomatoes. Usually I don't start collards in the winter because there are so many in the garden, but the woodchucks made them rather sparse, and this is my insurance for a decent greens March-April harvest.

Starting tomatoes in January is an activity I never did before. This time last year I "knew" that tomatoes started in January wouldn't live till maturity. However, in March Renae offered me some tomato plants, and I noticed they had "Jan. 9" scrawled on the pot. Yes, she told me, she had started them in January. They protected some of the few sugar snap pea plant to survive the woodchuck invasion last spring. So this year I'm starting tomatoes in January, intending to start more next month in case the books are right. Meanwhile, I'll put these around the circular pea climber under walls of water when they have outgrown their house-bound pots.

In today's warmer weather I dug lots of carrots. They're small this year because of being nipped repeatedly by woodchucks, but there are many of them. There was enough soft (non-frozen) soil for me to take some to put in my oven, where eventually I will bake it to make more potting soil.

The pak choi seems to be surviving these storms and cold. They look dead when it's appropriate, but in today's warmer weather they were telling me they think they have a future. They are lining my large fence to, hopefully, protect the peas next spring as their mother did a few pea plants last year.
The Chinese cabbage is as welcome as ever, not an experiment. It's good to have some old standbys to eat fresh every three dinners! The many new activities remind me that the more you learn about gardening, the more there is to learn -- like most of life.


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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Trees, kale, tomatoes

I have cut up five of our neighbors' Christmas trees in the past three days, and put the branches under our blueberries. The neighbors put their trees out on the curb, where they are handy for Fred to drag home. Others are available, if you want to do likewise. I'm told azaleas and other acid-loving bushes appreciate them too.
I planted the blueberry bushes over 20 years ago. They came from a now-defunct mail order house and were a series of varieties that bear over a significant period. I planted them down the neighbors' driveway, and have told the neighbors (five families have lived there since they were planted) that they could pick any they could reach from their driveway. That leaves plenty for me.

Their only fertilizer over the past 20 years has been Christmas trees. They bear well, so that seems to be adequate. It's a bit of a project, but how many outside activities entice one on a sunny January day?

Blueberries require lots of picking time per calorie, so it helps to have children around the house to pick them. However, I can pick enough for a tasty addition to breakfast. Raspberries yield far more calories per fifteen minutes if filling your tummy is the goal.

On Monday I admired my single kale plant that had survived the autumn assault by predators. Today I noticed that only the stems are left. WHO would have done that?!!! It isn't insect damage. I haven't noticed any marauders around recently. Woodchucks should be deep into a long winter's sleep.
When my kids were here, our salad green in winter was kale, which grew abundantly in the fall and waited patiently to be picked in winter. I would break it off the stem, let it thaw in the kitchen, and wash it off for a very fresh salad. Now our winter salad green is primarily lettuce growing in the kitchen greenhouse window -- thank goodness!

The good (and amazing) news is that Fred and I shared a garden tomato last evening, January 5!!! We had another on New Year's Eve. These tomatoes are not imposing, but they are almost as big as plums -- and they are ripening in January. This is unprecedented. A garden is full of surprises, some much more pleasant than others -- like life.


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