Saturday, January 14, 2017

Lessons from Kitchen Garden, Orchard, and Yard, 2016.

This is my summary of what did well and what did not, and general progress, from 2016.   It was a great gardening year!  I learned a lot, had great food, a few failures, and the best kitchen garden ever!

January -
Transplanting /Dividing Bamboo.  A Sawzall is about the only way I can figure, to cut away bamboo starts from an old colony.  It worked. If I had to do it over, I might have cut them back by 1/3 or 1/2, to reduce summer wilting.  Still, all survived and put out new canes.

I watered several times during the hot summer, but not as much as I expected.
It helps to apply a thick layer of mulch.

I started seeds for pepper plants in Mid January.  They did fine, but I don't think they did any better than plants I started in February or March in previous years.

I started okra seeds in mid January.  They grew, sulked, and did not thrive.  Starting okra seeds in June worked better, but nothing like, say, growing it in Alabama.

I transplanted a seed-grown ginkgo tree, about 12 feet tall, mid January, and many lilacs that were taller than I am.  All did fine, not with major growth but at least survived, produced some new stems, and made it through the year.  I expect them to need another year to fully take off.  They got extra water, using the 5-gallon bucket method 1/4 inch hole in the bottom of each, 2 per tree or bush, once weekly during the heat.

Using black plastic to start a garden bed works really nice.  Leave it in place for a few months, that kills all of the grass and weeds.  Then dig in the plant remnants and moss, a month before planting.  I think voles lived under the plastic for the winter, but maybe they fed the owls and cats.

I planted Favas Feb 27.  They did great, grew well, produced great, and were delicious.  But for some reason, I didn't eat them all.  I don't know why.  Sometimes I need to try something a few times, for it to kick in.

Growing potatoes from tall sprouted potatoes, didn't produce much.  I did get some, but not worth the effort.  Compost them.

Planted primocane, thornless blackberries from tissue cultured starts, in Feb.  They started slowly, then took off.  I got a few tastes.  Deer love eating these, as well as other cultivated types.  Other than the weed Himalayan blackberries deer eat them all to the ground.  I have a spot for them, to move them later this winter.

I think cement block raised beds worked better for peppers, compared to wooden beds.  These were repurposed blocks.  Compared to wood, the cement blocks give a warmer bed.  They worked well for Chinese chives too, but those are not particular.  This year I want to try these for okra, and move some of the Chinese chives to a less picky spot.

Dandelion greens make for great, healthy, nutritious, free chicken food supplement.  The chickens love it and the eggs have more orange yolks.  Dig a few dandelion plants and transplant them to a coddled vegetable row, and they make more tender, bigger, tastier greens compared to the ones from the yard.

I gave up on apricots, and container peaches.  Too much trouble for the peaches, although it did work well.  Apricots just don't grow for me here, despite many tries.

At least for me, grafting kiwi and persimmons were pretty easy.  I waited until the rootstocks were growing, while storing scion in plastic bags in fridge.  Grafting ginkgo was not hard, but they were slow growing.  We'll see this year.  So far the only total grafting failure is lilacs.  I got one of three fig scion to take, so that's not easy for me, but not impossible.  Grafting tomatoes works, but is a lot of trouble.  They need a lot of attention to humidity.  I lost about 2/3 of them.  Not sure they were worth the effort but it's fun to try.

Potatoes do great here.  Productive, deer don't eat the plants, and harvest is like a treasure hunt.

Tart cherries make the most amazing pie, whether from a wild tree or Montmorency.  100% worth the effort.  I hope the Montmorency tree is happier this year, I neglected it too much.

First crop ever of Methley plums, awesome too.

Milkweed has a wonderful fragrance.  It's a unique and pretty plant.  Honeybees love them.  Grown from seeds, they need a year to bloom.  I think they transplanted OK in the fall, but won't know until this Spring.  They are late to come up.  I gave up on them, then was surprised.

I can't believe how well sweet corn did.  Planted every 2 weeks, blocks of 4 rows each, 5 feet by 5 feet. Trinity, Bilicious, and Bodaceous, were all great.  Mirai was too sweet and watery, I didn't like it.  For me to not like a sweet corn is saying something.

I discovered it is possible to germinate and grow 10-year-old bean seeds.  We had seeds that old in the basement, stored cool and dry.  Planted directly in the soil, none grew.  Keeping them in plastic zip-lock bags, on moist paper towel, changing the paper towel if starting to mildew, we got maybe 5% germination.  Of those, some were mutants but there were plenty for a great crop of Chinese green beans, and seeds saved for 2017.

The summer kitchen garden was my best ever.  Lots of sweet corn, tomatoes, greens, green beans, plums, peaches, pears, apples, potatoes, onions.  Keeping ahead of it was a challenge at time but I loved spending the time outside.
Had the first taste of Sweet Treat Pluerry.  Nice flavor.  We'll see if the tree produces this year.  Bloom is early, might not pollinate well. 

Zucchini fritters are great for breakfast and a good way to use that prolific summer vegetable.

I really love mulberries, Hollywood plums, and every kind of fig.  All produced OK.

This was a bit of an off year for plums, compared to 2015.  I may have let them over-produce in 2015, or the bloom time vs. frost time were not favorable in 2016.  Either way, we had enough.

Gravenstein apples are delicious, found these apples then bough a tree in the fall and planted it.

Summer fresh  fruit is heaven.   I also enjoyed my first taste of Summerred apple, which was refreshing and a little spicy.

Collard greens are delicious, cut into strips and stir fried.  Collards grow very well here, but cabbage worms and slugs leave many holes in the leaves.

Sutton Beauty is a good, very old fashioned apple.  The columnar apple trees, NorthPole, Scarlet Sentinel, and Golden Sentinel, are all quite good and  fairly early.

Tomatoes, peppers, and okra were all late summer, but really good when they came on line.  I think the cement block raised beds were ideal for peppers.

Summer planting in July, was perfect for turnips, Chinese radishes, and Daikon.  Some salad radishes did well then too.  I did not get any success with kohlrabi or broccoli.

We grew more pumpkins, zucchinis, and squashes than we knew what to do with.  Some we gave away.  Some we processed and froze for later use.  I need to learn more ways to cook them, especially savory instead of sweet.

I learned how important it is to bare-root container trees for planting into native soil.   I did that with this Gravenstein tree, and with a Dawn Redwood.

I  loved those persimmons.  Nikita's Gift was more productive, more vigorous, and had a more interesting taste, compared to Saijo.  This was the first year that either produced fruit.  Saijo was nothing to sneeze at - delicious, sweet, juicy, and big.  Basically, I fell in love with persimmons this year.

On the negative side, I gave up on honeybees.  They are too much trouble, to expensive, and it's too disappointing when they die off - this year was the 3rd year and 4th colony that I lost.  That's it for those.  I'm about to give up bearded irises, but not yet.  Most of the year the plants are just plain ugly, weedy, and tend to rot.  On the other hand, they are durable enough that I might leave them growing in the fence row. 

I don't know what I loved most about gardening this year.  Every time I ventured into the yard and garden, it felt like an adventure.  Sometimes it takes many attempts to get something to do well, then it does and you don't know why.  Maybe random chance, or this was just a good year.  The summer fruits were amazing, the sweet corn made it all worth while.  Even the potatoes were a treat.  Those pumpkins and squashes are delightful, even if I didn't know what to do with all of them.  We tried many new ways of cooking many of our crops.  Learning that I really do love persimmons was a delicious adventure.  There were foods or varieties that I've never tasted before in my life, and they were wonderful.  I can't say that 2017 will be as great, but I'm grateful for a year where I got to enjoy so much time in the garden, experience so many new treats, and nurture myself, my household, and the land itself.    I'm ready are rarin' to go for another year of digging, planting, pruning, grafting, hoeing, transplanting, propagating, harvesting and savoring.

Seed Order. 1.14.16

The seed order from Territorial Seed Co. came today.  Makes me anxious to dig.  The foot of snow and temps in the teens, makes that a bid difficult.  I can, and did, plant the Patterson storage onion seeds indoors, same method as for others.  I've been saving milk cartons, cut to about 5 inches deep and drilled drainage holes.

The first of the Ailsa Craig seeds, planted 1/7/16, germinated.  So that's one week for the fastest among them.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Starting Onion Seeds. 1.7.17

I decided to grow onions from seeds this year.  After reading a number of web pages and viewing some videos, now looks like a good time.  They can be started Jan, Feb, March.  The seedlings can very crowded in the container, 25 or more per container.  Some garden writers state more than that.

Unfortunately, my seeds from Territorial Seeds did not come yet.  I have some Ailsa Craig seeds from Baker Creek for summer onions, and bought some Red Globe and Ringmaster White Globe for storage. I hope the Territorial Seeds come soon, since those are the long keepers.

I planted roughly a seed per every 1/4 inch although didn't measure.  These are in cottage cheese containers with holes drilled through the bottom, and filled with moist seed starting soil.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Seeds for Kitchen Garden. 12.22.16

 What have I done?
These are the seed order from Baker Creek heirloom and open pollinated seeds.

There are a couple of bonus packets.

I'm not planning to be as experimental this year but there will be a few new varieties.  I'm also adding some annual flowers to the vegetable beds.  In some cases that might translate to "deer food" but it's all a gamble.

 I have a big box of seeds from previous years to go through as well.   I will also go through that.  They are filed in envelopes based on type, such as "carrots" and "squash" etc.

Baker Creek is my first-line go-to source of seeds these days.  After the seed box.

The onions will be first, to start in Jan or Feb.  I wil also have some better storage onions seeds to start then as well, those from Territorial Seeds.  Both companies are family owned.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Sourdough Bread. Steps 5, 6, 7. Transfer to Pan, Rise, Bake.

Sourdough transferred to bread pan and canning jars.
 I let the initial dough rise in the mixing bowl.  I don't count how many times I fold it in the bowl, about every hour or so.  It could probably be less but I enjoy it too much.

After a few hours, I transfer to glass bread pan.  These old vintage pans are often found for sale at Goodwill, as well as yard sales, for $2 or $3.  I read that the older ones are less likely to break, compared to new ones made from a cheaper formulation.  I tried a new "vintage look" Pyrex bread pan but it did not transfer heat as well and I didn't like the result.
I let this one rise about 5 hours.

 These loaves rose 5 hours.  I don't time carefully.  I worked on the kitchen remodel and did some shopping.  The loaves rose a little more than I usually allow, here about 1 inch above the rim.  You can see bubbles through the glass.

I dust with flour.  I don't know what that does, but the finished loaf looks nice.

Then bake in preheated oven, 425F for 15 min, then reduce heat to 375 for another 15 min.

After baking.  The old Pyrex bread pans show the bottom has browned nicely.

One beautiful sandwich loaf and 2 mini-loaves cooling on the rack.
You can see through the glass, the bottoms of the loaves browned nicely.  The top is also lightly browned and sounds hollow when tapped.  I turn them onto a rack and let cool under a thin cotton towel.

When fully cooled, I transfer into a plastic bread bag.  They can sit overnight without becoming too dry.

This loaf came out awesome.  Crusty crust, chewy texture, sourdough flavor.  I love this bread for toast and for (vege)burgers.  Often I just toast and butter it.  So much better than store bought, that stuff should be called something other than "bread".

I wanted to try making my own starter again before posting this, to make sure it worked.  It did, as described here, and was actually better than the original starter.

Slices of home made sourdough bread

Sourdough, Step 2 and 3. Pre-ferment and Making the dough. 12.22.16

Sourdough starter after overnight pre-ferment

Sourdough dough after mixing in flour.  Sticky but not liquid.
Once I have a starter going, the starter itself is easily maintained in perpetuity.  I keep it in a wide-mouth jar, in the refrigerator.  I use about ¼ cup of this mother culture, each time I make a loaf.  When it's down to about ½ cup volume, I mix in another 1 cup of flour and 1 cup of water, loosely cap the jar, let it sit for ½ day, tighten the cap and return to refrigerator.  The details of timing and amount are not precise, and it doesn't matter.  The culture is resilient and alive, and handles minor variations without objecting.

I start my dough as a pre-fermented starter, the evening before making a loaf.  The timing is not precise.  I usually start the pre-ferment in early evening, when I make supper, but have waited until bedtime without it causing any problems.  It is a very low-input thing to do.

I mix together 1½ cup water and 1½ cup organic, unbleached bread flour.  I use an old Pyrex 4-cup measuring cup as a bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Nothing else.  I think the organic unbleached bread flour makes a better loaf than the alternative.  Then let it sit overnight.  In the morning, the starter is foamy and bubbly.  There is some separation of water which is normal.  There is some variation from time to time, probably due to kitchen temperature, but that does not matter.  It smells sour, which is good.

The final loaf volume depends on the amount of water in the starter.  I make a standard 8½ inch or 9 inch Pyrex bread pan loaf.  The 1½ cup water translates into a loaf with a little extra that I make as a mini-loaf in a wide mouth glass canning jar.  To leave out that mini-loaf, I would use 1¼ cup water and 1¼ cup flour for the original starter preferment.

In the morning, I use an old mixing bowl.  I add 1½ cup flour and 1½ teaspoon salt.  A lot of recipes call for more salt but that is too much for a healthy amount of dietary sodium.  This amount rises well and also tastes very good.

It takes some muscle to mix in the flour.  I gradually mix in enough so that the spatula will stand upright without falling over, but it is still very sticky.  I don't turn it out onto a board and knead.  This method results in a fully hydrated dough.  Then I let it sit roughly an hour, and use the spatula to fold it several times, turning the bowl by hand and folding from every side.  The consistency by that point is no longer sticky.

Later I'll post as the loaf develops.  Sourdough is the ultimate "slow food".  I think my loaves are delicious, filling, and make bread something to be excited about instead of that mushy cake-like stuff from the store.  Plus, there is no added sugar, so they are healthier.

I often use whole wheat flour for the actual loaf, or add other additives to be described later.  This description is for the basic white sourdough sandwich loaf.


Sourdoughs are made around the world, from many types of milled wheat and rye flour, and using many methods.  There are diverse types of bacteria and yeast that work together in sourdoughs.  The bacteria and yeasts seem to come from the grain mill, where suitable organisms from the air survive and inoculate the grain and flour, but may also be in the kitchen and the baker's hands.  Once established, a sourdough culture becomes resilient to introduction by other organisms, but may adapt to new regions and circumstances if the starter is taken to a new place.  Discover Magazine The Biology of Sourdough.    and The Sourdough Microflora.  Biodiversity and Metabolic Interactions. 

Probably most important, Josey Baker's website and book.  Baker is the source for enthusiasm, accessible artisanship, and the concept of a fully hydrated dough, which is different and better than what I did in the past.  Even though I make sandwich loaf, and his are hearth style artisan loaf, my bread is better for reading his book and watching his videos.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Sourdough Starter. 12.20.16

Sourdough Starter after 2 weeks.

Sourdough Starter after 2 weeeks
 Even though  I've been using a sourdough starter that I started 2 years ago, I decided to see if I could repeat that process now.  The original starter contained grapes from my garden for the wild yeasts that grow on grapes.  That is not necessary at all.

This is a variation on the countless sourdough starter instructions.  The small jar and small volume makes for less waste.

I use organic, unbleached flour and unchlorinated water.  I don't know if either is required.  I suspect bleaching kills natural bacteria in the flour, and being organic is something I prefer.  Chlorine is in water to kill bacteria, too.  I don't know if sourdough bacteria can overcome that, or if you can just use normal tap water.

It's very easy and works nicely, but takes a long time to do it's own thing.

Use a clean small jar.  This is a 1 pint canning jar.  A small jelly jar would be fine.  You want a small head space so the oxygen will be depleted by the bacteria. 

Day 1.  Combine 1 tablespoon of flour and one tablespoon of water.  Mix and screw on the lid.  Let it sit.

Sourdough Starter after 2 weeks.
Day 2.  Add 1 tablespoon of flour and 1 table spoon of water.  Mix and screw on lid.  Let it sit.

Day 3.  Remove about one tablespoon of mixture, then add 1 tablespoon of flour and 1 tablespoon of water.  Mix and screw on lid.  Let it sit.

Day 4-14.   Repeat Day 3.

During the first few days, not much happens.  The flour tends to break down a little and settle with fluid on top.  Then, gradually, bubbles start to form.  Most recipes don't go the full 14 days, but I wanted to be sure.  I did this before at 7 days and the bread did not rise.   This time, at 14 days, the gas production - what makes the bread rise - is robust.  The lid actually bent outward from the gas pressure.  I can apply a new lid.  You can hear a pffft when the lid is unscrewed.  During the first week the aroma was more like spoiled milk - butyric acid.  Now, it's more like yogurt - lactic acid.  I think it's ready to try making a loaf.  I will start the pre-ferment tonight.

You can always buy an established starter.  King Alfred Flour has a good recipe for sourdough starter.  King Alfred also sells a sourdough starter so that this process can be avoided.    Their starter has been maintained for more than 100 years.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Fedco Scion Order. 12.7.18

Porter Apple.  Source:  USDA pomological.  1905.
I'm not sure if I posted this already.  I've added most of the apple varieties that I want to try, but decided on 3 additional scion from Fedco.  Two are repeats of scion that I grafted last year, which grew but not a lot, and I would like more on another tree (King David and Sweet-16).  Those were on a small Winecrisp tree that I may have grafted too soon, planted that tree bare-root in 2016 and also grafted then, plus a deer chewed off half of the Sweet-16 so it is only about 1 inch of stem now.  I had actually forgotten that I already had King David on another multigraft tree.  It took, but the other branches are more vigorous so I want to give it a better start anyway.  I could wait and take scion from that graft, but if I buy one now, that gets me a head start.  I would also like to add a Winesap (early 1800s), and scion from that has been offered to me from another hobbyist.

At this point, I have about all of the apple cultivars that I can keep track of.  Most of my apple trees are now multigrafts with at least 5 varieties per tree, although a few are individual dwarf trees and a few are just beginning to experience my grafting obsession.  I've learned a lot along the way.  The apple growing goals are:

*Mostly disease resistant varieties.
*Mostly varieties that I can't buy at the grocery store.
*Ripening season from July until late October, with storage apples through most of the winter.
*Many varieties for cross pollination, usually within each multigraft tree.
*A chance to taste the same apple varieties that inspired people and gave pleasure for, sometimes,  hundreds of years, at times when there were no grocery chains, import fruits, and minimal food additives.  To savor living history.  To connect my senses with those of actual and historic ancestors, by experiencing the rare pleasure of what they enjoyed.
*A chance to taste some unique flavors and varieties that are not available otherwise.
*To compare experiences with other gardeners and hobbyists.
*To experience tastes from my own garden and orchard, free from corporate homogenization and factory processing.

Some of the descriptions are really colorful.  I doubt that my own taste buds are that sophisticated.  But maybe - this year's apples gave unexpected and delightful surprises.

King David Apple - Fedco description, Orange-Pippin description.  A cross between Jonathan and either Winesap or Arkansas Black.  Intro 1893.  Diploid, precicious, large apples, some disease resistance.  From Fedco on flavors:  "Pineapple, tangerine, lemon, sweet, sour, tart, sharp, aromatic and spicy all rush around simultaneously."   From Apples of North America, King David is described as vigorous, and is a diploid, and disease resistant, so might be a good addition to the new Gravenstein tree.  Gravenstein needs a pollinator because it is triploid, and needs a vigorous variety because it is also vigorous.

Sweet-16 Apple - Fedco description, Orange-Pippin description.  Descended from Northern Spy crossed with Malinda, developed at University of Minnesota. 1979.  Diploid.  Per Fedco: " Fine-textured crisp flesh contains an astounding unusually complex combination of sweet, nutty and spicy flavors with slight anise essence, sometimes described as cherry, vanilla or even bourbon."  From Apples of North America, Sweet-16 is resistant to apple scab, fireblight, and moderately resistant to other major apple diseases.  Vigorous growing and late blooming.   From Apples of Uncommon Character, "a misty explosion of melon and bubble gum, satisfyingly sweet, passingly tart" also described as flavors like bourbon or cherry life savers.  Apples for the 21st Century, "flavor is very unique and sweet-tart cocktail of flavors."

Opalescent AppleFedco description, Orange-Pippin descriptipon.  Per Fedco:  1899.  " Crisp, sweet, tart, juicy—but most of all it’s supremely flavorful."  From Apples of North America, Opalescent has a creamy yellow flesh, crisp, sweet flavor, vigorous, but does have susceptibility to fireblight.  Good storage apple.

Links, plus:
Apples of North America - by Tom Burford - describes 192 varieties, in addition to additional information about growing apples.  Excellent reading about many apple varieties, especially historic apples.
Apples of Uncommon Character - by Rowan Jacobsen - describes 123 varieties, and recipes.  Also excellent and sometimes poetic reading.
Apples for the 21st Century -by Warren Manhart - Reflects the author's 30 years of experience testing over 140 varieties, with 50 cultivars described in the book.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Transplanting a 13 year old Liberty Apple Minidwarf Tree. 12.3.16

12.3.16  Liberty Apple Tree on M27 Rootstock.
 Today I moved an approx 13 year old Liberty apple bush from the old place in Vancouver to the Battleground garden.  It's stretching the definition to call this a tree, although it really is a miniaturized apple tree.  This is a graft of Liberty apple scion onto the mini-dwarfing rootstock M27, which produces a shrub-like apple tree that grows around 5 to 7 feet tall.  It's not vigorous at all.  The roots were confined to a volume a little bigger than a 5 gallon bucket.

Despite the small size, we get a nice crop of a few dozen apples from this tree every year.  If I don't thin them, they are small.  Liberty is very disease resistant, and the apples are absolutely delicious.

I have grafted scion from Liberty onto a less limiting understock, but still wanted to keep this tree for more immediate reward.
I dug it, shook off as much old soil and old potting medium that remained after so many years, and re-planted in what was a squash vegetable bed this year.  The new spot does not have competition from a gigantic Kwanza cherry and lawn, that were issues in the old location.   This time I knew the roots should be in the best contact possible with the native soil.  There was virtually no root damage.  I did remove small branches that were touching the ground.
12.3.16  Liberty Apple Tree on M27 Rootstock
As usual, I gave it a hardware cloth collar to hinder vole damage, a good layer of wet leaf mulch, and fencing to hinder deer browsing.

I don't think it will miss a beat.   I'm hoping for a nice crop of  Liberty apples, in 2017.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Fig Tree to Move

Petite negri fig, 15 years old.  I am looking for someone local who wants a fig tree for the digging and transporting.  Posting here so that I can link to Home Orchard Society Forum.

In 2012 I moved a similar sized Brunswick fig tree, which did just fine.