Sunday, December 31, 2006

One Year Ago. And Some Puttering Today

Here is a photo of Ning's Pond, Dec. 15, 2005. The fish are visible under the clear sheet of undisturbed ice.

Nice to have some perspective. This year, the pond has not frozen yet. I got out my "pre weblog" ie., paper-based-log, from the past 2 year (I suppose this would be a plog?) and reviewed some of the notes from about this time of year. One 12/21/05, I had pruned the roses, and spread coffee grounds around on the new tomato bed. I had reviewed the tomatoes from the year before, concluding that Lemon boy and better boy were the best in 2005 (production, size, and flavor, like we used to have in Quincy, Illinois), and the best gourmet-flavor was Brandwine; the worst were stupice and juliet, which I did not try again. Two weeks later I had pruned the grapes, and sprayed lime-sulfur on the peaches, apples, cherries, and roses.

Something to look forward to, by 1/20/06, the chinese chives were 4 inches tall, the hellebores were blooming, and the daffodils and tulips had broken through the soil surface and were 1-2 inches tall. That's only 3 weeks away.

By early January, I was also spreading compost on the raised beds.

For the most part, everything went well. I think that I was much too early, however, in pruning the roses, so they will be done much later this year (maybe early March).

As for today -

I did prune grapes ('Price' and 'Farmer's Market'), leaving the arbor grapes (Interlaken, Canadice, and Venus) for the next round. It's difficult to decide whether to prune by the "spur" or "cane" method, so last year I used a mixture of the two. These are in unconventional settings (Price is over a gate, and Farmer's Market is along a fence and growing up into an ornamental cherry) so the standard Kniffen method won't do. Basically, on each vine, 3-4 canes were kept, and a replacement spur for each cane, plus spurs on the trunks or older canes. I'll photograph the arbor grapes, when they are pruned, for record-keeping.

I also pruned the cordon - type apple (North Pole) to keep it columnar - shortening small branches back to spurs; the dwarf peaches to remove dead material and keep them open, and thin the new growth; similar for the back-yard cherries and pear.

The peaches have much evidence for disease - peeling bark and gelled sap, and dead twigs. Pruning them was the horticultural equivalent of debridement. I wonder if they will survive, let alone provide peaches this year? They look pretty good now that their 'surgery' is done, but only time will tell.

The ginkgos were lightly groomed (there isn't much there to prune yet). Just removal of twigs before they become branches in the 'wrong places'. I was careful to clean & sharpen the pruning shears before this (and between each of the fruit trees). The tallest one, in the back yard, did get 'limbed up' so that now the lowest branches are at about 4 feet. Just to find out if it can be done, some selected prunings were heeled-in, in a vegetable bed, to see if they will take root and grow next Spring.

Figs were also pruned - Vancouver, Petite negri, and Brown Turkey. The objective, here too, was to keep a compact, but open, bowl-shaped tree (similar to the peaches and cherries). Some prunings will be mailed to other gardeners, for cuttings.

A few lillies, galdiolus, crocosmia, and other dead stems were removed and chopped as well.

Nice day outside. It's a little dangerous leaving me in the yard with a pair of pruning shears - kind of like the saying. "Give a man a hammer, and he'll discover loose nails everywhere" - but I don't think that I overdid it. And I feel better now.
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Opuntia (final). Meyer Lemon.

Part of the rationale for growing opuntias is to see if I can eat them. Initially, I hoped for some 'prickly pears'. Since there have been no blossoms, there have also been no fruits.

In addition to being a fruit, prickly pear cacti (opuntias) are also a vegetable. The pads, stripped of thorns, are rich in vitamins and fiber. Called nopales (or nopalitos when prepared), they are a traditional Mexican food. There are quite a few recipes for nopales.

I'm surprised that, with so much Mexican food available, and with the incorporation of Mexican food into the American lifestyle, that this vegetable is such a mystery to us. I did have some when in Mexico this fall, they seemed like a fairly routine vegetable. Maybe Americans are just not interested in having more vegetables.

OK, on to new topic - it looks like the Meyer Lemon has some lemons that are ready to pick. The plant itself is quite small. Gardenweb has many entries expressing frustration with this tree. It may not be amenable to 'out-of-zone' thriving, although some information is available on Winter care. This tree has survived the Winter so far in a sunny, cool room, and the three lemons look ripe. Considering the small size of the plant, 3 lemons is more than I expected this year. I'll post again when I know what the lemons taste like.

Meyer lemons were originally found by Frank Meyer (not Fred Meyer) growing as potted trees in Peking (now Beijing) in 1908. They are thought to be hybrids between a lemon and another citris such as an orange or mandarin.

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Saturday, December 30, 2006

More opuntias. Tomato order (so soon!). Flu bug.

This is one of the opuntias in the yard. It was a gift, a small plant in a small pot. I up-potted it into this container in 2004. Not enthusiastic about it, it was left outside winter 2004/5. It grew fast last year, so leaving it outside this winter again. Trying to keep it out of the rain, under the belief that cacti survive cold better if dry (that's what the books state).

A handsome specimen from a web site. Hopefully not copyrighted, given the age of the card.

Ordered the following tomato seeds from This site was reliable last year so using it again. Varieties:
Lemon Boy - my favorite yellow. Here it's been very productive, juicy big tomatoes with a 'light' tomatoey flavor.
Celebrity - did not grow last year but want to try again. Disease resistant, productive, real 'midwestern' type tomato flavor.
Better Boy - grew OK last year, better in 2005. Good production, big 'midwestern' flavor tomatoes.
Black from Tula - new to me. Last year Cherokee was so good (but not productive), I want to try another black variety.
Cherokee Purple - "purple" but also called "black". not very productive, but so good that I had to hide tomatoes to save them for myself (don't tell Ning).
Supersweet 100 - Ning's favorite. After trying all of the varieties of cherry tomatoes, this one was still the most flavorful and productive. Most of the others either didnt make many, or they didn't have much flavor. Or both.
Tiny Tim - a very dwarf variety, never tried before. 15 inches tall. Will use in border areas or containers to produce some early cherry tomatoes or have them in spots that are too small for larger varieties.

I've been achy and tired. Probably combination of a virus, year-end iniatives / increased load at work, and some short day affective disorder. Looking ahead to the tomatoes helped a little. Posted by Picasa

Monday, December 25, 2006


These drawings from the USDA web site, original text is: Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. Illustrated flora of the northern states and Canada. I like these old drawings.

These are less likely to be damaged by cold and rain, compared to desert cacti. The two in the "GrowingGreener" yard are looking sad and have never bloomed, although they have survived the cold wet weather for several winters. I keep hoping for a 'prickly pear' to taste. Unknown varieties. If I can find a source, I would like to try an Opuntia fragilis (since it's native to WA) or an Opuntia microdasys, since it seems to remain small so I could bring it inside for the winter.

The images can be 'clicked' to render them more readable.

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Friday, December 22, 2006

Dormancy Indoors and Out

This brugmansia looks like it's doing OK in the garage. It's getting the "dry, dark, and chilly" dormant treatment. This method is recommended on a number of sites. Apparently, Brugmansias originate in low elevations of the tropics - whether they experienced conditions when they were in chilly dark dry situations for a few months, I don't know.

Most of the garden is overwintering in the usual method of leaving things alone for the winter, maybe with some mulch. This is probably OK for everything with a cold-winter provenance. The figs are a bit borderline in this respect, but most should survive here.

Most of the geraniums, like the brugmansia, are getting the chilly / dark / dry treatment. Some gardeners recommend taking geraniums out of the soil. Here too. These are brought into the garage pot and all.
Some plants won't take the dry /dark / chilly and can't survive outside either. This citrus tree (I'm not sure if lemon, orange, or grapefruit) was grown from seeds 7 years ago, and survives mostly on neglect. It gets light and minimal water inside during Winter. The Anigosanthos is still green, and has produced a couple of small flowers in December. A few more seem to be pushing up from the leaves. It's getting minimal water in the same window. This is my first attempt at this plant - no way to guess if it will survive another 3-4 months of this treatment. So far, OK. I think it is not dormant, just slowed down.

Two of the geranium cuttings died (forgot to water for several weeks) but this one managed to pull through.

I tried to learn about dormancy. A number of writers seem to view it as being like a human who needs sleep. I suspect that's not proven. I think that it depends on the plant, where it came from (it's provenance), and how it's being treated now. For example, a plant in a purely tropical environment that is the same year round, might not need dormancy. Plants from the desert, which become hot and too dry sometimes, and cold and dry others, might have more than one type of dormancy. Spring bulbs are probably "doing something" when we think they are dormant - growing roots, forming embryo flowers and leaves, so that they can burst forth with rapid growth and blooming as soon as weather allows. Similar for shrubs and trees, with some root growth during the fall or winter, and the formation of tiny flowers and leaves within the buds for a big show in Spring. Some plants actually 'prepare' for dormancy by storing carbohydrates - this is hormonally mediated. Other plants may simply be 'marking time' or surviving adverse weather conditions.

I need a nap.

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Sunday, December 03, 2006

It's cold enough

In the 20s to 30s. They like the fireplace.

No garden or bathroom work today. This weekend I did 2 1/2 days "homework" - roughly 20 hours; now it's time to just veg.

I think it's time to 'get real' on the bike issue this winter. I dont think I can do the coldest rainiest months (Dec, Jan) but need to be in shape for the rest of the year. Will do treadmill. Weight up 5# so will work on that, less to "haul" on the bike when I'm back on it.

128/97 82 213# Posted by Picasa

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Old and ancient seeds.

Not much energy today. Looking around on the internet, found some articles about old seeds - such as,

The Judean Date Palm, sprouted from 2,000 year old seeds found at Herod's palace in Israel. The seeds must have been 'stored' at about the time of the trees' extinction, since they are said to have been extinct since about the year 1 CE. Since palms are either male or female, and only one seed sprouted, this once extinct variety might remain extinct (or might it hybridize with existing varieties to form a new variety, both ancient and new?). Apparently palms are usually not difficult to grow from seeds, although these ancient seeds required special methods and plant hormones to revive. I've been sticking date seeds in plants around the house. I don't know what I will do with them if they grow, since this is hardly the ideal climate.

The famous ancient Lotus seeds, Nelumbo nucifera, preserved in dried pond mud, about 1,228 years old (article here ). These apparently were cultivated in ancient times. The seeds were found near Xipaozi village, northeastern China. The dried pond mud helped preserve them, but also caused some genetic damage due to residual gamma radiation in the mud. However, the oldest viable lotus seeds, as verified by carbon dating, were "only" about 466 years old. Other lotus seeds, thought to be 2,000 years old, were germinated in the 1950's and are the parents for the Ohga lotus, still grown in Japan's Chiba Prefecture today.

An Argentinian canna, which was preserved due to its use in a toy. The seeds were somehow inserted into a green walnut, and the walnut hull grew around the canna seed, resulting in an impervious container. The purpose was to use as a rattle. This seed was about 530 years old (from about the year 1420).

Various South African seeds (legumes and Protea) were found in a Dutch merchant Jan Teerlink diaries from 1803, which had been stored in the British museum, and recently a few were germinated.

Botany professor Dr. William James Beal buried a number of seed varieties in jars, in 1879, in an experiment to see how long they would survive. A few Verbascum seeds made it 120 years, stored in moist, well aerated sand in East Lansing, Michigan. Presumable Dr. Beal is buried somewhere as well, but I doubt that he would germinate now.

Apparently, the ability of seeds to survive extended periods of time depends on a combination of traits of the plant, the ability to grow a hard shell (or, in the case of the canna, a hard shell and then be encased in a harder shell), storage conditions, especially dry, and the skills of the person trying to germinate them.

Of course, there are the ordinary garden vegetables. Tomato seeds can last 5-10 years. Onions, only 1 year.

(The photo above is from an antique postcard, found on webshots - they did not have photos of the Judean Palm, 2,000 years ago). Posted by Picasa

Monday, November 20, 2006

6 Months Back: Spring had Sprung.

One of the reasons to blog (or, pre-internet, keep a garden log) is to find perspective. Now the world is starting to look grey, leaves have fallen, perrenials are blackened and sad.

Exactly six months ago,l May 2006. Rhododendrons were blooming. Lush irises were filled with candy fragrance.

It helps keep me going to know that in the buds, and inside the rhozomes and bulbs, and under the ground, these plants are preparing themselves for another colorful Spring.

That's why I posted them now. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Chilly rainy Sunday.

The rest of the collected leaves were added to thinning mulch around blueberries and a few other areas. If I had time, I would collect & chop more and spread them on the vegetable bed, but the key problem is at the start of this sentence.

The Shlumbergera (must be a Thanksgiving cactus since it's blooming now) provided some cheer.

Tomorrow I'll take the day off from the bike commute. It will geve me a chance to stock the fridge with the week's lunches, and stock my desk with some clean clothes. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, November 18, 2006

More therapy. The last tomatoes. Crazy leaf guy (me). Last ginkgo leaf.

That crazy leaf guy (me). While walking Charlie & Baigo, I passed a lady packaging up her leaves. I asked if I could have them. Here they are. I spent a couple of hours spreading them on the driveway, running over them with the lawn mower, then spreading the chopped leaves on the borders. The mower works better than the chipper shredder, but either way it's hard work.

A few tomatoes still ripening in the window. Ning made a stir fry using green tomatoes. Good.

One final leaf on the ginkgo tree. Ning doesnt know it yet but I collected a quart container full of ginkgo fruits (from a tree in an East Mill Plain park) to clean for seeds. I dont know if I'll plant them or eat them.

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I would take a long soak in the tub except for one small problem....

About 1/2 of the wall is down to studs. The floor layers are all off except the last layer of particle board.

Most of the framing is gone from the dividing wall. Once the remaining drywall is off, and the particle board is off the floor, I can start framing. Posted by Picasa

Friday, November 17, 2006

"my other car is a bike" bumper sticker

from this site. Posted by Picasa

Overwintering geraniums & cuttings. More cacti. Anigozanthos.

The geraniums in the garage look rather sad. Of course, dormancy isn't supposed to be pretty. Here's a topic for discussion: should I call them pelargoniums, like the 'real' gardeners do, or geraniums, like everyone else? For that matter, is the plural pelargonia / gerania?

The epiphyllum is back inside, just in time. It's in the same spot as last year.

Also visible, the Anigozanthos flavidus (Kangaroo paw hybrid). I did some web research on culture for these plants. Apparently not very well known in this climate, especially overwintering.

For future reference:
-Googling on images, this plant is apparently an A. flavidus hybrid. It might be "Bush Gold" although I generally avoid most things named 'Bush'. Here's another description of Bush Gold.
-They prefer bright light.
-They need excellent drainage.
-They dont like excess phosphorus.
-It seems that they can be overwintered indoors.
-They store water in their rhizomes, so can go without water for extended periods.

So, I'll try to resist watering it unless it's very dry, and if it survives Winter, I'll try to keep it in bright light, use a well drained potting soil when it comes time to repot, and resist using any high-phosphate plant foods (although growing organically, most supplements that I use don't have excess phosphate).

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The geranium cuttings have rooted now. They have roots coming out of the holes in the containers. The non-scented varieties are doing better than the scented-leaf ones (in the garage and the window sill) but all they need to do is survive, for a head start next year.

Biked 3 days this week. New bumper sticker states "My other car is a bike".

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Cactus therapy.

Some green therapy here. Each year I seem to find something different to over-do. One year it was roses, then tomatoes, then peppers, then figs. The roses are mostly still there, but out of favor due to high maintenance (except a few). I can only grow so many tomatoes or figs, and I think i have them more-or-less figured out for this area. The peppers are not so rewarding although I'll keep trying a few.

Without intending to, it looks like this time it's cacti. Looking around the yard and in the windows, there are quite a few. These are not well identified, but I'm thinking (left to right) Echinopsis sp, Gymnocalycium sp., and Selenocereus sp. These identifications may change if they have identifiable blossoms. Based on web photos, Gymnocalycium flowers are amazingly colorful.

I've been growing this cactus through about 4 'cutting generations' over a period of 15 years. It sits neglected in the yard in the summer, and occasionally I start a new pad. I've given away some of the larger plants due to moving, and one was killed in a frost. Now I want to try again. based on photos in a book and on the web, this is Opuntia neoargentina but could also go by Brasioliopuntia braziliensis and multiple other names. It has a yellow flower. It can grow as a tree on a thick trunk, and tiers of branches with pads that fall off when dry. The original was a gift from a friend in Lafayette indiana; his cactus was over 6 feet tall when I first saw it. Googling on this species, it appears to be threatened in its original habitat in much of its habitat, much of which has been destroyed in Brazil, but it also grows widely in some tropical areas.

Today 2 more were added from Lowes. The result of an overly stressful week (if only I drank, I wouldnt have to keep adding vegetation around the house!). Given the winter season, a colorful Schlumbergera hybrid (labeled as Zygocactus) and a small Parodia (labeled as Notocactus herteri). The Notocactus comes in many colorful varieties.

Outside are 2 Opuntias that have survived two winters so far. Neither has blooded.

It's amazing to look at the photos of cactus flowers and read about their climates, and the history of their horticulture. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Some wise words for me to take to heart.

Sometimes you do your best and someone will punish you for it. Sometimes you have to let go. This bumpersticker at this site. Posted by Picasa

Schlumbergera cactus

It was out on the deck for the summer. Brought in inside in October. Very low maintenance. Grown from cuttings last year, just stuck them into the soil & it took off. With some plants, you just cant lose. (although with these pajamas, the photo isnt exactly ready for HGTV) Posted by Picasa

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Still getting figs. Tomatoes are winding down.

Still quite a few figs remaining on petite negri. Best results so far on this 5 year old tree. This late, main, crop tastes very good - equal or better than the breba crop. The secret seems to be letting them get so ripe that they almost fall off on their own. I need to remember tanglefoot to keep the ants off (or are the ants acting as pollinators?).

This year's fig results:
Petite negri: It was worth the wait. Still about 2 dozen on the tree. About 4 dozen figs this year. Tree is 5 years old from purchased, mail order 'stick' size tree.
Vancouver: The last fig was yesterday. About 3 dozen this year. Tree is 3 years old from cutting.
Petite negri in pot: about 3 years old. first small figs this week.
Hardy Chicago: vigorous. The first fig (this curring is less than one year old) was good, although I understand that following years will be better.
Melanzana: The first fig wasnt ripe yet when I cut it. Bummer.

The tomatoes are winding down. Still some coming ripe in front yard patch.

The back yard patch didnt do as well this year. I suspect the shade from the grapes, which had their best year ever
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