Monday, June 26, 2006

Ginkgo Seedlings

These were started last year without much effort. The seeds were collected in Fall 2004. They were kept in the fridge over the winter and planted in containers that had other things growing (like tomatoes and peppers) so that they did not need individual attention. Only about 1/2 of them survived the winter - something ate the others. Some people are more scientific about starting ginkgos from seeds. I did the same this winter. The seeds looked a bit moldy so if they grow it will be a surprise - but last year's were a surprise as well. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Brown Turkey Fig

This tree was very productive last year - at least 2 dozen figs. The flavor was "pretty good" - the Petite Netgri and Brunswick seemed more flavorful, but were not nearly as productive last year. It was overwintered in the garage on the coldest days this winter. In the Spring while still dormant, it was removed from the pot, as much soil removed as possible, and moved into a wooden container in hopes that the roots could keep cool.

Today the first signs of tiny main crop figs were visible. There are no breba (overwintered crop) because they all fell off after looking promising, in about April.

The soil is an organic mix, with a big handful of crushed eggshells for calcium, a handful of commercially available dried crushed fish bones, and a handful of organic slow acting tomato food.

Brown Turkey appears to be popular in the UK, and seems also to be known as "Brown Naples" which is interesting because this variety is thought to originate in the Provence region of France. I have not been able to find out why it is called "Brown Turkey". The Calimyrna fig originates in Turkey, but that is a different variety. Posted by Picasa

Friday, June 23, 2006

Italian Honey = Marseilles = Blanche = Lemon Fig

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This fig tree is in a container due to no room in the yard. Also, it can be hauled into the garage if the winter days get too cold. I haven't tasted these yet - there MIGHT be one tiny main crop fig starting but the bud is still to small to be sure. This variety (which, like many figs, has many names) was a favorite fig of Thomas Jefferson. This variety is apparently popular in the Northwest, but is also a heritage variety in the south.

Developing tomatoes: Lemonboy and Sungold

Posted by Picasa Lemonboy was productive last year - the first large tomato that I have been able to grow here. This plant has the most and largest so far - about plum size - but they will probably continue to grow until they ripen. My guess is that we will get fresh tomatoes in late July.

Sungold is listed on many garden sites as the "best and tastiest" cherry tomato. The small white flowers are cilantro (cilantro plants make coriander seeds, so they are the same thing) - planted for fresh leaves when small and to attract beneficial insects when blooming.

Main crop figs starting to develop: Brunswick

Posted by Picasa It's not certain yet if this is a Brunswick (= Magnolia = Dalmatian = Madonna) but it matches most of the descriptions. Like other varieties, it is grown around the US and in Europe - here is a photo of a Brunswick fig in France - it does look like this. In 1860 Brunswick figs apparently looked like this (page down to the drawing).

I like this fig. It is the first one that I grew from a cutting. Last year there were several figs on this tree, and they were juicy and sweet, with a good 'fig' flavor.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

It's still better to bike

Still achy from yesterday. I went to Fred Meyer on my way to work and bought some wrist straps, since the wrists are what hurt the most.

Naproxen helps.

It's not as bad today as I worried that it would be. Still hurts to breathe deeply. I will be back on the bike by either the weekend or next week, for sure.

It's still better to bike if possible.

Vancouver bike link.

Biking is better for the environment.

Biking is good for your health except when it kills you.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Today I fell off my bike.

Ow ow ow ow. I stopped too fast on a bump, flew over the front. What hurts? Left wrist, Left calf, Right knee, Right rib or diaphram - it hurts to take a deep breath. I dont think anything is fractured - I would know. Charlie is attentive as always - or maybe he just wants a cookie. Not in the mood for philosophizing. Think I'll turn in now. Posted by Picasa

Monday, June 19, 2006


Veggies are better for you and better for the environment.

If you grow your own, then they can be free of pesticides, more flavorful, and there when you want them. You know where they've been. You can fertilize them with compost and coffee grounds.

There are lots of good arguments for avoiding meat. I used to think that every meal needed meat - but for 25 years, I've gone without. It isnt missed at all.

The main thing is that people just dont think that way. Even though I love eating food, I dont feel like I miss anything just because my diet doesnt include meat. I get the full effect of flavors that I think would be muted by meat. I love spices, strong flavors like garlic and hot pepper, and rich flavors like coffee and chocolate. I think that meat would leave my palate less able to taste those great flavors. But I realize I am in a minority.

If people just started to think of beef as the dietary equivalent of an SUV (conspicuous consumption, not necessary, bad for the environment, bad for safety and health) then maybe quantities used would decrease and people, and the world, would be healthier.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Man's Best Friends

Posted so that there would be a profile photo. Spring 2006. Posted by Picasa

Tomatoes are the holy grail of the home gardener

Tomatoes are not as easily grown in the Pacific Northwest as in other parts of the country - in the SPring and Fall, the days are too short, and during the summer, the nights are too cool. Even so, after 4 years of trying, last year there were lots of tomatoes - big ones, cherry tomatoes, red, and yellow. The "secret" seems to be a combination of factors: right variety, right location, right soil treatment, right grooming (some would say pruning).

For variety, my luck has been best with hybrids such as Better Boy, Lemon Boy, and Celebrity. Heritage varieties, like Brandywine and Cherokee do have great flavor, but it's a lot of effort to get just a couple of tomatoes. Of the Cherries, Sweet100 has been very productive. This year, Lemon Boy and Better Boy both have small tomatoes the size of small plums. I am growing Sweet100 again, which has bebe sized fruit now. New varieties for this year include Sungold (also with bebe sized fruits), Sugar Snack, Tomande, and Sweet Baby Girl. Plus a few more. So, a few proven performers, a few to experiment on, and 2 heritage varieties (Cherokee and Yellow Brandywine).

For location, some are in a bed on the south side of the house. This is starting to be shaded by grape vines, so may not be as productive this year. Others are in a free-standing bed, and get full sun all day.

For soil treatment, the beds were treated with many bags of leaves last fall, turned into the soil. They were given kitchen scraps dug into the soil for compost. In the Spring, the soil was covered with a layer of leaf compost. When it became warmer, they were mulched with bark dust.

For grooming, they are all being trained to stakes, and each sucker pruned off after the first leaf ("missouri pruning")

None of this is scientific. Maybe this year will be productive, and maybe it wont - but it's starting to look promising.

Of course, there are as many ways to grow tomatoes as there are gardeners. Even upside down - this one is Sweet100. A close look shows lots of blossoms and a few bebe sized tomatoes on this plant too. This one is in full sun on the south side of the house. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Small things add up: Coffee grounds for the garden.

For the past 3 years, I've been collecting coffee grounds from work, home, and occasionally from Starbucks. Sometimes I add them directly to the soil (as in Winter or Spring when I'm digging around in the garden), sometimes to the worm bin, and sometimes to the compost pile.

Some simple calculations:
I buy a 5 pound bag of coffee beans about once monthly (for my use only). 5 pounds X 12 months = 60 pounds (dry weight) per year.

At work, I collect the grounds from my small section of the office, also for the compost pile or garden. That's about 1/2 pound daily (wet) for 4 days per week, or 2 pounds per day. So, about 100 pounds per year.

COffee grounds make for good compost or soil amendment. They are similar in soil nutritional value to manures, but without the salt and antibiotics that go into animal agriculture.

There are about 298 million people in the United States. Per capita coffee consumption is 4.4 kg (9.68 pounds) per year. 298 million X 9.68 pounds / 2000#/ton = 1.4 million tons per year.

So, from that little cup of coffee per person, a couple of cups daily, it starts to add up.

I'm sure that there are better calculations, from more accurate data out there, but the bottom line is, it's still "a lot". Collecting coffee grounds for the garden is good for the soil, and good for the environment.

More about ginkgo trees.

This is quoted from China Daily News:
December 2003

"Nomenclature Right for 1,000-year-old Trees to Be Auctioned

The Office of Old and Rare Plant Protection in Shanghai has announced it will auction the nomenclature right for 50 ancient and famous trees. The minimum price tag will be 10,000 yuan, and the maximum 300,000 yuan for one year for the No. 0001 Shanghai Old and Rare Tree, a 1,000-year-old ginkgo tree in Anting Town... proceeds from the auction would go toward taking care of and preserving these old and rare trees. Their sponsors will be included in the Sponsors of Old and Rare Trees Archives."

Click here for the article from ChinaToday

The ginkgo links in the side bar also provide information about ancient ginkgos, apparently over 3000 years old and still alive.

And this site is about someone 'getting rich' in China, selling ginkgo trees:

Ginkgo fossils in China.

Google translated from German (better than I can) article with nice photo of Ginkgo fossil.

Click here for information about ginkgo "nuts"

More first leaf Hardy Chicago fig 'trees'

More trees from the same origin as the one that I just posted. These will be 'adopted' out when dormant. They came from a Garden Web member.

It was once common for gardeners to trade slips, starts, seedlings, and divisions from their favorite varieties. I remember, when I was growing up, that family members or neighbors would pass on starts from their yards and gardens. This doesnt happen as much now, but it would be a great tradition to revive. A successful locally grown variety would have a good chance in another local yard; it is much less costly to start your own (the cost of a 'free' fig tree is only the cost of the potting soil, and they can be started in the garden soil if there is no hurry).

It is even possible that locally grown varieties can adapt to the local growing conditions - as 'sports' and genetic drift occur, if the more successful local varieties are propagated, then it makes sense that regional varieties would be different from nationally distributed ones.

Hardy Chicago (also called Chicago Hardy) can be purchased at lots of places - this is one:

Of course, these cuttings are not of local origin - in fact, are from a Garden Web member who I will be sending them back to as rooted trees (as well as one of my locally found trees). Hardy Chicago is not thoroughly tested here, so this is a chance to see how some 'new blood' (or should I say, 'new sap') will do. So there is a place for local varieties, and new varieties, as well. Posted by Picasa

Hardy Chicago cutting with first little figs

This cutting was started in January 2005 as a cutting from dormant wood. It had one or two nodes (I forget, I think it was just one node) and was started in a yogurt cup size container in seed starting soil. Six months later, here is is, with 2 beebee size little figs.

It's now in a commercial organic potting soil mix. The pot is wrapped in foil to prevent overheating, which occurs even in the Pacidic Northwest's usual cloudy weather.

Hardy Chicago apparently came from a mountainous area in Sicily, and arrived in Chicago via New York where it had become known as Bensonhurst (I think). I'll look for a link to post with better information. Posted by Picasa

Friday, June 16, 2006

Vancouver Brunswick Fig Tree

This is the first fig tree that I grew from a cutting. It was started during the winter of 2003-2004, from a 'found' pruning. The variety is tentatively identified as "Brunswick", which is also called "Dalmatian" and "Magnolia" and some other names. Since figs grow easily from cuttings, their names tend to morph as a tree's origin is forgotten and new trees are grown from local trees of unknown heritage.

This tree has delicious, large, figs. The first crop was about 1/2 dozen figs , main crop, last year (while in it's second 'leaf'). It has 2 breba now, and I'm starting to see suggestions of embryonic main crop - which I'm hoping will result in a bowl full of tasty fruit.

It is treated with the same soil amendments as the Petite Negri fig. Posted by Picasa

Petite negri fig with breba crop

This is the first fig tree that I attempted to grow. It was purchased from a mail order catalog and was about 6 inches tall, in 2001. I didn't know anything about growing figs, but as a midwestern native, the thought that one might grow in my yard seems exotic and interesting.

This tree has grown about 1 foot per yer, so now it's about 5 1/2 feet tall. Last year it bore about a dozen main crop (fall crop, which forms on this year's growth) figs. During the Winter, it was mulched wtih several inches of leaves; then in the Spring a couple of inches of leaf compost were added. It also received generous amounts of coffee grounds, and crushed eggshells (that, when added to the grouns, look a bit like perlite).

This year, it looks like it will reward these offerings with a couple of handfuls of breba (summer crop, which form on last year's growth) figs. Now it also has a layer of bark mulch to keep the roots moist and cool. It has produced about 1 foot of new growth, which I pinched back after the 4th to 6th new leaf, to encourage fig production and shape the tree compactly. The tree is starting to respond with tiny, embryonic figs and buds that I dont know yet if they will be new stems or figs.

Figs have an amazing biological, geographic, botanical, and social history. Apparently they originate in western Asia, and have been carried by various civilizations westward and eastward, so that now they grow in all mild temperate areas of the world. They are under-appreciated, because the fruits don't keep well enough to ship long distances, and they dont ripen after being picked. They are best eaten fresh, right off the tree or in 1 to 2 days. Most people dont know when to pick them, so it takes some guidance to learn when they will be at their peak, and most tasty.

As small trees, figs in the yard dont require chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides. They require little maintenance, although careful grooming will keep them more compact. Once planted, the garden doesn't need to be dug up again. It seems like they could be ideal as edible landscaping, and their net effect on the environment is to improve it. By taking care of the fig trees, they improve our environment and nourish us with exotic fruits. They are a link to our own history, and can be a heritage that we leave to those who care to follow.

I didnt know it when I started this first fig, but fig trees are usually grown from cuttings. Many varieties grow very quickly using this method, nbearing fruit in 1 to 3 years. It's very similar to the method for starting grapes. There are many variations of the method, but some will start from dormant prunings, kept in a platic bag in the refridgerator over the winter, and planted in moist garden soil in the early Spring. Faster growth occurs by using a similar method, but starting them indoors during the Winter. I've started about 1 dozen new fig trees using this method, and it is a way to pass them on to friends, neighbors, or relatives.

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Baigo and his grape arbor

These grapes were started in 2003. The arbor was built in 2004. It was designed so that, during the summer when the vines are actively growing, they will cover the arbor and shade a sliding door on the south side of the house. This way, in the summer, the vines keep the room cool, and in the winter, they let in the light and let the sun warm the room.

The grapes are Interlaken, Venus, and Canadice. They are easy to grow from cuttings, although I didnt know that when I bought the vines. I have started several vines, as cuttings from these vines. All it takes is some winter prunings, about 1 foot to 18 inches long; store in cool, moist frost free place over the winter, and in early spring stick them up to the top bud in the ground. Every vine cutting, that was given this treatment, grew.

Last year, there were several bunches from Interlaken and Canadice. The Venus was in its first "leaf", and did not bear.

This year they do have some powdery mildew. I'm trying to control it using neem oil. Maybe it will work, and maybe it wont. It looks like the mildew is stopped, so I'm hopeful. There are dozens of bunches hanging from the top of the arbor, with tiny 'embryo' sized grapes.

Even if they are not successful at growing grapes, they look nice, they provide a shady place to sit outside in the summer, and they cool the house. Since the deck, which they cover, was already there, they take up virtually no yard space.

Grapes should not be fertilized with chemical fertilizers. Their roots grow deeply, seeking out nutrients deep in the soil. Too much nitrogen, and the vines are rampant, but few grapes form. I used leaf compost to help build the soil, and have mulched them wtih some bark dust.

Grapes were grown by ancient Greeks and Romans. Sweet varieties were also grown by ancient Arabs. These varieties are descended from both the old world, and the new world varieties, melding flavors and ability to grow in local soils and climate; and ablity to survive local plant pathogens.

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Charlie and his Ginkgo tree

This ginkgo tree was started from a seed in about 1999 in a flower pot in Chicago. The parent tree was shown to me 40 years ago in Quincy Illinois, by Herman Deege, a former German refugee from WWI. He told me that ginkgos were the most ancient type of tree. They occur as separate male and female. Fossil ginkgo leaves, fruits, and wood, are found around the world, including in Washington State. The seeds are used in certain Chinese foods. The leaves are used in herbal products tom improve memory. After the glaciers from the ice ages receeded, ginkgos were once limited in range to a small area in China, but there are some trees, hundreds (maybe over 1000) of years old, in Korea and Japan.

This particular tree traveled 2000 miles in a small flowerpot, 5 years ago, from Chicago to Vancouver, Washington. It was planted in its present location in 2003, where it has flourished. The dogs use the area around it as their special 'bioremediation' area, so it may be overnourished, but it hasnt seemed to mind, and is reaching a size where it should become more resilient to the world's insults.

Maybe it will have a long life. Trees remove CO2 from the air, storing it in their wood cellulose - so the more that we plant, and the fewer that we cut down, the better they will take care of us in return.

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Why a garden blog?

The world is getting warmer. We need to reduce CO2 emissions from driving and using petroleum products.

The world is becoming more hectic and stressful. We need to find a source of peace and solitude.

Our food products are becoming more processed and less nourishing. The flavors are becoming more bland. We need to find ways to add more flavorful, more nutritious foods to the table.

We are losing touch with our own social history, forgetting where our food comes from, and how it came to exist. The garden is a way to connect with our past, our familys' past, and our social heritage. It can also be something to pass on to whoever follows, if they are interested. The garden can also be a way to stimulate that interest.

The garden is a resource for all of these issues, and more.

Even just thinking about the garden makes me feel more peaceful. Since I cant be out in the yard all day, every day, maybe this blog will provide aother outlet for 'puttering meditation' in the garden.