Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Rhubarb Dreams

Since the rhubarb is starting to sprout, I started thinking about this plant. This photo is from August 2006.

I've grown it for 4 years, starting it from an "orphan" root that I bought at Fred Meyer's 'reject' stand. It was dried out and dead looking. Even so, it grew rapidly. Due to the fast growth and large size of the plant, it was relocated to a larger spot after one year.

The variety is Victoria. This is an heirloom variety, sometimes raised from seed. I previously raised glaskins perpetual from seed, but didn't have room for two rhubarbs plants so it had to go (the choice had more to do with the location than the plant). Sometimes the stalks are red, but mostly they are green Even on this one plant, there is color variability. In the early Spring, they are redder, but in the summer, they are green. It has a strange, majestic flower stalk, similar to that of yucca, but more fluffy.

Despite the best of intentions, I've harvested only a few batches of stalks, for rhubarb pie or crumble, and one time attempted a rhubarb jam (this was very solid & even though I liked the taste, the texture was too firm). Of course, I didn’t have much idea of what I was doing. The main thing that gets into my way is not that I don't like it (I love rhubarb) but that I am not much of a cook.

Since I'm partial to trivia about a plant's history, here are some interesting factoids and links:

The history of horticultural and medicinal use of rhubarb goes back 4,700 years.

The amazing history of rhubarb - more than any one person could know about rhubarb.

Of course, Wikipedia also has a wealth of information about rhubarb.

Some strange things about this vegetable:

- While tomatoes, which are a fruit, are commonly considered a vegetable, rhubarb, which is a vegetable, is classified as a fruit.
- There is a region in England known as "the rhubarb triangle" where rhubarb is grown.
- Rhubarb rhaponticum, which is a true rhubarb, is known as "false rhubarb."
-The name comes from the latin "rha barbarian", for the barbarian plant from the river Rha, which is the old name for the river Volga (I don't know if I really believe this).

NPR has some alternative uses for rhubarb, such as in chutneys. I really will make better use of this plant this year. Others mention rhubarb breads, rhubarb cake, rhubarb sauces.

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Fig Cuttings 2006

January. Cuttings started in yogurt cups, in seed starting soil.

April. Now they have been moved up into larger containers, and are outside under the grape arbor. It's too chilly at night to keep them outside, so each night I brought them back indoors, each morning returned them outdoors.

July. Moved up again into larger containers. Now they are in the vegetable garden all day. There is some shade from the strongest sun.

September. This melanzana has a little fig. This is about the final size this year.

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These are chronological photos of fig cuttings from last year. They are not necessarily the same ones in progressive photos (I didnt have that as my intent when I took the photos) but they are representative, and most grew at similar rates. The Melanza and Hardy Chicago had one small fig each by the end of the year, but I don't think that they had a chance for the best flavor development.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Nice Hydrangia

What a large hydrangia. Postcard mailed Dec 25, 1938 from Berkeley, California.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Moved rose bush. Rhubarb is sprouting. Pruned Cherries.

This rose is "Jane Austin". It resulted from a cutting-grown plant. The shrub is about 3 years old. In 2006, it bloomed sporadically, but the flowers were fragrant, I almost never watered it, and it was disease free. Unfortunately, it was encroaching on a tree peony and would also compete with the tomatoes this year, so I dug it up and moved it. The top was pruned back to compensate for substantial root loss. The original plant, about 5 feet tall, is now about 18 inches tall, but I think that it will recover.
This rhubarb is starting to sprout. Maybe this year I'll actually make use of it? It's been fed with lots of coffee grounds. Will do the same this year too.

This cherry is a miniature. I pruned back the longest branches, cleaned out the middle a bit,. I wanted to keep it to a "bowl" form, but that would have required removing too much potential fruiting wood this time around. It is in its second winter.Posted by Picasa

The fig trees are pruned.

Actually I pruned them a couple of weeks ago. Here they are today.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Fig Cuttings: Desert King

After I mailed some cuttings from the Vancouver fig, one gardenweb member mailed back some Desert King cuttings. Despite my resolution not to start more than I can grow, here I go again (is this a sign of addiction?).

The original intent was to store them in the fridge (in a zip-lock bag) for a month or two, to start them in late winter or early Spring. However, these generous-sized cuttings were too big for a zip lock bag. So, I pruned a few inches from the bottom of each cutting. Each new section was then trimmed, leaving about 1/2 inch of twig above the top node, and 1/2 inch below the bottom node. Each has 2-3 nodes. They were then placed in small containers (for some reason I like the yogurt cups, which have several holes drilled in the bottom) which have been filled with moistened seed-starting medium. The seed starting medium is peat moss and perlite.

The remaining portions (the top part, which are now about 1 foot long and have the apical bud) are in a zip lock bag in the fridge, for more traditional treatment later. I don't know if there is any advantage to using a larger cutting. The little ones that I started last year did as well (often better) than the larger ones, resulting in trees that are about 2 1/2 to 3 feet tall, now.

Others have used vermiculite, peat moss and sand (that worked well for me in the past), pure sand, and even paper towels (placing the cutting in a moist paper towel in a zip lock bag). Fig cuttings are usually fairly forgiving. Last Spring, I stuck left-over cuttings into the soil in the garden, and some of those also struck and grew about 1 foot of new growth.

I've used rooting hormone, and not used rooting hormone - I don't think it makes much difference. This time I did not use any.

These are in a sunny window. Last year I placed them on a heating pad, set at low, but I'm not in a hurry. I might take one to work which is warmer than home. It will be a way to get a head start on Spring, watching new little fig trees take off and grow.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Across the continent, and around the world....

This is the ClusterMap (click on the clustermap thumbnail on the right side of the blog, or go to for details) which summarizes visits by location of service providers. It's interesting to see how much the internet connects a world of people together by common interests, searches on topics, or random clicks. Comments are welcome!
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Saturday, January 20, 2007

Estate Sale Photo

  Unlabeled photo, no names. This has nothing to do with garden, bike, environment, or anything else in this blog, but I liked the photo. My guess, early 20th Century, Pacific Northwest (bought here in Vancouver WA). Who are these people?
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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

More Snow Photos

  Backyard in the snow.
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It snowed. Off work today afternoon.

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It snowed today. They closed the office. ONce this is posted, I'll get onto the computer to work from home. 30 degrees (low so far this month was 17)

Tomato seeds came in the mail.

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Part of the long annual ritual of Lycopersicumania. They will need to wait until late March for planting.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Mid Winter. Planning Tomato Garden.

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There are several reasons that I keep this blog. One is that it helps me look back to previous years & see what was happening then, and what worked then. That way, I have an idea of when to plant, or prune, or do other tasks this year. In the dead of Winter, it helps to look back on previous seasons and remember that there really is an end to the gloom. It also helps as a repository of notes that I might want to refer to later (hence the labels and links).

This posting serves multiple roles. The bowl of tomatoes from August reminds me that there was 'edible sunshine' only a few months ago, and suggests that the same is possible a few months from now. It also reminds me that my impression of what worked is reasonable. The information that follows tells me somthing about the choices that I am making this year.

One of the challenges when I started trying to grow tomatoes here was disease. The plants became large and green, then whole vines blackened and died. I think that the main problems were susceptibility to disease, and method of growth that encouraged disease.

There are many tomato diseases - looking at a list is daunting. Makes me wonder how anyone can grow them - but most people do, in most parts of the country, without any problems.

Since most diseases seem to bounce up from the soil to the plant, and grow best on wet leaves, one preventive method is to change how I grew the plants. During the first attempts, I used tomato cages. Now, I grow the vines as cordons, up a single post, so that the leaves and fruit are high off above the ground. Suckers are pinched off in order to maintain the single stem structure. The soil has been mulched with fresh fir bark. I didn't add any nitrogen fertilizer (on the theory that high nitrogen promotes rank but disease susceptable growth) but rather added supplement to the soil during the Winter, which had been turned into the soil in Spring. Those supplements were mainly coffee grounds (in large amounts), leaves, last year's bark mulch, and a scattering of egg shells for calcium. Many of these ideas are presented by others for disease prevention. I've used this method for 2 years with very good results, so suspect that I'm on the right track. The plan for 2007 will be the same.

Clemson University also suggests a rotation system wtih marigolds, to prevent nematodes. I may try that too, depending on my ambition this summer. Marigolds are popular as nematode treatment, although some work better than others.

In addition, I'm paying attention to disease susceptibility (or the other side of the same coin, resistance). The main listed diseases (in resistance profiles) are:

Fusarium Wilt. I suspect that I have seen this on the tomatoes, although if present in the past 2 years, it was very limited. In previous years I think this is what caused loss of most of the crop.
Verticillium Wilt. I suspect that I have also seen this.
Alternaria Stem Canker. I dont think that I have seem this.
Nematode. I have read that fig nematodes dont do well in a clay soil, such as present here - although I 've been improving the soil, and I don't know if the same rules apply to tomato nematodes. I have not seen root knots like these so I don't think that this is an issue at this time.

In addition to culture methods, diseases are prevented (or their impact reduced) by planting disease resistant varieties. Of the choices that I made so far this year -

Better Boy VFNASt
Celebrity Hybrid VFFNTASt
Super Sweet 100 VF
Lemon Boy VFN

Where V=verticillium resistance, F=fusarium wilt resistance (more Fs meaning more strains of fusarium), T=tobacco mosaic virus, A=alternaria stem cancer, N=nematode.

In the Cornell table, the SS100 is also TMV resistant., and Lemon Boy is resistant to Alternaria, fusarium I, gray leaf spot, nematode, verticillium I. Organic gardening seems to think that Brandywine is 'disease resistant' but isn't more specific. Wikipedia states that heirlooms' disease resistance is "dubious at best'. I didnt see much problem with Brandywines during the past two years, and Cherokee Purple also lived until the frost, so my experience, while very limited, is so far OK.

Of course, resistance to a specific disease is only an issue if that disease is a risk, but I think that the broader spectrum of resistance the better.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Frozen. January weather stats so far.

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Coldest day so far this Winter. This is the first time that I've seen ice on the pond. Today is sunny. It snowed Tues and Wed, and there was black ice on the road.

Weather stats:
Jan stats so far: Low=20 degrees (at home, 19.8). High=46 degrees. Total precip=4.22 inches.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Fig Propagation: Air Layering (Historical)

From Condit's monograph. The legend below states "The central fig tree shows a method of propagation known as marcottage or aerial layering, commonly used in some humid climates. Note bags in which roots are forming, also some roots on severed branches which are ready to plant. From Versuch der Universal Vermehrung Aller Baume by G. A. Agricola 1716."

This method has used for at least 300 years, then, to propagate fig trees. I haven't done it - cuttings usually work fine for me. Air layering might do the job faster or more reliably - worth keeping in mind.

Click on photo to enlarge.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Inchelium Garlic. Coffee grounds. Blog Maintenance.

The Inchelium garlic is at about the same stage as garlic plants last year. This variety is a Northwest native american heirloom. I had also planted German Red, which did very well last year. Most of the garlic that we have eaten for past few months has been from the garden, and we eat several heads of garlic per week.
Last night, I stopped by Starbucks & picked up 2 bags of coffee grounds for the tomato bed. The barrista asked if I wanted the garbage bag full too, so I got even more than hoped for. Somehow I feel embarrased to ask for them, but if not used, they would add to landfill waste, with a rich, organic soil enhancing material that is then lost to the environment, meanwhile soil amendments need to be bought to enhance the soil. I'm less and less enthusiastic about the packaged manures, since those animals are fed antibiotics, worsening the antibiotic-resistant bacteria situation. Coffee grounds are a great plant food. I usually scatter the coffee grounds across the surface of the soil, and dig them in. Some also go into the compost. The earthworms love them. Despite what a number of sites claim, they are not acidic - the acid goes onto the coffee, which we drink - the grounds are neutral. I figure that I've added a few hundred poiunds of coffee grounds to the "growing greener" yard over the past few years.
Labels are now added to the postings. it's fun to click on them & have all of the postings on a subject pop up on one web page. But, for some reason, the process of posting photos is more cumbersome since I updated to the new blogger. Win some, lose some.

Who is eating the Orchard Mason Bees?

Here are the mud-plugs carefully applied by orchard mason bees last summer. I noticed today that about 1/4 of them are poked out. Is it another insect? Birds?

Orchard Mason Bees are non-honey making bees that do not have the highly organized social structure of honey bees. They are efficient pollenizers of fruits (which is why I started playing with them). Honey bees are declining due to mites, and there is some thought that orchard mason bees will be needed in greater numbers to pollenate fruit trees.

There may be local bees anyway - they love the ornamental cherries. However, I bought a kit from Raintree Nursery (mail order), set it up, and even carefully left a bowl of mud near the 'bee house'. It was fun watching the enter and leave the little tunnels in the house. If only 1/5 of the tunnels remain intact, and those bees survive, it will be an increase over the original population.

Still, who is eating them?

Saturday, January 06, 2007

These remain green, Midwinter

It's encouraging that there are still green plants in the yard. The opuntia and Rosemary have survived about 5 Winters so far, so must be OK in this climate.
The Eucalyptus cinerea may not be ideal for this climate, given its milder provenance in Australia and New Zealand. This is a 'global warming' tree - I'm trying it given that we've had some 'zone creep' and former rules may not apply any more. The hardiness zones have moved. Of course, when the hard freeze arrives in February, it might not look so good. It might be Eucalptus gunnii instead - I'm not sure about the labeling.

The Euphorbia remains green (or more correctly, red/green) as well. It's in a dry microclimate which receives almost no rain.

Monday, January 01, 2007

The arbor is pruned.

Grape arbor before tackling the pruning. Last year these were pruned primarily as canes, with a few spurs along the 'trunk'. Growth was rampant last year. Canadice and Interlaken bore fruit both from the spurs or canes, so either method should be OK.

This year, they are pruned mainly as spurs, with a few canes at the ends to cover the reaainder of the arbor. I may shorten them some more, since I suspect that I left too many buds. In the future, if these varieties can bear well from spurs, I think that spur pruning will be the way to go.

Each vine has 4 arms, informally arranged on the supports.

It was evening by the time that I finished. I'm happy to have this once-yearly job done.

Detail of spurs.

New Year's Day. Grape pruning.

This gateway arch was built 2 years ago from Home Depot scraps. It seemed like a good way to convert unusable yard space into productive garden space.

The detail above shows the pruned vines, each support holding a string to attach the vines. Last year the vine grew rampantly, and true to most recommendations, I removed the majority of last year's growth. One cane was left for each side of the archway, and a replacement spur is present for each cane.

It's difficult to see the vines given that they are about the same color as the fence. If I had not pruned it today, then I would be thinking about it until it's done. With last year as a guide, by mid summer the vines will be rampant, covering the gateway with a thick mop-top.

The Price grape had only a few grapes last year. Apparently the squirrels decided that this is really a rest stop on their fence-top I-5, with pre-blossom grape buds as the squirrel-equivalent of Chicken McNuggets. Once the vines actually grew, the squirrels left them alone. So, only a few grapes, and none from the top.

Not sure what squirrel-resistent devices to attempt this year. Maybe a sloping board covered with foil? Stretch out a slinky and attach to the fence top? Of course, if a squirrel WANTS it, it will GET it regardles of what I do.

The pruned ginkgo. Lower branches are removed, upper branches shorted to buds pointed in (hopefully) the best directions. A couple of upper branches, that looked like they would result in badly placed branches, were also removed. It's ready for a new year, come Spring.
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