Tuesday, December 29, 2009

My Tomatoes for 2010: first thoughts /catalog

Uh oh. Burpee catalog came. Temptation is SO strong. I think I will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.

With tomatoes, I generally go with the following:

Traditional hybrid - for sentimental reasons, usually Better Boy 72 days.
Heritage Black - usually Cherokee Black or Black Krim, 80 days
Hybrid Yellow - usually Lemon Boy
Traditional Cherry - usually Supersweet 100, 70 days

Those are all highly reliable in my garden. Then, I usually add something new, mix of hybrid and heritage. From the Burpee catalog, here are my current temptations:

BrandyBoy Hybrid - Burpee states, 78 days, Brandywine with disease resistance and productivity added

Northern Exposure, 78 days, bred for cool short summers.

Fourth of July, 49 days, wow, that's early!

Black Pearl, 65 days, hybrid cherry

Red Lightening, 82 days, striped salad tomato, for novelty.

The list may change, but I like the variety, and combination of "old faithful" reliable, tasty varieties that I like plus some experimentation for earliness and novelty.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Garden Resolutions 2010

Working on garden resolutions to mark New Year's 2010. It's a good time for resolutions and plans. Starting with the challenges and successes of 2009, what changes should we make?

Challenges - much of the garden had to be neglected, especially during summer and fall. The limited time for the garden meant there were more weeds, it looked more untidy, and there was lost opportunity for mental rejuvenation. By planning ahead, I hope to reduce some maintenance and have a better looking an more productive yard.

During the winter months, there isn't much to do with the growing plants. However, I can get in more pruning, so it won't have to happen when the garden is busier. In addition, I can get beds cleaned up and mulched. One challenge is the cat(s) using much for litter box. I don't mind, but digging up the mulch results in more weeds. Maybe chicken wire covering the mulch? Haven't decided.

This year the tomatoes, my favorite crop, were poor producers. This may have been due to planting the tomato bed too many years in a row - probably 5 years. So they'll be moved. We'll build new raised beds on the South side of the house, add chicken compost, and these will be designated tomato beds. This is also a warmer and sunnier location, so there will be benefit in microclimate as well.

The peaches were the best ever, but I left too many on the trees. Lesson learned, thin them early to 1 or 2 per 6-inch stem. Same for apples.

Garden Resolutions, 2010:

1. I resolve to continue the tradition of normal New Year's grape pruning (note to spine: please cooperate. Up movements seem OK, it's typing, like now, that's killing me). The pruning will be more extensive this year, to limit # of grape bunches. There were too many in 2009. Limiting #s should mean larger, juicier grapes.

2. I resolve to complete rose pruning in January. This is normally delayed for later, but my neighbor's roses do fine with this early pruning, so it's time to get it out of the way so that there are fewer things to do in Spring. If this kills a rose bush or 2 or 3.... well, that's more room to try something new.

3. I resolve to insert barriers around raspberries (for spreading branbles). and at least one fig tree (for roots). These barriers will mean less maintenance to control invasive vines and roots.

4. I resolve to get everything ready for tomato seedlings, during the winter. That way, if it's busy when time to plant the seeds, all that I will need to do is actually plant the seeds. Less delay, better potential crop.

5. I resolve to improve hardscaping with better edging in front yard, to keep out weeds.

6. Based on what went well, the peaches are already covered with plastic. I intend to use last year's blog post to guide in removal of cover.

7. New fruits: as discussed previously, I have already determined locations for mulberry and the 2 additional miniature apple trees.

8. I resolve to make another attempt at apple grafting. Last year was not successful. I think part of the reason was the scions were transported at room temperature for >24 hours. If I can get some mid winter, I'll plan to transport them on ice. Alternatively, there may be some local trees to graft. My "neighbor tree" graft had excellent tasting, although small, apples this year. I could use more of those.

9. I resolve to pause with a day or 2 off work, at least every other month, planned ahead, truly set aside for self regeneration. If I can, a week off to stay at home.

10. I resolve to revisit this list later, for further plans and adjustments.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Winter Solstice

Photo from wikipedia here. Photo of Stonehenge in 1877.

This posting is a week late, but I wanted to acknowledge the Solstice. For ancient peoples, as the days became shorter and shorter, the sun dimmer, the weather colder and chillier, and life in general gloomier, the solstice represented an end to the decline, and the beginning of seasonal rebirth.

In modern times, we are more removed from nature. We have the advantages of technology and modern civilization. We artifically brighten our days, and work hours that the ancients could not imagine. Even though we aren't being overrun by Vikings and Romans, and even though we have vaccines and medicines, the short days, dimmer sunlight, gloom and discomfort of winter affects us. At least, it affect me.

When I acknowledge the solstice, I acknowledge that it's the start of a new year. Better than New Year's day, better than religious holidays, Solstice is the moment when the planet and sun are seen to continue their cycle and influence our lives.

I'm glad for the start of a new Year, following solstice. Time to think about how I'll live it.

Book Review #2. "Backyard Fruits and Berries"

After giving a barely lukewarm review of another book (click on label "Book Reviews", I wanted to choose a book that I felt more positive about. Here is one. Others are expected to follow.

Again, this book covers the subject of the title. Backyard Fruits and Berries, by Miranda Smith. I bought it locally, but it was not at the bookstore when I looked last week. Available on Amazon.com here.

This is a well packaged book with lots of drawings and photos - a benefit for me. The initial chapters discuss placement of fruit trees, preparation of the site before planting, digging the hole, and planting the trees. The illustration on page 35 is in line with my understanding of how trees should be planted, and shows the concept well. There are chapters on tree care, including mulching, pruning, training. Some of the illustrated techniques are appropriate for the Backyard Orchardist, such as fan-shape, cordon, and espalier, but no discussion of the Backyard Orchard Culture method, including summer pruning, close planting, and maintaining small size. That concept (click on labels for Backyard Orchard Culture, and Dave Wilson Nurseries) is probably just too new for wide publication in books. I mention it here because I expect it to be central to home fruit growers in the future.

There is also a section on grafting. This is great! Also, propagating by cuttings. Any book that empowers the backyard gardener to grow their own, choosing varieties based on their neighbor's or family's experiences, is welcomed. For the avid home orchardist, to share their favorite varieties, and to try new ones by grafting or cuttings, even if they don't know the variety's name, is very welcome.

The sections on disease and insect control are rich with photos, and organically-inclined. Also a plus. I don't like reading about insects and disease damage, because it makes me wonder how we get any fruit at all - but we do, and it's great to see the organic approach.

Fruit specific sections include the usuals, and some unusuals, including apples, apricots, cherries, citrus, figs, pears, plums, and many types of vines and berries.
It includes Asian pears, which I think are an "up and coming fruit" for the home gardener. The plum varieties include European and Asian as well. Sour and sweet cherries are discussed separately - a sensible division given that there are some cultural differences.

The one drawback is already mentioned - Some day we'll need a book which emphasizes summer pruning, multi-tree-in-one-hole methods, and overall philosophy of Backyard Orchard Culture also here. This would include experiences outside of the area where this concept originated, because what works in California may not work, or may require other nuances, elsewhere.

I couldn't find a section on multigraft trees. Many books discourage multigraft, because one variety often overpowers the others. However, the small home orchard is based partly on more involved management, including pruning, and the multigraft may be the best, least expensive, and most reasonable way to have multiple varieties and polinator trees, in a small space. That oversight is minor.

I give "Backyard Fruits and Berries" an "A". It is one of my favorites.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Book Review: "The Fruit Expert"

I like reading books about gardening methods. The different books all have their pros and cons. Looking at the local bookstores, the garden sections seems to be getting smaller, so it's useful to have a bibliography of useful books. Amazon isn't the same as browsing through a book, it's difficult to tell what you might get.

So here's a review of one that I use from time to time. "The Fruit Expert" by Dr. D.G. Hessayon

Availability: This book is currently available at Amazon.com. I don't know current availability at bookstores.

Copyright: 2004

This book is written for the British gardener / home orchardist, although I found many sections useful for my own, Pacific NW garden. It is organized by the fruit type, and includes a forward on planting and an afterward on fruits that can be purchased from the store.

The planting method appears to match with other resources, although the author recommends a planting mix of soil+peat+bone meal. I think that current literature recommends not amending the soil, or not amending it much, because over-rich and over-loose planting mixture can lead to a 'flowerpot-effect', keeping the roots inside the hole and leading to a swampy soggy pocket in the hole. I have never seen that happen either, but now I only add minimal amendment to my planting mix.

Fruit varieties: The author discusses most of the major fruit types, including apple, apricot, cherries, pears, figs, plums, peaches, berries, and soft fruits or berries. The varieties won't generally be appropriate to the American gardener. The pruning section is "OK" but does not discuss summer pruning or backyard orchard culture, which I think is essential for the backyard gardener. The fig section was discouraging, probably due to limited usefullness in the UK. There is nothing on Asian Plums or Asian Pears. I don't know if these grow in the UK. The disease section contains many useful photos. This is not a book for the organically minded.

Overall grade: "C". Interesting for a book that is labeled "The world's best selling book on fruit". The photos are nice to look at. The planting method does not appear up to date. The pruning methods are not up to date or the best for the backyard gardener. The varieties are not useful to the American gardener.

I didn't realize until now, how poor this book is. I actually get it out and read it now and then, but there are better resources for either the novice or the expert.

Orchid report

This is the Oncidium that I repotted in the fall, thinking I was about to kill it either from bad timing or neglect. After initially potting in sphagnum, I read that sphagnum leads to rot, so I repotted it again in bark-based medium. Then left it to grow in an East exposure window. The newest pseudobulb is now the biggest, the new leaves are the greenest, and the start of a flower spike has begun to peek out at the first leaf. Cool or what! It's now in my home office, south window. With Northwest winters, even the southern exposure shouldn't be too much in Dec/Jan.

Backbulb start, taken from above Oncidium. Started in sphagnum, then potted into bark 2 weeks ago. Appears to be growing nicely. I think that sphagnum is OK for backbulb starts, since they need more moisture and there is thought to be antifungal/antibacterial property to sphagnum. Even if it takes a year or two to bloom, it is very cool to have started it myself!

One of the new oncidiums developed a pseudobulb infection, so is in quarantine. The good news is that I had decided I didn't like that one anyway/

Garden Log, Dec. 25 2009

Now we are past the solstice, so the days will start to lengthen. Even so, the coldest days are ahead of us. Today is bright and sunny, frost on the ground, so a new banner is added showing the frost on the candytuft.

View of my home office, from outside. It's great having a green place, with flowers blooming, and where I can look out to the birds in the feeder.

The Rhode Island Reds ('Rhodies') are laying an egg each day. So are the Australorps, which are too shy to photograph, and the Leghorn. We've been giving away a lot of eggs. They are one of the few things from the garden now, so it's great to have a reminder that the yard can still be productive in the Winter.

The Leghorn, having a "private moment" laying her daily egg.

A "Street chicken" during the trip to China in October. I don't know why, I just thought it was fun to take a photo.

The frosted Candytuft. Low, low maintenance- haven't done a thing with it in 6 years.

Helleborus starting to push up flower buds. It's the small things that tell me life continues, and give hope for Spring.

I didn't know if the Lycoris radiata would even survive. Here are the small, striped strap-like leaves. The hard freeze didn't seem to hurt them at all. This is the first time growing this bulb, so I still don't know what to expect. They look rugged, there, still green and standing up in the frozen leaf mulch.

The pond pump is broken, so the top froze over. You can see the koi and comets swimming around under the ice.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Neck Pain / Daydreaming about garden chores

Last week I developed a neck pain, typical for disk protrusion. This is like a sensation of toothache, extending down to the right hand, and numbness in 2 fingers. It should gradually improve, I know that. Meanwhile, it is severe enough to occupy my thoughts at all moments.

Trying to daydream a bit to get my mind off from this development. Jan 1st is usually pruning day for grapes. I hope it's better by then.

Also still need to to some yard cleanup, neglected like a lot of things this year.

Basically, 2009 was not so great. The backyard orchard did fairly well, but many other aspects of the yard were neglected, and other parts of life left to languish. I hope that 2010 will be better. We can always hope. I can resolve not to keep putting off the good things in life, to take care of today's "crises" and demands, but I already know how that will go.

I got the winter onions planted 3 weeks ago. Garlic still not planted. Last week temp dropped to 12 F in the backyard - I think that's the coldest day in my yard in 10 years.

Typing is painful too, so will stop now. Need to keep thinking about new projects - ordered trees, Illinois Mulberry, Karmijn de Sonnaville apple (highly flavored Dutch variety), Belmac apple (disease resistant Mac-type apple) and maybe, if lucky, a taste of fruit from the 1-year old trees that I planted last winter.

Karmijn de Sonnaville Apple(from Raintree): This intensely flavored red russetted apple from Holland measures the highest in both sugars and acids. A triploid cross of Cox's Orange Pippin and Jonathan, it is the favorite of many, however, it is so highly flavored and aromatic that it overwhelms some tastes when just off the tree. Put this excellent winter keeper in a box when it ripens in mid October and wait about a month for the complex mellow flavors to start shining through. A vigorous grower and somewhat scab resistant...

Belmac Apple(from Raintree): This wonderful new productive all purpose Canadian cultivar combines flavor and keeping ability with cold and disease resistance. The sweet, medium to large deep red apples ripen in late September/early October and keep three months or more. Like its parent Spartan, it has a delicious sweet/tart McIntosh flavor. It resists scab, mildew, and cedar apple rust. It thrives in eastern Canada and has also proven a winner in Western Washington.. Bred by Dr. Shahrokh Khanizadeh in Quebec and introduced in 1996.

Illinois Everbearing Mulberry (from Raintree): (Morus alba x rubra) This grafted tree is hardy to -30 deg.F. It sometimes starts producing the first year after planting and bears an abundance of sweet, highly flavored fruit, 1-1/2 inches long x 1/2 inch wide that look like elongated blackberries. The fruit has a delicious distinctive flavor. The berries ripen continuously throughout July, August, and September, hence its name. The fruit is red and turns black when ripe. Illinois Everbearing will grow to 35 feet tall but it is easily pruned and kept much smaller. Each is self-fertile.

As with the rest of the yard, These will be trained and pruned according to the "Backyard Orchard Culture" method. The apples are on super-dwarfing M27 rootstock. I haven't seen the "Backyard Orchard Culture" method applied to mulberries - in fact, I've so rarely seen mulberries, I don't quite know what to expect. But so far, the method is working out well for the other trees, so I think it should work for these as well. Plus, keeping the mulberry pruned to small size should allow for netting to prevent excessive bird-thievery.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Serious about climate change."Each snowflake in an avalanche pleads not guilty."

I can't figure out why so many people are so resistant to the idea that our climate is changing, or that it's because of human activity. Here is a quote regarding the recent summit:

"The solution to the problem is greatly retarded by the lack of scientific and technological awareness in certain societies, notably the U.S, where superstitions and political passions often trump sound reasoning," Emanuel said. "For example, we could make great strides toward energy independence and reduction of greenhouse emissions by undertaking a serious program of nuclear energy, which can easily supply our energy needs for 100 years. This, coupled with innovation in electric vehicles, would solve much of the problem."

But even if we were to stop emitting greenhouse gases all together, many of their effects would still emerge, say many scientists. And for that, adapting to such an environment is necessary. "
Link here.

In a world with over 6 billion people, what can one person do? Well, in the US, were one individual contributes far more to climate change that an individual in a poorer country, what one person does is more significant. In addition, we contribute to climate change in other countries by buying goods that are imported here - our purchase of a Chinese good contributes to the Chinese CO2 emission.

I haven't been able to bike commute for quite some time, due to work demands. I continue to think about it, but I have to be realistic. I do drive a reasonably fuel efficent car, and quit driving the pickup to work. Being vegetarian significantly reduces the carbon load. We also grow significant amounts of food in the yard, reducing cost of transportation and commercial agriculture. We keep the thermostat at 55 night and 60 daytime, in the winter. That's too cold for me when doing homework, but now having a home office, I use a portable heater that just warms that room, when I'm in the room.

I'll have to work on other ways to reduce carbon footprint. I think we produce less than most equivalent-size households, but there remains a lot of room for improvement. To be honest, with individual and cultural ignorance, political opportunism, religious demagoguery, narcissim, "me first", "It's my right to have as many babies as I want" at play, I have doubt that we'll make a difference.

Then there is the other aspect - how to adapt to a warmer world? I think that means learning to experiment with what grows, and how to grow things differently. Naturally, that will mean much bigger issues with commercial agriculture than with the individual gardener and homeowner. As long as we remain flexible, know to mulch for better water retention in summer & cooler soil, keep organic matter high in the soil for the same reasons, experiment with varieties, we'll be doing the best that we can.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Current Conditions.

Tonight it's going to be in the mid 20s. BRrrr.

Not much going on in the yard. Last weekend I planted winter onions - very belated. I don't know if they will survive or grow. Still have some in storage, too. Now they'll probably wait for spring, although if there is a warm snap I might plant them. Chickens still laying one egg each, daily. I changed their fluorescent bulb to an incandescant, for more heat. We're still eating apples, none have spoiled. I like the Jonagold better than Liberty, and the unnamed heirloom graft better than either.

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Saturday, December 05, 2009

More schlumbergera

Another Schlumbergera in full bloom. They all did great this year, some are starting to fade but have a second set of buds. I like the 2nd bloom better than the first, because it's less prolific and the individual flowers show better.

Another Orchid

This one is a paphiopedilum (Lady Slipper) hybrid. It's not labeled, but looking at internet photos appears to be Paphiopedilum 'Copper Glow' as pictured here. Here's another one that looks similar, called "the Queen". No way to know for certain. The word to keep in mind is "Paphiopedilum Maudiae hybrids"

According to this site, this mottled-leaf Paphiopedilum should have a night temperature not below 60 degrees F. (preferably 65 degrees F.), and a day temperature of 75-85 degrees F; constantly moist or damp, but not soggy; bright window but protect from mid-day sun.

I think I can manage those conditions, although our house is a bit cooler day and night in the winter.

It's all a gamble. Still, I could be spending money on... gambling? Booze? Furthering my education? I'll gamble a bit on gardening for a while instead.