Category Archives: Fruit

The Destroyer To The Rescue

Predatory Helpers

Some of the figs — the varieties Rabbi Samuel, Brown Turkey, and San Piero — started ripening last week. With their ripening, I am now in a position to claim victory over the mealybugs that have invaded my greenhouse fig-dom for the past few years.
Mealybugs look, unassumingly, like tiny tufts of white cotton, but beneath their benign exteriors are hungry insect. They injects their needle-like probiscis into stems, fruits, and leaves, and suck life from the plants, or at least, weaken the plants and make the fruits hardly edible.

Over the years I’ve battled the mealybugs at close quarters. I’ve scrubbed down the dormant plants with a tooth brush dipped in alcohol (after the plants were pruned heavily for winter). I’ve tried repeated sprays with horticultural oil. I put sticky bands around the trunks to slow traffic of ants, which “farm” the mealybugs. And I’ve rubbed them to …

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The Bad and the Good

Winecaps, Not For Me

My successes with growing shiitake mushrooms emboldened me, this past spring, to venture further afield, to wine cap mushrooms (Stropharia rugosoannulata). After all, it’s been billed as “prized, delicious” and “edible when young.”

Their quick production also prompted me to give them a try. As a matter of fact, my spring “planting” started bearing a couple of weeks ago. A bed can also be refreshed or a new bed can be inoculated from an old bed for repeat performances.

Let’s go back to spring, to my planting. Wine caps grow very well in wood chip mulch, something that’s aplenty on my farmden. My berry bushes are mulched, my pear trees are mulched, as are the paths in my vegetable gardens. Why not do double duty with those mulches?

A few years ago, I attempted just that, laying a thick mulch of chips atop my asparagus bed in spring. Two problems: …

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Picked At Peak Of Perfection

Tomatoes Vs. Sweet Corn

Some gardeners sit tapping their fingers waiting for the first tomato of the season to finally ripen. I don’t. I’m waiting to sink my teeth into my first-picked ear of sweet corn.

Not that my tomatoes don’t taste really good, but they’re also good all winter dried or canned, as is or as sauce. Or just frozen.

An ear of sweet corn, though, captures the essence of summer. Not just for flavor and texture. It’s the whole ritual of peeling back the husks and snapping them off at their bases, brushing away the silk before steaming the ears, and then, holding an ear at each end, biting off kernels from one end to the other like an old fashioned typewriter carriage. (An image perhaps unknown to readers below a certain age.)

An art to harvesting corn at the just-ripe stage, and anxiousness for that first taste, make …

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Fruit, Again, With Nod To Michael Jackson

Blackcaps Redux, This Season

I took a cue from Michael Jackson today when pruning my black raspberry (a.k.a. blackcap) plants. Not that I had to prune them today, or even this time of year. But I couldn’t stand looking at the tangled mass of thorny canes. And, more importantly, the tangled mass would make harvest, slated to begin in a couple of weeks or so, a bloody nightmare.

(Most blackcaps bear only once a year, in early summer, so tidiness would be the main reason to prune conventional blackcaps now. Pruning would also let remaining canes bathe in more light and air, reducing the threat of diseases. My blackcap plants, though, are the two varieties — Niwot and Ohio’s Treasure — that bear twice a year; hence, my pruning now to make picking the soon-to-ripen second crop less intimidating.)

All blackcaps have perennial roots and biennial canes. Typically, the canes just …

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Savin’ Seeds, Killin’ Weeds

 

Bolting Plants

Last week I was admiring a vegetable garden where just about every lettuce plant was reaching skyward, with flower buds about to cap the tops of the spires. Isn’t that the wrong way to grow lettuce?

Lettuce that flowers — “goes to seed” — becomes bitter and tough. In my own garden, I aspire to have no lettuce spires by sowing lettuce seeds every couple of weeks for a regular harvest of mild-flavored, succulent leaves or heads. The plants don’t have time to bolt.

Those bolting lettuces I was admiring were in a garden in Iowa, one of the gardens at the Seed Savers Exchange (www.seedsavers.org), an organization that every gardener should know about and a garden that I should have not waited so long to visit. The mission of Seed Savers Exchange is to save and preserve heirloom seeds, which are varieties that have been passed on down among …

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COMPOST TEA: SNAKE OIL OR ELIXIR? BLACK CURRANTS…

 

Tea For Plants?

Has your garden had its tea this morning? Tea is all the rage for plants and soils these days. Compost tea. And not just any old compost tea, but tea you steep in water that’s aerated just like an aquarium.

Compost tea steeped the old way, by hanging a burlap sack of compost in a bucket of water for a few days, was one way to provide a liquid feed to plants. The liquid feed wasn’t particularly rich but did provide a wide range of nutrients that leached from the compost, and was convenient for feeding potted plants.

The new, aerated compost teas are billed as an efficient way to transfer beneficial microorganisms from compost into the soil or onto plant leaves. After all, spraying a little tea is less work than pitchforking tons of compost. In the soil, the little guys can spread their goodness, fighting off plant diseases …

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BLACKCAPS AND PRUNING

Blackcaps All Season (Almost)

It’s a bumper year for blackcaps (also know as black raspberries or, botanically, Rubus occidentalis), at least here on the farmden. Up to last year, we harvested wild blackcaps from plants that pop up at the edges of woods. The current bountiful harvest is from blackcaps that I planted a couple of years ago. Last year’s harvest was unimpressive because the plants were still settling into their new home.

Most blackcaps, like many other bramble fruits, have biennial canes that grow stems and leaves their first year, fruit in early summer of their second year, then die back to the ground. (Annual harvests are possible because while those second year canes are fruiting and then dying, the perennial roots are pushing up new canes, which will bear the following year.)

Niwot and Ohio’s Treasure, the two varieties I planted, stand out from the crowd in bearing on new, growing …

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OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW

In Which I Emulate George Washington

It’s about 10 years since I planted the cherry tree, a sweet, self-pollinating variety called Stella, on  dwarfing rootstock. During that time, the trunk swelled to about 7 inches in diameter and the branches shot skyward to 20 feet.

Stella is now gone, and it was all my doing. She took ten years to grow but only about an hour to cut down (with my new Stihl cordless electric chain saw, which I highly recommend). Afterlife of her trunk is as firewood, her branches as chipped mulch.

I warned Stella, who never bore one cherry, that this was her last chance. Finally, this spring she was loaded with blossoms, for the first time, followed by a good crop of developing cherries. A couple of weeks later, all the cherries were gone, except for two green ones I noticed on a cut branch. The weather could not have …

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THE GOOD OL’ DAYS

Corn Made Even easier

I can understand why corn was so popular a crop early on in the settlement of our country by Europeans. Sure, it tastes good popped, ground and cooked, and, while immature, fresh from the cob. Mostly, though, corn was easy to grow in the rough soil left from recently cleared forest.

Most of my corn grows in my two vegetable gardens where the soil is crumbly and weed-free, watered gently by drip irrigation, and nourished annually with an inch depth of compost.

Highly cultivated sweet corn

The south garden is home, every year, to a couple of beds (about 60 square feet) of popcorn, and the north garden to 4 beds (about 215 square feet) of sweet corn. Those two gardens provide us with all the sweet corn and popcorn we eat for a year.

Separate gardens are needed because if sweet and popcorn cross-pollinate, the sweet corn will be …

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I’M AN INGRATE, AND RUTHLESS WITH FRUITLETS

Great Asparagus Does Not Require A Green Thumb

Not to be an ingrate or a braggart, but the asparagus some friends recently brought over for our shared dinner didn’t compare with my home-grown asparagus. Not that the friends’ asparagus wasn’t good. Theirs came from a local farm, so I assume harvest was within the previous 24 hours. But the stalks of my asparagus are snapped off the plants within 100 feet of the kitchen door, clocking in at anywhere from a few minutes to an hour of time before they’re eaten. It’s not my green thumb that makes my asparagus taste so good. It’s the fact that I can harvest it within 100 feet of my kitchen door.

But don’t take my word for it. Research has shown that asparagus spears begin to age as soon as they’re picked, the stalks toughening and sugars disappearing, and bitterness, sourness, and off-flavors beginning to …

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