With gardening activities grinding almost to a halt, I can take a breath and reflect on the past season — one of the best seasons ever. Of course, I’ll “blame” the bountifulness mostly on the weather. Maybe I’m also becoming a better gardener. (Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Though an old man, I am a young gardener.”) I wrote a couple of weeks ago about soil management here on the farmden. It’s simple and possibly sustainable. For the vegetable gardens: no digging, permanent beds, and an inch depth of homemade compost annually slathered onto those beds. For trees and shrubs, mulches of compost, wood chips or leaves, supplemented, if necessary, with soybean or alfalfa meal for additional nitrogen. My September trip to Maine afforded me two other perspectives on soil management. The first came from a presentation by, and conversation with, Jim Kovaleski, who farms in northern Maine. His system …
As I write this, on December 1st, the Rabbi — that’s the Rabbi Samuel fig — is still ripening fruit in my barely heated greenhouse. That’s commendable. Not so commendable, however, is the flavor; cooler temperatures and sparse sunlight have taken their toll. The drooping fruits look ripe and ready to eat, inside and out, but they are no longer worth eating.
End of the fruiting season for Rabbi Samuel fig.
On the other hand, another fruit, Szukis American persimmons, hardly look edible but still have rich, sweet flavor. Outdoors, fruits of this variety of American persimmon cling to bare branches. Their orange skins once stretched almost to the point of breaking over the soft flesh within. Now, alternate freezing and thawing temperatures and drier air have sucked moisture and temper from the flesh, so the skins have shriveled and barely cling. Their darkening does …
Apples a Bust, Pears a Success, Gooseberries a Bust, etc.
Early autumn is a good time for me to find a sunny spot on the terrace with a comfortable chair, pluck a bunch of grapes from the arbor overhead, and ponder the fruits of this year’s labors. And I mean “fruits,” literally: what were my successes, what were my failures, and what do future seasons hold?
In good years, my apples are very, very good; Hudson’s Golden Gem here.
To many people, to too many people, “fruit” means apples, the equivalence having deep roots since pomum is Latin for both apple and fruit. My apple crop this year, whether measured in pounds or number of fruits, is zero. Among my excuses are the wrong rootstock for the site, trees still recovering from last year’s onslaught of 17-year cicada egg-laying, apples’ pest problems making them among the most difficult fruits to grow …
Growing fruits is one of my specialties but, sad to admit, I may be the worst apple grower I know. What’s worse is all the time and effort I put into growing my apples, even way before they begin to fruit.
Mine are all super-dwarf trees, planted because these small trees yield more from a given land area than large trees and they eliminate the need for ladders. Usually, dwarf trees are made by grafting the
desired variety onto special dwarfing rootstocks. Mine are M.27, M.9, and Bud.9. But dwarfing rootstocks have weak root systems that barely support the trees and cannot forage far for nutrients and water. So the trees need staking and the best of soil conditions.
Anyone visiting my garden a few days ago might have thought they happened upon a moon landing or extraplanetary explorer. A two-legged creature was wandering around in bright blue pants and a bright blue, hooded jacket (actually, rain gear) with goggles and a respirator and 4 gallon tank strapped to its back. Periodically, an engine whine was accompanied by a cloud of mist (a jetpack)?
The creature was me and I was doing what was necessary to put myself on the road to a harvest of delicious apples (especially the variety Hudson’s Golden Gem) and plums (especially the variety Imperial Épineuse). I was dolled up for what looked like a moon landing because I was spraying pesticides on my
trees. In this part of the world, sad to say, that’s generally what’s necessary to get a decent — sometimes any — …
People are funny. Take, for instance, a fellow gardener who, a couple of months ago, shared with me her excitement about a biochar workshop she had attended. “I can’t wait to get back into my garden and start making and using biochar,” she said. Biochar, one of gardening’s new wunderkind, is what remains after you burn wood with insufficient air — charcoal, that is. Stirred into the soil, its myriad nooks and crannies provide an expansive adsorptive surface for microbes and chemicals, natural and otherwise. Biochar, being black, darkens the soil, and dark soil is generally associated with fertility, although that’s not always the case. Because biochar is mostly elementary carbon, it resists microbial decomposition, so it’s carbon is less apt to end up in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.
But raw wood, as opposed to biochar, added to soil feeds …
Every time I go near my apple and plum trees, I feel like my Nanking cherry, mulberry, pawpaw, and persimmon plants are laughing and flaunting their fruits at me. Nanking cherry and company are just a few of the fruits that I grow that require virtually no care.
Apples, on the other hand: If you wanted to come up with the most difficult fruit to grow east of the Rocky Mountains, it would be apple. Or plum, or apricot, peach, nectarine, or sweet cherry. The plants actually grow fine; getting fruit is another story. Organically grown fruit, that is.
Apple fruit, already damaged by plum curculio
The reason these common tree fruits are so difficult to grow around here is because of insect and disease problems (and, in the case of apricot, peach, and nectarine, winter cold and late spring frosts). …