New Things To Come At Minerva’s Garden!

Hi everyone!  It’s been really busy here, but very soon I will be having Minerva’s Garden make the switch from to, which will make the site better.  Stay tuned for (hopefully) some blog beauty!

Now, what in the world is up with the weather?  (Can you say climate change–why yes, yes, I can.)  We haven’t had much cold weather, one day of snow in January.  (You know it’s warm here when the agapanthus hasn’t died back at all, and it isn’t even covered with plastic or anything–that’s a zone 9 plant!)  All of my fruit trees are breaking dormancy already, as are all the roses.  NONE of my bulbs are blooming yet, and normally by this time of year I have snowdrops, crocus and winter aconite in bloom, not to mention sarcococa shrub flowers.  The winter jasmine is loving the warm weather, as is the Chinese witch hazel, and they are blooming away.  All I am seeing is some bulb greenery coming up.

My greens under plastic were in fabulous shape and we were eating off them a fair amount until the snow.  I haven’t had a chance to even go out to look under the plastic in a while, but that will be a project for one of these upcoming sunny days, perhaps tomorrow or Saturday.  Hopefully all is well, and I suspect it will be, because the snow didn’t crush the hoops or plastic coverings. 

My baby lettuces, radicchio and basil are growing away under lights.  I may just keep them around, and if this weather keeps up, plant them out under the plastic (of course, not the basil–it’s way too cold for them to be outside, even covered.)

What’s the weather like in your neck of the woods?  Do you have any early bulbs in bloom yet?  Let me know down in the comments!

Autumn Color At Minerva’s Garden

I walked around the garden yesterday and took a few pictures.  It is getting later and colder in the year, and yet we still have a lot of flowers in bloom.  I’ll show you what I mean, starting with light colors and working toward deeper hues:

Viburnum in October

Fuschia in October

I love these white flowers with just a flush of light pink–so pretty.  Now here are some in slighter deeper shades:

Glossy Abelia with pink blooms and 'Lochinch' butterfly bush in October

Pink hollyhock in October

I like the pink and grey colors together.  Now a little more color saturation and moving into the yellows, golds and oranges:

Nasturtiums and dahlias in October

Yellow hollyhock in October

And a little comic relief:

Forsythia in October--what?

The forsythia decided it must be March, and shot out a few blossoms!  I’ll take ’em whenever I can get ’em!

Okay, back to business.  Some yellow to gold tones in evergreen foliage:

'Rheingold' dwarf evergreen conifer in October


Another gold dwarf evergreen conifer in October


And some yellow to gold deciduous leaf color:

Chinese Witch Hazel 'Arnold Promise' starting to turn yellow in October


Pergola covered with golden 'Einset' grape leaves in October


Now moving into some cooler shades–sometimes there are plants that combine warm and cool colors in fruit and foliage, such as:

Beauty berry in October

The beautyberry is surrounded by winter jasmine foliage.

This next vine has finally matured enough to really come into its own.  I speak of:

Ampelopsis vine with turquoise and purple berries in October


Ampelopsis in a different light

I am so in love with this vine–I adore turquoise and purple in a plant!  The only other one that I know of that combines these two colors as well, but not in bloom at the moment, is:

Cerinthe major 'Purpurescense'

I love this plant so much, and so do the hummingbirds!  This was taken in May, if I remember correctly.

Anyway, back to October color.  As long as we’ve introduced cooler colors, here is:

Ceratostigma plumbago in October

I am sorry this picture does not do this plant justice, because it is so beautiful now.  I love the deep burgundy stems, dark green leaves with a touch of burgundy around the edges, and then these wonderful deep blue flowers.  Here is another shot:

Dward plumbago in October

This was a hard plant to get situated properly in my garden–I ended up moving it three or four times until I finally put it here on the walkway toward the kitchen door.  It now seems to be happy.

More purple:

Morning glory and verbena bonariensis in October


Clematis 'Haku Oakan' reblooming in October


And onto the sprightly shades of orange-red and red:

Hybrid tea rose 'Camelot' buds in October


Hibiscus 'Sweet Caroline' blooming away in October


Jupiter's Beard in October--a hummingbird favorite! The golden marjoram and daylily foliage in the background help to set off these red flower clusters.


Zinnias 'State Fair Mix' with raspberries in the background in October

And even deeper red:

Blueberry 'Herbert' with striking red foliage in October


 I love how blueberry plants look this time of year–such gorgeous color.  Now on to some of the deepest shades in the garden:


Red raspberries and dark purple/black Aronia berries in October


A few red raspberries and those amazing Aronia berries.  I also love the foliage of this shrub–every day causes it to turn more red and orange–beautiful!

I could see color combinations from the flower garden and fruit garden being used indoors at this time of year–imagine deep purples and scarlets for a dramatic Thanksgiving table, for example.  Possibilities are endless–just get creative and find the inspiration that is all around you!

What is blooming for you now, and are you still eating from your garden?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments!


Apple Cider From ‘Kingston Black’ Cider Apples

Over the weekend we picked our ‘Kingston Black’ cider apples and got them turned into some great apple cider. 

Here is the subject:

'Kingston Black' cider apple

This is the first year that I’ve ever let this apple tree bear fruit, and so it’s been a bit of an adventure because I didn’t know exactly what to expect.  This is a tree I grafted back in 2006, and it is a part of my espaliered Belgian fence that is in our backyard (see here for more on the Belgian fence.)  The tree variety, or scionwood, was grafted onto an M-27 rootstock, which produces a mini-dwarf apple tree that reaches only four to six feet in height at maturity.  I had to wait a few years (five) before the fruit trees filled in the frame with their branches before I could let them fruit, otherwise they would have been stunted and never filled in the frame.  So this is the first producing year with them.  I selected the ‘Kingston Black’ variety of cider apple because normally you have to mix two different types of apples–a tart variety and a sweet variety– in order to produce a good-tasting cider, but with this variety they taste great on their own, so it was a simpler deal all around.

Since it was the first year it produced, there was only a small crop, but we took what we had to the Community Cider Pressing in Vancouver, Washington.  It was a part of the Old Apple Tree Festival, which celebrates the oldest European apple tree in the Pacific Northwest–it was planted in 1826, and the cider pressing was held at the “feet” of the Old Apple Tree.  We had to be careful to only use apples that we had just picked from the tree–they would not accept “windfall” apples that had lain on the ground, or bruised apples, nor could they have any soil on them.    Because this was a community event, they had to follow health regulations and dip the apples in a sanitation bath prior to pressing. 

The Old Apple Tree has an interesting story from history–from the cider-pressing announcement:  “In 1830 Clark County’s first apple harvest occurred–one apple.  Planted near Fort Vancouver in 1826, the Old Apple Tree is considered the oldest in the Northwest and the matriarch of Washington State’s apple industry.  Its modest beginning has been traced to the whimsical flirtations of an English woman in 1825.  Historians have learned from diary entries that Lt. Aemillus Simpson, an officer in the Royal Navy, was attending a formal dinner on the eve of his departure to the rugged Pacific Northwest.  At that dinner, a young woman admirer collected some apple seeds left over from the fruit dessert and dropped the seeds in Lt. Simpson’s dinner jacket pocket saying, “Plant these when you reach your Northwest wilderness.”  Simpson forgot about the seeds until he found them in his pocket months later at Fort Vancouver.  In 1826, under the direction of Dr. John McLoughlin, gardener James Bruce planted the seeds.  Of the five original apples trees, the Old Apple Tree is the only one remaining.  It has withstood decades of flood, storms, ice and the steady encroachment of development, the railroad and State Route 14.”  I love a good story like that!

Anyway, more pictures from the cider pressing:

One type of cider press

This one looks kind of old-timey, doesn’t it?

Another type of cider press

Basically, the apples get put into the bin at the top, and a handle is turned to crush the apples.  Afterwards, a press is used to push down hard on the apple mash to extract the juice from it.  The juice comes out of the bottom of the press, where it is collected in bowls, and then it’s strained and transferred to the container that we brought with us.

Final result:

Finished apple cider!

Let me just say that I did not realize what a messy process apple cider pressing is.  Also, just to be on the safe side, I did boil the cider when I got it home to kill any germs it might have come in contact with at the pressing site, and I added a little cinnamon and nutmeg because it just seemed like the thing to do–the house smelled so good!

So that was my gardening adventure of late–what have been yours?  Leave me a comment–I love to hear from you!  And visit the garden party. 


‘Einset’ Grape Harvest

I have been looking forward to this fall, because fall is the time of year when grapes are ripe and ready to be harvested.  The grapevine that I have growing on my outdoor pergola is an ‘Einset’, a red seedless table grape.  This particular variety was recommended to me by the head arborist at the Home Orchard Society at Clackamas Community College, where they have an arboretum of fruit trees, but which also includes grapes and figs, and other types of fruit.  I’ll show you the progression of this vine. 

I started it from a free cutting that I got at the Home Orchard Society Rootstock Sale and Scion Exchange, which is held every March.  I basically put the bottom end of the cutting in damp paper towel, put it in a ziplock bag, and put it in my refrigerator for about a month or so, untill roots started coming out of the bottom of the cutting.  I then took it out of the frig, and potted it up in a container with potting soil.  I let it grow a little bit more, so the roots could get more established, and then I planted it outside in position.  Here’s what it looked like as a baby vine in 2008:

So we were off to a good start–the cutting was healthy and growing.  This was the first grape I’ve ever grown, so I was a total neophyte in terms of pruning.  So basically, I didn’t do any until this year.  Here’s what I had to deal with early on:

'Einset' grape vine trunks, April 2011

As you can see, there is one plant crown, but four trunks growing out of it.  This caused the grape vine to produce a ton of leaves and no fruit.  I knew I had to learn how to prune it to get it to produce fruit.  The first thing I learned was that there is only supposed to be one trunk coming out of the crown.  But I had grown this vine from a tender baby, and I didn’t want to kill it, so I cut it down to two trunks.  (I know, I am a pruning wuss.)  I figured if something went wrong, I’d still have one trunk left to play with.

I learned a little bit.  First off, each grape variety produces the most fruit if you prune them in one of two methods:  spur pruning and cane pruning.  Each variety of grape has one or the other of these pruning requirements.  I looked up ‘Einset’ and discovered that it responds best to cane pruning.  You are supposed to do grape pruning, at least here in SW Washington State, around the end of February, when the vine starts putting out the first new growth in the form of leaf buds.  I didn’t get around to pruning it until the beginning of May, which is quite late, so I made a note on my gardening calendar to do this earlier next year.  (If you recall last February, the weather was very cold and rainy, but if you’re growing fruit, you just have to gird your loins and get out there to prune.)

I don’t have good pictures of how to do cane pruning–I was doing well to get out there and prune it at all this time around.  My hope is that next year I can take some and do a more detailed post on how to do it.  But basically, each trunk produces two cordon arms (You have to train it, ie. prune it, to get it to do this), and from this arm you want to have at least sixteen canes coming out from each of the cordon arms, because this is where the grapes are produced.  You also want to keep a spur, a short cane, near the base of the cordon arm, with the idea being that the spur will grow long over the growing season, and next year you replace the cane that produced fruit the year before with the fresh cane that grew from the spur of the previous year, to constantly rejuvenate the plant each year so it produces well.  I positioned the cordon arms and the canes so they were spread out over the entire pergola roof, and tied them into place on the wooden beams of the roof.

I had a HUGE pile of vines when I finished pruning–no photo, but I cut that entire gigantic overgrown plant back by half.  It looked pretty puny after that.  But I had faith–this is a grape, after all, and they grow like crazy each year, so I figured I couldn’t damage it too much even if I didn’t prune it exactly right.  (I later learned from a friend who has produced wine from his own wine grapes that you can take a chain saw and cut a grapevine down to the ground, but you won’t kill it, because it will send out new vines from the roots.  In fact, it is pretty difficult to get rid of a grapevine because of this.  This is one way to rejuvenate a badly overgrown grapevine–just cut it completely down and start over with it so you can train it properly from the beginning.)

So the growing season began.  Here it is in June of this year:

'Einset' grape, June 2011

So here it is cut back to two trunks, and I “limbed’ it up so there was no leaf growth until the stem got to the very top of the pergola roof.  Notice that there is a lot of open air showing through the roof at this time–not much leaf cover yet.

'Einset' grape, June 2011

But don’t feel sorry for that vine at all–here’s what it developed into by July 2011:

'Einset' grape, end of July 2011

Notice that there’s not much open space at all now–it is completely covered in leaves . . . and also, finally, baby grape clusters!

'Einset' grapes, end of July 2011

Having it growing on the pergola made it very easy to pick the grapes later, so I liked that.  And I love how they look–they are small, green and tart at this stage, but the clusters are even pretty for decorating a buffet table if you’re having a party.  Now technically, you are supposed to thin the grapes, either remove entire clusters, or remove some of the grapes–the tips—from each cluster, but I wasn’t sure how much the vine would produce, if at all, so I didn’t thin this year.  And frankly, it didn’t seem to hurt anything.  Also I’ve been told if you thin, it produces sweeter grapes, which could be true because the vine is putting its energy into less fruit, but I just decided to leave well enough alone this time around.  If you have a young vine that is only just starting to produce, the advice is to thin the fruit so it doesn’t wear itself out with a huge crop early on in its life, and then let it gradually produce more and more each following year, so the framework of the vine can support the growth of all the fruit.

Here they are in August:

Green 'Einset' grapes, August 2011

The grapes are still green, but filling out and getting bigger.

Finally, on September 5th, here is what they looked like:

Ripe, red 'Einset' grapes, September 5, 2011

So, we were in business–eating fresh and delicious ‘Einset’ table grapes by Labor Day Weekend!  I still don’t have a completely developed cane framework yet with this vine, but nevertheless it produced a lot of fruit for us for about two and a half weeks.  There were a few final grape clusters that I was giving one more day to ripen, and something (birds probably, or a raccoon?) came out and overnight had a big grape-eating party.  I came out the next day, and there were grape leaves everywhere, and fallen fruit, and empty stems on the grape clusters!  So that was the end of that!

I also had people warn me about growing grapes under a pergola where we had a dining table.  They said the bees would become a problem, but I had no trouble with bees at all.  Perhaps because I kept the grapes picked often, so they didn’t fall to the ground and attract insects.  I also have a ton of flowers nearby, and maybe they were so busy with the flowers they didn’t bother with the grapes.  It does produces a dense leaf cover that makes it kind of dark when you are seated there, but that’s why you add a candle chandelier!

For more information of growing and pruning grapes, I recommend Ron Lombaugh’s book called The Grape Grower.  Ron grows grapes locally in the Willamette Valley of Oregon.

So that’s it for my grape-growing adventures for this year!  What gardening adventures have you had this season–do tell in the comments!  And visit the garden party.

Growing Mini-Dwarf Apple Trees In Containers

This is an article I wrote a couple of years ago, and was subsequently published in the October 2009 Master Gardeners’ Program/Foundation newsletter here in Clark County, Washington.  It has a lot of good information if you have a small growing area, and yet would still like to try some fruit trees of your own, so I thought I would share it with you today.  Enjoy!

Growing Mini-Dwarf Apple Trees In Containers

If you’ve ever thought about growing your own apple trees but got discouraged because you either live in an apartment and have no backyard, or you have a backyard but it’s tiny, here’s an idea: try growing apple trees in large containers. The Home Orchard Society in Portland, Oregon, is a wonderful group that can help you succeed with fruit trees. The HOS Arboretum, located on the campus of Clackamas Community College, offers workshops in grafting and pruning fruit trees.

If you want to grow apple trees in pots, you need to know a little bit about how a tree is built. There are two basic parts when building your own fruit tree: the rootstock and the scion. The scion, a cutting from a particular variety of tree, is grafted onto the rootstock. A graft is where new scion wood attaches to, and grows out from, the rootstock. The fruit is produced from the scion and not the rootstock. Both rootstock and scion determine the mature tree size. Knowing how to graft allows you to build your own trees that will top out at a dwarf height (four to six feet tall), thereby not outgrowing the space you have available for them when they mature. You can also maximize space by grafting several apple varieties onto one rootstock. Another benefit is that you can graft heirloom variety apples or grow different varieties that mature early, mid and late season to extend your harvest. You can also experiment with varieties that are delicious but unavailable for sale locally. Finally, knowing how to graft enables you to build your own trees inexpensively. As a member of HOS, you can buy rootstock at the Fruit and Berry Cutting (Scion) Exchange for four dollars each, and get the scions for free. At the Cutting Exchange they will build a tree for you with whatever scion wood you select for a small fee, but they also sell supplies like Doc Farwell’s Grafting Seal (for sealing moisture out of the newly forming graft), and grafting bands (which resemble strips of rubber band and are used to connect the newly grafted scion to the rootstock until the graft takes), so you can do your own grafting. However, if you prefer, dwarf apple trees are available for purchase locally, as well as online from One Green World in Molalla, Oregon, and Raintree Nursery in Morton, Washington. Prices start around twenty-two dollars per tree. Once you learn how to graft, you will discover a new obsession and after you run out of room at your house, you will find yourself grafting for your neighbors and friends as well.

Karen Tillou, manager of the Arboretum, recommends M27, M9 or P22 rootstocks as best for container-grown apple trees. Karen says that these are the most dwarfing kinds of rootstocks, but they absolutely require staking/support even in a pot. (Wood or thick bamboo stakes can be attached directly to the pot with the tree’s branches loosely tied to it.) They are dwarfing because they have small, relatively weak root systems and consequently need support and very consistent water throughout the dry summers.

As far as particular varieties of apples that work well as container plants, Karen suggests choosing varieties that are not vigorous. Varieties have a measurable “vigor” the same way rootstocks do. If you match a vigorous variety to a dwarf rootstock, you will still get a tree that wants to get big. It’s best to choose moderately vigorous varieties, and a very complete list can be found at the HOS website. Picking a “good” apple variety is a little like picking out a “good” outfit: it all depends on your particular taste. However, a delectable one is ‘Spitzenburg,’ a medium to large orangish-fruited dessert apple reputed to be Thomas Jefferson’s favorite, introduced in 1790. Another favorite is ‘Stayman Winesap.’ A red-skinned apple, it tastes sweet, crisp, juicy, and is everything a fresh eating apple should be–delightful offered on a tray with cheese and accompanied by wine as you watch autumn leaves fall.

Vern Nelson, garden writer for The Oregonian, gardens on a quarter of an acre, has an extensive edible landscape and grows forty-one varieties of apples in his orchard. Vern considers ‘Orleans Reinette,’ a dessert apple flushed with rosy color and strong aroma, ripening in mid-October, a worthy addition to a home orchard.

If you like hard apple cider, growing appropriate varieties in containers is more difficult because most of the single varietals are a bit large for pots. One single varietal that might lend itself to container growing is ‘Sweet Coppin,’ which is moderately vigorous and produces a sweet, pure cider. Most often hard cider is made by blending the juices of sweet dessert and cider apple varieties, but you can make hard cider out of certain single varietals as well. For more information, do an online search for “Apples for Hard Cider Production” and “Growing Cider Apples.”

Karen advises adding an annual compost to potted apple trees in March. During the first two to three years Karen maintains using more nitrogen/animal manure will encourage vegetative growth, then switching to a bloom and bud fertilizer with more phosphorus will promote fruiting when the tree is older. Among others available for purchase, Dr. Earth offers organic fertilizers that are suitable for this purpose.

Vern mentions that it can be hard to keep a pot-grown tree vigorous for a long time, so he suggests root pruning every two years. To accomplish this, you should remove the tree from the container and literally cut the outer ends of the roots off. Afterwards, put it back into the container with new potting soil. This will help reinvigorate the tree’s root system and keep it more productive. Vern also emphasizes using containers no smaller than a half-whiskey barrel size, to allow for adequate root space. Both Karen and Vern stress not allowing dwarfing rootstocks to bear fruit too soon. Many will try to bear fruit in their second or third year after grafting. If they fruit too soon, they will stunt themselves. Thus, they will never make more apples than that initial branch structure allows. To prevent this stunting takes determination: you must harden your heart and pinch off the flowers the first two to three years that they show up. This helps the tree put more energy into growing substantial root and branch systems, making for a healthier, longer-lived tree.

In terms of pruning the tree’s branches, Karen points out a container gardener should aim for balanced, open structure that allows for air and light circulation. Once you have a framework of branches, you can winter prune new shoots back to two to three buds each, to create fruiting spurs along the branches. You could also consider training your tree into an espalier shape. Espalier training allows you to grow your tree in a small, two-dimensional space, and trees so grown are decorative placed against a wall or situated around a patio area. Vern offers an excellent class on espalier training [contact him at anewleaf1 (at use the @ symbol instead of the word)]. The HOS can also give you advice and training.

On the subject of winterizing container-grown apple trees in Clark County, Karen explains that the top of the tree would come through unscathed. As the roots in a pot freeze a lot sooner than roots under the soil, however, it is advisable to place the pot on the ground, not on a deck if possible, and then mound it up with leaves, straw, sawdust, or burlap sacks. The organic matter helps trap air around the pot, and prevents it from freezing. You could also place your pot up against the wall of a building and then mound organic matter around it because buildings hold more heat than air.

Even if you don’t have a lot of extra space, try some apple trees in containers. It’s a long-term project with even longer (and delicious) results.

I hope you’ve been enjoying the sunshine–it even looks as if we might have glorious weather for the 4th of July this year (!-fingers and toes crossed).  Leave me a comment if you like–do you grow fruit trees, and if so what kinds?  Would you like to grow some, or even learn how to graft them?  And visit the Garden Party today! 

Flowers and Food

A quick post to show you a bit of what we got done over the warm and wonderful (and dry) weekend:

First the food part (future food, I should add) of the gardening weekend:

We prepared and planted a Swiss Chard, Beet and Spinach bed.  My earlier hardy salad greens bed that I put in back in March is about ready to start picking greens at the baby stage, and the lettuce bed I put in last week is looking good and starting to put down some roots.  We also put in some peas and I am trying this pea trellis I saw in Fine Gardening magazine, made out of some sticks and twine:

The peas are not super heavy, so hopefully this will be enough support for them–we’ll see how it works.

And now the flowers:

These are some tough English Daisies that I started inside from seed several years ago.  They are growing in a container, and I didn’t cover the container or anything over the winter, and when it starts to warm up, there they are.  I love the rings and gradiations of color in these.

‘Queen of the Night” tulips are some of my favorite.  (Always reminds me of her solo in The Magic Flute.)  I like the contrast in color with the silvery-grey lamb’s ears.  Anthriscus silvestris “Ravenswing’ is the dark foliage on the left, and behind the tulips are some blue irises that are putting out some flower buds.

And I guess this last one could be considered both flowers and future food:

Our crabapple treee is blooming now, as is the ‘Barlett’ pear tree and several other apples about to bloom.  Along with the crabapple blossoms is a sea of blue Forget-me-nots, and a couple of parrot tulips–pink ‘Angelique’ and a purply-blue double.  I discovered that the late parrot tulips bloom at the same time as the apple and pear trees, and so they make a nice plant combination together in the garden.

Hope you had a wonderful weekend out in your garden–let me know in the comments if you wish!  And please visit the Garden Party.

An Update On Garden-Related Topics For The Beginning Of August

It’s been a pretty hectic couple of weeks around here, but I wanted to fill you in on how the garden is doing, and a fun upcoming gardening event or two.

First of all, I harvested our first ‘Yukon Gold’ potato  this  week!  After you heard about my travails with with potato plants this year–flea beetles=1, Minerva’s Garden=0–I thought I’d better share this little victory with you as well. Nice and smooth and not damaged, so hopefully there will be more like this from the hills later in the season.

My yellow begonnia started to bloom after two years of waiting–I was pretty excited to finally get to see the result:

Everything vegetable-wise is growing, but not much is producing at the moment, which is not surprising due to the cold spring and most of summer we’ve had thus far.  We should have a fantastic autumn harvest, however!

Yesterday we u-picked 5 pounds of raspberries (not a good time for picking raspberries–the June-bearing ones are about done, and the fall-bearing ones haven’t started, so there wasn’t much to pick) and 11 pounds of blueberries (this was an excellent time for picking blueberries here–the bushes were loaded with fruit, and the picking went pretty quickly.)  I made two pints of Cranberry-Raspberry Jam, and 2 pints of sugar-free Raspberry Preserves.  I so far have individually quick frozen a one-gallon freezer bag of blueberries, and today I’ll freeze more and make some Spiced Blueberry Marmalade–all of these are freezer jams.

There are a couple of fun gardening events coming up that I want to let you know about.  About four years ago, I took a class at the Home Orchard Society to learn how to graft fruit trees.  It was inexpensive, a lot of fun, and I learned a great new gardening skill.  I also took a fruit tree pruning class that they offered as well.  August is when they offer a Summer Budding Workshop, which is a method of grafting new fruit trees in the summer months (fruit tree grafting usually happens in March, not summertime, with this one exception.)  By learning how to graft, you can build new mini-dwarf fruit trees that only reach 4-6 feet tall at maturity, a much better size than standard fruit trees that reach 22 feet tall for modern gardens, and you can learn how to prune and train fruit trees into different shapes.  I have an espaliered Belgian Fence in my backyard that is growing, and allows me to grow 8 mini-dwarf fruit trees in only 15 feet of space.  Try that with standard fruit trees, and you see the advantages of using the mini-dwarfs.  Also, you don’t need to get out ladders to pick the fruit or prune, either, with the smaller trees, but they produce a substantial amount of fruit.   You will pay around $22 or more for a grafted mini-dwarf fruit tree at a nursery, but you can build your own for only $5, so there is a substantial savings.

If you want to get t started with this, here is what I would suggest.  Start by going to the All About Fruit Show in October.  Here you will find samples of all the different kinds of fruits that will grow here–you can taste, and make a list of the specific varieties that you’d like to grow. You can also ask the fruit tree experts there your questions.   Then in February the following year, take the grafting class.  They take you through the process step-by-step, with people helping you, and you actually graft a fruit tree to take home with you.  Then in March attend the Rootstock Sale and Scion Exchange, where you can purchase mini-dwarf rootstocks and get free scionwood of hundreds of different varieties of apples, pears, plums,and more, like grapes and figs.  (The grapevine growing up my pergola is an ‘Einset,’ and I started it from a free cutting I got at the Scion Exchange!)  Than you go home and graft your trees and plant them in March.  (If you prefer, you can order trees to be grafted for you, and pick them up at the Sale–they cost around $10 or so for each tree.  You tell them what rootstock you want used and what tree varieties you want grafted onto the rootstock and they do the work for you.)  The trees will take about 4 years to reach a mature height and before you should let them produce fruit, so you have to be a little patient, but you’ll end up with beautiful trees for a fraction of the cost of buying them retail, and with heirloom varieties that you can’t find at the nurseries.  I highly recommend this–it’s been fun for me.

To whet you appetite, here is a little video we made over a year ago about grafting and my Belgian fence:

If you want to attend the Budding Workshop information is here, and the All About Fruit Show information is here.  If you don’t live in the Portland, Oregon area, here are two books that talk about grafting and espalier that I recommend:

Toogood, Alan, ed. Plant Propagation. New York: DK Publishing, 1999

Brickell, Christopher and David Joyce. Pruning & Training: A Fully Illustrated Plant-by-Plant Manual. New York: DK Publishing, 1996.

How is your garden growing?  Do you graft fruit trees or other plants?  Do tell in the comments!

Please stop on by the Tuesday Garden Party at An Oregon Cottage for more beautiful gardens!

And try Oh, How My Garden Grow!


Made Strawberry Freezer Jam and Froze Strawberries On This 4th Of July!

Not a traditional way to spend the Fourth, admittedly, but my wonderful husband went to a you-pick farm yesterday and picked 22 pounds of lovely strawberries.  Since we had company over yesterday and I was busy cooking for that, he also washed and hulled all the berries for me–what a sweetie!  Into the refrigerator they went until today, when I turned them into jam and frozen whole berries. 

I just do individually quick frozen berries–place the cleaned berries on a cookie sheet so the berries are not touching one another, and then place the sheet in the freezer.  In an hour or two, they are frozen and can be transferred to a labeled ziplock bag, which is what I did.

I also made sugar-free jam.  I have a neat cookbook called Canning and Preserving Without Sugar by Norma M. MacRae, who is a dietician and nutritionist.  The recipe I used is called “Strawberry Preserves.”  I like my jam fruity and fairly soft set, so I don’t really like to use pectin at all.  The recipe calls for 10 cups cleaned strawberries, 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (I also added some rind as well),  concentrated white grape juice (you take 3 cups of white grape juice, put in a pot and boil it down to 1 cup. ) That’s it.  Take 5 cups of the strawberries and put them in a big  nonaluminum pot (I use an 8-quart stainless steel stock pot) with the lemon juice and grape juice.  Bring it to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly, then reduce the heat a bit and continue cooking until it thickens a bit.  It was about 15-20 minutes for me.  (It does set up more as it cools.)  Take the pot off the heat, and stir in the remaining 5 cups of strawberries, which you can dice, slice or leave whole–your preference.  This cools the mixture off quite a bit.  I then decided to freeze it, so I filled my plastic containers, leaving 3/4 of an inch at the top (this is important, because the jam will swell when frozen.)  Put the lid on, and label it.  I also made up 3 pints which I put in the refrigerator to eat up in the next couple of weeks.  One batch makes 10 1/2 cups of jam, or roughly 5 pints.

Total, I made 14 pints of sugar-free jam, and ended up with 1 one-gallon bag full of individually quick frozen whole strawberries.  We paid $1/pound for the berries (!), and about $2.90 for the white grape juice.  I already had some fresh lemons and containers, so this ended up being a fairly inexpensive project that I will be very happy to have come cold winter weather.

Happy 4th of July, everyone!!

Support Local Growers And Stock Your Pantry For The Winter

Now is a great time to purchase the beginnings of the berry harvest here in Clark County.  The Master Gardeners have put together a great list of all the local farmers that have produce and fruits to sell to the public.  Some are u-pick, while others offer produce stands with picked produce.  The listing gives the address and other contact information for each farm, plus a listing of exactly what types of produce and fruit they have available for sale.  Here’s the list.  It’s never too early to put up some jam or freeze some berries–you will be glad you did come next January or February when you are craving strawberry shortcake or lemon blueberry muffins, for example.  Freezer jams are so quick and easy to do, taking a lot less time than canned preserves, so if you are starting out, give those a try.  It is also a great way to fill in any gaps in what you yourself can produce on your property.

Save The Date: Home Orchard Society Fruit Propagation Fair and Scion Exchange on March 6th

If you are interested in growing mini-dwarf fruit trees, then you will want to come to the Home Orchard Society’s Fruit Propagation Fair.  The event will be held on Saturday, March 6th, 10am-4pm, at the Washington County Fairgrounds, Hillsboro, Oregon.  If you become a Home Orchard Society member at the show, you can get in free! HOS Members pay $4/person, $8/family, and others pay $6/person, $10/family.
Here is a quote from the email they sent me describing the event:

“By mixing and matching the scions (the part of the tree that determines the fruit) and rootstock (the part of the tree that controls the size and growth characteristics of the tree) the possibilities are endless. We have hundreds of varieties of delicious apples, peaches, pears, Asian pears, plums and more, including many types that are rare or heirloom, for you to choose from.

The hundreds of scions & cuttings are free from HOS members. Rootstock is available at a nominal cost. HOS volunteers will be there to show you how to graft trees yourself and give you expert advice. For a small charge, you can choose the rootstock and scion you want to use to “Make-a-Tree:” create exactly the kind of tree you want, and someone will graft it for you. Berries and other edible garden plants will be available for sale.”

More information (including directions) available at

And to whet your appetite for grafting mini-dwarf fruit trees, check out my video on the subject:

Please leave a comment–do you grow mini-dwarf fruit trees on your property, and what types do you grow?  Do you graft your own trees?