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 WordPress.com to WordPress.org, 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!

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Mulch For Garden Beds And A Pretty Winter Plant Combination

Over the weekend, our across-the-street neighbor was raking up the many Japanese Maple leaves from his gorgeous tree, and so I ran out and asked him if I could take the leaves for my garden beds, pretty please?  He said yes (not the first time for this same reason, I might add), and so away we hauled a bunch of beautiful tiny orange and gold leaves to dress our flower and vegetable beds.  Some photos to illustrate:

Bulb bed mulched, Dec. 2011

A little bulb bed, tucked in for the winter with a couple of inches of Japanese Maple leaves for mulch.

Another flower bed mulched, Dec. 2011

 
 
In this bed I’ve left room around the rose on the left and daylilies on the right, and mulched over the top of where I have lots of bulbs planted.  From garden writer Ann Lovejoy, I learned to mulch the bulb beds, because it helps to keep the upcoming spring flowers from getting mud splashed on them from incessant spring rain that we get here.
 

Fruit trees mulched for the winter. My fruit tree row, weeded (and I was aided in this by the neighbor's chickens who like to come over and visit--there must have been bugs that they were excited to eat there) and mulched with a couple of inches of leaf mulch. Dec. 2011

 
 

Vegetable bed mulched with Japanese Maple leaves, December 2011

 
 
It’s also a good idea to cover bare soil in your vegetable beds as well, and the leaves work great for this.  In the upper left corner there are some bright green garlic leaves–I planted them several years ago, and even though they get pulled up every year, they keep coming back, and not a bad thing I might add.  They are much more pungent than garlic from the grocery store.
 
 

Japanese Maple leaf mulch

 
Japanese Maples grow readily in the Pacific Northwest.   They are gorgeous, there are many in smaller sizes, and they tend to grow unaffected by disease or pests, making them a winner for the garden.  I like to use Japanese Maple leaves in my garden for several reasons:
  • They are already naturally small, so I do not have to chop them up like would have to do with full-sized maple leaves
  • They are free
  • They are amply available when I need them

In our climate, it tends to be best to use about a two-inch layer of leaves for mulching your flower and vegetable beds.  Leave room around the plant crowns; don’t cover them with mulch.  If you put more than two inches, it can sometimes become a haven for mice and other pests that like to live in the leaves if given the chance.  I also like the small leaves better than large maple leaves, because the large leaves, if they are not chopped up fine, tend to stick together in our rainy climate and don’t break down very readily over the course of the winter, and they also become a haven for slugs, which will winter over and eat the plants that you have so carefully covered nearby.

 

Another type of “mulch”:

  

Outdoor containers covered in plastic, Dec. 2011

I just grouped my containers on the garage roof together, and covered them with several layers of clear plastic.  Old clear shower curtains also work great for this, and are made from heavier plastic, which is better.  Although it occasionally goes down as low as 18 degrees here, it is pretty rare, and this in times past has been enough protection to keep containers from splitting, and plants from dying in the containers.  (Fingers crossed.) 

Now here is a pretty plant combination (or two):

 

Gorgeous early winter foliage, December 2011

 
The yellow leaves are on a red-flowering currant, Ribes sanguineum, that I plan to begin shaping into an espaliered form on the wall.  The brilliant red leaves adorn a Berberis thunbergii ‘Helmond Pillar’ barberry.  This is a perfect plant if you are looking for a low-maintenance shrub to fill a tight and narrow spot in the garden.  It reaches five feet tall but only two feet wide, and is great in a small garden.  It’s deciduous, and it has semi-glossy burgundy leaves that turn green as they age, but still keep a burgundy undertone.  It also gets bright orange and red seeds in the fall as well.  I need to take a few more pictures of it, and will then present it in a “Through The Seasons” post. 
 
 

Viola and feverfew, December 2011

 
As you can see, I haven’t gotten around to emptying the hanging baskets yet, (wanted to leave them til the last minute for the hummingbirds, because they had nasturtiums in them), but there are still some purple violas along with chartreuse feverfew.  I may pull those out and transplant them in a protected spot in containers at the front of the house.
 
Some more plant hangers-on:
 
 

Snapdragons in December

 
 

Roses flying high in the sky, December 2011

 
 

A lone, bright pink 'Zephrin Drouhin' rose, Dec. 2011

 
And some winter-flowering plants:
 

Yellow forsythia and white viburnum, viburnum=hummingbird food, December 2011

 
I’ll do a post soon of holiday decorations!
 
Enjoy a break from gardening.  I still have a couple of little chores left to do, but nothing major.  The temperatures have definitely dropped–it’s ranging from the low to mid-40s during the days and down to low 30s at night, so I am on winter hummingbird patrol, putting the feeder out in the morning and bringing it in right after dark.  Sun shining through the bright blue sky today–I love it!
 
Leave a comment if you like!

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. 

 

Hummingbird Plants

I have had a great deal of amusement around here lately by watching the hummingbirds feeding on the summer flowers.

I’ve tried to make it a point to have something flowering each season that the hummingbirds like.  Right now, in warm (!) August, they are relishing the:

  • nasturtiums
  • petunias
  • pelargonium, also commonly known as geranium
  • liatris
  • Jupiter’s Beard
  • verbena bonariensis
  • butterfly bushes

At the moment, what we have are Anna’s hummingbirds in the area.  We’ve got two or three that always stop by and hang out in our garden.  I use a combination of plants that produce hummingbird nectar flowers, plus I have a hummingbird feeder, in order to entice them to come to the garden. 

Here are a few tips to get hummingbirds to stop by your garden for a visit:

  • Set up a feeder.  I’ve had the best luck with a wide-mouth feeder made of glass, because it’s durable and much easier to clean than some of the ones that have a tiny opening.  My feeder has red plastic on it where the hummingbirds can sit to feed.
  • Hummingbird food you can easily make yourself.  Put one cup of sugar and four cups of water in a pot, bring to a boil, cover and boil for 5 minutes.  Let it cool, and I then like to line a funnel with a paper coffee filter and I pour the solution through it to filter it, and store it in a glass container with a lid in your refrigerator.  You do not have to add red food coloring to it; in fact, it is better for the birds if you don’t.
  • Although hummers are attracted to the color red, it does not have to be in their liquid nectar.  Instead, the bird feeders often have red on them, and this will help.  You can grow red flowers that they like nearby, like pelargonium and Jupiter’s Beard, or you can simply tie some plastic red bows from outdoor Christmas decorations nearby the feeder to help attract them.  They will go after any tubular-shaped flower, which is their key criteria, no matter what color or size it is.  They are not attracted by fragrant plants, but you might see them dining on those with tubular-shaped flowers.
  • Change out your hummingbird food, and clean the feeder, at least a couple of times a week in cooler weather, and up to daily in really hot weather, or else you can make the birds sick if the sugar water ferments and goes bad in the high heat.
  • Place the feeder nearby something that the hummingbirds can perch on and find shelter.  Birds do not like eating out in the open, so if you provide a plant with some foliage where they can go and hide in between feeding, it helps to attract them to your feeder.   In my garden, I have an espaliered belgian fence of apple and pear trees, and we have it strung with an orchard wire frame.  They eat at the feeder or flowers, and then zoom over to the trees and perch on the wire–just the right size for their claws–or in a nearby large butterfly bush.
  • Provide the birds shelter plants.  Hummingbirds like to nest in arborvitae, and so I have several growing in the back and front yards.
  • If you can provide water, this also helps.  The hummingbirds like a mist of sprinkling water, so a small fountain can work well in this regard.  In a regular birdbath, don’t fill it more than one-half of an inch deep, or it will be too deep for these little guys.
  •  This year I grew two types of nasturtiums that worked very well.  If you want a spreading variety, which is a great choice for filling up a hanging basket inexpensively and fast, try the ‘Tall Climbing Single Mix’ and for a more compact version, the ‘Gleam Mix’ nasturtiums.  I got mine from Pinetree Garden Seeds for $1.35 per package, the cheapest I found them anywhere, and they had a very good germination rate–quality seeds.  Find them at www.superseeds.com

I have not been able to get a good picture, because they are so fast, but I will describe to you what I see nearly every morning out of our bedroom glass door that overlooks the back yard:  I look at the large nasturtium bed that grows on either side of a blue and white old gate that I use as a trellis-support structure for the nasturiums.   So, while I’m looking at the nasturtiums, I see the large green leaves start to shake.  I look up at the trees, and they are not moving, so there is no wind.  I look back again, and see a tiny hummingbird zooming in and out of the nasturtium vines, going in for nectar and insects on the bright flowers.  The leaves are much larger than the bird, so he has to get right in there to reach the flowers.  He next goes around to all the hanging baskets and feeders that contain yet more nasturtiums and petunias.  Both flowers are hummingbird favorites.  He finally finishes by lapping up (hummingbirds have tongues), nectar from the many pelargoniums that also grow in the baskets and containers.  They drink for around thirty or so seconds, and then they go away to rest for a minute or so, and repeat the process. 

If you have more than one Anna’s hummingbird around, they may battle each other for domination over the food.  It helps to spread your hummingbird food plants and feeders out around your property, rather than clustering them all in one spot, to avoid squabbles and so everyone has a chance to feed unhampered. 

You don’t need a lot of room to have a great hummingbird feeding/gardening area–I have a friend with a tiny balcony on his apartment that attracts the little birds with his feeder and some of the annuals that he grows in containers.  The birds really appreciate finding these feeding havens in city areas where it’s more difficult for them to find food and shelter.  You can easily grow hanging baskets with nothing more than nasturtiums, and you would get a good result, or add petunias and pelargoniums to make for a fuller display.  Nasturtiums will grow in even tiny containers if you keep them watered and fertilized.  Case in point”

This is a little wire container with a flat back that I picked up last year at Goodwill for one dollar.  It is approximately 12 inches long and about 4 inches wide and deep.  I lined it with a little piece of leftover burlap from the hanging baskets, and then lined the burlap with a little piece of clear plastic with no holes in it, filled it with potting soil and hung it from two little nails that I nailed into the top rail of the fence.  Planted smaller ‘Gleam’ nasturium, and this is the result.  It adds inexpensive and bright flowers at around eye level as you walk through this narrow area on the side of the house, but it also provide a little extra food for the hummingbirds.  A little chicken garden art hangs next to it, and there is a large flowering jasmine vine with white flowers on the other side, which provides a resting spot for the hummers in between feeding.

That’s all from me–do you have hummingbirds in your garden?  What plants are they eating from now?  Any gardening tips to attract hummingbirds to the garden that you have used?  Do share in the comments–I love hearing from you.  And visit the Garden Party.


I Can’t Get Started With You–Growing Vegetables in the Pacific Northwest, August 2011 Edition

A little mid-summer update for the vegetables I’ve been growing.  As anyone living in the Pacific Northwest knows, this summer has been just as cold as last summer, and the result is that all the warm-season vegetables are very late to ripen this year, as they were last year.  I hope this is not a trend, but it may be (thanks, global climate change–I was hoping we’d turn into Napa Valley here . . .)  Anyway, as I mentioned in this earlier post on Guerilla Gardening, I’m growing a lot of my heat-lovers under hoops and plastic this year.  It helps to raise the night-time temperatures a little bit, which is what the problem is.  Cold nights are not good, because the vegetables mature and ripen at night, so you want higher night-time temperatures for crops to ripen earlier.  This we have not had here at all, and thus the plastic.

Here are the tomatoes:

These are tomato plants in cages under plastic taken earlier in June.  Here they are now:

Those babies have really taken off, and barely fit under plastic anymore.  A veritable jungle of tomato vines . . . but

Green ‘Costoluto Genovese’ tomatoes, and  . . .

yet more green tomatoes–I’ve got green tomatoes as far as the eye can see, and no red and ripe ones yet.  Soon, hopefully.

On to the pumpkin and squash:

The first baby ‘Rouge Vif d’Entemps’ pumpkin, also known as Cinderella pumpkin.  They start out this pretty shade of yellow and deepen to orange as they mature.  They are wonderful for eating, but most of the time I use them for decorating in the autumn months. 

And now a grouping of vegetables:

At the bottom are ‘Mesa Queen’ acorn squash flowers, and above are fava beans, corn and the last of the peas.  (I can’t believe I still have peas–normally they are done in by mid-July here.)   I am just barely seeing some tassels forming on the corn, but the peas have been going strong since July.

I think the fava beans are quite interesting plants to look at.  Here are the flowers from earlier this season:

Other vegetable plants in the garden:

These are ‘Royal Burgundy’ bush beans (curious name, because they are decidedly purple to me).  I’ve grown these for three years and they always produce a good crop, even under these cold growing conditions.  They are just at the picking and eating stage.

I’m also growing:

‘Scarlet Emperor’ runner beans.  I love the flowers and the beans on this pretty hummingbird plant.  Here’s more of a close-up:

Runner bean flowers, with some picasette garden art thrown in the rear of the photo.

Cucumbers have been problematic both this and last year.  Just like last year, I had to restart seeds three times before they would germinate–it was just too darn wet and cold for them earlier.  And it’s still realy cold for them, because they like it to be 60 degrees at night for them to ripen, and not once has it been that warm here.  Nevertheless, they grow on apace under plastic:

Here are the cukes tucked into bed for the night, and . . .

Here they are uncovered.  It needs to be 60 degrees at night for them to ripen, and thus my problem.  However, I am optimistically growing ‘Green Slam’, an early (ha) ripening slicing cuke, along with a new hybrid called ‘Rocky’, and some ‘Harmonie’ pickling cukes.  The ‘Harmonie’ cukes are the largest so far, but only a couple of inches long, and there are lots of flowers still on the vines.  We may have some cukes come September, who knows.

Some crops thrive in cooler weather:

These are beets that I use for beet greens in salads and for sauteeing.  The green leaves are ‘Chioggia’ beets, and the red leaves are ‘Bull’s Blood’ beets.  Both grow quite well here.

One success story is in the fruit department.  In my area and at my house, the berries have been tremendous this season.  We u-picked strawberries–39 pounds–which I made into freezer preserves and individually quick froze, and blueberries–35 pounds–that I preserved in the same manner.  Raspberries did not do so well at the u-pick farm that I went to, so I only ended up with a little cranberry-raspberry freezer preserves, but my own raspberries were very prolific.  I think there was so much rain earlier that it mooshed (that’s scientific of me) the roots of a lot of the raspberry plants here, so they just died, but mine came through unscathed.  Right now the June-bearing raspberries are finishing up, in August(!), and the bees are busy at work polinating the buds and flowers on the fall-bearing raspberries.  I have these beauties ripe and ready to eat now:

They are blackberries and marionberries in various stages of ripeness.  I wrote an earlier post showing and telling about how I trellis, prune and fertilize my berries, and they responded well to this treatment.  I grow a ‘Lochness’ blackberry, which is a thornless variety.  I have to say I’ve changed my tune a lot about the blackberries and marionberries.  They needed a few years to settle in and put down roots, but once they did, youza, have they been producing.

I also have apples:

This is the ‘Spitzenberg’ apple tree, which is part of my espaliered belgian fence in our backyard.  This heirloom is the first the ripen, but they don’t ripen until probably October this year.  I will give more updates as they mature.  Behind it is a ginormous butterfly bush, which the hummingbirds, swallowtail and monarch butterflies have been enjoying for several weeks.

I also have grapes (!) this year, once I got brave and took the pruners to this vine:

This is our ‘Einset’ grape, which is a red seedless table grape.  Obviously, it’s not ripe because the grapes are still green, but I’m thinking end of September or beginning of October these should be ready.  They grow on the open-air roof of a pergola where we dine during the warmer summer months (I’m still waiting for those months.)

Lettuce and salad greens have also been very successful this year as well.

This is mizuna on the top, which is an Asian mustard green that is not as invasive as the regular mustard greens, and Tatsoi–Bok Choy with the round dark green leaves at the bottom.  Both go into our salad bowls, as does the ‘Ruby Red’ Swiss chard with the red stems growing next to them.

My best lettuce to date has been the very earliest starts that I put in the ground in chilly March of this year.  However, here is a little bed that I planted in June.  This contains ‘Two Star’ leaf lettuce in the back with the frillier leaves, and ‘Concept’ lettuce, with more rounded leaves, in the front.  Both of these have consistently produced good lettuce all season.  I will put up a results list of my favorite lettuce and salad greens seeds based on how they grew in my garden later in the year.  I’ll leave you with this garden picture:

(PS–I dug my first new potatoes of the season, called ‘Dark Red Norland’ and they were great.  Had a lot less trouble with flea beatles this year, because I think the cold weather diminished their numbers.  I forgot to take a picture of the harvest, so intent was I on cooking and eating those red round tasties.)  How are your vegetables faring this interesting growing season?  I’d love to hear about it in the comments.  And don’t forget to 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) aol.com]. 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.


Early Gardening Activities For February

I got my vegetable and flower seeds ordered and bought last week.  I normally do this in person, but circumstances this year did not allow for that, so I ordered almost all online.  I ordered from Territorial Seed, Johnny’s, and I am trying Pinetree based on their great prices as well as Jami’s word of recommendation at An Oregon Cottage.  They have a glorious selection of coleus seed, and I went a little crazy with that, but I should have some really gorgeous hanging baskets and containers this year, because I could get seeds that had been sorted into individual colors rather than mixes–I cannot wait!  I will be starting flower seeds around Valentine’s Day, so they’ll be ready to transplant in the middle of May.  I was actually a little late apparently getting my order in at Johnny’s, because they had already run out or had backorders for a couple of the seeds I wanted, but I was able to get my second choices, so it all worked out.  They are really expensive for their shipping costs, but they are also the only place I know to get ‘Nadia’ eggplant seed (a must-have for me because it grows well here, or rather, as well as any eggplant grows here), and they were cheaper in certain instances than Territorial.  I had to figure out the seed cost on a per seed basis (I was seeing double by the end of that mathematical experience), and sometimes Johnny’s was cheaper and sometimes Territorial.  (If you buy a lot of seed, the cost adds up very quickly.  All those packets look so innocent, and you think,”Well, it’s only a couple of dollars.” but it ends up being a lot of money if you are not careful.)  It’s best to get all your seed in the spring, because seed is not always available later in the season, so it always seems expensive to me, but when you consider how much food and flowers it will produce, it’s actually much cheaper than other options, like buying transplants from a nursery.

I got a few little jobs accomplished yesterday out in the garden.  First, I started a little bit of onion, lettuce and spinach seed inside under grow lights to get a few transplants to go outside under plastic in March.  Today I started sprouting my early ‘Dark Red Norland’ seed potatoes inside under lights, as those will be planted out later around the first weekend in April, depending on the weather.  You can read how to do it here.

Next, I moved on to the flower beds.  Slugs are always around, and so I took Sluggo and put it around all my emerging bulb foliage, the hostas, tradscantia and hellebores.  (That’ll fix ’em .)  I then picked the dead leaves off of my ‘Asao’ and ‘Louise Rowe’ clematis vines.  The weather has been fairly warm here, and many of the clematis and roses are starting to break dormancy, so there was a lot of new growth on both.  (The fruit trees and hydrangeas are also beginning to break dormancy as well.)  Now they look a lot neater.  I tied them back into position, so they are all ready to go.

I then noticed the curb strip was looking a little worse for wear, so I went down and cut down dead foliage, and raked up leaves that had caught around the plant crowns.  I used those leaves to mulch nearby flower beds, so that worked out well.

After that, I picked a little mustard greens, arugula and swiss chard that had wintered over under plastic in the garden!  Made greens and feta with penne pasta for dinner with some of it. 

I have yellow crocus and winter aconite blooming–so pretty.  My snowdrops have been blooming for a couple of weeks now, and the winter jasmine is in gorgeous display.  ‘Arnold Promise’ Chinese witch hazel is blooming, but it had a lot of the flower buds blasted by freezing temperatures early this winter, so not so many flowers this time around.  The ‘Texas Scarlet’ flowering quince is about to bloom.  There are even one or two blooms on the forsythia, very early.  And the viburnum continue to bloom off and on–they got their buds frozen late last year, so fewer blooms there, but more appear as the weather warms.  The ‘ Tuscan Blue’ rosemary has also been blooming for a couple of weeks, but much more now as the weather warms.  The rosemary is situated right in front of our dining room windows, and the hummingbirds are often out there eating from the rosemary flowers!

Hope your garden is doing well–leave me a comment and let me know what you are doing in yours.

Please visit An Oregon Cottage for 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!

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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 http://www.homeorchardsociety.org/scion_exchange/

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?