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.

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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! 


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?