Mid-summer post

Our multi-grafted Japanese plum tree is full of plums right now. It’s a very small tree, about 5 feet tall and 4 feet wide. But it has over 100 plums on it. It has the most densely packed fruit of any fruit tree we have. It would benefit from thinning, because the branches can break under the weight of the fruit, but I didn’t bother to thin this year, because the fruit set was not as heavy as last year. The main grafts are the varieties Elephant heart and Laroda, which is the dark purple fruit in the picture below.

The tree also has a graft of Nubiana, which is very small and doesn’t grow much, and Beauty. Most of the Beauty graft broke off two years ago under the weight of a heavy load of fruit. I cut off the remaining branches of Beauty, because I didn’t care for its flavor. The Elephant Heart and Laroda grafts are not self-fruitful, but both have managed to set a lot of fruit two seasons in a row without pollen from Beauty. Pollen from our pluot tree and a neighbor’s plum have probably helped. The Beauty graft was huge and on the verge of taking over the tree. The Elephant Heart and Laroda grafts have grown a lot since Beauty has been gone.

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I really enjoy growing sugar pie pumpkins and butternut squash. I have found that they are both easy to grow from seed as long as they get regular water. I planted several groups of seeds last March. The vines are very long now and have set many fruits, even though I haven’t fertilized them. The vines can take up a lot of space, which is why I planted the seeds where the vines can grow in between our fruit trees. I planted them directly in the ground, not in our raised beds, because the vines would just grow out of the beds and across our paths between the beds. Some of the pumpkins have even grown roots directly from the vines into the ground.

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We are also growing Siam Queen (Thai) basil this year. I planted the seeds in pots in our mini-greenhouse in April and transplanted the seedlings into one of our raised beds in May. They only grow in warm weather, and it can get cold in April here. The plants grew slowly at first, but they are now starting to grow more rapidly. Their leaves have a strong scent that is similar to licorice, and their flowers are an attractive purple color. Also, they don’t seem to attract insects.

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Our purple Dahlias have been full of flowers for several weeks. We are also growing them in raised beds where they get plenty of water and rich composted soil. Unfortunately, they are already getting mildew on their leaves, which happens every year around this time.

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I planted corn seeds in mid-March this year, which is the earliest I have ever planted them. We almost never get frost here after March 1. I planted the peaches and cream variety, and ended up with about 18 plants. I always plant at least 15 corn seeds in a planting to ensure proper pollination. I started harvesting corn ears the first week of this month. They were very tasty.

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I harvested some of the last ears today. Several of the stalks had two ears, and a few stalks grew outshoots that themselves grew an additional ear of corn. I have more corn in another bed that I planted in June. They should be ready to harvest in October.

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I planted Albion strawberries in pots with potting soil in May. I had not grown this variety previously. I have been picking strawberries from the Albion plants for over a month now, and they have exceeded my expectations. They have been continuously producing very sweet and large berries. They are much sweeter than Chandler, which are on the tart side in our yard. I think I will be planting more Albion strawberries in the future. So far the Albion plants have not produced many runners, unlike our Sequoia strawberries, which are prolifically producing runners right now.

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July 26 2014 | Basil and Corn and Dahlias and Plums and Pumpkin and Squash and Strawberries | 1 Comment »

Berries and Cherries

Our strawberry harvest started the second week of April, which is very early for our area. But, their growth and fruit production started to slow down around mid-May. At that point, I realized that our strawberry plants weren’t getting enough water from my automatic sprayers. For the past few weeks, I’ve been watering them by hand nearly everyday, and they seem to be responding to the extra water.

Our strawberry plants are now growing again and getting new flowers. In the past, I’ve thought that fertilizing regularly was the key to getting lots of strawberries for many months. But now I’m realizing, they just need lots of water, preferably a daily soaking.

Below is a picture of some of our Chandler strawberries growing in a pot. Chandler is one of my favorite varieties, because it produces large strawberries on strong stems. I have also been growing Sequoia strawberries for years.

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Last week, I planted some everbearing Albion strawberries, which I hope will produce berries in mid and late summer after the June bearing varieties are finished. This is a variety that I haven’t grown before.

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I’ve also been harvesting cherries from our Rainier and Royal Rainier cherry trees this past week. The Royal Rainer cherries are very sweet and mild (picture below). Our Royal Rainier tree has produced cherries nearly every year we’ve had it, which is about 5 years now. It has consistently produced more fruit than our other two cherry trees, even though it is smaller than our other cherry trees.

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Our Rainer cherries are more tart, even though the tree is a year older than the Royal Rainer and visually the cherries look very ripe. Also, the tree doesn’t have many cherries, and this is the first year it has had more than 2 cherries. However, our Rainier tree is a very vigorous grower. It has grown to about eight feet tall and as wide wide despite regular pruning as shown below.

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Our third cherry tree is a Bing, which also has its first significant crop of cherries this year. Its fruit is just starting to get a deep red color. I’m leaving the fruit on the tree, until they get nearly black. And of course, I have bird netting on all three trees. So far, it has prevented even a single cherry from being pecked at, as far as I can tell.

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Our blueberry harvest also started the second week of April, which is about a month earlier than usual. I was picking blueberries from our Misty plant in April and early May. Moving it to a sunnier location and the warm weather we had this spring seem to be the reasons for the early harvest. I also currently have the blueberry varieties Southmoon, Sunshine Blue, Jubilee, Reveille, Sharpblue, and O’Neal. These others starting ripening around mid-May, and they still each have many underripe berries left on their branches. I have all 7 of our blueberries in pots, and they seem to be thriving in them as long as I keep them well hydrated. They definitely dry out faster in the pots than in the ground. Below is a photo of a few of the blueberries that are growing next to a fence, which makes it easier to net them.

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And here is what the same plants looked like in bloom on March 2.

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I harvested so many blueberries this week that I had enough to make a blueberry pie and still had some left over.

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June 06 2014 | Blueberries and Cherries and Strawberries | No Comments »

Cool Season Crops

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On March 1st of this year, I planted sugar snap pea seeds in one of our raised beds next to a wire trellis. All of the seeds sprouted within a week or two and grew rapidly after that. The pea vines are now over 6 feet tall (taller than the trellis) and are still growing. There are so many vines (I planted too many seeds) that wind blew them forward off the trellis a few weeks ago. I tied them back onto the trellis with string. I planted three rows of seeds at about a 3 inch spacing. Next time, I will plant only two rows of seeds spaced farther apart.

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I am growing peas on the same trellis as blue lake green beans, which I have been growing for years. When I have planted green beans along the entire 6 foot long trellis in the past, the plants produced way too many beans to eat. So this year I planted half as many beans and planted peas next to the beans. The peas are out growing the beans and starting to crowd them.

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Our peas are now full of pods. I just began picking them last week. This is the first time I have grown peas, and I am wondering why I didn’t before. They are easy to grow, produce lots of sweet edible pea pods early in the growing season, and are good sources of vitamins A and K and especially vitamin C.

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Our broccoli plants are large this year. I grew them by seed rather than buying nursery transplants, as I mentioned in a previous post. I have watered them regularly and applied water soluble fertilizer to them about once a week, which seems to have made a difference. Although right now, the plants are growing together and crowding each other out, which is probably limiting the size of the plants and the crowns. Next time, I may space them farther apart. 12 inches apart is not quite enough for maximum growth. Planting of broccoli seeds at just the right time is critical to getting large crowns. I think I got the timing right. Although, we’ve had two heat waves this month into the low 90s F, which is not ideal for broccoli growth. Our broccoli plants are forming crowns now. I just harvested the first crown today. These crowns in the lower photo look nearly ready to cut.

I also covered our broccoli plants with two layers of bird netting which helped to keep the snails away (they get stuck in it) and these white moths that want to lay larvae (worms) on the broccoli. The moths also can’t get through the netting.

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I have had mixed results with potatoes this year. I planted russet and yukon gold potatoes in Feb. and March. I have been planting potatoes in the same raised bed for years. Those potato plants (above photo) have not grown nearly as much as the potato plants that are growing in a different raised bed (below photo with corn in the back) where I had never planted potatoes until this year. It seems to be an example of the importance of rotating crops from year to year.

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I sowed the corn seeds in mid-March, which is the earliest I have ever planted it. I sowed Peaches and Cream corn seeds, which is my favorite variety for taste. The seeds sprouted and grew about as quickly as in past years when I had always sowed the seeds in April. I am expecting to harvest corn by July 1, and then rip out these plants for a second planting of corn seeds to be harvested in late October. Home grown corn is so good, one harvest a year just isn’t enough!

May 21 2014 | Broccoli and Corn and Peas and Potatoes | 1 Comment »

More Black Magic

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Our roses starting blooming in late March this year, which is earlier then I remember them blooming in the past by a few weeks. Our black magic (red) roses are particularly beautiful this year (first picture). The flowers last a very long time but have no fragrance. Our double delight roses were also amazing (second and third photos). They are very fragrant but the flowers are more ephemeral.

May 04 2014 | Roses | No Comments »

Broccoli By Seed

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I planted broccoli seeds in peat pots the last week of February this year. I germinated them in our new portable greenhouse. I transplanted the seedlings into raised beds a few weeks later. The first picture above was taken in late March after I transplanted the seedlings. They have now grown into plants that are over a foot tall. The second picture of the same plants was taken a week ago. There is still no sign of any crowns developing yet. Although, I except them to develop crowns by the end of May. Hopefully, the plants will be big enough by then to support large broccoli crowns.

An important point regarding growing broccoli is timing the plantings so that most of the plants’ growth occurs when the high temperatures are between about 62 and 75 degrees F, which is their ideal temperature range. You have to have a good idea of the average spring temperatures in your area and time the plantings appropriately. This is the first time I have planted broccoli by seed. Previously, I planted transplants that I bought from a local nursery, which were typically available mid to late March. Those previously broccoli plantings developed crowns in late May and early June. I based my timing of planting the seeds in late Feb. to try to duplicate this timing. I am assuming about 90 days between planting the seeds and harvest time.

May 04 2014 | Broccoli | No Comments »

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