Sunday, March 28, 2010

Peppers, Tomatoes, and Eggplants

Yesterday I started another wave of seeds. This time:

Pepper, "Big Red hybrid" - medium hot cayenne-type, 70 days"
Eggplant, "Millionairre" - Japanese-type, 55 days
Pepper, "Bulgarian Carrot" (seeds packed for 2008) - hot pepper
Pepper, "Red Popper" - 1 1/2 inch fruits, sweet, 55 days.
Eggplant, "Fairy Tale" - purple striped white fruits, 50 days

Of the seeds that I started last week a few eggplants and peppers have sprouted, and all of the tomatoes sprouted.

Most of the seedlings had just been watered and were still in the sink, but this is the general appearance of the seed starting system now. The foil does seem to make the light brighter directly under the lights. All are growing nicely, some tomatoes have their first true leaves now. Soon, I'll need to plant them individually in slightly larger containers. The towel covers the containers with unsprouted seeds, on the heating mat.

Cayenne peppers in the window sill now, from the original seed-sprouting experiment. I hated to throw them away. I did not really mean to start them for the garden, but here they are. On sunny days, I think the sindow is brighter than the fluorescent fixture, and the light is more "natural", anyway.

Backyard orchard culture. Trees in Bloom

We're now in the "second wave" of blossoms in our backyard-orchard-culture "orchard". The apricots have finished blooming - I don't know, the frost may have killed branches and prevented fruit set, we'll see. If the trees die, that's it - no more attempts at apricots. They are not well suited for this climate.

The peaches have a few blossoms now, but are leafing out. Soon, I'll want to dig up the peach seedling and find a better location for it to grow into a tree. As a nongrafted, seedling, genetic dwarf, it's a complete gamble. If nothing else, they have beautiful flowers.

The plums are done as well. It's too soon to see if fruit set - with some of the cold nights in the past month, it's possible they didn't. This is only their second leaf, so any fruit would be a surprise.

Asian Pear, 3-way graft. Oh, it will be so great if a few fruits set. Not too many - it's only in its second leaf. The flowers are lovely.

The 5-way European pear. This year we'll thin more. It's developing a nice spur structure, repeat clusters of blossoms. Responding very well to the backyard culture method of summer pruning to hold to size, which means no standing on ladders is needed.

Awesome clusters of cherry blossoms. Some are in full bloom, others not quite there yet. Again, the sweet cherries are responding very well to the pruning philosophy. I really didn't know if it would work. It's working great for these trees. This tree was allowed to grow a bit too tall for backyard orchard culture, but before it got out of hand I pruned it back. It's a 3-way graft, so pollinates itself. I usually play the bee and travel among blossoms with a paintbrush, but it's too rainy for that. I hope the real bees do the job.

More sweet cherries.

Another experiment, this one in its infancy. These are seedlings, from wild cherries collected last fall. The wild cherries grow very tall, too tall to be practical in a yard. Why not see if they can be kept compact by severe pruning? I don't know if it's possible, but if it is, we would have wild cherries within reach, and fruiting at a time when other cherries are done. These are just beginning life - who knows how many years this will take.

Narcissus blossoms

Last fall, I planted a bunch of new Narcissus varieties. Now is the reward. These were mail order, so no way to know ahead how they'll look. Catalog photos here. There are always differences in color on computer monitors, and on paper, but the appearance on my monitor matches the catalog photos, and the colors in the photos that I took do look like the flowers in my garden.

This is Vanilla Peach, from Really quite pretty.

Ice King from Biltmore Estates. This is my favorite of the new ones.
Replete, from I was surprised at myself for ordering a so-called "pink" narcissus. Especially since they almost never seem to look pink. This variety is a beautiful tangerine color, even though the catalog photo clearly shows pink. I like this much better. This is my other favorite of the new ones.

This one is "Sunnyside Up", also from Again, the colors aren't true to the catalog, but I like this variety as well.

More Sunnyside Up.

Ice King again - not much like the catalog photo, actually much nicer. The catalog photo has darker yellow centers.

The older Daffodil patch, at lower level. Dutch Master. The upper level is Ice Follies and Bella Estrella.

Strange, I don't know which one this is. I like it. The coloration is subtle, with yellow fringe on off-white trumpet. It doesnt match any in the catalog. A mystery.

We hove lots of others in bloom as well, photographs taken in previous years. Many are multiplying, especially jetfire and Dapple Dandy (I think).

Jetfire. These stated as, I'm guessing, 3 bulbs about 7 years ago. They've multiplied into a nice cluster.

Professor Einstein. These were in the lawn when we bout the house. We've lived here 10 years. This cluster also started as one rescued bulb, so is multiplying nicely in this location. It's not the most fluffy but it's an old variety, so I like it.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

A couple more orchids

This is the "state of the orchidarium" today. I repotted both Dendrobium plants, slightly larger pot, ceramic with holes in the sides for drainage, after removing all original medium. One has what appears to be the start of 3 keikis. Interesting development. I also repotted one Phaelaepnopsis. At the "core" of the medium was sphagnum, surrounded by bark medium. The majority of the roots were rotted. We'll see if it survives. Now it's in an open-sided pot containing fresh bark-based medium. The bad roots were carefully removed. No water for a couple of weeks now.

The Oncidium back-bulbs that I collected last fall, have all sprouted now. The most recent was 1 week ago, about 1 cm of growth. In the hands of a total amateur(me), the ziplock-bag-with-sphagnum method works. It takes a lot of patience, but that's all.

I was looking at Cypripedium orchids, but at the cost not sure I can justify something so iffy. With the variable culture requirements, the tropicals are also iffy, but the reward of blooms during winter, and the long lasting flowers, give a better risk/benefit or cost/benefit profile for me.

I have wanted to add some Cattleya-type orchids, which are what I picture when I think "Orchid", despite knowing better. But Cattleyas are too large, and need too much sun, for my setting. With warmer weather, I can take a risk of a mail-orchid orchid, sitting outside for a few hours, when shipped, should be OK. The front of my house is not in the sun, so I don't think they'll cook, either.

These are from Hauserman Orchids.

"Vaughnara Sir Walter Raleigh 'Yellow Squirt' (Bc. Daffodil x Epi tampense alba) - yellow, Compact-Under 15" Tall 2.5" pot size, Summer Bloomer". Here is another pic of the Vaughnara.

"Potinara Free Spirit 'Eric' (Twenty Four Carat x Sc. Beaufort) - mini yellow, Winter bloomer Miniature-Under 12" Tall, 4" Pot Size on Special!" According to the "Miracle-Gro Complete Guide to Orchids", Potinara is "sympodial, compact, likes medium to bright, indirect light; mild nights, warm days, moderate humidity; let dry between waterings." The book goes on to state, "The growth habit and growing needs... are similar to those of other cattleya hybrids, but their sophronitis background makes them slightly smaller. Cylindrical pseudobulbs are topped with one or two succulent leaves." The 2 varieties that are listed are described as having easy culture but "Free Spirit" isn't listed in the reference.

Both varieties are yellow. One of these days I'll locate a green miniCattleya, or white, and add that as well.

Here is the Vaughnera, pictured on the Orchid Board. Vaughnera is Brassavola X Cattleya X Epidendrum.

Potinara is Brassavola x laelia x cattleya x sophronitis

The vast majority of locally available orchids are Phalaenopsis, or Oncidium hybrids, with some Paphiopedilum, Dendrobium, and Cypripedium hybrids thrown in. So far I haven't seen many miniCattleya hybrids, and the small number I've seen didn't appeal to me (shades of pink and purple, or splotchy flowers). With mail order, the options are more variable, although there's more risk in other ways - will they be what I order, will they be healthy, will they bloom? I imagine these will be small, and I don't know if they will bloom this year. It's all a gamble. I'll be happy if a few of the others rebloom this year, and if most of them grow and thrive.

Monday, March 22, 2010

More seeds planted indoors

I planted more seeds in my indoor-starting unit yesterday. This included 2 varieties of eggplant, some additional chili peppers, and a couple of tomatoes. I need to take a photo and list them, this post is so that I have a 'bookmark' on the date

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Under the white cherry tree

This is the annual "try to get the dogs to cooperate for a photo under the white cherry tree" photo. I love this tree, old and gnarled, producing a profusion of double white flowers for a week. The orchard mason bees buzz around the flowers during the afternoon.

Yesterday - I pulled weeds, several buckets-full. I changed my mind about the potato choice, removed the fingerlings and replaced with gourmet whites. May plant the fingerlings elsewhere. Noted a few peas have sprouted - only a few. May replant.

Pulled more rhubarb leaves. Last week made strawberry rhubarb jam - easy and quick, the strawberries were frozen last summer. It was very good. Yesterday I made rhubarb jam - haven't tried it yet. I don't want to admit, I may like the version with strawberries, better.

Asian 3-way pear blooming, played the honeybee using a paintbrush to transfer pollen.

Later noted orchard mason bees have started to awaken, several flying around back and forth to their houses. Added a store-bought version with paper tubes, no time to make my own.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Flowering Quince

It's in the most neglected spot in the yard, a tall fence on the North side, my neigbor's house on the West, and our house on the East. I'm guessing 45 years old. Blooms every year. Get's a little pruning, that's all. Every Spring, one of the most beautiful shrubs around.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The order from Raintree Nursery came on Tuesday. Fortunately, the past 2 days have been cool, and I stored them North of the house where it is cooler. Today is Thursday, I unpacked and planted them. As it happens, today is warm and sunny, a beautiful day.

These are the trees. I'm a big fan of Raintree, and most of trees they have sent me have been robust and beautiful, and they have all grown rapidly. This time I do feel some disappointment. The middle tree, a minidwarf Honeycrisp apple, has about 3 roots, about 6 inches long each. Not much more than a partly rooted cutting. If I saw it in the store, I would have either passed on it, or paid half price or less. The tree on the left, a minidwarf Karmijn de Sonneville, is better rooted, I would call it a good specimen. The tree on the right is an Illinois Everbearing Mulberry, and is a handsome specimen with lots of thick, strong looking roots. Even the scrawny Honeycrisp Apple should grow, I hope, and I'll give it a try.

I look at buying fruit trees as: obtaining the genetic potential, in a 'package' that is healthy enough for me to grow. I hope they are large enough to produce in a few years, assuming that they respond well to my growth conditions. Most are grafted, again combining the genetic potential of the rootstock, with that of the scion. I also hope they are disease-free and healthy, without injuries. These trees are uninjured, and they were well packed.

Raintree nurseries describes Honeycrisp as: "outstanding crisp texture...sweet and tart flavors...pick it in September, but it develops its full aromatic flavor if left on the tree until mid October...somewhat scab resistant and has not shown problems with fireblight." (Photo from Raintree)

Karmijn de Sonneville is described by Raintree as: intensely flavored red russetted apple from Holland...highest in both sugars and acids...triploid cross of Cox's Orange Pippin and highly flavored and aromatic that it overwhelms some tastes when just off the tree. (Photo from Raintree)

Raintree describes Illinois Everbearing Mulberry as "sometimes starts producing the first year...bears an abundance of sweet, highly flavored fruit, 1-1/2 inches long x 1/2 inch wide...berries ripen continuously throughout July, August, and September, hence its name....self-fertile (photo from Raintree). CFRG discusses mulberries, stating "M. alba X M. rubra...1958. Black, nearly seedless fruit large...very long, averaging 12 per ounce. Flavor good to very good, very sweet, considered best by by many. Matures over a long season. Tree vigorous and somewhat dwarfed, extremely hardy and productive."
This is the same variety, picture from Starks Brothers Nursery.

Plant expert Arthur Jacobson states: "few fruit trees in fact are so easily neglected without crop loss...mulberries fall when ripe, and with a splat notify the world that if they be not eaten fresh, forget it. Marketing mulberries is therefore difficult... Many people... cannot bide the thought of stains --mulberry juice is dark and persistent to an infamous degree...plant your 'Illinois Everbearing' tree well away from paving, patios or walks. Then, beginning the very first year, you can enjoy its fruit all summer"

For some reason, water that is set out for cats, chickens, or being used to soak trees is much tastier than water that is poured from the same faucet for dogs. No problem. I soaked the trees several hours before planting.

Choosing the spot for the mulberry. This is the spot where cucumbers grew last year on their tower. This year cucumbers will be in the front yard. I like to stand back and walk around and view from different angles before planting.

Planted, watered in, and pruned back to about 2.5 feet. This tree will be grown by the Backyard Orchard Culture method, with intense summer pruning. Most of my trees were cut back at the same height, and it's working well.
I have not seen mulberries grown by this method, but I don't see any reason not to try. It will be easy to cover with netting to keep the birds off - and birds are a reason that some people quit growing this fruit.
I will try to grow the pruned portion as well, as a cutting. If it grows, it may make a nice gift. CFRG states: "No special pruning techniques are needed after the branches have been trained to a sturdy framework...can be kept to a tidy form by developing a set of main branches, and then pruning laterals to 6 leaves in July in order to develop spurs near the main branches..not advisable to prune the trees heavily since the plant is inclined to bleed at the cuts. Cuts of more than two inches in diameter generally do not heal and should be avoided at all cost. The bleeding will be less severe if the tree is pruned while it is dormant." Mulberries are related to figs, and I suspect that similar issues apply.

Karmijn, planted and watered in. The hole was dug and prepared a while back, so this was an easy task.

Same for Honeycrisp.

Growing potatoes in a container

This year I decided to try growing potatoes in a container. Potatoes seem like a cheap, readily available commodity, so it may seem like a waste to grow some in a container. I was prompted by several thoughts.

First, I read that they grow very well in containers, providing a high yield in a small space. 2nd, I can grow varieties that are not easily found in the store.

3rd, based on my prior experience, fresh, home grown new potatoes taste very good - another item that seems better than store bought.

These are a white potato, the seed potatoes are labeled simply "Gourmet White". I grew a few 2 years ago, they were very good, but growing in the ground we missed most of them until they resprouted again. I also bought some organic "Russian fingerling" and will try those.

The method is:

1. Start with a container with about 1 ft of potting mix on the bottom. Lay in the sets. I haven't learned whether it's better to cut the sets into individual eyes, or plant the entire set. Both have been advised. Cornell advises cutting larger ones, and planting smaller ones whole. I decided to plant the entire set, reasoning that ther emay be less risk of rot. With multiple eyes, they may be more crowded, but in a container that may not matter. In addition, Cornell advises: "If you want fast emergence, keep the bag of cut potatoes at room temperature until sprouts appear. Some varieties are slow to break dormancy and benefit from a 2- to 4-week “pre-warming” before planting. Others sprout in just a few days. Plant about 2 to 4 weeks before your last frost date. The soil temperature should be at least 40 F. Do not plant where you've grown potatoes, tomatoes, peppers or eggplant in the past 2 years." It's so warm outside, I'm taking the chance and planting out side.

2. You can presprout the potatoes or grow in the soil. I'm not sure which is better. The gourmet white were already sprouting in the store, so it's decided. The Russian Fingerling are not sprouted, but if truly organic would not be treated with chemicals to prevent sprouting. I planted them directly. I also have a few in a windowsill to see if they sprout.

3. The potato sets are laid in the potting soil and covered with a few inches of potting soil. When the plants reach about 6 inches tall, a few more inches of potting soil are added, covering the lower leaves of the plants. This process is repeated until the soil is near the the top of the container, and can be further mounded.

4. According to, you can dig around in the soil with your hands,and pull off potatoes that seem big enough to eat, and each plant should produce about 2 to 4 pounds of potatoes. That's not bad for a container.

Some gardeners use containers that grow as the potatoes grow, or juse plastic garbage pails. I opted for a container that grew a Brugmansia last year, but had left outside so froze and died.

I may plant some sets in the garden as well. I have some left over. suggests growing them in a cardboard box or bushel basket. This container was about the size of a bushel basket, maybe a bit larger. Some growers even grow them in a bag of potting soil.

A grower with a nice accent growing potatoes in compost bags:

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Tomato and pepper seedlings

Last weekend (Sunday) I planted most of the varieties of peppers and tomatoes. There will be a few more to plant this coming weekend. They are in little pudding cups with holes drilled in the bottoms. I did use the seed starting mat - many sprouted in 2 days. That's impressive! So far, just tomatoes. The peppers are cayenne peppers that were in the seed starting experiment. I changed them over to regular potting soil. With their slow rate of growth, the early start may be needed. To the right is another of the orchid backbulb experiments, growing a tiny sprout. For the time being, it's under the light as well.

I dug out the old fluorescent light fixture and set it up in the window for the seedlings. That way, they get actual (but meager) sunlight, and much more supplemental light. This worked well in the past.

Container gardens

The wine barrel container gardens are growing nicely. I do think they got a head start due to coveirng with plastic. Now I'm leaving them uncovered, except for some chicken wire to discourage birds.
Everything has sprouted, with the exception of the old chinese celery and the onion seeds. Maybe they just need a little more time. The seeds that have sprouted and are growing actively are spinach, chinese radish, radish, brassica mesclun, lettuces, and cilantro. I don't know if they will give edibles in the claimed 20 to 30 days, since it's chilly. Still, very encouraging.

What's blooming?

These have grown undisturbed for 8 years.


Forsythia. This is the forsythia that I grew from a discarded stick, picked up while walking the dogs. Turned out nice. The location is shaded, NOrth of the house, but it is coming into its own.

Closeup of Sunny Delight peach.

Sunny Delight peach

Chinese Mormon Apricot.

Hollywood plum. this is the second year of growth - I wonder if the blossoms will set?

Honeybabe Peach

Trilite peach.

None of the peach trees appear harmed at all by the plastic wrapping method. I haven't sprayed a second time. I have a 6 inch tall peach seedling, slearly offspring from one of the genetic dwarf peaches, that has been growing for 2 years. It has not been treated wtih leaf curl prevention, and it does have leaf curl. So far, the other peach trees appear free of the disease. It is too early to say for certain.

Other developments:
The wild cherry seeds that I planted last summer are grown into 2 inch tall plants. I removed 3 to flower pots. The long term goal is super-pruning them like the other trees, in the style of "Backyard Orchard Culture". Can it be done? I don't know. Everything is a gamble.

The pear buds have opened into clusters of flower buds, but the flowers themselves are not yet open.

Last sunday I also went around with a little paintbrush, taking pollen from flower to flower among the peaches, then between the twp apricot trees, then between the plum trees. The Shiro plum has just 4 flowers, so who knows if it will fruit. The Hollywood plum is said to be self fruitful, and has many more flowers. It would be cool to have a crop of plums, second year after planting the tree. The peaches are also said to be self fruitful, but playing the bee shouldn't hurt anything. A few apricot flowers fell off while I was pollinating. That may mean it't too late to make a difference. We'll see.