climate zones: what can I grow in my yard?

Knowing what you can grow in your neck of the woods is one of the most

Organic gardening depends on dirt.

Healthy soil tells you what it can and cannot support and grow.

important bits of information you want to have when it comes to backyard gardening.

There are two basic topics that have significant influence on just what will live and grow happily in your yard.

In the end, it all comes down to getting a grip on your dirt and knowing your zones.

Dirt
We’ve all got dirt – a growing medium, a place to stick our plants.  But it’s what kind of dirt you have that will influence what you can grow.

There are all kinds of definitions out there for dirt or soil but, bottom line for gardeners, soil is NOT the stuff you buy in bags at your local big box store.  It is the stuff we walk on, the stuff plants, bushes and trees sit in.    Soil is the stuff we start our seeds in, transplant our baby plants into and set our ready-to-grow plants into in our gardens.

And the dirt in your backyard will tell you, loud and clear, whether it is happy and healthy and whether it can support what you are putting into it or not.  For me, the magic of my garden is in the dirt.

Zones
If you’ve been considering doing some backyard gardening, I’m sure you’ve heard of “zones.”  When I first started, I found the concept of zones a bit overwhelming.  And the fact that global warming has made my zone wander a bit on the USDA map just added to my confusion.

It took me a bit to figure out this “zone” thing and the fact that zones affect what you can and cannot grow.   I have to say that I think Dr. Thomas Osborne really nailed what anyone needs to know about zones so I am sharing his post.

FYI – Dr. Osborne is a Harvard trained Radiologist and Neuro-radiologist, not a botanist or a so-called pointy-headed intellectual.  And he just loves to share his insight about medicine and gardening.

So, without further ado, Dr. Osborne on getting your zone on!

climate zones: what can I grow in my yard?TastyLandscape.

via climate zones: what can I grow in my yard?TastyLandscape.

Organic Garden in June in PA

Today I just want to share some of the glorious pictures from my garden which has finally decided to grab on and grow!

First the Montmorency cherries! I picked 12.5 quarts and my friend Julie got a little over 12 quarts too.

Sour cherries ripe and ready to be picked.

Sour cherries covering the branches of my trees.

Right now, just about the same amount of cherries still on the branches of my two trees.

Sour cherries on my fruit trees.

The sour cherry trees are full of cherries this year, probably 40 to 45 quarts.

I have 2 gallons of cherry brandy “cooking” in the closet.  Love making brandy because you don’t have to pit the cherries – just dump them into the pot and boil them up with vodka and brandy.

I also have half a gallon of dried cherries in my refrigerator.  I used my Excalibur  one of the best food dehydrators on the market — to dry 7 trays of them — pitted of course – and will use them in scones (great with organic chocolate chunks) and in my Quinoa Butternut and Dried Cherry Salad with Goat Cheese!

And I still have enough cherries to make 2 batches of Sour Cherry jam – absolutely fabulous on biscuits or cornbread.

My lettuce is about done but I still have some of my favorite – red butterhead.

Red Butterhead lettuce ready for harvest.

Red Butterhead lettuce makes a soft, beautiful head that’s perfect for salads.

This head is just right for the picking.  The head it forms is loose but can be harvested whole so you can core it, plate it and serve it just like it looks in this picture.

Or you can cut it in half and serve it like a wedge or just cut it up and serve it in a mixed green salad.  My favorite and worth growing because it is no work at all.

If you have planted lettuce and it bolts, as mine is

Lettuce bolting.

Lettuce bolts quickly when temperatures rise.

doing, you might want to leave a few heads in the ground to set seeds.  Some people don’t like the way bolted lettuce looks but I think it’s pretty.

I let 2 or 3 plants of every variety bolt then collect the seeds and use them for fall plantings and next year’s garden.

Each plants gives you hundreds of seeds and they are so easy to save that I almost never have to buy lettuce seeds

I could go on and on about all of my plants like the yellow squash plants you see here.

Healthy yellow squash plant.

This yellow squash doesn’t have a stem; it has a trunk!

Yellow squash growing.

The first yellow squash on this impressive plant.

Or the pole beans that are climbing up the  fence.

And the Bumble Beans just setting their beautiful deep lavender flowers.

So, instead, I will leave you with pictures that speak a 1000 words….about this year’s beautiful garden.

Thornless blackberries

Thornless blackberries

Blackberries setting on the bush.

Blackberries setting on the bush.

Sour cherries

Sour cherries

Doyle Thornless blackberries are healthy and strong and setting an enormous number of blossoms which will lead to an enormous amount of  fruit for brandy and jam.

Blueberries ripening

Blueberries ripening

Eggplant

Eggplant taking hold

Bumble bean flowers on the vine.

Bumble bean flowers

 

Pruning Guru Makes It Easy

Move over Lee Reich. Reich is one of my go to resources for gardening, growing and weeding. He also used to be my “go to” guy for pruning tips and tricks. Although I still love Reich’s book, I have a new, best friend when it comes to pruning.

Her name is Ann Ralph; her book is Grow A Little Fruit Tree.

For the first time since I started reading about and trying to understand what to prune, when and how, I completely understand pruning and I know the answers to the what, the when and the how!

It is so simple that I am amazed!  And Ann Ralph’s approach ensures that your dwarf trees will not be 25 feet high and still growing with fruit totally out of reach.

Here’s the first bit of advice I was surprised by.  When you buy a new fruit tree, cut off its little head!

Ralph calls this, “…the toughest cut you will ever make.” Although the reasons she shares in her book are logical and the outcome desirable, the author notes that many people just can’t bring themselves to do it and guess what, their dwarf stock quickly exceeds all predictions for height and you are stuck with a fruit tree you can’t manage or harvest.

Now for the second bit of advice.  I live in the United States.  Ralph’s “rule?” Prune in June.  Just before Summer Solstice.  Yes, even if you trees have fruit on them, prune.  This prune is for height, not necessarily for shape.

Like a whole lot of people, I was told to prune when the tree was dormant – January or February, before it set fruit.  And so I did.  That’s why all of my trees grew 10 to 15 feet every spring!  Winter pruning should be for shape; pruning a tree back in winter unleashes all its stored energy into growth in the spring and you become the proud owner of a monster tree!

I’m not going to give away all of Ralph’s amazing, practical and straightforward advice.  If you have fruit trees, buy the book.  I got the paperback and the Kindle book and have devoured every word, twice.

An amazing, easy to read and easy to implement book on pruning is gold to any gardener and this book is all of these things and more.

How to Grow Figs, with Lee Reich from A Way To Garden

Two of my favorite gardening resources got together to discuss how to grow figs and the outcome is an information-packed  article coupled with a podcast!

Lee Reich, whose books include Grow Fruit Naturally: A Hands-On Guide to Luscious, Homegrown Fruit, The Pruning Book: Completely Revised and Updated and Weedless Gardening, shares his secrets for growing figs with Margaret Roach — a gardening expert in her own right.

FYI – in case you’re thinking it’s too cold where you live to grow figs, read on.  Both of these gardeners live in Zone 5 and still grow figs.  And the topic of growing figs is one of my favorite.

I have two fig trees in my Southeastern PA zone 6 – one is the Celeste the other was a cutting from a tree brought to America in 1910(?) by a friend’s great grandfather.

Both did beautifully for years, providing so many figs that I gave them away, diced and froze them and made fig jam!

But in the last 2 years, the very cold winters have really hurt them. I am back to just getting stems with leaves growing up from the roots in the ground that survived.   I hope to get figs again next year or the year after because this is a superb fruit.

One of my favorite ways to eat them is right off the tree! But if I manage to get a few in the house, I chill them, cut them in half, place a small round of goat cheese on each half and drizzle balsamic vinegar mixed with honey on each half. Heaven!

I hope you enjoy Margaret Roach’s interview with Lee Reich and give figs a try!

Taking Care of Peaches from Tasty Landscape

Snow Peach ready for picking.

Dr. Osborne is an expert on growing trees, especially, fruit trees.

Wish I had known Dr. Osborne (no, not Dr. Oz but Dr. Thomas Osborne) back when I tried raising peach trees! I might actually still have them.

Dr. Osborne, MD, whose medical specialty is Radiology, loves plants, loves gardening and loves sharing what he knows about growing, caring for and harvesting food.

He is especially knowledgeable when it comes to trees and fruit trees in particular. (Check out his article on pruning – well-written and easy to follow!)

If you’ve tried to grow fruit, you know it is fraught with problems from pests to fungus to bacteria.  So, cruise over to his blog, settle in with a good cup of coffee or tea and read all about growing and caring for peach trees.

Tropic Snow Peach Tree Care – TastyLandscapeTastyLandscape.

Lee Reich’s Annual Plant Sale is ON!

Lee Reich is having a plant sale!

If you’ve read my book – Grow So Easy; Organic Gardening for the Rest of Us or enjoy my blog, you know who Lee Reich is.  He lives on his “farmden” (farm/garden) in New Paltz, New York, teaches everything from drip irrigation to pruning to organic gardening and is one of my favorite gardening resources.

Reich’s books – Grow Fruit Naturally and The Pruning Book – occupy pride of place on my gardening bookshelves.  And now, you have a chance to meet Reich and even buy some of his homegrown, organic plants!

Reich is holding his annual Plant & Garden Sale on May 30th and is offering organically grown plants including:

  1. Hardy passionfruit
  2. Dwarf banana
  3. Hardy kiwi fruits
  4. Seedless grapes
  5. Two crop figs
  6. White alpine strawberries
  7. Nanking cherries

…and a whole lot more.!  Reich will also have to some tools and books and other garden stuff!  Here are the details.

SALE: Saturday, May 30th, from 10am-2pm (please, no earlybirds)
387 Springtown Rd., New Paltz, NY

For information or updated plant list: 845-255-0417

And, coming up, on June 20th, Drip Irrigation workshop.  Drip irrigation for: greater yields, saving water, less plant disease, easy automation.  Cost: $57
For registration and more information –  http://www.leereich.com/workshops

2015 -Year for Garden Bugs & Pests

The annual invasion of all the bugs you wish you never saw is starting early this year.  Looks like 2015 may be a hard year on the garden, the veggies and…me!

I started coming to this conclusion when the ticks started walking through the door, well, being carried through the door. We have 4 dogs – never meant to have 4 but rescued 2 so now we have 2 Westies, a Jack Russell terrier and a

Dogs enjoying a break

Rescued Jack Russell and Mini Schnauzer sharing a chair.

Westie pups in the back yard.

Our Westies doing the stick dance when they were puppies.

Mini Schnauzer.  About 3 weeks ago, they all turned in to “tick magnets.”

Between them, they have brought in a total of 13 ticks, so far!

Hubby and I don’t have flea collars on so we are the preferred hosts!  How do we handle them?

  1. We check ourselves frequently – hairline, back of neck, back of knees.
  2. We pluck them off before they bite & burrow and toss them in hot, soapy water or, oddly enough, soy sauce.
  3. We also “burn” them literally but be careful if you do.

We don’t flush them down the toilet – they sometimes come back up.  And we don’t smash them or cut them in half; they carry bacteria and you could spread them if you are not careful.

Keeping your tick population down isn’t easy but Mike McGrath has some tips.

Ticks were my first sign that this would be a year of bugs.  Then, yesterday morning, I found a wire worm — actually what’s known as a “bug-eyed” click beetle – on my back patio.

Bug-Eyed Click Beetle

This beetle is not dangerous to people or pets but it likes plants and plant nectar.

I literally haven’t seen one of these little dudes in 22 years.  They like to snack on plant juice….and what better place to find it than in my backyard in my organic garden!

This afternoon, I had my first “close encounter” of 2015 with a Bald-faced Hornet.

Now, I don’t mind these hornets hanging about because they do pollinate but I need a bit of time to get used to the idea that they are back in the neighborhood.

Bald-faced hornet

Bald-faced hornets are not the easiest of neighbors.

Although they’re not really hornets (from the yellow jacket family), they sure bite like hornets and they are as aggressive.  And they are usually not in my backyard quite this early .

The hornets and I have an agreement, though.  I go out early to pick blackberries and blueberries and they don’t bite me!

So why are these bugs showing up here, now?

I’m not sure but these harbingers appear to be telling me that despite the desperately cold winter, the bugs are “incoming,”  now!

I’m girding up my loins…right now and dusting off the rocks and other totally organic weapons of mass destruction in preparation for doing organic battle with bugs!