Monthly Archives: March 2013

Digging in the Dirt With Gardening Apps – NYTimes.com

All right all my gardening friends who are also nerds…

This is an absolutely glorious article on the NY Times site with links to gardening aps for your phone!!

It was posted by one of my LinkedIn group (Grow Girls Grow Organic) members — Cindy Meredith.  Meredith also has a gardening blog and it is packed with great info on all kinds of gardening so I expect great info but this post and link just made me smile!

Happy Easter to all my gardening friends.

Digging in the Dirt With Gardening Apps – NYTimes.com.

via Digging in the Dirt With Gardening Apps – NYTimes.com.

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Garden Mulch – FAQs from Margaret Roach

Margaret Roach does it again!

And while I am working on my organic gardening manuscript….
I thought I would share links and articles from some of my most favorite organic gardeners.

This article is really an in-depth FAQ on mulch.  What really constitutes mulch?  How much should I use?  When do I mulch?

Got mulch questions?  Ms. Roach has the answers.

garden mulch: how to mulch, and what to use — A Way to Garden.

Grow So Easy Organic – Growing Montmorency Cherries

This will be short chapter on growing this particular fruit.  It will be mercifully short because if you followed my advice, you would end up owning fruit trees
that only produce beautiful, snowy white or soft pink blossoms in the spring, a

Cherry trees in blossom.

Cherry blossoms herald Spring.

small orchard of trees that birds call home and trees that require limited care just to be…trees.

Let me pause for a moment and ask, “…would I ever tell anyone they shouldn’t plant trees and raise fruit?  The answered is a qualified, I don’t know for sure.”

If you really want to grow fruit in your backyard, here’s is my best advice: read.

Read a whole lot.  Read some more.  Visit local nurseries and talk to the owners.  By the way, I mean visit real nurseries – not Wal-Mart or Lowe’s.

Ask about the fruits you think you want to grow.  Ask about the types, the challenges the number you might need to actually get your trees to set fruit.  Ask about bugs, pests, blight, pestilence.

Find out which fruit trees can survive your winter, your summer, your soil.  Ask just how much care they will need – feeding, weeding (some fruit trees don’t play well with weeds at their feet), pruning and wrapping.  Ask questions.  Listen to the answers.

When you’re all done talking, read, everything, one more time, before you make a commitment to growing your own fruit trees or planting a small orchard.

Why?

Killing trees is a lot more costly than killing seedlings.  And removing the bodies requires a shovel, maybe an axe, perhaps a small tractor and always a whole lot of back-breaking digging, chopping and pulling.

Killing trees hurts, emotionally, too.  I was probably a druid in a former life so when the first two peach trees I planted got Peach Leaf Curl at the tender age of 5, I fought a losing battle for another 2 years to try to save them.  When my Apricot went belly up after just 2 short years, I braced her, wrapped her ravaged trunk, sprayed her with dormant oil and watched her long, slow demise over the next 12 months.

How You Should Plant Fruit Trees

Fifteen years ago, I planted my first fruit trees – 2 Montmorency Cherry trees.  Today, I get between 40 and 60 quarts of sour pie cherries off just these two trees.

How did I do it?  What’s the magic?  Darned if I know!  They came from the nursery in 5 gallon plastic buckets.  I actually left the buckets on when I planted them!

And I only dug the hole just big enough and deep enough to shove the bucket into it.  No compost, no fertilizer, no loosened soil, in fact, I planted them in the worst possible type of soil – actually it was silt, a fine, orange talcum powder like dirt.

And they survived, and thrived and just keep producing bumper crops of berries.

Do I recommend this willy-nilly approach to planting fruit trees?  No.  I just think I was plain old lucky.  And I never acted so capriciously again with the lives of trees, shrubs, plants and herbs that were entrusted to me.

Rules for Planting Almost Any Fruit Tree

Pick the site.  That’s basic advice but it turns out that fruit trees have some particular requirements.  They need fertile soil that drains well.  They need space to grow, too, so make sure the site fits the trees you want to put in the ground.

Semi-dwarf varieties should be at least 15 feet apart.  Standard fruit trees need 20 feet between them.  Make sure you know whether the fruit trees you want are self-pollinating or need another tree to set fruit.  Plant one sour cherry tree and you’ll get fruit.  Plant one apple tree and you’ll get bupkus.

If you’re planting bare root stock, make sure you soak the roots of the trees for a couple of hours before you plant them.  Root stock or nursery trees should also be pruned of damaged branches and roots.

Whether planting bare root stock or container grown fruit trees, you really do have to do some preparation to give the baby trees a good start.

  1. Dig a hole that is twice as wide and as deep as the root stock.
  2. Add topsoil or peat moss to the hole to enrich the soil and improve drainage.
  3. Set the tree in the hole and check the depth.  Planting a young tree too deep is almost worse than planting it to shallow.  Make sure that the mark on the trunk where the bark was just above ground level because that’s the mark that helps you put the tree into it’s new home at just the right level — just above the top of the hole.
  4. Add soil to the hole if necessary then, spreading the roots a bit so they aren’t all clumped into one spot, place the tree in the hole.
  5. Put soil around the roots and tamp down but be gentle at first.  You can damage or break roots and your tree might get a slow start or might not make it at all, if you do.
  6. Fill the hole with soil, tamping it so there are no air bubbles around the roots and bringing the hole back to level ground.
  7. If your ground isn’t level or you have high winds from one direction, stake the young tree to keep it upright.
  8. Water thoroughly to settle the soil around the tree’s roots.
  9. Cover the area with 2 to 3 inches of mulch – pine bark or cypress mulch will help to hole in moisture, hold down the weeds and keep the young trunk from being damaged by the mower.
  10. You can also protect young trees from sunscald and animal damage by wrapping the trunk with a paper tree wrap or guard.
  11. Water the transplants every week, allowing moisture to drip into the root area and soak it thoroughly.
  12. Fertilize your new trees, too, with a nice, balanced fertilizer – 10-10-10 – or just use manure in a ring at the outer limit of the tree’s branches and let it break down into the soil and feed the tree.

Once your fruit trees are established, you really need to pay attention to pruning them, every year.  Pruning helps to ensure that those dwarf trees you planted don’t shoot up to 25 feet tall…and they will.

Pruning also gets rid of suckers – small branches that sap strength from the tree but produce no fruit.  And it opens up the trees to more sunlight and makes it easier to see, protect and pick fruit.

When fruit sets, about 3 weeks after blooming, make sure you thin it out.  Most trees set lots and lots of fruit but leaving it all on the tree will mean smaller fruit.  You can take damaged or misshapen fruit off first but if you really want larger fruit, pull off most of the fruit that has set, leaving 5 to 8 inches between each remaining fruit.

Invest in a couple of books.  Grow Fruit Naturally is my favorite.  It’s by Lee Reich and it walks you through picking, planting, growing and harvesting fruit in detail….with pictures.  Reich is also the author of the best book on the market that deals with pruning.  It’s called The Pruning Book.

I have been very successful with cherries, intermittently successful with figs, never got a single apple from 3 trees, waiting for success with my pears (takes them 5 years to decide to flower – who knew) and an unmitigated disaster with peaches and nectarines.

If you ask me what made one fruit successful and the other not, I really couldn’t say.  But I’ve made my peace with owning an orchard of beautiful fruit trees that produce snowy white or soft pink blossoms in the spring.  I love these trees as homes for birds.  And I love that they require limited care just to be…trees.

This is the final “formal” chapter in my organic gardening book.  For the next 4 to 6 weeks, I will be working on formatting for Kindle, getting a covered created and preparing to publish Grow So Easy Organic Gardening on Amazon.

I have loved having all of you along for the ride and will be publishing more about gardening and growing and storing in the future but not for a few months.

But it’s spring time so you will have plenty to do in your own gardens, back yards, local garden centers and nurseries.  So go! Plant!!  Enjoy!!!

Grow So Easy Organic – How To Choose & Raise Organic Blackberries

My second favorite backyard fruit is blackberries.

I tried raspberries, once.  I even harvested beautiful, sweet red raspberries, once.  Then I ended up with a bramble patch so thick and so full of stickers that it defied all attempts to control it.  It got so bad that I actually pulled the brambles down and ran over the whole patch with our riding mower…three times.

English: Blackberries in a range of ripeness, ...

Blackberries om varying stages of ripeness. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now, I raise blackberries.  And every year I get about 30 quarts of beautiful, deep purple, inch long berries that I make into slump, buckle and jam.

Why was my raspberry patch such a disaster?  Why am I so successful with blackberries?  What did I do differently?

The answer is very simple.  I bought Doyle Thornless blackberry bushes.  And I only bought 3 of them!  No thorns, no arm wrestling with 10 plants that morphed into 20 in one season.  And no scratches or flying curse words.

Choosing Blackberry Plants

When I bought them, Doyle Thornless blackberries were about the only thornless plants on the market.  And they probably are the most expensive addition in my garden.  Nowadays there are other thornless choices but there are really only two types of blackberry plants – trailing or erect.

Both varieties grow exactly the way they are named.  Erect blackberries have arched canes that support themselves so no trellis is needed.  Trailing blackberries have canes that can’t support themselves so you either have to build a trellis to support them or do what I did.  This lazy gardener used the post and rail fence in her back yard as her trellis.

The fruit of erect blackberries ripens later, is a bit smaller than those of trailing blackberries and is not as big or as sweet.  So you may want to trade the ease of raising erect blackberries for the taste and flavor and abundance of the trailing kind.

One last word of advice about choosing your stock.  Make sure you know your hardiness zone and you know which blackberry varieties will live and play well in your zone.  Blackberries are pretty tough but can be harmed by extreme temperatures so check before you buy.

Where to Plant Blackberries

Whichever kind of berry you plant, the site is very important.  Sun is important but almost any soil (but very sandy soil), will work for blackberries.  Surprisingly, the single most important qualification of the site for blackberry plants is water.

Blackberries need a lot of water during fruit production but are damaged by water in the winter.  If water stands around the roots, winter and spring frosts can really hurt the stock.  So drainage is important.

When and How to Plant Blackberries

As soon as you can work the soil in your zone, you can plant you root stock.    That’s early spring in the North and late winter or early spring in the South.

As you know, I’m a lazy gardener.  So the way I figure it, I give my plants a good start and the rest is up to them.  Because I was planting along the fence line where nothing but crab grass and weeds had grown before, I did take a bit of time to prep the patch where I wanted to plant them.

But I didn’t get carried away and plant green manure crops like rye or vetch.  Blackberries grow just wild in the woods and do fine so I decided to go the easy way.  I loosened the soil by tilling it but that’s about it.    No soil sample and no manure or compost was added.

Doyle Thornless blackberries trail, so I spaced them 8 feet apart.  Erect varieties can be planted 2 feet apart.  If you are doing more than one row of either kind, make sure you leave 10 feet between the rows so you’ll have enough room to maneuver around the plants, pick, prune and generally see to the health and happiness of your plants.

If your root stock looks dry when it arrives, soak the roots in water for several hours before trying to plant them.  Use a shovel or a large fork to make a slit in the soil for each root you intend to plant.  Rock the fork or shovel back and forth to make the slit wide enough to put the roots of the plant in without cramping them or breaking them off.

Once you have a hole for each root and you’re ready to plant, trim the top of each plant back to just 6 inches long.  Remove each plant from the bucket of water, using the trimmed top as a “handle” and drop each root into its own slit.

On each plant, you should be able to see a line where the plant met the soil in the nursery bed.  Don’t plant the root any deeper than it was planted in the nursery.  As soon as the root is in the ground, firmly pack earth around it, first with your hands than with the heel of your shoe.

Once planted, I wrap a soaker hose along the entire length of the bed so I can provide a constant source of water during the growing season.  Once the soaker hose is down, I mulch all of my new plants with between 4 and 6 inches of straw.

During the first year, don’t expect a lot of berries.  Your plants have to establish themselves.  But make sure you keep the babies watered.  And make sure you mulch them heavily for their first winter.

Training and Care

Blackberries are easy to train along a fence or a trellis.  I simply tie my canes to the fence in the direction I want them to grow.  And I’ve learned to be a bit ruthless with which canes I keep and which canes I cut.

Erect and trailing blackberries will send out suckers and new canes.  Make sure you keep an eye on both so that you don’t end up with a thicket.  Even without thorns, it is hard to train, manage, harvest and prune if you are overwhelmed with too many canes.

Remember that the canes that produced last year are not going to produce in the coming year.  So I wait until late August or early September to cut back the ones that I know had fruit that summer.  I also take time to thin out a few of the new canes – leaving only the larger, healthier ones for next year.

You can cut suckers at this time too.  But if you lost a plant or two during the season, take a few minutes to get a replacement from the new stock in your patch.  To get new ones, I have two choices:

Just wait for a new sucker to push up through the ground.  Let it establish itself a bit then cut a nice round bit of soil around the sucker, dig it up and transplant it where you want it.

Or, just as easy, you can take a long cane, slash it once on the bottom side and bury the slashed bit in soil.

How to grow organic blackberries.

Thinned, tied up and mulched, my blackberries are dreaming of spring again.

Once you’ve thinned, trimmed and replaced, you can simply tie up the canes you want to fruit next year then mulch with 6 to 8 inches of straw.  Or, if you aren’t as lazy as I am, you can plant a cover crop over the patch that you can work into the ground, in the summer.

Whatever you do, don’t let weeds get a start in your patch.  Like asparagus, blackberries don’t like competition.  As big and as bold as the canes can get – some of mine are almost 2 inches in diameter, the size the fruit and quantity of the harvest will be affected if weeds get a chance to complete.

Next week, how to handle Japanese beetles and some great recipes for fresh, juicy organic blackberries.

When I Walk Quietly in the Morning Garden | The Hungry Gap

I cannot write this morning.  I’m still recovering and my brain cells need to be dusted off by warm air and sunshine.  But Rick Visser can write.  And he does write about topics close to my heart.

Here he posts a brief entry, an ode almost, to life at a cellular level.  And he reminds me of an essay I wrote years ago for our local paper, The Philadelphia Inquirer, on why I garden.

Mr. Visser goes first.  When I Walk Quietly in the Morning Garden | The Hungry Gap.

And now, me.

The ground may be covered in snow but my sap still rises when I open the mail box sand see the first seed catalog nestled inside.  It means it’s time to plan my garden, gather materials and seeds and descend to the basement to start growing my crops.

How do I end up knee deep in dirt, every summer?

Gardening was my Mom’s legacy.  It was in the earth of the dozen gardens she grew that she taught me about living and dying and being reborn.

Gardening roots me.  It grounds me in beauty and order and chaos.

It is easy to see infinity when you're surrounded by it.

It is easy to see infinity when you are surrounded by it.

Sometimes, when I am sitting on the moist earth, the sun just beginning to rise and my dogs lying by my side, I swear I can see infinity.

It is the same feeling I had when I held my first grandchild.

There, in that tiny child, I saw years and lifetimes and generations marching out before me, stacked deep and deeper behind me.  The sensation was overwhelming.

In that instant, I could see my daughter, my mother, her mother and her mother before her and I knew I was holding a moment in time — never before beheld, never to come again.

In both moments, the garden and the grandchild, the veil lifts.  I feel timeless, part of the past, present and future and I feel hope.  If you garden, you feel it too.

Grow So Easy Organic: No Post Today

Somehow, I managed to get the flu…and I am still sick, almost a week later.  So I won’t be able to post today.  Hopefully, I will be back and ready to tell you all about blackberries by next Saturday.  Should have gotten the flu shot…

In the meantime, apologies and happy gardening to everyone.