Tag Archives: Fruit

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!!!

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Grow So Easy Organic: How To Protect Tomatoes from Disease & Bugs

Close up of Blossom end rot tomato dissection

Close up of Blossom end rot tomato dissection (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tomatoes, like every other living thing, can come down with some maladies that are easily recognized.  The bad new  is that once you know what the disease is,  there is often little that you can do about it.  The good news is that most of the fruit can still be eaten if affected portions are removed.

Here are the most common diseases that can afflict tomatoes.

Blossom end rot
This one is very common problem on organic tomatoes. If a brown, spot about the size of dime appears on the blossom end of the fruit, your tomatoes have it.  Blossom end rot is caused by a calcium deficiency coupled with fluctuations in moisture. Remove the affected fruit so other fruits on the plant will develop normally.  And if you’re going through a dry spell, start watering the plants to ensure they get 1 to 2 inches a week.

Cracking
Cracking is another problem that occurs when soil moisture fluctuates. Select varieties that are crack-resistant, and keep them adequately watered at all times. Keep in mind that soil drying followed by watering encourages cracking.

Cloudy spots
If you find irregular, grey or white spots just under the skin, you’re tomatoes have been attacked by stink bugs.  The damage can be done at any stage of the fruit’s development so keep a weather eye out for these bugs and crush them with wild abandon when you find them.

Flower drop
Flower drop is a problem directly related to air temperature.  It usually happens when temperatures fall lower than 55 degrees at night but higher than 95 degrees during the day.  It can also happen when night temperatures remain above 75 degrees. The problem usually disappears and fruits set normally after the weather improves.

Sunscald, poor color
Remember I said not to prune leaves too vigorously?   If you remove too many leaves you risk exposing the fruit to too much sun, raising the temperature of the tomato and causing scald and uneven color. Good foliage cover helps prevent sunscald.

Catfacing
I’ve never had catfacing but I’ve heard of it.  Symptoms are badly formed tomatoes on the blossom end that usually have a rough spot that looks like scar tissue. Cold weather at time of blossom set intensifies the deformities. Catfacing is most common in the large-fruited, beefsteak-type tomatoes.

Bugs That Bug Tomatoes
Here is a list of common insects that can cause damage to tomatoes.  I have only had a few problems with insects.  If your plants are healthy and you are vigilant, you probably won’t have many of these problem bugs chowing down on your tomatoes, either.

  1. Aphids – Small, pear-shaped insects that like the top growth and undersides of leaves. Spray insecticidal soap and remove any weeds in the area which may serve as hosts for aphids.
  2. Cutworms – fat gray, black or brown worms up to 1-1/4 inches long, cutworms chew through stems of plants close to the soil surface.  Use a toilet paper roll to make a collar that you place around transplants or around the base of young plants as you set them in the ground.
  3. Flea beetles – Tiny black beatles about 1/16 inch long that attack young transplants and leave them looking as if they have been shot full of small holes.  Crush them with your fingers but move quickly, these babies are Olympic jumpers!
  4. Hornworms – Large green worms up to 4 inches long that eat foliage and fruit. Handpick the worms if only a few – remember the pliers.  Or buy parasitic wasps and let them lay their eggs on the hornworm.
  5. Spider mites – Tiny tan or red mites that are almost invisible to the naked eye, mites cause small yellow specks and fine webs. Forceful water sprays and insecticidal soaps may be used for control.
  6. Stalk borers – Creamy-white to light purple larvae that eat tunnels in the stem, causing the plant to wither and die. Remove and destroy weeds where the insect may breed. Locate the hole in stem where the borer entered, split stem lengthwise above the hole, and kill the borer. Bind the split stem, and keep the plant well watered. Spray to prevent further infestations.
  7. Stink bugs –On my top ten most hated bugs, these babies can be brown, tan, green or black shield-shaped bugs that give off a foul odor when startled or crushed. They suck juices from the plant and cause hard whitish spots just under the skin of the fruit. They fly, multiply fast and eat anything, so find them and their eggs and crush them.
  8. Tomato fruitworm – this is one I’ve never seen but my Rodale book says it’s green, brown or pink  and it eats holes in fruit and buds. If you look at the base of the fruit stem and find a darkened hole, remove the fruit and cut it open.  You should find tunneling caused by the caterpillar and sometimes caterpillar itself.  Kill the fruitworms before they become moths.  Parasitic wasps like the Trichogramma are natural enemies and will use these worms to host their eggs, too.

Recipes
Got a lot of tomatoes and don’t know what to do with them?  Here are two of my favorites for ripe tomatoes and one for all those green tomatoes you will have at the end of the growing season.  Mangia!

Mucci’s Spicy Barbecue Sauce

INGREDIENTS:
24 large peeled, cored, chopped tomatoes
2 c chopped onion (red)
2 c chopped sweet red peppers
2 chopped hot peppers
2 cloves chopped garlic
1 c cider vinegar
2 tsp fresh ground pepper
1 T dry mustard
1 T smoked paprika
1 tsp salt (or to taste)

DIRECTIONS:

Put all ingredients in a non-reactive pot and stir to mix together.  NOTE:  For milder bbq sauce, hold off on adding the dry mustard, pepper and paprika until 1 hour before jarring the sauce.

Bring to a boil then cook for 12 to 15 hours at a slow simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent burning.

Sauce should reduce by half during this time and should have the consistency of thick ketchup when it is ready for jarring or use.  If the sauce is still too thin, just keep cooking it but stir it more often as it will burn as it gets thicker.

JARRING:
Pour hot sauce into hot, sterilized jars, leaving ½ inch head space.
Cap and tighten by hand.
Process pints and half pints for 20 minutes in a boiling water bath.
Remove from water bath and set on cooling rack.  Do NOT move until jars are completely cool.
Once cooled down, check tops to make sure they sealed.  Remove rings and wipe off the outside of each jar.
Label and store.

Best Ever Homemade Salsa

INGREDIENTS:
30 tomatoes peeled/chopped
8-10 Italian peppers – chopped
10 c chopped onions
6 large cloves garlic – chopped
3 to 5 banana peppers
¾ c brown sugar
2 c cider vinegar
1 T pickling or sea salt
2 tsp black pepper
2 T cumin
2 to 3 T chili powder
2 – 6 oz cans tomato paste – optional – will help make salsa a little thicker

NOTES:
I do NOT add salt – don’t’ think it needs it – but you can taste and add as needed.  You can spice this up using more hot peppers, hot pepper flakes or a prepared spice mix like Ball’s or Mrs Wages.  I would NOT add the entire bag but taste as you go along.

DIRECTIONS:
Put all the ingredients in a non-reactive (not aluminum) pot.
Bring to a boil then cut the heat down and simmer for 2 hours until the liquid in it is reduced a whole lot.
Jar while very hot and process in water bath for 35 minutes for pints and 45 minutes for quarts.
Makes up to 17 pints.
Remove from water bath and set on cooling rack.  Do NOT move until jars are completely cool.
Once cooled down, check tops to make sure they sealed.  Remove rings and wipe off the outside of each jar.
Label and store.

Green Tomato Relish

INGREDIENTS:
2 lb green tomatoes (2 c chopped)
1 lb chopped red onions
1 lb chopped Italian peppers
½ lb chopped tart apples
6 cloves garlic – chopped
1 c organic cider vinegar
1 tsp sea salt (add to taste)
1 tsp ground cumin
3 to 4 hot peppers – chopped – optional
2 T chopped cilantro – optional

NOTE:  if veggies and apple are chopped into ¼ inch bits, you should NOT have to process in a blender or food processor before jarring.

DIRECTIONS:

Put all ingredients BUT the cumin, hot peppers and cilantro in a non-reactive pot.
Bring ingredients to a boil then reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until mixture thickens – 90 minutes.
Add cumin, jalapenos, and cilantro and cook for 5 to 10 more minutes.
Ladle into hot jars leaving ½” headroom.
Process in water bath for 15 minutes for pints and 25 minutes for quarts.
Remove from water bath and set on cooling rack.  Do NOT move until jars are completely cool.
Once cooled down, check tops to make sure they sealed.  Remove rings and wipe off the outside of each jar.
Label and store.

This recipe makes about 3 pints.  You can double or triple if you want.

Next week, we move to another garden favorite, cucumbers!  Another “easy-to-raise” vegetable that has its own challenges!

Grow So Easy Organic – Knowing What YOU Can Grow

This might seem like putting the cart before the horse….but before you buy seeds and lay out your fantastic garden, you might want to give a bit of thought to what you want to put in the ground.

This isn’t about zone or space, this is about time, money and actually enjoying what you grow instead of doing battle with it.

Plants or Seeds
The most basic question is do you want to put plants in the ground or raise your own plants from seed?  The most basic answer is how much time do you have?

If you’re like me and you’ve been gardening for a while (or you have a friend who is a hard core gardener), you probably do both.  But if you’re new to the gardening game, you may want to start with plants.

Buying plants gives you a chance to see if you really do like this gardening thing before you invest time and a bit of money in raising your own plants from seed.  I tend to do both.  I buy plants from the Amish farmers but I also raise vegetables from seed.

Growing from seed has some advantages, for example, you can plant heirlooms that you just can’t buy anywhere.  And you can condition your seed, by planting and harvesting for a couple of years which makes them even more suited to your soil.

I love growing from seed but there are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  1. It does add a bit of time to your schedule because you have to start them indoors, in February and March (if you live in Zone 6b as I do).
  2. The seeds may not sprout so you would have to buy plants, anyway.
  3. You need a controlled environment – temperature and air movement – when the seeds are sprouting and until they get their second, true set of leaves.
  4. You will have to pay attention to the seeds – keep them moist but don’t drown them.  (Here’s where an osmotic planting system like the one sold by Gardens Alive comes in handy.)

Heirloom or Hybrid
By the way, if you want to save seeds from your plants this coming year and use them in the garden the following year, make sure you don’t buy hybridized seeds.  Why?

The simplest explanation is hybrid seeds are produced through cross-pollination, the mixing of plants of two different types for a specific reason, such as bigger fruit, disease resistance, a different look, etc. But the problem with hybrid seeds is you won’t be able to harvest further seeds from the fruit they produce.

Buy some tomato seeds of a specific variety, grow them and then harvest the fruit. Save the seeds, and you may get the same sort of tomatoes…or you may wind up with a different variety altogether. Or worse still, the seeds may be sterile.

Heirloom seeds, on the other hand, will produce the exact same type of fruit year after year, generation after generation.

Playing With Plants
I’m aces with tomatoes — all heirloom or organic seed — from Grow Italian or Territorial Seeds.  My blueberries yield over 60 quarts every year and my Montmorency cherries are a close second with 50 plus quarts.  Pear trees are just starting to bear fruit and the pluots are eagerly anticipated every summer.

But my fig trees are good one year and not so good the next.  And the peach and apple trees bear really bad fruit – spotty and buggy.  Cantelope grow beautifully in my soil but taste like dirt.  Broccoli Rabe comes up fast and easy but flowers before I can harvest it.

Potatoes love the soil but always fall prey to Colorado Potato Beetles and wire worms.

Knowing what I can’t grow upset me when I was a younger gardener but this old girl understands that knowing what she can’t grow is even more important than knowing what she can.  Why?

I no longer waste time or space on those veggies and fruits that just are not going to produce.  I spend that time honing my skills at growing and harvesting the myriad of foods that like my soil, my weather, my temperatures, wind and rain.

This is where I really experimented and where some of the worst carnage of my early gardening days happened.  But here’s a bit of advice that I got from my mom.

Mom Really Does Know Best
My mother’s garden in Virginia was 5 times the size of mine, literally.  At the age of 82, she was still out there in the early morning mist, hoeing her rows, weeding, watering and talking (yes, talking) to her beans, tomatoes, cabbage and corn.

While visiting one day, after a particularly large potato disaster in my garden – death by Colorado Potato Beetle – I whined that I would never be as good a gardener as she was.  Nothing ever died in her garden.

Mom laughed, leaned on her hoe and said, “Of course things die in my garden: I just turn them under and plant something else.”

Mom had to close my mouth because my jaw dropped about a foot.  It was like an epiphany – Mom killed plants too!  There was hope for me.  And there is hope for you, too.

So let’s dive into what I learned while wiping out whole populations of plants!  Maybe what I share will help decrease the number of “interments” in your fruit and veg plots.

Next week, an organic gardening favorite, tomatoes — how to start them, raise them, feed them, protect them and oh, yes, eat them!